Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Hangin' Out at the High School

You know how babies are attracted to other babies? Well, the same thing happens to adults in high schools. Every time I visit, as I am walking in the halls, all of the adults who pass me smile and say hi! We, also, recognize our own kind.

In A Nutshell follows.

In A Nutshell

In a Nutshell

A place set aside to answer 201 autobiographical questions
from a mother for her daughter. This may take awhile...join us if you like.

13. One of my most memorable toys was.

Since I've already written about my rope swing in my Grandmother Hunt's pine tree, I will choose the stereopticon viewer and slides in my Herndon grandparents' hall closet. After trying a number of times to describe this for you, I decided that a picture is indeed worth a thousand words. As you can see, the viewer is held up to the eyes by the handle. The viewer is divided so that each eye looks at one of the two almost identical photographs on the slide. The slide can be moved back and forth until the pictures snap into one, three dimensional image. It was invented in 1838 and was a fairly expensive item in its day. My grandparents had one which had belonged to my great-grandparents, along with a good number of slides. All sorts of views were available, and these were mostly natural wonders and sumptuous rooms.

In my grandparents' house, there was a hall linen closet with a green curtain instead of a door. On a shelf at just my height, they kept toys that I could play with; the ones I remember are the stereopticon, the kaleidoscope, and the coloring books my Aunt Nadine had left behind when she got married. Notice that all of these items were visual things. When we visited, if I was staying indoors, I would go to the closet and choose one of these toys. The viewer and the kaleidoscope were wonderful to sit crosswise in a big, overstuffed green chair and look through. I could do this forever. The wonderful things I could see were enchanting.

When I was in college I found a kaleidoscope coloring book (talk about heaven!) and bought multiple copies of it to color in as many variations as I could think of. Since I couldn't afford any art for the walls, these pictures covered them. In my thirties I mentioned liking kaleidoscopes to a friend and for a few years there people kept giving me fancy ones -- but my soul didn't feel complete until I had one of the cardboard tubes with fragments of colored glass in it that I had played with as a child.

After my grandmother died, my mother and aunts gave me the stereopticon viewer and slides. So now, even though they sit on a mantle instead of in a linen closet, I have my favorite toys around me still. Now, if I could just find a rope swing!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Not Sissies

When Maya's Granny was a young girl called Joy, just about 12 years old, she moved to El Paso, Texas, with her Little Mama and Daddy and brother Forrest and sister Colleen. El Paso is a town out in the desert, just across the river from Mexico (which is an entire different country). It is very hot there and it hardly ever rains.

Well, on the same street where Joy and the rest of her family lived, almost next door, there lived another girl just one month older than Joy, named Linda. Linda lived with her mother, Fern, and her father, Tom. Even though Linda was a year ahead of Joy in school, they became good friends. They were the only girls their age for blocks around, and neither of them was a sissy. A sissy was a girl who made sure to keep her dresses clean and walked quietly when she went places and acted like a lady. Linda and Joy didn't do any of those things. They got their clothes dirty and sometimes they even came home with caterpillars in their pockets and they ran wherever they went and they acted like tom boys.

Linda loved horses and was all the time pretending to ride a horse or to be a horse. And Joy loved space ships and planets and was all the time pretending to have a space ship or be a planet. And Linda and Joy liked each other so much, that Joy would pretend to be a horse with Linda, and Linda would pretend to be a planet with Joy.

They would spend all day, every day, outside. They would run and climb fences and trees and spin around being planets and dig holes and have a very good time.

And they would spend the night with each other and giggle and call complete strangers on the telephone and ask them if their refrigerators were running, and if the strangers said yes, then Joy and Linda would say, "you better catch it before it gets away" and they would think that was the funniest thing a person ever said. They would laugh and laugh and laugh. Of course, if Fern and Tom had caught them doing this (they never dared do such a thing at Joy's house, because her Daddy scared them more than Tom did), they would have been in big trouble. Actually, Granny isn't very proud of having done this, but she did and so she mentions it. And they would stay awake long after the grown-ups were in bed, giggling and telling secrets and carrying on. Then, if they were at Joy's house Little Mama would come in and if they were at Linda's house, Fern would come in and say, "Girls, be quiet. Your father is trying to sleep. If you wake him up you will be in real trouble." and they would try to be quiet, but just a minute or two later, they would be laughing and giggling again.

In A Nutshell follows.

In A Nutshell

In a Nutshell

A place set aside to answer 201 autobiographical questions
from a mother for her daughter. This may take awhile...join us if you like.

12. What I remember about my first trip to the hospital.

The first time I remember going to the hospital was when I was 12 and broke my ankle in El Paso. Other than being born, I don't think I had ever been before.

I received shoe skates the Christmas I was 12. Soon my friend Linda and I were out skating, holding on to the leash and allowing her dog Jinx to pull us. We went around a corner. A cat ran in front of Jinx. Jinx followed the cat, I hit the grass, and down I went. When we discovered that I couldn't stand up, Linda went back and got Daddy, who brought the car and took me home.

I could wiggle my toes. There was no blood. There were no bones sticking through and no appearance of a break, and so my folks decided it was a sprain. Having diagnosed it as a sprain, we soaked it in hot water. It was still tender when I went to bed that night, but no one was worried until I got up to hop to the bathroom about 2 a.m. and fell. I tried to catch myself with the bad foot, and screamed loud enough, as Daddy said, to wake "the long dead." By morning the swelling was worse and I was bundled into the car again, this time to go to the ER.

X-rays quickly showed that the ankle bone was fractured, which explained why I could wiggle my toes and there was no obviously broken bone. However, since we had soaked it in hot water, it was too swollen to put a cast on until the swelling had been reduced. I had to stay at the hospital with my foot packed in ice for two days before it was fit to cast. It isn't too bad to be the center of nurse and doctor attention, with no chores being expected, when you aren't really sick. The food was different, and although it wasn't very great, the variety was fun.

When I got home, my mother's friend from next door brought me her Nancy Drew books to read. Mama cooked my favorite dishes. Daddy was home with scarlatina, and the two of us did paint-by-numbers kits and told stories for the rest of Christmas vacation and on weekends. Since I couldn't do chores with my leg in a cast, and I couldn't be late getting home from where I couldn't go, I got in no trouble at all. One of my mother's other friends taught me to knit, which came in very handy because I could get the knitting needles down inside my cast and scratch to my heart's content. The only flies in the ointment were that I couldn't play with the tennis racket and volley ball that had been under the tree and my siblings. Colleen, not quite three at the time, found that she could hit my cast with a wooden spoon and I would cry out but not be able to stop her. She delighted in running at me with the spoon raised above her head the entire time I was in the cast. Forrest "borrowed" my bike, although I told him he couldn't, and drove it through the nettles and ruined the tires. By the time the cast came off, I was ready to kill them both, but by the time I got as fast as they were, they were behaving again.

When school started again, I was really afraid that other kids would knock me down but by the time I'd been there for an hour I was as confident as ever, actually moving through the halls faster than people with only two legs. And, I remember going to a school dance on crutches and dancing with a number of boys.

Monday, January 29, 2007


A strange thing has happened to me in writing the In A Nutshell pieces. Actually, it started earlier as I wrote about Daddy.

For a little background, if you have read much about Daddy, you will not be surprised that he evoked mixed feelings in those who knew him at all. Julie has said, on her blog, Thinking About
Which is one way of saying that my Grandpa wasn't the nicest guy around. He could be downright abusive. He could also be kind and generous and loving. I suspect he was my first introduction to the concept that people can be complicated.
So, we loved him and we hated him and he just confused the hell out of us. He was the white knight with the fatal flaw, who had come to rescue our mother and worship at her feet and drive her children nuts.

Since I was nine years old, I have had these ambivalent feelings about him. But, unless I was in his presence and he was being his most charming and protective self, my usual stance was that he was the villain of the piece.

As I have written about him on this blog, I have had an opportunity to remember and think about all of his strengths, all of the good things he did, all of the times he made us happy. And, I find that I can't really think of him as the villain any longer. My office mate mentioned last week that for the last few weeks I've been referring to him as Daddy instead of my step-father. And she's right. For the last little while, he has ceased to be my step-father and the Daddy part of him has begun to shine.

Which causes me to wonder just how long I might have continued to carry that grudge if I hadn't become a blogger? And if maybe, just maybe, I might not discover that my sister Colleen was actually not so bad either?

In A Nutshell follows.

In A Nutshell

In a Nutshell

A place set aside to answer 201 autobiographical questions
from a mother for her daughter. This may take awhile...join us if you like.

11. This present I got from my parents really sticks in my memory.

When I was 12 the list of things I wanted to be when I grew up included lighthouse keeper, astronaut, astronomer, adventurer, reporter, and writer. For at least two of those, I needed a typewriter.

Also when I was 12, I read Norman Vincent Peale's The Power of Positive Thinking For Teenagers. And he said, that if you wanted something you should repeat to yourself some number of times, "I'm going to get . . ." I was game for that, and so I did. I'm not certain, all this time later, how long I read the book before my 13th birthday, but I repeated my magic phrase many times a day.

And, what do you know? It worked! For my 13th birthday, I got a typewriter with a book on how to type and key covers so I would learn where to put my fingers without looking at the letters on the keys. I was so impressed that I had to tell my parents about the book and how it worked. And when I did, Daddy laughed and laughed. I asked him what was funny, and he said that it would always work so long as I wanted something reasonable and remembered to mutter about it for months around people who loved me. Although I hadn't realized that anyone could hear me, apparently I had been going around muttering, "I'm going to get a typewriter, I'm going to get a typewriter" everywhere I went. One of my teachers had called Daddy to tell him I wanted a typewriter, just in case I had only been doing it at school.

A typewriter needs something to sit on, so in addition to that, Daddy made me the most wonderful desk I've ever owned. It was a hollow-core door, with no hardware on so that it was totally flat, with two iron legs at one end and a two drawer file cabinet on the other. My typewriter sat at one end, and in later years, my sewing machine sat next to the files, and I still had all the space in the world for homework or cutting out patterns or doing crafts.

Friday, January 26, 2007

In A Nutshell

In a Nutshell

A place set aside to answer 201 autobiographical questions
from a mother for her daughter. This may take awhile... join us if you like.

10. This person in my family was funnier than the rest.
Oh, now this is a hard one. As I said last time, the funny gene is strong in my family. It's hard to think of any family gathering where a number of people weren't joking around. Even our more serious cousins, the Dunkard (Church of the brethren, somewhat like the Amish) branch, tend to joke and laugh a lot. Different members of the family tend to different kinds of humor and many have a wide range of things they think are funny. Mama and Aunt Flo are superb at the ridiculous statement that pricks the bubble -- the sort of thing like "aren't we glad the children take after our side of the family?" Forrest has a very earthy sense of humor, and would make an excellent stand up comedian. I remember when he was in junior high and high school, he memorized and could repeat word for word and inflection for inflection the works of Bob Newhart and Shelley Berman and Bob Hope and Andy Griffith. I like to tell real life stories with a humorous twist more than tell jokes. Or give one liner responses -- when I was in college I was at a party and a man, who was sitting between two giggling women who kept saying they were going to pee their pants, remarked that he hoped they didn't, and I said, "And yet, you sit there." My grandfather Herndon excelled at giving nonsensical answers with his eyes twinkling.

Friday Cat Blogging VI
Brothers Are to Play With

What could be more delightful than a pair of siblings who hang out with each other?

And play with each other?

And obviously care?

In A Nutshell follows.

In A Nutshell

In a Nutshell

A place set aside to answer 201 autobiographical questions
from a mother for her daughter. This may take awhile...join us if you like.

9. This person in my family was more serious than the rest.
That would have to be my step-father. There is a strong funny gene in the rest of the family that results in a generally lighthearted approach to life.

Daddy came out of an impoverished childhood, with both of his parents being immigrants. His mother was German and his father Irish. This is a particularly odd combination, because the traditional German mother of those days expected that she was the sergeant and the father was the general. She passed on the orders, consulted her husband when a new policy had to be developed, and knew that he would back her up. The traditional Irish family was different. Because of the problems in Northern Ireland, with only the Scots-Irish protestants who descended from the overseers brought over by the English being able to get good jobs, women were the support of the family and its backbone. A mother, knowing that her son would not have a chance in the world, bonded closely with him and required little of him. Her husband was a secondary male in her life and although she validated the legitimacy of her orders by stating that "himself says," she never consulted himself. He knew that his job was to agree that he had, indeed, said exactly that. So, Daddy's mother expected his father to tell her what to do and to be a strong bulwark against the world and his father expected his mother to run things with only token reference to him. Added to the fact that at that time establishments had signs out reading "No Irish Need Apply," the stars were certainly crossed here.

Daddy was a small man, he had been a jockey at one point. When he was seven, he sold newspapers in downtown Oakland. This involved fighting to keep other, bigger boys from taking over his corner. He told us stories about digging through grocery and restaurant garbage to find food to take home to his mother. The family lost seven children in the flu pandemic -- seven of Daddy's siblings died within a period of a few weeks.

This was not a background to grow a lighthearted person. He hated it when people would do the rabbit ears thing with their fingers when pictures were being taken. Actually, it infuriated him and he would rage on about it for quite some time.

This was the background to grow a person protective of women and children, however. He took his role as a provider and caregiver very seriously. He always wanted us to have the things he hadn't had as a child. He had grown up with a lenient father, but without security. He never had the new clothes and toys that other children had. And he wanted, most of all, a bicycle. We always had security with him, new clothes, toys. And bikes. If we didn't take care of our other toys, the natural consequence of losing them would teach us better. But, I can't remember how many bikes we left out and he replaced. He could not bear it for us not to have bikes.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Fable For Our Time

Once upon a time, there was a fierce dragon. The dragon had slept and ignored the kingdom on his border for eons out of mind. When he occasionally awoke, he hunted the animals in his own woods, finding them good sport and delicious in the eating.

Now, the dragon would have been content to live in this manner for the rest of time, but one day the king sent hunting parties into the woods of a neighboring dragon, depleting the most delicious animals for his own table. Now, the original dragon was having none of that, so he decided to make sure that the king would never do it again. To achieve that goal, the next time he awoke to hunt and eat, he flew over the castle while the king was concentrating on his pet goat, and destroyed two of its towers and picked off the king's youngest daughter. He flew to the top of the highest remaining tower, and while all of the inhabitants of the castle looked on with horror, he tore her to bits and ate her.

The king was appalled, as who can wonder. His court and subjects had great sympathy for him and sought him out, offering to help him in any way. Even the people in other kingdoms, some so far away he had hardly heard of them before, expressed horror at what the dragon had done and offered help. He didn't tell them that he had been sending his hunters into a neighboring dragon's woods, he acted like the entire attack was a dreadful surprise. And then he came up with a plan -- since the dragon liked the taste of young girls, he would send them to a kingdom that the king did not like anyway under escort of drummers and with flags waving so that the dragon would see them and not need to come to the castle and threaten the princesses, who were, after all, the only young girls who mattered to the king. So, every day the king chose a young girl to send. He sent farmers' daughters. He sent merchants' daughters. He sent the daughters of his knights and armsmen. He sent the daughters of his servants. But he never sent the daughters of his court or any of the really rich merchants who lived in the town around the castle.

And everyday the dragon feasted on young girl, because after all they are delicious and I never said that he was a good or kind dragon; just a fierce one. And since he was already feasting in the kingdom that the king did not like anyway, he often feasted also on the young girls of that kingdom. Some of them were peasant girls, but some of them were the daughters of the powerful, but since the king kept sending his offerings, the dragon continued to feast. He quite forgot the taste of wild beast and the thrill of the hunt.

And the king said, "See, my strategy works. We feed the dragon there, so that we need not feed him here."

In A Nutshell follows.

In A Nutshell

In a Nutshell

A place set aside to answer 201 autobiographical questions
from a mother for her daughter. This may take awhile...join us if you like.

8. My parents felt strongly about passing on these lessons:
My father made sure I knew that I was loved. When he and Mama brought Forrest home from the hospital, my father took me aside and told me to promise not to tell Mama, because it would break her heart, but that he loved me best. Of course, I ran right to Mama and spilled the beans.

Mama wanted me to know how to behave and to be a lady. I can't say that she was successful in teaching me these lessons. I mean, I can sit down and make a list of how a lady behaves, but I've never been attracted to the role. However, I did take the idea of being mannerly and respecting other people to heart. Mama also taught me to see things from the other person's perspective.

Daddy wanted me to be ready to face the world, and so it was important to him that I know that "no one is going to overlook misbehavior just because you are Joy Ward, they are going to expect you to do things correctly." The other thing Daddy knew I would need was to stand up for myself. So, when I bought a pair of shoes that were faulty, he had me take them back for another pair. He allowed me to interact with the outside world in my own defense, although he was always near by should I need him. Just knowing he was there, I don't recall that I ever did need him. He judged my ability well.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

In A Nutshell

In a Nutshell

A place set aside to answer 201 autobiographical questions from a mother for her daughter. This may take awhile...join us if you like.

7. A habit I picked up in the early years was:
organizing things. I'm not certain that I picked up the desire so much as was born with it. I seem to have noticed how things could be arranged and adopted or adapted these techniques at an early age. The alphabet has long been my friend; I alphabetize books, spices, and canned goods, as well as files. Size is a natural for things like pots and pans that differ in that dimension. The color spectrum serves to organize my closet (well, first I divide things by category, then by color). Sequence is useful for arranging photo albums as well as to lay out ingredients for a recipe. If you use the item and then put it immediately away, should you be called away from your task, you don't have to wonder if you've added the salt yet. Mama has said that I was born with a copy of the alphabet in one hand and a color code in the other.

I also like to see things in containers. When we lived in Puerto Rico I borrowed stole all of Mama's shoe boxes so that I could use them as dividers in my dresser drawers. Since Mama keeps her shoes in their original boxes (unlike me, who keeps them sorted by color and heel height with shoe trees in them), she came looking for them before I had even completed the project. I still remember her carrying her boxes back to her room, shaking her head, and saying, "Would it kill her if a sock should touch her undershirt?"*

I like to keep things where they are used. Burn ointment belongs in the kitchen, since I have yet to burn myself in the bathroom. During the days when I baked a lot, all of the baking supplies and equipment were kept together, close to the counter I used to mix and knead. I use scissors and Scotch tape a lot of places, and I have a number of them so I don't have to go looking for them. Measuring spoons and cups are cheap and it is helpful, to me, to store the most common one that I use in a given ingredient in that container. Like a one cup measure in the rice and a third cup in the Malt O Meal. I also have multiple nail files and clippers, grabbers, pens, and paper. I live in a two story apartment, so I have two brooms and two vacuums and two dust pans. You just never know when having a vacuum on the top floor would allow you to clean a small spill that might get ignored if you had to go fetch it up the stairs.

The first time Julie brought Ted to meet me, we went out to dinner and when I was putting my change in my wallet, I arranged my bills by denomination ($1s in front), face front and heads up and Ted smiled and said that now he knew that Julie was, indeed, my child!

I divide my grocery list into categories (staples, produce, baked, dairy, non-food, frozen).

Yes, I know it sounds compulsive. I totally understand why Monk returns and hangs the umbrella so that all the handles are facing the same way. On the other hand, I don't care how you keep things in your space, whether that is your house or your part of the shared office. It's not my stuff, it's not my business. So, I'm not as difficult to live with as it might seem.

* And it's a good thing that happened in Puerto Rico, when she hadn't many pair of shoes because if it happened today, when she has been buying expensive shoes and taking excellent care of them so that they last decades, she would have had to have a dolly to get all the boxes back in one trip.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

In A Nutshell

In a Nutshell

A place set aside to answer 201 autobiographical questions from a mother for her daughter. This may take awhile...join us if you like.

6. This is how we usually ate dinner as a family:

We always ate all meals when we were home together, at the table. Neither television nor radio were on, everyone washed their face and hands before coming to the table, and good table manners were expected. The table was set with either a table cloth or place mats, the dishes and flatware that would be needed (since Daddy put sugar in his coffee, he always got a teaspoon, even if the rest of us wouldn't need one, for instance), and napkins. At some point Daddy decided that five people asking each other to pass the salt and pepper and not being able to start eating until they had arrived, or having to stop to pass it back and forth to others, didn't make sense and bought small shakers for each person.

Mama did most of our meals from scratch, except that she used Campbell's instead of making soup and biscuits from a can instead of from scratch. We had seven reliable standbys, and unless it was an unusual event, if it was Tuesday it was Swiss steak and noodles and salad and a vegetable. Salad was always iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, and scallions with vinegar and oil. Salad was every night. Also on the menu were fried chicken and macaroni and cheese, meat loaf, tuna and noodle cassarole, pot roast, and one other thing that I can't remember. Vegetables were always fresh, until frozen ones came out and then sometimes we would have something out of season. Mama was always calorie conscious, so if we had desert it was usually fresh fruit, which I loved.

Once in a while Daddy would go on a cooking spree and fix a type of desert every night until he had run out of variations. Once he did fritters, once it was cobblers, once it was upside down cake. It was amazing the things he would decide to do -- not just the obvious, but things no one had heard of being cobbled or frittered. Bananas and apples, of course, but also pears and peaches and canned pineapple and gooseberries. On vacations, he always took over the cooking so Mama would have a holiday. He was a much more inventive cook, as well as a better cook than Mama. And if he hadn't left the kitchen looking like a dozen pigs had been rooting for truffles, we would have encouraged him to do it more often.

Dinner could be very unpleasant, since Daddy used this opportunity of having us all together to hand out reprimands for whatever ill considered behavior we had indulged in recently. There was a lot of "discussion" of my chores. I don't remember what the other kids got scolded for, since I always came first as the oldest and so was burning with humiliation and anger before they were attacked. I do remember that when he turned on Forrest I would see that Forrest was next to tears and that would upset me so much that I would not be able to stop giggling. Which did work to get the negative attention off of Forry and back on to me. It occurs to me to wonder if Forrest thinks I thought it was funny when he was in trouble? The other thing about this that bothered all of us was that when he scolded me, he would start out by calling me by the other kids' names first. I felt like he was saying I had acted like a child and they felt like they were being accused of whatever I had done. When I left home, Forrest was called Colleen, so it was a conscious thing. (This was unlike when he would be truly flummoxed by something we had done and call us by all 13 of his siblings names before he started on ours. That didn't happen often and we thought it was hilarious.)*

However, once that was over (and it was always the first thing, unless we did something which reminded him of it later) or when no one was in trouble dinner was very pleasant. Conversation included everyone and no one was made to feel stupid because they needed to have something explained to them. Current events, family stories, jokes, plans, general principles for leading the good life might be discussed. All of us shared information about our days and our parents were always interested in whatever it was. They even acted interested as Colleen told the same jokes that first I and then Forrest had told. It takes real love to laugh the fourth time that the third kid tells the same knock, knock joke that was never funny to begin with.

Scolding might happen at lunch on the weekend, but never that I can remember at breakfast. Daddy was very good about not starting us off on an unhappy foot.

I can't remember a single meal that Daddy didn't praise Mama's cooking, and we followed his example without ever being told. Actually, my entire family did this. The men my mother and her sisters married had obviously been raised well; as had my grandfather and great-grandfather. At meals with my great-grandfather, he always said grace and always blessed at least the farmer and the cook. Sometimes he would list one or two others, like the merchant who sold it or the trucker who transported it. We certainly knew most of the trail from farm to table in our house.

* These public scoldings were only for minor matters, I realize now. If we did anything really important, that was discussed in private. And with much more kindness and understanding than the little stuff at the table. For instance, when I was caught shoplifting, Daddy decided I wasn't getting enough money and increased my allowance. Without any punishment at all. And, although I suspect that Forrest and Colleen did things of graver import than slacking their chores, I never witnessed what was done about that.

Monday, January 22, 2007


I have already told you about when my grandmother in California had given birth to five children in six years and wrote to her brother in Ohio, the doctor, asking how to prevent any more pregnancies. He wrote and gave her the information, but the first sentence in his letter was, "Memorize this information and then burn this letter because I could go to prison for telling you this."

Until my grandmother had that information, she had no choice, no control over her body and life at all. My grandfather was fated to work harder and harder and provide less for more children. Not being able to decide these very personal issues is less than freedom.

I worked for 12 years teaching parenting skills to parents who either had their children in foster care or were in danger of the state placing them there. I saw all sorts of horrible things and heard of even worse than I saw. The abuse that is heaped on children when their parents resent them is unbelievable. The unintended neglect that occurs when a girl has a child when she is too young can put the child's life at risk.

It is not good for children to be born when their parents resent them or are unable to care for them properly. Choice has to be available. For those of us who would like to see as few abortions as possible, the need is great to give people full information on how to prevent pregnancy, and abortion needs to be available for when birth control fails.

I came of age before Roe v. Wade and I remember friends seeking out the name of a doctor in Mexico. That assumed the girl could get her hands on the money to go to Mexico. Many couldn't. Just because abortion was illegal, that didn't mean that poor girls didn't have them. It just meant that they sought them out in dark alleys and often died because the procedure had been botched.

The current direction of this administration is to work to outlaw abortion and birth control both. Plan B was kept off the market for much too long, although it does not cause abortions. The people who kept it off the market knew the truth about it. They teach abstinence only sex education and post the lie that abortions cause breast cancer on government websites. This is not a desire to protect women, it is a desire to control them.

And it isn't belief in the sanctity of life. People who refuse to teach teens how to avoid AIDS and other diseases don't consider the life of those teens as sacred. People who send other people's children to die don't consider the lives of those children sacred. People who drop bombs on other countries don't consider the lives of those people sacred. People who refuse to fund stem cell research, who value the "life" of an embryo which is going to be thrown away if it isn't used over the life of someone who has already been born, don't consider the lives of the born sacred. People who would rush to Washington to sign a bill to prevent a husband from being able to allow his brain dead wife to die in peace but don't bother to cut a vacation short while New Orleans is drowning don't value life.

God alone knows what these people value, but it isn't life. The sanctity of life doesn't end at birth. A few cells are not more valuable than a living woman or her husband or her other children.

In A Nutshell follows.

In A Nutshel

In a Nutshell

A place set aside to answer 201 autobiographical questions from a mother for her daughter. This may take awhile...join us if you like.

5. I remember getting into trouble with my parents on this occasion:
I only remember getting in trouble with two parents at the same time once. Before my father died, I might displease Mama while he was at work, but she took care of it before he got home, and when he was home, I don't remember getting in any trouble at all.

With my step-father, I just remember the one time that I was in trouble with both of them. It was my first day of public school after they got married -- I stayed late playing after school and when I got home Mama was so worried and angry that she promised Daddy would spank me when he got home. Poor Daddy got home and was told he had to spank me. Since he didn't believe in spanking, he told my mother that he would this one time so as not to make a liar out of her, but he wouldn't do it again, so don't tell me he would. And then his heart wasn't in it, and he ended up hitting his own legs because I ran around and wouldn't let him connect.

I think that Mama quickly learned that when Daddy did get mad at us he could be very sarcastic and much harsher than she was. So, she never told him when we misbehaved. Indeed, if there was any way to take the blame herself, she would. The number of things we broke and she claimed to have broken was amazing. If I had done something that they both knew about and agreed I shouldn't have done, she was more apt to try to reason with him to be more tolerant of childish behavior.

I do remember one time when I was visiting from college and the dog did something he wasn't supposed to and Mama said nothing, and Daddy turned to her and said, "Don't expect me to be the villain to the dog as well." So, I think he was well aware of his role in the family drama, and he didn't really like it.

Since those days, as a parenting expert, I have become well aware of the pattern they played. One parent feels that the other is too lenient, and so has to be harsh so the children will learn. The other feels that the first is too harsh and so has to be even more lenient so the children will know they are loved. The further one goes, the further in the other direct the other is driven. That was our household. It's called complementary schizmogenesis.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Brandi Checks It Out

One day, about 12 years ago, Granny drove to Douglas to visit her friend Karla and Karla's daughters. At that time, Karla's youngest daughter, Brandi, was about 18 months old. Brandi and Granny really liked each other, and Brandi liked to look at the Smokey Bear on Granny's watch, and examine the Indian head on her $2½ gold piece that she wore as a necklace, and play with her hair. Brandi was so little, that in order to do all this exploring of Granny, she had to stand on her lap.

So, this day when Granny was visiting Karla and Brandi, and Brandi was standing on Granny's lap and exploring her, Brandi noticed that Granny had a little brown mole on the left side of her jaw. And then she saw a little brown mole on the left side of her neck. And then she saw a little brown mole on the left side of her collar bone. So, then she wondered how far down they went. And, because she was only 18 months old and didn't know anything about modesty, Brandi pulled out Granny's collar and looked down her blouse. Poor Karla was as embarrassed as could be, but Granny just thought it was very funny.

In A Nutshell follows.

In A Nutshell

In a Nutshell

A place set aside to answer 201 autobiographical questions from a mother for her daughter. This may take awhile... join us if you like.

4. If, growing up, I had any trouble with my step-father, it was in this area:

It was about chores. We started off on the wrong foot and never did get on the right one on this.

Before Mama married Daddy, I was in a boarding school for two years. Chores were part of life at St. Mary of the Palms; everyone had a chore and no one thought anything about it. For us littles, the chores were on Saturdays. We would get up, go to mass, have breakfast, and then do our chores. For 2nd and 3rd graders, which is what I was when I was there, the prize chore was the staircase. You only got to do the staircase when you had proved that you were thorough and could be trusted to work alone. Many of the other chores were either for more than one girl or were done in the same room as another girl or two. The staircase was a single girl chore, and no one else was around when you did it. No one to joke and sing with; no one to notice if you goofed off.

I worked very hard to get the privilege of doing the stairs, and once I got them I didn't let them go. Not only was it recognized as a special chore, but it was very sensuous. The stairs were a wonderful hardwood, with a lovely grain. First trip down was polishing the banister and posts. Then I started on the top, backing down on my hands and knees to the bottom. I would kneel on one step and clean the one above with a soft bristled brush; finally a trip with a soft cloth that had been soaked in some solution the nuns made themselves. The grain of the wood gleamed and the solution smelled of lemon and something else. On winter days, it was warm and on summer days it was cool. It was always quiet, that kind quiet that you find in convents. There would be an eighth grader who brought in flowers and a nun who arranged them in the hall. I could hear one of the nuns practicing the organ for mass. Sometimes I would stop part way down and look between the posts at all of the paintings and flowers in the hall below. Sometimes someone would use the stairs while I was cleaning them, and if it was an adult I would get a smile and if it was a student she might tell me a joke or something funny that had happened in the kitchen. Because I did stairs, all of the older girls knew me and I knew them. They said hi to me on the playground.

I had great pride in my ability to do things well. I also used to go occasionally for a week long visit to a friend of my mother's who had two daughters about my age. At that home, we got up and got the house cleaned together the first thing every morning and then had the rest of the day free to play and explore the world. I liked being included in that routine.

So, when I was nine Mama and Daddy got married and after their honeymoon, Forrest and I moved into the house in the country with them. The first day of school, being used to living at the school and unaware that terrible things can happen to little girls, I stayed after to help clean blackboards and then had a wonderful time with the swings all to myself. I got home very late and that wasn't a good day.

The second day of school, I remembered that now I had to come right home when everyone else did. When I got home, Daddy had left an envelope with my name on it. In it were a note and a second envelope. The note said, "dust mop your room, and then open the next note." I had a wonderful time, I made the floor gleam, I was very proud of myself as I approached the treat of the second envelope. Inside was a note and another envelope and the note said, "Now go back and do it right and then open the next note." There were nine of them, all told.

Mama and Daddy had been married for about two weeks. I had been living with them for less than a week and gone to school a total of two days.

Battle lines had been drawn.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Windfall Fisherman

This statue is on Main Street, in front of the Federal Courthouse, and across from the Capitol Building, where the state legislature meets.

Tourists often have their pictures taken in front of it, children climbing up and occasionally even sitting on it. I have a picture of Maya standing by the bear when she and Julie came to visit seven years ago. It is a delightful bear, calm and alert, with a fish between its paws.

The second view I took one winter. Since real bears hibernate, we don't ever get to see them looking like this. It's one of my favorite Juneau pictures, showing a standard landscape feature in a non-standard photo shot.

In A Nutshell follows.

In A Nutshell

In a Nutshell

A place set aside to answer 201 autobiographical questions from a mother for her daughter. This may take awhile...join us if you like.

3. One of my step-father's traits I admired most was?

Daddy was really good at helping a child get the idea. Sometimes it was as simple as the time my mother was in the hospital having just given birth to Colleen, and I was helping Daddy hang the clothes. He asked for a couple of clothspins and I gave him three. He told me that I could always remember how many a couple is by thinking of a married couple.

The time that sticks out in my mind the most was another time my mother was away from home. I don't remember if she was in the hospital or had gone to California to visit her family, but at any rated Daddy and the little kids and I were on our own. I was 13 and had been assigned to make a simple garment in sewing class, which I started on. As I read the instructions, having never used a pattern before, they didn't make sense. I tried to picture how I would cut the fabric and sew this to that and that to the other, and I just could not see the finished garment at all. I told Daddy that I was afraid to do it, since I wasn't sure it would work. Now, Mama sewed all the time, making a good many of Colleen's and my clothes, and if she had been there she would have explained it to me or read the instructions and said that she could see it, just go ahead. But, Daddy had never sewn and when he read the instructions, he was like me -- he couldn't see it. Which he readily admitted. And then, he said, "Let's check this out before you do it."

First he had me call the reference librarian at the public library and ask her how long the Butterick company had been in business and how much profit they had made the year before. Just for your information, they have been in business since Ebenezer and Ellen Augusta Pollard Butterick invented the paper pattern in 1863. I don't remember how much their profit had been in 1955, but it was a big number. Then he asked me how much Mama had paid for the pattern I was using and I told him and he asked me how many patterns they would have to sell to make that profit, and helped me see that not only would it take the thousands of patterns just for that sum, but that they first had all of this overhead and employees and trucks and plant and new machines and upkeep on the old machines and paper and ink and designers for new patterns -- all of which meant that they had sold hundreds, if not thousands, of times more patterns than the profit number alone would imply.

And when we had looked at all of that, he asked two questions. "If their patterns didn't work, would they be able to stay in business for 92 years?" and "If their patterns didn't work, could they sell enough of them to pay those expenses and make that profit?" So, since the patterns must work, I could trust them and just do one thing at a time without worrying about whether I could see how that would work.

That was a lesson that has lasted me all of my life. If I can't see how something will work, to first check out and see if I can trust the instructions, and then to trust them and simply do one thing at a time.

The other thing that has lasted is the respect he showed for me -- he didn't laugh it off, he tried to picture it himself so he could explain, and when that didn't work, he taught me how to verify the trustworthiness of experts before I followed their instructions blindly.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Bare Footin'

I just hate to wear shoes when it isn't necessary, and it isn't necessary to step out and grab the Sunday paper.

This picture reminds me of a story one of my psych professors at Berkeley told, which he claimed had happened while he was a student. Their professor had been explaining to them that it doesn't matter what a pregnant woman looks at, it will not affect her baby. At which point one of the students announced that when his mother was pregnant with his younger brother, she had been frightened by a bear lunging at her in the zoo, reaching through the bars of the cage trying to grab her with his paw and when his brother was born, he had bare feet. To which the professor responded, "Nonsense! You know that's imposs. . . oh."

In A Nutshell IV follows

In A Nutshell

In a Nutshell

A place set aside to answer 201 autobiographical questions from a mother for her daughter. This may take awhile... join us if you like.

4. If, growing up, I had any trouble with my dad, it was in this area:

Since my father was gone before I grew up, I guess the trouble was missing him. Like all children who lose a parent, however that happens, I used to wonder how my life would be different if he had lived. Certainly I wouldn't have gone to boarding school, or later to live with my great-aunt. Since I wouldn't have gone to live with Auntie, I wouldn't have ever met Michael, and Julie wouldn't exist. We might have continued to move a lot, but it would not have been to the same places we moved with Daddy's job. I wouldn't have known Daddy nor the aunts, uncles, and boy cousins he brought into the family. I would never have heard about his sister Fancia and her pet lion. No one would have ever gotten mad at me and sputtered, to my everlasting amusement, the list of all 13 of his siblings before he got to me, "Fancia, Merle, Thelma, Patrick, Michael . . ." Since my father was descended from British colonials, like my mother, and one more recent British immigrant, there would not have been the exposure to recent Irish and German culture.

I would have seen my Hunt relatives more (they disappeared from my life when Daddy adopted us) and known more stories from his side of the family. I would have had contact with my cousins, Roseanne and Karen, who I don't ever remember meeting. Someone would have told me when my grandmother Hunt and Uncle Leland died in time for me to go to the funerals.

But, I know now, what I didn't know then -- my father would have treated me differently in some areas than Daddy did, but he wouldn't have been the all-indulgent parent I used to fantasize about. As I got to be a teenager, there would have been conflict, just as there is with all daughters and the fathers who try to keep them safe. My life would have had problems, just different problems. It's unlikely that I would currently be thin or rich or famous, all of which I imagined at various times in my adult life would be so.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Getting Home

Sometimes, in the great frozen north, just getting home can be an adventure. So it was for me on Tuesday. I take the Care-A-Van to and from work, a ride taking about five minutes, since it is nine blocks. Since my office is on the third floor, when the C-A-V is close, the driver calls me on her cell phone, and I start down to meet her. The cost of gas is so high this winter that C-A-V couldn't afford to put studded tires on all the vans, so they put the second best winter tires. Yesterday the roads were treacherous, so she didn't want to take either hand off the wheel; she waited until she was parked at the curb to call me, and when I got downstairs, the C-A-V was there, but Lynn wasn't. Because of the bad roads, she had been running behind and been unable to stop earlier and hit the women's room.

So, I got on the C-A-V, and Lynn came out of the building, and we started uphill. We were moving slowly, because the roads were not good, but we were going without any problems at all until we were maybe three feet from the top of my hill and the path my landlady had shoveled to my staircase. Smooth, easy, chatting away about her grandson. And then the dog walked slowly out in front of us. The only way to avoid killing the dog, was to put on the brake. Not a good idea when driving uphill on snow over ice.

We slid backwards down the serpentine road (picture taken in the summer). Slid down, slipping from side to side. We finally stopped right around the curve, by the brown house, and there we were. Lynn had the emergency brake on and still didn't dare take her foot off the brake. The door was a few inches from the retaining wall, so there was no way I could get out. There was a very large bag of sand in the back -- but neither of us could get to it or use it.

Lynn called the office for help and then we waited. The owner of the dog carried a pail of ashes down to spread in front of our tires, falling twice on the ice that had been uncovered by our slipping all over the road. Other cars came up the hill behind us (not being able to see us around the curves) and then had to back down (the road narrows at that point and is one way for about 45 feet -- at least once a week someone has to back up there and let the upcoming vehicle drive by). When the two other drivers from C-A-V arrived they had to leave their C-A-V at the bottom of the road and walk up -- slipping all the way up the steep hill. Sometime during the 45 minutes we waited in there, Lynn stated that she was so very, very glad she had gone to the bathroom!

Once the other drivers were there, they were able to open the back of the C-A-V (the wheelchair door, which opens from the outside) and get out the sand and spread it in front and behind us. The other drivers and I sat way in the back to give the whole thing ballast, and finally Lynn could let the brakes off, slide only a couple of inches down, get traction, and up we went. And so I was home, and after feeding the Hooligans, who were telling me that their throats had been cut, I called my mother to wish her a happy birthday. At which point, I thought I could still hear some commotion outside, so I looked out and -- now the C-A-V was stuck midway in the intersection. They had to call a tow truck and put chains on the tires and finally got down off my hill at 7:45.

In a Nutshell follows.

In A Nutshell

In a Nutshell

A place set aside to answer 201 autobiographical questions from a mother for her daughter. This may take awhile...join us if you like.

3. One of my father's traits I admired most was?
My father was always the sunshine of my life. He had strawberry blond hair and deep green eyes and was very handsome. His singing voice was comfort and glory to me, and he sang often. And he loved me totally, unconditionally. He understood more about children than my mother did, and was both a firmer and a gentler disciplinarian. He never spanked; he did not believe that people should hit each other, and larger people hitting smaller people were just bullies. I can't remember him ever belittling or scolding or reminding anyone of previous lapses. But all he had to say to me was, "I'm disappointed" and I was ready to undertake anything to change.

There was never any doubt that he loved my mother and me. He was able to say it often and show it regularly. He laughed easily and delighted in making other people laugh. Being in his presence was like being in a meadow on a warm spring day.

And when we lost him, it was like the light had gone out of the universe.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Let Us Praise Ourselves

I was over at Echidne of the Snakes and found this little exercise which looks like it can be very illuminating.
Let Us Praise Ourselves
Zuzu on feministe suggests an interesting topic for discussions on feminist blogs: The difficulty we have of stating our good points. The "we" here is most likely feminist women, but all sorts of people have trouble with this. Just imagine yourself standing in front of some small group of quite friendly people and being asked to list at least five things about yourself that you really like. Gulp.

Remember the rules: No belittling, no hedging.

Ok. So, I'm pretty set-up with how confidant I have become over the years. I know that I couldn't have done this in my 20s without a lot of belittling and hedging. But, over the years I have seen my self-confidence grow and my ability to be embarrassed by myself really shrink. So, can I do this?

1. I am kind. Certified by a number of people, and finally recognized by myself.
2. I am a talented writer. I do it well and love to do it and have never experienced writer's block, no matter the product. Grant proposals to poetry, I have a wide range.
3. I have a great sense of humor. I can laugh at myself, and at a wide variety of kinds of humor. From knock-knock jokes to puns to erudite and cryptic references, I see funny in a lot of places. I tell jokes well, with emphasis and inflection and very good timing. I don't like practical jokes that hurt people or embarrass them, but if they are truly in good fun I think they are funny. I can get with nonsense and silliness. I appreciate over-the-top stupidity and dry wit. I've even, over the decades since I left Catholic boarding school, learned to like earthy jokes and scatalogical delivery. (Although, I wouldn't want to listen to a Carlin or a Lewis Black CD with my mother.)
4. I'm damned smart and not hesitant to say so. I don't believe that there is anyone who can make me feel stupid. Physicists (and other people whose minds work differently than mine) can make me know how little I know about their world without making me feel dumb because of it. The brillance of the neo-cons have never impressed me, since by my standards, they are not intellectuals, no matter whether they think they are or not. I like being smart. It was my claim to family attention when I was little and the only child/grandchild/niece around and it still is. I never let a guy think he was smarter than me, because I respect guys and myself more than that. I didn't hesitate to raise my hand and know the answer first when I was in school and I was willing to sit up all night and argue with my husband about ideas. And, when I meet someone who is smarter than me (there are lots of them out there) it is a sheer pleasure. I can be competitive, but not fragile, about this.
5. I have made peace with and become proud of my Inner Bitch. That's the part of me that can fight for the right. It gives me strength and inventiveness and will find the way to protect and advance.
6. I love the way my hair is graying. I liked it when it was auburn and I have liked it at every stage in between. I did add some highlights when the blonde began to brown out, but the minute the gray started coming in I stopped that because I didn't want to cover it up.
7. I can make friends quickly and easily. This is a result of moving around so much as a child -- you make friends quickly or you don't make them at all. And, apparently this is even more of an asset than one might think, because "smart girls" aren't supposed to be able to find friends quickly where ever they go, but I always have.
8. I know how to dress well. I have learned what looks good on me and how to put it together. I remember the day a man approached me on the street to ask where I bought my clothes, because he thought that if his wife had things like I have she could look "so attractive," too.
9. I am pretty unselfconscious. I wear men's shoes because I have very wide feet, and neither the shoes nor the reason I wear them bothers me. I know I'm fat and don't hesitate to talk about it when appropriate -- not in the "my diet" way which is really an apology for not being thin, but in the "Can you move six inches? I'm rounder than you think I am" way. Two weeks ago, when my bridge fell out and I was going around with a three tooth gap in the front of my mouth, I went to all of the meetings I was scheduled to attend and had the teens I work with in stitches over looking like a Jack-O-Lantern.
10. I'm pretty adventurous. I moved to Juneau without a job in line when I was 51 years old and had exactly one nickel left when I got my first paycheck. I lived on a homestead with a four year old and a six year old. I've fed frostbitten lettuce to a moose calf while his mother was watching -- admittedly, I thought she was the neighbor's "pet" moose, but still those are big animals.

I have to admit that I had no difficulty at all with this list. I could continue it, but twice the requirement seems enough to demonstrate just how superior I am. :)
And I'm wondering how this is? I know that Echidne's experience, of finding the task difficult, is much more the common one. Particularly for women, since we have been raised to think of ourselves last, to be modest, to let the men have the last word, to focus on others -- all of those things that make for low self-esteem and less than ideal mental health. Any woman in this culture -- hell, any woman who ever lived in any culture -- has had an incredible amount of brainwashing that should make this task not only difficult, but almost impossible. For women who can do it, this means that they most likely have been working on their self-confidence for a while and very consciously.

I think that the reasons I can do it easily are:
I had parents who genuinely loved me deeply. My father kissed me at my birth before I had been washed off -- it doesn't get any more accepting than that.
I had the wonderful experience of being the center of my entire extended family's world for five of my most formative years.
I went to a girls' boarding school, where there were no boys to defer to and excellence was expected of all of us.
I started working on ridding myself of the false modesty that I acquired subsequent to that (not that it ever took well) in my twenties.
And I'm almost 65 years old. I think that it is a general rule that we become more self confident as we get older -- what strangers walking down the street think of us simply becomes unimportant. For one thing, we begin to realize that strangers walking down the street probably have more important things to think about than us. We begin to realize that no one is perfect, and so we stop expecting it of ourselves. We figure out that the so-called dark parts of our personality are as necessary to life as our naughty-bits. Some one else has decided that we shouldn't show either, but we don't have to accept their rules: we can join a nudist camp or learn to appreciate what our anger is trying to do for us rather than swallow it.

And yet, and yet -- the list was easy to make, but pushing the publish button brings up thoughts of, maybe I am just a bit conceited. Gonna do it anyway . . . .

In A Nutshell follows

In A Nutshell

In a Nutshell

A place set aside to answer 201 autobiographical questions from a mother for her daughter. This may take awhile... join us if you like.

2. If, growing up, I had any trouble with my mom, it was in this area:
Mama would probably say that the major trouble we had was over chores. I've already told you that, because I was always accused of not having done them, I let them go until Daddy was home so that he would see me do them and so couldn't make that claim. This was hell for Mama, because he hated it when I left my chores till the last minute, and would carp and complain about it the rest of the evening and I would get grounded and he would add it to the list of my sins which were repeated on a regular basis. So, she would try her best to get me to do them before he got home. She would nag and plead and beg and try to negotiate. I would say, "as soon as I finish this chapter" for chapter after chapter. Once, when she came in and I started to give my usual put off, she pounced with, "That isn't the same book you were reading last time I was in! Don't tell me you can start a new book without finishing the chapter!"

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Happy Birthday, Mama

Today is my mother's birthday. She was 18 when this picture was taken, and 19 when I was born. Mama is the oldest of five children, three of whom lived to grow up. Not an unusual happening when she was young -- my father was one of four, two of whom lived to adulthood. Until she started going gray, she had black hair. She has lovely brown eyes, which are very expressive. And wonderful legs. She is still a very pretty woman, and when she was young she was a complete knock-out.

Mama has been married and widowed twice. Both times, she was the light of her husband's life. She is so sweet and so pretty that men are attracted to her like bees to a flower. And, she never notices! If you tell her that a man is interested in her, she is always surprised. Indeed, she just assumes that most men are very polite.

She has had a hard life. She buried two husbands and two children. She wanted to be an attorney, but in the 30s girls didn't get to do that, and farmer's daughters didn't go to college, so her high school talked her out of taking college prep classes.She finished high school during the Depression, and when she and my father were first married they were broke because he was deeply in debt because of that. He handed the money management over to her, and she set out to get him out of debt. Which she did -- it took her seven years, partly because they had his emergency appendectomy, my birth, birth and a long hospital stay for my brother Storm, Storm's funeral, and finally Forrest's birth in addition to the original debt to pay off. They were barely free of that debt, when my father died, leaving my mother with two small children to raise, and the usual preparation for that which a woman would have in 1948.

Mama started life light hearted and fearless. She undertook adventures with a gayity that was absolutely delightful. When she married my father, they eloped to Nevada in a small plane, returning the same day so that no one knew they were married except my Aunt Flo. I'm told they flew through a thunderstorm.

After my father died, she didn't even begin dating for over two years. But, she was unable to keep Forrest and me with her and so she set about finding another husband. Daddy fell for her, just as my father had. By the time she met him she had encountered men who were interested in her until they found out about us, and so when they were introduced (at his request, as she knew), she immediately informed him that she was a widow with two kids. Their first date was to bring Forrest to Saint Mary of the Palms to meet me -- Daddy had passed the litmus test.

Her second marriage lasted 38 years. Daddy was 20 years older than her, and he was very sick for the last nine months of his life. He didn't want to go to the hospital, and she and Aunt Flo took care of him so that he didn't have to spend much time there. It was a harrowing experience, because as he got weaker and less able to help himself, he got demanding and impatient and much more than cantankerous. He spent some time in each of the three hospitals in Stockton, because he was so mean to the nurses that none of them would take him back. But to Mama, it was a deal. He raised her children and allowed us to be together, and she was as good a wife to him as she could be. She certainly loved him, although it wasn't the grand romance for her that it was for him.

Mama taught me to laugh at myself and to care about other people and to keep my word. She taught me to read and to love reading. All through my childhood, she would bring me books that she thought I would like, and I can't remember any of them that I didn't. When I was little it was books she had read as a girl and books she had encountered during the time she was an assistant librarian in the children's section. Later it was books and stories she had just finished reading.

Mama moves fast. Walking with her and my Aunt Flo is like walking with Richard and Julie when they were little. Mama is always at least half a block ahead and Aunt Flo is always at least a half a block behind. And I'm in the middle. She does everything fast, actually somewhat slapdash if the truth be known. I was startled when I was in my 30s and I realized that I was a much more thorough housekeeper than she is. She is so focused on what is up ahead, that she just wants to get this task done as soon as she can. I don't think she is much of a rose smeller.

She loves music. Music was a big part of her relationship with my father, and also with Aunt Flo. Once the three of us were in a casino at Lake Tahoe, in the buffet line, and people would come in or walk by and the two of them, without even looking at each other, would start to sing the same song at the same moment. Mama is so auditory, that same trip, my first and only time during the over 30 years that the two of them went, we decided to go to a restaurant around the Lake that they wanted me to see. Aunt Flo was driving, and they were in the front seat talking and occasionally breaking into song, and I was in the back seat enjoying listening to them and watching the passing countryside. At one point, I mentioned that I hadn't realized that we were going to be going through desert. I was pleased, since I hadn't been in the desert in years, and I really like it. One of them said something like, "Yes, Joy" and we drove on. Until I asked Mama if Carson City wasn't where she had gotten married, and she said yes, and then asked why. And that's when we discovered that we had been off the proper track for an hour and a half. We should have never left the lake. They had driven that road for at least 27 years at that point, and got so busy talking and singing and laughing that they didn't notice when they left the Lake or, later, when we entered the desert.

Until last year, Mama and Aunt Flo took care of four of Mama's great-grandchildren while my niece, Kristie, went to college. Two women in their 80s, four kids under seven. When Kristie needed money, they tightened their belts and helped her -- at one point I went to visit and they were eating toast for breakfast, popcorn for lunch, and cold cereal for dinner in order to help Kristie. Colleen died in 1995, and Mama feels that helping Kristie is doing something for Colleen.

There have been times I have worshiped my mother, and times I have struggled to become an independent person and times I've been angry with her. But, I have never doubted that she loved me. And she has given me so much, not the least of which is an example of how to play the cards you're dealt with grace.

Monday, January 15, 2007

In a Nutshell

So, I was visiting Gawilli at Back In The Day and she is doing this exercise from a book she was given where a mother answers 201 questions about the family for her daughter. Gawilli is up to question 3. It looks like a fun thing to do and I decided to join in. I may not go as fast as she does; I can't go any faster.
Julie and I, Fairbanks Alaska. This is one of the few pictures that there is of only the two of us. I take the pictures in our family. Lots of pictures of just Julie or just Richard or the two of them. Sometimes someone took a picture of the three of us and gave it to me. Rarely did anyone take one of only two of us.

In a Nutshell

A place set aside to answer 201 autobiographical questions from a mother for her daughter. This may take awhile... join us if you like.

1. One of mom's traits I admired most was?
My mom taught me to laugh at myself. It is a wonderful thing to be able to do, because it puts what ever is happening (or has happened) into perspective and allows you to deal with it. Times without number the two of us, or the two of us with my Aunt Flo, have doubled over laughing at something one of us has said that punctured the balloon. Things like the time the three of us were in the kitchen cleaning up after a family meal and talking about some good trait or another that both Julie and Richard have, and Aunt Flo said, "Thank God they take after our side of the family!"

Sunday, January 14, 2007

My Gang

I have no idea of how old I was in this picture, but not very. Nor do I know who these boys were or whose house this was. It's been so long Mama doesn't remember, either. Except that I was probably about two. And apparently this was fairly typical of me in those days -- surrounded by boys. Other than a few girl friends, I didn't really start hanging out with girls until I went to a girl's boarding school in second and third grade. First grade I had one girl friend who lived near us and three boys who I got in trouble (escaping during class, running down halls, knocking on other classroom doors and then sticking our tongues out at anyone who answered) with at school. Junior high was girls -- there was that whole thing the boys got about girls being inferior and sissy, so we kind of avoided each other. They avoided me because I was a girl, and I avoided them because I wasn't willing to accept the role of inferior. If they didn't want to play by my rules and I refused to play by theirs, we didn't have any common ground.

During my last two years of high school I was in a group of four guys and one other girl. So, I guess that to the extent allowed by maturation and our social gender roles, this was predictive of my future for a long time.

Mama tells me that I was the leader of this particular group. The only girl, and the youngest/smallest. That feels right. I don't do follower well, never have learned to like accept it. Actually, I don't much do leader, either. I do independent, which is an odd role for someone who is as gregarious as I am. I don't do loner. I do center of attention. It's a good thing I'm fluent verbally, since God alone knows what depths I might have been driven to if I had to get that kind and intensity of attention on some other grounds. Instead of a blogger, I might be a pole dancer.

Friday, January 12, 2007

My Neighbor

Look who's hanging out in my neighborhood. She's such a cutey -- slow, calm, unworried, unhurried. She waddles across the lot, climbs the tree, munches out on the bark and needles of the Sitka spruce. If they are careful, she will tolerate friendly dogs and cats. If not, she just turns her back on them and twitches her skin so the quills are loose; if someone tries to bite her, they regret it. She hadn't an effective enemy in the world until man moved here. We can hurt her on purpose, often just with a rock or stick, and by accident, with a car. Like other animals with excellent protection, turtles and skunks and armadillos and such, she never tries to run away. Not good when it is a car coming. However, she likes being in trees, so she mostly stays off roads. If I spot her, I can watch her for a long time because she doesn't ever think she needs to get away. And, like other animals with excellent protection (except the skunk, who hunts), she has little use for brains and hasn't really developed much in that field.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

If Fat Women Die Young . . . .

On my on-line support group, we are discussing women who don't go to the doctor because it doesn't matter why they are there, they get the weight lecture. Woman after woman has posted about times she didn't get medical help because of this or women she has known who avoided doctors for this reason.

My own experience has been that doctors will lecture me about my weight if I come in for a sty. I remember once, going in to see my doctor about a sore throat, and the nurse automatically walking me to the scale.* I have been weighed because I had flu, insomnia, indigestion, a sinus condition, headaches that turned out to be a need for reading glasses, and a variety of other conditions. I have been told that I need to lose weight by doctors who then advised a number of what I now realize were totally screwball ideas (take Malox before each meal, consume only calorie free herb tea until you are at your target weight, eat only protein, eat no protein, take these pills, take those pills, eat only fresh fruit, stay under 800 calories a day), all of which took weight off before they rebounded and put it all plus some back on again. Eventually, I said to hell with it, and stopped dieting and stopped discussing it with doctors and have become very good at giving a new medical practitioner the raised eyebrow and "my weight isn't up for discussion until you can prove to me that you have a method of taking it off that reliably, 100% of the time, does not lead to rebound. A method, in other words, where you don't have to decide that the reason everyone who tries it ends up fatter is because they are weak willed, because no one who tries it regains any of the lost weight."

But, I know from experience, that unless you are as outspoken as I am, if your BMI is higher than the AMA has decreed, you will get the lecture. And you don't have to be my size to get it -- you can be a size 12. Hell, I've heard of women who were size 8 being told they should be size 4 and getting the lecture.

When you know that this unpleasant reminder that you are a failure of a weak willed slob of a woman is going to greet you, why would you ever seek out medical care when you aren't almost dying? And how many women suffer needlessly because they aren't getting the medical care that they need? How many of them are dying early because they didn't catch the cancer when it was manageable or they just got sicker and sicker until it was too late?

*This was early in my life as a non-dieter, and I had explained at my previous visit that I wasn't interested in what the scale said, I didn't own one any longer, I could see in the mirror and by the size (not the number, the amount of fabric involved) of my clothing that I was not a slender woman. This time, instead of standing on the scale and closing my eyes, I asked, "and how does my weight effect my sore throat?" I have to say, I have a wonderful doctor and she has a wonderful assistant, because I am only taken to the scale once a year, for my annual physical, and I am never told what the number is, if it has gone up or down, or scolded because of it.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Signing Statements

I would like to suggest a new and badly needed procedure for the 110th Congress. Assign a committee to read every signing statement that Bush has added to legislation during his tenure; and empower that committee to pay particular attention to any legislation that was signed while Congress was in recess, on Fridays prior to long weekends, or at any other time that the media and Congress has historically been less than vigilant. Of course, this needs to be an ongoing policy, for there to be a committee and staff responsible for vigilance in all signing statements as well as all other actions taken by the executive during recesses and long weekends. The administration is adding to the powers of the executive branch by taking these two actions. It is typical of Bush that he gets around Congress by Executive Order and appointments taken when Congress is not in session. If Congress doesn’t approve his appointment, he simply waits until Congress is in recess, and then makes an emergency appointment. If Congress passes a bill forbidding torture 99 to 1, he simply adds a signing statement to the effect that he shall construe the bill to apply to others but not to him. If he knows that Congress will not grant him the right to read our mail, he just attaches a signing statement to a routine post office bill, stating that he shall construe that bill to mean that he can read anyone’s mail, and slips it through during a recess.

There is already a dedicated website Presidential Signing Statements which would cut out much of the work.

Bush's most recent signing statement, dated December 29,2006, gives a flavor of what he is doing.

The executive branch shall also construe provisions of the Act that refer to submission of requests to the Congress for reprogramming or transfer of funds, or to obtaining congressional committee approval, such as sections 708(c)(6) and 709(b)(2) of the 1998 Act, as enacted by sections 401 and 501 of the Act, as requiring only notification.

The executive branch shall construe provisions of the Act that purport to authorize or require executive branch officials to submit legislative recommendations to the Congress in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and to recommend for congressional consideration such measures as the President shall judge necessary and expedient.

Note what Bush does with the language here. First he states that while the Act says he must submit requests to Congress for transferring of funds, he shall construe it as only requiring notification (and he leaves the deadline for notification open ended); second he states that he must do what he chooses to do consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive! But, as we all know very well, the Constitution speaks nowhere to a "unitary executive." The unitary executive is the construction that Bush, Cheney, Alioto, Roberts, and Gonzalez are putting on the Constitution. But, what the Constitution clearly delineates, and Bush et. al. are sworn to support, is the separation of powers and checks and balances.

These two tricks, first stating that he shall construe his need to follow the legislation in the opposite way of its intention (or, as in the postal bill, in a way not even considered in its intention or language) and referring to his constitutional authority to supervise the unitary executive, are in every signing statement that I have read. It seems to me that he is making a case, not only for being above the law, but for there being an unitary executive. That by saying, again and again, that it is his constitutional authority to uphold this mythical entity, he is attempting to establish precedent to bring it into being.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

A Bear's Gotta Learn
What To Do

This little cub has lost his mother. And so, there has been no one to teach him to hibernate. Without his mother's guidance in how to be a bear, he is still awake and scrounging for food on Douglas Island (just across the bridge from me). He won't survive the winter if he doesn't hibernate. So, Fish and Game has set out bear traps and when they capture him they will feed him really well for a few days, take him far from garbage cans, and put him in a wooden nest to encourage him to sleep.

Yup, that's the wild and wooly northland for you. Put Teddy in his jammies and call the Sandman for him.

Check second post below.

Alaska: Where Men Are Men
& Women Win The Iditarod

When Susan Butcher began running the Iditarod dog sled race (1,049 miles), men made fun of her. They claimed that she was a typical female; she babied her dogs. When she started winning, race after race (4 Iditarod wins), to be followed by Lybby Riddles, we saw tee shirts that read: Alaska-- Where Men Are Men & Women Win the Iditarod.

I thought of this the other day when I heard the radio announcer refer to Governor Sarah Palin, first woman governor of Alaska, as "Mrs. Palin." Now, here in Juneau we often call the governor by first name -- I have spoken affectionately of Tony (Knowles) and Wally (Hickle) and scornfully of Frank (Murkowski), so Sarah would be fine. But Mrs. Palin is different. It is reducing the governor of the largest state in the Union to the status of Mr. Palin's wife.

And although Governor Palin is a Republican, so far she has been doing a pretty good job. She immediately put the jet plane that Murkowski had done an end run around the Legislature to buy, up for sale. She reinstated the Longevity Bonus which Murkowski had stopped. She cut off the building of a one-way, gravel road that would have connected two privately owned mines to Juneau but given us no access to the outside. She scuttled the clandestine negotiations Murkowski was holding with the oil companies and made them not only transparent, but open to other bidders as well. She ordered the state to comply with the Alaska Supreme Court order and begin same-sex partners health insurance coverage, although the Legislature had tried to stop it.

And so I wonder -- what tee shirt will we come up with this time? Perhaps, Alaska, Where Men Strut and Women Solve Problems?