A[nother] Kaddish

This morning we decided, even though the weather was gray and there was a chance of rain, to head off to the Farmers’ Market. We love being in Madison and having this gem in our yard, even though we haven’t been down to the Market since the summer. We figured since there’s only a couple weeks left to the outdoor season, so we should go.

But this isn’t about the Market or about the autumn or the fall harvest or any of those beautiful images.

As it is our habit, we begin by getting breakfast at Gotham Bagels. While Trav waited in line, I snagged a table and occupied my time with reading the news. And then I saw it: Breaking News from The New York Times: “There are multiple casualties in a shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, the police said. Two officers who responded to the scene were shot.” That was at 10:26 a.m., central time when I received that first bit of news. Not long after that, my mother called and one of my closest friends texted me. Since I was in a restaurant, I couldn’t really hear the phone or the text, but the upshot is that they wanted me to know.

While I grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, and I have lived in places as diverse as Boston, Manhattan, San Angelo, Texas, and Hattiesburg, Mississippi (among others), I went to graduate school in Pittsburgh. While I went to get my MFA in poetry—typically a two- to three-year degree—I lived in Pittsburgh for six years. Except for one academic year living in the Friendship neighborhood, I lived in Shadyside. While I imagine Shadyside is now fully gentrified, when I lived there in the late 80s and early 90s, it was diverse neighborhood (not as diverse as Friendship or East Liberty) with interesting old buildings that I’m guessing have been rehabbed. Just across Fifth Ave and up a monster of hill was Squirrel Hill. Friends of mine lived there in apartments or subdivided homes, much as many of us did in Shadyside or Oakland or any of the other neighborhoods close to Pitt or Carnegie Mellon where we all went to school.

I also babysat for a family who lived in Squirrel Hill. They had four kids, the last two were twins. My last year in Pittsburgh, I was one of their primary babysitters, spending a lot of Saturday nights making mac ‘n cheese, playing board games, watching movies like Aladdin, and then begging the oldest to go the hell to bed.

Squirrel Hill was also the place where one friend and I worked out at the Pink Lady Gym as we called it (even after they painted it and it was no longer pink). Squirrel Hill also had one of the last The Lodge stores, where once we bought—together—four pair of shoes for about $17 (they were on super clearance). When my parents came to town, I took them to Katz’s Deli, which had the best corned beef sandwich—bigger than your head—and so lean you could weep. And there was a Giant Eagle grocery right on Murray Ave that one of my classmates from Pitt remarked that she got the most beautiful pork chops there one weekend. I remarked back, what do you expect, no one else is buying too many pork chops in Squirrel Hill.

That is to say, Squirrel Hill was and has been, a historically Jewish neighborhood. I remember the summer before I moved being at a party hosted by a friend I worked with who was an Orthodox Jew. That meant for her and most of the people she knew (except for me), that she kept Kosher, kept the Sabbath, and a whole host of other traditions that observant and Orthodox Jews follow. At the party, she mentioned to a group of guys she introduced me to (she was always hoping I would become observant and marry a nice Jewish boy), that I was moving to Pittsburgh. They all wanted to know if I was moving to Squirrel Hill. They all knew there was a strong Orthodox community there. While I wasn’t—and I wasn’t and am not Orthodox, I learned soon that there is a strong Jewish community in general there.

So Squirrel Hill is a neighborhood. There’s some businesses. And a community. It’s the place where your bubbie might live.

And this latest shooting also happened there. I say latest, because I know it’s not the last. I am not being glib. Since 2017, we’ve had 14 mass shootings according to The Washington Post, not counting today’s latest horrific shooting. A mass shooting by most accounts is where four or more people are killed. I did the math from The Post, and 162 were killed and nearly 500 injured in those nearly 22 months. I realize I’m not counting the daily violence that happens in cities like Chicago or other mass killings where cars and trucks have been weaponized. I just want to look at guns. Face it, if you don’t know this (and I think you all do), Congress has allowed itself to first look the other way when a shooting happened and the NRA whipped everyone into a frenzy about taking their guns away. Then they became complicit—especially when they allowed nothing to happen when 26 people—20 first-graders were mowed down. And then they got on its hands and knees to… You fill in the blanks about what they and the NRA have done when 58 people were killed in Las Vegas at a concert or 17 people at a high school or 25 people at church or two folks just grocery shopping at their local Kroger’s, or now, 11 who just went to shul on a Saturday morning.

There were services going on in three different parts of the building (for three different congregations). At the main one, Tree of Life, there was a baby naming going on. This is a service for a newborn girl; boys at eight days have a bris. While there is no physical altering to the child, it is a ceremony that I have to imagine was an egalitarian act for a congregation that believes “As a conservative Jewish congregation, Tree of Life… remains true to traditional teachings, yet is also progressive and relevant to the way we live today.” Conservative Judaism for those who aren’t familiar with the different sects of Judaism, is really considered “middle of the road.” That is, they do not believe in a more literal translation of the Torah (the old Testament), but they are not as far afield as Reform Jews. I grew up in a conservative synagogue. Men and women sat together, girls were bat mitzvahed just like the boys were bar mitzvahed, but the shul kept kosher, while I imagine a lot of the congregants did not. At the same time, I imagine that the folks at Tree of Life were a community of people together today celebrating not only the Shabbat, but a baby.

And then this.

According to The New York Times, Anti-Semitic incidents increased 57% in 2017. And I’m pretty sure that in general racist and xenophobic incidents are up as well—and I’m also guessing, their surge is even higher. I’ll admit that these incidents did not begin with Trump, but he stands there at campaign rallies and golf courses and in meetings with foreign dignities and at the UN and everywhere he steps, fans these flames. I don’t care if he has his tongue in Bibi Netanyahu’s ear—he also has it the crown prince of Saudi Arabia’s ear—and the NRA, and god knows who or what else. This is the same 45 who said that there are good people on both sides.

This is to say, I don’t know what to do with the anger I feel that has been increasing with each killing, each indignity, each and every fucking lie. I keep telling myself that I should not wish death on anyone. So fine, I don’t wish death on anyone. But I would love the ones who love these guns to find themselves in a situation where they experience a good deal of life-changing fear. No physical pain, just fear. But would that really change anything?

So home now from the Farmers’ Market, it’s chilly and quiet here in my home office as it gets dark. I am lucky—I have an office and I look out to a wooded berm behind our house. Often this helps calm me down, but all over my Facebook feed and elsewhere in real life, people are mourning this latest horror. It’s not that I’m not sorry for those sad sad souls. I am. And while I feel a connection as a former resident of the city and a Jew, I know that I am not one of those poor souls. Or rather I am. We all are. Because today it is a shul in Squirrel Hill, but how long will it be until it’s my shul or your church or our school or concert or rally for peace? It is the hate, but is also the guns. How long are we going to allow this, Congress? We don’t get the escorts you get, and it’s clear it’s open season on just about everyone. I know I am going to vote in ten days. I hope to God, that if you believe as I do, that we need to get guns out of people’s hands at the same time, and we need to fight this overwhelming hate, that you will show up and vote too.



Wearing My Pussy Hat: One Year Later

It’s been a year since I’ve blogged. I can provide a lot of excuses, but none of them are very interesting. Suffice to say: I didn’t have the words to say what I needed to say. Today, I felt like I did. Please be advised, though, this is a posting is about power–and that is the essence of politics. If you’re not up to it, move on. But having said that, I have warned you. But if you are, I’m talking to you. All of you.


In case anyone hasn’t noticed, it’s cold. Today as I write, the temperature at 1 o’clock in the afternoon is a sunny 9 degrees (but it’s a whole lot warmer than this morning when it was -6). And it’s been cold since before Christmas. I’ve managed to lose two of my hats, and so, the other day when it was freezing and I needed a hat, I turned to my Pussy Hat.

I actually have knitted three Pussy Hats. I knitted one for a friend going to the March in New York. I then learned that Madison would have its own March, so I knitted a hat for myself—which I also ended up giving away to a friend after the March (the crowd was estimated to be 75,000 and 100,000—way to go Madison!). Then I made another one for me to keep. I thought, our resistance is just beginning—I will need this more.

Knitting & Watching Obama’s Farewell           Hat One: Went to Nic Marching in NYC


Hat Two: On My Way to the March, 21 January 2017

This is what Democracy Looks Like.

It’s not that the resistance is over—in fact, the predictions for how awful this administration will be has not been wrong. We’ve seen rights for immigrants, reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, and more erode or threatened to be eroded. Health care, we’ve been told, is not a right, but a privilege. Our taxes are about to be increased, and a lot of people are scared, angry, or both. Sure we’ve had some a few victories (Doug Jones, a microscope focused on sexual harassment with #MeToo), but these don’t erase the shootings in Las Vegas or Texas or Every. Single. Day. In. Chicago. Nor do these few victories erase the hard work that still needs to be done. It’s overwhelming, I know, but at the same time, we cannot stop. There’s 2018 and then 2020 elections. There are still too many guns out there. Cars and trucks have become vehicles for mass murder. There are far too many who still think it’s no big deal—they can make us the butt of the joke, say it’s our fault, or maybe there are some who still think it’s okay to grab an ass or pussy. So, we still need to keep our Pussy Hats on.

But after that weekend, I didn’t see a lot of people wearing one. I mean, I saw one or two every once and a while. To be fair, except for shoveling snow at one point, I didn’t wear my hat either.  IMG_2451It was a warmish winter—and then it was summer, which extended well into the fall. But then the other day, it was cold, I couldn’t find any of my regular black knit hats so I said, what the hell, I’m wearing my Pussy Hat.

I headed out to do some errands. We had been gone over the holidays so we needed groceries, dry cleaning to be dropped off, and I needed return some things and get some other knitting needles—maybe so I can make myself a non-Pussy Hat.

At Ulta, I whipped off my hat as I went in. I didn’t want to feel like a spectacle—and I was asking them to give me some free product, so I didn’t want anyone on edge. I got my product (a free gift they had been out of) and left. No one noticed, but I didn’t allow them to notice.

I then went to the dry cleaners. This time, I just kept the hat on. I go to a Mom & Pop place, so the folks there know me. I especially like the woman who works there—I’m not sure she’s an owner, but she is certainly a regular. After handing her my dry cleaning and saying our happy new years, she said: “Is that a ______?” She didn’t finish the question.

“Yes, it is. I couldn’t find my other hats. And maybe the resistance isn’t over yet…”

“No, it isn’t. And it’s cute.”

“Thanks. I made it.”

She was impressed with my having knitted it. I may have told her that I actually made three. But there was another person waiting, so I wished her another happy new year and went on my way.

The grocery is across the street. Surprisingly, it was busy for a Tuesday afternoon, but it was the 2nd and I’m sure everyone was out or just over their leftovers. Walking (well, running—it was cold), into the store, I was hyper aware of others. Maybe I was having an attack of teenage feelings (Everyone is looking at me!!), but I felt sensitive. Was that guy who walked in just behind me laughing at my hat (he laughed, but he was talking to someone)? Were others looking at my hat? If someone looked at me, I just smiled. I shook myself mentally and reminded myself, you’re not so special– no one is looking at you.

So I shopped. That was it. But then I saw her—another woman wearing a Pussy Hat. She was an older woman (maybe late 60s or 70s) and her hat was sewn rather than knit, but it was unmistakably a Pussy Hat. My first impulse was to follow her into Dairy, but that seemed a little creepy and stalkerish, so I continued to get syrup before heading into Dairy to get cheese. As I turned my cart into the Dairy section, we were cart-to-cart, face-to-face. I think I said, I like your hat and she probably said something similar.

She said, “No one seems to wear them anymore.”

I agreed, and then she said, “But we’re kindred spirits.”

“That we are, and we still need the resistance.”

I told her that I thought there may be a March in Madison on the 20th, but I wasn’t sure.

We continued on with our shopping, but I felt like I ran into an old friend.

At the craft store, I knew I was in good company, though, I was the only person wearing a Pussy Hat. I think I thought that because I’ve bought a good bit of yarn there and had conversations about the March last year. In fact, I told one woman who helped me that I got the yarn for my hat there last year. She told me that she had heard there were Marches in Milwaukee and Eau Claire, but not here in Madison. I told her I thought there might be one here in Madison, but I wasn’t sure—but if I heard anything, I’d pop in and let her know.

And that my friends is how you build community. You can go about your business, but let others know—in a non-creepy, not terribly aggressive way, that we’ve still got work to do. We need to let others know, the resistance needs to continue. Whatever we can do—call our senators (Ronnie Johnson’s staffers must know my voice), call our representatives—then let’s call. If we have some disposable income (I don’t, but you may) give to causes that help those who are becoming more and more disfranchised by the day to survive. Maybe you just smile into the faces of folks in grocery store, dry cleaners, craft store, or the other business where you shop. You can make your co-workers or students’ lives a little more bearable by listening. Or you can teach your students about community issues like how jobs go away (See Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein) and how a living wage and a minimum wage differ. You can let others know, that you are not going to be cowed, but #you too are part of the resistance, so it’s cold outside—put on your Pussy Hat.


Hat Three: It Needs More Outings

And if anyone finds out if there is a March in Madison, please send me a message! Right now I know about Marches in Eau Claire and Milwaukee, but we need to represent here in the Capital!!

I Go Indoors to Live Deliberately

Last year I wrote my first, and probably my only “nature” essay. In it, if you didn’t read it and there’s no reason you should have, I said that not only was I not a nature girl, but I was and am a woman who likes the idea of nature, but my serious allergies to mosquitos keeps me away from being outside as much as I would like. I even explained how mosquitos and fire ants have brutalized me over the years.

There was a fire ants nest I stepped in when I was in grad school in Mississippi. Thirty-three bites—I counted—of nail-raking itchy pain. Or the mosquito bites I got when I first moved to Mississippi at a party at a classmate’s house. Or even the 100 bites (I swear) I got at friend’s wedding in New Hampshire one summer. I hadn’t paid attention that the reception would be outside next to a pond. It was a lovely site for a wedding. And those little bastards stung me through my hose. Later, when we made it back to Boston a day later, my cousin, Jeff turned me onto to Bactine to calm the itch. It made me almost say sorry for saying I wanted to drown him in the bath when he was little.

The bites really should’ve been the least of my concerns. The afternoon after the wedding, we got back to Boston to learn that a hurricane—Bob—was heading up the coast for New England. That afternoon the sky got that dark gray, green color that the sky gets before a storm. Overnight, it started to rain—heavy, sheet-like water hitting the house. In the morning, we got up to check the weather and get on the road. Instead of seeing the typical morning shows, the news anchors were speaking in quiet, serious voices. Who died, we wondered. We kept flipping through to channels to finally learn that a coup was going on in the Soviet Union. There was a hurricane in New England and a coup d’état that would bring down the Soviet Union, but we had to get our rental car back and Pittsburgh would be a good 10-hour drive or so. We avoided most of the hurricane, though, the rain didn’t let up until we were almost back in Pittsburgh. All that and mosquito bites. As soon as we got home, my boyfriend at the time went out to get me Bactine while I took an oatmeal bath.

You’d think by now I would’ve learned my lesson.

But last summer, I was really spared a lot of terrible bites. I am careful to spray my legs and arms if I went outside in the evening. I especially sprayed my hands and even the plants when I went out to do anything with my tomato plants. I like to think I’m not that stupid, but I got complacent.

This summer has been wet. We got 6.32 inches in July. The average is about 4.something. So it’s a breeding ground for mosquitos. I went out to weed and even covered from head-to-toe in Sawyer’s Fisherman’s bug repellent that Consumer’s Reports said was the stuff to have. And it does work great, but the bastards stung me through my clothes. I started spraying my shirt to get them off me.

So the other night, I took my bug spray with me when we went over to friends’ to sit out back on their patio. They had a fire going in their fire pit. It was a bit chilly, so I had on jeans, albeit cropped. I have short legs, but still they left my ankles and a bit above, uncovered. I also had a jean jacket on.

I’m not sure why I thought it would be okay to indifferently point the bug spray at my feet, instead of saturating my lower legs and feet. Besides, we had a fire going. In fact, whoever first built it nearly smoked us out of the backyard. I came home smelling like a burnt veggie brat.

I also came home with something like 30 mosquito bites—mostly on my feet, ankles, fingers, and hands. Throughout the following day, they started to emerge and then welt. By Saturday night or really early Sunday morning, I was in mosquito bite crisis. I was in hell.

So, as a public service, I’m going to share what I’ve learned over the last 24 hours or so from either raw experience or googling “how to treat mosquito bite itch.”

  1. These are welts, not petite things.
  2. No, if I don’t touch them, they will not go away.
  3. They say not to scratch bites as the itch gets worse. There is nothing—nothing—worse than the howling itchy pain I had at 1:52 a.m. that left me sobbing until my husband found the Bactine.
  4. So scratch away. Of course, there is the possibly of staph infections…
  5. I thought I had taken two Benadryl at about 11:30 when we went to bed, but here I was screaming at 1:52.
  6. It won’t kill you if you take another two before the recommended four hours have passed.
  7. Bactine doesn’t always work.
  8. And while we’re at it, neither does: alcohol, witch hazel, Calamine lotion, Benadryl cream, oatmeal baths, or cold packs. Or should I say, some things work for a moment or two, but most don’t work long enough to give one real, sustained relief.
  9. I read that one can try baking soda, honey lemon, basil, vinegar, thyme, and garlic. That sounds like cooking.
  10. Hydrocortisone cream is recommended to both control the itch and help with swelling. I am still waiting for it to work.
  11. One of my friend’s kids swears by taking a thumb nail and making an “X” through the bite. It hurts like hell, but doesn’t work.
  12. Smoke does not discourage mosquitoes. In my case, it may encourage them.
  13. I don’t know what kind of shoes I can put on these feet.
  14. They can get bigger.
  15. And citronella also doesn’t work either.
  16. And forget about vitamin B or C, F or G—if a mosquito wants to a chunk of you, she’s going get that chunk.

So what can I do?

Don’t go outside. Or if I must, I will wear a bee keeper’s outfit, as a friend suggest. I don’t have one now, but I tell her, Hanukah’s coming, keep me in mind.

So, I will be intentional. I will not go outside. And if I must, I will wear a plastic bubble.


18 on November 9

In one class that I’m teaching, I have about 8 students who are either are from a different country or their parents are; there are at least two students with obvious disabilities and another two that need accommodations; there are 5 women who appear to be non-white and 6 men who appear to be non-white. And I have one woman who appears to be white and five men who appear to be white. I may have a student who has refugee status. Eighteen students. This is one class. One class out of many repeated throughout my institution and many institutions across the country. Those who know me know that I am the opposite of any kind of religious Jew, but still I know the words and can hum along with the chorus if I have to. Eighteen is symbolic number in Judaism as the letters that spell out 18, also spell “life.” That’s why when you don’t know what else to give the kid being bat mitzvahed or your co-worker on her wedding, you give a “multiple”: $18, $36, $54.

My grandfather was born on November 18 in 1916. He would’ve been 100 next Friday. When he was about 12 or 13, he became very sick. There was no penicillin in those days. But he survived (and hence, so do I). He had no bar mitzvah, I was told, but he did acquire a middle name, Chaim–life–though it was always represented as “H” in his initials: Sol H. Becker; but that’s the peculiarity of transliterating Hebrew. But all through this season, I’ve been thinking about Honey (what we called him) who my aunt told me had been a Republican. I found that surprising, but I don’t know. I do remember the Tricky Dicky doll he gave me, but I don’t remember any political conversations with him, but then he died when I was 18.

So we all need a little 18 today and for the days to come to survive this. We have penicillin now, and we have each other. But I need to keep thinking of my students. What do they have? What does the kid who is studying on a visa have with his family a world a way? What about the girl who visited me in the Writing Center who wears a head scarf and misses her mother another million miles a way? Or the black kid who tells me his mother’s not around (didn’t ask where she was), but she taught him how to feed himself on chicken and canned green beans. Or the students who have whispered to me they’re Muslim when we talk about how strange somethings are about Christmas (and we still like the gifts)? I’m a Jewish woman. I worry about these folks when everything seems to be fine. What now?

Today and tomorrow and the next days as I fumble around in my own grief, I have to remember those students, those 18 multiplied by themselves and others. It’s not infinity, but it’s a lot. I’m not sure what my grandfather or even my grandmother (who lived another 30 years after Honey died and she turned out to be a raging Liberal in so many ways) would say. They would be 100 and 99 now. They would tell me probably to get up off my ass and go to work. They might tell me they love me, but to stop the kvetching.

I can’t tell my students much. I can’t tell them who or what loves or cares for them. I can only tell them they deserve my attention, not my grief. I can’t do much, but I can pay attention. They deserve this.

18, 36, 54, 72, 90, 108, 126, 144, 162, 180, 198, 216, 234, 252…

The Difference Between Hope and Faith: Musings before a Historic and hopefully not Histrionic Election

The first time I voted was in 1984. I had registered to vote when I was still in high school and only 17, but someone had set up a table in the hallway at school and so I registered—as a democrat. At that ripe age of 21, I thought of myself as a life-long democrat. I had voted for Humphrey in mock elections in kindergarten. In ’72 I was such a McGovern supporter that I bit a neighbor girl when she said what I thought were ridiculous claims. (I can’t remember what they were, but they probably had more to do with his hippy supporters. I do remember that my mother had a conversation with me about not biting people—but I didn’t get in trouble.)

During Watergate, I was in the fifth grade. My language arts (English, literature, social studies) was Mrs. Sawyer—mother to Diane Sawyer. Yeah, that Diane. The family were Republicans. Diane’s father died when he was in office as Jefferson County (Louisville, KY) Judge/Executive—an important position in Kentucky politics. In fact, this was one of Mitch McConnell’s first political positions. But ’73 and ’74, we were made to watch the Watergate proceedings at least once a week in class, all with a running commentary about how Mr. Nixon was innocent, the Nixons were lovely people, etc. I continued to watch the proceedings at home and even at 10, I drew my own conclusions. I credit Mrs. Sawyer with teaching me to think critically, and she had a very strong influence on my politics, though, probably not in a way that she would’ve approved.

So in 1984, I was excited to be voting for the first time. I remember calling my mother since I was far away in Upstate New York at college. I wanted to know who she was voting for. I wanted to make sure she was voting for a dem, since I’m pretty sure she had voted for Reagan in ’80. When I asked her, she said: “I’m voting for Gerry!!” I reminded her that Ferraro, the first woman on a major party ticket for vice president, was not running for president. She said: “I know. I’ll vote for that guy if it means I can vote for Gerry.”

My mother echoed probably what a lot of people felt. Sadly, Mondale didn’t inspire us—he was smart, but too serious, too quick to point out the problems. After four devastating years of “Morning in America,” we needed someone who give us some hope as democrats, and sadly, that was not Fritz Mondale. But at the same time, he did what no other candidate of a major party had done: he put a woman on the ticket. She was smart, hard-working, and frankly, she had that spark, though not enough given that Reagan won in a landslide. And still, my mother said what a lot of women her generation reiterated time and time again—they wanted to see a woman in a major political office—and I did too.

The older women in my family are not overtly political animals. I mean, my mother voted, but she didn’t get excited about it, except when Gerry Ferraro was on the ticket. My grandmother told me that when my grandfather was alive, she had voted the way he did—even when she didn’t agree. But still she told me years ago, and also years after he died, that abortion should be safe and legal and free. She had mentioned this to me as we were getting ice cream at Ben and Jerry’s and their social program at the time was making sure all children were wanted and cared for. I was surprised to learn my grandmother—a woman who was born in 1917, was so pro-choice, but my aunt told me later that she probably knew many women who had either unwanted children or had back-alley abortions since getting birth control was difficult in the 40s and 50s since a woman needed her husband’s permission.

But my sister and I political. I go to rallys. I have yard signs. I’ve phone banked. I’ve given small amounts of money. And I have a picture of me and Tammy Baldwin that I prize. She has given money to dem candidates. Her husband worked for Tom Harkin in ’88. Her youngest stepson was 10 during the 2004 election. When Lieberman dropped out of the running, my nephew wanted to know if we had ever had a Jewish president. My brother-in-law said, no son. “How about a black man?” Uh, no. “How about a woman?” Sorry son. And then he said, “Well that’s not FAIR.” (The five year old walked around saying he’d vote for Kucinich, but he didn’t have a chance.)

Yeah, that’s my family.

And even now, my sister’s youngest worries about a friend of his. His dad is from another country and he worries that the dad will have to go back to where he came from and the mom will have to marry someone else.

So, yeah, we are that political.

I have never voted for anyone who wasn’t a dem. And I don’t think I’m a knee-jerk liberal. I’ve thought about the issues that matter to me: choice, education, equal pay for equal work, gun control, and again choice, education education education.

And here we are, poised to vote or see how our early votes are reconciled. After ’84 and then ’88 and then 2000 and 2004, I thought I had learned how to lose gracefully. I mean, after all, when the first time you vote, your candidate loses in a landslide, wining only his home state of Minnesota, well, you learn to take it on the chin. Better luck next time.

Still when Bill Clinton won in ’92, I remember watching the returns, nearly delirious as it came clear that he would win. I felt the same thing when Obama won for the first time in 2008. I had hope.

But hope is a tricky thing. It’s not the same as faith. That is, the faithful have hope even when there is no hope to be had. But the hopeful? Our hopes can be dashed. If I didn’t feel that in 84 or 88, I sure as hell felt it in 2000 when I went to bed at 2 am not knowing who would be president. I was living in San Angelo, Texas at the time, and I knew I was a tiny tiny blue dot in a sea of red. In fact, I can’t tell you how many friends sent me the Texas Survival email joke:
Due to the popularity of the Survivor shows on television, Texas is planning to do one entitled, “Survivor: Texas Style.”

The contestants will all start in Dallas, then drive to Waco, Austin, San Antonio, over to Houston and down to Brownsville. They will then proceed up to Del Rio, El Paso, Midland/Odessa, Lubbock and Amarillo.

From there they will go on to Abilene, Fort Worth and finally back to Dallas.

Each will be driving a pink Volvo with bumper stickers that read: “I’m gay; I love the Dixie Chicks; Boycott Beef; I voted for Al Gore, in 2000; George Strait Stinks; Kerry in ’04; Hillary in ’08 and I’m here to confiscate your guns.”

The first one who makes it back to Dallas alive is the winner.

And when I woke early that morning, I turned on the radio, and still I didn’t know. I then powered up my computer—and still I didn’t know. We had gotten snow overnight—a rarity in that part of Texas for November. I didn’t think much of it, but a few minutes into looking at the computer screen, I lost power. There was too much heavy snow on the flat roof of my apartment building. So, I took a cold shower, got dressed, and went to go teach. And I learned what others knew. We still didn’t have a presidential winner—and we woudn’t know for another month. In fact, the speaker for my Ph.D. graduation in December of that year was a congress person and he was called back to Washington for a vote or meeting. I don’t remember who spoke or what they said, but I do remember that I didn’t have nearly as many flags behind me when my post-grad shot was snapped as either Al or George had behind them when each spoke to say, “No, I’m the President.”

But this election is so different. And I won’t waste time here explaining that. You all know. Certainly there were rumors that my college students repeated in 2008 about what might happen to Obama when he won—and thankfully none of that has come to pass. But the fear, the lack of respect, the outright sexism, xenophobia, racism, and on and on has worn on me and us all out.

And still, I want to hope.

In my adopted home of Wisconsin, I have learned what it means to be in a swing state. We have had all sorts of visitors in the state as well as in my very liberal city. And Wisconsin is such an odd duck of a state. I mean, we have Madison and Milwaukee—two cities that tend to vote dem for very different reasons. One being a college town and the other being a union town. And then there is the rest of the state who loves football and hunting and brandy. This is not bad or good. It just is. And still Wisconsin was the home of fighting Bob La Follette, the founder of progressive politics. More recently, we’ve had senators like Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold (both part of the tribe) and Tammy Baldwin, the first-out-of-the-closet woman in the Senate. At the same time, our governor is not of this stripe.

Still, I was lucky enough this past Friday to go to a rally where Vice President Joe Biden was speaking. It was a spontaneous decision. I knew he was speaking, but I thought, the traffic and all would be too much. But then I realized, I’d be driving home about the time the rally would start. I realized, I’d be driving right by the theater. And then I thought, in Joe-fashion, what the hell, why not?

I parked downtown so near the theater, I thought it was a fluke. After a dog (or a dog with a job, as we like to remind our own dog) sniffed my car, I parked and walked out of the garage to stand on the sidewalk next to the vice president’s limo. “Wow,” I said the cops on the street, “that’s pretty cool.” They agreed.

Inside, I was herded to the balcony, but still, I could see Russ Feingold. When he introduced Biden, every human in that theater who was able rose en masse. I caught my breath and I was choked up. The feeling in the room was hope and promise. I moved to the edge of the balcony so I could see better. And when the speech was over, I moved to the floor. Even though I was caught between a very tall man who didn’t know when to stop shooting pictures, a woman bellyaching about the fact she couldn’t move or breath and a secret service guy intent on keeping us back, I was about 18 inches from the vice president—and to quote Biden himself, “That’s a fucking big deal.”

So Tuesday is tomorrow. We’ve already voted. But I think I will put on a pant suit rather than my typical leggings and boots to teach. I will go and teach my morning class and mention to my students how they need to vote. I will then drive later that day to teach my evening class, and I will encourage my students to vote before the polls close. On the way home, I will do what I typically do and listen to a podcast of This American Life because it’s an hour long and my drive is also an hour. I will wait to watch the returns with my husband. I am sad that my grandmother didn’t live to see this day, but then as she reminded us all for the last nearly 20 years of her life, she was ready to go. Still, I think she’d think this was cool.

I told my husband the other day, we have bourbon if the results aren’t good and champagne if they are. I’m not going to kid you. I am terrified. I believe that there is a truth that exists, but I also know that truth doesn’t necessarily lie outside of those who construct it. I can just hope. And I am hoping that my hopes won’t be dashed. I know that even if my party wins, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. But I’ve got to hope that it’s not just that I’m right—I’m just one tiny little blue dot, but that all of us are right and with her.

Now, if you haven’t, dust off your pant suits or wear white for those early suffragette who fought their tushes off so we can have that privilege. If you need a ride, let me know. Just get out there and vote. temp-profile

An Embarrassment of Riches

It’s an embarrassment of riches. It’s life in a red state. It’s time to roll up the windows in the car so neighbors don’t sneak over and leave produce on the front seat.

There are too many god-blessed tomatoes.

IMG_1510   IMG_1505

Back in the spring, when I bought six tomato plants at the Farmer’s Market, it didn’t feel like too many. In fact, I thought I was showing restraint. There are just so so so many kinds—Abraham Lincoln, Arkansas Traveler, Banana Legs, Black Brandywine, Black Cherry, Bloody Butcher, Box Car Willie, Dingwall Scotty, Hazel Mae, Heidi (yes! and they’re originally from Cameroon, so I don’t think they’ll do so well in Wisconsin), Mortgage Lifter, Money Maker, Stump of the World, Prize of the Trials, and on and on… (Okay, I didn’t see all of those at the Farmer’s Market, but I do like the poetry of the names.)

And like I said in an early post Baby Deadhead Guy always gives me good advice. I bought a Juliet from him and some other variety, but I can’t remember. More on that later.

Charlie Brown Tomato PlantI had tried to seed-save from the volunteers I had from last year. Two seedlings survived, but only one took when I planted it. It is the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree tomato plant.

But we had prepped the soil, and actually most of the mint was gone from plot where I planted the tomatoes. The nitrogen and compost were down for about a month before planting those monsters. Once I got the plants in, I wanted to label each plant so I would knew which tomato was which. But it was late in the day, and I still had to buy those little label stake signs, so I placed the pots that the plants came in by each plant, thinking that I’d buy those signs in the next day or so and then I could label them.

Then it rained. A lot.

Our plot is on the southeast side of the house, facing our neighbors. It’s the side yard. Our neighbor’s house is slightly higher than ours, so when it rains, water runs down into what amounts to a little valley where the garden is. The area becomes a little marshy and the ground is mush. And after a hard rain, I think I should have planted rice.

So those little pots that the tomato plants came in, that had all been labeled? They were washed away from the plants and lined up against the chicken wire surrounding the garden—so who knows what is what.

The Who Knows What the Hell This Is

The What Kind of Tomato is This?

I do know I planted Sun Golds and Juliets, and I can recognize them. I remember buying Glamour, a medium to largish red tomato. I also remember buying Independence Day tomatoes, which are a tich smaller and redder. I think I have identified these. But the other one that I think I bought from Baby Deadhead Guy: no clue. It’s yellow/gold, it’s sort of big, and it’s great as a sort of bruschetta with a piece of fresh basil, a slice of mozzarella, a splash of balsamic, and salt and pepper. If you know what this bad boy is, please leave a comment here. Really. I would really like to know.

Also early on, it’s hard to say what is going to happen. It’s like expectant parents. You wait.

While coolish in June, July and August have been mostly hot and humid. In fact we had to water some in June and maybe early July, but since then, we haven’t all. Of course, that’s because we also bought a rain barrel.

We had thought about a rain barrel since we moved into the house. Our inspector had noted the little valley of rain the day our house was inspected. It was raining cats and dogs and llamas that day, so she went out to inspect the outside of the house, but couldn’t get up on the roof. She suggested a rain garden, but I am allergic to mosquitoes. I don’t get bites, I get welts. If someone says it’s not buggy to me, I still get bitten. Mosquitos see an all-you-can-eat-buffet neon sign on my forehead. I put on bug repellent just to take the dog out. So a rain garden was not going to happen. But when June looked dry, we started to think about a rain barrel since there’s no faucet on the side yard, and we have to drag a hose half way around the house. So I found a nice one online at Target. Trav installed it easily. And then I was sure we wouldn’t get a drop of rain ever again. But instead we’ve had the opposite luck, and we’ve learned that mosquitoes also like rain barrels.

And it has been an epic year for tomatoes—they love this hot, humid weather.

First, we started to get the Sun Golds. They’re an orange cherry tomato. They are super sweet. Okay, they’re like crack. You can just eat them. We put them on pizza, and I also pop them whole into a sauté pan with olive oil and garlic and pesto and chicken. I let them blister and burst and then I stir in pasta. Sometimes I add chunks of zucchini. We are partial RP’s Pasta, which one can buy at the Farmers Market in Madison, but also grocery stores in the area. They have more flavors at the Farmers Market and I think it’s fresher. Oh, and they even have gluten-free for those are allergic to gluten.

Sun Golds and Juliets

Sun Golds & Juliets (just a few)

Then the Juliets started to come in. They are also super sweet—and I think better than Romas. Again, I use them on pizza, pasta, etc.

The no-names and Independence Day came in next, and then we’ve just starting getting the Glamours. They are monsters.

So we have started eating a lot of pizza and pasta. Bruschetta. I’m thinking about making sun-dried tomatoes, since Trav really likes them, but it’s an all day, baby-sitting the oven sort of thing. And I’ve also made sauce. That was an hour of chopping, followed by an hour or more of sautéing (though that wasn’t that bad—I just had to stir every once and a while).

I started with this. Chopped Tomatoes

Then it looked like this: Sauce

I ended up with this.    Frozen Sauce

So this weekend, as I’m writing syllabi for the classes that begin Monday, I will also transforming more into sauce.

It really is an embarrassment of riches. We have so many.

You say you want some? Sure. Come over, you can have some Sun Golds. You can hang out and chop with me. We’ll trade tomatoes for some zucchini. Or chocolate. Roasted coffee beans. Or if you want them all, including what hasn’t been picked yet, a Honda Hybrid Civic. It’s doesn’t need to be new, but it does need to run and be reliable.

My new car someday


On Nature (or Not)

Recently a friend said maybe I should write a nature essay after I posted a lot of pictures of my first “hike” in the Ridges Sanctuary in Door County. (I say “hike,” as this was a very leisurely walk—it wasn’t hard.) The first thing I said was, “I don’t know where to begin.” But I’ve been writing long enough to know that is exactly where to begin. And so, nature.

Let’s be clear about this. I am no nature girl. I am allergic to grass, oak mold, and mosquitoes. Except for the mosquitoes, these allergies didn’t present until I was in my teens. I’d cut the grass, and then I couldn’t breathe. When I began college in Boston, I thought I might die given how congested I was. Thank the gods for Sudafed.

I also hate to be really hot, and likewise, I hate to be really cold.

I camped when I was a girl scout, but there were latrines at the very least. The idea of shitting in a hole really leaves me cold. And then there was that snake one of the girls saw by our camp fire site. Hell, there was a snake on the trail up to the dorm complex, College in the Woods at SUNY-Binghamton where I finished my undergraduate degree. I remember I was on my way to see my creative writing instructor whose office was up in College in the Woods. I heard girls in front of me say, “Oh my god, there’s a snake.” I didn’t see it, but I turned on my heel, went back to the Union, took a bus to my apartment, and seriously considered transferring back to Boston University where I began college. I figured Boston, as a city, was safe from that kind of nature.

And then there is the very real fear of mosquito bites.

When I began graduate school in Mississippi, I was invited to a party at one of my classmates’ houses. Chuck had a nice (by graduate student standards) house not far from the apartment I rented. I walked over just before sunset.

I was new and I was meeting people at school for the first time without the screen of school and officials. So we all hung out talking and drinking. It was a nice enough evening, so I sat with others in Chuck’s backyard, talking far into the evening.

The next day I woke up itching. I think I had over 20, maybe 50 mosquito bites all over my legs. I rode my bike (no car for my first year and half in H-Burg) to the drug store. The pharmacist didn’t gasp, but he did recommend I should get Calamine lotion and Benadryl. I spent the rest of the weekend lying on the floor (my furniture was on a truck between Boston and H-burg), propping my Calamine lotion-covered legs on the wall. When one of my new friends asked me on Monday if I had been bitten; I didn’t say anything—I showed her my legs. She gasped.

This wasn’t as bad as when I stepped in an anthill about two years later when taking my dog (Poppy, not Josie Dog) out before bed. I had on sweats with elastic at the ankles and Birkenstock clogs on because I knew it was buggy. But I didn’t see the anthill, though I felt it right away, as I ran into the house, panicking, slapping ants off my feet and then hands with Poppy looking at me with a question on her face (Humans! They do such Weird things!) I ended up with 35 bites—I counted—on my ankles, feet, and hands. When the Assistant Dean saw me that Monday with scabbed-over ant bites, he said in his very Mississippi Southern, dramatic voice, “You coulda died.”

I know. And that’s why I’m not so good with nature.

But see, I do think the outdoors are pretty. I have a great view from my office of our backyard. The back edge of the yard looks heavily wooded—and it is, sort of. Our yard backs up to a school and a gymnasium. The treed area is really a tree break that the school agreed to put up when the gym was built about 30 years ago. We are happy that it’s there. And it gives our yard a feeling of privacy, and, well, of nature.

IMG_0380At the same time, I do like taking pictures, and that means I need to go outside sometimes. A lot of the pictures I take are of flowers at the farmer’s market here in Madison. It’s an amazing farmer’s market. I think it’s the biggest, local farmer’s market in the Midwest. I read that somewhere.

I do garden—but I am not planting native plants in my garden. I have tomatoes, herbs, and lettuce. And still last night, I could only go out and pull diseased leaves from the plants after lathering myself with about a half a bottle of bug repellent. It took me as long to grease up as it took the pull the leaves, but I do not have any bites.

More recently, I wanted to be braver—and we were on vacation. We were very lucky. The weather was beautiful nearly the entire week. Other people would say it’s not buggy. I am not other people, however.

But it was me who suggested the hike at the Ridges Sanctuary. It was me who bought a new bike to try out.

It was me who didn’t cover herself with bug spray.

And it was me that managed to get a mosquito bite between my toes. Now there’s talent.

So nature and me? I will never go in “to the woods because I wished to live deliberately…” but I respect those who wish to.

I realize the power nature can have. One only needs to live through a hurricane or a tornado to appreciate that power.


Tree that came down in the neighborhood after straight-line storms.

I know people who camp—who build their own shelters, hike in with their food and water and start fires with god knows what. I appreciate that kind of ingenuity. That is not me.

I also realize others fetishize nature as well as take it for granted. I try not to, but I know I’ve been careless at times too.

So here’s the question: can I just appreciate it? Do I need to camp to be at one with nature? Do I need to build my own shelter? Is it okay to be in a cabin with running water and maybe electricity at a temperate time of year? Can the bugs and vermin live outside? (They didn’t pay rent.) Is it okay if I just see the outside from my window some days because I’m writing or reading or getting ready to teach?

So is my living like this less deliberate?

Probably, but I need to get back grading papers…

View from Office

View from my home office