Monday, January 25, 2010

". . . like a red, rubber ball . . ."

This evening's sunset reminded me of

Simon and Garfunkel's song from the good ole days of

rock and roll.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

400 Hundred Years of American Womanhood

During my recent confinement I finally got around to reading a book that's been on my shelf since 2004. The title "America's Women: 400 years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines" made it irresistible.
I read some of the printed comments on the first page that praised Gail Collins' book up, down, left and right. For the most part, I agree with all the praise. It was a huge undertaking and she managed to put four centuries of history into 442 pages (not including the 114 more pages of epilogue, notes, bibliography and index.)
Her take on the earliest European women to survive life in the colonies is fascinating. There was absolutely nothing romantic or fun about those early days. A woman's role remained subservient and was far harsher than any male's. Old ways died hard.
The basics of life as they had known them didn't exist when Europeans came ashore in Virginia and New England. Shelter was rudimentary at best and crowded. Water had to be drawn from mosquito infested, briny marshes -- by women -- and bathing was unthinkable, as it had been in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries. But, unlike Europe, Virginia was miserably hot and humid.
Collins bravely went where few have ventured before; speculating on how women handled menstruation. Apparently, nothing much has ever been written or revealed on how that played out. Baby diapers were rags and, because doing laundry was hard labor, they seldom were washed. Babies might spend days in one diaper that would then be scraped clean, air-dried and re-applied. Of course, lack of cleanliness wasn't the only reason for high infant mortality. Women were almost forced to keep having babies in hopes that some would survive to work the fields.
Moving through the Revolutionary and Civil Wars women were forced into roles that exacerbated their already difficult existence. During World War I, a woman's role was to keep the home fires burning which meant doing all the farm work her "brave Dough boy" couldn't help with because he was off fighting the war in Europe.
World War II again required double duty of women. They filled factory jobs where they were little appreciated by the men who felt emasculated -- women belonged in the home. Rosie the Riveter was a figment of an illustrator's imagination. When U.S. soldiers came home after the war, the women were instantly out of work, even those who were single or widowed and the sole support for their families.
Women in the military came away scarred and disillusioned. They had been openly resented by the males they replaced because it meant that the men would be sent into the fighting. Women pilots who fought for the right to enlist were then assigned mundane or dangerous jobs like hauling targets for gunnery practice.
When women returned from military service, they were not cheered or feted with ticker-tape parades. They were expected to take off the jumpsuits and boots, clean the grease from their fingernails and return to skirts and heels to satisfy their men. Most shamefully, only their male counterparts received recognition and veterans' benefits.
Women who had done heavy factory work AND kept the home fires burning were not recognized for their service. They lost their jobs as soon as the men came back to take them, even if the women were more skilled.
The author did a decent job of reporting on the cultural tsunami of the 60s and 70s. A significant omission, however, is not mentioning our concern with over-population.
Zero population growth became a mantra for millions of young adults. We were constantly reminded that the world was quickly approaching the tipping point in how many humans it could support with Earth's limited resources. Birth control became a grave responsibility rather than just a convenience.
We baby-boomers are blamed for all sorts of coming disasters like the depletion of social security funds, sky-rocketing health care costs and more. I would argue that if we early boomers had continued the baby boom our parents started, we'd be in far worse shape now. By controlling birth-rates (which very few of our parents embraced in any form or fashion) we left room for today's 20 and 30-somethings to come into their own.
Many restrictive double standards no longer discriminate against women OR men thanks in large part to women activists. Gail Collins' book helped to flesh out how complex and daunting a task that has been.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Sorry I'm such a handful.

Patty phoned me last night to see if I was OK. On Monday she had talked with Mom who expressed great concern about me. [This is usually how it plays out. Mom will hint to me that she's concerned, but only spills her guts to Patty. That's probably a good thing because I usually end up in tears when Mom gets worried about me. Guilt, you know.] Anyway, I've been "under the weather" for almost three months now. Right before Thanksgiving, I developed bronchitis that seemed utterly unwilling to go away. Regular doses of codeine/expectorant cough syrup, hot drinks and rest simply left me bone-tired and constipated (codeine will do that, you know). I hacked so hard, I couldn't sleep at night. A few times, I was afraid spouse would panic and call 911. The icing on my health crisis was snapping my back while toweling-off after a shower. Searing pain burned down my left leg leaving me breathless, bent in half and in tears. Something had taken hold of my sciatic nerve and seemed to be twisting it to cause the worst possible pain. My sympathetic doctor put me on Percocet and high dose Motrin -- three days before Christmas. You guessed it -- we missed Christmas festivities with my family in southern Maryland. The only relatively pain free position I could find was sitting in a straight backed chair, bent forward. To make matters worse, climbing into and out of the shower was just too much, so I went a few days without bathing, something I never imagined I could do. The sciatica has eased though sitting and lying down are still challenging. I do stretches [verrry carefully] hoping that a vertebra will snap back into position, releasing the nerve. It hasn't happened yet. I thought about chiropractic, but still have lower back pain from my last visit to one. If it wasn't for the unfortunate bowel-related side-effect of narcotics, I might have enjoyed the meds. more! [Half kidding there. There's a lot to be said in favor of fluffy, light-headedness when one is in pain.] So . . . to my concerned loved ones . . . I'm sorry for causing alarm. I no longer need the narcotics and am starting to believe I will survive this. My "usual health issues" are correcting themselves and life is beginning to look normal. A bright spot in all this is that I've read some good books that I'll share with you all in the future. And last, but most certainly not least -- Spouse has been a trooper. He's done the laundry by himself, made a stab at grocery shopping by himself and kept the apartment clean enough that we haven't been evicted! I DO love the man!!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Skip the pants and bottled water . . .

. . . send money. OK, so that sounds harsh, but it is the most immediate and practical way to offer assistance during a major disaster like the earthquake in Haiti. I know writing a check to a charity is not nearly as appealing as collecting clothing, food and water from friends and neighbors. Donors can picture a grateful survivor opening that can of peaches or putting on that donated blouse. Nice image, but totally unrealistic during the first critical hours and days following a disaster. Whether it's a house fire or a major earthquake, the priorities are rescuing survivors, providing medical care and shelter. Clean drinking water is a close second. In short, monetary donations can be used immediately to respond to the most critical needs as they arise. For all we well-intentioned spectators know, gauze and antibiotics might be crucial needs today. Tomorrow, it might be tents and blankets and disposable diapers. The next day it might be body bags for the dead. Budgeting donor dollars is a sacred trust for charities. They must get the biggest bang for their buck. It is far more cost effective and expedient to purchase supplies in unaffected areas of a country or at least within the region. Not only is that a quicker, less costly way to help, it is culturally sensitive to the victims and helps their national economy at the same time. While heart-warming, it was also heart-breaking watching reports about school kids collecting clothing, food and water for Haitian earthquake survivors. Their best intentions cannot help at this point nor, perhaps, even in the near future. It may take months to ship and distribute what those children collected. While I applaud their effort and sincerity, I wish they'd had better guidance on ways they could help. Emotions, understandably, so often over rule practicality at a time like this. There are people right here in our region who need the clothing, food and bottled water. Perhaps these children might give their generous donation of supplies to needy folks here in honor of the Haitian Earthquake Survivors. Their good deed will be rewarded and the supplies put to good use. Just and idea . . .   Confession: I worked for the American Red Cross, one of many reputable non-profits providing aid to Haiti.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Bone-Walk

Patty, my sister who lives in a suburban Chicago, phoned this evening. Her area is getting clobbered by the snow and high winds that are hitting a big chunk of the States. She just loves [NOT] cold weather. I chuckled remembering how the inside of my nose used to freeze walking to school when I grew up there. Patty's been enjoying that effect just a bit too much to appreciate the humor in it.
While we were catching up on her family, their golden doodle, Tucker started his daily bone-walk. Say what? Apparently, he started the ritual some time ago with a special bone. There are no teeth marks on the bone because it is not for that purpose. It only comes into play during the late evening.
When it's time to go to bed, Tucker searches for the bone-walk bone. Sometimes it's under someone's bed, in the basement or it could be anywhere in the house. He then carries it through every occupied room to alert the family that it's time to go to bed. [shades of ye olde towne cryer -- hear yee, hear yee -- it's time to hit the hay!] He keeps this up until someone gets the hint and starts heading upstairs to the bedrooms.
This evening older daughter, Bethany, followed his lead up the stairs and headed into her bedroom. As happens every night, Tucker then places the bone somewhere out of the way and goes to bed with whomever has followed him.
Patty said he even has a distinctive walk during this ritual. His toenails sound different on the wood floors. By this point, I was weeping with laughter picturing that big doofus of an adorable dog doing his thing. He's incredibly smart and usually gets his way because he's so darned cute and loveable.
This is Tucker and Bailey, Bethany's new Westie. It took Tucker a while to understand that Bethany is no longer his exclusive property. Now the two of them are best furry friends and enjoy romping in the snow in their new, stylish outerwear. I'd give anything to be there to throw snowballs for them!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Dithering

Accusations that President Obama has been dithering in his decision-making bothers me. A lot. Those who spout this opinion should honestly re-examine the lack of forethought that brought the U.S. to it's current, sorry status in the eyes of many of its own citizens and the rest of the world. Honest evaluation is difficult for politicians. It requires them to accept responsibility for unpopular outcomes which could cost them votes. Jumping in with both feet, guns blazing as in an old cowboy movie triggered warfare that now seems to be impossible to end without dire consequences for both the liberators and the liberated. Clearly strategy, particularly an exit strategy, was not considered. Disgracefully under-equipped American troops were sent into a region whose customs and values are radically different from our own. Judgements seem to have been made on the naive theories that: A. We would be viewed as rescuing heroes, freeing beleaguered people from tyrannical leadership. B. Fighting would be over quickly with relatively little effort or loss of life. C. Democracy would miraculously be born and embraced by the liberated people. D. American troops would victoriously withdraw through grateful, cheering crowds. E. American business would enjoy an economic boost providing war matériel, technology and infrastructure development. F. Everyone would live happily ever after. With so much history and up-to-the-second information available, how did we allow ourselves to be dragged into this no-win situation? Surely brilliant minds were available and willing to provide consultation and advice. The impulsive arrogance of the previous executive branch fueled this dangerous, deliberate ignorance. Figuring out how to end two wars could stagger any leader. The current administration has also been tasked with leading the recovery from an extreme, global economic crisis that might have been thwarted if not for a deliberate lack of oversight, misplaced trust and ethical depreciation. The Obama administration and the President, personally, are making steady strides in repairing the damaged reputation of the American People. Mr. Obama's impressive personal dignity and integrity have withstood insulting challenges even from fellow Americans. Dithering is an illogical conclusion. In a single year Barack Obama has won the hearts and minds of people around the world. If it hadn't been for his swift and controversial actions during the first few weeks and months of his administration the world economy might have collapsed. It is sadly ironic that some Americans still cannot get past his skin color to realize that he is our best hope to pull us out of the quagmire created by his predecessors. Even to his most vocal critics it must now be clear that it would have been disastrous to allow big business to try to fix itself. Even after the federal government dragged their sorry butts out of the fire -- at huge political and taxpayer expense -- some big business tycoons still don't get it. It will take every ounce of strength and courage Mr. Obama can muster to regain the United States' hard-won position of respect and humanitarianism in the world. I, for one, am grateful that he has the capacity and was willing to take on such a burden. His thoughtful, deliberate and calm manner is what we need in our president. He's no wimp nor is he a rogue. Bickering over party ideologies and loss of political face is not constructive and wastes time and money on "both sides of the aisle." Allowing differences to overwhelm and overrule common sense might allow our enemies to divide and conquer us. Surely that's not what the president's critics are going after . . .

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Clean and Sober

Spouse and I did our grocery shopping on Friday, New Year's Day rather than our usual Saturday morning gig. I felt guilty shopping on a holiday when I think everyone should have a day off, but the thought of having two straight, undisturbed days at home with each other was incentive enough to get over my guilt. I enjoy meeting and talking with strangers. Little children and babies are always a joy and every now and again I'll strike up a conversation with an adult. Being a special day, I was wishing everyone who made eye contact a Happy New Year. Before I could say that to one, jovial looking man, he joyfully told me he had been clean and sober for six years. As of January 18 it will be seven years. Normally, I would think this kind of information is a little too intimate to share with strangers, but he seemed genuinely happy and proud to share his accomplishment. I gave him a warm smile, a high five and heartfelt congratulations. He grinned widely and told me he played guitar and wrote a song about AA meetings and his battle to overcome his addiction. As I politely listened I could tell people around us were wondering what this middle-aged white woman and a younger black man could possibly be discussing. I didn't care because I felt honored that he would share something so personal with me. Then I began to think that maybe he thought he knew me. Either way, we high-fived each other again and went about our shopping. Standing in line at the check-out, I noticed him in a line three lanes over. He smiled and waved and I gave him two thumbs up. His cheerful face crosses my mind every now and then. I'll keep him in my prayers and hope he can continue to enjoy his clean and sober life. Heaven knows he earned it!