Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Love, Commitment & Advertising

Well, I didn't think that I had anything to add to the bloggage burgeoning through the Internet regarding MiM's False Advertising post. I thought pretty much everything that could be said had already been said, and probably more cogently than I could do it.

But then I read a couple of things yesterday that made such interesting and elegant counterpoints. Unfortunately, I didn't write either of them.

The first bit is a poem* that was quoted in a novel I finished last night: How Elizabeth Barrett Browning Saved My Life, by Mameve Medwed (a fun light read, if you like skewering academia and stories about antiques):

If thou must love me, let it be for nought
Except for love's sake only. Do not say
'I love her for her smile - her look - her way
Of speaking gently, - for a trick of thought
That falls in well with mine, and certes brought
A sense of pleasant ease on such a day' -
For these things in themselves, Beloved, may
Be changed, or change for thee, - and love, so wrought,
May be unwrought so. Neither love me for
Thine own dear pity's wiping my cheeks dry, -
A creature might forget to weep, who bore
Thy comfort long, and lose thy love thereby!
But love me for love's sake, that evermore
Thou may'st love, through love's eternity.
-- Elizabeth Barrett Browning, sonnet 14, From the Portuguese

The other piece of writing - nearly as poetic, but prose instead of a 19th century poem - was Redneck Mother's post, especially the part about her Great-Aunt and Uncle. Although I do also really love her mother's quote:

"Marriage is not the goal," she said, briskly. "It's the person that matters. I love your father. The institution of marriage itself is bullshit."

In its own way, that's just as romantic as the sappy romance-era poem. I love it. And I'm glad that the guy who used to have nerdy glasses, a beard, and play the guitar when we moved in together twenty-three years ago feels the same way.

*You did know that April is National Poetry Month, right?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Sybermoms' Auction for Autism

Just wanted to post a news release from a parenting forum that I frequent. You do have to register there to participate in the auction, but it's free (go to register in the menu at the top & follow directions - note that you do not need to be a "paid member" to participate in the auction). I donated an autographed copy of The Mommy Myth, by Susan Douglas & Meredith Michaels (autographed by Ann Arbor resident & UM professor Douglas) and a Kiss My Axe cd by HRT - it will be in the auction listed as "Women with Axes to Grind". :-)

Sybermoms Holding Two-Day Auction to Benefit Autism Research

March, 2005 -- Message board members will once again be participating in a two-day online auction at, which is scheduled to begin the evening of April 6th, 2006 with a 24-hour auction and to close out Friday evening, April 7th with a live auction.

“The days leading up to the auction are always filled with tons of work and stress, and you find yourself thinking, ‘I can't wait for this to be over,’ said Megan Perkins, Sybermoms' Auction Co-Coordinator, mother of three and home business owner of The Fanciful Frog. “And then when you get an early count of how much has been raised, all of the hard work, the time and effort, the sleepless nights -- they all fade away. Because it's at that moment that you are reminded what you are working toward. How many lives you're going to touch. How amazing, truly amazing, it is for virtual strangers to come together to do something of this magnitude.”

This auction, to benefit The Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism, Inc., is the latest in a long history of philanthropy from This is the sixth auction the board has hosted in three years

“The volunteers have done such a beautiful job,” said Kristi Mildon, a Sybermoms co-owner. “They have spent endless hours behind the scenes coordinating donations, displaying and describing them, and then making the whole thing run smoothly; they have done a fantastic job! It really makes me feel lucky to be a part of something so wonderful and to be able to help those who need it most.”

Michelle Waters, co-owner of the parenting message board and owner of Watersweb Solutions LLC, the Enid, Oklahoma company that hosts the site, said that there have been hundreds of items donated for the various auctions from people in countries around the world, including Japan, Great Britain and Australia.

“Sybermoms are amazing. Several women have been planning this auction, step by step, for many months. They are volunteers from across the United States and Canada who have never met – but have come together to raise money for a cause that has touched each of them deeply, particularly as parents,” Waters said.

The donated items typically include hand-made crafts/clothing, regional and specialty-themed gift baskets, collectibles and memberships at the site, among other things. Members go to great lengths to offer unique, unusual items they know will appeal to the bidders. Each member who donates an auction item also agrees to be responsible for shipping that item to the winning bidder. Additionally, several businesses are solicited for further donations of items to be auctioned off.

Sybermoms have historically shown generosity and goodwill in their auction donations and purchases. Members formed a team to walk the Susan G. Komen Foundation's Breast Cancer 3-Day in the United States and the Weekend to End Breast Cancer in Canada, raising nearly $60,000 in 2004 and over $60,000 in 2005 for breast cancer research. That tally was raised almost exclusively through Sybermoms, both through donations and online auctions in December 2003 and the spring of 2004 and 2005. The auctions alone raised more than $40,000.

In addition, Sybermoms held an auction in December of 2004 to benefit St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, raising $7,169, and pledged a combined $21,343 in bids during a similar, collaborative two-day auction in February 2005 that was donated to the American Friends Service Committee, who in turn donated 100 percent of the funds to tsunami relief efforts in the affected countries., Inc. is a California company owned by several women from across the United States and Canada. The site started as a parenting community for mothers in May 2002. Waters said the site’s philosophy is to provide a place where parents can speak their minds – and support one another in their efforts to raise and protect their children.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Empowering Women

Once in a while, The Onion really does hit the nail square on the head (and how did I miss this before?): Women Now Empowered By Everything A Woman Does and the more recent Constructionist Supreme Court To Revisit Women's Suffrage.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Some Classic Children's Books

Ypsi~dixit linked to a great Flickr entry yesterday: a comparison of Richard Scarry's Best Word Book Ever in 1963 and 1991, highlighting the publisher's subtle editorial changes in both artwork and language over the years from my childhood through early adulthood. Scarry was an interesting guy, as I read in an entertaining (and well illustrated) online "rotten" biography, which also touches on some of the ethnic and sexual stereotypes in Scarry's work.

It got me thinking about all of our classic children's books. My parents (and my in-laws) saved quite a few of my favorites (and my husband's), which our kids now enjoy. Re-discovering these stories thirty years or so later has been an unexpected parenting bonus. Some of the books are undeniably dated, but interestingly so. I love the fiercely mustached firemen (not "firefighters"!) and policemen in A Fish Out of Water, which my daughter demanded several times a day the summer before last. The telephones and bathtubs and even the toothpaste tubes are notably antique, and since I had the words pretty much memorized after the twentieth reading, I had plenty of time to analyze the pictures.

"A boy has fed his fish too much? We will come at once!"

It amazes me how well some of these books hold up today. There were a few (Disney ones, actually) with such crude stereotypes that I had to hide them up on the top shelf of an adult bookcase, but most of the picture books are just as enjoyable for my kids as they were for me. Some of our favorites include: P.D. Eastman's Big Dog, Little Dog, Are You My Mother?, Go, Dog, Go, and Sam and the Firefly.

Then there's Ole Risom's wonderful portrayal of the seasons in I Am a Bunny (illustrated by Richard Scarry), The Bunny Book, by Patricia Scarry (again illustrated by Richard Scarry), The Golden Egg Book, by Margaret Wise Brown, the ecologically prescient The Little House and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, by Virginia Lee Burton, The King, the Mice, and the Cheese, by Nancy and Eric Gurney, and Harry the Dirty Dog, by Gene Zion (illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham).

I haven't even mentioned Dr. Suess, or his alter ego Theo Le Sieg. Sure, you know A Cat in the Hat and Fox in Socks and maybe even The Lorax, but have you checked out Come Over to My House, In a People House, or Hooper Humperdink? - Not Him! ?

One of my favorite authors and illustrators, however, is Wesley Dennis. His Flip books are out of print, but fortunately not too expensive in online stores specializing in used books. (Hurray for the internet! Would I have been able to get these so easily even 15 years ago?).

If the illustrations look familiar, it may be because Wesley Dennis also illustrated Marguerite Henry's popular horse books, like Misty of Chincoteague. I'll bet there's more than a few female readers that devoured Misty, Stormy, Brighty of the Grand Canyon, King of the Wind, and more (all beautifully illustrated by Wesley Dennis) in their horse-frenzied preteen years.

Anyway, I love the Flip books because Dennis' horses and other animals are so realistic. They convey an amazing range of expressions without becoming overly humanized like Scarry's endearing but sometimes irritating animals-standing-in-for-people. The stories are simple but timeless: Flip dreams of having wings and soaring over the farm and being big enough to jump the creek like his mother; Flip overcomes his fear of cows; Flip wakes up before everyone else and annoys them.

I hope these books are still in our family in another thirty years. If my kids ever have kids, it would make me a happy grandmother.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

11th Carnival of Feminists... at angry for a reason. It has several moving posts from 'Blog Against Sexism' day, a couple fascinating ones from India, thought-provoking posts on porn, male feminists, blog commenting on conservative women, reviews of recent news stories on traditional wives and happiness, ancient Roman women (heavy on the sex, scandal and bloodshed), and feminist dogma. Go and browse and read, you're guaranteed to learn something.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Freecycle in Saline & Pittsfield Twp.

Having just finished Garbage Land, I was excited to hear that there's a new Freecycle group for my small town and the surrounding area. The Ann Arbor group is great, but so big and busy it's hard to keep up with. So it's nice to have a smaller group a bit closer to home -- all the better to save fossil fuel and shrink my environmental footprint, if you want to use the appropriate jargon.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


The stormy March is come at last,
With wind, and clouds, and changing skies;
I hear the rushing of the blast,
That through the snowy valleys flies.
(- from William Cullen Bryant, in my great-grandmother's quotation book from 1907)

The other quote was a little more optimistic:

Ah, March! we know thou art
Kind-hearted, spite of ugly looks and threats,
And, out of sight, art nursing April's violets!
(- from Helen Hunt, same book)

Monday, March 13, 2006

Garbage Land: Book Review

Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash, by Elizabeth Royte, was engaging non-fiction in the best "huh I didn't have a clue about that" kind of way. I thought I knew more about trash than the average person, having excavated or analyzed prehistoric garbage for about fifteen years. We have a composter and a garden, I've done some vermiculture and I have a well-thumbed copy of Worms Eat My Garbage. I've even read articles by William Rathje, the archaeologist that started "The Garbage Project" in Tucson in 1973, which compared the material evidence of people's consumption to what they thought they consumed (or said they used) in surveys.*

But Royte showed me that I really didn't know much about landfills, san men, mongo, putrescibles, e-waste, recycling, or the sewage sludge industry. And she did this in a very easy to read first person account, describing her own attempts to quantify her kitchen garbage (weighing everything spread out on her daughter's plastic sled), and then following the different waste streams from her apartment in New York to their "final" resting places or re-uses.

Although the garbage itself is fascinating, it's the different people in this book that really make it work. They're helpful, they're patient, they stonewall, they're greedy, they're bitter, they make humanure in their backyards. Near the end of the book, Royte sums it all up:

Walking down the street now, I'd hear the distinctive knock of a packer truck's diesel engine and turn to see if it belonged to the Brooklyn 6. Perhaps one of the most important things I'd learned in the past year was the names of the people who took away my trash.

Garbage Land
is fun to read, it makes you think before you buy something new (both about the item and the packaging), and it makes you think even harder about what you discard. Go read it.

*people lie about they eat & drink, or delude themselves that they eat more vegetables and drink less alcohol - check out Rubbish: The Archaeology of Garbage, by William L. Rathje and Cullen Murphy.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Peanut Butter and Jellyfish Sandwiches

Unlike a lot of mommy bloggers, I'm not really comfortable sharing too much about my husband or children here.

But...some things beg to be told. Today when I picked my 4 year old daughter up at preschool, she proudly showed me the big cardboard bee with cellophane wings that she'd made. All of the bees were stuck on a big paper sandwich on the door.

"Look!" she said. "It's on a peanut butter and jellyfish sandwich!"

Her older brother talks about jellyfish and horseshoe crabs and Triops like an invertebrate biologist, and we just saw jellyfish at the Toledo Zoo last weekend. Both kids view pbj's with disdain, and we've stopped offering them, so I can see how jelly automatically became jellyfish. Still, the idea of a bunch of slimy jellyfish smooshed into peanut butter on bread, trailing dripping stinging tentacles, is one that had me smiling all the way out of the school.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

On My Nightstand....

...or the computer desk, on the top of the bookcase by the door, the kitchen table, and the windowsill in the bathroom are books I'm reading or have just finished reading or thinking about reading or need for some other reason.

I stole this idea whole hog from Mental Multivitamin, who explains her monthly (more or less) "On My Nightstand" posts like this:

I will discuss only what is on my nightstand, under my pillow, in my knapsack, on my desk, under the car seat, etc. right now, today. As before, then, it's not the month in review, just a snapshot of one day's worth of books in various angles of repose -- being read, waiting to be read, being evaluated, being rejected. And again, I'll turn to page seventeen of each of the books, locate the fifth complete sentence on that page, and include it (or its reasonable approximation) with the title, author, and brief note on how it ended up on the stack.

I love peeking at what other people are reading, and thought I'd reciprocate and see what insights pop up from the fifth sentence of the seventeenth pages of:

Huck's Raft: A History of American Childhood, by Steven Mintz:

Children suffered burns from candles or open hearths, fell into rivers and wells, ingested poisons, broke bones, swallowed pins, and stuffed nutshells up their noses.

This book was mentioned on a Mothers & More e-mail loop that I'm on - I saw this review, read some articles on the history of private life by Steven Mintz, and was hooked. I must have my own copy of this book. Go read it, it's amazing.


From Ordinary Wolves, by Seth Kantner:

He was all that, and had black hair - things that I thought should come to him with smiles.

I ran across this by accident on my library's online catalogue. Now I can't even remember what I went looking for. Just finished it, loved it, another one I must buy.


From The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined Women, by Susan J. Douglas and Meredith W. Michaels:

The following summer, under the headline "PREGNANT AT LAST!" we had the pleasure of reading about the sperm motility rate of Celine Dion's husband, information that some of us, at least, could have lived without.

I'm supposed to lead a discussion of this book after we watch a video of the author at an upcoming meeting of my local Mothers & More group. Guess I'd better re-read it. I recommend it, but not without a few reservations. I should do a blog review. Maybe after the meeting.


From Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides:

For the first minute, the spoon didn't move at all.

Everyone keeps telling me to read this, and I have a copy that I got for 75 cents. I'm going to read it soon. Really.


From Garbage Land: On The Secret Trail of Trash, by Elizabeth Royte:

I tried to write on both sides, then recycled the larger pieces.

I pulled this off the new release shelf at my library. Looks interesting.


From 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, by Charles C. Mann:

Deloria is the author of many books, including Red Earth, White Lies, a critique of mainstream archaeology.

I read most of this last fall, and just need to finish the last few chapters. Since Mann popularizes a lot of the ideas and work that I studied or did myself as an archaeologist, I read it very critically (checking all the endnotes), and I'm pretty impressed with how well he presents the material. I'm a little dismayed at how many reviewers are just blown away by this book, though. Obviously archaeologists themselves are doing a piss poor job of making their work accessible to the public.


From Dark Road Home, by Karen Harper:

As the tape went on to the next dance, the four young people frowned as they concentrated on the more complicated Tush Push steps.

I enjoy a lot of popular books, like mysteries and romances, for relaxing reading, and got this one for free (minus postage) on Paperbackswap. I've never read anything by Harper, but this mystery set in the Amish country in Ohio looks promising. The writing isn't terribly impressive, but after reading Ordinary Wolves, my standards are much higher than usual.

10th Carnival of Feminists...

...posted at indianwriting. There's an incredible selection of posts, with a geographic spread you won't find elsewhere: India, Great Britain, Finland, Rwanda. And I've only read a handful of the posts - but am looking forward to the rest tonight.

Ladies and Housewives

Well, I hope whomever googled "ladies were meant to be housewives" from Austin, TX found what they were looking for here.

I suggest you go read about the mommy wars at Miriam Peskowitz's site. Or you could check out the new letter on "Mommy Wars" Incited by Irresponsible Media" by Kim Gandy, the president of NOW.

Here's a compelling topic for a future feature: How can our society better support mothers and caregivers so that they can choose to work either outside or inside the home—whether it's full-time or part-time—without additional guilt, financial strife or other barriers? How can workplaces, educational institutions, the public service sector and our government make caregiving a more respected and less stressful endeavor? Paid family leave, recognition of the work of caregivers by providing disability and unemployment insurance, Social Security credits, group health insurance, respite care services, public transportation and early childhood education in every community come to mind, but there are many others.

It is also crucial to talk about men's role and responsibility in parenting. Women need to know that they don't have to do it all. For example, men who choose to stay at home with their children are often ridiculed or overlooked, rather than supported.

See? Most feminists do care about sah moms. And they're doing a lot more to actually help them than the people who tell housewives to just appreciate what they've got, or those that tell them they've made a bad choice, you patriarchal tools, and now you're stuck in your not "particularly interesting or fulfilling for a complicated person, for a complicated, educated person"* rut. Damn extremists.

*quote from Linda Hirshman's Good Morning America segment. I'm not going to link, you'll have to find it yourself on ABC's American Family section.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Ordinary Wolves: Book Review

Ordinary Wolves, by Seth Kantner, is quite simply the best piece of fiction I've read for a long time. It combines many of the things that I like in a book: a coming of age story, insights across a cultural chasm of very different values and perceptions, elegant descriptions of landscape and animals and how people use them, a personal quest for meaning, and a historical perspective. And the writing! It's graphic, it's beautiful, it seems to be very accurate (though I've never been to Alaska, more knowledgeable reviewers attest to this), and sometimes it's brutal.

Ordinary Wolves is the story of Cutuk, who grows up with his brother, sister, and father in a sod igloo far in the north of Alaska. Cutuk is white, and longs to look like the IƱupiat (Eskimo) villagers in the nearby village, with their beautiful nylon jackets, skill at basketball, and dark frostbitten marks. Kantner writes inflinchingly about how it feels to be an outsider, about being someone who looks different from the other kids, who gets pounded on sometimes. I can't help wondering how much of this is autobiographical, as I'm sure many readers do, since Kantner's biography says he grew up in Kotzebue, Alaska. At any rate, it's a good look at everyday prejudice and racism.

Since it is hard to describe this book without sounding trite (and the lack of hand-me-down cliches was something I really enjoyed in it), let me just provide a few passages to encourage you to read it for yourself:

On the seasons changing:

Melting-out frogs rattled the ponds and awakening mosquitoes hummed at our ears. Sweet spring was dead and the hot boring summer here, an eternity trapped along the river under clouds of mosquitoes like a writhing skin, black and stinging. Me, painting rancid yellow seal oil on the dogs' faces and Figment's testicles, trying in vain to keep the mosquitoes from taking away their skin. Tall green grass and leafy trees. Fishing for dog food. Cutting fish, drying fish, cooking fish. Weeks and weeks of eating fish. The grebe could laugh in his read throat; he loved fish and had long forgotten if he'd ever watched a sister fly away. (p. 93...Figment is a sled dog whose balls were frozen the previous winter).

On life in a one room house:

In the kitchen we heard tiny frantic hopping. The mouse that had been doing nightly turd dances on our bread had plopped into a mason jar. We grinned, thankful for the interruption. We peered down opposite sides into the glass at the furry face. (p. 128-9. Since we've had some problems with deer mice in our basement pantry this winter, I particularly loved the descriptive "nightly turd dances on our bread").

On city life and some cultural differences:

I sat and finished the pizza. Pizza Hut. I'd seen it advertised on the Wolfgloves' TV. Eating made me happy and I thought of Janet. When Janet fed me tiktaaliq livers she said she was proud of me. Abe hadn't taught pride. Pride had to do with country music, sports, joining the military and getting dead for some devious president. Pride was cousin to bragging, and required a support group. Nothing we needed or had. Nothing for something.

Iris would have something to say, something like "Absence makes the heart swallow your marbles." (p. 157: tiktaaliq = mudshark, according to the glossary in the front of the book, which you need to consult frequently).

Iris's mixed metaphors add a nice bit of relief to an occasionally dark story, which mixes culture shock, drinking Lysol, violence, and suicide with its accounts of the behavior of wolves, porcupines, Natives, Outsiders, big game hunting dentists, "Unwasters" and "Everything Wanters" and "Native Worshippers".

Note Amazon's "statistically improbable phrases" (which I'm becoming curiously addicted to) for this book: bearskin couch, baby porcupine, cannibal pot, snow hook, caribou trails, caribou hairs, tat time, pilot crackers, ice pans, gut pile, tat one, barrel stove, dead wolves, caribou skin, ski plane, mouse turds, dog yard, caribou hide, fish racks, wolf tracks.

When reading about this book (hoping for more by Kantner), I found his photography website, which adds a nice photo finish to the book: Kapvik Photography.

I checked Ordinary Wolves out of the library, but I'm going to give it my highest praise, which is buying it (in hardcover, no less) as a gift for a family member. Now I just need to decide who the lucky recipient will be. I might even have to buy a couple copies and keep one for myself.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

And once more for good measure....

....mommy wars. Read the link:

The media, from Dr. Phil to the New York Times Magazine, is adamant that there is no love lost between working parents and those who stay home with their children. But what if that's just spin? In reality, as Miriam Peskowitz powerfully discloses, parents don't want to fight one another at all; they simply want more options and less judgment. Moreover, the very sides in this debate don't exist: one third of all mothers work part-time, falling in the vast abyss between full-time career mother and at-home mom.

Googling "Mommy Wars"

Well, I have four different blog posts started, but haven't had time to finish any of them. Instead, I've been working at the grade school book fair, making wheat-free muffins for preschool, and vacuuming my curtains. Even feminazis sometimes like to do a bit of spring cleaning. Especially when their preschooler's playgroup is scheduled at their house in a couple days.

I did want to point everyone towards Rebeldad's post on "The Mommy Wars Solution". Because what I got when I googled "mommy wars"? Almost as disappointing as "Good Morning America's" take on it. Though I did enjoy reading some of the posts in the Mormon Mommy Wars blog (at least until I read the descriptive five year old puking in the bathtub story).

So - if you want to learn something about the mommy wars, read The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars, by Miriam Peskowitz. She has a nice reading group guide and some excerpts here. She uses research and logic! Really. Amazing.

How many blog posts does it take to googlebomb something, anyway? I'll do another for good measure.