nowlogo.gifIn June, 1966, hundreds of representatives of women's concerns nation-wide met for the Third National Conference of Commissions on the Status of Women in Washington D.C. Frustrated at the lack of agency they had within this U.S. government organization, some of the conference's attendees decided that the time had come for a private national organization to fight for the concerns of women, as Civil Rights organizations had done and were continuing to do for African-Americans. Assembled in Betty Friedan's hotel room, 15-20 of the conference participants hatched the plan to form the National Organization for Women (NOW).

founders.jpgIn October, 1966, the organization's founders met for their first organizational conference. The organization had attracted 300 charter members, both male and female, but only 30 of them participated in the conference. The first slate of NOW officers was elected, including President Betty Friedan, Kathryn (Kay) Clarenbach as Chair of the Board, Aileen Hernandez Executive Vice President, Richard Graham as Vice President, and Caroline Davis as Secretary/Treasurer. NOW also adopted a statement of purpose at this meeting, which stated, among other things, that NOW was an organization dedicated to "take action to bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now, exercising all privileges and responsibilities thereof in truly equal partnership with men." The founding group also approved immediate actions to work for enforcement of title VII and against the sex based job discrimination of flight attendants.

Since it's inception in 1966, NOW has become the largest feminist membership organization in the U.S., with more than 500 local and campus chapters and more than 500,000 members. Actions taken by NOW have focused on many aspects of women's lives, including heavy emphasis on employment discrimination, reproductive rights, violence against women, and the ratification of the ERA. Some of the more substantial victories in which NOW was involved include the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that sex-based segregation in job postings is illegal, organization of the Houston Women's Conference in 1977, passage of the Rape Shield Law and Pregnancy Discrimination Act in 1978, and passage of the Violence Against Women Act in 1994.

Though homophobia plagued NOW in its early years, the organization eventually came out in strong support of its lesbian members, holding the first of several lesbian rights conferences in 1984. Over time, NOW also made greater efforts to include the perspectives and voices of women of color in its agenda.

In 2006, NOW celebrated its 40th anniversary as an organization. Current priority issues for the organization are protecting American women's right to choose, promoting diversity and ending racism, ending violence against women, promoting lesbian rights, and fighting for constitutional equality and economic justice for women. NOW is also involved in anti-war activism and efforts to recognize and respect the contributions of mothers to our society. NOW's current statement of purpose reads: "Our purpose is to take action to bring women into full participation in society – sharing equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities with men, while living free from discrimination." Its current brochure also states "NOW is one of the few multi-issue progressive organizations in the United States. NOW stands against all oppression, recognizing that racism, sexism and homophobia are interrelated, that other forms of oppression such as classism and ableism work together with these three to keep power and privilege concentrated in the hands of a few."

Sources:
NOW website
Wikipedia

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We Need to Talk About Kevin

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talk_about_kevin.jpgQuite a bit back, I read Flea's review of Lionel Shriver's We Need To Talk About Kevin and though, "gee, that sounds like a horrifying but interesting book. I should read it." Finally, this weekend, I did.

Flea's description is right on. As I don't have children myself, I'm sure my reaction to was different than it would have been otherwise, but it was still a horror story. And, for me, it wasn't so much the inevitable conclusion, with Kevin shooting up his school that haunted me. It was the stuff that happened in between his birth and his most famous rampage that got to me. And, in particular, it was his mother's inability to make his father believe that there really was something wrong.

More than any of the other fears about parenthood this book brings out (and it brings them all, from 'will my kid by a psycho?' to 'will I end up having to give up the life I love and move to the suburbs?'), it drives home the fear that having a child will drive you and your partner apart. As much as any of the other horrible deeds for which he is responsible, Kevin's uncanny ability to be someone completely different for his father and his mother, and to make his father believe that whatever problems they have are his mother's fault and not his, is truly frightening. The idea that you could have a child with someone and then that person could choose the child over you, in the face of all evidence, makes my stomach sink.

Even if you aren't paranoid about having a psychotic child who turns your partner against you, though, We Need to Talk About Kevin is a fantastic and frightful novel. Its brilliance lies not in exploring the oft-talked about subject of school shootings, or even in offering some new rationalization for this phenomenon, but in shining light on the ridiculousness of most conversations about this subject. Though Kevin's story is fictional, the context in which it is set is real. Eva and Kevin make many references to other school shooters, including the ones at Columbine and in Springfield. In his constant engagement and re-engagement with the question of why Kevin (or anyone) would do this, the author slowly and painstaking leads the reader to realize that for someone like Kevin, for whom life holds nothing of any particular interest, there really doesn't have to be a reason.

The only thing that really disappointed me about the book was the implication at the end that Kevin would somehow change. After nearly 400 pages of grim, unequivocal sorrow and pain and anger, I didn't want last minute redemption, for Eva or for Kevin. it was too cinematic to even hint at a happy ending to their story.

So...this is a tough book. It's sad, and horrifying, and may well give you nightmares. But it's also a well-crafted novel and an interesting thought experiment, so I'd (hesitantly) recommend it.

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Woman Making History #76: Lillian Smith

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lillian_smith.jpgSouthern novelist and social critic Lillian Smith was born in Florida in 1897. She was the eighth of ten children. Her family was comfortably middle class for the majority of her childhood, but in 1915 her father lost his business and her family relocated to Georgia and started Laurel Falls Girls Camp, an educational camp for girls.

Smith spent a few years studying music, then moved home to help her parents manage a hotel in 1919. In 1922, she moved to China, where she was the music director at a Methodist girls' school.

In 1925, Smith returned to the U.S. to care for her ailing father. She then took the position of director of the Laurel Falls Camp, where she remained for 23 years. After her father died in 1930, Smith was the caretaker for her mother, as well as running the educational camp.

In the early 1930s, Smith began a lifelong partnership with a counselor at her camp, Paula Snelling. The two started a literary journal, Pseudopodia, in 1936. The journal was very popular and continued publishing throughout the early 1940s, under the name South Today. In 1945, Smith ceased publication of the journal in order to focus on her novel writing. Her first published novel, Strange Fruit, published in 1944, was very successful. She followed it with 1949's essay compilation, Killers of the Dream, 1954's The Journey, 1955's Now Is the Time, 1959's One Hour, 1962's Memory of a Large Christmas, and 1964's Our Faces, Our Words, as well as an essay collection and a collection of letters in the 1970s. All of Smith's novels took on volatile Southern social topics, including interracial relationships, the evils of segregation, McCarthyism, and non-violent civil rights resistance.

Smith was diagnosed with breast cancer in the early 1950s and battled it for many years. She died in 1966.

Sources:
Wikipedia
The New Georgia Encyclopedia
Georgia Writer's Hall of Fame

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Oscar

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I always write about the Oscars, as I'm both a movie buff and a spectacle buff. I have even been known (nearly every year) to watch the entire 4+ hour show. Looking at this year's nominees, though, I'm horrified by how few of the films I've seen. I lost my movie-going partner this fall/winter, and things just haven't been the same since. I'm way, way behind.

There were a few that stick out at me as things I've seen and enjoyed. I'm glad Little Miss Sunshine got a best picture nod and an original screenplay nod. The foreign film nomination for Water delighted me. I haven't seen The Pursuit of Happyness, but I'm generally happy to see Will Smith honored. I was irritated that The Science of Sleep was totally ignored (hello? art direction?), but that kind of thing is pretty typical of the Oscars. And what's up with Spike Lee's director nomination? Seriously?

Now I think I'll go reorganize my Netflix queue so I can see some of these movies before March...

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Pants.

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Once again, I am finding myself without reasonable pants.

See, I've gained a lot of weight. Which is fine, whatever, I'm not going to stress about it anymore than I have to. But now nothing fits. Not so long ago, I bought some new pants, in a size 16, at a store where sizes run large. And they fit. Until I wear them for two hours--then they're too big. However, my old pants, which are mostly size 16 from smaller sizing stores, are too tight. And it's not just the ass anymore--the waists are improbably tight now too. Which not only looks bad, but is also quite uncomfortable.

So I need new pants. Pants that fit both in the morning and in the evening. Inexpensive pants. Because it is too cold to wear skirts. And I don't know where to begin. I know of a few brands that fit sometimes, but only some styles fit, and only if they are long. Except the one kind, for which the long drags on the ground unless I wear heels. Why can't shit just fit?

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Woman Making History #75: Diane Wilson

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diane_wilson.jpgI gotta say, Diane Wilson is freaking amazing.

At the age of 24, Diane Wilson became the fifth-generation captain of a shrimping boat on the Gulf Coast of Texas. In 1989, after reading an article claiming that her home county was a number one U.S. polluter and that the expansion of a plastics plant there would exacerbate this problem, Wilson called a town meeting to discuss the matter. Though many townspeople were against the expansion, it was scheduled anyway. And Wilson turned from a mother and shrimp boat captain to an environmental activist.

Wilson battled for many years to stop chemicals from being dumped in the bay where she fished. She went spoke at rallies, gathered support, and even went on several hunger strikes. In the process, retaliation against Wilson was rampant--her dog was shot, and someone tried to sink her boat with her in it. But she did not give up. Eventually, she got the plastics plant to agree to a zero-change policy.

Later, Wilson took on Dow Chemicals, after she learned about the 1984 chemical spill in India for which reparations were never made. She served four months in jail for chaining herself to Dow property, an experience that led her to another cause for which she now fights--better prison conditions for women.

In 2005, Wilson published a book, An Unreasonable Woman: A True Story of Shrimpers, Politicos, Polluters, and the Fight for Seadrift, Texas. She has been the recipient of several awards, including National Fisherman Magazine Award, Mother Jones' Magazine's Hell Raiser of the Month, and Code Pink Woman of the Year.

Sources:
Truthout
PBS
Americans Who Tell The Truth

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Magical Thinking: True Stories

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magical_thinking.jpgby Augusten Burroughs
St. Martin's Press, 2004

As I've mentioned before, I'm a pretty big fan of Augusten Burroughs. I loved Running with Scissors, I thought it was a beautiful, hysterically funny book; and I thought Dry was quite good as well. I've defended Burroughs' choice to make his horrible childhood experiences and his battle with alcoholism at once poignant and comical, and I admire his ability to do so.

That being said, Magical Thinking is a whole other thing. It's a more mature, reflective Burroughs that shows through the stories that make up this book. It's a more likable Burroughs, who has, in some way, gotten past some of his baggage. And it's great stuff.

The stories in the book aren't chronological--they skip backwards and forwards in time, from Burroughs' childhood and adolescence through his drinking years to his present and around again. This is a bit confusing at first (causing me to think, among other things, that the person who turns out to be Burroughs' partner, Dennis, is a posthumous look at the same person as his friend Pighead, who is featured in Dry), but once you realize that's what Burroughs is doing, it makes sense. In some ways, it makes it easier to see his increased maturity and self-awareness in the more recent stories. And knowing that he, in some sense, "made it," that he's happy and successful in the more recent stories, makes the heart-rendering earlier ones a bit easier to listen to and to see the humor in.

Though it is easier to handle than his previous memoirs, Magical Thinking is still Augusten Burroughs, and so isn't for everybody. He still doesn't shy away from hard topics, or from shining the light on his own flaws. One story, "The Rat Thing," is a long exposition on his torturous killing of a rat he finds in his bathroom (when he's still drinking). It's nasty. It's hard to listen to. But it's still funny, in the way only truly awful things can be. As always, though, if you are someone who believes that there are some subjects that are never funny, this book probably isn't going to do it for you.

One of my favorite parts of the audio book (and I again recommend "reading" Burroughs on audio book, as he's got a great voice and tells his own stories so well) is the "bonus" at the end--a short interview of Burroughs, done by his literary agent. Here, in Burroughs' rambling answers to the agent's questions, you get a bit of insight into how his writing develops, and how he thinks about his own life and the very dark humor in his past. If you have any lingering guilt about finding humor in his horrible stories (which I really didn't, but could have), you lose it when you hear him say that he doesn't find his childhood difficult to talk about, but that he sees humor in it. He goes on to explain that he's really a very average type of person, who just seems to have had a magnet for disaster in his early life. He doesn't seem to regret this, just accept it. It's fun to listen to him talk. He seems very naturally funny and comfortable in his own skin, and if you've listened to or read much of his work, you know it took him a long time to get there.

So I'd recommend Magical Thinking to anyone who likes Burroughs' other books. I'd also say it's probably the best of the three memoirs to start with if you are new to his work. Work your way up to Running with Scissors.

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Woman Making History #74: Starhawk

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starhawk.jpgEarth-based spirituality pioneer Starhawk was born in Minnesota in 1951. Her's is a leading voice in American paganism and ecofeminism.

Starhawk is the daughter of Russian-American Jewish parents. She studied film at UCLA and wrote a Goldwyn Award-winning novel in early 1970s, before becoming involved in paganism, Goddess worship, and environmentalism.

Starhawk has authored or co-authored several books on spirituality, including neo-pagan textbook The Spiral Dance. She is also the co-founder of Reclaiming, an organization dedicated to activist paganism, as well as a partner in a film production company, focusing on documentaries about women leaders in paganism.

Sources:
Starhawk's Home Page
Wikipedia

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New addition

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Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Friday!

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5 Nice Things

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Over on her blog, Thistle takes up a challenge, put forth by Echidne, to say five nice things about herself, without any hemming, hawing, or other couching. I think this is an excellent idea and every woman in the blogosphere should do it. So consider yourselves all tagged. As for me...

1. I take good care of the people and creatures I love.
2. I give fantastic presents.
3. I have a cool head in a crisis.
4. I'm self-sufficient.
5. I have an really excellent back.

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Woman Making History #73: Sister Helen Prejean

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sister_helen.jpgMany of us know Sister Helen Prejean only as Susan Sarandon's character in Dead Man Walking. As it turns out, though, writing the book on which the film was based, and ministering to the man featured in the film, is only the tip of this amazing woman's iceberg.

Prejean was born in 1939 in Louisiana. In 1957, she joined the St. Joseph of Medaille order. After joining the order, Prejean went to college, receiving her B.A. in English and Education in 1962. She has taught high school students and worked as a religious director.

Prejean's ministering to death row inmates began in 1981, when she became pen pals with Patrick Sonnier, a man convicted of killing two teenagers and facing the electric chair. It was Prejean's experience with Sonnier that led her to write Dead Man Walking. The book was on the New York Times' Best Seller List for 31 weeks.

After Sonnier's execution, Prejean continued to correspond with and minister to death row inmates in her native Louisiana. She has witnessed five executions and spends much of her time speaking out against capital punishment. She also started Survive, an organization set up to help the families and friends of murder victims. In 2004, she published a second book, The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions, in which she argues for the innocence of two men she saw executed, Dobie Gillis Williams and Joseph O'Dell.

Prejean served on the board of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty from 1985–1995, serving as Chairperson of the Board from 1993–1995. She is also the honorary chair of the Moratorium Campaign, which advocates for a worldwide end to the death penalty.

Prejean is also an anti-abortion activist.

Sources:

Sister Helen Prejean's Official Website
Wikipedia
The Catholic Weekly

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The Stardust Lounge: Stories from a Boy's Adolescence

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stardust_lounge.JPGby Deborah Digges
Anchor, 2002

This is a great book. You should read it. Seriously.

Deborah Digges is a single mother of two boys. This story is about her youngest son, Stephen. When the book starts, Stephen is 13 and he's in a lot of trouble. He's associated with gangs, doing drugs, carrying weapons, skipping school, in trouble with the police, the whole nine yards. Digges is desperate not only to turn her son around, but to regain her close relationship with him. In her desperation, she turns to whatever ideas she can grasp--Stephen is sent to live with his father, Digges tries to be more stern, military school is even considered. There are serious repercussions to Stephen's behavior and to Digges responses to it, including the ultimate break up of her second marriage.

Then, with the help of an unconventional therapist, Digges and Stephen both learn to stop trying to be the people they aren't and to embrace themselves and each other as the people they are. They move out of the city, they adopt a passel of pets, including a very high-maintenance bulldog with epilepsy. Digges serves as a foster parent to a friend of Stephen's who has been kicked out by his own parents. And Digges stops trying to get Stephen to obey rules that are only there for the sake of society and serve no real purpose. Digges focuses on what is actually fair and actually necessary. So while the teenage boys may stay up late and there may be dogs on the beds and cats coming in and out of the windows, some kind of peace is restored.

And it turns out OK. Stephen graduates from high school and goes to college. Trevor, Digges' foster son, gets his GED, gets a job, and moves into his own apartment. The animals are happy and live good lives. Digges eventually even meets another man and at the end of the book the two of them are cohabitating.

Digges writes about parenting, both the joys and the sorrows, in a way that is both realistic and enthralling. She truly loves her sons and loves being a mother to them, and she truly wants Stephen to do well not for the sake of her own pride, but for himself. She's not perfect and she never indicates that she thinks the route she takes is the only way to deal with a "difficult" child. She shows a willingness to learn right along side her son that I can't help but think is the hallmark of a great parent. The book is inspirational in that sense.

Another thing about it that is really wonderful is the importance than the Digges' animals play. Getting the first bulldog puppy, G.Q., is Digges first original and true to herself idea for how to help Stephen, and it does. The later adoption of Buster, the epileptic bulldog, with all of his many needs, cements Stephen's willingness and ability to be a responsible person. Both Digges and her son are clearly people who respond better to animals than they do to other people, and the book shows the beauty and grace in that, never even allowing for the idea that it is some kind of psychopathy.

Delinquent kids are very rarely given any kind of chance in our society. The book's characters, particularly Stephen and Trevor, are constantly butting their heads against a system that "has them pegged" and actively discourages them from succeeding in the ways in which they are able. It is a rare parent, however, who both assists her kids in bucking that system and still expects responsible and fair behavior from them. Digges never lowers her expectations of Stephen or Trevor, she just reevaluates what is really important, and it is both instructive and inspiring to watch that play out. I ended the book really feeling for the Digges family, happy to hear of both Stephen and Trevor's accomplishments, and seeing something of my own mother in Deborah, which is a very high compliment.

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Blog for choice

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blogforchocie2007.jpgOnce again, it is Blog for Choice Day, and as such, I am compelled to say something about why I am a pro-choice woman.

There are a million reasons, and they are the same million reasons that everybody else who is acknowledging Blog for Choice day is likely writing about. The biggest single one, though, is that I believe very very strongly that each person's body must be his or her own in order for us to really consider ourselves free people. And for a woman, upon whose body the burden of reproduction is enacted, part of body autonomy is having absolute authority over if, and under what circumstances, pregnancies are carried to term.

Abortion is a distasteful subject for a lot of people, and if I'm being honest, I'll admit it's not my favorite subject either. I don't like the idea of removing fetuses from wombs. It's unpleasant. Far more unpleasant, though, is the idea of having something growing in your body without your consent. To me, that's the stuff horror movies and dystopian novels are made of. And while it is true, for me, that a child growing inside me would probably not be considered there without consent for very long, I can see how that is not true for women in many circumstances, and for some women under any circumstances. Given, then, that pregnancy can occur unintentionally, allowing women full authority to remove fetuses from their bodies is the only way women can be allowed true free personhood.

Like a lot of people, I'd rather it were the case that abortion was never needed. I'd rather All pregnancies were rejoiced, rather than bemoaned, and that all fetuses developed into happy and healthy babies. But that's not the world we live in. In this world, birth control is inaccessible, or ineffective, or not used for any of a million other reasons. In this world, not everybody wants to have a baby, and even those who do are not automatically in situations were having a baby is a good choice. And given those constraints, legal, affordable, and accessible abortion services are absolutely key to granting full citizenship to women.

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More books

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Two more books to mini-review...

partly_cloudy_patriot.jpgThe Partly Cloudy Patriot
by Sarah Vowell
Simon & Schuster, 2003

In the past, I have resisted Sarah Vowell. The reason for my resistance is that I have been told that her books are far more interesting to listen to in audio book format than to read, and her voice drives me bat shit insane. So I haven't listened to them. However, because I was enjoying David Sedaris so much, and I associate the two of them in my head (for no good reason, as it turns out), I finally gave in and decided I'd give Sarah Vowell a try. Why I started with this particular book is anybody's guess...I think maybe I just liked the title.

Well, I loved it. Vowell is just my kind of geek. Her writing is smart and funny and self-deprecating, and she's interested in just the same kind of dorky stuff I am. I mean, the first chapter of the book is about Gettysburg. The woman clearly has a crush on Abe Lincoln. And I'm all for that.

And her voice...well, it's still irritating, but somehow it seems like it's supposed to sound that way after a few paragraphs. And when she says that she's convinced that the supposedly high-voiced Lincoln "sounds just like me," I almost believed her. I'll definitely be getting her other books in audio format and will probably go through them just as quickly as I did this one.

miss_american_pie.jpgMiss American Pie: A Diary
by Margaret Sartor
Bloomsbury, 2006

There are few things I can think of that are more self indulgent than publishing your diary from 7th through 12th grades. Seriously. I mean, who wants to read that? Well, apparently, me. This book is Margaret Sartor's unadulterated (I think) diary from those years of her life, in the 1970s, in Louisiana. While interesting things may have been happening in her state and in the country, most of them were not happening to her. Mostly, her entries are about her friends, with whom she's never close enough, her boyfriends, with whom she's often too close, her family, who are pretty garden-variety fucked-up, and her on-again off-again relationship with God. And how frizzy her hair is. I'd say it's about 10% about her relationship with her hair. And yet it's weirdly interesting, particularly in the age of the blog, when (assumedly) this kind of unabashedly self-centered private rambling is out of vogue. It's a really quick read (it took maybe an hour and a half all together?) and is definitely more entertaining than it should be, at least if you're the voyeur type. It also got me started on old-fashioned by-hand journaling again. Who knows if that will last.

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Four more muddy feet

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Mark and I have decided to start back up with dog fostering. This is good, I think. We've wanted to do it for a while, now that we've gotten over our several month run with the Bridget. I advocated strongly for fostering a new type of dog this time, one we didn't already have experience with, and probably a smaller one, since we do still have two gigantic hounds already. While Mark and I were talking about what type of dog we'd like to foster and what type of foster organization we'd like to get involved with, I happened to see a posting on Petfinder from the Austin Hound Rescue, saying they were looking to expand their foster network. Hounds, I thought, would be perfect. So I talked to Mark and got in touch with them and we're going to give fostering hounds a shot.

Mostly, the rescue takes in beagles. This is both because they are the most commonly found in need and because their current foster network is most comfortable with small dogs. Mark and I are more comfortable with large dogs, so we said we'd be happy, in the future, to take in larger hounds in need. This could be really good for local dogs and for the rescue, as they'd had to turn away some larger hounds because of lack of foster space for them. However, we're going to start with something a bit smaller, just in case it doesn't work out and the dog needs to go to another foster home (once we start taking large dogs, we won't really have any "back-up," as none of the other current foster homes are equipped for large dogs). And that's fine with me, because I am really curious to see how having a small dog in your home is different than our big beasts.

Turvey.jpgSo it looks like we'll be getting our first foster tomorrow. His name is Turvey and he's a beagle mix whose time at the county pound is just about up. As you can see, he's mixed with something else--I'm guessing either Corgi or some kind of terrier or both, based on the stumpy legs and pointy head--and he's kind of a fat little thing. The folks at the pound say he's sweet as can be and has no issues with other dogs, and he seems to be fairly young (four, maybe?) and healthy, so he should be a good adoption prospect. I'm really excited about meeting him. Once we get him bathed and acclimated and on high-quality food (and exercise) he should do just fine.

Friday.jpgThere's another possibility at the pound as well. He hasn't been in as long as Turvey, so we're taking Turvey first, but I am in love with this dog by his picture, so I am hoping we'll be able to help him as well. His name is Friday and they think he's a basset/bloodhound cross. He looks like a basset, but he's bigger and taller. Isn't he cute as hell? The shelter says he is very lazy and mellow, which would fit in well at our house. Hopefully we'll be able to pull him in the next week or two as well.

I'm excited, though a bit trepidatious, as I know next to nothing about hounds in general, and have heard mostly bad things about domestic beagles. The folks at the rescue are very supportive so far, though, and I think they'll continue to be. It's quite a small operation with very dedicated volunteers, and that's exactly the kind of thing I wanted to be involved in. So I'll keep you posted...

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Woman Making History #72: Billie Jean King

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bj_king.jpgBillie Jean King was born in 1943 in California. She started playing tennis as a child on public tennis courts, and by the age of 17 (in 1961), she gained national fame as part of a team that won the women's doubles at Wimbledon.

Five years later, King won her first (of six) singles title at Wimbledon. The next year, she won the singles title at both Wimbledon and the U.S. National Championships.

As her fame grew, King became a voice for professionalism and gender equity in professional tennis, including advocating for equal prize money in men's and women's tournaments. In 1971, King became the first female athlete ever to earn more than $100,000 in prize money. When she won in the U.S. Open in 1972 and received $15,000 less payout than her male counterpart, King stated publicly that until this discrepancy was resolved, she would not continue to compete in the tournament. By the next year, the men's and women's prize pots were equal.

Perhaps King's best known accomplishment, though probably not her greatest, in 1973 King beat 55 year-old former men's professional tennis player Bobby Riggs in a showcase match. Dubbed "The Battle of the Sexes," the match brought a whole new level of public interest to women's professional tennis.

King served as the first president of the women tennis player's union, the Women's Tennis Association. She co-founded WomenSports Magazine and started the Women's Sports Foundation. When she retired from professional tennis, King had won a record 20 titles at Wimbledon, including six singles, ten women's doubles, and four mixed doubles. Her career prize money totaled over $1.5 million. In 1972, she was the first woman and first tennis player ever to be named Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year.

In the 1990s, King became the coach of the U.S. Fed Cup Team and the women's Olympics tennis squad.

In her personal life, King was the first professional athlete to openly admit having a same-sex relationship. In 2001, she received an award from GLAAD for "furthering the visibility and inclusion of the community in her work."

Sources:
Wikipedia
ESPN
ABC

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Book round-up

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I've been doing a lot of reading and audiobook listening lately, and haven't posted about much of it. I don't really feel like doing full reviews, but here are some briefs:

double_crossed.jpgDouble Crossed: Uncovering the Catholic Church's Betrayal of American Nuns
by Kenneth Briggs
Doubleday, 2006

This is an interesting little book about the post-Vatican II changes in the lives of American nuns, the ways in which many orders changed and wished to change, and the barriers that were put in their way by Catholic officials. It's all very interesting stuff to me, as I know almost nothing about Catholicism. I wanted more information about the specifics of the nuns lives in and outside convents, but I suppose that would be already known by most people interested in this book. Another interesting thing it went into was the retirement problem American nuns are facing--there are not nearly enough young working nuns to support all of the elderly retired nuns. In part this is due to lack of interest in entering the convent in recent decades, and in part it's due to the pittance nuns have traditionally been paid for their work. I had never even considered how nuns are funded (or not funded, as seems to be the case), so that was really interesting. All in all, this is a quick and fascinating read.

mother_jones.jpgMother Jones: The Most Dangerous Woman in America
by Elliott J. Gorn
Hill and Wang, 2002

This is another good read, though not as quick. It busts up a lot of the myths about Mother Jones that those of us who are fairly romantic and non-critical in our idealization of labor history (me) might be guilty of, which still giving Mother Jones credit for everything she did. Gorn is a good historian, the book is very well researched, and if you can get past his critical eye (which took me some time to re-adapt to, as I haven't read any "real" history in quite a while), the book is really interesting.

history_of_love.jpgThe History of Love
by Nicole Krauss
Norton, 2006

This is, to my mind, a mediocre novel. I know a lot of people really loved it, but it didn't hold my attention at all. In fact, I don't think I even finished listening to it. I started before Christmas, but when I got back I switched to something else.

close_range.jpgClose Range: Wyoming Stories
by Annie Proulx
Scribner, 2000

I'd read some, but not all, of these stories before, but listening to them was a whole different thing. The narrators of the audio book are fantastic, with perfect, Western accented voices for the stories Proulx tells. The stories are, on the whole, incredibly depressing ("Brokeback Mountain" is, I swear, one of the happier stories in the book), but also really good. If you like Annie Proulx, I'd definitely recommend trying her short stories on audio book.

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Woman Making History #71: Rosa Parks

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Rosa%20Parks.jpgRosa Parks may well be one of the most inaccurately remembered women in history. As everyone knows, she's famous for her refusal to give up her bus seat on December 1, 1955, beginning the Montgomery Bus Boycott. However, Parks was involved in Civil Rights far before that day.

Rosa Parks was born in Alabama in 1913. Her parents divorced soon after her birth and she was raised on a farm by her mother and maternal grandparents. She was forced to drop out of high school to care for her ill mother and grandmother.

In 1932, Parks married. Her husband, Raymond, was a member of the NAACP. After her marriage, Parks finished high school. When she graduated in 1933, less than 7% of Black Americans had high school diplomas.

In 1943, Parks joined the NAACP herself, soon becoming the secretary, a position she held until 1957. Her arrest in 1955 was not the first time she had a run-in with the segregated bus system in Montgomery, nor was she the first person to do so. Earlier, a young black woman named Claudine Colvin had been arrested for the same reason, but as she was not as "upstanding" a citizen as Parks, her case did not serve as a spark for the citywide bus boycott.

After her arrest, Parks lost her job, as did her husband. Parks then began traveling and speaking on behalf of Civil Rights. In 1957, she and her husband moved to Virginia, then to Michigan, in search of work. Parks worked as a seamstress until 1965, when she became secretary to U.S. Representative John Conyers. She remained in this position until her retirement in 1988.

In 1992, Parks published her autobiography, Rosa Parks: My Story. She died in 2005.

Sources:
Wikipedia
Time
Academy of Achievement

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My extended weekend

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Due to the entire city being covered in ice, Austin is pretty much shut down today. And was yesterday as well. With Monday being a holiday, that makes this a five day weekend for me. I could get into that. Five day weekends and two day work weeks sounds just about right...

Mark and I took the dogs for a walk to the library earlier, and it was the weirdest feeling. Nobody out, very few cars, everything closed, and a layer of ice on everything. It felt like time was frozen or something. It was creepy, but also kind of nice. Like the world stopped to give me a break (because clearly it all revolves around me). An amazing amount of stress is lifted from your shoulders when you can't go anywhere, you just have to be at peace with staying home and relaxing and keeping yourself busy with whatever you have going on in your own corner of the world. Our house is very clean, I read an entire book, and my dogs have had more play time in the past few days than in the past few months. It's all good stuff. Makes me wish this kind of thing happened more often.

Spending much time on the Internet seems almost sacreligious given the opportunity for relaxation and renewal, so I haven't been online much. That part has been nice too, actually. It may not be totally healthy to enjoy being separated from the outside world, but I really do enjoy it.

Anyway, tomorrow should be back to normal--back to work, back to communicating with people outside my direct domicile, and back to the Women Making History project. Until then, though...I think maybe I'll take a nap.

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Best of 2006

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Here is a list of some of my favorite things in 2006.

Top 5 Books
5. I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence by Amy Sedaris
4. My Life in France by Julia Child
3. The Class Castle: A Memoir by Jeanette Walls
2. The Mercy of Thin Air by Ronlyn Domingue
1. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Top 5 Movies
5. Wordplay
4. The Science of Sleep
3. V for Vendetta
2. Little Miss Sunshine
1. Kinky Boots

Top 2 TV
2. House, Season 3
1. The Wire, Season 4

Top 5 CDs
5. The Be Good Tanyas, Hello Love
4. The Little Willies, The Little Willies
3. Bruce Springsteen, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions
2. The Dixie Chicks, Taking the Long Way
1. Roseanne Cash, Black Cadillac

What'd I miss?

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Woman Making History #70: Pauli Murray

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murray.jpgPauli (born Anna) Murray was born in Baltimore in 1910. Both Murray's parents died when she was young, her mother in 1914 and her father in 1923, and relatives in North Carolina raised her and her brothers.

Murray attended Hunter College for as long as she could, but was unable to continue funding her education after the Stock Market Crash in 1929. In the 1930s, Murray worked for the Works Project Administration (WPA) as a remedial reading teacher. She also began to publish articles and poems in magazines during this period, as well as serializing a novel.

Murray also became involved in the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement during the 30s. In 1938, she campaigned to be admitted to University of North Carolina, which had been all white up to that point. Murray's campaign ultimately failed, but garnered a lot of publicity. Murray was also involved in transportation desegregation battles, and she was arrested and imprisoned in 1940 for refusing to sit in the back of a Virginia bus.

In 1941, Murray enrolled in law school at Howard University. The next year, she became a founding member of the civil rights organization Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Murray graduated from Howard in 1944 and moved on to the University of California at Berkeley (after being denied admission to Harvard due to her gender), where she received her master’s degree.

After completing her education, Murray moved to New York City to work full-time in the Civil Rights movement. In 1951, she published a book, States' Laws on Race and Color, which was considered by many to be the premier work on the subject. She followed this book with another book, this time about the racial struggles of her parents and grandparents, and an extended trip to Ghana to explore her roots.

In 1960, President Kennedy appointed Murray to the Committee on Civil and Political Rights. Murray continued her activism in the Civil Rights movement, but was critical of its male-centered nature.

In 1977, Murray became the first African-American woman to become an Episcopal priest.

Pauli Murray died of cancer in Pittsburgh in 1985.

Sources:
Wikipedia
Spartacus Educational
North Carolina Writers
The Pauli Murray Human Relations Award

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Pain in the House

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house_with_pills.jpgAfter several weeks' hiatus, Mark and I eagerly tuned in to Fox (which I would watch for no other reason) for last night's episode of House. We are both big fans of the show, Mark for the medical stuff (even if it is pretty far from believable) and House's sarcastic wit, and me for the same wit and because I've developed a big fat crush on Hugh Laurie (who hasn't, really?). I realized last night, though, that there is something else I really like about the show.

It deals with pain. And not just the transient pain of patients who have specific, curable or treatable illnesses, but the chronic, never-ending pain House himself is in. The topic of this pain doesn't go away. It peaks and wanes, but it's always there, and not just as a reason for House's drug addiction, but as a topic in and of itself. In last night's episode, when House apologized to Tritter, he explained his behavior with something along the lines of "I am in constant pain. Pain that, on a good day, is just unbearable."

As a society, we don't know how to deal with chronic pain or illness. We have a decent idea of how to wrap our minds around illnesses and pains that are temporary, that can either be fixed or lead to a fairly rapid death, but the idea of chronic pain and illness eludes us. I think this may account for part of our appalling treatment of the disabled, though that's just a guess. We seem to only be able to conceptualize "sick" and "better," and have no idea how to deal with the idea that sometimes functioning in pain or sickness for the rest of one's life is just the way it is.

I am close to two people who are in chronic pain. Though neither of them is a Vicodin addict like House, they both manage their pain pharmaceutically, to a greater or lesser degree. Also unlike House, neither of them has an external manifestation of the pain (House walks with a limp and uses a cane, for those who don't watch the show). Both of them have reached a point with the causes of their pain where they more or less know it's permanent. And I don't necessarily know how each of them feels about it, but I know that from the perspective of someone who loves them, it is infuriating to watch them have to deal not only with the physical and emotional consequences of constantly hurting, but also with living in a society that has no place for that, no idea how to deal with it, and no vocabulary with which to talk about it.

One of the most frustrating things, at least from what I have observed, is having people ask how you are and knowing that their question is much less "how are you coping?" and much more "are you getting better?" People who should know that better isn't really on the table. It begins to seem almost accusatory, as if people are thinking that it must really be your fault you're in pain if you haven't gotten better after this long. As if righteous diseases and disorders have timelines, but chronic ones are somehow unworthy of sympathy.

I know from firsthand experience that there is a lot of guilt surrounding being a chronically sick person, even if your illnesses, like mine, are, in the grand scheme of things, minor. I feel guilty every time I get sick and have to miss work, or miss another commitment, or slow down in any way. I feel like if I just got sick once in awhile, it would be OK, but since I get sick so often, people are inevitably going to blame me for it and begrudge me the down time (and, to be honest, sometimes they do). I would imagine this to be even worse for someone in chronic pain, whose condition exists not annoyingly often, like mine, but constantly. We all know, from whatever experience of pain we've had, that pain limits you. It limits you physically, and it limits you mentally and emotionally. Just being in pain is tiring, a drain on your resources. Not only does House's addiction to pain killers make sense, if one imagines a bad pain they've had and having to carry that pain around constantly forever, but his personality makes sense as well. Pain cuts through the bullshit and leaves you with what's real, and that's not always polite, or pretty.

We should have room in our society to talk about pain, and to accept that people who are in chronic pain have a burden to bear that cannot even be imagined by those of us who go through the majority of our days pain-free. This isn't to say that we should have more sympathy, or that actions should be excuse from people in pain that would not be excused from others, but I think these people deserve to have their pain acknowledged as a circumstance of their lives that must be realized and taken into account. When you know someone is never going to "feel better," it is unbelievably selfish to continue to ask him or her if they do. It's not for them, it's for you, so you can feel like things are progressing the way that they should be, so you don't have to face the fact that sometimes it doesn't get better. Certainly the person who is living with that fact has already faced it.

It's probably part and parcel of the quick-fix society in which we live that we don't know how to respond to each other when something is wrong that is never going to be right. We specialize in correcting problems, not in living with them. But the truth of it is that most of us are not going to be so lucky as to have solutions for everything, long-term. Though we may never have the kind of chronic pain conditions that House has, or that the two people in my life have, we are going to age, and there's likely to be pain with that. There is a lot of room between what we think of as sick and what we think of as well, and a lot of people spend the majority of their lives in that space--it is ridiculous and embarrassing that we as a society want so badly to overlook those people, place blame on them, or try to fit them into categories where they don't belong. House may just be a stupid TV show, but it is one doing something I've not seen much before--placing it's central character directly in that gray zone, between the "healthy" people around him and the "sick" patients he treats. He moves within that zone, but he's not going to get out of it. And that's something we need to see, to accept. Only when we face that pain is not always a transitory state, that there are people for whom it is part of the fabric of daily life, and that those people can and do go on living and living well, will we be able to deal honestly and compassionately with those people, and with the fear of pain in ourselves.

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Naming the goals

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I wasn't planning to write up a list of New Year's resolutions this year, but I was just listening to some podcast that was talking about how much more successful people are in meeting their goals if they (1) write those goals down and (2) share those goals with others, so I figured I'd better.

Basically, I want to get in control of heath and finances this year. Those are my broad goals. But the program also said that the more specific your goals are, the better suited you are to obtain them. So, more specifically:

Financial goals:

1. In 2007, I will completely pay down my credit card debt. I will not take on any new credit card debt.
2. In 2007, I will make regular payments to my student loan.
3. In 2007, after my credit cards are paid, I will put the same amount per month into savings as I was putting into paying them.

Health goals:

1. Make a new health-related goal every two weeks and work on that goal, trying to keep up with previous goals as well. (Example: for the first two weeks of the year, I am working on giving up soda.)
2. Walk the dogs. Take them to the park. Enjoy the fact that I live somewhere with really freaking good weather.

So that's it. Those are my goals. Consider them written out and shared.

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Woman Making History #69: Lucretia Mott

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mott.jpgAnd we're back!

Lucretia Mott was born in a Quaker community in Nantucket, Massachusetts in 1793. Mott attended a co-ed Quaker boarding school, Nine Partners, as a teenager and became a teacher at the school as a young woman. In 1811, Mott married a fellow teacher. In the next 17 years, she had six children, five of whom lived to adulthood.

While her children were young, Mott began to devote herself to the Quaker church, becoming a minister by 1821. In the "Great Separation" of the Church in 1827, Mott and her husband followed Elias Hicks in the less evangelical and orthodox branch of the church.

After the separation, Mott began to travel, speaking against slavery. She then began to organize women's abolitionist societies, since existing societies would not usually accept women as members. When Mott attended the World Anti-Slavery Convention in 1840, she found that as a woman she was not allowed to speak and that seating was segregated by gender. At this convention, Mott met Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

In 1847, Cady Stanton and Mott, together with others, hosted a women's rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York. Mott presided over this meeting and was the first woman to sign the Women's Declaration of Sentiments that came out of it. The first convention was followed by another convention in 1850 in Rochester.

After the Civil War, Mott was elected the first president of the American Equal Rights Convention, where she worked to reconcile factions that prioritized women's rights and those that prioritized black male suffrage.

Mott continued her involvement with peace and justice and equality causes until her death in 1880.

Sources:
About: Women's History
Mott Project (Pomona College)
National Women's Hall of Fame

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History Making Woman #68: Dorothy Kenyon

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kenyon.gifDorothy Kenyon was born in 1888 in New York City. She was the first of three children. Her father was a patent attorney and she grew up well off.

Kenyon attended Smith College, graduating in 1908. She spent the next several years traveling and enjoying life, then enrolled in New York University School of Law in 1914. She graduated from law school in 1917. She worked as a researcher advising lawyers at the Versailles Peace Conference for her first post-graduate job. She was also known in the 1920s for her support of access to birth control for all women and labor rights.

In 1930, Kenyon opened a private practice with another female lawyer, Dorothy Strauss. In 1939, she left the practice to become a municipal court judge. From 1938 through 1943, she served on the League of Nations Committee to Study the Legal Status of Women, a commitment she followed with membership on the United Nations Committee on the Status of Women from 1946 to 1950.

During the McCarthy trials of the 1950s, Kenyon was accused of involvement with more than 20 Communist organizations. Charges against her were dropped. Kenyon worked as a lawyer for the ACLU and the NAACP in the 1950s and 1960s, and was involved in the fights for Civil Rights and against the Vietnam War.

Dorothy Kenyon died in 1972.

Sources:
Wikipedia
Women's Legal History Biography Project
Agents of Social Change (Smith College Collection)

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Woman Making History #67: Louisa May Alcott

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louisa-may-alcott.jpgLouisa May Alcott was born in 1832 in Philadelphia. She was the second of four girls. Her father was a noted Transcendentalist, her mother a women's rights advocate, and her family dedicated abolitionists. Alcott studied with fellow Transcendentalists Thoreau, Emerson, and Hawthorne as a child, but was mostly educated by her father. Her family mostly lived in poverty during her childhood, and she started work early as a teacher, seamstress, governess, and occasional writer.

In 1860, Alcott began writing for The Atlantic Monthly. She later became the editor of a children's magazine, Merry Museum. She also wrote popular novels under a pseudonym, A.M. Barnard, and moralistic children's tales under her own name, most notably 1868's Little Women and its several sequels.

Alcott never married, but she adopted her two year-old orphaned niece in 1879.

Late in her life, Alcott became involved in women's suffrage. In 1879, she was the first woman to register to vote in Concord, Massachusetts.

Alcott died in 1888 in Boston.

Sources:
Wikipedia
Women Writers
National Women's Hall of Fame

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January Giving

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For my first-of-the-year giving, I'm renewing my memberships in a few worthwhile organizations for 2007. These organizations are:

American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)
Feminist Majority Foundation
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
Amnesty International USA
KUT (Austin's public radio station)

These are organizations that I believe are worth my membership every year, at least in our current climate. I encourage you to take a bit of time this January and consider whether you have similar organizations, and pledge your support to them--at whatever level--for 2007. You don't have to make a big donation to become a member, and increasing membership is as important as money for some of these groups, as they can bring down more funds of other types when their membership numbers go up, among other things. It's a good thing to do.Plus they send you stickers. And address labels. And this year the ASPCA send me really cool wrapping paper. So there's that...

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Facing forward

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Today is the first day of 2007. There's always a lot of looking back at this time of year (or at least during the days proceeding this day of the year), and that's all well and good and I generally do some of that myself, but today I woke up looking forward.

I'm excited to see what 2007 will bring. Really, more of the same would be just fine with me. 2006 was a lovely year, all things being accounted for. Life is generally very good. There are, as always, some things I'd like to change and improve upon in the next year, but nothing that shatters me.

My head is taken up mostly by an endless list of projects I'd like to accomplish over the next two days. I got a surprise day off tomorrow due to the day of mourning for former President Ford, which is a great impetus to expand my list of things to do. Mostly it's house cleaning and organization stuff. Not a way most people would choose to begin the new year, maybe, but it feels right to me to try to begin with things clean and orderly, in both my house and my mind.

Happy 2007, y'all. May it be all you want it to be.

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