Monday, July 27, 2009

We've come a long way, baby, but we're not there yet

Four recent stories I read on Jezebel:

Men escorting women through protestors into Planned Parenthood and other clinics where abortions are provided are sometimes greater targets for violence than the women themselves, admonished by anti-abortionists for "letting your woman kill your child" and "not being a man and protecting your child."

The deaths of four young women in Canada, all related and of Afghan heritage, may have been "honor killings" performed by male relatives. Whether Islamic or tribal Afhan in nature, the possibility that men might murder their daughters or wives for living in a more autonomous way (as Canadian women do) is really disturbing.

Women who are followers of the Quiverfull movement are more likely to have unassisted home births (as in, no midwife or doula or any other sort of medical professional). It is unclear as to whether this is actually the choice made by the women themselves or by their husbands.

"Cankles" are the new muffintop, and women are having surgery to "correct" this "problem."

So what do all of these things have in common? Each story has an underlying element of the idea that women's bodies are not their own. I find it really telling, for example, that abortion protestors (while purporting to be concerned with the life of an unborn person) seem to be particularly displeased with men "letting" their wives, girlfriends, friends, what have you, have abortions. As though it's up to the men what should be done with a woman's body. Whether or not the murder of the four women was a family "honor" killing, we know that such things happen, and they happen as a result of women wearing clothing or behaving in a manner that their male relatives don't like. I guess it's up to the men to determine what a woman should be able to do, wear, or think, even in Canada.

As to the choice made by some Quiverfull women (the movement the Duggars belong to, a belief that it should be "up to God" how many children you have, so eschewing birth control completely), I think every woman should have the right to choose how to give birth, even if her choice is, in my opinion, misguided. Would I want to give birth at home with nobody to help? No way man. But if that's what someone wants to do, more power to her. What concerns me in this case is that the Quiverfull movement is also all about women submitting to their husbands, and whether women who are unused to making any autonomous decisions are actually deciding to have homebirths or whether their husbands are deciding for them. If that's the case, I have a big problem with it, because it's dangerous for both the mother and the baby, especially if the mother is unprepared or afraid of giving birth unassisted. Another example of someone else having power/control over a woman's body.

And finally, we have the big new no-no in women's bodies (because there always has to be something, right?): Cankles. As I understand it, cankles are the slang term given to women with large ankles, where it appears that the calf and the ankle don't have any division. I've always associated the term with pregnant women and older women with edema, who essentially have cankles because their ankles/feet are really swollen, but apparently society is now an arbiter of what is acceptable when it comes to the ratio of ankle size to calf size, and if your ankles and calves don't have a large enough discrepancy, you're supposed to seek out a personal trainer or surgeon to help correct the "problem." What I want to know is, WHAT PROBLEM? This is a matter of gross anatomy. People can't help the size of their bones and all the calf raises and ankle circles in the world won't change that. I find it offensive that there always has to be SOMETHING that women are supposed to hate about their bodies. Muffintops, for example, are easily "fixed" by wearing clothing that fits right. Cankles are not a problem. People's bodies are different, and not everyone has the same shape (though Hollywood and trashy magazines keep doing their best to convince us otherwise). When I was talking to Dan about the new media emphasis on the horror of cankles, I realized (and mentioned) that the concept of vanity being a bad or negative thing has pretty much disappeared in American society. It used to be that people who focused too much on their own appearance were considered shallow, but sometime in the last fifty years, that has changed, and now if you DON'T fixate on every little detail about your appearance (especially if you're a woman), you're unattractive at best. Has this obsession with women's bodies needing to fit into a certain mold of male- (or female?-) determined acceptableness turned us into a nation of narcissists?

Recently, Dan and I have been devouring Season 2 of Mad Men, an excellent show set in the early 1960s with a fascinating look at the sexual politics of the day and how men and women interacted in both workplace and social settings. It's about a lot of other things too, and has fantastic writing and acting so you should all watch it. (Season 3 starts in a couple of weeks, so now we are all caught up!) To me, one of the most interesting things about the show is that we're supposed to be shocked and appalled at times at the way women are treated by men (particularly in the workplace) and how women view and judge other women. But after these stories, after thinking about it and talking to Dan about it, while things may not be as blatant as being called "sweetheart" by male coworkers or being overtly hit-on on a regular basis, the differences between 1962 and 2009 aren't nearly as wide-apart as one would like to think. When society still feels that women's bodies belong to anyone other than themselves, when women are told to be concerned with yet another body part fitting a certain acceptable mold, and women's decisions and behavior should be dictated by their husbands or male relatives, this country (and this world) still has a long, long way to go.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Food on Friday: Wednesday edition

OK, I can't wait any longer. This was just too good, especially because I had leftovers for lunch today and they were teh awesome. Sorry the photos are all blown out; it was either overexposed (flash) or waaaay too dark (no flash).

MLE's easy light summer pasta salad thingy

Little bowtie pasta, cooked and drained - probably around 4 cups of cooked pasta (I think we used about half a box, and had 2 dinners and 2 lunch-sized leftover portions, so scale down if you like)
1 chicken boob
1 medium zucchini (I also used a little one that I could tell wasn't going to grow bigger)
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved (I used red and yellow)
3-4 green onions, white and green parts used (some of mine were purple from the farm)
1 tsp fresh lemon thyme, chopped
1 tsp fresh oregano, chopped
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
4-5 pieces of artichoke hearts (Mine came from a jar of "marinated artichoke hearts"), chopped into little bits
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
salt & pepper
a few lashings of caesar salad dressing to taste

Cook pasta, drain, and rinse. Set aside. Cook chicken breast on foreman grill, basting with balsamic vinegar (or cut up into small pieces and sautee in a pan). Chop veggies. When chicken is nearly done, lightly and briefly sautee zucchini, green onions, and tomatoes in a pan with some olive oil until veggies are softened, about 5 minutes. Turn off heat and add herbs. Toss veggies with pasta, cut up cooked chicken and toss that in there, then add the artichoke heart pieces. Add the parmesan and mix everything together, using a bit of caesar salad dressing to add some flava flav. Salt and pepper to taste.

YUM. Light, relatively healthy, and quick/easy, especially nice on a really hot day when you don't want to cook much. You could even cook the pasta and chicken ahead of time.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Let's talk about something a little less morbid, shall we?

Good things about the weekend:

Feeling more like myself again after a nasty bout of what I think was food poisoning Thursday night/Friday.

Getting our house more in order and laundry done. One nice thing about summer is hanging our clothes to dry (inside); the evaporation as the clothes dry helps keep it cool in the bedroom where the clothes are hanging.

Incredibly cute kitties that do silly things.

Watching the first two discs of Mad Men season 2.

A fantastic dinner idea I had on Saturday (including a zucchini and some herbs from our garden! Post with recipe to come) and homemade sushi on Sunday, with oodles left over.

Green tea ice cream.

Watching an episode of 16 and Pregnant that actually made me feel better about the future of our nation's youth, instead of a mixture of horror and fascination like I usually do. Finally, 2 teenagers who are mature and responsible and do the RIGHT THING for their kid, despite a serious dearth of support from their respective toolish parents.

A trip to the farm in Brighton just to see what they had and a trip to the Asian market to procure the sushi supplies, amongst other things.

Sitting in a cool movie theater on a hot day. Harry Potter 6 wasn't as good as I hoped it would be, and the lights came on halfway through the movie (and stayed on about 10 minutes, which sucked because we were right underneath one set). We mentioned it to a manager after the movie was over and got free passes to any other movie! Sometimes it pays to speak up.

It was a weekend that seemed like nothing got done, but looking back on this list, a lot happened in those couple of days. We didn't do any hiking (we'd originally planned to hike a 14er but there was no way I was up for that so soon after Thursday night/Friday), but we hung out with each other and went to the movies and ran errands and cleaned our house. Those sorts of weekends aren't all bad.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


A lot has happened in the last couple of weeks that I've hesitated to write about until I had my head wrapped around exactly what it was I felt. Aside from the usual sturm-und-drang and minutial drama, some serious events have happened in the lives of people close (and not so close) to me, which has put me in a contemplative mood.

To sum up:

The younger brother of one of my high school classmates drowned in a lake.

A FOAF who I'd met a few times at various gatherings (including the wedding I did flowers for; he was best friends with my friend Julie's friend Len and was all wrapped up in that circle of friends) committed suicide last weekend.

Despite what the topic of my college honor's thesis might have you think, I've never been one to ruminate much on death. I'd prefer to think about just about anything else, actually. And I've been lucky in my life, because only one person I was in any way close to has died (my grandpa, when I was 15, and I was hardly at all close to him). People I've known have died, but none of them were people I was ever all that invested in. Three of my high school classmates died in the first 5 years after we graduated (one previously-unknown heart condition, one car accident, one gang shooting) but I didn't know any of them very well. The saddest deaths in my life have been those of childhood pets.

But just because I'm not personally sad for the recent deaths of people I knew doesn't mean I'm not sad for my friends who are affected by those deaths. The first death was an accident. He was a young guy and it's sad when a young life is cut short, but it really doesn't have much of an effect on my life. And quite frankly, more than anything I'm really angry about the second guy. I'm angry for a lot of reasons.

First of all, this guy was really nice. I met him at several parties and events over the years, and really only had a chance to talk to him at the wedding last month. He was very friendly and we had a great conversation, and I've since learned that most people who knew him thought he was just a great guy, unassuming and easy to talk to. He had a lot of friends and family who cared deeply for him. He never told anyone that he was contemplating suicide, so it was shocking to Julie and his other friends (to say the least) when they heard the news. Apparently he had his suicide note delivered to his sister's house via couriered mail while the authorities were there to inform her of his death. She couldn't believe he would have done such a thing, but there it was, in writing.

As nice as he was in life, this guy hurt a lot of people with his death. Several people I care about are deeply upset by his suicide, particularly because he is the second in this circle to commit such an act in the last two years. The first death affected everyone very strongly, and his just made it worse. Now obviously I haven't read his note and I didn't really know him, but he knew he had family and friends who loved him that would be devastated by his act and he did it anyway. In my opinion, suicide is a huge Fuck You to the world. This particular person's suicide was a big Fuck You to a whole lot of people I know. It hurts me to know that my friends hurt and grieve, and it hurts me to know that someone can feel so badly about his life, however good it may have seemed on the surface, that shooting himself in the head seems like his best option.

Since these deaths, I've been on a bit of a murder-mystery book kick. I don't know whether it's an escape into brain candy or a way to lessen the blow by reading about things even more scary and gruesome. Maybe a little of both. I don't think I'll ever understand how a person gets to the point where offing him/herself is a better idea than continuing to live. Anyone out there who can explain it to me?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Battlefield, earth

Having grown up in California and never lived anywhere but CA or Colorado, when I go someplace that has a long history, it always seems to affect me more than I expect it will. Our country is so new, relatively speaking, compared to other countries in the world, and the Western US is among the newest. Nine years ago when I got off a plane in Paris and took the train into the city, I was totally overwhelmed by the history and culture that punched me in the face. It's so old! So many people have walked her over the years! So many famous and important things have happened here! The feeling was that much stronger when I got to Rome, because walking by the Colisseum was a complete mindfuck - I was walking in the same place where other people had walked thousands of years ago. Each city I visited in Europe felt different, each one had its own story. I didn't make it to the East Coast of the US until 2002, when I went to Washington, DC to Oldest Friend's college graduation, and again I was blown away by the history, by all the things I'd studied and read about and seen on TV and in the movies but never in person. My visits to NYC and Boston have provoked similar feelings. This country does have a history, an interesting one, but it's hard to really grasp how old a place is until you experience it in person.

I've yet to visit any civil war landmarks or famous battlefields, and while I did see Bunker Hill and Breed's hill on the Freedom Trail in Boston, it didn't have the feeling that I imagine a famous battlefield would have. And at the Little Bighorn National Monument in Montana, I finally felt the sense of awe and tragedy and Something Important Happened Here that I've never felt anyplace in the western US.

At the Monument, there's a visitor center and a veteran's cemetary (this is not where the battle participants were buried, but rather a place where honored vets have been laid to rest.) We got there right as a volunteer ranger was giving a talk about the lead up to the battle, the battle itself, and a demonstration of the sorts of weapons used on both sides. Up the hill behind him, we could see the memorial site, and down below the hills and valleys that made up the logistics and had determined troop movements and the decisions made by the Native American tribes who fought. I was actually really impressed with his talk, as he made the events and reasons come to life, and it was about a balanced a perspective as one could hope to have for an event that I'm sure still engenders hard feelings from folks on both sides. Plus, I could tell the guy was totally a battle movements junkie, so that made it more entertaining.

After the talk, I checked out some of the stuff they had on display; a teepee set up with various artifacts inside, and a blanket with a uniform and mess kit and some other stuff that the American troopers would have had. Then we walked down a ways and looked at some of the headstones that were put in place to commemorate where various combatants on both sides had fallen. The really sad part was that they hadn't put the markers for the Native Americans up until 2002.

Eventually we made it up the hill to the actual monument. A large number of the US soldiers who fought and died were buried in a mass grave underneath it, although apparently Custer was buried at West Point. One of the most interesting things was to stand at the top of the hill and look at the undulation of the land below on all sides. One could easily see why the US decisionmakers had planned poorly, as they were far less familiar with the land, their weapons were not the right kind for firing in uneven, angled terrain, and they had no cover for arrows. It turns out that they even ended up shooting a bunch of their own horses to provide cover. The battle was bloody and the Native Americans won, one of the few real victories for that "side" in the years of conflict between natives and non-natives throughout that time period.

On the next rise of land is a relatively new memorial set up with the assistance of the various tribes who had fought in the battle. Instead of a piece of stone with the names of the participants, there were contributions from all the tribes, artwork, and significance in the shape of the memorial itself.

Unfortunately, we were pretty much ready to leave after that, and didn't stick around to see the inside of the visitor center. It was sunny and hot and our mosquito bites were ridiculously itchy. But I was glad we stopped, spent an hour experiencing one of the few significant historical battlefields in this part of the United States, and had the opportunity to see people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds who were just as interested as we were.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Mosquitos: one kazillion, Strykers: 0

A roadtrip, in numbers

States we drove through: 3 (Colorado, Wyoming, Montana)

National Parks we drove through: 2 (Grand Teton, Yellowstone)

National Monuments visited: 1 (Little Bighorn Battlefield site)(Post forthcoming)

Battery of 120 gig ipod used: almost the entire thing

Campsites: 2 (Rawlins, WY KOA; Yellowstone backcountry)

Cheap-ass motels with funny squeaky beds and ridiculous "art": 1, in Billings, Montana

Mosquito carcasses on the outside of our tent (between the rain fly and the tent itself): Lots and lots

Mostquito bites each of us got: more than a hundred. Each.

Things we learned:

Sometimes we are very lucky and get the last tent site or a great backcountry camping permit on a holiday weekend in an incredibly busy national park.

Sometimes, we don't prepare for every circumstance. We encountered a lot of serious weather (rain, hail, thunder, lightning) each night of our trip, and more importantly, we FORGOT THE BUG SPRAY. Our campsite in Yellowstone was 4 miles into an amazing hike, by a creek that empties swampily into a pristinely beautiful lake, at least a half a mile away from any other people. This meant that we were by far the biggest mosquito targets around.

Here you see our backpacks geared to avoid attracting bears and getting wet. It poured rain most of the night we spent there.

Small towels can work relatively well as makeshift horse tails to swat at mosquitoes, but when you're in a permanent cloud of hundreds or thousands of them, swatting doesn't really help.

Mind over matter (our bites don't itch!) only works so well.

Waking up with the sun at around 5 AM isn't so bad when you're out in the middle of nowhere, until you leave the tent and end up surrounded by mosquitos again.

Old Faithful is definitely worth waiting for, but it'll burp a lot and totally tease you before it blows.

Flowers and plants can live in an area that regularly spews hot, mineral-y water.

Thermal areas smell like rotten eggs.

A half hour delay on a road through Yellowstone could be the result of idiots looking at wildlife. In fact, it's quite likely.

The culprits

Montana is amazingly beautiful, but the cities and towns we drove through weren't especially impressive.

Sometimes the sky does things that you could swear you've only seen in paintings.

Casper, WY isn't all it's cracked up to be, either. No public art that we could see, and the whole downtown was closed on Sunday.

It's OK to cut a trip a day short. It's nice to have a day at home to recover before having to return to real life.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Twenty years ago today

It was the hottest I could remember being.

Not only was I roasting hot, but I was sitting in a car with my mom and my sisters, stuffed full to the gills of clothes and bags of assorted crap. We'd been driving carloads and truckloads to the house for several days, in our old Subaru station wagon that had no A/C. And it was sweltering.

The new house was in a new town, 9 miles north of the old town, which was 5 miles below our little cabin down a mountain dirt road. We'd been packing for weeks after hunting for years to find the house that was just right for us. The first time I saw the new house I was so excited, because I knew I would get a room to myself for the first time in my life, as tiny as it was. There was an aboveground pool, and a playhouse (though at ten I was far, far too old for the playhouse), and a couple of rope swings in the backyard. The house itself was set back from the highway that comprised the main street of town, at the end of a long dirt driveway that ran through the vineyards of the people who had once owned the entire piece of property on which our house and the little house next door stood.

It was yellow, the new house. No more driving for ages to get home after school. No more scheduled trips to the grocery store, since there was one (also, a drugstore) right across the street from the new house. But no more playing for hours in the neighbor's fig tree, no more cows, no more tea parties with the nice neighbor who was sort of like a surrogate grandma. No more school with people that despised me. No more winters with plastic on the ceiling to catch the drips from the leaky roof. The new house was ours, the new town was ours. I poured over the newspaper my mom had picked up, the weekly Reville, that had photos of kids' sports events and want ads and grinning toothy real estate agents. Which of these kids would I know come fall? Which ones might be my friends?

The day was miserable and sticky, the car dusty from the road we'd gone up and down several times, my two-year-old sister fussing and my six-nearly-seven-year-old sister annoyed. Yet somehow the misery of the heat, which doubled or tripled once the car overheated and my mom had to run the heater (YES, RUN THE HEATER on a 100+ F day), couldn't touch the excitement I felt at finally having a house that was ours, a real house, where my friends could visit without needing four wheel drive vehicles, in a town where nobody knew me and something magical might happen. I still remember the feeling of starting a new life, in a new place, even though it was so close to the old place. The realization that my mom had chosen the paint and the wallpaper especially for the room that would be mine, because she'd always wanted to paint a girl's room a dusty rose color.

As my dad continued the hauling of the larger furniture, my mom and my sisters and I settled in to start unpacking. We went to the grocery store across the street, and I was allowed to choose a bag of potato chips. Unfortunately, in my utter glee, I forgot to read the package and ended up with unsalted ones. I still remember the potato-grease-but-no-salt flavor of those chips, mixed with the smell of the grassy back yard and the slight tang of the pool chemicals, and the new paint and wallpaper paste and the smell of a house that didn't yet belong to us, that still smelled like the previous family that had lived there.

Two neighbor kids came over that afternoon, stringy haired, faces stained from red dye #3 (popsicles?) They were both older than Laurel and younger than Lissa but wanted to meet the new kids, and see if we wanted to play. At a lofty ten, I felt far too old to be participating in those sorts of games, but my sisters were both up for it. They played in the space between our two driveways, the six and the five and the three and the two. I watched.

The afternoon sun beat down on us. My mom stayed inside puttering, and decided not to cook anything for dinner but rather prepare something cold. I think we had more saltless potato chips, in plastic lawn chairs pulled up to a table that had been in the attic of our old place (there'd been nowhere to set it up). The evening wore on, and I decided to commemorate the monumentous occasion of the first night in the first house that was ours by writing the date, July 1 1989, on a scrap of wood I found in the garage. I buried it under a loose flagstone in the backyard sidewalk.

For all I know, it's still there.