August giving

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Besides being the month of my birth, August is also National Immunization Awareness Month. In that spirit, my choice for August giving is Doctors without Borders. Doctors without Borders is a great organization that provides emergency and basic medical care, including immunizations, to those in need worldwide, including and especially in some of the world's saddest and most frightening places. They do great work and are worth supporting.

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Routine

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When Mark and I first moved into our old neighborhood (where we were renting for the first year and a half we lived in Austin), one of the things we noticed was a man we named The Runner. The Jogger would likely have been more appropriate, but we called him The Runner. He ran in a circle around a two block radius, always wearing the same clothes, always with the same little radio and headset, always with the same pained expression. It seemed like he ran for about 10 hours a day, but I think it was more a matter of his schedule matching up with ours and we just happened to always seem him while he was running. He looked like he was hating every minute of it, he never went fast, and he never varied from his two-block course.

Mark and I made fun of him mercilessly, as we've been known to do with people who cross our paths on a daily basis but we don't actually know. He was not even our first Runner. We also had a Runner in Portland--a very thin woman who we saw running nearly every morning on our bus ride to work. In fact, it was probably nostalgia for our originally Runner, and for Portland, that caused us to notice our new Runner in the first place.

Several months after we'd moved in, and hundreds of jokes about him later, The Runner came up in conversation with our across the street neighbor, B., who had lived in the neighborhood with his wife for several years. Either Mark or I said something sarcastic about his boring course, or his predictability, or something. B. countered that he had enormous admiration for our Runner. What we hadn't been there long enough to see, he said, was that when The Runner had started out on his course, months and months before, his body had been about twice the size it now was. Everything else was the same--same shorts, shirt, shoes, radio and headset, pained expression. Same two block course. But then, he'd not been able to jog around the two blocks even once. Then, very slowly, day after painstaking day, he began to make progress. And he tried every day, and did as much as he could every day, and what we were seeing now, the seemingly hours-long jogs around and around the two blocks, were the product of that.

For some reason, I was very moved as B. told us this story. I imagined a much fatter version of our Runner, when his shorts and shoes and radio were brand new, being hit by some impetus and beginning his slow, grueling sludge around the block. I imagined him telling himself that each day he'd go a little bit farther, and then forcing himself to actually do it. I imagined the comfort he must draw from his routine, from lacing up his same shoes, strapping on his same radio, and running his same two block course. While holding all of these things constant, it must have been so easy for him to see the changes in his strength, his endurance, and his body and he slowly ran out of one season and into the next.

It's a pretty basic premise of experimentation that in order to be sure of the change in one factor, other factors must be held constant. I think this is one reason why we as human beings tend to be so attached to our routines, whether it's exercise routines like The Runner, or other kinds of routines or patterns of behavior. Within these routines, it is easier for us to see the things that are changing, whether they are changing outside of our control or because of it. It's not just that there is safety and comfort in routine, though there is, but also that within its confines we can clearly see the ways in which we are changing.

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Accessibility

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My friend The Princess has a wonderful post up today about how to make your website more accessible to readers with disabilities. Lots of stuff I'd not considered and will be trying to incorporate into What If No One's Watching in the future. Go here to read it.

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Heroine Content

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I know I am a sucky blogger this week, but I have excuses--I've been sick and very busy at work. More interestingly, though, I've been working on my first addition to a new blog, Heroine Content. Heroine Content is a group effort, tagged as a "feminist and anti-racist blog about women kicking ass." Basically, it's thoughts, theory, and links about heroines in visual media. I have very high hopes for it. Please check it out.

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Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man

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I'm Your Man movie posterS. and I went to see Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man last night. It wasn't perfect, but it was entertaining. Cohen himself is a lot of fun to watch/listen to--he gives the impression of being at once wise and self-effacing. He says near the beginning of the film that he has neither regrets about his past nor self-congratulatory feelings towards it. I find that hard to believe or comprehend, personally, but I'd think it would be a damn good place to be at Cohen's age. The performances are mixed--Rufus Wainwright rocks the house in a surprising way (I had no idea he was so campy--he did a version of "Everybody Knows" as a torch song that was wonderful), Teddy Thompson is very good, and I was surprised and enthralled by Antony, but man does Nick Cave ever bug me (apparently it's just me, but he completely reminds me of Neil Diamond--and not in a funny way, in a serious way)! As did the appearances by Bono and The Edge. Is there anybody who doesn't wish U2 would just fade quietly away?

I first became interested in Leonard Cohen after hearing Concrete Blonde's cover of "Everybody Knows" in Pump Up the Volume when I was about twelve (it was one of my favorite movies at that age--I wonder if it still holds up? I should see it again). I listened to him some in high school, but couldn't ever really get all that into him (or Tom Waits, either, heathenous traitor that I am). After watching the film, though, I am re-enthused about his music. The poetry is really fairly amazing, and I'm a sucker for a gravelly, barely on tune voice (as evidenced by my lust towards Kris Kristofferson). So I'm busily requesting his older stuff from the library. Good to start at the beginning when you are getting into a new artist, I think.

In other news, I'm having some work-related stress (but not wanting to blog about my job specifics, I'm going to leave that there). This weekend should be very relaxing, though, as I'm finally spending of some of the gift certificate to this place Mark got me for my birthday almost a year ago. After much hemming and hawing and some input from some online friends with spa experience, I decided to opt for the "Udvartana Massage and Body Mask," which includes an Indonesian oil massage, an herbal body mask, a steam, and a "dosha-based finishing treatment" (no, I don't know what that means either). I'll report back on that.

In other good news, the damn insurance comany finally settled with me on the accident Mark and I had on February 1. They weren't exceptionally generous, but they paid me what they owed me and I'm glad to have it over with. The money will make a major dent in my credit card debt, which is nice. And I'm considering replacing my broken iPod, on the theory that a functional iPod and some audiobooks might get me back to the gym.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

-"Anthem," Leonard Cohen

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Resolution Check-In

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Inspired by Frog, I am celebrating the (more or less) halfway point of 2006 by checking on progress with my New Year's Resolutions.:

1. Get back on a 4-5 day a week gym schedule.
Haven't done it. Haven't even tried. Have to get on this one.

2. Get back on a 2 shots a week allergy shot schedule.
I actually bagged the whole allergy shot plan, and I'm fine with that, so this one can be crossed out.

3. Get my finances under control, including upping my savings percentage and IRA contributions.
This one is in progress. I have a plan, and I'm following it, but I'm not out of debt and saving the way I should be quite yet.

4. Get some writing published.
Thanks to Karen, this one is done.

5. Read for pleasure during the school semester.

I think I did this during the spring semester, but I can't completely remember. At any rate, I'm doing it now.

6. Learn enough calculus to finish my graduation requirements.
Done!

7. Start writing letters on paper again, rather than just emails.
Haven't done as much of this as I'd intended, but I did order some new stationary, so hopefully that will inspire me to get on it. I'd like to write and mail 1-2 letters/week.

8. Divest myself of unnecessary posessions, and don't replace them.
I think I've made progress here, but not as much as I'd like. Have to keep working on it.

9. Commit myself to finding a more challenging job.
Did it and feel very good about it.

10. Volunteer.
I have submitted several volunteer applications, but haven't been able to get anything yet. Need to start working on that again, I guess, but it's very frustrating.


11. Think about writing less; write more.
Another one I've made some progress towards, but need to continue working on.

12. Remember birthdays.
For the first half of the year, I've done very well with this one.

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More on the Willard Suitcase Exhibition

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I can't get the Willard Suitcase Exhibition out of my head. I even dreamed about it last night. So this post will contain "spoilers," as it were, and I highly recommend you click the link and take a look for yourself before you read it.

I have a great big family, and, as is often the case, it comes with lots of family lore. Stories about the time Uncle X said that and Grandma Y did this and all that. I have an inordinate fondness for these stories, both because of their personal connection to my family and because I love me some history, especially oral history. One story has always really bothered me, though. My maternal grandfather's eldest sister, Edna, gave birth to twins, I think in the 40s, and "lost her mind." I don't know what exactly "lost her mind" means in this case--could have been post-partum depression, could have been something else. Edna was institutionalized and eventually given a lobotomy. As far as I know, she died in the state mental hospital. She never got to mother her babies. She never got to make her own decisions. She lost her freedom, and then she lost part of her brain.

I thought about her a lot while I was looking through the Willard suitcase pictures. What might her suitcase have contained? Pictures of her kids (she had older children as well as the twins)? Of her siblings (there were eight)? Her parents (already dead by this time)? Who spoke for her? When she was first committed, did she have any idea that she was never going to have the opportunity to return to her old life?

And did she really need to be committed at all? Was what she suffered from what we now know as post-partum depression, which, Tom Cruise's rantings aside, is a fairly common medical condition in women who have recently given birth and has several possible courses of treatment, none of which involve locking someone up and cutting out part of their brain? Even if she had something more rare--schitzophrenia, say--was she a danger to herself or anyone else? And even if she was, how much of a danger do you need to be before it's a legitimate choice to lock you up and throw away the key? Or give you a lobotomy?

The written about the people who owned the suitcases found in the attic of Willard Psychiatric Center portray people who had similar stories to my great-aunt Edna's, though none of them were given lobotomies. None of them sound all that "crazy," yet all of them spent decades, usually more than half of their lives, in locked mental wards without recourse. Some of them were "odd" their whole lives, others had reactions to tragedies that were considered inappropriate. Many of them were immigrants, and there were clear language barriers. Everything was taken from these people, from the suitcases that laid untouched in an attic for half a century or more to the very basic human right of free will. Very few of them were treated, and those who were were given electroshock "therapy" and high doses of drugs that did things to their brains that were not dissimilar to what a knife did to Edna's. In many cases, it seemed as if treatment was a ruse at best--they were being punished, in a way so severe that even at the time prisoners got better treatment. And punished for what? Very few of them were violent. Punished for thinking differently?

I don't think it's a coincidence that of the nine people portrayed in the online suitcase exhibition, six were immigrants to New York at the time of their admission to Willard and another was African-American. Nor do I think it's chance that seven of them came from working-class backgrounds. I am surprised only four of them are women. What we choose to define as "mentally ill" both in the first half of the last century, when the suitcase owners came to Willard, and now, is heavily influenced by race, class, and gender. We live in a society that wants to regulate the thoughts of people whom we do not trust to think "right" for themselves. In the commentary for the online museum, it says. "In the medical records, one finds no indication that any of [the suitcase owners] thought that their confinement at Willard was warranted, or that they benefited from being there." Most people came to Willard via a court order, and more than half of them left in a casket, after a stay averaging over 30 years. And what about my aunt Edna? Did she think her confinement was warranted? Did she want them to cut out part of her brain to make her more compliant? Somehow I doubt it.

I find this infuriating, but also, as I said yesterday, really frightening on a personal level. The instances that precipitated the suitcase owners' commitment to Willard seem so...common. Unemployment, death of a loved one, things that can do happen to anybody. And were their reactions all different than mine would have been, or will be, in similar circumstances? How am I to know that having a child wouldn't cause me to "lose my mind" just like Aunt Edna did? And if I did, would I be allowed to speak for myself? Would anyone speak for me? What would be in my suitcase?

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Tuesday's gone

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A year ago this week (I thought today, but actually Tuesday--which I am glad I didn't know on Tuesday), Chance died. It's something I honestly don't think about any more than I have to, because even a year later it still hurts too much, He was my first dog-baby, my best friend, and the bridge over which Mark and I crossed from two individuals to a family. He kindled what will clearly be a lifelong passion for dogs in me, and I am grateful in so many ways for the little tiny bit of time we had.

What I keep thinking about today, though, is talking to my dad on the phone a couple of days after he died. When Dad gave me what is probably the only good piece of advice he's ever given me or ever will. He told me that as soon as we could stand it, Mark and I should go get another dog, because we're dog people now, and that's what dog people do. And he was right. I know some people think they should wait after one pet dies to get another pet, wait until they are ready. Well, the truth is that if we'd waited we never would have been ready. It was something we had to jump into, and without Leo, I don't think we ever would have been able to live with losing Chance.

So July 11 was the first anniversay of Chance's death, and July 30 is the first anniversary of our life with Leo. And that's the cycle, how it's always going to be. It breaks your heart, but that's how it is.

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What a difference a name makes

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I've been following a conversation on one of the feminist message board I frequent which centers around naming--specifically, it's been about what, if anything, women chose to do with their last names when they marry, and whose last name kids get. This is something I've pondered before, as I'm surprised that so many of my married/mommy feminist friends took their husbands' last names when they married and passed those names on to their kids. As we are all aware, I think, this is a patriarchal tradition. We can and probably do disagree about how important a tradition it is, but its roots are undeniably in the patriarchy, and I would think refusing to change your name upon marriage or assume your offspring will bear your male partner's name would be one way for heterosexual feminists to fairly easily usurp the status quo (though I realize that is easy for my unmarried, non-mom self to say). So I'm surprised by how seldom it seems to actually be done.

For the record, my plans are as follows:
1. Don't get married.
2. If I do get married, make no change to my name.
3. Don't have kids.
4. If I do have kids, hyphenate their last names, probably with my last name before the hyphen and Mark's after the hyphen, but that's negotiable.

For me, that's what makes sense. Mark and I are already the Mitchell-Harnett family/household. When I fill out paperwork for our dogs, I put Mitchell-Harnett as their surname. Why would it be different for children? I'm Mitchell, he's Harnett, our kids are Mitchell-Harnett. Seems easy enough.

But of course people have arguments against hyphenating. The most common one is that it isn't a long-term solution, as people's names will get too long if they keep hyphenating in future generations. And that's a problem, but all naming conventions I can think of have problems, and frankly, I'd rather let future generations work those out for themselves than keep on with an archaic tradition like the one we have now. Plus, as my friend Tishie pointed out, that problem can be solved by parents with hyphenated names choosing only one of their two names to pass on, thus passing something on from both sides.

If keeping your own name and hyphenating kids' names is so easy, though, why haven't any of my feminist friends done it? Generally, they give one or a combo of the following reasons for taking their husbands' names:
1. They don't care, names don't mean anything anyway, it's more important to him, since it's not important, it's not a feminist battle worth fighting, etc.
2. They want their whole family to have the same last name.
3. They want to divorce themselves from their former last name.
4. It's just easier.
5. You have a man's last name either way, at least your husband's is chosen (unlike, presumably, your father's).

As much as I admire and love and respect any number of women who have made this decision, and used one or all of the above reasons for doing so, the reasons just don't cut it for me. To begin with, I just don't get names as not being important. Names are, besides our appearances, our primary identifiers. They are ties to our families, our cultures, etc. And, if they really don't matter, why is changing them important? Why is it even a custom? I just can't imagine giving up my name and not feeling as if I've lost something.

In the case of women who have a specific reason for wanting to be rid of the name they've grown up with (often abuse, etc.), I don't understand why taking a different "by default" name (a husband's) would be preferable to choosing another name for yourself. I can totally see why renaming yourself would be an important part of healing and important way to sever ties with an abusive family, etc., but I don't see how this wouldn't be even more the case if you choose the name you change to, rather than just taking someone else's.

As far as families all having the same name, it probably is easier. But easier isn't necessarily better, and as often as not, easier reinforces the status quo. So why it may indeed be easier for an individual woman to take her husband's last name and pass it on to her children, minimizing confusion, etc., is it really easier for women as a class, in the long run? And as far as the family all having the same name, why do we assume that the only way for that to happen is to use dad's name? What's wrong with dad changing his name? The whole family choosing something new? Mixing names? Hyphenating? If having all family members have the same last name is really important to you (and it's not to me, but I grew up with a different last name than the people I lived with, so my perspective comes from there), there are lots of ways to do it.

Basically, I think women do themselves, if not as individuals, then as a class, a disservice by changing their names when they marry and not insisting that some element of their names be passed on to their children. In my mind, it ends up being one more way for women to subsume their own identities to those of men, and I don't like that.

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The Beautiful Game

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soccer red card As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I got really into soccer-football during this World Cup. I've never been into it at all before, but I quickly learned the rules, something about the different teams, and now I'm a bonafide fan. Enough that I was physical jumping up and down with excitement when I learned that Fox's Soccer Channel is part of our existing cable package.

No sooner do I become a fan, though, than I become a disillusioned fan. And no, this is not about Zidane. Well, it's partially about Zidane, I guess, but it's a much bigger issue.

I heard murmurs of racism problems in international soccer, and of violence on and off the pitch that was somehow tied to this racism and scary nationalist attitudes, but it wasn't something I gave much thought to before the final game and Zidane's infamous headbutt. Thinking about it, though, Zidane's reaction to whatever his opponent said (and I don't believe for a minute it was something benign) was only the pinnacle, the most visible example of nastiness and racism and violence that plagued what was otherwise a very cool World Cup.

I wrote before about how bothered I was by the fat-bashing directed at Brazil's Ronaldo. That's one example of the off-pitch hatred in this world cup, both within national/team units and between them. The extremely loud booing that could be heard from the stands whenever Portugal's Christian Ronaldo got the ball is another example. I understand that he's an irritating prima dona, and I agree, but was that really necessary? Every time? And what about Italy's de Rossi bashing Sam McBride's face in the U.S.-Italy game? The famous Wayne Rooney nut-crushing? Totti's spitting in an opponent's face? Can you imagine the kind of words that went along with these actions, both by the penalized perpetrators and by the "victims"? Given the reputation soccer has earned for extreme racism, how many of these physical outbursts, and others like them, were provoked by racist language? And how much racism was there that didn't even provoke violence?

Going back to Zidane, an Algerian Frenchman, as well as one of the minority of light-skinned players on the French team, it's not hard to imagine the things that could have been said to him by his Italian opponent or any other opponent. Does this excuse his violent behavior? Probably not, but it's not hard to imagine how it comes about in that kind of environment.

Pele called soccer "the beautiful game," and is held up as the shining example of the pure, joyous game exemplified by Brazilian players. Yet Pele himself broke two opponents' legs during his career in the 60s and 70s, implying that the problems of racism and violence in soccer are anything but a new development.

The two things I really loved about the World Cup are the internationalism and the non-celebrity joy in the game. As an American, accustomed to men's professional sports being about money, attitude, and endorsements more than any sort of game, seeing people play for what seemed to be, at least in part, the love of the game, was incredibly refreshing. The nationalist nature of the tournament didn't even bother me, and I'm someone who is icked out by the Olympics. But it seems that all of that is fragile, given both the individual attitudes of players who have achieved celebrity status (generally by their places on club teams) and by the rampant racism to which players and fans are subject, and which both fans and players exhibit. As beautiful as the game clearly is, the beauty is fragile, and must be protected. I wish Zidane had been better able to protect it. I have faith, though, both in Zidane's post-retirement career, and in the crop of young players that shone so brightly during this cup. It's clear that these players have work to do both on and off the pitch to protect their game, and I hope they do it. Having caught on to soccer so late, I'd hate to be paying attention only to its decline.

My regard to 3quarksdaily for helping me get my thoughts on this together.

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love book coverI've been reading a lot of fiction over the past few weeks, which has been really nice. I started by picking up Toni Morrison's latest offering, Love (Knopf, October 28, 2003), which I really liked. I'm not generally a huge Morrison fan (I liked Paradise a lot, as well as The Bluest Eye but most of the books she wrote in between the two didn't do too much for me), but Love was a good read. Intense, the way all her books are, but not particularly confusing and not as irritatingly overt as some of her other work. I'd recommend it.

After I finished Love (in a couple of nights, it really is quick), I started Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace (Nan A. Talese, November 1, 1996). Atwood is another one I've never really been able to get into. Everybody loves The Handmaid's Tale, but I found it fairly irritating. And Alias Grace was even worse. Or at least started out that way. To be perfectly honest, I put it down about 50 pages in and haven't picked it back up.

Tattoo Artist book coverThen, on the plane home, I read Jill Ciment's The Tattoo Artist (Pantheon, August 23, 2005), which I picked up at the library based solely on the title and on Howard Zinn's back-cover rave. It was pretty good, but not exceptional. The subject matter--a Bohemian New York artist getting stuck on a Polynesian island for 30 years, "going native" and becoming a tattoo artist--is certainly interesting, but the narrative itself didn't do a whole lot for me. It had its moments, though, and was certainly worth reading.

Queen of Dreams book coverLast night I finished Chitra Divakaruni's Queen of Dreams (Doubleday, September 14, 2004). Divakaruni is an Indian-American author my friend The Princess turned me on to a couple of years ago, when she lent me Mistress of Spices and gave me a copy of Sister of my Heart for my birthday. Of the three, I liked Queen of Dreams, the most recent, the best. It's a little more accessible/believable to a Westerner than Mistress of Spices, and a little more interesting than Sister of My Heart. It could be that I liked it better because it is set in the States, rather than in India, but I think there's more to it than that. It didn't seem to be trying as hard as the earlier books. After reading it, I'm a bit more convinced of Divakurani's talent of her own right, and will probably stop calling her a rip off of Bharati Mukherjee.

Good Women book coverAnd now I need something new to read. I picked up Jane Stevenson's three novella book, Good Women (Mariner Books, January 6, 2006) last night, but the first couple of chapters really irritated me, so I don't know if I'll finish it. I recently scored used copies of Vanity Fair and Jane Austen'sPersuasion, neither of which I've read, so maybe I'll try one of those. Other ideas are very welcome in the comments.

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More pictures from my trip

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picture new my parents' house

picture of creek crossing

picture near my parents' house

picture of Border Collie, Gus

picture of my parents' garden

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Home from home

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picture of the valley where I grew up

It's a long way from Clare to here
It's a long way from Clare to here
It's a long, long way
It get's further by the day
It's a long, long way from Clare to here

I've returned home (Austin) from home (Oregon) with the same heavy heart that travels with me every time. The same doubts about the choices I've made, thoughts that I could have done it differently, and maybe should have. Questions about how much of what I love about my life here could be transplanted back home. Questions about the set of values I've adapted to have, and whether the person who lives in my skin really is a country girl, really is a professional, really is an academic, really is a daughter, really is a mother.

And the overwelming sadness, and guilt, about every minute I miss. About being the one who left. It's different, with my far-flung friends--they left me at the same time I left them. My family, though, is right where I left them. In the same place, but not the same. Getting older, without me.

*"From Clare to Here," written by Ralph McTell, performed by Nanci Griffith

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July giving

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July's giving is going to Spindletop APBT/AST Refuge. I came home to yet another sad, sad story about pit bulls. Rest in peace, Fred.

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