Thursday, September 30, 2010

Autumn Meal

This afternoon San Diego's uncharacteristically humid weather culminated in thunder-and-lightning storms.

Thunder and lightning! Very very frightening!

Particularly in San Diego, where even water falling from the sky constitutes a weather emergency.

I pretended that the rain did, in fact, cut the humidity, that it both looked AND felt like fall outside, and made an autumn soup of sorts:

Squash Ravioli in Broth with Spinach and Cannelini

32oz. chicken broth (I used the low-sodium variety)
2 C. water
A 16 oz. box of mini squash ravioli
1 T olive oil
1 small onion, halved and sliced in narrow wedges
1 can cannelini (white) beans, rinsed
Bunch of fresh spinach, roughly chopped
Fresh chopped basil (or basil leaves)
Fresh parmesan cheese

Saute onion and garlic in olive oil in pot (you will use this pot to boil the ravioli, so medium-to-large size is best) till onion is translucent.
Add broth and water; gently boil as directed.
Lower heat.
Add spinach, beans, and basil and simmer.
Add salt and pepper to taste.

Sprinkle with parmesan cheese, and serve!

Monday, September 27, 2010

List: September is the Month...

1. ...when blog post seedlings, normally regularly tended to and watered, instead sprout, and then dry up due to neglect.

2. ...when "sleeping in" till 7:00 all summer makes waking up at 5:30 hurt real bad.

3. ...when summer and fall converge, and the simultaneous holding-onto-summer and cringing-at-the-onslaught-of-fall causes us whiplash as well as over scheduling. Because (waaaaah) we still want to sail and swim and ride the roller coaster after school, but we've got homework and soccer practice and meetings cramping our style.

4. ...when I forget to pay the bills. We are also happen to be refinancing our house, which means I am forgetting to sign important financial documents.

5. ...when I lose touch with friends. And with my husband. And with my keys, my cell phone, and my mind.

6. ...when I begin longing for cooler weather, shorter days, and Halloween decorations in neighbors' yards.

7. ...when the sight of Christmas decorations stresses me out.

8. ...when I spend Friday nights at the football field.

9. ...when I run for exercise less, and run ragged more.

10. ...when I "try to remember the kind of September/When life was slow and oh, so mellow"?

Yeah, I think I can't remember that.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Dear Homework

Big Sis's assignment last night was to write a Friendly Letter.

The Friendly Letter quickly became The Enemy.

Really, it doesn't matter what the homework assignment is on any given night. The assignment could be Eat Chocolate Chip Cookies and Talk About Your Experience. But chewing or even simply comprehending the task will be too difficult if a certain someone is overly tired or not in the mood.

Big Sis has written plenty of letters. All by herself. Most recently, she has been penning notes to fairies, without even being asked. Not to mention that writing Friendly Letters has been the focus of instruction during the past two weeks of second grade and I have seen evidence of her correspondence with her teacher.

Yet here's a glimpse of the conversation I forced her to have with herself last night as I washed dishes and sighed, rolled my eyes, reminded her to read the detailed directions, and threatened to send her to bed:


"I don't know what to write."

"Who do I even write to? I don't even know who to write to!"

"Who am I suppsed to write to? What am I even going to say?"

"What is the date? How do I write the date? I don't even know where to put it."

"I don't know how to write a letter. Why can't you help me write my letter?"

"I can't believe you won't help me. How am I supposed to do this?"

"I'm doing it all wrong. Because you won't help me."

After nearly rubbing a hole in her paper with her eraser (and I shudder to think of the horrors which would have ensued), silence settled over the scene and, lo, a friendly letter from Big Sis to her Auntie emerged. The subject was her school and her teacher, both described within as "awesome."

Being buckled in for the nightly Homework Roller Coaster? Not so awesome.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Peter, Paul, and Precincts

Last night, I attended a Peter, Paul, and (memory of) Mary concert at Birch Aquarium. The stage was set outside on the aquarium's tide pool deck overlooking the Pacific, where I was in the company of a colleague known for blaring folk music from her Mercedes, a bunch of mellow Baby Boomers, and a delegation of anti-gravity shoes. It seemed fitting on September 11, 2010 to listen to anthems from the Civil Rights movement and the musings of two men who've seen a lot in their day.

The song that caught my ear and stayed with me was "Jail for Justice": "Laws are made by people/And people can be wrong...The more you study history/The less you can deny it/A rotten law stays on the books/‘til folks with guts defy it!"

I can think of at least one rotten law on the books. As the song reminds me, though, "Once unions were against the law/But slavery was fine/Women were denied the vote/While children worked the mine," so there's hope that this injustice, too, will take its place in distant memory.

Tonight, as I prepared to walk precincts for the first time on behalf of a ballot initiative, I thought about my record of political action, about the fact that I've never been "jailed for justice." I've attended rallies and speeches and marches, but I haven't walked a picket line or participated in a sit-in.

I won't lie; my knees knocked at the mere prospect of ringing doorbells to confront my neighbors. It was dinner time on a Sunday evening. I would be That Guy on your doorstep with the clipboard, the one you pretend you're not home for. Proposing that we raise your taxes. After factoring in the Creepy House and Big Dog potentials, I found myself whimpering, "We're going out there alone? Without a partner?"

Geez, I berated myself. Where is your courage, Fer? What are you made of?

I can remember reading Gone With the Wind in my youth, and wondering what I would have done as the daughter of a wealthy plantation owner. When I read Stones from the River (one of my all-time favorite books) as an adult, I imagined I would have emulated the character of Trudi, caring for her Jewish neighbors during the Holocaust.

What would I have done as a young man during the Vietnam War draft? What if I were a white South African during apartheid?

The answers, my friends, are blowin' in the wind.

How about, what if I were myself, living in my own time? I mean, we've got a war on and institutionalized discrimination and hurricane victims and injustices, and I haven't been jailed for justice. I could enumerate some reasons I haven't taken my convictions to the wall: priorities, lifestyle choices, career considerations.

But I've also come to understand that while there are few limits to my righteous indignation and sense of moral outrage, my guts have boundaries, starting near your front door and ending at the county jail.

Perhaps we each chart our own propensity to take action where "Know Thyself" intersects with "Do Your Part."

Walking precincts was admittedly outside my comfort zone; marching and writing letters feel a little less personal. But as a public school employee, mother of a student in a school of which I am immensely proud, and resident of a state cutting funds for education, I knew the right thing for me to do was walk confidently up the block, clear my throat, and find out where people stand on a proposal for a parcel tax to help our city's schools.

And I quickly discovered that besides getting to peek inside some cool houses I've jogged past and admired, a benefit of walking precincts and talking to my fellow voters was feeling very...American.

Only one man visibly ignored me at the door as he sat on the couch and watched TV. My neighbors who were home took time to talk with me. I heard a few enthusiastic endorsements of the proposition. I directed the undecideds to sources of more information. I spoke with twentysomethings, couples, agemates, and senior citizens.

I gained the most, however, from the dissenters I met.

I heard from a small business owner, longtime resident, and product of neighborhood private schools that this economy almost lost him his house. He had to take in a roommate to pay his bills. My neighbor politely but firmly informed me that he resented public employees for their pensions and time off as he struggled to make ends meet. He was a man, by all appearances, who should be looking forward to retirement, and who was working harder than ever.

Another woman vowed not to vote for any spending measure until Sacramento got its act together, and no amount of my explaining that parcel tax funds would remain local was going to change her mind. We agreed to disagree. I admired her flower beds; she wished me well.

I walked down her steps thankful I am a citizen of a country where I am safe to knock on strangers' doors (Hey, look at me! Not so scary after all!), where I am free to engage those strangers in political discussion, and where I am treated kindly and respectfully (at least, regarding this issue...).

But while I believe in the importance of supporting our schools from our own pockets in this time of budget shortfall and believe it behooves all of us to have great schools and well-educated children in our neighborhoods, I understand and appreciate the views of those with seemingly little to gain from spending more. I understand and appreciate that I have chosen a career with long vacations, strong union support, and a healthy retirement plan.

I also understand there are a lot of things broken, and there's a lot that needs fixing, and there are a lot of people buried under broken pieces. Proposition J is only one local solution to one problem, and we need to do much, much more.

So perhaps tonight it was less important that I believed more in my cause, and more important that I engaged more with my neighbors and believed more in this political process we're part of, as convoluted and backwards and frustrating as it may seem. We can, as the song says, make laws and defy them. We can propose to fix the broken parts, bit by bit, and urge our neighbors to get on board.

Or we can simply answer the door when our neighbors knock, and agree to disagree. If this land is your land, after all, then we are required to have a supermajority vote in agreement to tax your parcel.

The rest of this land is made for you and me.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Second Grade

Monday, on the Eve of Second Grade, Big Sis and I went on a first-day-of-school-outfit mission with her cousin and auntie. We returned home armed with new dresses for her and for Little Sis.

I almost updated my Facebook status thusly: "Oh, to buy a dress confidently, like a seven-year-old, without trying it on."

Little Sis wanted to sleep in her new duds so she could eject herself from bed and straight into the welcoming arms of One More Year of Preschool. We nixed that plan in favor of jammies.

The next morning Little Sis had her dress on before both eyes were open. Big Sis donned her dress and immediately hated it.

"I feel like a GROWN UP," she growled, tugging at the dress's white starchy collar, which she described as going "way up here, and way over THERE!"

Yeah, so she probably should have tried it on.

We settled on a flowered dress from last spring and polka dot socks. There was peace in the valley until the other shoe dropped.

Except there was no other shoe.

I bought my kid some new kicks this summer, thinking they'd be great for school. Comfy sneakers with glitter.

But her feet didn't grow as fast as I anticipated, and the new shoes don't fit yet. I confess that I didn't take proper stock of the shoe situation before the First Day of School. Our girls wore flip flops every day for the past 12 weeks; I didn't know where we stood in the closed-toe arena.

"Mom. What shoes am I going to wear?"

"Ummm...your new ones?"

"They don't FIT, Mom; they're really loooong."

" about your white sandals?"

"MOM! Seriously? They're inappropriate. INAPPROPRIATE. Do you want me to get yelled at by my teacher and end up in the principal's office?"


There were some old Mary Janes that could work. But the left shoe of that pair...well, didn't drop. It wasn't under the couch; it wasn't in the car.

Which left us with a pair of tennis shoes Big Sis never really liked. Slightly dorky ones. I knew she didn't want to wear them but they were our only hope.

Before I could accuse her of being snotty, she clarified: "Mom. It's NOT the way they LOOK. It's the way they FEEL."

Cue tears. Followed by my cajoling. And finally, the pleading, with a splash of gritted teeth: "This. Is. What. We. Have. I am sorry. I will buy you some shoes that fit TONIGHT. I promise."

And that was the promise I regretted later when I was still at work for my own school's Back to School Night and husband called re: Little Sis was on the verge of vomiting and when was I coming home.

I assured him I would make haste as soon as parents were leaving our campus and stop by the store for some Sprite.

While Dad was distracted, Big Sis followed up with a phone call of her own: "Ummm...hi, Mom? I'm just calling to see if you are going to go get me a new pair of shoes?"

As I listened to that voicemail, my blood pressure began to rise. I wanted to be home, hearing about Big Sis's first day and comforting Little Sis with her funky stomach flu. Instead, I was at work, with my daughter reminding me she badly wanted shoes that fit. I was irritated that she appeared more concerned about shoes than about her sister.

But her chirpy last sentence saved the day. "Mom. I will totally wear my tennis shoes tomorrow if you don't have a chance to buy me some new ones. Okay, bye! I love you!"

And this is why, after confirming that Little Sis was holding it down for the time being, I made a Sprite-and-shoes run on the way home from work.

I arrived home in time for goodnight kisses, brand-new-shoe endorsements, sick-tummy-rub-downs, and the news that Big Sis was (elected? chosen? selected by lottery?) President of Her Class for the week. With two Vice Presidents below her.

All in all, it turns out, the first day of second grade was not second rate.

And word on the street is (after consulting her cousin with the matching outfit), Big Sis might rock her new dress this week. Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Fumbling Toward Forty

So, I am turning forty in five months. I'm not depressed about it; I feel, puzzled. Because despite increased forgetfulness, sagginess, softness (all right, perhaps I can't blame those last two merely on age), greyness, wrinkliness, and age-spottiness, I could swear I am 32 years old. I feel 32, both physically and in terms of hip-ness. I believe I will be 32 forever, inside. I am not in denial about growing older, but it's okay with me so far.

Turning 40 seems to deserve some sort of homage, however, so I am going to be devoting some blog posts to the approaching milestone.

Yesterday a forty-odd, hip, and also 32-years-old-inside colleague and I were discussing our acknowledgement that we are not in the "young teacher" classification at work anymore, despite somehow imagining we still are. Invite us to Happy Hour, young teachers, because we're game!

Except we have to pick up the kids from daycare. Dang it.

I am finding that floundering toward forty can be a great excuse to embrace what I know is ME, and to shed what I know is NOT. If my thirties were about solidifying personal style and philosophy and accepting the destiny I paved for myself, my forties are about purity and paring down: purging the Might-Have-Beens and committing to the Good Bets. For example, it's time to toss the Pilates videos in the media cabinet. Once upon a time, there was a certain optimism and potential that accompanied their presence in our home: I could , if I wanted, work out without leaving the house. Now there is the liberty of recognizing that while I may still take up Pilates someday, it will never be in my living room.

On the other hand, running shoes: Good Bet.

The lipstick brush in my medicine cabinet doesn't take up much space, but it pretends that I just might take the time to use a brush to apply lipstick. Maybe I did, once, in my twenties after reading Glamour magazine.

Tweezers, though? Good Bet.

Boxes of china I bought a decade ago when I aspired to a fancy dining scheme are headed to craigslist. We eat out of mismatched, homemade pottery, and we like it that way.

I'm ditching the questionably functional lingerie, too, and focusing on funky jewelry and shoes.
It's going to be Popeye decade, or life, henceforth: I yam what I yam, and that's all that I yam!