Thursday, July 29, 2004


Did you know that when it rains a lot, the rain that falls on your leaky roof goes in all sorts of other places? LIke the bathroom ceiling? Did you know that when it rains a lot, and drips are coming through the bathroom ceiling, that said ceiling is actually being eaten away by the rain? I did, but what could we do? It was raining--no one would come out to look at the roof in the rain. We knew it leaked, and we'd even been patching (that would be the royal, or at least marital, "we"--Mark does all the roof work here). So, anyway, yes, the ceiling caved in yesterday morning and a big chunk of it fell down while Mark was brushing his teeth. We (and this is a real we) got it cleaned up, and stared up into the hole with wonder for a while, and then called the roofer who was supposed to give us an estimate two weeks ago. "We haven't worked since Thursday," the voice on the other end of the line told me. "It's killing us." Me, too, I wanted to say. But didn't, because I want her to like me and to send her guy out to look at my roof. So anyway there's a hole in the roof. And bits of sodden drywall and plaster--enough to fill four or five grocery bags--are in the supercan now and ready to be hauled away. And I'm just hoping the ceiling in Nick's room doesn't fall down too--it's looking suspiciously sodden, and it could go any minute. Pray for sun.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Dissent Magazine - Spring 2004

This is an interesting review of Ehrenreich and Hochschild's new book, Global Woman : Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy. It's in Dissent Magazine - Spring 2004, and here's a tid-bit: "In the wake of women's departure for paid work, an insufficient number of volunteers have taken up the unpaid domestic tasks that require personal attention to either things (cleaning the house, doing the laundry, preparing meals) or people (looking after those who cannot look after themselves-children, the sick, the disabled, the elderly). In particular, fathers and husbands have not shouldered their share of the burden. The result is, in Hochschild's phrase, a gaping 'care deficit.' "

I like it much better than this piece by Caitlin Flanagan, the much-discussed "How Serfdom Saved the Women's Movement." For one thing, as you can see above, Bronstein (unlike Flanagan) recognizes that men have a role to play in the disempowerment of women. And in house-cleaning and other "care work." But I'm a little worried that Bronstein seems to think the way to solve the problem of the exploitation of third world women is simply for first world men to do more housework and other care-giving. Because if the problem is that first world men and women are both out in the workplace, in the cash economy, then work that was formerly done for free by someone who was not involved in the cash economy (usually wives) is not suddenly going to be done for free by people who are involved in the cash economy. Unless I'm missing something.

In my house, we both do whatever cooking, cleaning, and care-giving needs to be done. We've paid for child care both in and out of our home, but we've never hired a full-time in-house caregiver, nor have we hired housecleaners. And it shows. When only one of us was working full time, the other picked up most of the care-giving slack. Now that both kids are in school we can actually both work in the cash economy and get by without exploiting anyone else to do our cleaning for us. (Except, ok, our kids on occasion.) But we are extremely rare in that our participation in the cash economy is not tied to a 9-to-5 (or, more often, 8-to-5) office or other place of business, so we can do what needs to be done when it needs to be done. I don't quite see how the average couples Bronstein is talking about are going to get all the care-giving done without paying for it, if both adults are working in the cash economy.

I don't think "serfdom saved the women's movement" because I don't think dual-income professionals are necessarily feminists. And I do think many men are not involved enough in the caregiving activities of their homes. I am aware that my situation is unusual, and that I've been extremely fortunate. (Well, I did choose him, after all.) I'm just afraid Bronstein's solution--involve the men--is just as limited as she says Hochschild and Ehrenreich's solution--treat third world women better--is. We need to do both, and more. What we really need is some kind of wholesale economic change, as advocated by Ann Crittenden among others, that can somehow account for and recognize caregiving as productive labor. Not, as Bronstein says, in order to "quantify" it and make it part of the cash economy, necessarily, but in order to change the way that economy does business.

Yeah, I know, pie in the sky. But we can always hope.

Clinton is funny!

I thought this was the funniest moment of the convention last night. Who knew Bill Clinton could be amusing? - Special Section: "At home, the President and the Republican Congress have made equally fateful choices indeed. For the first time ever when America was on a war footing, there were two huge tax cuts, nearly half of which went to the top one percent. I'm in that group now for the first time in my life.

When I was in office, the Republicans were pretty mean to me. When I left and made money, I became part of the most important group in the world to them. At first I thought I should send them a thank you note -- until I realized they were sending you the bill."

Put Ann Coulter In A Cage?

I hate to give Ann Coulter any more publicity, but really, what is the point of this comment? Put The Speakers In A Cage: "As for the pretty girls, I can only guess that it's because liberal boys never try to make a move on you without the UN Security Council's approval.  Plus, it's no fun riding around in those dinky little hybrid cars. My pretty-girl allies stick out like a sore thumb amongst the corn-fed, no make-up, natural fiber, no-bra needing, sandal-wearing, hirsute, somewhat fragrant hippie chick pie wagons they call 'women' at the Democratic National Convention."

What on earth is a "pie wagon"? And what on earth is it supposed to prove, to claim that Republican women are "pretty girls" as opposed to the above-referenced Democrats? (And, by the way, how does Hillary Clinton fit into this description?)

More on the convention coming up...

Sunday, July 25, 2004

The Believer - In the Penthouse of the Ivory Tower

The Believer - In the Penthouse of the Ivory Tower

Check out the whole piece. It's long, but it really seems to get at some important truths about the plight of the English professor today.

Here's a sampling:
"But what are English professors for? They teach, of course, but they don't help out with economic policy, they have little to say about natural disasters, and they can't build futuristic prostheses. And the better the applied sciences get at answering these lurking purpose-questions—'Hey, check out this new laser-equipped invisibility frock we just made in the lab'—the more their colleagues over in the English building seem like starry-eyed, impractical romantics, or, less charitably, anachronistic buffoons. Despite her clotted jargon and fustian grammar, Ghazoul is making a serious point: more and more people are wondering what the hell English professors are doing and why they should be allowed to keep doing it, and they need to reformulate their answers."

Saturday, July 24, 2004


And why they call it a "sleep"over, I'm not sure, as sleeping is really the last thing that happens. This was Nick's birthday party, and only three other kids, all of them boys, stayed overnight. One fell asleep by 9:30, in the midst of the chaos. The rest stayed up until midnight or so, and were up again this morning before 7. (Nick's alarm went off, awakening him, but the rest were all up already.)

I think they had fun...

Wednesday, July 21, 2004


OK, I've got the links back, and the reading and viewing lists are almost up-to-date, and I've got comments. So let me know what you think.

new template

Oh, well. I changed my template because, well, everyone seemed to be doing it. But of course I lost my links over on the right. I had just archived the viewing and reading lists in the commonplace book, so they are relatively up-to-date, but I'll need to reconstruct some other stuff. Please be patient with me! I think this is readable (let me know if you do, too), but I am a lamer who forgets stuff, so it will be a while before my links, etc., are all reconstructed. And, hmm, I haven't checked to see if I still have comments and all... Sigh.

Friday, July 16, 2004

you know you love these tests

My Bloginality is INFJ!!!

still great...

I went last night to hear them. My first (and only other) Earth, Wind & Fire concert was during college, almost 25 years ago. They've been making music for 30 years, so I've seen them at both ends of their career. Last night it was an outdoor concert, and it was fabulous. The weather was perfect--unusually for Richmond, the humidity was low and the temperature moderate. The sun went down early in the show, which gave their (fairly simple) light show a better chance to shine. (Maybe it was more elaborate than I could tell--I was standing off to one side and couldn't really see to the back of the stage at all...) There were three of the original members of the group there, with a great band--three (or was it four) drum sets, horns, guitar, keyboards, and assorted percussion. They played all their hits--Shining Star, Remember, Got To Get You Into My Life (vies for best cover ever with the Talking Heads version of Take Me To The River), After the Love is Gone, Boogie Wonderland, you name it. It was a really diverse crowd (also somewhat unusual for Richmond, though less so for these outdoor events), both racially and in terms of age: I saw grandmothers (a woman with a pacemaker was hoping it would be ok with all the bass reverberating in her chest), kids, middle-aged couples, teenagers. I went with a friend and we stood and danced all evening in the cool summer air. Philip Bailey, the soaring vocalist you remember, introduced the band at one point and it included his wife, who had just given birth to their son only 8 weeks ago. She looked fabulous.

When I saw EWF before it was a highly choreographed show, as I remember. I think they levitated someone at one point. They may not all have dressed the same but there was some uniformity to the look and definitely to the show. This felt like more of a jam session--old friends having fun with their music. It was a complete blast.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

missed it

I've been blogging for over a year now, but I just missed the anniversary entirely. Oh, well. In honor of it (once I realized it had passed) I read some of my earliest posts. Nick was just learning to swim, we had Clothilde visiting, and I was working out my first couple of columns. Now Nick is on swim team, Mariah's friend Emily has a French visitor, and I haven't worked out my last two columns here at all. I'm not sure if that's progress or not.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

summer thunder

Thunderstorms are a summer fact of life in Virginia. They tend to blow in at dusk, or a little before, late in the afternoon, usually over a brilliant blue sky. Just out of nowhere. There was one like that Tuesday night at Nick’s swim meet; my friend Yvonne had just remarked how this year the meets weren’t being delayed by thunderstorms, as they had been last year every week, and then one came through. First the distant thunder, which clears the pool. Then lightning, which clears the decks—everyone out of the pool area. At that point we left entirely, went to get dinner with Nick, figuring the meet was toast. We watched sheets of rain fall, wind blow, bolts of lightning light up the sky—and then, clear again. By the time dinner was over it was a lovely summer evening, if a bit damp. We went back and he swam his event, full of french toast and so slow...He cried when he didn’t win his heat, and we left early.

But now I’m talking about a day last week, a day I'd been rather weepy (hormonal, missing Mariah, I don't know...). I was in the office to meet with a student, trying to disguise the fact that I’d spent most of the morning crying. He didn’t seem to notice, and when he left I decided to leave as well, to drive up to the mall, return some things, get some lunch. I headed northwest from campus on a bright sunny day—and almost immediately saw the heavy grey cloud in my rearview mirror. It seemed to follow me as I drove up the highway, Parliament-Funkadelic blaring from the cd-player. “We’ve got the funk, give us the funk...” It didn’t quite suit my mood, but I wanted something lively, something to take me out of my head, and the voice of the lead singer suggestively intoning “Chocolate City,” as if it were a sex toy rather than a political statement, seemed to do it.

I stopped into Panera Breads for my lunch. They advertise on public radio and one of their featured salads sounded good. I ordered it, took it to my table, and sat down to read something for Literary Mama and eat. About halfway into the salad, the grey cloud arrived. With it a wind. The wind was astonishing—out of nowhere, it seemed, all this fury. The staff at the restaurant all ran outside to bring in the umbrellas that were on the outside tables. Before they came back in, the rain started; they came in laughing, soaked.

Then the power went out. A flicker, another flicker, then darkness. But no one seemed terribly concerned. The restaurant has big windows all around, and the woman next to me simply raised the shade so she could keep on reading as she ate. I did the same. Someone managerial—a stout woman in a red polo shirt and too-tight khakis, cell phone and beeper clipped to her bulging pockets—called out, “you’re all free to stay.” We laughed—why wouldn’t we be?

Minutes later she came out again. “Please move away from the windows” she called out. “Wakefield has put out a tornado warning. One touched down in Ashland.” Wakefield is the local weather station; Ashland only a few miles north of us. The reading woman next to me and I both picked up our salads, our drinks, our books, and moved to the interior of the restaurant. I sat next to a man who looked like Tim Conway, sitting with his daughter (maybe ten). They sat silently. I caught his eye, “do you think this is far enough away from the window?” He didn’t answer as I sat down. Minutes later we exchanged glances again. “This is pretty unusual,” he said. I agreed, and returned to my salad, my reading.

Several members of the staff were clustered near me. Rain was coming in under the door. One young woman—maybe 20—was nervous, wanted a cigarette. She got no sympathy from her coworkers. The manager asked one of the men to start clearing the racks out of the cooler and walk-in freezer in case we needed to take shelter there. I remembered that last year Mariah had been on a camping trip with her class, up in the mountains, and they had indeed taken shelter in a Burger King cooler when a tornado warning had closed the road they were on. I wondered how cold it would be. I wondered where Nick was—he had gone to camp in the morning, and was to have a playdate with a friend afterwards. Did they have power where they were? I hoped he wasn’t scared, but beyond that didn’t give it much thought. Kerry, the mom he was with, is way more safety-conscious and organized than I am, so I didn’t worry. I hoped Mark wasn’t up on the roof trying to fix our many leaks, but that too was only a passing thought—I knew he wasn’t. For a moment I wished I had a cell phone so I could check up, then I went back to simply enjoying the enforced quiet, the camaraderie I saw among restaurant patrons and staff, and, especially, the power of the storm. Jagged lightning bolts flashed here and there; the thunder wasn’t loud, though, so I didn’t feel threatened, only mildly curious. A bit drained.

It broke in about half an hour. I had finished eating but not reading, so I picked up my books and papers and left, thanking the manager for her hospitality. She didn’t seem to get it, but I was grateful for her officiousness, for her concern. As I left I noticed tents down in mangled heaps in front of a sporting goods store; the banners announcing their “tent sale” were still up, though.

The storm wasn’t really over. It was still raining. Power was still out—traffic lights weren’t working. The mall was open, but the stores, which had no power, were closed, so I couldn’t do my errand. I drove home, trying to catch some news, but the radio stations were all playing music, unconcerned.

I came home to find no power there, either, and sat on the floor and cried some more, no longer stressed but just tired. Honestly, some days I feel like I’m living in a bad novel—my back hurts and I think, yes, that’s it, the weight of the world is on my shoulders. Yesterday I thought of the storm of tears passing through me as the thunderstorm had passed through Richmond. If I wrote it in a novel the editor would strike it—too obvious. But there it was.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Ms. Musings

Why did it take me so long to find this blog?

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

ob-gyn follies

I don't know if there's a statute of limitations on blog links. This one is from June, but it's just so funny you have to read it anyway. If you have ever had a pelvic exam, a mammogram, or any other humiliating procedure in a doctor's office, this will make you laugh out loud.

My own personal story of ob-gyn humiliation is nowhere near as funny, but here it is anyway.

When I was seven months pregnant with Mariah, I woke up one morning with excruciating stomach cramps. Pain like you would not believe. I was for some reason completely convinced that it wasn't the baby, but I didn't know what it was. Maybe food poisoning? Mark took me in to the clinic where I was getting my prenatal treatment. They put me in an examining room and I threw up. Maybe more than once. I lay on my side, groaning. Oh, yeah, and it had been really early in the morning when the pain started, and I had gone in with my glasses on, not my contacts, so the world seemed a bit--off, if you know what I mean. Nothing was quite in focus.

After a while a resident came to see me. Someone had taken my temperature and someone else (or maybe the same someone; I don't know; this was almost 15 years ago) took some blood The resident said he didn't quite know what was wrong, but his best guess was that my appendix was inflamed. The three signs of appendix problems, he told me, were a high fever (which I didn't have), a high white count (which I did), and a stiff abdomen (well, seven months pregnant, not so much). Oh, yeah, and the stomach pain.

So I was admitted to the hospital and taken up to a room somewhere. And then the ob-gyn residents started to visit. These guys, I am not kidding, they acted like they were responsible for the baby I was currently gestating. Their arrogance was breathtaking. I was an interesting case--something like 2 out of a 1000 pregnant women get appendicitis--so they kept coming in just to see me. (One of the drawbacks of the teaching hospital is that students get to look at you all the time.) One guy came in to do an internal exam. He walked in the room, gloved up, and said, "I'm here to do an internal exam." That was it--no introduction, no I'm Doctor So-and-So, nothing. I was writhing in pain even before he started, of course, but somehow not knowing his name made it even worse. Another one came in with a portable ultrasound machine. "Have you had an ultrasound yet in your pregnancy?" he asked. "No," I said. I forbore to explain that I was covered by Joe's Low Rent Grad Student Medical insurance and that Joe's didn't cover ultrasounds. That seemed like too much information. "Well, you're about to get a free one!" he exclaimed brightly. Oh, yeah, that's why I'm lying here on the bed writhing in pain--for the free ultrasound! "If I can figure it out, do you want to know the sex?" he asked. Mark and I hadn't even discussed this option--because of the Joe's insurance situation--but I said yes right away. I didn't want this clown knowing anything I didn't know.

He couldn't figure it out. Too blurry, or something. But he could tell me she (since I know her now, I can use the feminine pronoun) was probably big enough to deliver, if necessary.

So that was good news. I guess.

Then I got the epidural. I actually would recommend that all pregnant women get epidurals before giving birth, if I could, since it made the whole idea much more real when I got around to delivering, two months later. It also did tend to relieve the stomach pain--and everything else I was feeling. But I digress. Anyway, I got the epidural and got wheeled into the operating room. Splayed out on the table as for a crucifixion, arms out, I waited while people cut into me and took out my appendix. In a way this was the easiest part of the whole ordeal. Everyone was very nice and they let me know right away when they'd gotten it out, even though I really couldn't feel a thing. Oh, yeah, and they did tell me that it really was inflamed and it was a good thing they got it just then. It was another hour or so before anyone got out to tell Mark that things were ok. Poor guy--when we had to sign all the consent forms he got hung up on the various possible outcomes, which of course included premature birth, and death (mine or the baby's). He got a little worried. Well, more than a little.

Apparently abdominal surgery on pregnant women can bring on contractions, so I had to stay in the hospital with contraction-stopping medication coursing through me for a few more hours. They took me to labor & delivery to recover--because now I was just a pregnant woman, I guess, rather than an appendectomy. I heard babies crying and women screaming, but mostly I just remember that the medication for stopping contractions made it hard to breathe. They gave me oxygen for that.

After a while the contractions stopped and I got to go home and I had Mariah two months later with no complications. I did, however, get the epidural--and no ob-gyn residents were allowed anywhere near me.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

figuring it out

Nick had his first day at summer camp yesterday. It's a half day camp in a space that is, during the year, a progressive pre-school. He had a blast. I knew he would--one of his good friends goes there, and the friend's mom directs the camp. When I went to pick him up he stayed in the room with the other kids listening to the story, waiting for it to be finished before he would leave.

Last year he hated camp. He was in a school program that emphasized math. It met in a public school, and he spent much of the day in a classroom. It was a struggle leaving him almost every day, though by the end of every day he could report on fun things that he'd done, and the teacher told us he was doing well and participating. But the difference between that, last year, and this year's experience, is striking.

I asked him why he liked camp so much yesterday. He said, with joy lighting up his voice, 'There's an art room, Mom, where you can saw! And you can spend ALL DAY there if you want--except for snack, because we go outside for that." Later he mentioned "you can paint in the art room," and later still, 'you can play with clay in the art room." The director had told me, too, that he was allowed to spend as long as he wanted in the art room, doing what he liked. "Kids who aren't self-directed," she told me, "take a little time to get used to things here. But Nick jumped right in."

I've known for a while that art is likely to be Nick's "thing," as music is Mariah's. But suddenly it struck me how much it's his thing--it gives him pleasure, it feeds him, in the way that it does his dad. Well, no surprise there. But I know how to encourage a love of music (piano lessons, choir, access to tapes and cd's, buying a guitar...) much more than I know how to encourage a love of art. Nick asks to go to the museum, to go down to the basement to paint or draw or play with clay...we just need to keep making sure we hear those requests and respond.

It's so interesting watching kids develop, finding out who they are. And this seems to be Nick's summer for that.

Monday, July 05, 2004

baking in the summer

I've made the first peach pie of the season. It was basically this one, though it had two cups of blueberries in it because I only had four cups of peaches. And I used Earth Balance shortening instead of Crisco, because my sister told me it didn't have trans fats. And I don't know if it was the shortening, or the blueberries, or the fact that I used about a tablespoon more water in the pie crust than usual--but it was a seriously excellent pie, and the crust rolled out more easily than any one I've ever made.

There's something counter-intuitive (OK, stupid) about summer baking. It's bad to heat up the house, the kitchen becomes unbearable; I'm sure it's ecologically unsound. But now that we have central air I do it anyway, because I love pie. And bread, and brownies, got the idea. And swim team requires baking, since one way they raise money is to have a bake sale at all the home meets. So there.

new column: Independence Day/2

I seem to have independence on the brain. Here's my latest column: Independence Day/2

And check out all the fabulous new columns here: "Literary Mama Columns"