Monday, April 30, 2007

Odd Thoughts About Pluto
& Goldilocks

When I first met Daddy, I was nine and he was 45. We had this conversation about Pluto that went on for a while before we realized that he was talking about the dog and I was talking about the planet.

I have mentioned that I, at one time, wanted to be an astronomer. When I discovered that it involved much more math than it did looking through telescopes and that it wouldn't qualify me to go to the moon, I gave that up. The names and order of the planets in our solar system was, to quote Henry of Ugly Betty, "Just a thing that I know." An important part of life, knowing those things which would never change. You know, the number of planets, the names, the order, the number of moons. That sorta real, forever stuff. Yep.

When I taught Montessori, we had a solar system mobile. The planets were mostly to scale as far as size, but distances weren't possible. The planets closer in than Neptune were all in one corner of the classroom, and then in the furthest away corner of the building was Pluto. And that was way too close. Had they been in distance scale, Pluto would have had to be 1,000 miles away. Or so I'm told.

Someone has decided that Pluto isn't even a planet at all. Which solves where to put it on the mobile, I suppose, but isn't satisfying to me at all. Richard tells me that one can classify the planets like you do the vowels: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and sometimes Pluto. I guess that will have to do.

On top of these musings, I read of a new, non-solar planet that is believed to be the first to be discovered so far that could support life. The first that isn't a Goldilocks planet. Not too hot. Not too cold. The rather delightful confusion of astronomy and children's concerns just goes on and on.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Chilkoot Pass

These pictures of miners climbing Chilkoot Pass were taken during the Klondike Gold Rush. The pass is the highest pass in the Coast Mountains between Alaska and British Columbia. That line of what looks like ants is men. People. Mostly men. When I lived in Fairbanks in the late 60s, I met two elderly women who came in over the Pass during the Gold Rush. Neither struck gold, neither could find respectable employment, both became prostitutes rather than go through the Pass again. One of them was a major shareholder in a local bank. The other one told me that "the secret" was to never let a man kiss you on the mouth, because of germs. Ah, people are so amazing, aren't they? The reason I met these women was because the log house we lived in had once been owned by a very famous courtesan, and these elderly friends of hers stopped to chat when I was out in my vegetable garden. An odd conversation to have while weeding, but what the heck, that's Alaska.

This second photo doesn't give the breathtaking view of how many people there are, but does allow you to see that they are people. The Chilkoot was taken because, on a map the 27 miles from Skagway to Lake Lindeman, looked both faster and easier than the sea route from Seattle to the mouth of the Dawson.

What the prospectors hadn't counted on was the steepness of the pass and the fact that midway through the first year of the Gold Rush the Royal Canadian Mounted Police would not let anyone enter Canada over it without supplies to last out a winter. Which meant, since there was no grass to feed horses, carrying a minimum of 1150 pounds of supplies up on their backs in relays of as large a burden as one could carry at a time.

Most of the prospectors walked approximately 1000 miles to get all their gear over the "short" 27 miles. Getting there was hell. Accidents, epidemics of spinal meningitis, smallpox, and scurvy, combined with avalanches and winter cold claimed uncounted lives. It's no wonder that the elderly women who stopped by my garden decided that they weren't going back out over that Pass.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Cassandra, Again

Rather than signposts, I think I want this one to be a brief discussion of the Cassandra stuff. You know, the things we've been telling folks for years, the stuff they wouldn't believe. Let's start with What Gonzales Really Told Us by William Rivers Pitt, over on
For the record, decisions to disrupt elections and voting rights, and decisions to derail investigations into Republicans, are flatly illegal. The first is fraud, the second is obstruction of justice, and both are felony crimes. The exposure of Gonzales on Thursday represents a long step towards pinning legal accountability to the door of a certain Pennsylvania Avenue house, and to the lapels of those persons within who are, at last, running out of excuses.

The new definition of executive privledge on Brilliant at Breakfast
Executive privilege now is defined as "Anything that would get us into trouble if released."
in regard to the White House wanting claiming that e-mails on the RNC server are covered.

This is what happens when the food industry runs amok Jill talks about the
FDA allowing contaminated pet food to be fed to livestock
American pets are just the canaries in the coal mine on this, folks. If we don't demand an end to the FDA protecting the food industry's profits instead of the American people, if we don't demand to know where the components of our food are coming from, soon it'll be American children hooked up to tubes and wires in hospitals, victim to organ failures for what seems to be no reason at all.
This reminds me of Jim Hightower and Molly Ivins writing about the industry protecting FDA inspections that occur under Republican administrations.

Stick in a Thumb at Anything They Say
"the most comprehensive independent study" of Iraq's oil wealth indicates that there may be as much as 100 billion bbls of oil under the western deserts of al Anbar province, effectively doubling Iraq stated reserves.
At a cost of $1 a barrel to pump out of the ground, this is an oil company's dream. The upcoming Iraqi Oil Law was drafted with the encouragement and assistance of the White House. Am I paranoid to believe that the Iraqies will profit from this much less than the oil industry and the US?

And, the most frightening thing I've read in a long time, Fascist America In 10 Easy Steps by Naomi Wolfe.
From Hitler to Pinochet and beyond, history shows there are certain steps that any would-be dictator must take to destroy constitutional freedoms. And, argues Naomi Wolf, George Bush and his administration seem to be taking them all
I was guided here by Godwacker, a blogger with a sure feel for the underbelly of it all.

Which is followed by Culture of Fear: Poetry Professor Becomes Terrorism Suspect by Kazim Ali
A poetry professor in a small college in the Northeast decides to recycle old manuscripts and becomes an object of suspicion
. . .where I explained to the university president and then to the state police that the box contained old poetry manuscripts that needed to be recycled. The police officer told me that in the current climate I needed to be more careful about how I behaved. "When I recycle?" I asked.
My body exists politically in a way I cannot prevent. For a moment today, without even knowing it, driving away from campus in my little Beetle, exhausted after a day of teaching, listening to Justin Timberlake on the radio, I ceased to be a person when a man I had never met looked straight through me and saw the violence in his own heart.
Further examples that the steps toward a police state are being taken is found at Migrants Used to Justify a Homeland Security Police State by Peter Phillips.
Other new police-state programs include US government contracting with Lockheed-Martin to design and develop enormous unmanned airships, seventeen times the size of the Goodyear blimp, outfitted with high-resolution cameras to spy on the Mexican border. The airships are designed to float 12 miles above the earth, far above planes and weather systems. The high-resolution camera will watch over a circle of countryside 600 miles in diameter and could be moved to spy on any region of the US.

The programs described above, combined with two recent changes in US law, make the reality of a full police-state in the US increasingly more feasible. The Military Commissions Act, signed in October of 2006, suspends habeas corpus rights for any person deemed by the president to be an enemy combatant. Persons so designated could be imprisoned indefinitely without rights to legal counsel or a trial. And the Defense Authorization Act of 2007 allows the president to station troops anywhere in America and take control of state-based National Guard units without the consent of the governor or local authorities. By revising the two-century-old Insurrection Act, the law, in effect, repeals the Posse Comitatus Act and gives the US government the legal authority to order the military onto the streets anywhere in America.

Threats of terrorism and illegal immigrants are being used to justify the implementation of police-state programs. But once started, enforcement can be rapidly deployed to any group of people in the US, and we all become endangered. Mass arrests, big brother in the sky and the loss of civil rights for everyone does not bode well for those who believe in democracy, free speech and the right to critically challenge our government without fear of reprisals.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Friday Cat Blogging VIII

When the Hooligans were about six months old, I came home from work to the sound of Pippin meowing in distress. There he was, on top of the kitchen cupboards, unable to get down. Wretch that I am, I grabbed the camera and got a picture of it before I helped him. Being short, I stayed on the floor and put a chair on the counter and encouraged him to jump down to it. Lots of soft voice and offering food.

I don't know how long he had been trapped up there, but the first thing he did when he got down was make a bee line for the cat box. I had my landlady's son go up on a ladder and check the next time he was over, and Pippin hadn't left any surprises up there.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Mistress's Hoop Skirt

When I went back to work, when Richard was a few months old, we were living near the Haight Ashbury, on Fell Street, in San Francisco. I found a local woman, about the age I am now, to care for him.

Mrs. Johnson was a wonderful care giver. She understood and loved children, and they loved her. In addition to caring for children, she provided a home for a blind woman who was over 100 years old, having been born into slavery. One day, when I went to pick Richard up and was waiting for Mrs. Johnson to bring him in from playing in the backyard, I got to talking to this woman and she told me a story that she had lived and heard, but did not remember.

She was a toddler during the Civil War. The Master was selling off all of the slaves that he could spare; as a baby she was on the list. Her mother had come to the plantation with Mistress; they had grown up together. So, when the time came to round up and sell the slaves, her Mistress had gagged her and tied her to her own leg. She was carried around under this woman's hoop skirts until the danger had passed. She told me that her mother had told her that when they gagged and tied her up, she would cry and so would her mother and the Mistress; they knew no other way to save her.

Isn't it truly amazing, the things people do?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Just A Little Odd

My mind, you may have noticed, tends to work in its own way. I like to wander the breadth of the subject and explore the depth of parts of it. Both big picture and detail oriented. Some people like this. Others it drives crazy. One of the tricks I learned when I was a legislative research analyst, is to take all of the details that I find interesting but the reader might or might not and make footnotes out of them. This post turned into the sort of thing I need to do that with. Thank goodness for cut and paste, is all I can say.

I live in an even numbered apartment, on the odd side of the street. Very confusing to FedEx drivers, various delivery folk, friends coming to my place for the first time, and new taxi drivers. All of the other apartments in the building are odd numbered, as are all of the other buildings on this side of the street. When I first moved in here, 12 years ago this coming August, it caused all sorts of problems. I would order something from a catalog and it would never arrive. * Finally discovered that the FedEx guy couldn't find my apartment, and wasn't even looking on that side of the street, and so was sending them back to the merchants, who never bothered to inform me! After I figured that out, I had packages delivered to my office.

The street itself is odd. At the corner of Sixth, it is East Street. Going south, it is two and a half blocks long, and then ends at a sharp angle up the hill, where there is a 125 step staircase to the next street up. Going north (my direction) it is three houses long, where there is a street sign declaring the junction of East and Basin. (click to enlarge picture) Except it isn't an intersection. The street simply stops being called one thing and starts being called another. Don't ask me, I just report these things.

I live at 8th and Basin, the number reflects that -- one would think the address would show up on Google maps that way, but it doesn't; the X is wa-a-a-ay out of place. If the houses on Basin went beyond 975, the X would be at about 10,000. But, they don't.** I think that Google maps started numbering Basin at the street sign, counting that address as 1 or 100 instead of as 642.

Then, there is the apartment itself. Originally the building was symmetrical, but then the owner decided to add a garage at one end. And then another owner built a room over the garage and opened the staircase of the apartment next door, effectively turning the upper floor from that apartment into the upper floor of this apartment.*** Anyway, the wall of my kitchen is the old outside wall of the building, and you can certainly tell.

Downstairs I have -- what, exactly? Three rooms? Two rooms? One very large room? Who can tell? There is a living room section and a cooking section and an oddly shaped little section that may be a breakfast nook. There is only part of an interior wall and a square shaped sorta-arch between the "kitchen" and the "living room". Because I'm up against the mountain on two sides and the rest of the building on a third, I have windows only on one side. Lots of windows.****One thing I know about my downstairs is that it has a very high ceiling. And enough wall space for me to have both miles of bookcases and all of the art I want.

The upstairs is not over the downstairs of my apartment, but over the one it used to belong to.***** And my second floor is also odd. Do I have one room plus bath? Two? Three? How do you tell when there are no doors, just oddly placed spaces with walls? Can it be one room when there are these other sections, one even around a corner? Could it be more than one room when you have to go through two other spaces to get from the bedroom to the closet? Whatever it is, it's shaped like a U, with the walk-in closet in the center space.

And the reason that I'm thinking of this today is that last night I didn't lay out today's clothes in the bedroom section, which means I had to remember to go get them while in my robe, because there are no curtains in my apartment. Nor are there rods. For the most part this is wonderful -- I'm too high up the mountainside for anyone to see in the first floor without being on a hill on Douglas Island, and then they need binoculars. And there is no road on that part of Douglas Island. From the street, what you see is my living room ceiling, because of the angle. But, upstairs the angle is different. The window into my bedroom is too small and oddly placed for anyone to see anything except a corner of a bookcase, but the window next to my computer desk is perfectly placed for someone standing on 8th street to see me. And so, to go to and from my closet, I have to be dressed.

* (Ah, the bad old days, before I had on-line shopping and when catalogs arrived in Alaska, at best a couple of weeks after they arrived anywhere else so that when I ordered something it was seldom still available.) I would contact the merchant, who would send another, which would also never arrive. There was only one other person in the building who was my size, and as it happened the mail boxes were in her porch. You should have seen the eye I kept on her wardrobe! But, she never wore any of the clothes I'd ordered.

** There is nothing beyond 975 but a dirt road along the Silverbow Basin itself, with a bridge or two, leading to a mining museum with some very interesting old equipment. And, it goes without saying, a lot of trees. And porcupines. And marmots. And birds of all kinds. And bears. But, no numbered lots. This is the spot where Google maps thinks my apartment is. (Click to enlarge.)

*** This he did for his 18 year-old son, which I know because the son's best friend -- let's just say Scott is a friend of mine. Explaining how he is a friend of mine would take an entire post of its own and probably not interest anyone who doesn't know us both. Anyway, Scott remembers when he and David did the work on that door and staircase. And David, who I've met because of Scott, remembers that when he lived here, there was no kitchen sink. He was supposed to carry the dishes upstairs and do them in the bathtub, but being an 18-year old man, he ate off paper plates or out of take out cartons or in restaurants, instead. Actually, I know four people who have lived in this apartment, and can follow the steps of its completion by the stories they tell. Perhaps the day will come when I tell someone that when I lived here I kept things in the kitchen and bath in baskets because there were no drawers.

**** When I moved in there was a greenhouse porch, but it was in bad shape and was torn down and a regular porch built, which sort of interferes with the view from the large picture windows and glass French doors inside of it, but what the heck. The view is so magnificent that who cares that the windows don't completely match up?

***** There is a door out onto the roof of my other room(s) which serves as a nice patio and perfect spot to watch the Independence Day fireworks. Which are done at midnight between the 3rd and 4th, so that it will be dark enough to see them.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


I had a job I loved. It could have been created just for me. I used my best skills and fulfilled my deepest passions. I had fun while doing measurable good. I developed and taught my own parenting classes, wrote handouts and educational materials, did parenting coaching, wrote grant proposals and progress reports, supervised and trained staff, maintained a library of books and videos to lend parents, drove around making home visits, and didn't have to own a car. I helped people get their children out of foster care; if they were referred to me early enough, I helped them keep their children from going into the foster system to begin with. I went to people's homes and sat at the table, drinking coffee, and talking about their children. I gave advice and people followed it. I consulted other professionals about the needs of children and was certified as an expert witness for the court. I actively researched children's issues to the depth of my curiosity, using that knowledge to help parents help children.I made a difference to families. More and more children called out my name in public places, at times running to give me a hug. I had statewide recognition for the work I did. I called myself the community grandmother. Other people who had worked in this job usually lasted less than 18 months. I did it for 11 years.

I had a job I loved. And then, I couldn't do it anymore. And when I burned out it wasn't because of the child abuse or the horrible stories women told me about their own childhood or the mistreatment they had received at the hands of the men who should have loved them. It wasn't even because I was getting such a warped view of men, dealing with the victims of child and spousal abuse. If the majority of men I heard about in my job were toxic, some of them were wonderful fathers and husbands. Often the fault lay with the woman, or there was no fault, only lack of knowledge. Besides, if it got too bad, I could always see Richard or talk to Ted and remember just how good men can be.

What got to me, in the end, were the women I could not help. The women, like Rodin's Fallen Caryatid, who were crushed by the weight of a burden that no one person should be asked to bear. The women that no one could help. I carried a client load of at least 36 and that was only part of my job, which meant that I saw them for an hour every other week, working Tuesday through Saturday. Alternate Saturdays, that last year, the last clients I saw were not the same ethnic group; didn't live in the same area; other than being young and female, weren't even close in appearance. But they could have been the same woman. (And I had many more just like them.) This was how I ended my week. Every week. There was one visit that was symptomatic of them all. The young mother told me that she had almost hit her kids the day before. In response to questioning, she slowly revealed that instead of hitting them, she told them to go hide in their rooms because she was afraid of what she might otherwise do. It had been Friday of a long, hard week. She had gone to pick them up after a full shift at her minimum wage job. Her feet hurt. She had been tired and hungry and cross. They had been tired and hungry and cross. The boys started fighting in the car, and although I had taught her that the thing to do in that case was to pull off the road and just sit there, saying nothing, until they quieted down, she couldn't do that because she was afraid that if she did, she would turn around, lean across the seat, and beat them senseless. When she got them home, carrying the youngest up three flights of stairs, the apartment was messy. She started to cook dinner, knowing that if she sat down she would never get up again. The boys were fussing and fighting and pulling on her jeans for attention, demanding to be fed right now. And so, she told them to go hide in their room. It happened at least three nights a week like this. There were a lot of long, hard weeks.

No, she couldn't stop after work and take a walk or sit and have even a glass of water to relax, because her babysitter charged her $5 for every minute she was late; a couple of times a month she would get stuck in traffic and be two or three minutes late and it made a major dent in her budget. It meant she couldn't afford to pack a lunch for a day or two. No, she didn't have any support from family or the boys' father. No one, not even a friend she could trade babysitting with, to give her any respite.

What fun had she had that week, I asked. She and the boys had watched Mulan. In parts of Juneau TV doesn't get reception without cable and she didn't have it, only about six tapes, all children's tapes, purchased for $1 each at the pawn shop. How many times had she seen Mulan? Oh, at least 200. She was always broke; every week she paid what she had to to house and feed her family, and then the rest went to pay back the last person she had borrowed from. Which meant she needed to borrow from some one else to get through until the next paycheck. We checked her budget and it was bare bones. I have no idea how she survived; she certainly wasn't wasting any money that I could see.

And when I left, I closed her door behind me and leaned back against the wall; my glasses were too fogged by tears for me to dare to take the stairs. Because there was no way to help her, except to totally change society so that young women don't end up with burdens like this.

I had a job I loved. And then I didn't.

Just Gotta Brag

Not being either shy or modest, I am sending you to Happy Birthday, Mom on Julie's blog yesterday. Could a mother get a better birthday tribute?

And the YouTube of Shirley Temple and Bill Robinson is wonderful, too.

Monday, April 23, 2007

My Best Birthday Present

This picture is of my grandparents, Lillian and Percy Herndon, and Mama and Aunt Flo. Aunt Flo is 16 months younger than Mama, and they are inseparable and always have been. I've told you a number of stories about their childhood: Doll Buggy, Ginny & Flo Go Out Catching Birds, and Papa Bear which give you a flavor of those days. Mama was the bolder sister, Aunt Flo the shyer. Mama was always very fast and slapdash, Aunt Flo a slow perfectionist. My grandfather used to say that she would be late for her own wedding and completely miss her funeral, and although we don't know about her funeral yet (and are willing to wait a good, long time to find out) she was, indeed, late for her wedding. When she was supposed to be walking down the aisle, she was sitting in front of the heater trying to get her hair to dry. And, my Uncle Wes wasn't in the least concerned about it, either. That's just Aunt Flo.

Aunt Flo and Mama were best pals and each other's support as they were growing up and ever since as well. When they were children, Mama always had to hold the rabbits while Grandpa skinned them, because Aunt Flo would pass out. But, when they got candy Mama always ate all of hers and then looked sad and Aunt Flo would feel sorry for her and split what she had left and then Mama would do it again and get half of what was left and then do it again and then . . . Mama says she thinks she got a good 85 percent of the candy Aunt Flo was given. So, being soft hearted worked both ways.

When Mama eloped with my father, Aunt Flo was the only one who knew. There was a horrible storm in the mountains that day and Aunt Flo was terrified that the plane would crash and it would be her fault for not telling my grandparents what Mama was doing. And, 11 months later, on her 18th birthday, I was born. I've been told that when she heard, she jumped up and down and her pig tails flew in the air she was so excited. And, I would have been just as excited if I had known, because she is the best birthday present I ever got.

After my father died, Aunt Flo came to live with us and help my mother support us. And I was the flower girl in her wedding. After Mama married Daddy, and we would go to Aunt Flo and Uncle Wes's for dinner, Daddy would always make sure we had a sandwich just before we left, because we would get there and she would still be in the tub, with dinner not even started. (Which I thought of when I heard that Julie and Ted and Maya had gone to visit Mama and Aunt Flo and Aunt Flo had gone to the kitchen for ice cream and Maya had almost starved to death in the half hour it took her to scoop it up.)

When I went to college the first time, Great-aunt Julie sent me; she died before I dropped out. So, when I went back to college, it was Aunt Flo who sent me. By that time she was a widow -- actually Uncle Wes died the week before Auntie did. Both times it was Aunt Flo who called me; both times it was Aunt Flo who was taking care of me as she told me.

When I went into business for myself, it was Aunt Flo who helped me. It was Aunt Flo who helped Forrest and Colleen's husband, Shafiq, when they needed it. Aunt Flo is always there for us. With love. With money. With comfort.

She has been a widow since 1961. After Uncle Wes died, she went back and finished college. She sent me to Montessori training after I graduated from Berkeley. She helped me to move to Alaska the first time. And she was always there, at her own speed, but always there.

For years I heard Mama and Aunt Flo talk about how they would live together when they were little old ladies. I think it comforted Daddy, who was 20 years older than Mama, to know that she wouldn't be alone after he died. And, she isn't. They do live together, still best pals and support for each other, all these 83 years after Aunt Flo was born.

Their most recent sisterly adventure has been taking care of four of my mother's great-grandchildren while their mother went to college. Here is Aunt Flo with Adrien and Mama. Aunt Flo had three step-daughters but no children of her own. She was in her 80s the first time she changed a diaper. Learning how to take care of such little ones has been a challenge. It isn't just that she helped care for them. She and Mama supported them because their mother had used up all of her lifetime entitlement to welfare. I would go visit and find these two elderly women living on toast for breakfast, popcorn for lunch, and scrambled eggs for dinner (and my mother hates eggs) so that they could support Kristie and her four children. In all that time, Aunt Flo never went to visit her own girls, because if she did she couldn't help Mama.

Aunt Flo is a blessing to our family. No one ever had a more generous and loving aunt or sister than we do. And she is always cheerful. Laughs easily and smiles often. And, if she is a little ungodly slow, so what.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Waking Up Sixty

In February, Ronnie of As Time Goes By went on vacation and asked some of us elder bloggers to write a post each to cover while she was gone. I kept intending to link to mine for you, but kept forgetting. Since my 65th birthday is tomorrow, I decided to cross post it.

Most of you have noticed that as we grow older we tend to become more comfortable in our own skin. When I was in my twenties, I worried about what strangers walking down the street thought of me. By the time I was in my mid-thirties, it didn’t worry me unless I was doing something I would rather not be seen doing: I worried about being seen carrying a Lane Bryant bag (someone might guess I was overweight if I were seen carrying a bag from a fat-girls shop, and of course if I weren’t seen doing that, no one would ever find out) or my skirt flying up when I fell down.

By the time I was into my fifties, my attitude had pretty much changed to, “if they don’t want to hear me sing, they can walk down some other block.”

I did fall one day when the sidewalks were so icy that I had to scoot on my butt to the curb and put my feet in the gutter to find a place where I could get the leverage to stand up. A young man carefully worked his way up the hill and asked me if I was alright. And I found myself answering, “Oh, yes. Nothing hurt but my dignity. Oh. Not even my dignity.”

That was me at 59 years, 364 days. Pretty comfortable with myself, unconcerned about my size or what other people thought - pretty certain that most people had enough things in their own lives to think about that they didn’t bother to think about me. Content with how I was living my life.

And then, on April 22nd I went to bed in that condition, woke up 60 and discovered a level of self-acceptance that somehow, in those few hours of sleep, had increased by a magnitude of hundreds. I went from accepting myself to celebrating myself. It was just the most amazing thing, to be me!

I found the level of increase astounding. There was a recognition of how important to my survival and sanity the most negative of my dark side attributes were. Of how natural were facets that had caused me embarrassment in earlier years.

And somehow, I wanted everyone to celebrate their natural selves. I began to praise my inner-bitch and invent new holidays. We could, for instance, have a day to commemorate the fact that your body can eliminate toxins - people would wear only brown and yellow. Or to honor our fertility by wearing faux maternity clothes with pristine tampon jewelry. Or folk skirts made with Georgia O’Keefe flower prints.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Saturdays In Berkeley

When I was living in San Francisco, between Richard's and Julie's births, I read a book about household organization, which said that, just like a business, a family does better when it knows its mission. Are you going for good citizens? Concert musicians? Scientists? Tightrope walkers? So, being me with my decidedly odd slant on the world (I told you. I send Edward Gorey Christmas cards.), when we moved back to Berkeley, I had a sign on the front door that read, "Gipson, Gipson, & Gipson: We Dirty Clean Diapers".

On Saturday mornings we would get up and clean the apartment. The kids helped from the beginning. Actually, the first time Richard helped he was nine months old, we were visiting my parents, and Daddy asked him to bring his bottle to the kitchen to be washed. And Richard, who was at that time refusing to crawl and walking around by holding on to the walls, walked around three walls to get to the bottle and then back around to carry it to his grandfather. And when I saw how proud he was, I asked him to do anything that I could think of after that. So, on Saturdays we would get up and clean, each doing according to ability.* And when we were finished, we were out and about.

I had two luxuries in those days -- diaper service, and a laundromat where I could drop the clothes off and pick them up, washed, dried, and folded, a few hours later. So, the first stop of the day was to take the laundry. Then the library. The stroller was too wide to go between the shelves, so I would park it at the end of the shelf I was checking and they would look quietly around and nibble on teething biscuits. Every week when I checked out my books, the librarian would comment on how they were so quiet that the first she ever knew we were there was when we checked out.

Then we would head up to campus. Get out of the stroller and have a picnic on the grass. Walk under the trees. Play with passing dogs. Help them climb a tree. Splash in the Sproul Plaza fountain on warm days. Spend a dime and take a ride up the Campanile to look out at San Francisco. Walk back down Telegraph Avenue, stopping in the book stores. They were there in their double stroller the day I discovered Edward Gorey (The Insect God, still my favorite) and laughed until the tears ran down my face. We would stop in the pet store to look at tropical fish and birds, a candy store to buy us each a licorice whip, maybe the dime store if I needed something else. Slowly, we would work our way from campus to the grocery store. Out would come the list. Discussing what we were buying with them.** While Richard was still too young to walk the rest of the way, I would have the little-old-lady cart and use it for groceries. When he was older, he would get out now and we would use his seat for the groceries. Back and drop the food at the apartment, and then to pick up the laundry.

And, along the way we would stop and check out any construction that was going on,*** look in lots of windows, stop and chat to people we knew or people who were interested in small children. Notice how flower gardens along the way were progressing. Recite nursery rhymes. Talk and talk and talk. Laugh.

We would be out for about four or five hours. Fresh air. Sunshine. And, more often than not, at some point along the way, as apt to be uphill as down, I would just have to run. Pushing two kids with one hand and pulling the week's groceries with the other. Because it was just good to be alive and together.

And I'll tell you, I still miss it. Not just having the strength to push a stroller with two kids and a few library books and pull a cart full of groceries up a hill while running. Mostly the delight of their company. Watching them learn about the world. Every age they have ever been has been a delight, and I would go back and do any of them again in a heartbeat. But, I think I might go back and do this one as the chorus to the rest. A, B, C, B, D, B, E, B, F, B. I can't remember a time in my adult life when I was happier. And I've been happy most of the time.

* We always did that, as long as they lived with me. And, the rare once or twice that one of them decided to sit down and allow the other two of us to do it, I would say, "Your sibling has decided we need a break" and the other two of us would sit down and wait. And when we were done, we went out and had fun. It's easy to get kids to do chores when you do them together and there is family fun right after.

** Once when we were shopping a man approached and told me that he taught child development, and he was impressed by the way I talked to them. I was, he said, developing both language and logic skills. And, you know me, I delight in being recognized for what a good job I'm doing. Made my decade, that momentary encounter.

*** For a couple of years there it was BART. Which they kept having to tear up again because they had left something (like the ventilation system) out the first time.

Friday, April 20, 2007

A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood

Ah, sunshine. Three days in a row of sunshine! With more to come -- Yahoo Weather keeps moving the prediction for rain four days out! After a winter that gave us 197.8 inches of snow, which you don't get without days and days and days and days and days and days and days of clouds, three days in a row of sunshine! My great-grandmother used to say, "Thank God for small favors, and large ones in proportion." And this, I am here to tell you, is a large one. Were these Old Testament times, I would be burning sacrifices. Botanical, rather than zoological, as I would still be a humane woman, one would hope. Sunshine is a rare event here, any year. This year it is a flipping miracle.

Instead of waiting inside for the Care-A-Van to pick me up, I am going outside and waiting there. At home, there is a small pocket park less than a quarter of a standard block away, that has two benches that were covered in snow from November through the end of March, and wet from rain until Tuesday! When I sit on them, I can see downhill to Admiralty Island. Across the street from work, Rainbow Foods has a bench that has been in the same condition as the ones on 8th Street. Ah, the wonder of it all. Usually my afternoon pick-up I'm hoping the driver doesn't get delayed so I can get home at a decent time, but now I'm perfectly willing for him to be late while I sit and watch the ravens and work on freckle maintenance.

I'm working on building up the strength in my back, lost what with one thing after another over the last few years, and so now that there is no ice on the street, on the way downhill to work, I am getting out of the CAV earlier each week and walking the rest of the way. Today I saw crocuses and there are tiny green leaf buds on the tips of the tree branches. Just a sort of haze, at this point, but such a promise! And with almost 15 hours of sunlight already, the plants will take off and we will have fully leafed trees and flowers galore faster than you would believe if you haven't lived here.

I'm far from the only one with a new spring in my step, and the normally friendly people in this small town are practically effusive right now. We've been let out of winter! There is still snow melting on the mountain tops, so the creeks are running full. The avalanche danger decreases by the day, and no one is bothering to set off the guns and trigger any these days.

It's up to 50 degrees and taking a walk at lunch I don't need my jacket, which I'm not buttoning in the cooler mornings at any rate. Soon I will have it cleaned and put it in the closet for the summer. And that presents a minor problem, since I don't like to carry a purse and without jacket pockets (since it is reversible, two outside and two inside) where am going to put my wallet and keys and check book and calendar? They just don't put enough pockets in women's slacks! That all the days of my life would be full of such problems!

Crocuses courtesy of Nancy Rotenberg, natural tapestries

Thursday, April 19, 2007

R2D2! It Is You! It Is You!*

In the comments on Wednesday's post, Fat, was one signed Jack Hairston. One of my best friends from high school. Hell, one of my best friends from life. And so I commented back to ask if he was my Jack Hairston, being pretty darned sure that he was. And he e-mailed me, and it is him! I don't think I've seen Jack since 1975! And, at some point decades ago I discovered that I no longer had his address. This is so exciting. This internet thing is a wonder, isn't it? First Julie finds my older half-sister with it and then she finds Kate with it and now Jack found himself with it. And I'll bet he didn't even know he was lost.

And just in time for my 65th birthday. (April 23. Me, Shakespeare, Shirley Temple, my office mate Jessica, Michael Moore, Ngaio Marsh, Max Planck, Cervantes, my Aunt Flo, and a bunch of other people that I don't know enough about to admire. On my exact birthday and year, Sandra Dee and I have no idea how I feel about that.)

* Have I mentioned that George Lucas went to our high school? Wish I'd known it at the time.

In A Nutshell

Well, here we are again, down to

62. I remember this about my mother's work and responsibilities:

Mama was a mother at 19, and began her married life at the end of the Depression and the beginning of WWII -- which meant that she didn't have a lot of the things that we take for granted these days. We lived in a small trailer with an ice box and, consequently, an ice man to deliver the ice and the need to empty the drip tray so that it didn't overflow as the ice melted. She didn't have a washing machine, using a scrub board in the set tubs at various trailer parks where we lived. No dryer. No vacuum cleaner. No dishwasher. One car, which my father needed to get to work, so that Mama took me with her on a bike. Not a nifty, geared, easy to ride bike. A one speed Schwinn. When I was too young to ride the handle bars, she pushed me in a stroller and walked everywhere.

There were no TV dinners or mixes in those days, so Mama made everything except bread and soup from scratch. When she baked pies, she always made pie-kisses for me. She hadn't learned to cook from her mother, because my grandmother got nervous if anyone watched her cook, so when my parents were first married, my father took her to live with his mother for a while. I think that my grandmother Hunt, who could be very petty, didn't really want Mama to be as good a cook as she was, because Mama is a very middling cook, and Grandma Hunt had run a barbecue that had been renowned clear to San Francisco.

Even with no modern conveniences, a trailer only takes so long to clean, so Mama and I had lots of time to play and for her to read to me and teach me nursery rhymes.

After my father died, Mama had to go to work. I know that at one job she was fired and had no idea why until, years later, she mentioned something to Daddy and he realized she had witnessed larceny. She worked at a collection agency, and while there went in and destroyed the record of my father's debt, which had been a result of the Depression and paid off before his death. And she worked as the children's library assistant, a job that she loved the most.

After she married Daddy, the only times she worked outside the home were when she wanted to -- she was a Welcome Wagon hostess and tried to sell real estate and became a bookkeeper, which she was very good at. Housekeeping was much easier this time around. Daddy loved showering her with things to make her life easier, and she had all the latest housekeeping and cooking equipment. And a new car every year.

I think that mothering was harder, though. First off she had three children. Forrest had been a baby when our father died, and he was always a pretty easy kid to care for, being very well mannered and obedient. It was the things that had earned him the nickname of "For Ward, boy, boy" that started turning her hair gray. When he was four he fell into a swimming pool, ate poisoned cherries and went into convulsions, dived off the coffee table onto the Spanish tile floor and cut his scalp, and rammed his head into an open ornamental iron gate and cut his scalp yet again.

Colleen was just a difficult child. She was very sickly for the first five years of her life, constantly coming down with infected tonsils during polio season so that they couldn't be removed. Once her tonsils were out, her hair changed. It had been short and frizzy, never needing cutting because it never grew. After the operation, it became straight and healthy and grew long and lovely. And, Colleen simply refused to be disciplined. She told me once that she saw that Forry and I were always in trouble no matter how good we were and decided there was no percentage in that. And since neither Mama nor Daddy had any idea of what to do about it, she pretty much ruled the roost.

And I was a true gem. I had my little contretemps with Daddy over chores and simply refused to bend. I knew, because Mama told me often and often, that if I wanted something from him all I had to do was get my chores done before he got home, and I refused to "pander" to his demands. It was a matter of principle, or so I thought. And Mama was caught in the middle.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Signposts to Sanity

An occasional feature where your lovin' Granny points you at somebody else's really good stuff

Over at, Andrew Lam has written a provocative piece not so much on the bigoted response to crimes by minorities as on the frightening effect it has on the entire ethnic group.

In Aftermath of Va. Shooting, Ethnic Groups Prayed, "Let It Be Some Other Asian"

Lam quotes an African American friend:
An Anglo shooter may be an individual, a loner, but God forbid if a person of color goes on a shooting rampage. His whole tribe would be implicated. "I still recall my aunts when President Kennedy was assassinated. They were praying that it wasn't a Negro.
To be a minority in America, even in the 21st century, is to be always on trial. An evil act by one indicts the entire community. Whoever doubts this need only look at the spike in hate crimes against Muslims and South Asian communities after 9/11.
It brought back to me how, after 9/11, my Maya's then 16 year old cousin was cornered in a mall by a man who tried to sic his dog on her! Only because the dog had more sense than the man was she unhurt. And Ted saying that no one tried to run him off the road after he taped a picture of the American flag in the window of his car. Or how, after Desert Storm, my Palestinian brother-in-law who had just earned his degree in engineering could only get work as a janitor.

After yesterday's post on weight issues, again at is this piece on weight and perfectionism, The Frightening New Normalcy of Hating Your Body by Courtney E. Martin, an excerpt from her book, Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters.

There is a girl, right now, staring in a mirror in Des Moines, scrutinizing her widening hips. There is a girl, right now, spinning like a hamster on speed in a gym on the fifth floor of a building in Boston, promising herself dinner if she goes two more miles. There is a girl, right now, trying to wedge herself into a dress two sizes too small in a Savannah shopping mall, chastising herself for being so lazy and fat. There is a girl, right now, in a London bathroom, trying not to get any vomit on her aunt's toilet seat. There is a girl, right now, in Berlin, cutting a cube of cheese and an apple into barely visible pieces to eat for her dinner.
Even smart girls must be beautiful, even athletes must be feminine. Corporate CEOs, public intellectuals, and even accountants must be thin.

At Common Dreams is an article Are They Serious? by Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post, who discusses
Today's topic is credibility - specifically, recent claims by certain high-ranking present, former and perhaps soon-to-be-former Bush administration officials. The aim is to answer a simple question: Should we believe these three Bush loyalists if they tell us that rain falls down instead of up, or should we look out the window to make sure?
To his knowledge? What on earth does that mean? Is Gonzales in the habit of making decisions without his own knowledge? Does he have multiple-personality issues?

Rove, Wolfowitz and Gonzales are making the last-ditch argument of a cheating husband caught in flagrante: Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?


I've been contemplating weight these last few days. Hell, I've been contemplating weight this last half century. For most of that time, I was obsessed with the scale and what value it judged me to have in the world. The last five or six years, I've not given it that power over me; have thrown out my bathroom scale and only get on the one in the doctor's office once a year and with my back to the numbers. I've trained them not to comment on my weight at all -- don't even tell me if it's gone down. I don't react well to knowing and I've decided not to allow it to consume my life any longer.

Recently, there have been a few posts in the blogs I read that have directed my thoughts to this subject, not in the obsessed, "how am I ever going to get thin enough" way, but back to the realization of what this preoccupation with size does to people.

On the 8th, my friend Deja Pseu over at Dilettante's Progress, posted Background Noise about what it is like to live with a weight problem.
I can't remember a time in my life when I didn't want to be thinner. The effect of this has been to generate a constant kind of background brain static that never fully goes away, a dog-whistle whine of constant dissatisfaction. Even when I'd lost weight to the point where I was quite thin, the static remained. "Just another 5 pounds" was the seashell noise in my ear.
Sandy Szwarc at Junkfood Science has two posts that became part of this pondering. The first is News Too Troubling To Stomach which concerns the degree to which our culture's hatred of fat people results in a willingness to hurt children:
. . .exploiting and mocking fat children for entertainment on reality show fat camps. . .
. . .an upcoming show featuring Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie as weight loss camp counselors. But there’s more...
. . . administer enemas to the fat teens, outside, in front of television cameras. These starlets were “more than happy” to talk to the press about what they did. Both they and the show’s producers appeared oblivious to the unimaginable degrees of humiliation they subjected these fat kids to, let alone how they endangered their health.
Now, as far as this fat camp reality show and others like it, I don’t know why lawyers, size acceptance and civil rights organizations aren’t all over these things (substitute black or crippled children for the fat children and the public outcries would be swift and loud); why parents or other adults would even consider allowing their children to be victimized and ridiculed in this way; or why anyone would watch. And that reveals the most troubling aspect of all.
The second is News A Woman Can Use in which Sandy takes a look at older women and weight.
The researchers concluded that the lowest risks for older woman was to be fatter than the current government recommended BMIs. Our chances for living longer and healthier improve with some fat on our bones. The researchers specifically said that the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) guidelines, which recommend weight management of “overweight,” were inappropriate in older women because those were the sizes where women have the lowest rates of mortality. In other words, following government guidelines would increase their risks for dying*.
. . .researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, found that except for smoking none of the lifestyle and risk factors popularly believed to be important actually made a difference in how long we live, and that obesity was associated with a 30% lower mortality. And for those who develop heart failure, every 5 BMI units higher lowered the risk of dying by 10%. The Cardiovascular Health Study of 5,200 older men and women, recently published in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society, again found that body mass index was inversely related to mortality.
. . .it bears repeating because of the exaggerated fears about obesity, that based on weight alone, a woman is no more likely to die at a BMI of 50 (about 310 pounds) as at a BMI of 35, and that the most extremely "morbidly obese" women still have a longer life expectancy than normal weight men. Our figures need not be our worry.
* Emphasis added.

Last Thursday, Julie posted Fat, a look at the recent PBS special and her thoughts about it.
Several years ago, in the hospital after suffering a heart attack, my bony tiny grandmother asked her bony tiny sister to check her chart, to see how much weight she had lost while flat on her back. When told she had lost a pound and a half, she was disappointed, she had hoped for more, that she would have been able to ‘do better’.
It’s an issue that is haunting so many people every day (like the oatmeal commercial, where the people have their scales chained to their ankles while Willy Nelson sings, “You are always on my mind…”)
Since then, I have watched the special (I had recorded it) and the things I noticed were, in the section on weight loss surgery, I didn't see much indication of the dangers of this surgery. It has very high mortality rates (I have heard both 1 in 100 for on the table and 1 in 50 for within 90 days), nutrient absorption is reduced for the rest of the person's life, leading to nutritional diseases, and weight rebound is just the same as for diets.** And, in the discussion at the end among the medical personnel, they mentioned that dieting didn't work, and then proceeded to give what was good advice for living a healthy life in such a way as to make it sound like weight loss advice. In a culture as saturated with fat phobia and diet messages as this one, I would have reiterated that these suggestions were for optimum health and that there is no way to lose weight permanently that works for more than two percent of the population. I did fall in love with the idea of being "a free-range fat woman" as mentioned by Pat Lyons.

And this special has also been a subject over on Big Fat Blog, where in discussion, one commenter stated that obesity was the one subject on which Michael Moore would not be taken seriously.

And that is how I feel about explaining to my agency head why we shouldn't pass out weight information along with the alcohol and smoking information at health fairs. It would be easier to tell him about the fat producing effects of dieting if I were thin, somehow. Somehow, it feels like an excuse when I try to tell people about all the research that emphasizes how dangerous it is to diet. There is a part of me that knows that, having been on around 35 diets and weighing more than twice what I did when I was put on my first one, I am living proof that they don't work. But, who gives credence to what a fat woman says about weight?

I remember one day about five years ago, I got out and about early and had an hour walk under my belt by breakfast time. I headed down to McDonald's, feeling alive and good and clear headed and centered and all of the things I feel when I get a good walk. On the way, I passed the garbage truck as the workers finished emptying several cans and stopped to thank them for the good work they were doing, remarking that it is nice that someone comes and carts this stuff away (I'm aware of this, because I have lived where no one does and you have to do it yourself). A block or so further on, a FedEx truck stopped near me and I opened the building door for the burdened driver. I saw my reflection in a shop window and liked the chartreuse and turquoise pants suit I was wearing, as well as the Tweetie Bird applique on my purse and the fact that I had a box of Edward Gorey Christmas cards to address in that bag. I was feeling on top of the world, until I went into McDonald's and remembered that I don't fit into the booths; I have to sit at a table with chairs that can be pulled out. And all day long, that one fact defined me. I wasn't the well dressed woman in the gorgeous pants suit or the polite woman who helped the FedEx man and thanked the garbage man or the woman with the outre sense of humor who sent Edward Gorey Christmas cards or even the playful woman who had Tweetie Bird on her purse. I was the fat woman who had to sit at the special table in McDonald's.

** Survivors are in for months of difficult recovery with complications such as ulcers, hernias, vomiting, and internal bleeding. The mortality rate of follow-up surgery (and a surprisingly high number of patients have to have at least one follow-up surgery) is even higher than for the original surgery. And, one thing they don't ever seem to talk about before hand -- the patient then has to live on a strict diet for the rest of their lives and may gain back more than they lost anyway. Then there is "predictive malabsorption" (a name which more than implies that the condition is predicted!) a side-effect which stops the body from absorbing crucial nutrients. Post operative patients are prone the diseases of malnutrition! One of which is brain damage. And may have to give up certain foods for the rest of their lives. Patients who get weight loss surgery are people who have had trouble dieting -- and now they have to diet more stringently than they ever had to before.

Save Small Periodicals

Stamp Out the Rate Hike: Stop the Post Office
Before April 23, anyone concerned that small periodicals not be burdened with an increase in postal rates that might put some out of business and certainly would prevent any new ones from being able to start, has the opportunity to sign a petition to the Postal Regulatory Commission.

Time Warner To Set Postal Rates to Own Advantage

"Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."
-- Thomas Jefferson, Jan. 16, 1787

What's at Stake

Our nation's founders understood the First Amendment would be worth little without a postal system that encouraged broad public participation in America's "marketplace of ideas."

Thomas Jefferson supported this with calls for a postal service that allowed citizens to gain "full information of their affairs," where ideas could "penetrate the whole mass of the people." Along with James Madison, he paved the way for a service that gave smaller political journals a voice. Their solution included low-cost mailing incentives whereby publications could reach as many readers as possible.

Other founders soon came to understand that the press as a political institution needed to be supported through favorable postal rates. President George Washington spoke out for free postage for newspapers through the mail, and Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton -- no proponent of government deficit -- conceded that incentives were necessary to spawn a viable press.

The postal policies that resulted have lasted for more than 200 years, spurring a vibrant political culture in the United States. They have eased the entry of diverse political viewpoints into a national discourse often dominated by the largest media organizations.
Time Warner Rewrites History

All of this could change in 2007.

In an unprecedented move, the agency that oversees postal rates in the United States has quietly attempted to unravel much of what the founders accomplished. Earlier this year, the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) rejected a postal rate increase plan offered by the U.S. Postal Service. Instead they opted to implement a complicated plan submitted by media giant Time Warner. (Click here for a timeline)

Under the original plan, all publishers would have a mostly equal increase (approx. 12 percent) in the cost for mailing their publications. The Time Warner plan overturned this level playing field to favor large, ad-heavy magazines like People at the expense of smaller publications like In These Times and The American Spectator. It penalizes thousands of small- to medium-sized outlets with disproportionately higher rates while locking in privileges for bigger companies.
Fight Back: Tell Congress to Act

The PRC has aligned itself with a media giant in an apparent effort to stifle smaller media in America. The stunning move is an unprecedented abuse of the agency's discretion. Congress must now step in to protect smaller media from these unfair rate hikes.

The Post Office should not use its monopoly power to favor the largest publishers and undermine the ability of smaller publishers to compete. It must be held accountable for a plan that could drive smaller publications to the brink of bankruptcy. With public involvement we can reverse the PRC decision and restore the postal system that has served free speech in America so well.

Demand a formal and open accounting of why more than 200 years of pro-democracy postal policy was abandoned.

Please take the time to send a letter to Congress and the Postal Service

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Venturing Out on Her Own

Sometimes it is the hardest thing in the world to allow the young to try things on their own. And yet, a Mama has to do what a Mama has to do.

I well remember many of those firsts -- first steps, first time crossing the street alone, first day of school, first date. And the worry of what could happen to my little hostages to fate.

I remember that it was easier the second time round with the early firsts -- Richard had taught me that Julie would survive her first steps and crossing the street. And it was harder the second time round with the later firsts -- Richard had taught me that romance could break a young person's heart.

With the early firsts, the young look back at Mama and make sure not to venture too far from her; her presence makes them bolder. With the later firsts, they don't want her around. After all, if you fall on your diaper, Mama picking you up can be comforting. But, when you get dumped, Mama picking you up can make you feel worse.

Julie once dated a young man who she had been interested in for a while when he was Richard's friend. And when he dumped her, Richard let me know so that I could be sensitive to her feelings. Knowing that at her age she needed to know that she would live through this and she needed to keep her pride, I arranged a little staged ricochet information at dinner that night. My friend Linda came over, and she said that something she had overheard on the bus that day had reminded her of the first time someone had dumped her and how she had "known" that she would never have another boy friend and she was unlovable and how upset she had been, and we talked about those feelings for a very short while, and ended with laughing about how six weeks later she had been involved with a totally different guy and wouldn't have taken the first one back on a bet.

The thing we need to be sensitive to is that the first time teens get dumped is the hardest. They don't know that there will ever be anyone else. What if there really is only one true love for each person and they have just blown theirs? As Julie told me several years after this, the reason they call it a crush is because it crushes your heart. The second time, at least one more person has been interested; they know they aren't going to die of the pain.

Fox Water

When I lived on the homestead outside of Fairbanks, I got my washing up water from the creek that ran not far from the front door. But, for drinking water I drove out to the little community of Fox. Now, Fox, Alaska was (and probably still is ) a line of mailboxes along the side of the highway and the Fox Roadhouse, which in those days had a sign on the side which read, "Welcome to beautiful downtown Fox." Near Fox is a natural spring with a pipe enclosed in a shed. The natural pressure of the spring forces the water out of the pipe and inside the shed is a valve where people fill five gallon water jugs. This water is called the purest water in the state, and is truly delicious.

In the summer, a young entrepreneur used this water to make lemonade, which was sold from a truck. I think it was called the Lemon Tree, and as I remember it, there was a stylized picture of a lemon tree on the side. I am certain that the motto, also painted on the side of the truck, was "Made with pure Fox water!"

I once heard a tourist ask, in a stunned voice, "What is fox water? It can't be what I think it is, can it?" Ah -- a yellow liquid made with fox water.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Things You May Not See
In Your Neighborhood

Click on the pictures to enlarge. On the first two, you will see a red flag on a metal rod attached to the fire hydrant. The use of this device is obvious in the winter photo.

I've never seen a fire truck actually use a hydrant in the winter, and I'm not sure how the digging out is handled -- I imagine that one fire fighter arrives with a shovel and starts to dig at least until he gets down to the valve.

And the use of this sign is also obvious. This one is just about a block up the hill from my apartment. Once every couple of years, someone helps himself to it; I picture bear xing signs decorating walls of tourists in areas where there are few wild animals.

Quiet Morning

This picture, taken from my front porch a few winters ago, is of 8th Street, which is, as you can see, two buildings long, and then it ends and the hillside drops down to Cope Park.

Because all of the snow we had this winter is melting, Gold Creek is running very full. It is fed into by streams from both Mount Juneau and Mount Roberts, and they are racing full speed down hill.

Here you can see the view down the hill into the park. So, although Gold Creek is not very far from me, it is practically to sea level when it passes by my neighborhood.

Which is what makes it so remarkable that I am sitting here with my window open, and the world is so quiet and the creek is so full, that I can hear it tumbling over the rocks. Other than the calls of a few raucous ravens and crows, the creek is the only thing I hear.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Courtesy of Kate

Go to Click maps. Click get directions. Enter New York, NY and Paris, France. Scroll down.

Sadly, although this works for several cities in Europe, it doesn't work for any destinations on the other side of the Pacific.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

In A Nutshell

Well, here we are again, and down to:

61. I enjoyed this particular work assignment:

Montessori teachers regularly visit each other's classrooms to observe techniques and gain ideas for additional materials. There are enough standard materials for the math, geography, and sensorial curricula that a teacher is not required to develop any of her own. Practical life, science, and reading are more dependent on the teacher using Montessori principles to create her own materials. A poor Montessorian has little in these sections. An adequate Montessorian has full sections in every curricula. A good Montessorian has added variations in math, geography, and sensorial. Variations encourage the child to practice the same skill in different ways, which leads to better mastery as well as the ability to generalize learning. Adding exercises involves finding the objects that will be correctly usable in the classroom and attract the children to want to work with them.

When I taught in Fairbanks, we were the only Montessori school in the interior, and the only American Montessori Society school in the state. There were no other schools for us to visit. No other teachers for us to exchange ideas and techniques with. Consequently, every year one of the teachers was sent to the Lower 48 for the annual American Montessori Conference. We would go to workshops and discussions for a week and come back with wonderful ideas and at least one or two people we could call when we needed an objective viewpoint. Because my family lived near San Francisco, the year the conference was given there, I went. I spent a month in California, visiting family for three weeks and leaving Richard and Julie with them for the week I was in The City.

In addition to attending workshops, I was assigned to find materials for our classroom. At that time it was almost impossible to find pretty things in Fairbanks and we starved for them. The board sent me with $100 to find what I could. I, being familiar with the possibilities of San Francisco, went to Cost Plus Imports. I found lovely trays to put new activities on.

I found beautiful bowls to sort things into. We could use them in any section of the class, since sorting was done in all of them. Children could sort buttons by color or size or shape in the sensorial section. They could sort unpopped colored popcorn kernels with tweezers in the practical life section. They could sort cut out letters by vowels and consonants in reading, and numerals by odd and even in math.

I found a fantastic selection of baskets, which we used like trays, to contain the parts of an activity. Pretty baskets from around the world could also be used in geography and art, drawing the children's attention to the different methods of construction and decoration. Sorting pictures from Peru into the Peruvian basket and from Greece into the Greek basket gave a nice touch.

And a pair of long handled syrup pitchers to add as a variation in practical life. In teaching three year olds to pour water, we started with pouring dried beans from one creamer to another, moved up to rice, and then to water. These pitchers were just a touch harder to control than the creamers and gave the children additional practice with fine muscle control. And because none of them had ever seen anything that looked like this, they really liked using them.

The conference was the first week that I was in California, so I filled four large boxes with my treasures and mailed them to my team teacher, who received them a good two weeks before I returned. Two weeks during which she and the board members unpacked the boxes and wondered how on earth they were going to pay me back for all the extra money they thought I had spent. When I got back and called in I was told that they could understand why I had bought every single thing I had but . . .. And I was able to tell them that, actually, they had $5 change coming. Prices in California were so much cheaper than in Alaska; at Cost Plus cheaper still.

Obviously, I enjoyed this assignment very much. I still remember so many of the things I found and brought back.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Wouldn't Have Missed It For The World

I'm not really a sports fan at all. A week or so ago an on-line group I belong to sent around a meme and one of the questions was favorite sport to watch? and I ended up answering "horse racing" although I probably haven't seen more than ten horse races in my life. But, I did enjoy all of them.

So, when I was in college, I went to one football game. And providence was directing me that day, because that was the day that the announcer said, "And remember, this game is being sponsored by Flying Ass! I mean, Flying A Gas."

And I was watching Merv Griffin the night the half grown tiger cub tore the furniture apart just stretching and scratching. Merv and the trainer just stepped aside and got out of the little guy's way. And the next night, the entire set was new. Sadly, tape of this show has been long lost.

And I was watching Johnny Carson the night that Ed Ames was his guest. The wonderful moment is one of the treasures of the Tonight Show which still exists, and you can see it here on YouTube Well, no you can't. The video is no longer available. Piffle. What happened was that Johnny and Ed, who was then appearing in Daniel Boone as Mingo, the Harvard educated Indian, got to talking about Ed's ability to throw a tomahawk and Ed threw one at a log with a man drawn on it in chalk and the tomahawk hit the target right in the crotch. Johnny's quip,"I didn't even know you were Jewish" and "Welcome to Frontier Bris."

Anyway, providence has been making sure that I didn't miss some of the most delightful laughs of my life.

In A Nutshell

OK, you know the drill. And today, we are down to

60. My first job for pay was:
Babysitting. The first children I took care of lived next door to us in Roswell; I was 13 and they were about four and seven. They were good kids and it was fun to play with them. They went to bed easily and then I could read, which I loved. The only problem was that the parents were always broke (the father was the treasurer for the school district, which gives you lots of confidence, doesn't it?), and I used to get paid in ear rings. My guess is that the ear rings were worth a lot more money than I had earned, but they were for a very sophisticated, tall, blond woman with a long neck and I never liked them.

One time, when I was living in San Mateo, California, and 15, I took care of the baby next door. It's a good thing that we were next door because I had no idea how to get that baby to stop crying, and Mama came over and comforted her and got her to sleep.

My favorite time, though was after high school graduation. I went into the California State Employment Office in Modesto looking for a summer job, and the man who interviewed me hired me to take care of his children for six weeks while his wife (a school teacher) was in Sacramento earning her continuation credits.

The little girls were 18 months and four years and they were delightful. The youngest called her sister Holly "La La" which the parents couldn't figure out; it was obvious to me the first day I was there. She rode her trike around the backyard for hours, singing, "La, la, la, la, la." When they were in the backyard I had to keep a close eye on them because the 18 month old loved to eat big, green caterpillars.

Their mother may have been a good teacher, and she may even have been a good mother, but she had no idea how to keep house. Or teach her own kids manners -- they would pick up an entire fried egg and shove it into their mouths. And I had nothing else to do but play Mama. I taught them table manners and a number of other skills; cleaned them up and had them dressed nicely and dinner ready when their dad got home from work; and cleaned the house from top to bottom. I had thought that they had avocado green appliances in the kitchen; when I finished the four day cleaning of that room, I discovered that they were white.

And one thing I learned from that was that playing house was fun, and taking care of kids was wonderful, but I really didn't want to be a housewife. Once I had the house really clean, there wasn't that much to do and no adult company until I walked home to Auntie after work. Not the life for me.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

In A Nutshell

OK, you know what we're doing here. And today, we are down to

59. I remember these chores growing up:

Dishes was an early one. Drying while Mama washed was an enjoyable activity, as I explained in Modern Conveniences, Modern Losses.

And I talked about the trouble I used to get into around my chores here.

Mostly I did girl chores -- dishes (which, eventually came to mean cleaning the kitchen as well), sweeping the porch, taking out the garbage and waste baskets, cleaning the bathrooms, and occasionally washing windows or helping to put the clean laundry away. Very rarely Daddy would have me clean out his tool box or other organizing thing, which I always enjoyed. Once Forrest and I picked up small rocks from the lawn so they wouldn't get in the lawn mower -- I remember hating that one.

Actually, considering the hoo-raw around chores at our house, it is really amazing how few things I was asked to do.

My favorite, very favorite story of a chore-like thing happened one day when Colleen was about four, which made Forry nine and me 14. We were in the back seat and Daddy was driving us back from some trip out of town. Colleen was fussing and kicking Forry and carrying on and Daddy told me to entertain her. "Teach her something" was the command. So, I started teaching her the sounds letters make. This didn't hold her interest until I remembered the Ipana toothpaste commercial with the Ipana spokes animal, Bucky Beaver. So, I started doing alphabet variations, which Forry and Colleen then sang after me.
Bucky Beaver
Cucky Ceaver
Ducky Deaver
at which point, Daddy suddenly focused at what was happening in the back seat and said, very firmly and sternly, "That will be enough of that!"
It was only several years later that I understood what the problem had almost been.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Signposts to Sanity

An occasional feature where your lovin' Granny points you at somebody else's really good stuff

Today it would be a good idea to visit Radical Christian Right Preaches Liberal Evil for a look at the goals and causes of the End of Days preachers.
Members of the radical Christian End Times movement are being taught to believe that America is ruled by evil, clandestine organizations disguised as liberal groups. As a result, the fearful are hoping for the end.
The plagues of alcoholism, divorce, drug abuse, poverty and domestic violence make the internal life here as depressing as the external one. And those gathering today in this church wait for the final, welcome relief of the purgative of violence, the vast, bloody cleansing that will lift them up into the heavens and leave the world they despise -- the one that was devastated by corporatism -- to be racked by plagues and flood and fire until it and all those whom they blame for the debacle of their lives are consumed and destroyed by God. It is a theology of despair. And for many, it can't happen soon enough.
And for a look into the misogyny of some members of the press, go to Strong Women Are Scaring the Pants Off the Right
Why Carlson looks at the junior senator from New York and immediately fears for the safety of his testicles might be something he and his therapist should explore, but he's hardly alone
John Kerry won women's votes by 3 points (51 to 48), while George Bush won men's votes by 11 points (55 to 44). But it is the fact that the latter margin is so much larger than the former that is worth noting. It is men, and white men in particular, who are so easily persuaded by campaigns like the one Bush ran, which can be boiled down to, "I'm a manly man, and my opponent is a sissy." Bush beat Kerry among white men by an astounding 25 points.
One can't avoid noticing that as a group, conservative media figures are not exactly secure in their masculinity. Forever promoting war when they avoided military service themselves and doubling over to protect their tender parts every time a strong woman appears on their television screens, it's no wonder they are so impressed by politicians who may not be real men but know how to present a convincing facsimile of manliness.
Once again, go visit Sandy Szwarc at Junkfood Science for an excellent article on the purported link between the "fat hormone" and colon cancer.
Wow, so there must be a lot of research confirming that obesity increases the risk for colon cancer.

Not so was the same study reported again!
It would have taken a mere minute to confirm the National Cancer Institute’s statistics on cancer rates. With incidences of obesity rising, if obesity caused the development of colorectal cancer, then we should see correspondingly rising rates of colorectal cancer.
the incidences of colon and rectal cancers (even despite increased surveillance) have been dropping among both men and women. That alone suggests the opposite of what these recent stories have been trying to convince us of!

A simple search of the medical literature reveals that cancer registries in the United States have continued to find that “obesity is associated with lower incidence rates of colorectal cancer,” as researchers at the Kansas Cancer Registry reported in the journal
For a look at the power of the lie, go to Sweet Little Lies by Paul Krugman of the New York Times, over at
Four years into a war fought to eliminate a nonexistent threat, we all have renewed appreciation for the power of the Big Lie: people tend to believe false official claims about big issues, because they can't picture their leaders being dishonest about such things.

But there's another political lesson I don't think has sunk in: the power of the Little Lie - the small accusation invented out of thin air, followed by another, and another, and another. Little Lies aren't meant to have staying power. Instead, they create a sort of background hum, a sense that the person facing all these accusations must have done something wrong.
The Clinton years were a parade of fake scandals: Whitewater, Troopergate, Travelgate, Filegate, Christmas-card-gate. At the end, there were false claims that Clinton staff members trashed the White House on their way out.
There's a lot of talk now about a case in Wisconsin, where the Bush-appointed U.S. attorney prosecuted the state's purchasing supervisor over charges that a court recently dismissed after just 26 minutes of oral testimony, with one judge calling the evidence "beyond thin." But by then the accusations had done their job: the unjustly accused official had served almost four months in prison, and the case figured prominently in attack ads alleging corruption in the Democratic governor's administration.

This is the context in which you need to see the wild swings Republicans have been taking at Nancy Pelosi.

First, there were claims that the speaker of the House had demanded a lavish plane for her trips back to California. One Republican leader denounced her "arrogance of extravagance" - then, when it became clear that the whole story was bogus, admitted that he had never had any evidence.

Now there's Ms. Pelosi's fact-finding trip to Syria, which Dick Cheney denounced as "bad behavior" - unlike the visit to Syria by three Republican congressmen a few days earlier, or Newt Gingrich's trip to China when he was speaker.