Monday, July 30, 2007

Saving Summer

In between moments of cultivating my writing life, I'm cultivating other useful skills, in case my literary ambitions fail to sustain me. Mostly, I'm just trying to feel useful. To that end, my daughter and I spent Saturday learning to can tomatoes, under the tutelege of my mother-in-law, who lives down the street.

My son, upon joining us later, was mystified with our use of the term "can" when we were actually utilizing jars. I had no wisdom to impart on the subject.

I felt like a bit of a fumbler (hot tomatoes are slippery, as it turns out), but the end result was worth it. They're just lovely to look at, those vibrant red jars.

I could tell you how we did it, but this pretty much covers it.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Thinking Rash-ly

I have spent the last two days obsessing about poison ivy. I haven't seen any lately, but apparently that's not a necessary component to reacting violently to it. Okay not violently. But it stinks, nonetheless.

At first I thought I had lupus. I have found that any strange combination of symptoms my body exhibits at any given time can look exactly like lupus. Just ask They tell me so everytime I visit.

Eventually I realized, however, that the migraine was just a migraine, and my hair is falling out because the women in my family loose their hair. Oozing and hair loss. It's been a banner week.

At any rate, as soon as I diagnosed myself, I noticed that columnists and writers everywhere were obsessing about the same topic. Well, not everywhere. In a couple of places. And it's summer, so not such a stretch I guess.

But, it's like when you're pregnant, or when you get a new car. Suddenly it seems that everywhere you turn are swollen, waddling women. Or a black Jeep Cherokee just like yours. An epidemic of them, almost. Just like poison ivy. Only not as foul, and usually not oozing.

Speaking of foul and oozing, it's remarkable how many thoroughly disgusting photos there are of poison ivy rashes online. I will save you the horror by not linking any here. Suffice it to say, I've been scarred for life, and I don't mean just on my skin.

I will comfort myself with the knowledge, however, that poison ivy is a minor problem to have, in the big scheme of things. A minor, but really annoying, problem.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Are We Still Talking About This?

Well, are we?

Okay, I'm a bit behind, having just read this Newsweek article from last month about breastfeeding. Seems that there's been controversy about some photos of actress Maggie Gyllenhaal breastfeeding her baby in public. I apparently was too wrapped up in my own life to notice this particular celebrity shocker, but now that it's been brought to my attention, I have to ask, why?

Ten years ago, I was breastfeeding. I was a breastfeeding machine. I had two babies, 17 months apart, nursed all through my second pregnancy then nursed both babies at the same time for nine months or so. You can imagine what all this nursing activity has done to my physique. On second thought, don't.

But I digress. Ten years ago, I was breastfeeding, and it was "controversial." Not the feeding part, of course, but the feeding in public. I didn't get it then, and I don't get it now.

Breastmilk is by far the best for babies. We know this. Breasts were made to feed babies. We know this too. The other stuff? Get over it.

I breastfed in public, in a mall and in restaurants specifically, mostly because I figured patrons would prefer that to a screaming baby. And after one attempt to nurse in a public bathroom (would you eat lunch in there?) I decided if anyone had a problem with it, tough. Of course I was as discreet as possible, using a blanket or making sure my top covered up any offending flesh. And when they could eat other stuff on a regular basis, I pretty much stopped the public feeding.

But seriously folks, how long will feeding a baby be a controversy? Victoria's Secret ads are a mile-high in the mall, and feature much more flesh than most breastfeeding mommies flash, and I don't hear anyone complaining about those.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Don't Hate Me Harry, I'm Only Human

Okay, there must be something wrong with me. Tell me what you think. I can take it. As my son likes to say about himself, I can cry but I'm tough.

Confession #1: I've never read a Harry Potter book. Never ever ever. Not one word.

Let the flogging begin ...

It's become sort of a secret shame, this, as the phenomenon has grown into a full-blown, decade-long international obsession. It's something to be hidden, to be guarded. To be danced around, cleverly, like a pagan bonfire. Whatever that means.

I even have children for heaven's sake, who have, by the way, actually read one or two of the books. They own at least three in the series, though I've not purchased them new in hardcover, only in paperback or at the library book sale for a buck. They've enjoyed them but have not scrambled to read the rest, and that's probably my fault, too, because we've seen all the movies. Blasphemy, I know.

So why, you say, haven't I read them, at least one of them?

Excuse #1: I was a new-ish mother when the first book came out. I was interested, but reading hadn't exactly been worked back into the daily schedule at that time. That took exactly 3.264 years to get back to normal, in case you were wondering. And then she just kept cranking the tomes out, and each time a new book arrived I was further behind the rest of the world in hanging on the every word of the young boy wizard. And there are a lot of words, more and more all the time it seems.

Excuse #2 (the real one): But really, I think, on some level it's a bit of jealousy. Which brings me to ...

Confession #2: I want to be J.K. Rowling.

Not that I don't love my life, I do. Here's the obligatory guilt-induced disclaimer: My family is fantastic, my home is, well, home, and I've done a few interesting things throughout my uneven and often accidental professional past.

But as a writer, I want to be her. I want to be the one with The Idea, the fantastic, never-done-before, no-one-has-ever-seen-anything-like-it idea, executed with brilliant wit and charm and literary clarity. I don't care about the notoriety so much but the achievement, the achievement would be amazing, wouldn't it? Because after all aren't most artists (writers included) after just a little smidge of immortality? Aren't we?

Rowling's certainly got it. And her little wizard, too.

Perhaps it would be a great growth experience if I just got over it. I could start reading the books now; after all, she's written the last one, so it's not as if I'll get any further behind. I'll read them with my kids, and redeem myself twice over.

And who knows? Maybe, just maybe, I'll be inspired. Or maybe I'll just crawl into bed for three days and pull the covers over my head.

I'll let you know how it turns out.

Friday, July 20, 2007

To Be, or Not to Be, Gifted

It's been a while since I posted, and this is mostly what's been keeping me preoccupied.

I've been focusing in large part this week on getting my kids signed up in their new school district, as we settle even further in to our new surroundings. Ran into a snag, which will sound trite and elitist perhaps at first, but it's a problem.

Turns out that "gifted" means very different things in different states and that, in fact, only 30 or so states mandate gifted education in the public schools. Turns out, also, that I moved to one of the 20 states that does NOT mandate gifted education. My district does offer a gifted program, but would not accept the rigorous testing and evaluation my son had already gone through in Florida, and instead based his "giftedness" on a 30-minute test on patterns, given in the middle of the summer in a place he'd never been before, administered by the superintendent's secretary. She says he doesn't qualify. Can you see the steam coming out of my ears? Is it really possible for blood to boil?

I'm so irritated that I can only think in time-worn cliches ...

It's not that it's so important for him to be gifted -- if he hadn't qualified through all of the observations, IQ tests, checklists, etc. initially, that would be completely cool -- but how can you tell a child he's gifted, then, based on one little test administered in a vacuum, tell him he's not?

So I'm doing what I do, and that's write a letter to the superintendent. My initial reaction was to let it go, but sleep didn't come easy last night, and I realized that as a parent and a former teacher (I taught learning disabled and gifted) I'm doing both my child and other students a disservice by not speaking up. When something's not right, you say so. I've never been very good at that. I'm getting better.

I'm planning to substitute teach in this district, so I'm hoping that this issue will not sour that opportunity. But in the end, there are lots of other school districts; I've only got one silly, funny, extraordinarily difficult and extremely bright and shining son. And he deserves a voice.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Visiting Lovejoy

Spent some quiet time today at a cemetery steeped in history in Alton, Illinois, where I happen to reside.

At right, a monument to free speech martyr Elijah P. Lovejoy, who died defending his press from a pro-slavery mob, who shot the 34-year-old newspaper editor in cold blood in November of 1837.

A plaque at the site, quoting Lovejoy, reads: "But gentlemen, as long as I am an American citizen, and as long as American blood runs in these veins, I shall hold myself at liberty to speak, to write, to publish whatever I please on any subject -- being amenable to the laws of my country for the same."

For more on the life and extreme sacrifice of Lovejoy, click here.

It's humbling, indeed, to stand at the base and look up, reflecting on the sacrifice of a man who laid down his life in defense of free speech and the abolitionist movement. As a writer and former newspaper editor, I find myself renewed each and every time I visit this monument and Lovejoy's grave.

... and, thus, this is what passes for summer fun at my house ...

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Who's Having Fun?

Okay, as I sit in the house and write my heart out, it is entirely possible that life is passing me by. These are the things my son has done this week while I've been working:

1. Went off to the rodeo with a neighbor, ate cotton candy, sno-cones, hot dogs, returned home with a balloon and, inexplicably, a print portrait of a baseball player from the St. Louis Cardinals.

2. Established a "secret hideout" with his buddies, which my daughter later informed me (she's the moll) is filled with bugs, snakes, and poison ivy. She thought I would lock him in the basement for the duration, no doubt. But really, should a secret hideout be any other way?

3. Discovered a lost driver's license in the woods, and had an hour or so of very intense speculation over the fate of the license's owner. They said they will be alerting the police.

4. Scrounged change from the dryer and under the beds to pick up the following items at a garage sale down the street:

~ an antique radio
~ a plastic camouflaged truck
~ baseball cards
~ two hockey pucks
~ a lavender plush cat (for his sister)
~ a Hard Rock Cafe Chicago coffee mug (for me)
~ a pocket-sized bendy rubber Pluto (the dog, not the planet)
~ nunchucks

I, on the other hand, completed a couple of brief assignments, checked my e-mail 651 times, and sorted all my paperwork into a handy little plastic organizer.

Ain't summer great?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Shameless Self-Promotion

I've got two new gigs and so I am taking this opportunity to make a shameless plug for both.

First, a fun little slip of a job, selecting and writing the review for the "Awesome Blog of the Week" at Project:Blog, an off-shoot of The Budget Fashionista. The site is a bit addictive, lots of really cool fashion and style focused blogs to check out. And if you happen to have a fashion or style oriented blog of your own, you can submit it to be added to the roll.

Second, I've started writing for Suite101, which I figure is a fine way to get more stuff out there and keep my writing muscles fit. My first articles can be found here and here, and I'm planning on spending a ridiculous amount of time adding more in the coming days.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Earthly Delights

Ah, the abundance of summer ...

It was late in the evening, and the air had cooled a little, and we were chillin' in the backyard with the in-laws and the mosquitoes, when a troop (or is it a pod?) of young men stopped by bearing paper bags.

My son was traveling with them, his buddies, from door to door, as they doled out the bounty of a grandmother's garden, slim sweet cucumbers and thick hearty zucchini. (I can't get my son to pick up his underwear, so how he ended up doing manual labor? Well, that's a mystery for another time ...)

Peering into those laden bags, instant visions of cool summer salads, cucumber and ripe tomato, and sauteed zucchini and onions ladled over al dente pasta (pasta is always part of my food fantasies, natch). Pure culinary bliss.

Having moved earlier this season, I didn't get to plant my own veggie patch, so I will have to depend on the kindness of strangers. Thank heaven for grandmas with overproducing zucchini and cucumber vines. And thank heaven for the boys willing to go door to door, delivering a little bit of earthy bliss, on summer nights.

To whip up a cucumber salad, go here:

To find out a whole bunch of stuff about planting your own vegetables, go here:

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Also try ...

Was thinking of starting some kind of "top five" list. Sounds much less interesting now that I'm here. But this was vaguely amusing -- these are the top five "also try" suggestions Yahoo gives when you search for "top five":

1. tv top five
2. top five careers
3. top five game
4. top five dating sites
5. top five players of badminton

1. TV -- No surprise here. We do love our TV.
2. careers -- Something I think about frequently, since I don't actually have one at the moment.
3. game -- "Game"? Not "games"? Must click, out of sheer confusion!
4. dating sites -- TV first, then finding your soul mate. Priorities, priorities.
5. badminton -- Wow. Badminton players made the top five. A Yahoo conspiracy, perhaps, to bring back the unsung sport of kings. It does involve the word "shuttlecock" however, which makes me giggle, so perhaps it has some merit ...

Life is not an amusement park

For some reason, this Associated Press story cracked me up:

Lake Buena Vista, Fla. -- About a thousand people are new US citizens today after a star-studded ceremony at Walt Disney World.
US Senator Mel Martinez gave the keynote address and Gloria Estefan sang the national anthem. Lee Greenwood closed with "God Bless the U-S-A."
About a hundred different countries were represented. Each new citizen raised a hand and took an oath of loyalty to America.
It all happened in front of Cinderella's castle. Heavy rain fell throughout the morning, but the country's newest citizens were given Mickey Mouse slickers to keep dry.
Some four-thousand people total are set to become American citizens as part of Independence Day celebrations.

Whatever happened to Ellis Island?
God Bless Walt Disney Wor... er, I mean America!

Confession: I'm a Fireworks Nerd

I don't care who you are, fireworks are wicked cool.

My affinity for these booming bursts of color and light is deep-rooted, a childhood of dragging lawnchairs and coolers and sweatshirts just in case, setting up shop elbow to elbow in some city park, rocky roadside, a random strip of waterfront. Playing cards and swatting bugs and scanning the crowds for something interesting to talk about. Indulging in: sparklers, glowsticks, cotton candy if we could find it. Killing time until the sun shifts, at last, and then startled by that first sizzling crack, slumping down in our seats, legs stretched and eyes to the sky and losing ourselves, because suddenly there's nothing else but the eruption of light and color just overhead.

The thing about fireworks that's doubly fantastic is accessibility; it doesn't matter, really, where you are on Independence Day. Detroit, Miami, St. Louis. Tavares, Florida or Alton, Illinois. Boyne City, Michigan. Whether the population is in the hundred-thousands or just around a handful, you can be sure that when the sun goes down folks will be gathering in some park, on some roadside, at some waterfront, with coolers and lawnchairs and the requisite sparklers, eyes to the skies.

It's completely middle-American, baseball-hot-dog-and-apple-pie nerdiness. And it's 20 minutes once a year, I contend, of pure heaven.

photo originally posted by tuey913 on flickr

Monday, July 2, 2007

Soap Box Topic of the Day

Check this out.
Massachusetts’ “insured or else” health insurance law is coming into effect, and, as is usually the case with public policy, is a potentially sweet deal for the very poor and the very rich, but somehow leaves the middle class in the lurch.
Typical, because policy-makers tend to put all their eggs in one basket – either that of relieving the poor (a noble cause) or pleasing the rich (not so noble, natch). The middle class is left out in the cold, again, mostly because said policy-makers have little or no awareness, inexplicably, of this particular group.
“Affordable” is a truly hilarious, highly subjective word applied to insurance costs by Massachusetts legislators – as is illustrated in this USA Today article: . Deeming $600 a month as affordable for someone who makes $35,000 a year? A joke.
And the punchline? No cost control on the part of the state. Insurance companies, as usual, will hold all the power, and certainly their interests lie primarily (okay, completely) in the bottom line.
Affordable insurance is an urgent need in this country, but Massachusetts’ legislating (read: dictating) approach appears short-sighted at best. Let’s hope this does not become a model for the rest of the country.