Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Seige Continues

The plague of cicadas is past but our trial isn't over yet.

For the past couple of weeks, small branches have been falling from the giant oak tree in our front yard. Squirrels, I decided. Paul mowed them all up, only to find the yard covered again the next morning. No rain, no wind, no audible overnight squirrel party. Just dozens and dozens of small branches on the lawn.

Phase two, larger branches up in the tree are beginning to die. Fresh green leaves, newly full-sized and still with the brightness of spring about them are turning brown and shriveling up. Soon these larger branches, too, will fall.

Has our tree contracted some dread disease? Perusal of our other two pin oaks, the golden maple, several large evergreens that anchor our lot, and the littered lawns of our neighbors, show that all the big old oaks in the neighborhood are experiencing the same problem to various extents.

Our shady subdivision would look very strange without its gorgeous cover. Plus these huge trees would be very expensive to remove. But before I begin to panic I key one more search into my friend Google.


Apparently, "the female cicada cuts into tender twigs to lay her eggs." This can cause smaller or heavily attacked branches to die but large, hearty, healthy trees shouldn't be at risk of destruction from cicadas.

Hopefully the oak trees will be back to their usual glory next year. And my children will be 20, 17, and 13 when this particular cicada infestation returns.

Monday, June 27, 2011


The lack of civility astounds me. The loss of value for honor, integrity, and truth horrifies me. Our relentless pursuit of sensationalism and the shallowest possible understanding of important issues sadden me.

Not that long ago “flip flopper” was a political kiss of death. Now we no longer expect anyone to believe in anything. We expect politicians to kowtow to whichever group’s vote they’re trying to court.

What happened to the Straight Talk Express? What happened to the “service” part of “civil service?”

What happened to maturity?

I don’t like what we’re doing militarily in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, or Yemen (etc.). But I also acknowledge that we have caused additional instability in regions that can little afford it and have some responsibility to shore up what we broke. And I think we need to do a heck of a lot more for our vets when they come home: from taking care of their health care needs to addressing the real issues with re-integration into a civilian life.

I chafe against certain taxes. But I’d willingly pay more of others, because I think it’s ridiculous that we can expect to engage in wars without “tightening our belts” at all. I believe in the importance of public education, public funding for primary research, infrastructure, and a social safety net. I don’t believe that any child should be hungry. Or any adult without access to affordable health care.

I detest certain litmus tests. I’m Christian but think it’s ridiculous that politicians must profess my faith to have any hope of being elected in many places. I’d rather politicians demonstrate honor, integrity, intelligence, and maturity. Their faith (or lack thereof) is their own business. Flag lapel pins? Please.

We have so many more important things to deal with.

People who intentionally distort the truth to inflame the public should be publicly reprimanded and probably fined until it hurts. Global climate change and evolution should not be significant political issues.

Many rural areas have no obstetricians to deliver babies because of malpractice insurance. And everywhere physicians over-treat (causing additional problems for patients) because of worries about lawsuits. And yet we spend all our time squawking about Planned Parenthood. We care so much more about whether or not a woman should have the right to terminate a pregnancy than we care about the staggering numbers of children in the foster care system, or living in unacceptable homes, hungry and without the care and support they need in order to grow and thrive and become contributing members of society.

We’d rather draw lines in the sand about an individual’s right to own assault rifles than sit down together and have constructive conversations that address the balance between individual rights and the responsibilities of living within a society.

I’m anti-drug. I’m not wild about cigarettes or our over-fascination with alcohol, either. I don’t advocate a return to Prohibition. I’m for common sense. I’m for responsibility. I know addiction is a serious issue requiring more than the threat of prison to solve. But I’m weary of everything being so addictive (gambling, sex, pornography, junk food, television, chemicals, etc.) that the individual bears no responsibility for moderating his or her own behavior.

I’d like to vote for people who are willing to work hard and make the tough decisions - to be leaders rather than windsocks.

"We've got serious problems, and we need serious people, and if you want to talk about character, Bob, you'd better come at me with more than a burning flag and a membership card. If you want to talk about character and American values, fine. Just tell me where and when, and I'll show up. This is a time for serious people, Bob, and your fifteen minutes are up."
Aaron Sorkin can write!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Not My Hair Day

Ada wants to have curly hair like mama's. So, while we watched Free Willy after bath one Saturday night I put Ada's hair in braids.

Perhaps she's not meant to have curly hair.

(Although my brother-in-law's picture from later that same day makes Ada's hair look a lot better.)

The girls also took turns "doing" my hair by spraying my head with a water bottle and yanking a comb through my snarly locks. Noting the scissors on the floor in the first photo, the evening could have turned out much worse!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Electric Youth!

Did you ever wear Debbie Gibson's Electric Youth perfume in 1980's? I did.

Imagine my surprise when, after slathering my face with my brand-new overnight cream, I discovered what Revlon Cosmetics did with their leftover stock of the fragrance: apparently they sold it to Oil of Olay!

On an unrelated note, this morning started out oddly. Paul got the girls dressed and Ellie out to her bus while I slept in. (I slept late not because I'm lazy but rather because I was up early with the baby.) So far nothing unusual.

Paul showered and dressed for work as I fed Teddy (again) and helped Ada apply sunscreen. As we gathered in the kitchen for last minute cups of coffee and snacks to go, Paul looked down at the baby.

"I'm taking Teddy to work this morning."

OK! "You might want to grab a bottle out of the frig and a clean outfit from the dresser. Diaper bag's in the car."

I took Ada to Camp Tiny Tots, grocery shopped all by myself, then picked up Teddy from Paul's office around 10:00 am. It was lovely to have an hour or so to myself this morning. But I think the best part of it was the sheer spontaneity. And it worked out great! Paul loved showing off his son at work, Teddy grinned and giggled at everyone, and I got a week's worth of grocery shopping done in 30 minutes.

Lovely start to the day, even if my face does smell a little funny.

Monday, June 20, 2011

On the Move

I don't like to post that we're going out of town before we leave, since that seems to me like an invitation to come over and eat all our dog food.

But now that we're safely at home I'd like to share that so far this month we've been to Wyoming - for Paul's parents' retirement party - and Indiana - for a gathering with my family.

Teddy and I flew to Wyoming while Paul and the girls drove out with Paul's sister, her husband, and their turning-4-year-old. The car wouldn't quite carry all 8 of us (including 4 car seats) so we figured we'd save the two-month-old the trauma of a 1000 mile road trip. It was a lovely weekend with 23 of Paul's family members and 100+ of their closest friends(!). Congrats to my in-laws!

Ellie flew back with Teddy and me so that she wouldn't miss the first day of summer school. Teddy and Ada and I spent the rest of the week at Vacation Bible Camp. Last week we had a few days of "down time" for playdates, a birthday party, a creek stomp, more summer school, and a dance recital. Then we struck out on another trip.

This weekend we drove to Brown County, Indiana, for my family's annual summer getaway. (We usually go to the beach in South Haven, Michigan.) We stayed in this amazing "log cabin." Amazingly, we all fit: in the great room, around the massive dining table, and in the 5 bedrooms. Each bedroom had its own en suite bathroom. This is the way to keep families close-but-not-too-close. By "my family" I mean my parents, my two sisters, our three husbands, and all the grandkids. The current tally is 7 children ages 7 and younger, three of whom are infants.

All this just to say:

I'm from Indiana and a proud Hoosier. Woo hoo!

But I went to college in Missouri and have lived here ever since. Woo hoo!

And what people from Indiana might or might not know is that people from Missouri use "Hoosier" as a derogative term meaning "white trash" or "trailer trash" or "tacky/classless/insert other offensive term here." It's so common I think many Missourians don't even realize that "Hoosier" refers to people from Indiana, let alone that we consider the name something to be proud of.

As we drove east along Interstate 70 we came to a (apparently non-ironic) sign that read, "Hoosier Country Club." It sat in front of a trailer park. I wish we'd stopped to take a picture.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Summer Crockpot Week: The Results Are In

Overall the week was a huge success. Starting the crock pot the night before, or in the morning, or whenever I had the energy to think about dinner made the house smell delicious all day and meal prep was mostly a matter of setting the table, pouring drinks, and maybe heating up a side dish. But some of the meals turned out better than others.

  1. crock pot French dip sandwiches
    I rubbed a roast with French onion soup mix and dropped it in the crock pot with some beef broth in the morning. By dinner time it was tender enough to shred easily with a fork. We served the meat on French rolls with a little melted mozzarella cheese on top. The juice from the crock pot served as au jus for dipping. Ellie and Paul loved this dish and devoured their sandwiches. Ada doesn't eat dinner. I found it a bit greasy; next time I'll trim the beef more carefully and make sure I use fat free broth.

  2. crock pot chicken pizza (served over spaghetti squash or pasta)
    I put a couple of chicken breasts in the crock pot at lunch time and covered them with canned tomatoes and some canned pizza sauce. (This is quick and easy prep, not gourmet cooking!) By dinner time the chicken was tender and easily shredded with a fork. Shortly before serving I baked a spaghetti squash (following the instructions on the sticker on the veg) and boiled a little pasta. I served the chicken and sauce over spaghetti squash and put a few noodles on top for camouflage. This dish was a hit with all, but I found the sauce a bit acidic. Next time I think I'll use a light pasta sauce and call it chicken spaghetti. The spaghetti squash was incredibly easy to make, looked just like pasta, and had an incredibly mild squash flavor that hid behind the tomato.

  3. crock pot burritos
    This was by far my favorite dish of the week. Paul's too. I rubbed a beef roast with taco seasoning and put it in the crock pot with broth, Rotel tomatoes, black beans, and corn. A couple of hours before serving I thought the dish looked a bit watery so I added half a cup of brown rice. Perfection! Wrapped in a tortilla it looked liked something I'd order at Qdoba. Serve with salsa and eat in the basement during a tornado.

  4. crock pot Jamaican jerk chicken
    This one was good, too, though the children didn't care for it quite as much. I rubbed a couple of chicken breasts with Jamaican jerk seasoning and put them in the crock pot with broth, limes, cilantro, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and corn (I think. I'm not sure I added the tomatoes or corn and I probably added extra spices). This was served over brown rice and garnished with fresh limes and shredded coconut. I found the meat a little dry; I'll cook it on low next time.

  5. crock pot vegetable jambalaya
    Jambalaya, normally a skillet favorite here, was my biggest disappointment of the week. The taste was fine, but the vegetables suffered greatly from spending too much time in the crock pot so I ended up serving jambalaya-flavored mush. I intended to make this as a vegetarian dish but ended up adding some turkey sausage. This was a good thing, since the sausage was the only texture in the dish. I don't remember which vegetables I added but I know I used vegetable broth, brown rice, garlic, onion, Louisiana seasoning, bell pepper, peas, broccoli, tomatoes, corn, and maybe some tomato paste. I think jambalaya is a much better stove top meal than a crock pot meal. Alas.

This week I used no crock pot at all. We had homemade mac & cheese (the children prefer Kraft), homemade baked chicken nuggets with baked sweet potato fries (huge hit), French toast with low sodium bacon and fresh organic mixed berries (quick meal before a dance recital), and homemade crusty pizza calzones (universal joy). Also side salads, etc., usually from a bag.

My favorite warm weather dish is my mom's taco salad, but it takes a bit of last minute prep - time and energy that are hard to find at the end of the day. We eat it a few times each summer, frequently when we have guests. What's your favorite summer meal?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Simple Gifts

I used to have this idea about writing a novel called Simple Gifts about a child with special needs. I can't imagine writing that book, now or ever. Because the more I learn, the more it becomes apparent to me that there's nothing at all "simple" about a child with special needs.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell

Every time I hear or see Sarah Vowell - as a contributor on NPR's This American Life or as a guest on The Daily Show - I want to read one of her books. But picking up a nonfiction book about American history is not my first inclination when I'm looking for a fun read.

This month I took the plunge into Vowell's Assassination Vacation. What better book for the beginning of vacation season? The book follows Vowell's road trips to sites associated with the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley.

Despite my reluctance to read history, I fully expected to love this book.

And I did enjoy it quite a bit.

The two reasons I didn't love the book as much as I expected to: in the prologue Vowell (quoting a friend) used the word "retarded" twice as a pejorative having nothing to do with people with intellectual disabilities. Yes, I'm hypersensitive about this issue. But it jarred me out of the (otherwise hilarious) narrative and got us off on the wrong foot.

A deeper "problem" with the book is Vowell's disjointed, stream-of-consciousness style. I love it and my brain often works the same way. But I found the plot (such as it is) hard to follow sometimes. Tangent split off from tangent and I dutifully followed Vowell's breadcrumb trail but in my sleep deprived state - I have a newborn baby! - I had a hard time finding my way back to the main narrative. (Are you picturing the birds of sleeplessness devouring bread crumbs? Because I am.)

Not being intimately familiar with all the characters (the assassins, their families, people near the Presidents at the time of the attacks, etc.) I occasionally had to stop and reorient myself. Wait. Who are we talking about again? And how does this relate?

But I am so so glad I read the book. I learned a ton - painlessly - and I took away something even more valuable. As an ignorant American (alas) I have little sense of historical time. I know that our nation's history is relatively short but thinking, "The Civil War was 150 years ago," didn't really mean much to me. That is, until I saw it this way:

Robert Todd Lincoln - the President's son - was an adult with an established career when his father was murdered. He was still practicing law when my grandparents were born. In fact he didn't die until they were adults. Wow, these are all current events when I think about it that way. And I didn't realize how recently we held public hangings in this country.

To sum up: Sarah Vowell is hilarious and it's worth the time to read or listen to her work whereever you find it. This is a good, interesting, and educational read. Vowell is passionate about American History - she considers it her religion - and she shares her excitement in a way that's quite infectious.

One additional caveat. Vowell wrote this book during the Iraq War and President G.W. Bush's second term. Assassination Vacation is very much a product of its own place in history; Vowell ties in current events and politics with the historical narratives, and she is very much a liberal.

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@Barrie Summy