I'm With Her

Monday:
"How was your first day of sewing camp, boys?"

"Oh my god, Mom, I love machine sewing," Jack replied gleefully. "Guess what? You know how I hoped we'd use peddle machines? Well, we are. AND, I am the only boy in the class, and the youngest, so I get to sit at a table by myself which is great because I can spread my cut-outs out with plenty of room."

"Honey, are you lonely sitting by yourself?" 

"Oh, NO, Mom. It's great. Everyone is so nice, but this way, no one distracts me, and I have already cut out all the parts of my hoodie. It's going to be green and yellow with a maroon zipper. Also today I made a pin cushion that I wear on my wrist. I emptied a whole drawer of pins because I was very excited to fill my cushion. Do you know about knits? They're cool materials- they stretch in many ways. Do you know about bobbins? Seam rippers?"

"I LOVE camp, Mom. Today I made an apron," Ol chimed in. 

"Oliver, how on earth did you make an apron in half a day?" Jack retorted.

"Because I did, Jack," Oliver replied. I silently fist-bumped him.

"Mom, can we get a sewing machine?"

Tuesday:
"Boys, I want y'all to eat dinner in front of the TV tonight so that you can watch the DNC roll call with us."

"What's a roll call?"

"It's where each state announces how they're allocating their delegates. Whichever candidate gets the most delegates is the party nominee for President."

Watching the tallies build, as each state's representatives stood and shared tidbits about their homes and cheered as they announced their votes, as we all watched democracy in action, I was overwhelmed with emotion. 

When Hillary Clinton was nudged over the 2,383 delegate vote threshold, tears began rolling down my face. "Take a picture of this with your minds, boys. Remember this moment always. This is something that's been too long in coming but is forever changing the course of American history."

Presidentially, Jack and Oliver have been spoiled. Barack Obama's historic election was their normal; a black first family was their first image of who represents this country. And now they see our party again making history, by nominating an inordinately talented, capable, brilliant woman to take the mantle from him. 

Isn't that incredible? I feel so grateful for that, for what that imprints onto their minds about who can be what. Boys can sew and love to do so, Black men are Presidents, women can be. 

We are vocal with the boys about values, justice, morals, and what it means to be in community with others. We haven't, in the past, made those things political. Kids, even from a young age, deserve to make their own decisions about who they support, who they believe embodies the values of love and peace and fairness that we try to so hard to instill in them.

But in age-appropriate ways, we have, this election cycle, shared platform planks with them and asked what they think. In the way that children do, they see right through Trump's meanness and bluster, his bigotry and ugliness. Oliver is too young to have cared much about the roll call, but Jack was truly engaged and asked me to order him a Hillary shirt when I ordered mine.

This is powerful on multiple levels, not least because I get a glimpse of how he values and will continue to value women and all that they can do.

Thursday:
I have cried more times in the past three days out of sincere inspiration, hopeful emotion and an unfiltered reaction to love and beauty than I have in a long time. I believe this is the most important election in my lifetime, and I am grateful that my sons are old enough to be part of it; that in the same week they rediscover a love of sewing and couldn't care less about being wholly outnumbered by women they are watching as a woman heads the ticket, a Black man endorses her to take his baton, and a real diversity of thought and belief propel a party forward together.

I am glad that they've seen Bernie supporters inspired, frustrated and understandably sad because in that they see the power of desire for better. They see that when you want more for a people, a country, a place, you sometimes have to fight mightily for that, disagreeing and negotiating and coming back together as a stronger whole. You don't always win but in the fight you learn and are made better.

In contrast to the fear-based, hate-filled vitriol of the RNC's speeches last week, which left me scared and despondent, the uplifting, audaciously hopeful, deeply good and just speeches, songs, video montages of this week's DNC have replaced much of my fear with a kernel of belief that the sun will shine bright in November, its rays burning a clear path through the roiling darkness of the power-hungry, cold-hearted parts of the Republican party who support Trump and try to convince us that only through him can America be made great again.

As President Obama said last night

We are not a fragile or frightful people.  Our power doesn’t come from some self-declared savior promising that he alone can restore order.  We don’t look to be ruled.  Our power comes from those immortal declarations first put to paper right here in Philadelphia all those years ago; We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that together, We, the People, can form a more perfect union. 
That’s who we are.  That’s our birthright – the capacity to shape our own destiny.  That’s what drove patriots to choose revolution over tyranny and our GIs to liberate a continent.  It’s what gave women the courage to reach for the ballot, and marchers to cross a bridge in Selma, and workers to organize and fight for better wages.
America has never been about what one person says he’ll do for us.  It’s always been about what can be achieved by us, together, through the hard, slow, sometimes frustrating, but ultimately enduring work of self-government.

Yes we can. I'm with her. I'm with them. I'm with the bright future they believe we deserve and can attain.
If you haven't already, please take the time to watch the following people give their speeches: Michelle Obama, Joe Biden, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Sharon Belkofer, Michael Bloomberg(!), Mothers of the Movement, and Ryan Moore.
If you have a LOT of time, also watch: Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders, Anastasia Somoza, Joe Kennedy and Elizabeth Warren.

I just love him!

I just love him!

Summer in my yard

Today I want to keep it light. This world seems to be going to hell in a handbasket, so let's take a break and talk about wonderful food, gardens and sweet animals instead, yes?

I am going to tell y'all that even my mad love for gardening has been tested the past two weeks. It "feels like" 107 degrees in DC right now, and really, that is just not right. Yesterday I ventured out to trim, went nuts with my lopping shears until the sweat ran rivers into my eyes. Burning eyeballs urged me inside; I left a huge mound of yard waste strewn in my wake.

This morning, I soldiered out to clean everything up and then had to come in and shower in freezing water to restore my sanity. I like to be hot, but this is too much. No deodorant is any match for this. I'm wearing as little as possible, and I haven't a clue about the next time my hair won't be tied back in a ponytail.

That said, I love my yard. Love that loving it yields flowers and food and so much promise. The birds and squirrels have realized that I refill their feeders at the regular, and the wide variety of feathered and furry beings that come visit on a daily basis makes me very happy.

One little squirrel appears to have a cataract. We have come to a truce, that pip squeak and I. I don't shoo him away anymore, and he doesn't run when I walk outside. He's cute, and the squirrels really are incredibly creative, successful problem solvers. They're pigs but they work for the food they get.

A gorgeous pattypan squash!

A gorgeous pattypan squash!

The birds range from the tiniest finch to the reddest cardinal, from the cocky blue jays to the dopey-looking doves. They are all beautiful, and each has a different personality. The finches share nicely, some of the larger birds flap their wings dramatically to scare others into fleeing. I always marvel at the color of the female cardinal's beak. If she has to be brown, at least she gets that fiery orange bill.

somewhat blurry because i had to be stealth, but you can a squirrel, cardinal and a finch. That bowl is full of water- do you think anything will jump in or drink from it?

somewhat blurry because i had to be stealth, but you can a squirrel, cardinal and a finch. That bowl is full of water- do you think anything will jump in or drink from it?

Never before have we had enough sun to really grow tomatoes. Tom has long half-joked that my efforts to grow them in pots our deck made the few I got worth roughly $12 each. Not so, now! We're rolling in i pomodori, and I feel gleeful.

Whole bunch o' toms; cold tomato soup (bottom left); caprese salad (bottom right)

Whole bunch o' toms; cold tomato soup (bottom left); caprese salad (bottom right)

Despite the heat, it is prime canning season, so I'm forging ahead a few days each week to turn summer fruit stars into jars of brightly-hued jam. Strawberries, meet cardamom. Shiro plums, meet basil. Rhubarb, meet bing cherries and hibiscus flowers. Peaches, meet lots of things.

Shiro plums, basil and sugar

Shiro plums, basil and sugar

The finished product.

The finished product.

No matter how sweaty I get, I'm never sorry I put up jars upon jars of summer's best. Before I know it, Jack will have started 5th grade and Oliver 2nd, the weather will become chilly, and fresh plums and tomatoes will be distant memories. Except on my pantry shelves where the ones I snatched fresh are frozen in time.

 

A call for compassion and apolitical morality

People, it is SO hot outside. Going out is like putting your face as close as possible to an oven that's been on high broil for three hours and then opening the door. You reel back, stunned by the heavy slap of heat; your limbs wither immediately and your skin beads with moisture. Sweat drips down chest and back, the hair at the nape of your neck dampens with breakneck speed. Inhalation makes you wonder if you have or need gills. 

I feel enormously grateful to have an air-conditioned home and that the class I taught at Strosniders earlier today was inside rather than out, as it has been for years. Today's was a terrific class- lots of people, friendly faces and new ones, great energy. Thanks to all who came!

I pulled up to the store just after 8am and saw a woman sitting under a tree on the sidewalk that immediately abuts the parking lot. She had two pull-carts with her, each stacked with plastic storage boxes and bags, and strung with water bottles, helpful hooks and straps. She was wearing shorts, and her hair was pulled up in a clip. I could see that the tendrils hanging down her neck were wet.

As I put my car into park, I noticed her lower legs. Her calves were so swollen and reddish purple that I did a double-take. They looked waxy and cracked. They looked enormously painful.

Her ankles and lower calves were wrapped in layers of fresh-looking gauze, but even so, the bandages were stained with what was weeping from underneath them. My heart pinched, and I fought back tears of worry as I ferried my canning pot and supplies inside.

I returned to the car to get another load and approached her gently. "Excuse me, ma'am, may I buy you some breakfast from the bakery here?"

She turned to me, her beautiful blue eyes clear and sparkling. "Oh no, I'm fine. I have some food and water here, and really, it's almost too hot to eat a thing."

"Are you sure? I'd be so happy to help you if you're hungry or thirsty. It's SO hot."

"If you can imagine," she said in a soft, sweet voice, "it was even hotter than this at 3am this morning. I'd just gotten back here from Twinbrook, and you always think it's going to be cooler in the dark, but it wasn't. My goodness, at least there's a little breeze now." She smiled broadly, revealing a mouth missing most of its teeth.

We talked a bit more, and I again offered a meal, but to no avail. I wish I'd asked if she needed some Advil or something, but I suspect that lovely woman would have demurred.

"Take good care of yourself today," I said.

"You too, and thank you so much for the kind offer," she replied.

She was gone when I left class a few hours later, and I have thought about her since, continuing to marvel at her grace. I hope she is OK. I hope she can get some care for her legs. She seems to walk a lot, to carry her belongings with her on those sturdy carts. If the look of her calves was any indication of discomfort, she must suffer so much.

***

Yesterday, while the boys were at camp, I logged into Facebook and saw a few private notes on Messenger. I clicked the first one open and was so happy to see they were from a friend who I've not seen since the school year ended. I adore this woman and wish we crossed paths more.

By default, I expected a basic check in, how's summer going, what's new. Instead, I read of her fear about the upcoming Presidential election.
"I watched George Takei's video...what a powerful message...I can't imagine the pain those families went through. And now, 'a Mexican is a Mexican.'(1) Can you imagine? My kids keep asking if something will happen to us."

My heart pinched again in a big, yukky way. She and her husband are incredible people. Their children and bright lights, smart and vibrant. She dedicates huge amounts of time to our kids' school. He is one of the warmest, most intelligent men I know. They came to the States because they are talented and were recruited to work here. Because they have so much to offer.

It has not been without sacrifice. They miss, strenuously, their extended families back in Mexico. Where they once had the proverbial village, here they don't really feel they do both because of distance from grandparents and cousins but also because American culture and communities have become so diffuse and inward.

"You can always call me," I've told her many times before. And in her answer I see what so many of us feel: But do you really mean that? Can I really call? Mightn't it burden you?

I do mean it, but I understand her skepticism. And I am heartbroken that her children are fearful, that little kids even think to ask that question. Mine never have. For her family and for so many others like them to live looking over their shoulders, to worry deeply about the safety in tomorrow and next month and next year is, simply, wrong. 

***

Earlier this week, as I slogged through the ugly, hateful, bigoted, fear-based vitriol being spewed from Cleveland, I found myself wondering what had happened to non-partisan morality. To non-partisan compassion. To bearing witness to the plights and pain of fellow people and feeling an innate desire to help because helping is right and good, not because of what team they bat for. 

When I see a woman with swollen, red-purple, cracking, weeping calves, I don't see a political identification. I see a human being who needs assistance. 

When I hear the anguish in my friend's fears, I don't see Republican or Democrat. I see a human being who needs support and community, who deserves to feel safe.

When I watch the pain in Diamond Reynold's face, the frustration and fatigue and heartbreak flashing in the eyes of oppressed communities of color, the agony in the trembling bodies of wives and children burying husbands and fathers slain in the line of duty, I see humans who have endured violence no one should have to experience. 

None of these sights should be political, but all have become so, and that is a national tragedy and a collective moral failing. 

The Republicans have tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act roughly SIXTY-TWO times since it was passed in 2010 and rolled out in 2013. The ACA is imperfect; no one disputes that. But since a 2013 high of 18% of Americans under 65 uninsured, we are now at a record low of 9.1% uninsured in that same group. Only by continuing to expand access, lower costs, and increase the ways in which people can obtain health care will we be able to reach more and more people like the woman I met this morning.

My friends are fully legal immigrants. Their fear is not based on being here without permission (not, in short on problems with our immigration system which does desperately need addressing) but instead, and wholly, derives from the xenophobic language embraced by Trump and a sadly huge number of his Republican supporters. 

Trump and too many Republicans tell us daily that we are in great danger from all fronts:

Islamic terrorists abroad and at home which means we should ban all Muslims from America; Mexican "rapists and criminals" are swarming across our border to harm us and so we must build a huge wall and shut them out; transgender people want to use our restrooms to access and defile children and so we must shut them out of the restrooms they prefer to use; the threat of death and financial ruin is around every brown and black and progressive corner and so we must arm ourselves, renege on the alliances that have helped us stand strong with our allies (imperfectly in financial terms, I admit that, but we are an exceedingly wealthy country) since 1949.

The use of fear and jingoism to oppress and overpower and rule dictatorially is as old as the sun, but it never loses its atrocious glare. That Trump and his cronies would stoop to such depths is appalling; that people respond to his fear-mongering and bigotry with zeal is ugly and craven and scary. Watching the rabid calls and answers from that convention hall last week was terrifying political theater. 

Actually, "theater" implies something far less sinister than the Trump-Pence-do-anything-to-get-power crew seems to have planned. 

To scream that Black Lives Matter protesters are terrorists and that Hillary should be locked up and then killed for treason (a death threat in my opinion),
to aver that come inauguration the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will be abolished and that a President Trump will appoint judges who are staunchly pro-life and anti-gay marriage in the hopes of overturning Roe v Wade and reversing the Supreme Court's decision on marriage equality,
to continue to claim that climate change is a hoax (per the RNC platform, "we demand an immediate halt to U.S. funding for the U.N.’s Framework Convention on Climate Chang") and that stem cell research must be banned...

These are not ways forward. These are not beliefs based on inclusion and respect for difference. These are NOT ways of ensuring that everyone is entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

They ensure quite the opposite and that is neither moral nor compassionate. 

We desperately need to do better, and I deeply believe that the best option for our immediate future is by voting for Clinton and Kaine in November. 

(1) Back then, they simply said, “A Jap is a Jap,” and we lost our homes and freedom, even though two thirds of us were U.S. citizens.
Today, Trump tells his supporters that a “Mexican is a Mexican.” -from Takei's speech