Rosie the Riveter

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My Halloween costume.

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Woman Making History #5: Ida B. Wells-Barnett

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Ida B Wells-Barnett cameo pictureIda B. Wells was born in Mississippi in 1862, a few months before the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. She was the eldest of eight children, and when her parents died in the late 1870s, she supported and raised her younger siblings. She attended Rust College (later called Shaw University) and became a teacher in Memphis, Tennessee in 1888.

During her time in Memphis, Wells also co-owned and wrote for a black newspaper, "The Free Speech and Headlight," and began to agitate for civil rights for African-Americans, including winning a lawsuit on train desegregation (this decision was later overturned by the Tennessee Supreme Court). After an acquaintance was lynched in 1892, she began to write anti-lynching editorials and encourage Black southerners to move west to escape Southern racism. In 1895, after living abroad for a few years, Wells published a history of lynching, "A Red Record." She also started the United States' first civic organization for black women, the Women's Era Club, which was later renamed the Ida B. Wells Club in her honor.

In 1909, Wells-Barnett (she had married in 1895 and subsequently had four children) became a founding member of the "Committee of 40," which later grew into the NAACP. However, she was excluded from the organization due to her radical views by the mid 1910s. She then founded the Negro Fellowship League. She also became active in the suffrage movement, as well as Jane Addams' work against school segregation. She stayed active in the fight for civil rights for African-Americans and women until her death in 1931.

Sources:
Women in History
About: African-American History
National Women's Hall of Fame

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Esme

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As you can see, our newest member has made herself nice and comfortable.

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The lovely weekend

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We had just a very lovely weekend. The big exciting news is that our family grew by one feline member. Our friend S. and T., and daughter H., are moving abroad, as I've mentioned. They are taking their dogs with them, but decided it was best not to take their cat, Esme, as they will be living in a much smaller place where it will be hard for her to have her own dog-free space. So we're adopting her. She's a joy to have so far--very cuddly when she can catch you away from Leo's prying nose, even sleeping in the crook of Mark's arm on her first night. And our brood are dealing fairly well with her arrival--Atticus is mad, but he's not particularly violent with his anger, and he'll get over it. Leo is very curious, and has had his nose swiped twice now for his trouble, but Esme will get used to him and realize he's not a threat to her, and I think they'll be friends eventually. Ata doesn't care one way or the other. I think to Ata she's just a new member of the flock--someone to be observed and watched over, but nothing to fret about.

Another pet-related note is that we took our dogs to a Pet Expo on Saturday. It was held at a big training facility up north of here, as a benefit for the SPCA. It was great fun, with lots of exhibitors (read: free stuff), games, and demonstrations (we saw a police dog demonstration, which was very cool). Our dogs got a ton of attention. There weren't a lot of other large dogs there--a couple of danes, what looked to be a Cane Corso, one Pyr that I saw--so Leo and Ata were stars. Ata ate up all the attention, and even Leo warmed up to it after a while. It was a beautiful, perfect day, and the boys were wonderfully behaved.

Yesterday we did several hours of yard work at S. and T.'s house, pretending we were on Designed to Sell or something. It went super well. We found some very economical and very healthy plants at Lowe's to put in (mums, mostly--I love how things bloom so far into the fall here), weed-whacked, raked, and did some general clean-up. It turned out great and was fun to do, with another perfect weather day. I really hope it helps them with the house sale.

It also really inspired us to get some more work done in our yard. Well, inspired us in theory, anyway. We don't have any money to spare on plants or mulch right now, but when we do, we're talking about making some renovations in our front yard, which would be great. I love the idea of more flowers...

Anyway, it was a lovely, active weekend. I always feel better on Monday when I did something over the weekend, rather than sitting around watching football for ten hours. But I'll probably do that next weekend anyway...

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Woman Making History #4: Bernice Johnson Reagon

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Bernice Johnson ReagonThe first entertainer listed on the history-making women poster, as well as the first living woman listed, is the awesome Bernice Johnson Reagon. I know of Reagon in her capacity as the founder of and one of the strongest voices in the amazing African-American a cappella group Sweet Honey in the Rock, but her work with Sweet Honey is only the tip of the iceberg.

Bernice Johnson Reagon was born in 1942 in Albany, Georgia. She entered Albany State College in 1959, but was expelled in 1961 after being arrested while protesting with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). She then briefly attended Spelman College, before quitting to join the Freedom Singers civil rights music group. She spent the remainder of the 1960s bearing her two children, daughter Toshi (also an accomplished musician and kick-ass woman) and son Kwan Tauna, and recording and releasing two solo albums. During this time period, she also began her study of traditional African American folk music and story telling.

Johnson Reagon then finished her degree in non-Western history at Spelman College and became involved in black nationalism. During the first years of Sweet Honey in the Rock (formed in 1973), she earned her doctorate in in history at Howard University, becoming Dr. Johnson Reagon.

Over the course of the next three decades, Johnson Reagon was involved in multiple black pride and African American history activities. Her work with Sweet Honey continued, and the group toured, put on festivals, and released many albums (and are continuing to do so today). She started work with the Smithsonian Institutions as a cultural historian in 1974, and in 1983 was promoted to curator at the National Musuem of American History, where she had previously begun the musuem's program in Black American Culture. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, she was appointed professor emeritus at American University and won a MacArthur Fellowship.

Johnson Reagon was also involved in many well-known radio, television, and film projects dealing with African-American history and culture, including the Eyes on the Prize series, NPR's Wade in the Water, the television series We Shall Overcome, and the film Beloved.

Now in her 60s, Johnson Reagon has retired from Sweet Honey in the Rock. However, she has continued her work in African-American culture and music in the 2000s, most recently writing music and libretto for the play The Temptation of St. Anthony, playing some concerts with her daughter, Toshi Reagon, and lecturing.

To hear examples of the musical work of Bernice Johnson Reagon and Sweet Honey in the Rock, please go here and here.

Sources:
Bernice Johnson Reagon 2006 Bio Statement
Sweet Honey in the Rock website
PBS African American World

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Woman Making History #3: Septima Clark

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Septima ClarkCivil Rights leader Septima Clark's is the first name on the poster that I don't already know a lot about. I knew Clark was a Civil Rights leader, and had admired the awesome photograph of her shown her, which is also the cover photo of Brian Lanker's book, I Dream a World (which you should check out, if you've never seen it, it's pretty amazing), but that was about it. So I'm happy with this project already for providing me with an opportunity to research fantastic women I don't know enough about.

Septima Clark was born in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1898. A public school teacher and advocate for adult education, Clark began her Civil Rights work well before the movement took hold in a broad way in the 1950s. She began organizing in the 1920s and was a member of the NAACP from 1919, very soon after the organization's inception. Her early organizing work focused on the fight to allow African Americans to teach in public schools. Later, she branched out into community building, vote registration, and anti-segregation activities. In 1956, she was fired from her job as a public school teacher for being involved with the NAACP. She then became a full-time Civil Rights activist.

In 1961, Clark became the director of education for Martin Luther King, Jr.'s, Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Through this work, she became an early proponent of and teacher Citizenship Schools, which taught Black Americans to read, write, understand the basic government structure in order to be informed voters. She worked with SCLC until her retirement in 1970, after which she served two terms on the Charleston County School Board.

Septima Clark died in 1987. Her lifelong commitment to civil rights has earned her the title "grandmother of the civil rights movement."

Sources:
South Carolina African-American History Online
Septima Clark: Teacher to a Movement (unpublished article)
Wikipedia: Septima Poinsette Clark

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Woman Making History #2: Susan B. Anthony

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Susan B. AnthonyThe second history-making woman on my poster is Susan B. Anthony. She's one most folks have heard of, but worth a shout out all the same. A few things about her (because it is late, and I am tired, fewer things than she deserves):

Susan B. Anthony was born in 1820 in Massachutes. She was raised in a strict Quaker family with activist leanings. After spending several years as a teacher, she got very active in the temperance and anti-slavery movements. After experiencing the sexism of the these movements (for example, women were not often allowed to speak at rallies) and befriending another temperance worker, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, she became involved in women's suffrage, for which she worked the rest of her life, both alone and partnered with Cady Stanton. It is commonly believed that Cady Stanton was the main theoritican and writer in the partnership, while Anthony focused on traveling, speaking, and organizing.

Some of Anthony's most noted accomplishments include co-founding the American Equal Rights Association and the National Woman Suffrage Association, as well as co-editing The Revolution suffrage paper. In 1873, she was arrested and tried for illegal voting in an action for women's suffrage.

Anthony never married or had children. She died in 1906.

Sources:
The Susan B. Anthony House
About: Women's History
Western New York Suffragists: Winning the Vote

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Woman Making History #1: Bella Abzug

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bella.gifThe first name in the upper left-hand corner of the poster is that of the late, great Bella Abzug. And what a good place to start.

Russian-American Bella Abzug was born in 1920 to immigrant parents in New York. She went to law school at Columbia University and was the editor of the Columbia Law Review at a time when few women practiced law. As a private practicing labor attorney in the 1950s, she took on the McCarthy-driven House Un-American Activities Committee. She also married and had two daughters. In the 1960s, she co-founded the Women Strike for Peace organization, which worked against nuclear testing and the Vietnam War.

In 1970, at the age of 50, Abzug became the United States congresswoman representing Manhattan's 19th Congressional District. She was at that time one of 12 women in the Congress and the first Jewish Congresswoman. She served three terms, with a consistently anti-war, pro-woman, and pro-social justice voting record. Some of her most notable positions included calling an end to the draft, demanding the resignation of Richard Nixon, and pushing for the Civil Rights Act to include protections based on sexual orientation.

In 1976, she gave up her seat to run for Senate. She lost her Senate bid (the Senate at that time was 100% male) and also lost later campaigns for New York City mayor.

Abzug spent the remainder of her life working for feminist, environmental, and social justice causes. She chaired President Carter's National Advisory Committee on Women until she was fired for criticizing Carter administration economic policies, had integral roles in the UN International Women's Conferences, and co-founded several organizations, including Women USA and the Women's Environment and Development Organization.

After several years of ill health, Bella Abzug died in 1998 at the age of 77.

Sources:
Jewish Women's Archive
About: Women's History
New York Times
Library of Congress: From Haven to Home

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Well behaved women seldom make history

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well behaved women poster.jpgI recently decided that although the photos and magnets and plants are nice and have improved things greatly, my office also needs something up on the walls. To that end, I got a couple of work-friendly feminist posters to cover some wall space. One is the iconic Rosie the Riveter "We Can Do It!" poster, a second is a poster based on the Laurel Thatcher Ulrich quote "Well behaved women seldom make history." As shown here, it's the Syracuse Cultural Workers' version, with a retro woman surrounded by the names of women who have made history.

Looking at the poster, I realized there are a number of names I'm not familiar with, as well as many that I am. Which brought me to the idea of putting up a blurb on my blog about one of the women each day, giving myself the opportunity to do a little research, and giving me lots of fodder for the upcoming NaBloPoMo. There are way more than 30 names on the poster (105, actually), so this project will likely be ongoing for the next few months, and will all be in the "Women Making History" category so I can have a full archive of not-so-well behaved women when I'm finished.

Enjoy!

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Before and after

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As a follow up to the Dove piece I posted a few days ago (and is making its way around the Internet in a million other forums as well), I have to share something Nyarly brought to my attention. If you go here, then click on "portfolio" and "before/after," you can see celebrity photographs pre and post-digital enhancement.

One example, a picture of Mariah Carey, is shown below. Others are similarly revealing.

before pictureafter picture

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Shilling a new blog

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It's unusual that I point my (vast, I'm sure) readership towards two new blogs in one week, but that's exactly what I'm doing. Over at Biblelicious, a friend of mine is reading the Bible and blogging about it. She's a liberal, lesbian, Democrat, Baptist-raised, Catholic-educated intellectual tech geek babe, with a lot of fairly interesting ideas about religion, and I'm really enjoying reading her periodic updates on the Bible reading and interpretation. She's still in Genesis, too, so you have time to catch up.

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Makes the world go 'round

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"Man, money ain't got no owners, only spenders."-Michael K. Williams, as "Omar," The Wire

It became clear to me in the course of conversation today, again, that I have kind of a strange attitude towards money. Basically, I don't think I deserve any.

But that's not exactly it. What I don't think I deserve is more than other people have. See, were were talking about fiscal conservatism, and I started ranting about how much it burns me up, and that fiscal conservatives hate poor people. And really, that is what I think. Fiscal conservatism seems, to me, to be based on the premise that you deserve what you have (whether it's working class or middle class or more) and those under you don't. And I just don't buy it. I know that I don't work any harder for my current middle class income than I did for previous poverty level wages. And if I know that's true for me, then why would I presume that those who are living on those wages now are working less hard than I did?

It seems to me that there is very little corrolation between the level of effort we put into our paid employment and the level of financial reward we get out of it, so basing our "deserving" our lifestyles on our working seems silly.

So do we deserve it based on our choices? Do I deserve to be middle class because I went to college and put in the work and got good grades and all of that? It's hard for me to believe that I do, given how many people don't even have the option to make that choice, and how many more are dissuaded from it for perfectly good reasons. I can justify slightly higher wages based on my financial investment in my education, but that only accounts for some of it.

So if I don't deserve my middle class status based on my previous choices or based on my effort output, then I have to chalk it up to luck. And, mostly, I do. I am lucky to have been born with a level of intelligence that allows me to do what I do. I'm lucky to be healthy, and to have been born in this country, and to have had the opportunities I've had. Yes, others have been luckier (born into rich families, etc.), but I'm far, far luckier than most, and to me it just feels dishonest to attribute my financial position to anything other than luck.

Once you start attributing your paycheck more to luck than anything else, you become a lot less protective of it. And fiscal conservativism, at base, is about being protective of your money.

None of this means that I live a frugal lifestyle. Far from it. Not believing I deserve what I have doesn't keep me from using it to its full extent (and not believing I deserve it may indeed be part of the reason I keep my money spent to such an extreme degree). But I don't complain about paying my taxes, and I don't feel like the government is stealing my money when I have to write them a check.

I wonder if there is a middle ground? Will I ever be able to be personally fiscally responsible without becoming a dreaded fiscal conservative? Stay tuned to find out, I guess.

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NaBloPoMo and No One Cares What You Had for Lunch

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No One Cares What You Had for Lunch book coverby Margaret Mason
Peachpit Press, August 11, 2006

As November quickly approaches, and with it, National Blog Posting Month, I am becoming a bit trepadatious about my ability to blog something worth reading every single day for 30 days running. Or to blog anything at all for 30 days running, worth reading or not. So, as I suspect many other bloggers will be doing, I'll be relying on Margaret Mason's new(ish) book, No One Cares What You Had For Lunch: 100 Ideas for Your Blog to provide me with post ideas on days when my mind is fallow.

I got Mason's book as a birthday gift from my friend The Princess, and I've really enjoyed looking through it. Quite a few of the ideas are things I've written about before (either from memes or they've just come up), but there are several that are new to me, which I'll definitely be using. A lot of them remind me of the "free writes" I've done in creative writing classes and workshops before, when you're given a general subject and told to write on it for X minutes without letting your pen leave the paper. And there's certainly some element of that in blogging, at least for a blogger like me, who tends to write unedited, stream-of-conciousness posts.

Mason's book isn't rocket science. It's a few good ideas, presented in a cute, funny, easily readable way. Great for a gift if you know a blogger with a birthday coming up, and likely very helpful to those of us who've made the commitment to NaBloPoMo.

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It's Mr. DiFranco to you*

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So it's a small thing. Or is it? One's name is both a meaningless marker and an encapsulated identity. Both a small thing and not a small thing at all.

I just got off the phone with the vet's office. I love my vet. Love. But I don't love the reception staff, who just can't seem to get the name thing straight. All of the pets' intake forms list their last names as Mitchell Harnett. My name on everything there, from consent forms to credit cards receipts, is Grace Mitchell. And when I called just now, I said, verbatim, "This is Grace Mitchell. I'm calling to schedule an ultra sound for my dog Leo. You may have him listed under Harnett."

So when the receptionist got back on the phone and said, "Mrs. Harnett..." should I have been surprised?

How about when we received a very nice card from Mark's grandmother this weekend, addressed to Mark and Grace Harnett? Mark's grandmother is not senile. She knows Mark and I aren't married (leaving aside, for the moment, that my name would not change even if we were). So who is Grace Harnett?

I'd prefer people not assume Mark and I are married. But I know they will, and that, given our genders and our obvious relationship, it's a statistically probable assumption. And, if you assume we're married, that we'd have the same last name (his) is also a statistically probable assumption, for someone who doesn't know us. So I understand how a stranger would come to the conclusion that my last name is Harnett. However, if I have told you MULTIPLE TIMES what my freaking name is, it just feels disrespectful for you to continue calling me by something else. It's not just that I'm irritated, as a feminist, at the insistence that even if I haven't taken Mark's name, I should. It's that I feel a little piece of my identity, the one I've had my entire life, chosen by my mother, being negated when my name is misrepresented. And this is particularly exhausting when it is at the hand (or lips) of someone who knows me, either personally or professionally. So get with it.

*Ani, "In Or Out"

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Queer animals

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Y'all should check out my friend Balzac's blog. He's a Texan-American (heh) newly expating in Oslo. I'd start with his recent post about an exhibition he saw on homosexuality in the animal kingdom.

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The Last Supper

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Last Supper movie posterThe Last Supper is a classic example of an underachiever. A movie with a fascinating premise that falls well short of what it could have been. A general, all-around disappointment.

The film is about a group of lefty graduate students in the Midwest who hold weekly Sunday dinners at their house, each week inviting a different guest for conversation and debate. After accidentally killing a surprisingly obnoxious and threatening guest, the group decides to intentionally invite people with whom they disagree politically and try to change their minds throughout the course of the meal. If they can't, they those people will be killed, for the betterment of the world. The group then proceeds to get increasingly psychotic as they dine with and then murder right-wingers of various natures (homophobic preacher, male chauvinist, book burner).

This premise invites all sorts of interesting questions--how far is it morally justifiable to go in the service of your beliefs? Is the world really better off with some people not in it? As the movie's characters keep putting it, if you found yourself having a drink with Hitler in 1909, before he'd done anything wrong, would you kill him? Unfortunately, rather than actually attempting to explore any of these things, the film instead presents five of the most irritating, self-righteous liberals possible, most of whom are badly acted and all of whom suffer very bad dialogue. They are no less dogmatic than the right-wingers, and they have the added advantage of knowing which decanter the poison is in.

Basically, the film takes an interesting premise and mixes it with bad writing and bad acting, coming up with an end product that isn't really worth watching.

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Getting out the vote

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They took it seriously
The second job of citizenry
My mother went campaigning door to door
And holding to her hand was me

-Ani DiFranco, "Paradigm"

With only a few weeks left before the mid-term elections, I've been hearing lots and lots of talk about the candidates, the issues, and the possibility of the Dems taking back the Senate and the House. And, being my politically disenfranchised self, I've mostly been ignoring it. The entirety of my thoughts surrounding this election have been fairly half-hearted support for wacky Texas governor candidate Kinky Friedman (why the hell not?) and definite support for Austin's Proposition 4. I've grumbled, both inside and outside my head, that more Democratic seats in the Senate and House, even if they do materialize, aren't really going to make any difference, that the whole system is broken, that none of it matters anyway, and so on.

And so, the other day, in the midst of one of my it-doesn't-matter rants, someone asked me if I was going to vote at all. And, for the first time since I've been old enough to vote, I actually thought about it.

Yeah, I'm going to vote.

I will always vote, I think, because I know that not that many generations ago, women fought and even died to give me that right, and I appreciate their sacrifices. So no matter how insulting I think the choices are, I believe it is not only my right but also my obligation to choose, as a citizen and especially as a woman.

Is there anything beyond that, though? Do I really believe it makes any difference who wins and who loses?

I'm trying to come to an answer to that question. For many months, I've felt like it really doesn't matter, like Republicans and Democrats are so close together that it is a pointless exercise to choose between them (and, in the majority of cases, they are the only choices). With the possible exception of Barak Obama (I know, how original of me), it's been a long, long time since I've felt any hope or inspiration from any candidate, on any aisle side. And that goes double for the last two Democratic stuffed shirts who ran for president. Would I have preferred either Gore or Kerry win over Bush? Sure, but I don't think it would have made half the difference other people seem to.

Part of my disillusionment goes back to Bill Clinton. I truly believe that Bill Clinton should have lost his presidency and been criminally charged for, at the very least, sexual harassment stemming from his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. I don't give a shit if the president is unfaithful in his marriage--that's not my business--but when the president has sexual relationships with his subordinates, that is sexual harassment, and it's a crime, and one feminists have fought for years to have taken seriously. The reaction, by Democratic party leadership as well as national-level feminist leadership, Clinton's actions were some minor discretion that didn't need to be taken seriously, left me soured on the whole thing.

And I've remained that way, mostly because I haven't seen any reason not to. But that doesn't mean I'm not going to vote, and it doesn't mean, if given the choice, that I won't generally pick a Democrat over his or her competition. I really, really want to live in a better version of my country than the one I'm living in now, and I'm honestly not sure that I see our current electoral system as a reasonable way to get there, but until there's another option, I still feel indebted enough to my foremothers to do what I can, to choose, and to keep hoping.

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5 Things Feminism Has Done For Me

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In support of Canadian feminists protesting the new goverment's hamstringing of the Status of Women's Canada (SWC), and in blatant copying of some great bloggers, here are five things feminism has done for me:

1. Got me born to an unresentful mama. My conception was not intentional. And my my mother had a choice to whether or not to have me. She considered her options. She made the decision to have me. It wasn't decided for her. And I can't help but believe that started my life out on a better foot than otherwise would have been possible.

2. Allows me to structure my partnership the way that I choose. It is because of feminism and the work feminists have done that I don't feel I have to marry my partner just because that's what traditionally happens next. This is very important to me. It's clearly not yet perfected, as many people are not free to structure their parternships in the ways that best suit them, but for me it has worked out that way.

3. Allows me to say yes when I want sex and no when I don't. All by itself, this is huge.

4. Increases my comfort in my body. As uncomfortable as I sometimes am in my XL skin, I know things would be exponentially worse if I lived in a world where nobody had ever tried to deconstruct the beauty myth.

5. Provides me with a mirror with which to look at other types of inequality. As a woman who believes woman are and have been an oppressed class, I am much more able than I otherwise would be to sympathize with, and hopefully begin to understand, the battles other oppressed classes of people are fighting, and to do what I can to assist them in those battles.

And that's just off the top of my head. The truth is that there are few, if any, aspects of my life that the advent of feminism hasn't positively affected. Without generations of women fighting for equality there is simply no way I could be who I am today.

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Real beauty

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Many thanks to Squid for posting a link to this great spot from Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty, showing the transition from a model to a billboard. I think it's meant to teach little girls that what they see in advertisements and magazines isn't real, but that's something this not-so-little girl could use an occaisonal reminder about as well.

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Get offa my lawn!

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Yesterday in the mail, we received this gem from the City of Austin:

No Parking letter

You will note, I hope, the helpful definitions of front yard, side yard, and motor vehicle, and the specific mention of operable AND non-operable vehicles. The same text was provided in Spanish on the other side of the page, because Austin is equal opportunity like that.

My reaction to this letter was, chronologically, the following:

1. We have a neighborhood association?
2. Jesus. People need to chill about their property values.
3. Are there really that many cars in yards in my neighborhood? Is this perhaps a "problem" I just don't notice when I am walking the dogs or driving around?
4. Why specifically call out panel trucks? What's a panel truck, anyway?
5. Who is on our neighborhood association?
6. Can I get on our neighborhood association and push through legislation disallowing cutting your grass?
7. How far into the suburbs does this mandate extend?
8. Mostly, motor vehicles that are parked on lawns are not going anywhere on a day-to-day basis. Is the fine per day?
9. Doesn't the City have anything better to do than this?
10. Haha. Annie Pennie is a funny name.

However, I couldn't just toss the page in the recycling and not think anything else of it. It bugs the shit out of me. I'm irritated both by the idea that the neighborhood association, whomever they are, and the city, think they need to tell people what they can and cannot have on their lawns and by the condescending and irritating tone of the missive. It has no effect on me specifically, as we only have one motor vehicle and it's generally parked in our garage (although it's in our driveway at present, due to the garage being my red chair painting zone). But it will effect some of my neighbors, including the retired mechanic neighbors directly behind us who have a small travel trailer parked in their side yard, which I suspect they take on trips with their Boston Terrier, Red. (I noticed this when walking the dogs last night, after reading the letter. I had not noticed it in the previous 18 months.) And why should it? Because some fuss budget is afraid of what their trailer will do to his property values? Good Lord. It seems almost certain they'll be after the old milk separator that serves as a planter in my front yard next. I think it's cool, old school industrial lawn art. But you'll notice they never asked me to be on the committee.

One of the things I really love about my neighborhood is the increasing diversity of people and households. What was once clearly a semi-suburban white bread neighborhood, with all of the three-bed-two-bath houses built in the same ten year period and with very similar guidelines on largish, "child friendly" lots is becoming a really interesting mix of older folks who have lived there for years, young people in their first homes, renters, families entering the home-owning middle class, college students, people who drive, people who take the bus, people who have dogs, people who have cars in their lawns. That's a good thing. Good for our quality of life. And I don't give a damn what it does to property values.

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La science des rêves (The Science of Sleep)

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Science of Sleep movie posterBecause I was so very enamored with director Michel Gondry's previous offering, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, as well as because of the forced-whimsy feel of the trailer, I went into The Science of Sleep very trepidations. I spent weeks tempering my expectations, reminding myself that brilliance like Eternal Sunshine is often a one-off, and that this film stars Gael García Bernal, who drove me nuts in that steaming piece of crap Y tu mamá también, then went on to ruin The Motorcycle Diaries.

I ought not to have bothered. The Science of Sleep is a magical, beautiful film. It is exactly what it's trying to be, and scenes where it tries to hard are kept to a blessed minimum. Bernal's Stéphane is as understated and non-nauseating as possible, if necessarily child-like, and co-star Charlotte Gainsbourg is fantastic as the equally, if less vocally fucked-up Stéphanie.

No, the plot is not rocket science, but it is enough to carry the story along from beautiful scene to beautiful scene, and that's really all that is required of it. Not only are the artistic effects superb, but the music, composed by Jean-Michel Bernard (who also plays a small part in the beginning of the film) is fantastic. The combination gives the viewer the sense of being in a dream, which is pretty much the idea, and as the film progresses, the line between dream and reality blurs for the viewer as much as for Stéphane. The film's three languages (Spanish, French, and English) help this blur, particularly if you are me and you only understand one of them and can't read subtitles. Even if the whole film had been in French, though, it wouldn't have much mattered. Other than a very funny (to my mind) comment about unpretentious breasts late in the movie, the dialogue was very much secondary.

Critics have claimed this movie rests too much on effects and art and lacks in plot and story, as well as lambasting Bernal's Stéphane as a protagonist who inspires no empathy. I disagree with this reading, as I found Bernal more compelling in this film than in any of his more critically acclaimed performances. And Charlotte Gainsbourg's power to draw the viewer in without seeming to mean to shouldn't be underestimated. It's true that Bernal and Gainsbourg are in many ways supporting cast to the lead of the film's sets and props, but I don't see anything wrong with that.

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Taking up the challenge

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NaBloPoMo graphicFussy has decided that November, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), should also be National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo). The object is to commit to post something to your blog every day for the entire month of November, or, if you are more a reader than a writer, to write a blog comment every day for the month of November. She's even made up the extremely compelling graphic at left. So I'm, as my friend Sofiya says, in with a grin. My attempt (last year? year before?) at NaNoWriMo was a complete disaster--I never even started. Hopefully I'll be better at this.

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Giving up on Madonna

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I've always been a big supporter of Madonna. No matter what crazy-ass thing she did, from the Sex book to the fake British accent and Kabbalah, I've defended her both as a brilliantly self-inventing and reinventing businesswoman and as a certain kind of artist (though not so much the kind she thinks she is). But this time, I have nothing good to say.

Being a news-avoider (both the real kind and the entertainment kind), I had only been vaguely aware of Madonna's adoption plans when my friend S. filled me in last night. Basically, as I understand it, Madonna visited Malawi on some sort of charity trip, donating a bunch of dough ($3 million?) to children there who are being ravaged by poverty and AIDS. Then she decided she wanted to take one of those babies home. Malawi law doesn't allow international adoption. However, rather than starting the labor-and-time intensive international adoption process from a country that does allow international adoption of its orphan children, Madonna decided that her celebrity status would allow her to bypass this bit of "red tape" and picked out a kid.

Yeah. Picked out a kid. One year-old David Banda, who has been living in an orphanage, but who is not an orphan. While David's mother died shortly after his birth, his father is still alive and is involved in his life (sounds like he's at the orphanage due to his father's extreme poverty and inability to care for him).

So not only is Madonna insisting on adopting a child from a country that doesn't allow international adoption, she's also adopting a child who has a father who wants him.

Making matters worse, while waiting for travel documents/permission to take David out of the country, Madonna and her husband, Guy Ritchie, left the country, leaving the baby with employees. Yep. So attached to the kid they couldn't wait a few weeks.

And that's pretty much where it stands now. Her adoption is being challenged, various organizations are arguing over whether it's a good idea, the baby's father has said that he did not support the adoption, but was told by the orphanage that he should, etc.

This is fucking infuriating, for a couple of reasons. First there are the obvious problems with this particular instance--Madonna's complete lack of respect for other people's laws and customs, for the adoption process, and for this boy's existing family. But beyond that, there's what the media around Madonna's baby-buying (because really, that is what this sounds like) does to people who adopt internationally for the right reasons, within the laws, and with years of forethought.

The obvious counter-example to the Madonna story, since we're talking celebrities, is Angelina Jolie. Angelina has two adoption children, both orphans. Her son Maddox is from Cambodia and her daughter Zahara is from Ethiopia. There have been piles of press about these adoptions, both positive and negative, and no shortage of insistences that Jolie bought her babies. However, this story is a lot different than Madonna's--it includes legal adoptions, of orphans, from countries with international adoption laws. And Jolie reportedly spent up to 18 months in Cambodia with Maddox before she was cleared to take him out of the country. While Madonna and Ritchie couldn't spare a few weeks.

The more important thing, though, is what this does to regular families who were brought together through international adoption. It's a subject near and dear to my heart because my best small friend, H., came to her parents, S. and T., by way of international adoption from China. Over the time period we've been friends with S. and T., we've watched much of the adoption process, from the beginning gathering of paperwork through multiple home visits, the months of wondering when the referral will come, the joy when the referral finally does show up, the arduous trip to China, the bonding of the new family, and H.'s first two years on American soil. Being an observer to this process has given me tremendous respect for people who choose to go this expensive, heart-wrenching route, and knowing this family and all of the good, true, right reasons they chose to expand in this way has made me livid at hearing international adoption scoffed at as accessorizing your boho family, as baby-buying. Which it is. Often. And sometimes by otherwise reasonable folks. How much more of this is Queen Madonna bringing down upon those adopt these kids by the rules and for the right reasons? And what fucking right does she have?

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The great Anatolian

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Bridget and AtaYesterday, some kind soul looked at my pictures on Flickr and sent me the following e-mail:

I love your Anatolians, and I thinking of getting one to be a companion to my little girl (she is 10).

I heard they are very good with children.

Little does this unsuspecting soul know that she's given me license to ramble on at length about one of my very favorite subjects. So I emailed her back, but the audience of one wasn't ultimately satisfying, so I'm going to share my thoughts on the noble Anatolian Shepherd with you unsuspecting blog readers as well (increasing my audience to about three, probably).

First, to answer the Flickr correspondent's question, are Anatolians good with kids? I'd say yes and no. From my experience so far (and remember x=2 here, so I'm not exactly an expert), Anatolians are quite fond of kids they recognize as part of their own packs, but not all that interested in kids as a general species. If you are considering an Anatolian as a pet, it's a good idea to remember that they're a fairly serious working dog. They come from a long line of dogs bred and raised to guard and protect flocks of livestock, and you can see this in their personalities even a generation or three away from actual work. They are watchful. They are serious. And they have a definite idea of who "belongs" to them and who doesn't. They have a lot of the same breed characteristics as other livestock guarding breeds, like the Great Pyrenees, but in my experience so far, Pyrenees are more playful and more affectionate. They're also more likely to be removed from actual working lineage. Anatolians aren't as common in the U.S., and they're more likely to be directly descended from working lines.

Which isn't to say that they aren't fantastic pets. Ata is nearly the perfect dog, and he just came that way--we've done hardly any work with him. It's not every day that you get a year old dog from the county pound and bring him home with no records and no information about his personality and get as lucky as we got with Ata. He's a naturally calm, mellow, sweet-tempered dog with few to no behavioral problems. He learns quickly and easily and he remembers well. He is completely content to spend most of his time lying in one spot, watching everything around him. He alerts to strange noises or people but he doesn't bark constantly. And he's very, very gentle. I would absolutely trust him with small children or frail elderly folks.

I guess one question is what someone means when they ask if a given breed is "good with children." Some dogs aren't, by any definition (many toy breeds, for example, are notoriously bad with kids). But many breeds are good with children in different ways. If what you are looking for a is a gentle, unassuming, completely committed protector of your kids, I'd say Anatolians (and probably also Pyrs, Wolfhounds, mastiffs, and St. Bernards) are great with kids. If you want a playmate, though, there are better breeds. If you want a dog to wear your kids out romping with them, a lab is probably a better choice (or even a pit bull, but how great I think pit bulls are with kids is a whole other treatise). Anatolians probably aren't ever going to play fetch.

Size is also a consideration. I personally love the combination of kids and big dogs, and I think I would even if the kids were mine. Big dogs make me feel safer, and I think they'd make me feel like my kids were safer, too. But there are drawbacks to having canines that are three or four or ten times the size of your children. People often think about this in terms of aggression, but I'm more concerned about run-of-the-mill clumsiness. A large dog who doesn't pay attention to where it's paws/tail/teeth are can really hurt a small child without meaning to or realizing it, and some dogs are definitely better than others both at realizing children are frail and at keeping their limbs and tails in check. This is another area where I am convinced Anatolians are a great breed. In general, they move more slowly and carefully than many large breeds and are more aware of their size and surroundings (comparing a young Anatolian's general behavior to that of a Great Dane will show you what I mean). I have no evidence for this, but I'd suspect that it's a product of spending generations guarding flocks of animals that are significantly smaller and weaker than the dogs themselves. Anatolians also have very soft mouths in my experience, which is great with kids (and great in general).

The National Anatolian Shepherd Rescue Network (a fantastic resource) says the following:

If you want a dog who...

-Is very large and rugged, yet agile and athletic
-"MAY" protect your horses, llamas, sheep, goats, or chickens
-Is steady and dependable, rather than playful
-Is serious with strangers, but not aggressive unless provoked
-Needs only moderate exercise

An Anatolian Shepherd Dog may be right for you.

If you don't want to deal with...

-A very large dog who takes up a lot of space in your house and car
-Providing enough exercise to keep him satisfied
-Massive destructiveness when bored
-Suspiciousness toward strangers
-Aggression toward animals who don't belong to his family (and sometimes aggression to animals within his family as well)
-Providing five to six-foot fences. These are not dogs that will "learn to stay home" without fencing. Also never taking off lead hiking or trail riding
-Strong-willed mind of his own, requiring a confident owner who can take charge. You will be living with a dog that is more "wolf-like" than "dog-like". Can you take on the role of the "Alpha Wolf"?
-Deep booming barks, especially at night when he hears a sound
-Heavy shedding
-Legal liabilities (increased chance of lawsuits)

An Anatolian Shepherd Dog may not be right for you.

While I don't completely agree with this analysis (like I mentioned, we don't have much of a barking problem, and Ata is not much of a flight risk, though we do have a secure fence), I think it's generally all true. The shedding is not to be underestimated. The take-home point, though, in my mind, is that Anatolians are not, strictly speaking "fun" dogs. They're serious by nature and not particularly playful. This makes them great pet material for people like Mark and I, but may not suit them to families who have different ideas of canine perfection.

One final thought, about Anatolians or any other breed you're considering: while doing your research, reading books, expecting a dog of a given breed to act like s/he's a dog of that breed, is all great, dogs are just like people in that there is a ton of individual variance. This is one reason why getting an adult dog from a reputable rescue organization, where the dog has been in foster care, is such a great option--you have someone to tell you what that particular dog's personality seems to be like. That's something you're never going to get from a breeder, no matter how well that breeder says s/he knows his/her lineages.

If you're interested in getting an Anatolian, please start with the National Anatolian Rescue Network and seriously consider a rescue dog. Although Anatolians are not particularly common in the U.S., they are becoming more so all the time, and are increasingly turning up in rescue and shelters. Because of their large size, as well as unfamiliarity with the breed, they can be hard to adopt and there are always dogs in not-great situations that could use loving homes.

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Announcement and apology

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For those who have stuck it out and are still trying to access What if No One's Watching?, I appreciate it. As I'm sure you know, we've had some pretty major issues in the past weeks with the URL landing you at a holding page with a pop-up ad, rather than at my actual blog. Sorry about that. The problem was apparently with the company from whom I buy my domain name, and they assure me it's fixed. So thanks for sticking it out and please let me know if you have any more problems.

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Running with Scissors: A Memoir

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Running with Scissors book coverby Augusten Burroughs
Audio Renaissance; UNABRIDGED edition, October 28, 2002

I started listening to Augusten Burrough's weird-ass childhood memoir, Running with Scissors a long time ago--sometime last winter, I think. After seeing the preview for the new movie version of it recently, I picked it back up. I'd only made it about an hour in the first time, to the point where Augusten has just met the Finches. So I was ill-prepared for how weird it was going to get.

Basically, young Augusten Burroughs is pawned off at the age of 12 on the family of his mother's shrink, a man who is, arguably, even more nuts than mom. Running with Scissors is his tale of his adolescence moving between life with his psychotic poet mother and life with the variously bizarre Finches. Burroughs' gift is clear, as he makes the story not just sad and absurd, but also hilarious. It's a very strange thing to finish the story and realize that you've been entertained by such a horrible tale, with abuses of power, several instances of rape, victimizing of the mentally ill, and the eating of dog food. You feel almost guilty for enjoying it, as Burroughs' assumedly lived through at least some version of it, but then you realize that enjoying it is exactly what he wanted you to do.

I'll admit it, I'm a convert. I already have Burroughs' other memoir, Dry, on order from the library. Mixing a Sedaris-only-funnier type of dark humor into memoirs of a truly strange life is my recipe for good audiobooks, and Burroughs' is among the best I've heard.

And I look forward to the movie.

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Devil in the Details book coverby Jennifer Traig
Highbridge Audio; UNABRIDGED edition, September 9, 2004

After getting a new iPod for my birthday, I have once again fallen in love with audio books. I used to be scandalized by the very idea of the audio book--listening rather than reading? ABRIDGEMENT? But then I realized two things: 1) the good ones come unabridged, and 2) audio books don't replace books, they allow you to "read" in circumstances you otherwise wouldn't be able to. Like when you are walking somewhere. Or in the car, when reading makes you carsick like it does me. Or on a treadmill. So it's all very exciting. I don't have to listen instead of read, I can listen AND read. Brilliant.

The first audio book I listened to on my new iPod was one I had from Audible.com from my last iPod and gym phase, Jennifer Traig's Devil in the Details: Scenes from an Obsessive Girlhood. Devil in the Details is Traig's memoir about growing up as a sufferer of obsessive-compulsive disorder, including bouts with anorexia and the hyper-religious form of OCD known as scrupulosity. Traig is both self-effacing and funny, while treating her condition as the serious mental illness she now knows it is (growing up in the 70s and 80s she and her family had no idea her strange behavior had a brain chemistry cause). The book is interesting both because of the hilarity of her antics and her descriptions of them and because of the thought Traig has obviously given to what it means, philosophically, to have obsessive compulsive disorder, and particularly to be scrupulous.

A theme in the book nearly as strong as Traig's OCD, and certainly, in her mind at least, connected to it, is her childhood in an inter-faith family. Traig's father is a first-generation American Jew, his parents having immigrated from Russia by way of France during his childhood, but his Judaism is more cultural than religious, with only occasional synagogue services, lots of pork products, etc. Her mother is a practicing Catholic. When they married, her parents agreed to bring up their children as Jewish, but little thought was apparently given to what that would mean, given that the religious half of the parenting duo was Catholic. So the household's celebrations and rituals, at least as described through Jennifer's eyes, were very barely Jewish. Jennifer herself, however, was drawn to Judaism at a very young age and "practiced" in her own way, early on. Her scrupulosity was based on Torah.

The clear parallel Traig makes between religious practice and obsessive-compulsive behavior is probably the most interesting part of the book. Traig is a practicing Jew as an adult, and is obviously quite serious about her faith, but also considers it a way to work her OCD tendencies into her life. She makes no bones about the fact that rules and denials are at least part of what draw her to Judaism, and she suspects this is the case for other practitioners (of all religions) as well. Having that kind of perspective about your mental illness, once you are properly treated, isn't that surprising. Having that perspective about your faith, however, is something I've never seen before, and it is the thing that sets this book apart from many of the other "fucked up girlhood/adolescence" memoirs I've read. Or listened to.

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Love Thursday: Lovin' Leo

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smiling_leo.jpgIt is once again Love Thursday, and I'm all in it today. I love, love, love Leo. And today Leo is having surgery. Just a minor surgery, to take out a few broken off teeth and get the rest of the chompers cleaned up so they won't rot away, but it's still making me plenty nervous. So I'm thinking about what a wonderful, positive presence has has been in my life, and in Mark's, since we adopted him last summer.

I'm not generally the dopey "dogs are all angels" type, but if I were, I would tell you that Leo is an angel. He was exactly what we needed when we needed it, when the grief over Chance was so deep we had no idea how we'd slog through it. He is a patient, gentle, loving creature, as well as being a dog who had fallen on some very hard times and really needed our help to get back into a comfortable, safe life. I'd like to think that we've done as much for Leo as he's done for us, but honestly, we haven't even scratched the surface.

So that's what I'm thinking about on this Love Thursday. Hoping that Leo has a safe and speedy surgery and that his mouth doesn't hurt when he wakes up. Or at least that it doesn't hurt anymore than soft food and a few doggie painkillers can take care of.

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Book Club

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I've recently decided that I really want to join a book club. The problem is, how do I go about that? There are several local book clubs I could pick from--the ones at the library, several at bookstores, including a woman's book club at the local feminist bookstore and another one at the local indie bookstore, and various annoucements for book clubs soliciting members on Craigslist. No shortage of places to try out.

So what's the problem?

Well, me.

The idea of making an effort go interact with a group of strangers, even if it does revolve around a common interest like books, terrifies me. What if they don't like me? What if I don't like them? What if they only have stupid ideas about the books? What if I do? What if they only like stupid books? And assuming I can get my gumption up enough to try one of the clubs, which one should I try?

This is all an excellent example of why I don't have very many friends. I don't seek people out, even for specific purposes like talking about books. Instead I obsess about what might happen if I did, letting it all flow through my tiny brain and make me crazy. I know, intellectually, that it would not hurt me to try out a book club meetings, and that if I hated it, I wouldn't be obliged to go back. And yet emotionally it's paralyzing. And it should be such a small thing.

I don't think I started out this insecure. I vaguely remember being put in new situations as a kid (summer camp and that kind of thing) and being able to make new acquaintances fairly easily. I was never the most popular girl in the room, but I did OK all the way through college. So what is it about adulthood that makes the stakes seem so much higher? I have much more control over who I spend time with now than I did when there was forced social interaction (school events, etc.). If anything, I should be more willing to try new things out, knowing I can abandon them if they don't suit me. Yet instead I go home and sit on my couch with my introvert partner and our dogs (a species I have a very easy time making friends with) and feel bad about myself.

And as the introvert partner won't read fiction and the dogs can't read, I have nobody to talk about books with.

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In 1987, October was declared "National Domestic Violence Awareness Month". In honor of this month of recognition, I'm directing October's giving towards a local domestic and sexual violence shelter and organization, SafePlace. Please consider giving to your own local DV shelter this month, or to one of the many national level organizations combatting domestic violence.

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Miscellany

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I have not been blogging of late. The reason, in short, is that I am lazy. I spent a good deal of time this weekend in the bathtub, reading, and watching football-football and football-soccer. I spent none writing. I'm in that kind of a phase.

That being said, we did get a fairly major (for us) household project out of the way this weekend. The guest room closet, which we started demolishing last summer (the previous owners built an entertainment center into it, as they used the room as a TV room), is now patched, painted, and installed with wonderful new Elfa shelving and a hanging space. I haven't finished putting everything that is going to go in it away (linens, extra blankets, etc.), but it's looking pretty awesome. Next weekend we are on to painting at least one of the bathrooms and hopefully acquiring some new dining chairs. This is all in preparation for my folks' visit in early November. It's good to have a reason to get some of this done.

It's been a sad few days, as well as a productive one, as our friend T. left yesterday for Scandanavia. S. and their baby, H., will follow in about a month. I am indescribably sad to see them go. It's odd, actually--I've never had as much trouble saying goodbye as I'm having this time. It may have to do with me not being the one who is leaving, or with my not having prepared myself for them to not always be around from the beginning of our relationship, as I did (wittingly or not) with my college friends. Or maybe it's because they are going so far. Or because I doubt my ability to adequately keep in touch with them, given how poorly I'm doing with my other far-flung friends. I don't know...but it's really, really hard. It's nearly impossible to imagine life here without them, and seeing them packing up to leave makes me wish Mark would just finish up already so we could move on to wherever is next.

But onward and upward...

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