Saturday, July 1, 2017

Parenting In An Age Of Incivility

Lately, the news has been filled with story after story of nasty, payback, online rant-y ick.  So much so that even thinking about watching the news gives me a sick feeling in my stomach, and I've been a news junkie all my life.  We're being bombarded by hateful, screaming rhetoric on all sides, and there is no respite online or off.

Worse, this is the environment in which my child is coming of age.  At 14, she's not only capable of seeing this level of crazy with clear eyes, but she's also cognizant of how wrong some of this behavior is, that it would not be tolerated in our family, and that "leaders" in this nation of ours are getting away with behavior that we would never allow in our own home.

I've been stewing on this for quite a while, not just for my own child, but for all of the kids that I teach and spend time around day in and day out.

How do we raise decent, caring, thoughtful kids in an age where that is the polar opposite of what we see in our elected officials, our media environment, our online back and forth and even our day to day  interactions?  How do we parent effectively about ethics and manners and character, when so much of what makes us a "civil" society is degraded and frayed around the edges?

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Quest for Comfort and Joy Amidst the Day to Day Chaos

The news headlines lately have been chaotic, troubling and outright craze balls most days.   Regardless of the political party of your choice, the day to day grind is wearing all of us down in one way or another.  At least based on my unscientific survey of friends and family, we're all getting a little sick of the crazy all at the same time.

How to fix it?  No idea.

Wish I had some good, constructive advice on making our nation's political sickness better, but the honest truth is that I'm as stumped as everyone else.  It's beyond frustrating and exhausting, and it feels like we're all Alice, falling down the crazy rabbit hole together most days, doesn't it?

In the meantime, though, our day to day life moves forward.  However much our worst days may feel like a crazy xerox copy of crazy on a hamster wheel going nowhere, there has to be some way to find some joy and comfort amidst the chaos.

Yesterday, I spent the entire day coaching a middle school track team in 40 degree weather that consisted of gray skies, constant misty rain, and an endless mud-covered football field in between runs.  It was miserable, I'm not going to lie, and my body is getting even with me today for overdoing it yesterday in ways I can't begin to explain.

So finding a little comfort and joy in my day is an essential survival skill.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

My America

Imagine waking up this morning as an American of Islamic background.  Wondering if your family would be rounded up, no matter how long they have lived in this nation, no matter how long they have had citizenship here.  Not even Islamic background, either, but simply national background -- if you are a Lebanese Christian, you are now suspect until you can prove your faith.

Pause for a moment and consider:  prove your faith.  We now have a test based on religious faith in this country.  A nation whose very founding was predicated on the notion that there would never be a "state" religion, but that there would be a freedom to choose one's faith because so many of the early settlers here had come to escape persecution due to a state religion in England and other nations in Europe.

Think about this for a second:  because of their nation of origin or their faith, their loyalty and place in our communities is now being called into question by someone who has never met the doctor in rural America who came to this country for medical school on a promise that he would practice in an underserved, rural community that desperately needed a doctor.  Or a woman who came here for sanctuary to escape an arranged marriage to a brutal man who would not allow her to continue her education.  Or a child, desperately trying to escape a war-torn region, who has already lost most of his family to bombs and disease and starvation.  We are shutting the door on all of these people simply because of the color of their skin, the place they were born and the tenor of their faith.

That infuriates me.

You apply the law individually based on facts and conduct and suspicion, and not to a giant, generalized swath of people that you round up in a herd and hold without charges because they have done nothing to earn them other than be born in a certain place that you happen to suspect.  Individual actors who are suspect absolutely deserve very careful and strict scrutiny for our national security.  No question.  That has always been the case and should continue to be so.  But the arbitrary, generalized application of a policy against an entire people based on their country of origin or their faith rather than rooting out the individual bad actors who deserve this kind of scrutiny is so antithetical to who we are supposed to be as a nation that I've been having trouble wrapping my brain around the depth of this betrayal to our core values.

Worse, I am at a loss to explain this to my child, let alone myself.

What I tell her is a story about someone I knew in college, who was from one of those countries now on the suspect list, and who was also a dear, dear friend and still is.  Someone that I would help, would give sanctuary to in a heartbeat, at risk to my own safety if need be.  Because it is the right thing to do.  I believe very strongly that you choose the light over the darkness, you reach out rather than smack down, you lift up where and when you get the opportunity not for the recognition or the accolades but because it is the right thing to do.

My friend is not the enemy because of the faith in which s/he was raised.  Neither are doctors in our communities, scholars at our universities, or the hundreds of other Muslims that I know or have known over my lifetime, and the hundreds of thousands more that I will never meet.  In this country, freedom of religion was so important at our founding that it was enshrined, deliberately and in very precise language:

First Amendment: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

We forget this at our peril.  We, the people, have allowed terrible injustices in our name over the centuries of our experiment in republican democracy and working toward a more perfect union.  Citizenship is hard -- it requires work and patience, it requires constant participation and vigilance and pushing from the outside on the powerful who have seized hold of power within.

But it also requires us to look inward, at the ugliness that always lurks just beneath the surface, and every so often bubbles up to the top.  The prejudices that our Founders wrote in checks and balances to control and subdue over time.

Monday, January 2, 2017


Every new year, I come up with these lofty goals that get lost in the day to day shuffle and the working grind as the year whizzes by me at the speed of light.  Then at the end of the year, I begin to look back and realize how little was accomplished of my goals from the beginning of the year's resolutions.

Very frustrating way to keep spinning on the hamster wheel, I must say, and not exactly confidence inspiring for this year's goals, either.

2016 was especially challenging for a variety of reasons.  We were incredibly busy, for one thing, because The Peanut's activity and extra lessons schedule has become crazy busy all on its own.  When you throw in work-related challenges and changes, including me beginning to teach multiple US history, world history and civics classes at the high school this year...and it makes for a LOT of work and very little time around the edges for healthy cooking or even for contemplation.

2017 doesn't look like it will slow down any time soon, either.

Which leads us to this fork in the road:  either I spend some time over the next couple of days planning and paring down my strategy to something workable on a daily basis, prioritizing healthy foods in the house and making contingency plans for days when cooking is impossible or I resign myself to being unhealthy, overweight, and increasingly miserable in my own body.

Yep, planning smarter it is.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Thanksgiving Planning and Recipes

NOTE:  I have had more than one person say to me in recent days that they are dreading Thanksgiving dinner because they fear the political in-fighting among various relatives, and that the residual bad-feelings from our collective election hangover will rear their ugly head around the dinner table.  While I can't relieve the stress of family angst, I can help alleviate the panic mode of food preparation just a wee bit.  What follows is my schedule for pretty much all holiday dining -- just substitute a ham or a prime rib or some other main dish for other holidays, and this schedule still works out well.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving with your family and friends.  One way that I alleviate stress at the holidays is to manage things through planning.  Another good way is to put out a lovely bowl and some slips of paper, and have your guests write things that they are thankful for on the slips and place them in the bowl.  After the main meal, but before dessert, read these out loud.  If you are still experiencing election hangover, put up a sign that says "please leave your politics at the door -- all sides, this means you!" and at least get a giggle out of it.  Focus on your gratitude.  It really does help.  That and a whole lot of wine...


It occurred to me this morning that planning for a Thanksgiving dinner can be overwhelming when you haven't had to plan things out before.  Especially when it is the first major holiday meal you've ever had to make for your family.

I remember that overwhelmed feeling very well the first year I cooked the bulk of the meal.

What I've learned through the years is that there is no substitute for planning.  And that dishes you can make in advance are your very best friends.

To that end, I thought I'd throw together some links and some information for folks, as well as an idea of how I line out my week on a day by day basis:

-- Here's my cooking schedule for the rest of the week:

Monday:  The Peanut and I will finish decorating and cleaning the house.  I've started cooking 3 days ahead, but that's really too early.  So use this day to get last minute groceries, get the rest of the house fairly clean for guests, and make certain you have plenty of extra napkins and such.  If you are going to the store this week, do it as early in the morning as possible, or as late at night as you can - fewer crowds means a saner shopping experience.

Tuesday:  This is where things start cooking this week.  I'll start by making my turkey stock as early as possible today, that way it can simmer in the crockpot for most of the day and all that glorious flavor develops.  It really and truly is the best turkey stock ever from your crockpot, and your stuffing recipe and gravy-making will thank you for the boost in amazing flavor.

I'll also make Granny's cranberry orange salad, so it has time for the flavors to really meld together (and so I can sneak bites of it for the next two days -- woot!).

I also make an herb butter that gets placed between the skin and the breast of the turkey to baste the meat as the turkey bakes.  To start, place a stick of butter into a ziploc freezer baggie, seal it completely and leave it out on the counter for a while to soften, usually this takes an hour or two.  Then, when the butter is softened, I finely chop the following:  some fresh parsley, thyme, chives, sage and a little but of rosemary.  I add some minced garlic and a little Penzey's poultry seasoning as well.   Open the baggie, pour in the herbs and garlic, then reseal completely; mush it altogether to combine well, then pop the butter baggie into the fridge.  As it cools a bit, try to get all the butter into a "log" so it's pretty much altogether in an easy-to-slice cylinder.  

Sunday, September 11, 2016

In Memory, 9/11: How Fragile We Are

May the memory of all those lost and injured, of the civilians going about their everyday lives and all of the heroes who stepped up and stepped into the breach to save them...may their memories all stay dear in our hearts and often in our prayers.

Life is fleeting.  Live yours to the fullest and use it wisely.  Be a good friend, reach out to someone in need, give hope to someone feeling lost.  Find a way to give back a little in memory of all of those we have lost on 9/11, and all those lost in the wake of that fateful day.  Honor their memory by bringing something good into the world.

Never forget how fragile we truly are.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Loving This

This is the latest trailer for "Loving," which opens late in the year just in time for Oscar consideration season. If this was all we ever saw of the movie, it would be a powerful statement of how far we have come, and how we constantly have to fight not to go backwards again, because we still...still in 2016...have a long way to go.

Fifty years ago in this country, it would have been illegal for a white American to marry a black American in far too many places in this country.

The Loving case was initially filed in their home state of Virginia, but it could have been filed in any number of places all over the nation, mostly places below the Mason-Dixon line, but not all of the states who had anti-miscigenation laws were in the deep South.  In some states, in the backwoods bayous and farmlands far away from the looseness of the city folks, this is still looked at sideways and with disrespect.

Fifty years ago: think about how many friends and neighbors would have been potentially subject to arrest and persecution under cover of state law for daring to love someone of a different color.  For a lot of us, that seems sad and ridiculous and completely illogical from our perch in 2016, knowing so many loving couples who fit that description and have done for years.

But for far too many in this country, they still feel that this is wrong.  And in this nasty brew of a political season, these festering folks are starting to crawl out of the woodwork and point the finger of shame from their small-minded corners.  For some people, the 1950s were a golden era of "values."

But they certainly weren't "Loving" values for all Americans, now were they?

Monday, July 11, 2016

Being An Adult Is The Worst Sometimes

My to do list is a bazillion miles long today, but all I can think about is playing hooky.  Being an adult can be so hard sometimes, can't it?

What do I want most to do at the moment?  Color and take a nap.

It's summertime, and I may be reverting to my childhood pastimes.  Is that so wrong?

Come and play, everything's a-okay:  the Sesame Street lifestyle is calling my name.

Maybe after I get the fridge cleaned out...

Monday, May 9, 2016

Devastation and Worry

UPDATE:  Guess who was hiding in a closet and being silent until we opened the door?  You guessed it.  We're so grateful that he's safe.


Our sweet ginger tabby, Sheldon, managed to slip out of the garage yesterday evening while we were unloading stuff from the car.  We cannot find him anywhere in the neighborhood.

I am in a panic.

Am feeling responsible, because I didn't even notice he was gone until this morning.  Normally, I do a pet check every night, but I was exhausted last night and just assumed he was in with The Peanut.

Never.  Assume.

The Peanut went to school this morning thinking he might just be hiding somewhere in the house.  He likes to do that.  Except that he isn't.  In the house, I mean, because we have searched everywhere, rattling the treat bag all over the place to no avail.

It is like losing a child, and I am desperate to find him.  What if he's hurt and has no one to comfort him?  What if he is hunkered down and terrified somewhere and can't find his way back to us?

He hasn't been outside since we brought him in during the bitter winter of arctic blast freezes, and he was awfully tiny and pitiful then.  He has no idea how to survive outside the house now.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired

The last three months have been a slog.  There has been a weird viral, upper respiratory sick going around here, and I have caught it full force.

I was sick all the way through our Spring Break trip to the beach.  Even lost my voice for a few days there.

I was sick when we got home.

And I have been plodding forward, sick still, ever since.  This week, it finally settled into my lungs again -- and I'm down with a fairly nasty form of bronchitis this time.  Ugh.

Since my chemo a few years ago, my immune system has just not bounced back like it used to do.  Each day, I try to eat a lot of fruits and veggies in a rainbow of colors, try to stay active and pushing toward 10,000 steps most days (unless I'm down for the count, and even then I'm in the 5,000 step range on a light day).  Since track season began and the weather has gotten a little better, I'm out walking around the outside of the track while The Peanut has her practices, which has really upped my step count on practice days.

I've even lost 6 pounds in the last few weeks.

But still:  sick and tired.

I've tried taking it easier this week -- lots of rest, pushing fluids, sleeping in, going to bed early, lots of fruits and veg with vitamin C, not over-doing it, etc., but am still feeling lousy.  The truth is that I am sick and tired of feeling so darn sick and tired.

So I'm asking for some advice.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Back From The Beach

We took a desperately needed beach trip for Spring Break to Hilton Head, SC.  As always, leaving the island was a little painful, because our walks on the beach and daily bike rides were so nice and relaxing.

But real life beckons, as it always does, and we are back home to finish out the school year.

We came home to cold temperatures, wind, rain, and even a little snow.  Brrrrrrrr...

(Photo by Christy Hardin Smith, taken on our last gorgeous day at the beach.)

Friday, February 19, 2016

Today's Quest For Books

We're going on a quest for some new books today for my school library.  Every so often, Scholastic has a big warehouse sale and puts remaindered and undersold books on a serious discount.

Unfortunately, they never hold these sales anywhere that is within easy driving distance for me.  Until now.

So off we go, to see what we can find among the discount bins and boxes, to replenish the well-thumbed pages of some of the favorites in my little library.  It is amazing how many books you can go through a year when your reading constituency consists of small children who love to read, but also love to eat messy snacks and drink kook-aid while doing so.  (Even when their mean librarian tells them no food and drinks with their library books on a regular basis.)

I've been compiling a list in my head of what I might want to seek out, but will be fine-tuning it on paper on the two-hour drive to the warehouse this morning.

If you haven't been paying attention the last few years, you should.  Children's literature is fantastic at the moment.  Thanks may be due to the J. K. Rowling Harry Potter phenomenon, and all of the copycat fantasy sequels it has spawned, but is more likely just a product of increased reading on the whole by kids who are finding some really good things to read.

More quality writing is spawning more quality reading, perhaps.

As I tell my kids, the classics are classics for a lot of very good reasons, not the least of which is how wonderful they are to read...still. But there is something really exciting about finding a new book that is so good that it is destined to join the classics pantheon.  All the new books build on the classic shoulders, putting new twists on older plots and characters, and adding to the imaginations of the next generation of readers and writers, some of whom may be in my classes.  Just the thought of this makes me seriously happy.

A good book is such a joy, isn't it?  The fact that so many of them keep appearing from so many wonderful authors just makes my job more fun -- because I try to read the new books that come into the library to be able to describe them for the kids and match them up with the right readers.  Let me tell you, there is some wonderful stuff to devour in my "to read" pile right now, and I'm hoping to add to that today.

A big thank you to all the authors and editors out there:  you make my job really enjoyable, and my reading time a lot more fun.  So, thank you very much for the constant source of new inspiration.

Whatever the reason for the explosion of good writing, there is a lot of really good reading out there for my kids, and today I am going out to find some great new books.  The thought of a giant warehouse full of discounted yet still awesome books is making me a little giddy, I'm not going to lie.  

I am such a nerd.  But in a good way, right?

(Photo via Pimtheda.)