Monday, July 31, 2006

Visit Py Korry

You have to go toThe Permanent Collection and read what Py Korry (my beloved son-in-law, Ted) has written. It is partly a review of the play, and a comment on race and gender in the work place. Well done, an important piece.

If You Can't Stand the Heat

This article on the movement among pharmacists on the religious right to refuse to fill birth control prescriptions is a little old, but since it is still going on, it is important to know about.

The debate, so far, seems to revolve around a woman's right to have her prescriptions filled against a pharmacists right to honor his religious beliefs. To which, I have to say, you knew that pharmacists dispensed birth control before you got the training. If you don't want to do that, you should have gone into some other line of work. I don't see many vegetarians working in slaughter houses or atheists with clerical collars!

You chose the profession. Now practice it.

Regular Rapscallions

For a good look at the neo-con habit of throwing former allies to the wolves, read
Regular Rapscallions.

My favorite part was:
Granted, Condi Rice is the wrong person for the job, but being ripped as "incompetent" by the likes of Gingrich, Perle, and Elliot Abrams is akin to the Riddler, the Joker, and the Penguin blaming the Catwoman for the sudden spike in crime in Gotham City.

Yep, I don't much like Condi. But she isn't the only, and definitely not the biggest, villain out there.

Oh, Yes. Reagan was a GOOD President

In keeping with today's theme of sending you to other sites to look at some important social issues, get thee to Death at the Supermarket and read about the connection between work place murder and Reaganomics.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Sunday Morning Update

Well, it did cool off a touch during the night. At 11, I was laying on top of the sheet in a light nightie. At 2, pulled the top sheet over my shoulders. At 4, pulled the blanket over. At 6:30, got up and retrieved the quilt from the quilt frame and snuggled nicely down.

There are clouds coming in from the south! There is one kind of squatting on Mount Jumbo, over on Douglas Island, and others following like heaven on parade. Yahoo says it's 56, oh how civilized. The expected high is 62, still within the range of decent, and rain or clouds for the rest of the week, with an expected daily high of 57 or less!

Yeah, I know what you think. What a wuss, one day heat wave and she caves. You're right. Can't stand the heat. One reason I moved here. I did get out of the kitchen. I don't want the damned thing following me!

Oh, such a relief. I think I'll go down and feed the Hooligans and do a real post later.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Hell, I'm Living in Hell

No, this isn't what it looks like, just what it feels like.

See what happens when you tell everyone how nice the weather is in your neighborhood? The fog is gone. The rain is gone. The clouds are gone. Blue sky, which felt wonderful yesterday and this morning. Indeed, I was sitting outside on a bench in the pocket park across the street by 7:30 this morning, working on freckle maintenance and waiting for Christina to come by at 8 and pick me up for breakfast. And then I sat on another bench outside the grocery store and waited for the Care-A-Van to pick me up and bring me home. For a while, I took a lawn chair out my upstairs door and onto the roof of my living room and sat, drinking peppermint tea and reading the latest issue of The New Yorker. Watched cruise ships and a humming bird and eagles kettling in the sky and traded raucous noises with a few ravens.

Eventually, however, one does have to go inside. And now it is 9:03 p.m., the sun is still way up in the sky, and it is 73 outdoors, which means I have no idea how hot it is inside, but hotter than 73. My upper tolerance is about 70. I live in an apartment with a bedroom on the third floor of the building. Heat, you will recall, rises! Two sides of this building are against the mountain and the third wall of my apartment is an interior, shared one. Windows only on one side downstairs, and only one on the other upstairs. Can't leave the doors open -- bears like to use my exterior stairs to get to the street below (and then they cross it and go down to a park with a creek at the bottom of the mountain) and often amble across my roof. No cross breeze. No air conditioning because this is Alaska, and we seldom get weather this hot. Today is seldom.

I think I'm getting prickly heat on a part of my body I can't reach well, and I'll tell you a secret. I heard today that a friend of mine got her boobs bobbed ten years ago, and I'm so jealous! How would that be? I can't remember a time when I didn't have an ache between my shoulder blades. And, I seem to remember really wanting to get these things! If I had known then what I know now, I would have refused them when they came knocking on the door. Said no to the knockers, as it were. 'Cause they are difficult to lug around in the best of times, but when I'm hot I'd just like to be a little girl with a flat chest again.

Friday, July 28, 2006

"Then they came for me - And there was no one left to object."

For years young women (at least, women younger than me) have hesitated to identify themselves as feminists. They have hesitated to be seen as bitchy, as lesbian, as ugly, fat women who couldn't get a man. They have feared that the likes of Rush Limbaugh would call them Feminazis and so they say that, although they think women should get equal pay, they aren't feminists.

They believe that everything has changed since their mothers and grandmothers banded together and fought the good fight. Even while their own lives should be proving to them that it hasn't, they have relaxed because the fight is, thank goodness, over. Well, perhaps they need to read Women Losing Ground by Martha Burk.

The fight is not only not over, it is well on its way to being lost. South Dakota has passed a law outlawing all abortions and when Oglala chief Celia Fire Thunder declared that she would open a clinic on the reservation which the state would have no jurisdiction over, the religious right put pressure on the tribe, which then fired her and has now outlawed abortion on the reservation. Women are still earning less than men. The press still comments on what a female politician wears and how she does her hair. Limbaugh and others of his peer group still subject women they disagree with to the argument from intimidation. The girls' section of the toy store is still overwhelmingly full of dolls who primp and consume and devoid of the interesting toys that boys get to play with. Boys on playgrounds still snap the straps of training bras. Female world leaders are still expected to wear shoes that hurt their feet. The number of women in power, both politically and economically, is shrinking rather than growing. The media concentrates on convincing us that we need to leave the workplace and go home and raise our kids (despite the fact that some of us are single parents and can't).

And what are we doing about it? Why, we're becoming more and more obsessed with being perfect. With being thin and young enough. With getting the sink clean enough. With pleasing the men and children in our lives. With being good girls.

Last year a 63 year old woman I was working with at the time told me that she hated herself because she is so fat. Hated herself! And, she added, that if she ever lost weight she still wouldn't be able to like herself, because she is old! To me, both fat and old, that was a tragedy. What chance is there that a 63 year old woman is going to finally get either thin or young? Which means, for her, what chance is there that she will ever be able to like herself? And, what can she accomplish in the world if all of her energy is expended on hating herself? Is she going to fight for fairer wages when she is busy counting calories and calling laugh lines wrinkles?

What, do you suppose, would happen if we took all that attention that we now spend on hating ourselves and avoiding mirrors and wearing vertical stripes and counting calories and reviewing everything we've eaten so far this week to see if we can "afford" two cashews and breaking out in rebellion and then hating ourselves for eating all of the cashews -- what would happen if we took that pathological self-involved energy and turned it outward? If we stopped weighing ourselves and started weighing the politicians and corporate CEOs and far right demagogues who profit from our unhappiness? If, instead of knowing how many calories in an olive, we knew how much the men in our field were earning? If, instead of worrying about whether the men in the office thought we were pretty enough, we worried about whether they were undercutting our careers? If, instead of voting for people who belonged to our political party, we voted for people who supported our issues?

What would happen if we demanded that our representatives at every level of government voted in our favor? What would have happened if every woman who might one day need an abortion or who had a daughter or sister or friend who might one day need one had contacted her Senator and demanded that he vote against confirming Roberts and Alito? What would happen if every woman with a child or sibling or friend or neighbor in the military contacted her representatives and insisted that they demand that this war be ended as soon as possible?

For all of you who saw A Bug's Life, remember that there were more ants than grasshoppers, and once the ants figured it out, the grasshoppers were no longer able to bully them. It's the same here. There are more women and men who support women than there are people who oppress women. If we band together with all of the other people who are also being oppressed, we are the ants. We have the strength. But, if we allow them to drive those wedges between us and to distract us with body hatred, our daughters are going to wonder how we could have been so close and let it slip away.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Great El Paso Piss Off of 1955

In the summer of my thirteenth year, my body betrayed me. The body that had served me so well for my entire life, suddenly became the wrong one. There I was, in the boys department of Sears, trying on jeans, and there it was, in the mirror, not fitting into them. The hips too big, the waist too small. There was no way around it, I could no longer wear boys' clothes. I was turning into a woman. I was going to grow up and be like my mother.

And soon it would never again matter that I was always chosen first for Red Rover! That when I held no one could break through, and when I ran no one could hold. It would only matter that I was female. Suddenly, all the boys, the boys who never knew the answers as fast as I did or got as many right, the boys who were chosen after me, the boys who were afraid to climb as high as I, all the boys had a future that was opening in front of them into endless possibilities, and I had a future that was forcing me down an ever narrowing path. My gender had me pinned to the matt, its knees on my shoulders, as it pressed the pillow of expectation over my face. I was smothering. I was struggling to no avail. I was becoming woman, and woman is limited. I wanted to tend a lighthouse and keep the ships safe, to work my way around the world on a tramp steamer, to dig in Chitzen Itza for the secrets of the past, to pilot a rocket to the moon. And my mother got a trip to the Green Stamp store!

Suddenly, the road that I had intended to take was blocked off and I was being shunted down the dark path, away from the sunshine and fresh air. Down the path that was lined on both sides by the impenetrable brambles of gender. This was no mere detour from my dreams, this was the end of dreams, the end of hope. I, who had lived in the sunshine of future possibility and current mastery for all of my years, was being consigned to the dungeons of womanhood. No hope of deliverance. No sanctuary from despair.

It was during this summer that Linda and I raised our standards in defiance and raged against the coming night and the current discontent. For it was not just the future that brought the need to escape to the two of us. It was also the ugliness of the present.

When childhood is unhappy, children find what refuges they can. For Linda and me, there had been four. The classroom, where I excelled more than she; the playground, where she excelled more than I; the future, where we saw the possibility of shaping our own lives and creating our own reality; and each other. There is nothing as comforting as a best friend, and we had found each other. Best friends and living almost next door to each other. Tomboys. Electric and alive and refusing to be sissy. Sharing the burden of an unhappy home life; a home life that mirrored the other's. Kind and subservient mother. Critical and sarcastic and controlling father (or, in my case, step-father). Being happier outdoors and at school than under the family roof. Sheltering from the fault finding, hiding from the autocrats, we banded together and fought the good fight. We practiced creating the life we wanted, full of adventure and challenge and daring do. We climbed trees and dug holes and created a fort on the other side of the canal and held the girls who simpered and obeyed in total contempt.

If 13 has background music, it can only be pan pipes and calliopes. All pandemonium and cacophony. All a sort of tentative pre-erotic confusion, played all out and full blast, causing adults to wince at the memories it evokes of their own lost but not regretted adolescence. I, who had been so centered just a few months before, was suddenly gasping from the effort of figuring out who I was. I felt tossed about, like a ping pong ball in a tornado; first here, then there, with no warning of when or where I would lurch in a different direction. One week my mother was hearing that I needed a white satin blouse, all the girls in 7th grade wore white satin blouses. The next, she was finding live caterpillars in my pockets. Advance towards adult, retreat toward child; long for glamour, take comfort in the mundane. The changes in my body were confusing, somehow both delightful and dreaded. The changes in my moods were simply horrible. One moment the world was my oyster, the next I wanted to crawl under the dining room table and hide. The body that pleased me one minute shamed me the next. My normally sunny disposition could crumble and, with no warning and for no reason, I would dissolve in tears.

Changing from child to adult was hard enough; to do it as a girl in the 50s added layers of difficulty and pain. Dealing with the confusion caused by my own body, inherent and natural, was a challenge; dealing with the demands of the culture, imposed and artificial, felt impossible. Nature was unfolding me upwards, towards autonomy. Society was repressing me back down toward subjugation.

That was the summer of my one and only attempt at homicide. Of course, he suggested it to me himself, not only the act but the method. That would have been very foolish of him, if it had worked.

What led up to it were the facts that I didn't own a watch and Daddy was obsessed with time. I would go over to Linda's to play on a Saturday and he would tell me to be home by 3:00. Linda and I would be outdoors, being horses or rocket pilots, depending on whose turn it was to choose. Time would pass and I would realize that three was approaching. I didn't consider going home early. Not only were we having fun but if I had to be home by a certain time that meant that he was there, and if he was there it was unpleasant at home. In order to know exactly what time it was, I could knock and ask Linda's mother Fern or go into the house and look. If I went into the house, I got Linda in trouble for letting the air conditioning out. Because, if Daddy was home, so was Tom.

So, I would wait as long as I felt safe, and then check again. And again. And again. And, finally, when it was one or two minutes to three, the mad dash for home.

Naturally, I would come running into the house after three. The punishment for this crime was to have my library card taken away (by paying a quarter and faking my mother's signature, I was able to get a "replacement" library card, and by sneaking the books home I could get around the snatched card pretty well) and to hear him say, once again, "One minute late. Always one minute late. If you were ever one minute early I'd have a heart attack and die."

But the day I came home five minutes early I was fated for disappointment. He didn't even comment, talk about clutch his chest and die! And my mother heard me mutter, as I stamped down the hall to my room, "Promises, promises, nothing but promises."

As the days grew longer, twilight became a warm and wonderful time for the two of us to course the length of the block, running, hiding, darting free, alive, fast! And outdoors! Up and down the block, with Jinx wagging her tail at our heels and the future spread out before us on the far desert horizon.

The days warmed and it got dark before it cooled off. In shorts and camp shirts, bare arms and legs and feet, we seldom walked when we could run.

But we could see the future narrowing. The girl rules. Be pretty. Be nice. Climbing trees isn't ladylike. A sweet girl wouldn't do that. No one will like you if you don't do this. If you ever expect to get married, you will have to do the other thing.

The need to break out became overwhelming. The feeling of despair, a monster that hid in the closet, waiting to spring out at any minute and get us.

And then one day when Tom and Daddy had caught us both outdoors when they got home and we had both had the sarcastic dressing down right in front of Charlie Smith, we found an instrument of defense. That evening as we played, I realized that I had to go inside and pee. But, if I went inside, he might notice me and make me stay in. What to do? Ah, I could go in my back yard, under the Meyer lemon tree. No, what if someone heard me and I got in trouble? Well, then I would have to go somewhere else. How about the Smith's front yard? How close to the front window, Linda wondered, would I dare to get?

Not very close, that first time. But, as the summer progressed, we discovered that if we drank a lot of water we both had plenty of ammunition. And on nights when a neighbor had stood quietly by, listening and doing nothing, while we were humiliated that neighbor would get a visit from the piss patrol. And, as the summer progressed and we remained uncaught, we got bolder. We dared each other closer. And if I Love Lucy or Uncle Miltie or Texaco Star Theater was on, we could get right under a window or next to a front door. Right next to a number of windows and doors, if we filled up at the garden hose.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Son of Monster

It would be so nice if only corporations would voluntarily behave, without the government getting involved. And, since Regean, there has been a major push to deregulate, on the theory that they would. But they haven't. Why?

Well, our elected representatives have either been ignorant or they have lied to us because it is illegal for corporations to regulate themselves beyond a certain point. This was decided in Dodge v. Ford, way back when. The Dodge brothers worked for Henry Ford and owned stock. Their intention was to cash in their stock and begin their own automobile firm. But, in 1916, the year that they intended to do this, Ford decided to drop his prices because he believed that "a reasonable profit is alright, but not too much."* The Dodge brothers took him to court and the judge decided that it doesn't matter what social good is intended, the first duty is to the shareholder who has invested in your company. You took his money, you owe him to provide him with the largest return on investment possible. So, Ford couldn't drop his prices any further and the Dodge automobile was born.

And what this means to today's corporation is that if widget factories produce pollution, and you decide to update the smokestacks on your widget factory and reduce pollution, if it cuts into the profits your shareholders would otherwise realize, it is illegal for you to do it. And, since that other widget factory could under sell you because of lower costs, it would cut into the profits. Only if the government regulates and all widget factories have to update smokestacks and reduce pollution are you allowed to update yours. That's why progressive companies don't go public -- if all of their stock is held within a small group of like minded individuals, they can all vote to go green.

However, if you want to take the corporation to any size, you have to go public for the financing. So, only smaller companies can afford to take the green route. And when industries tell you that they will regulate themselves, they are not telling you the truth.

* Bakan, Joel, The Corporation, pg. 36

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Monster, Incorporated

I used to be a free market libertarian. I absolutely believed that the market would produce the best products at the best prices for the consumer. I believed that healthy competition would result in workers being paid fair, competitive wages. That, of course, was in the days when the market seemed to be free. Since then, things have changed, as we see here. This is a very long article, and if you are interested in the nuts and bolts of the economics and politics of the thing, you might want to read it all. If not, however much you do read will be an eye-opener. The Case for Breaking Up Wal-Mart. I have long been aware of many of the ways that Wal-Mart is destructive to small business, workers, and communities. Of how it underpays its workers, leaving them to then turn to public assistance in one way or another, so that the taxpayer ends up paying for Wal-Mart to be allowed to under pay its staff. Or how they force suppliers to off shore their manufacturing in order to keep the prices that Wal-Mart pays down, thereby further destroying American labor. Or how once they come into a community, it drives all the small businesses out, and hires their owners and full time staff for part time work at depressed wages. I knew they were bad for mom and pop business, the worker, and local government. What I had never suspected, was that they are dictating culture and reproductive rights.

We should be most disturbed by the fact that Wal-Mart has gathered the power to dictate content, even to the most powerful of its suppliers. Because no longer is the retailer's attention focused only on firms that produce T-shirts, electrical cords, and breakfast cereal. Every day Wal-Mart expands its share of the U.S. markets for magazines, recorded music, films on DVD, and books. This means that every day its tastes, interests, and peculiarities weigh that much more on decisions made in Hollywood studios, in Manhattan publishing houses, and in the editorial offices of newspapers and network news shows.


...Wal-Mart recently decided to allow each individual pharmacist in the company to choose whether or not to stock the "morning after" pill. Given the degree to which Wal-Mart has rolled up the pharmaceutical business in many towns and regions across the country, this act amounted, for all intents, to a de facto ban on these pills in many communities. This political decision was made and enforced by a private monopoly.

So, since the days when I was a free-market libertarian what has happened? Well, the federal government relaxed regulation and I saw what happens without it. I saw that all the theory in the world doesn't hold a candle to the practice. Communism sounds pretty good, too. Except that people don't operate that way. If all my hard work gets me no more reward than someone who doesn't work hard, and less than someone who needs more, then I stop trying. It sounds good, but it doesn't work. And it's the same for the free market. If unregulated business goes into partnership with the government and laws are passed to favor business over individuals, be those workers, customers, or competitors, well some businesses are going to take advantage of that and then others have to in order to keep their doors open. And the next thing you know, Wal-Mart!

Monday, July 24, 2006

BaCar's Nomads

Once upon a time, there was a restaurant in Juneau called BaCar's (pronounced bakers, and named for the cook, Barry [who baked all the bread in the place], and his wife, Carlene). It was enchanted. The food was wonderful. I mean wonderful. The service was superb. The price was, for Alaska, reasonable. The Saturday Morning Breakfast Club ate there for over a decade. So did many, many other people. Saturday breakfast at BaCar's was a tradition, and not just for people who lived downtown.

And then, oh then, they closed. Barry and Carlene had other things to do with their lives, and they left town and did them.

And the BaCar's Nomads have been stumbling around Juneau ever since, trying to find a regular place to have breakfast. Not as easy as one would imagine. There is one good place, but it only seats eight! (And Saturday breakfast at BaCar's seated 100 and more waiting.) There was the place we tried where they barely deigned to wait on us. (I'm sorry, if you don't want to make coffee or cook food at 8 a.m., perhaps you need to not open and act like you do?) There was the place with the undercooked waffles. The place with the overcooked eggs. Then, some of the BaCar's staff went to a new restaurant and we flocked there, only to discover that the prices were too high, the cook wasn't allowed to use as good or as many ingredients as he had before, the oatmeal was undercooked, and someone thought that the way to serve biscuits and gravy was with overcooked biscuits (think hockey puck here) that hadn't been opened, so that the gravy didn't penetrate.

Finally, last Saturday we tried a brand new place that was the worst of all. We were seated in a Dead Zone, one of two tables that were apparently not in anyone's section. People who came in 20 minutes after us were eating and we still didn't have water (or coffee or the attention of any of the staff)! The people at the other Dead Zone table could only wait 45 minutes and had to leave before their food was served. People came out with the coffee pot and filled one cup, didn't look around to see if anyone else needed coffee, and fled back into the kitchen. The food was good. We're hoping they were just overwhelmed (the place was packed. The SMBC isn't the only group of BaCar's Nomads still searching for a home), giving them a couple of weeks, and going back. But, I'm not feeling overly hopeful here.

I want BaCar's back! Not that I suppose it matters what I want. But, I want it. I want a place that will allow substitutions of any sort as well as half and quarter orders. I want a place where the staff know my name and keep my coffee cup filled and know just how I like my eggs and that with oatmeal I want maple syrup and walnuts.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Local Weather

Fog Over Gastineau Channel

So many of the blogs I've read in the last few days have talked about the weather, particularly the ghastly hot weather in California that I decided to risk any popularity I might have and mention that we are very cool up here, in Alaska. I'm not certain the exact spot that David Kent took this picture, but it looks like it could easily be within two blocks of my apartment, because not only am I just a short distance above the Gastineau Channel, but within two blocks you are away from all signs of civilization and into the woods.

At any rate, we had a lovely foggy day, with a high of 58. This is one reason I live up here. The cool weather. The lovely, lovely fog. I think it is like living in a Chinese watercolor. To get this, we had to have ground soaking rain. We did. We are having more now. More fog predicted for the rest of the week.

More Kitten Poems

Here are two more of the poems I wrote for Maya when the Hooligans were little.

Bedroom Lamp

What a realization!
What a minor shock!
Our Merry is an athlete.
Our Merry is a jock.
He crouches low,
He springs up high,
He swats the cord,
That dangles from the sky.
His claws connect,
Well, what a scamp!
Our Merry has turned on
The hanging bedroom lamp.

Litter Mates

I'm sleeping quite soundly,
Tucked up warm and neat,
When two wicked kittens
Start wrestling my feet!

They tumble, they rumble,
They climb up my side,
Those silly young kittens
Must think they can hide!

Here he comes!
There he goes!
That zany black Pippin
Is stalking my toes!

How he laughs!
How he mocks!
That wicked gray Merry
Has stolen my socks!

& they run & they hide
Pounce, scamper -- karoom!
Up the stairs, down the hall
As they bounce about the room.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Meat Inspection

And, in case you were wondering about those meat inspections, read
Consumers Union says USDA cut in Mad Cow testing puts public health at risk.

How about that? We're cutting mad cow inspections by 90%! Makes you feel ever so safe, doesn't it?

Lentil loaf, anyone?

Blaming Mom, Again

Oh, you just gotta go to and read Blaming Pregnant Women, by Lynn Paltrow

Ain't it wonderful, folks? Once again, Mom is responsible for everything that goes wrong. The Bushies allow corporations to relax emissions standards, cut back on prevention and intervention funding to pay for their unjustified invasion of Iraq, cut back on maternal and child programs from clinics to WIC, cut the number of meat inspectors and change the focus from "protect the public" to "don't slow down the production line" and their solution to poor child health is to demonize women!

Of course, I don't think women should smoke or drink or use drugs while pregnant. I also know, from having done the research when I was working for the State of Alaska, that there are very few facilities for addiction treatment that will take pregnant women, talk about are set up for them. And, I well remember a conversation with an official of the CDC where I kept saying, "Since we know that fetal alcohol syndrome is a result of an alcoholic mother binge drinking, and that it seldom happens with her first or even second child, isn't it counter-productive to have an educational program that frightens women who discover that they were pregnant when they had that glass of wine at their sister's wedding?" and she kept answering, "Since we don't know how much alcohol is safe, we say none." Now, she never said that the rather large number of studies I was quoting were wrong. She just said that since they don't know, they choose to err on the side of zero tolerance.

The way that plays out, women who have had one drink sometimes get abortions because they believe they have ruined their child. Women who are at-risk decide that since they already have two healthy children, and they certainly drank while pregnant with them, that the whole thing is not a problem for them.

I remember reading, after the Korean War, that the reason that American prisoners caved to brainwashing and torture and Turkish prisoners did not was that American mothers coddled their sons!

My mother told me once that when she was a child, everything that went wrong was her fault because she was the child, and by the time she was an adult, it was her fault because she was a mother.

Yep, blame the wicked, wicked woman. Helen's face caused the Trojan War. Mom's love caused prisoners of war to be unable to withstand torture. Mom's personal habits cause all the birth defects and problems with children.

And we know why, don't we? It's all the fault of that sinner, Eve.

Friday, July 21, 2006


So, I was reading today's Jon Carrol Column which mentioned that the town of Mill Valley refused to allow the building of an outdoor chessboard large enough for pieces two feet high, in order to protect the children, and became enchanted with
My experience is that children over 4 have enough common sense not to run into the street just because they feel menaced by a chessboard. (There's something eerie about the whole idea: "Pawn takes pawn; bishop takes pawn; rook takes Tyler, 8, of Larkspur.")

and had to share it with you.

They'll Believe a Man

So here we have this article, talking about Ben Barres, a male scientist who used to be a female scientist. A man with a unique perspective on the whole argument as to whether women are under represented in science because of how they think or because of how they are treated.

Where Summers sees innate differences, Barres sees discrimination. As a young woman—Barbara—he said he was discouraged from setting his sights on MIT, where he ended up receiving his bachelor’s degree. Once there, he was told that a boyfriend must have solved a hard math problem that he had answered and that had stumped most men in the class. After he began living as a man in 1997, Barres overheard another scientist say, “Ben Barres gave a great seminar today, but his work is much better than his sister’s work.”
Remember here that his sister is his past self. Do you suppose that when Professor Barres speaks about this subject he is listened to because he's seen it from both sides? Or because the person speaking at this moment, to paraphrase Captain Samantha Carter on Stargate SG-1, "wears his reproductive organs on the outside instead of the inside"?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Moon Landing

From the time I was 12 years old, I loved science fiction. I was a voracious reader, and my very favorite genre fiction was science fiction (notice that I don't call it sci fi, any more than I call San Francisco Frisco). It started when I knocked an Andre Norton book off the bookmobile shelf, and became intrigued when I was putting it back. The librarian directed me from there to Heinlein and Asimov and Simak and Silverberg and Lieber and Eric Frank Russell. I gobbled them down. I wanted to live them. Going to other planets seemed like the most wonderful thing a person could do. I wanted to be an astronaut, although in 1954 they didn't have that name for it. (I wrote to the Air Force and asked what I should study in college to be able to go to the moon. They, of course, told me that girls don't do things like that and there was nothing I could study that would make it possible, but that is another post.)

And for some reason, my step-father hated that I read so much science fiction. Now, that makes no sense to me. He was born in 1903, the year the Wright brothers flew at Kitty Hawk, and at the time I am writing about he had lived to see the atomic bomb. How could he doubt that people would fly to the moon? But, he did. We got into fights about it regularly. He referred to my reading as "Wizard of Oz" (thereby relegating it to childish and stupid). At least once a week, if not once a day, we would get into these fights about whether man would ever go to the moon.

So, in 1969, I happened to take Julie and Richard to visit my mother and step-father the week of the moon landing. We watched it together, and afterwards he came out with a bottle of champagne, saying, "Would you share this with me, or do you want me to eat crow?"

Damn. The man had grace, you have to give him that.

Afternoon Delight

Yes, I know that afternoon delight is supposed to be sex, but sometimes it's friendship. On Tuesday, July 18th, two friends I had never met in person before, Claire and Shay (listed in alphabetical order because there is no other way), came to Juneau on the Norwegian Star. We had met on the internet, and when they decided take a cruise to Alaska, they e-mailed me and I arranged to take the afternoon off work and play with them. Shay rented a car that was delivered to me, and I picked them up and drove them around and used it this morning for a couple of errands before work.

We went to a late lunch in the Valley, because parking during working hours is almost impossible downtown. And then we went to the Mendenhall Glacier. After that we went to my apartment, where they got to meet the Hooligans and try to figure out just how many rooms I have*. And then to dinner. And what did we do? We sat and talked. We talked over and after lunch. We talked at the glacier. We talked at my apartment. We talked over and after dinner.

We already knew that we liked each other. We already knew a lot about each other. But, we didn't know just how delightful we would find each other. We didn't know just how much we agreed with each other about the important things and the little things and the silly things and the serious things. There is no way the internet can tell you how charming someone's smile is or how warm the twinkle in her eye. Only the sound of the voice tells you how totally someone agrees with what you just said about the president or the church or pets or spicy food or breaking free of the restraints that all women are raised with.

Because the Norwegian Sun left late, the Star docked late and instead of our visit starting at 2, it started at almost 3:30. That was a loss for me, an hour and a half stolen from our time together. They left me with gifts: from Claire, a bar of chocolate from the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor's Center, from Shay marbles that her husband had made (who knew that people could make marbles?), some of them with my name on them! The General Tao's chicken and crab we couldn't finish at dinner. I will enjoy and treasure the gifts, they will remind me of these two friends who came to town one afternoon and filled it with delight.

* Is it two? Is it six? Odd angles and strange passages without doors make it confusing. Downstairs may be a living room and kitchen and breakfast nook, or maybe just an oddly shaped room. Upstairs may be a bedroom and office and library, or maybe just an even more oddly shaped room. All I know is, I have two stories.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Come Again?

Today's newspaper tells me that Dr. Anna Pou and two nurses have been arrested, accused of murdering four "trapped and desperately ill" patients with morphine injections as the flood waters rose in New Orleans.

I don't know the right of this. Did they perform four mercy killings? Was there any chance at all that anyone could have rescued those patients or were they fated to starve or drown had they not been injected? If it was done, was it done so that the hospital staff could take the patients who could be rescued and flee for their lives?

To me, the amazing thing is that Dr. Pou may have had the power to inject or not inject, but that seems to be the only power she had. She couldn't have prevented the flooding of New Orleans by repairing the levees that were known to need repair, only the Federal Government could have done that. She couldn't have evacuated the population while that beautiful city was drowning, only the Federal Government could have done that. She couldn't have ignored her responsibility to do something, only the Federal Government could have done that. And, she certainly didn't play the guitar while the water rose and still uncounted people were trapped in dreadful situations, to drown or starve or die some other way. No, she had only a few small, dreadful choices. She could leave desperately ill patients to starve or drown. She could stay with them to die herself. She could inject them with morphine.

Was what happened at Memorial Medical Center a crime? Was there any choice? Could there have been a happy outcome? I don't know. I wasn't there.

And I'll tell you who else wasn't there. Louisiana Attorney General Charles C. Foti wasn't there. FEMA wasn't there. The Army Corps of Engineers wasn't there. President George W. Bush wasn't there.

Legislating for Ignorance

To see just how quickly and how far we are sinking into the abyss, go to Common Dreams and read Florida’s Fear of History: New Law Undermines Critical Thinking by Robert Jensen
One way to measure the fears of people in power is by the intensity of their quest for certainty and control over knowledge.
By that standard, the members of the Florida Legislature marked themselves as the folks most terrified of history in the United States when last month they took bold action to become the first state to outlaw historical interpretation in public schools. In other words, Florida has officially replaced the study of history with the imposition of dogma and effectively outlawed critical thinking.
One of the bedrock claims of the scientific revolution and the Enlightenment -- two movements that, to date, have not been repealed by the Florida Legislature -- is that no interpretation or theory is beyond challenge. The evidence and logic on which all knowledge claims are based must be transparent, open to examination. We must be able to understand and critique the basis for any particular construction of knowledge, which requires that we understand how knowledge is constructed.
Except in Florida.
The current administration doesn't just try to control what we remember about our past. They also remove information that is critical of their decisions from government studies and facts that don't agree with their ideology from government websites. They teach sex education and lie about condoms. They sell books at the Grand Canyon stating that it was formed by Noah's flood. They simply repeat lies until we are supposed to accept them as truth. They choose not to believe in global warming. They attack Iraq, which had no weapons of mass destruction, and then wonder why the other two countries they have designated as part of "the axis of evil" speed up their nuclear weapons research. They decide that the public doesn't need to know about pollutants that can effect the health of their children.

The best way for authoritarians to stay in power is to frighten the public and keep it stupid. Remove evolution from science. Remove information on human sexuality and birth control from sex education. Remove interpretation from history. Subvert the ability to think critically, and no one can be critical of you.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Bush gropes German Chancellor Angela Merkel

Is there a woman anywhere on earth who doesn't understand Chancellor Merkel's response?

You really don't need to know anything else, do you, about his opinion of women?

To quote my great-niece Monique, "It creeps me out!" Indeed, it just creeps me out!


This is fireweed. It is the first plant to grow after a forest fire, which is where it gets its name. As you can see, it has only bloomed part way up the stalk. As the summer passes, higher petals bloom with those at the bottom falling off. Here, in Alaska, we can tell by the height of the fireweed bloom how much summer is left. We hate to see it reach the top.

Modern Conveniences
Modern Losses

On July 12th I wrote Family Dinner and Zan Commented that cooking together and washing dishes together were also valuable.

Sometimes we lose as much, if not more, than we gain with modern conveniences. The car gets us places faster, and robs us of exercise and fresh air and connection with the natural world and a chance to know our neighbors in an organic way. And, when we get home from that quick trip to the store, what are we going to do with that saved time that would be as valuable as what we lost? How many of us take the car only when the time saved, or the ability to transport more stuff, is worth more than the walk would be? I didn't have a car until I was 26. I got myself and my young children around with a double stroller; for shopping, I pushed the stroller and pulled a "little old lady" cart. Julie and Richard got to see the world as we passed through it slowly. We talked about things. We stopped and watched buildings being built. We stopped and watched BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit, the San Francisco Bay Area subway system) being built. We talked to people and petted dogs. We laughed and sang and they learned nursery rhymes. I was strong, I was healthy, and my freckles never faded!

We didn't have a dish washer until I was in high school. My mother and I did the dishes together. We talked about everything. The things I never would have said in front of my step-father and younger siblings. Private girl things, older-sister-driven-crazy-by-the-littles things, goofy stuff. My mother told me about being a teenager herself. We told each other silly jokes. We talked about all the things that mattered and all the things that didn't matter. It was the one time every day when I had my mother's undivided attention, when no one else was wanting either of us to do something else. It was wonderful time. I loved it.

How much are children being robbed of by dishwashers? Loading a dishwasher is a pretty solitary task for most families. Heck, when my kids were growing up, the deal was that everyone loaded their own dishes and then whoever was in charge of kitchen clean up that night loaded the serving dishes and pots and pans. Hardly very social. And, so we save some time over dishes. What are we doing with that precious time? Watching TV? Playing computer games? Text messaging? Better to do the dishes by hand and laugh with your mother, in my book.

Monday, July 17, 2006


I told you that I come from a long line of strong women. Here are four of them, although we only have pictures of three. This, by the way, is the branch of my family descended from Sarah Osborne, accused of witchcraft in Salem, who died in jail before they could hang her and was one of the few Salem accused who would never identify anyone else as a witch.

The first is Sarah (Sally) Proctor Parkhurst Woods. She was born in 1779, two years before the end of the Revolution, and died in 1877, 12 years after the end of the Civil War. During her lifetime, she moved from Massachusetts to New Hampshire, which in those days meant that she seldom, if ever, saw her family again. She married Ephraim Parkhurst, in 1807, gave birth to five children,and was widowed for the first time in 1819. Since Ephraim was also born in Massachusetts and all of their children were born in New Hampshire, we can assume they moved not long after they married. Her second husband, Mr. Woods, not being one of my ancestors, seems to have been mislaid in the telling of our history. Sally's oldest son, Rufus Parkhurst, married Louisa Prince.

Rufus and Louisa had four children, the oldest of which was Sarah Angelina (Angie). She married John Mace in 1862. He was a Union soldier, and he died in Washington D.C. in January of 1863. I'm not certain if Angie waited to write until she was absolutely sure or if it was harder to deliver mail to battlefields and the letter followed him around for a while but I was told that John died not knowing that Angie was pregnant.

In May of 1863, Angie gave birth to her only child, my great-grandmother, Etta Louise Mace. After John's death, Angie worked in a factory, so we know that they were not a wealthy family. Etta was cared for while her mother worked by Sally and Louisa. Rufus, Louisa's husband, died in 1866. Angie died in 1870, leaving Etta to be raised totally by Sally and Louisa, with the help of her aunts and uncles.

We know that Sally went blind before she died and that Etta learned to read, upside down, at about four. She started standing in front of Sally as Sally read aloud to her, and as Sally lost her sight, Etta took over. We've been told that Etta read the Bible to her great-grandmother and that when she came to a word she couldn't read, Sally could supply it because she had, as she said, "read the Bible many times from civer to civer".

When my grandmother would tell me about how her mother (Etta) had been raised by Etta's grandmother and great-grandmother, I had always thought that Sally and Louisa were mother and daughter. But, when I actually read the genealogy Julie researched, I discovered that they were mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. I already believed that they were amazing women; knowing their actual relationship just impresses me all the more. Knowing that Sally was 84 when Etta was born, and simply undertook to help raise her, I am awe struck.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Family Photos

I am going to post the story of how my great-grandmother was raised by her great-grandmother as soon as J (who you see as part of my team, and who does photos and other technical stuff until I learn html better) does a thing or two with the photos. Since I'm in Alaska and she's in California, that's not going to happen until she sits down to her computer and gets my e-mail asking her to.

We have a mammoth box of family photos. Unidentified family photos. The picture in my post, of Sally Proctor, languished in that box for generations while none of us knew who it was. Sally is the earliest ancestor for whom we have a photograph; you can see from the stern look on her face that sitting totally still for long enough to make an image on the film of the day was a serious business. Any smile that you held for that long would make you look positively manic. I can remember my Aunt Florence holding that picture and laughing, saying, "Now this woman must have been a real jokester!"

Only when Julie researched our genealogy and a cousin sent her a copy of this picture, did we know who she was. We don't have an identified photo of her son, Rufus, or his wife, Louisa. We have one of their daughter, Angie, but not of her husband, John Mace. Since John died as a Union soldier, far from home, and photography was in its infancy during the Civil War, it is possible that there never was one taken. But, it could be languishing there in that box and we will never know.

I really regret that I never sat down with my grandmother, who would have known since most of these pictures were taken during the lifetime of her mother, and identified them. Is one of them Chester, my grandmother's brother who was shot in front of his wife and son by a hold-up man? Is one of them Louisa, who helped raise Etta? Who are these people to me? All of them are part of my family and my history, and I have no way to know which is which.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Hooligan Poems

When the Hooligans first came to live with me, three and a half years ago now, they were tiny little guys with funny ways. I wrote Maya these, among many, many, many poems about them. I thought we would get light hearted today, partly because we need a break from the serious every once in a while, and partly because it is raining and cloudy and drear outside. And there is nothing that makes me feel more cheerful than kittens.

He's a bouncer, a pouncer,
A seventeen ouncer.
He creeps up on Granny,
Intending to trounce her.
She grabs him, she nabs him,
She kisses his feet.
He purrs with contentment,
His mission complete.

2 A.M.
Babies cry and wake you up
Because they're hungry; need to sup.
When kittens wake you up at night,
They crawl in bed with you and fight.

3 A.M. Romp
At 3 in the morning,
Without any warning,
Merry decided to romp.
So he put his cold nose
On Granny's bare toes,
And used his teeth to chomp!

Now, Granny awoke;
Didn't think it a joke.
And kicked his butt off the bed.
And trying her best
To get some more rest,
Cursing his silly cat head.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Belated Fatherhood

Today, if you are interested in a major part of our family history, you can visit Julie's blog at this and here and
this and read Belated Fatherhood, Julie's posts for July 12th, 13th, and 14th. It tells how Julie met her father for the first time when she was 21 years old. It is mostly her story and his, written by a journalist friend of his two years later. It is partly my story. It was my doing that they hadn't met earlier, and it was my doing that it finally happened. (Well, I finally did what needed to be done, but it was all of our wanting that made it happen.) Sometimes we make really big mistakes. Sometimes we get a do-over. That is never like it hadn't happened, but it is at least some correction of error.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

So, Why Should I Take Geometry?

As was mentioned in Susan Stanley's story on Julie's blog, I met Julie's father in geometry class.

The reason I (the mighty junior) was in the same geometry class as Michael (the lowly sophomore) was that I missed a good deal of the first semester of my sophomore year. I had that tonsillectomy where Kate savaged her father's only pair of dress socks to stuff me a rabbit. I missed school for a couple of colds. And then I got impetigo. Without antibiotic ointment, impetigo takes as much as three weeks to clear up and meanwhile it is so highly contagious that the school would not allow me to attend. I no longer remember how much school I missed altogether, but it was concentrated in the first six or seven weeks of the semester. It didn't make a difference in most classes, because teachers sent my books home and I could keep up. But in geometry, it mattered. I had to drop out of the class and take it my junior year.

I would have never been Maya's Granny, because neither she nor Julie would have existed, if I hadn't come down with impetigo. Not only that, I had a friend from my class, Robert, and Michael had a friend from his class, Jane. Because Michael and I were friends, Robert and I met my dear friend Jane. Jane and Robert got married and had David. So, there are three people who wouldn't have been born if I hadn't had impetigo. You just never know what small thing is going to have what big effect.

My first geometry teacher, who's name I no longer remember (perhaps because I wasn't in his class that long) is memorable to me for two events. One of the memorable events that happened in that class was the day we were learning inverses and obverses for theorems. The teacher, who was sitting on the edge of his desk, asked me for the inverse of a right angle, and out of my mouth popped "a left angle". He laughed so hard that he made a five point landing on the floor, from where he announced, "and now we know why the pun is the lowest form of humor." Ah, so. I can make people laugh by saying smart things!

The other had to do with the fact that I moved around a lot as a kid, and two of the places I had lived before high school were El Paso, Texas and Roswell, New Mexico. Both have a touch of Southern dialect. I had picked it up. The first day of class, the teacher passed out problem sheets and told us to figure them. Now, to me, newly returned to California from the Southwest, figure was a synonym for guess. As in "What are you bringing to the church social, Ida Mae?" "I don't know. I figure maybe potato salad." Not believing that a math teacher could want me to guess the answers to arithmetic, I asked what he meant by figure. And he said, "Reckon." Well, reckon is also a synonym for figure in the South. As in, "Although, I reckon I might bring deviled eggs." More confused than ever, I valiantly tried again, "what do you mean by reckon?" and he answered, "You know, calculate." My gawd! Can you just see it coming? To me, calculate was yet another synonym for figure and reckon and guess. I have to admit, I cheated. I couldn't bring myself to guess at those problems and so I did arithmetic on them. I'll be damned! People can use the same words to mean different things!

And now that I think about it, if science is defining calculate, figure, and reckon as perform precise mathematical operations and Southerners are defining them as "take a wild, improbable guess" it is no wonder that when biologists call it the theory of evolution, Southern Baptists hear, "Your guess is as good as mine."

Look: Another Wedge Issue

So, yesterday I posted Family Dinner. And later, I went back and removed a sentence and the last two paragraphs. Because even though sometimes I open my mouth before I think, I tried to teach my children that most of the time when you make a mistake, do-overs are possible and appropriate. Not always. But, mostly. And, they are damned good role modeling for your children to see what you do when you put your foot in your mouth.

I had overheard two people using a couple of terms for children and parents that struck me then, and still do now, as rather mean spirited and nasty. The two I overheard were certainly being snide and contemptuous about it. And that was the second time I had heard those terms in the last week; one of them I have only heard the two times and the other not used quite that way. I said that I would like to eviscerate people who used those terms and dance in their guts. (I told you I am opinionated and passionate about things.)

So then, after I had said that rather aggressive thing on my blog, then I googled the terms. Then I read about the childfree movement. And, although I still don't like the terms, and although I can see that there are some mean spirited people in the childfree movement, I also can see this anger between people with and without children as part of a bigger picture and I want to talk about that.

"United we stand; divided we fall." As long as we are engaged in fighting each other, we don't notice that we are all being screwed. As long as blacks and Hispanics believe they are competing for jobs, they don't notice that no one is getting them because they are going overseas. So, we have these divisions that are being fostered and encouraged and that result in our not putting our attention on our elected officials and the other power brokers who could do something about it. You know, working women vs. stay-at-home-moms, gays vs. "Christians," working class white men vs. everyone else who wants a job, the common man vs. illegal immigrants, men vs. women. All of that sort of thing. And, here is another: parents vs. the childfree.

The very workplace problems that are overwhelming parents are overwhelming the childfree. Parents are working longer hours and spending less time with their kids. The childfree are being asked to work even more, because they don't have kids. And so, the childfree feel taken advantage of (because they are!). And, now that the parents and childfree are diverted into this tussle, they aren't getting together and demanding better working conditions where neither are required to put in these long hours, where both are paid decently, where neither is afraid that if they complain about it the jobs will be sent to India.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

How Does A Oney-Oney Have A Big Sister?

Some of you may have read the comments from Family Dinner and seen the one from Loretta. And you see that she says she is my big sister and I have said I was an only child for five years. Well, it's like this. My father was married to Lori's mother before he was married to mine, and they had Chuck and Lori. When their mother remarried, even though our father was still alive then and indeed hadn't met my mother yet, her new husband adopted them so that he could provide for them equally as he provided for his kids. And, although it broke our father's heart to allow it, that was during the Depression and he was working for his mother, for which he was housed and fed but not paid, and he wanted his children provided for. So, when I came along, it fed a hunger that he had from losing his first two children, although no one could ever fill the place in his heart that belonged to them.

I don't remember Chuck and Lori from childhood, and certainly after our father died we had no contact. But, after I decided to move to Fairbanks in 1969, my mother told me that they were living there. That was very exciting to me, since my mother had told me how when I was born they had declared that when I started school they wouldn't let anyone call me a "Kindergarten Baby" and I had wanted to know them. And for a few years, we knew each other. And then Lori moved to Kotzebue and I moved back to California and we both changed our last names (she married, I returned to my maiden name) and we lost each other. And yes, I knew Chuck's last name, but Chuck and I had not been getting along so well when I had last seen him. And then when Julie was doing the genealogy for me four years ago (see her post on her blog about this at link), she was on a web site and there was a message "For the California family of Roland Charles Hunt, born 1914." And that was my father. So Julie answered and it was from one of Lori's granddaughters who was also doing an ancestor search. And Julie immediately got Lori and me e-mail addresses. She was afraid that it might let the cat out of the bag about my birthday present, but she couldn't stand the thought that if something happened to one of us before my birthday, Lori and I might never get together again. And she may have been motivated partly by the fact that Chuck had already died.

And two years ago, Lori and I were both in California at the same time, and she came to my mother's and she and Forrest got to meet. He was only nine months old when our father died, and he had always wanted to know his older siblings.

And let me tell you, women have a harder time keeping in touch because of this last name thing. The reason Kate and I hadn't been able to find each other was also changing last names. There are some dear female friends I have left behind, because I moved around so much as a kid and a young woman, and I don't know their current last names, and I may never find them.

Another thing about this is that you may notice how many people from my past are back in my present because of Julie.

Family Dinner

I was reading this article at this morning, concerning a new type of business: the DIY (do it yourself) take-out kitchen. The idea is that people no longer have time to cook, and yet take out and TV dinners and catch-as-catch-can meals of chips and bean dip are not satisfying. In an attempt to bring back some semblance of the family dinner, a market has developed for this new method of feeding people.
...even the most optimistic studies peg the number of Americans sitting down for dinner with their partner and/or children almost every day at 41 percent.
These are national figures that include rural and small-town households, where traditional family patterns are still more prevalent than they are in urban areas.

Think about that. Only 41 percent of families sit down for dinner together almost every day. When I was growing up, if you were home, you ate with the family. By that I mean, we ate all meals together. Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Since we ate almost every bite that we ate at the table, we also had grab-'em-on-the-run snacks together. If Forrest and I had an afternoon snack, it was at the table, we used plates and flatware, and we were mannerly. Not formal, a little more casual than a regular meal, but mannerly. Woe to the child caught making snarky remarks to a sibling or teasing or grabbing his cookie.

When I was raising Julie and Richard, we ate all meals together. If one of us wasn't hungry (unless that one was sick), we still all sat down together. (I can remember sitting at the table with J & R when the doctor had me on the herb tea fast and I ate nothing.) It was meal time. It was family time. It was when I learned, by listening and not scolding or prying, what was up in their lives. It was a time of rare delight, as they said some of their best stuff there. It was where I could tell them family stories and we could discuss anything that interested us (and being us, that covered a lot of ground). It was where we kept in touch.

As an Alaska Superior Court certified expert witness in parenting, I can tell you that the single thing that you can do to keep your kids out of trouble, to increase their likelihood of graduating high school and going on to college or trade school, to increase their likelihood of success in life, to decrease the chance that they will smoke, drink, use drugs, get pregnant, or get involved with violence or gangs, to just give them a solid foundation is eat dinner with them five nights a week. Increase that to 3/7 (all meals, every day) and you practically guarantee them all good things. Taking the time to eat with your kids tells them that they are important to you. It tells them that you care. Hell, my step-father used dinner as an opportunity to review our sins for the day, but even under those circumstances, we still knew that he cared about us! He was there, at the table, and he was focused on us.

Having spent ten years working with families that were in trouble, I can also tell you that every single one of those families rarely ate together. (Some of the most dysfunctional all ate at the same time, each in their own room, while watching TV.) One of the first things I did with new clients was work to get them eating together. And I could always tell when that had really happened, because other things between the family got better faster.

Families are eating on the run, sometimes no two of them at the same time, often not in the same room, incredibly not always sitting down. They are not doing it this way because they want to or because they think it's a good idea. They are doing it this way because parents are overwhelmed with the effort it takes to support a family in the current atmosphere where family values has come to mean, not that families are valued and supported by our elected officials, but rather that those officials are willing to pander to their corporate contributors who overwork parents while underpaying them as well as to the religious right who consider only the patriarchal family of value. The family is under assault, but not by the liberal elite, not by the so-called "gay agenda", not by secular humanism. Rather it is under assault by corporate executives who take home scandalous amounts of money in stock options and perks while outsourcing jobs to countries that work people in conditions that would make a slave holder pause and by religious leaders who pass the collection plates down the rows that include thousands of people, send out their plea for cash to home bound widows who send in money they can not afford to give, who think that it is somehow possible to have anything spiritual going on in a mega-church!

Parents, children, the family -- they are under assault by the forces of evil: by the Pharisees that Jesus opposed and the money changers he chased from the temple stairs.

There, I've gone and done it again. Started to write a nice little piece on the joy of the family dinner, ended up rousing the rabble.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

I Write for the Lawmakers

So, last year I worked as a research analyst for the State of Alaska. A legislator would request information on something and I would research and write a report on it. This seemed like an ideal job for a person who was a trifle burnt out on trying to help people she didn't have the power to really help; teaching parenting skills to women who needed the entire society to change so that they weren't so overwhelmed.

I'm endlessly curious, it's one of the things that made me good at working with the parents. I would gladly research new problems and test new solutions. I love to write and always have and I do it well. I particularly enjoy learning new things and then communicating them to someone else.

In addition to being able to do research on the internet, on the phone, and in the library, and to write accurate and clear reports, one of the requirements was being able to be objective. To write reports that gave the legislator the information requested and helped her to make a decision, while not taking sides. When the legislator read my report, she wasn't supposed to be able to tell what my opinion was. You can see why I only lasted seven months in that job. I got the information. I learned the agency protocol for clear, concise, well organized reports. And then I rewrote them and rewrote them and rewrote them and rewrote them trying to make them value neutral. It was a bad job fit, I felt wasted and I wasn't doing the level job they needed; I see the big picture when they were asking for the small, so that they needed an essay and I wrote a dissertation. But, mostly, as my boss later mentioned in the wonderful reference she gave me, advocating is one of my strongest skills and I wasn't supposed to do it. And when I became passionate about how changing off and on daylight saving time affected the sleep patterns of teens, increasing their accident rates for a week after the spring change, when I wrote in the fifth draft that "changing time twice a year results in teenagers staggering with sleep deprivation for a week twice a year", we both knew that when the legislative session ended in May I would be moving on. It was a lovely job. If only I weren't so opinionated. If only I didn't care so deeply about the damnedest things. If only I were someone else.

Garden at Antler Manor

Please click to enlarge and read.

I was born in 1942, a few months after Pearl Harbor. During my early childhood, everyone who had dirt had a Victory Garden. Better than that, my Grandparents Herndon lived in the country and Grandpa planted a miracle vegetable garden, melon patch, grape vines, and an orchard that contained every kind of fruit that was grown in California in those days. So, no kiwi, but cherries and peaches and all of those wonderful things. He had a nut tree that had two additional kinds of nuts grafted on, so that you only needed the one. My grandmother grew many kinds of flowers and planted a different kind of mint under each of the outdoor faucets and then let the faucets drip all summer long (mint requires lots of water and shade). When we had iced tea, we would pick some fresh mint and add it. When I would visit, Grandma would give me a basket and send me out to pick what I wanted to eat. One summer I lived on tomatoes, bell peppers, scallions, corn, and watermelon. Lots of watermelon.

When I planted my first garden, Richard was eight and Julie was six and we were living in a log house on a corner lot in Fairbanks, Alaska. Because there were moose antlers over the front door, we called it "Antler Manor" (in those days, we named everything; our previous abode had been a basement apartment we called "The Hobbit Hole"). The house had originally been a one room cabin, owned by a famous lady of the night. Then a kitchen was added. Then, the kitchen was sawed off and moved and a cross section with two bedrooms and a bath was stuck between the two rooms, making the original cabin the living room. Then a car port was tacked on at the kitchen end. That was converted to a three car garage, and that eventually transformed into a large bedroom.

The yard was rather big, as Fairbanks yards go, and when we moved in had been allowed to run riot for several years. I started to pull weeds and my neighbor and friend, Gloria, came running across the street to tell me that those were chamomile and lamb's quarters! Free food. Thanks to Gloria we had fresh lamb's quarters in our salads or steamed with vinegar all summer. I froze pounds of them, and in the winter we had those steamed or added to soup or stews. When the seeds dried, I ground them and added them to flour, making the best "buckwheat" pancakes I ever ate. And lots of chamomile tea.

However, I did take a large section of the yard and plant it in vegetables. The first time I rototilled it, Julie's puppy, Samantha, rolled the earth all flat, so before we could do anything else we had to build a fence to keep her out. Then we spaded the earth and planted the garden. We had corn and tomatoes and two kinds of spinach and radishes and broccoli and cabbage and cauliflower and beets and carrots and turnips and cucumber and lettuces and onions and I don't remember what all else. The regular fence was chain link, and I planted peas all along that, which gave us a wealth of flowers followed by wonderful peas. There were so many I put up a sign inviting people to pick them as they passed; no one took undue advantage of it, lots of neighborhood kids ate them as snacks.

Julie and Richard snacked directly out of the garden, as did all of their friends, and I. At meal time I would give them a plastic sand bucket and send them out to pick what they wanted. Never had a problem getting them to eat their vegetables.

And the zucchini? Since it was my first garden ever and I had no idea what I was doing, I planted two hills of zucchini. I could have fed the entire state that summer. We had it raw in salads. We had it cooked with tomato. We let them grow big and stuffed them. We froze them and used them all year in zucchini bread. I gave them away. People would see me coming and turn and run.

A few years after that I read a joke in Reader's Digest about a small town where no one ever locked their cars except during the summer. You had to lock them in summer, or you would come out of the barber shop to find your back seat full of zucchini. Now why, I wonder, didn't I ever think of just putting them in someone's car?

Poor Jesus

I keep a steno pad beside my chair to take notes on. Mostly I do grocery lists and such things as that. Sometimes I note books or movies or music that I want to get/see/read/hear. Sometimes I copy things I've read or heard that I liked. When I do that, I almost always write the author/speaker's name. Sometimes things occur to me and I write them down, as well. The lists start from the front of the pad, the quotes start from the back.

I used the last sheet of the current pad for my grocery list last Saturday. When I tore it off, there was one piece of paper with the statement below on it. I have googled it, and I don't find who wrote it. It could be me. It could be someone else. I know that I was reading something about Jerry Falwell saying that he spends all day Saturday in communion with Jesus. That's when Jesus tells him what he wants him to do -- like, I presume, take on Tinky Winky. And this sentence is about that. If someone else wrote it, I'll gladly attribute it to them. If it's mine, I'm kind of pleased with it.

Poor Jesus, first he's crucified and then he has to spend his Saturdays with Jerry Falwell.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Juneau's Crime Scene

The Juneau Empire has a section for all of the public safety calls in the last 24 hours. This includes police, fire, and animal control. For Monday, July 10, 2006:

1 domestic violence complaint
1 assault
2 minor vandalisms to vehicles
1 theft
2 vehicle accidents
2 underage drinking
3 bears wandering downtown

Notice that the single largest category is bears. They don't hurt us, we seldom hurt them. If they become too habituated, they have to be trapped and moved to an island where there are few if any people; a bear who is too habituated gets too close to where people are and is innocently minding her own business, and along comes a person, also innocently minding her own business, and they round the corner and face each other and it can be bad for the person. So, the decision has been that it must, instead, be not so good for the bear. We try really hard not to make it bad for the bear.

However, a few years before I moved here, one bear wandered into a local grocery store. Discovered that the doors would open for him. All the people ran away. The bear chowed down in produce and meat and deli and dairy and opened a large number of boxes of cereal and packages of chips and even cake mix and instant mashed potatoes. And when he waddled back out into the parking lot, they shot him. Once a bear learns that he can get into a food source like that, it is all over. The one comfort is that he died happy.

One year a bear came to my daughter-in-law, Kathy's, birthday celebration. As I was crossing the street to her house, I heard a noise and looked over, and Brother Bear was crossing one house over. I climbed Kathy and Richard's stairs, he climbed the neighbor's stairs. When we came out of the house to go to the restaurant, the bear was eating bird seed out of Kathy's bird feeder. Later that same week, a child's birthday party was being held in a backyard across the street from my office (three blocks from R & K's house), and as the mother brought the cake out, the bear followed her. She got the kids and left. And, since she really had no choice but to leave the cake behind, we now had another bear associating people and food in a very dangerous way. They had to shoot that one, too.

Day Three

So, no phone call since Saturday. I can safely assume that they ran into no problems that Stephanie couldn't handle and they are now at camp, and having fun. I have been e-mail corresponding with the camp director for about six weeks now, and her staff have been so excited to be having my teens come all the way from Alaska that it is heart warming. They went out of their way to meet Stephanie and the girls at the airport this morning and are going out of their way to deliver them back on Friday. They rounded up bedding for them so that they wouldn't have to drag it from Alaska. They rounded up prom dresses for them so they wouldn't have to bring those from home. They e-mailed them regularly to tell them what to bring and what to expect and just to make certain that they were not the only campers there that didn't already know someone. Bless the Michigan MADD chapter. I feel this sense of a job well done.

They start back on the 14th, and unless I hear anything from them, you won't get any further updates from me until then.

What are we doing?

I posted about being surprised at how much people like me and one of the people who commented was Kate, mentioning that she also is always surprised by the fact that people like her. I know this is a common reaction; at the wise old age of 64, I've encountered it before. And the fact that it is so common disturbs me. Most people that I've met have been likeable. And yet, apparently most of them don't know it.

Kate mentioned that she thought my self-esteem comes from living with Auntie. The story on that is that when I was 16 I went to live with my Great-Aunt Julie (for whom my Julie was named and the reason I attended two high schools). That's certainly part of it. Another part of it is that I had that incredible ultimate oney-oney first few years. Not only was I my extended family's first child (and for the first five years, the only one to live) of my generation, I also had my father until he died when I was six. The thing about both my father and Auntie, is that they knew how to treat children. They made me feel utterly loved and as though they enjoyed having me around. They treated me not only with love, but also with respect.

The reason I went to live with Auntie was my step-father, who was certainly a mass of contradictions. He was good to us in many ways; he adopted us when he married my mother so that Forrest and I would have all of the rights that any children he might have with my mother (that would be Colleen). We always had nice things. He never forgot a birthday or other important date. In an emergency, he was there. When I came home at 21, in 1963 when this was an immensely big thing and announced that I was pregnant and not only was not marrying the father, I wasn't telling anyone who he was, my step-father's reaction was, "A baby is always a good thing. What can we do to help?" On the other hand, day-to-day he was impossible. He would take away my library card for a month if I arrived home from playing with a friend one minute late. He regularly sharpened his sarcastic wit on my vulnerable soul. Every time he scolded me he ran down the list of everything I had ever done wrong from the day he married my mother. When Forrest or Colleen did anything wrong, he called them Joy. And when I left home, when Colleen misbehaved, he called her Forrest.

Kate had an equally oppressive mother. She comments that we always spent the night at my house "for obvious reasons" and she means that, as bad as it was at my house, it was worse at hers.

What are we doing to children? I can understand Kate and me having a hard time recognizing that people would like us after spending time in that atmosphere. But, that was extreme. Neither of us was physically abused. (I think! Oh, how I hope I'm right about that one, Kate.) And, although there are many children who grow up being treated much worse than we were, the standard model parent does a better job. And yet, and yet . . . the standard model parent seems to be raising children who don't know their own worth.

Julie commented on that same post that I had been kind to her friends. I assure you, while I would be affronted had anyone said I had been unkind to them, I never thought of how I treated them as particularly kind. If they spent the night with us on Fridays, they knew it meant that they would spend Saturday morning with us cleaning house; they then got to go do our family treat with us as soon as the house was clean, but since I was always border line poor, that usually consisted of taking a picnic lunch to some park, no big treat one would think. They had to abide by our house rules in our house. I treated them with respect; I believe that I treat most people with respect. How are kids treated when they visit friends that is so different that the minimum decency I showed is considered kind? (And, horror of horrors, how were people treating my kids when they visited their friends?) And, Julie must be right, because her friends loved coming to our house and are still excited to see me if we are both in town at the same time.

I know that some of it is the schools. There are gifted teachers and teachers who love children and treat them well. But there are also horrid teachers. I had a few, you had a few. That can't be enough to counteract good parenting, can it?

Society also has something to do with it. Once when Richard was ten, we went to the movies. He got in line to buy popcorn before the movie started. I came out of the bathroom and went into the theater, and at that time he was at the head of the line. Twenty minutes later he still hadn't come in. I went out, he was still standing at the same place at the counter, but he was no longer at the head of the line because it had moved to beside him. The girls behind the counter were simply ignoring him and waiting on the adults. And when I objected to this, the poor excuse for a man standing next to him (one of many who should have directed the counter girl to my child) had the nerve to say, "Don't rock the boat, lady!" And when he limped out of there bleeding profusely at the ego, and I had talked to the manager of the theater and the young ladies behind the counter had been fired, Richard got his popcorn free and we got to stay for the next showing so that Richard could see the entire movie and then the manager sent us home in a cab because, it being Fairbanks in the winter, it was now too cold and dark for us to walk home. If kids get treated like this often, and they do, and not all of them have a parent who goes into Mother Bear mode when it happens, that would certainly serve to communicate to them that they are worth nothing.

We have to fix this, folks. I believe that it is our duty as adults, and if I believed in God I would consider it as having been assigned by her, to clear the path of any child who comes within our awareness to whatever extent we can. If that means telling the skateboarder we haven't met that we need him to wear a helmet so that he will still be here when we get old and need brain surgery or a brake job or our mail delivered and will be depending on him to do it, then we need stop him and do that. If it means noticing the kid cleaning up after her dog and thanking her for it, we need to do that. If it means that when we see a parent losing patience with a child in a store that we comment that it looks like they are having a stressful time and offer to treat them to coffee and soda and sit with the child while the parent shops (not a good idea if you are a man or live in a large city, I recognize. Sometimes looking like a granny is a very good thing), then we need to do that. What else, I challenge you, can you add to the list? Who's willing to take me up on this one and work so that there are fewer children who grow up surprised that people like them?

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Spiced Zucchini-Lime Soup

I had two requests for this recipe, and so here it is.

This is from Hot & Spicy by Marlena Spieler, a book full of delightful fiery recipes. She grades them one, two, or three chili peppers and this is a one.

4 cups chicken broth
4 zucchini (1 pound), diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon medium-hot salsa (I use the hottest I can get, but that's me)
1 lime, cut into wedges
cilantro leaves, for garnish
additional salsa, for garnish

1. Combine everything except lime wedges and garnishes in saucepan.
2. Bring to a boil and boil 5 to 10 minutes, or until zucchini is tender.
3. Serve garnished with lime wedges, cilantro, and salsa.

And then, of course, you squeeze the lime into the hot soup. So good. So light. So fast and easy to prepare. And, when I lived in California, so cheap! In Alaska, not so cheap. I always have it in the back of my mind and when I see either zucchini or limes on sale, I have it!


As time passes, there are fewer and fewer groups of people that it is ok to hate. Well, in some groups you had better hate certain groups. And some people use code words to disguise who they hate (New York meaning Jews and San Francisco meaning gays, for example). But, mostly you better not admit to hating people just because they belong to certain groups of people.

Three groups that it is not only ok, but positively morally required to hate are: fat people (particularly women), old people (particularly women), and atheists. So, I hit the trifecta, fat old atheist that I am.

Day Two

So far as I know, having received no phone calls to the contrary, Stephanie, Crystalyn, and Danielle left Juneau at 6 a.m. and Jessica left Ketchikan at 7. They should have connected in Seattle about an hour ago and now they have the day to visit the museum and shop. Stephanie doesn't like shopping, so she plans to take a book. Picture it now. Three teens who never get to a big city mall, only one of whom gets to any kind of a mall (and what we call malls [all 2 of them] here in Juneau I used to call small strip malls when I lived in California) at all and only one of our "malls" has a clothing store that would appeal to a teen. Two of the girls buy from catalogs or from the same store that everyone in their community (yes, men and babies and toddlers and kid brothers and grandparents) shops at. And these three are wandering free in a big city mall! Shadowed by a woman with a book! And all four a trifle overwhelmed by the size of things and the number of people about. I don't know if it is more heaven or hell.

They will leave Seattle at 10:50 tonight, change planes in Cleveland, and arrive in Flint at 8 tomorrow morning. Meanwhile, the other teens coming to camp may be getting their things together or they may be putting that off until tomorrow morning. The camp staff has been working hard all week. I know that because I have been exchanging e-mails with them.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Marconi's Quadrants

Just know that, as I write this, Pippin is pawing the mouse. And since it is a cordless mouse (because Pippin chews cords, Hooligan that he is), when he knocks it on the floor I can't just pull up the cord and retrieve it. So, I'm a touch distracted.

My junior year, American Lit teacher at Thomas Downey High School in Modesto, California, was Mr. Marconi. So much of what I remember learning of good stuff about life as well as literature and the connections between the two, I hear in his voice because I learned it in his classroom. He told us that we each have four quadrants concerning knowledge about us. One is what everyone knows about me (I'm short, I make puns), one what only I know about me (that I have a crush on a certain person, that my left baby toe itches), one what everyone but me knows about me (what I look like from behind, how my smile makes people feel), and the final one what no one knows about me(I would suppose how I would respond to torture and the exact length of my intestines would go here). One of the jobs in life is bringing light into the dark quadrants, allowing others to see the important things that only I know and discovering the important things that I don't know.

This last few years, I keep being surprised by something in the everybody but me section. Which is, how much people like me. I mean, I know I have friends. I know they like me, I know they are good friends. And then something happens, and I am touched and startled and amazed. Let me give you a few examples.

For 38 years Kate and I were lost to each other -- we had both moved at the same time, and letters didn't get forwarded or something. A few years ago Julie was looking in a children's book of hers and read the inscription, to her from Kate. Of course, she hadn't seen Kate since before we moved to Fairbanks in 1969 and so she wanted to know who she was. Which led to a conversation about that and how much I missed her. So, Julie went on and found her for me! Now, I had looked there and also on ICQ, but Kate joined classmates after I looked and never joined ICQ (both of which I joined hoping to find her). So, Julie put us in touch with each other and we e-mailed joyously and talked on the phone, and that November when I went to California I spent a week with Kate. And she took me all around and introduced me to one and all as "My best friend from high school who has been lost for 38 years and now we've found each other again!" And, every time she said it my heart got warm and a glow took over the world.

While I was visiting Kate, we happened to be only a couple of blocks from the shop where I had gone for manicures for three years. Kam is from Vietnam and I used to go in every Saturday at 8 (I was her first lady of the day). Because I had been a teacher, she asked me to help her kids with their school work, which I happily did. She was studying for her citizenship test and asked me to quiz her. The study sheet the Vietnamese Society had given her was about a 874th generation Xerox copy that could barely be read. I took it home and typed it into my new computer and brought her a clean copy. Every week I quizzed her, and because I know you best remember what you understand, we discussed the questions. Having failed the test twice, this time she aced it. The tester told her that any woman who, when asked about the houses of the legislature in California, added that in Virginia one of them is the House of Burgesses got an automatic pass! That had been ten years previous. So, that day, Kate and I dropped in to say hi to Kam. When she saw me, she jumped out of her chair, calling out, "Joycelyn! Joycelyn!" and hugged me and insisted on doing my nails right there and then and wouldn't let me pay. It touched me. Last summer, when I went back to see her and she told me, "I appreciate you forever" it startled and touched me even more.

Also last summer, Kate took me to see Jane, who had been my best friend in my second high school (TDHS) and who I had also lost track of when I moved to Alaska the first time and who Julie's father, Michael, had tracked down. (It was wonderful that Kate and Jane like each other, by the way.) And Jane introduced me to her family as "my best friend from high school"! Again, for some reason, that the depth of the emotion on her part was as deep as on mine, surprised and pleased me.

Last month, I had my teeth cleaned. Frank, my hygienist, smiled when I came in and told me that he had been looking forward to that day ever since he saw my name on the list the evening before! That he really enjoys me and it always makes his day when I come in! Amazing. I mean, I like Frank. I get that good feeling when I see him, too. But, it never occurred to me I had that effect on him.

And then, today, between breakfast and shopping and meeting Stephanie and Crystalyn, I had my hair cut. Julie has moved from a shop that was very convenient to one in her own home, which is not. Knowing that I would be taking the Care-A-Van to the appointment, and remembering the last time I came and had to wait an hour for the CAV to be able to take me home, she organized her day so I would be her last customer so she could drive me home. Because, she said, "you've been a client forever and I would hate it if my changing my shop would make it so I never got to see you. You spend your life helping people, and I want to help you." And when we got to Auke Bay and remembered that she had forgotten to give me the Alaska King Crab she had intended to, she turned around and got it. (Yes, in case you are wondering, I am having King Crab for dinner tonight. Along with a salad and steamed potatoes and beets from FCF.) Again, this startled me.

Now, I know that all of these people are good, helpful, excellent people. I like all of them immensely. So, what is it that so startles me? Somewhere in the stuff I don't know about myself quadrant is not only that there are people who really like me, but also there must be some thought that they shouldn't? That they don't? That I'm not worthy of this much regard? And that is really odd, because I always thought that I was pretty well set up in my own esteem. I always thought that I knew my full worth. But I am beginning to suspect that I may know how smart I am and what a good job I do and I may not know at all something else about me.

One thing it proves, the universal thump goes around and it doesn't necessarily come back from the people you have thumped. Because, other than liking them, I assure you I don't know of anything I did to earn Frank's and Julie's regard.