Tuesday, November 21, 2006

As American as Pumpkin Pie

From the most recent book I'm returning to the library but wish I could keep in my personal library: Far-Flung Hubbell: Essays from the American Road, by Sue Hubbell:

...Americans were the first to understand what pie could be. For instance, the English had been making what they called pompion by cutting a hole in the side of a pumpkin, extracting the seeds and the filaments, stuffing the cavilty with apples, and baking the whole. New Englanders improved on this, combining the apples and pumpkin and putting them in a proper pastry. Then they eliminated the apples and added milk, eggs, spices, and molasses to the mashed, stewed pumpkin.

Pie has never been more loved than in nineteenth-century America, where it was not simply dessert but also a normal part of breakfast. The food writer Evan Jones quotes a contemporary observer as noting that in northern New England "all the hill and country towns were full of women who would be mortified if visitors caught them without pie in the house," and that the absence of pie at breakfast "was more noticeable than the scarcity of the Bible." (from pp. 7-8, Chapter One, "The Great American Pie Expedition").

Hubbell describes banana, coconut, raisin, lemon, cherry-cream, blackberry, raspberry, blueberry, cherry, pineapple, apple, Dutch apple, peach, apricot, peanut-butter, walnut, pecan, sour-cream raisin, sweet potato, coconut-cream, green-tomato, chocolate-meringue, lemon meringue, Key lime, shoofly, strawberry, strawberry-rhubarb, graham-cracker (pie, not just piecrust), Nantucket cranberry, butterscotch, banana-pudding, buttermilk, apple-raisin, and icebox mixed fruit pies in her delicious account, which includes some recipes that I'd like to try. My husband, however, will be making the pumpkin pies tonight for dinner at his parents' house the day after tomorrow. I really prefer apple pie, but I'd rather wait until I can make one myself than eat one from the grocery store.

One of my favorite things about the day after Thanksgiving is a breakfast of apple pie and coffee. And I'd rather have a slice of very sharp cheddar with my hot apple pie than ice cream, thank you very much.

I wanted to add some interesting quotes from Laura Shapiro's Perfection Salad on the anti-pie movement at the turn of the century (which perhaps is better described as the failed "pie temperance" cult), but I can't find my copy. So I'll just provide a link to Linda Stradley's History of Pie until after the holiday. And a link to The Wrong Pie, a funny discourse on Crooked Timber from a few years ago. Healy is wrong about the neglect of pumpkins in the social science literature (well, in anthropology, anyway, where Curcurbita pepo has become a star in the constellation of prehistoric Native American domesticates), though he may be right about pumpkin pie.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Words, Landscape, and Motherhood

I ran across this blurb for a book I'd really like to get for Christmas (hint, hint) on the Family Scholars Blog:

A group of writers has collected more than 800 fading landscape terms in a new book — Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape. …Nature writer Barry Lopez launched the project after he found that he was unable to double-check the usage of some landscape words, simply because there was no place to look. Poet Michael Collier, who also contributed to the book, believes that the words are worth preserving because “language is the DNA of the culture."

Honestly, this looks like a wonderful book - it's got all my favorite things: eloquent writing, historical depth, beautiful photographs, and descriptions of different environments with personal meaning (that 'sense of place' writers like to talk about). I'm grateful to the Family Scholars for bringing it to my attention, especially since I missed the NPR story last week in the confusion of school conferences, birthday preparations (my son turned ten on Saturday), trips to the veterinarian, and runs to the drugstore for more cold remedies and kleenex.

The remaining part of the Family Scolars post, however, made me stop and think twice:

Reminds me of why some of us are concerned that redefining marriage and parenthood in ways that make us unable to talk about mothers and fathers (but rather simply “parents”) could contribute to more children growing up without their own mom and dad. When you are no longer able to talk about the thing itself you stand a grave risk of losing it — if you have not lost it already.

It is undeniably true that our society is redefining marriage and parenthood. I think that American mothers' and fathers' roles are more flexible than ever before. As more mothers work in formerly male-dominated fields (note that I'm not just saying that more mothers working outside the home - as many historians have shown, mothers working in the fields, in the marketplace, and even in industry are nothing new), and more fathers become more involved in childcare and housework, yes, parenting is evolving.

But what is the relationship between describing what we do for our kids as "parenting" instead of a specific kind of mother's work or father's work and children growing up without a mom or dad? How exactly do flexible gender roles (dad changing diapers, mom mowing the lawn?) contribute to more fragile marriages? Is commitment limited to those with traditional "family values"? Because good parenting is a family value, no matter what you call it or who does specific tasks.

I guess that by calling what mothers do traditionally ("kissing boo boos" as Linda Hirshman sums it up) parenting, as opposed to mothering, mothers do lose some special status. But using a gender neutral term and letting fathers nurture, too, cannot lessen the essential relationship between a child and their mother. As far as I can see, it just gives mom a chance to read the paper while dad reads the kids a bedtime story.

Please note that I don't think that men and women are exactly the same, either biologically, or in how they parent. But men as well as women can certainly nuture, and women can also protect and provide for their children without invoking the end of the world (either culturally or environmentally). Motherhood and fatherhood won't disappear if some of us parent instead of mother, or if Dad cooks and cleans like every day is "Mother's Day". And speaking of bygone phrases: we're not going back to the days when men "wore the pants in the family", and a government where women were active participants was dismissed as "petticoat government".

Friday, November 17, 2006

The 27th Feminist Carnival

is up in a particularly well-illustrated edition at body impolitic.

This one contains not just the thoughtful posts about body image that you might expect, but some important links about feminism and indigenous rights in Mexico, several posts on retailers and commercialism (how appropriate for the season), and a look at the feminist implications of the recent elections in the US.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Yay, Judith Warner!

Judith Warner's latest editorial - The Family-Friendly Congress? - (now unfortunately hidden behind the TimesSelect pay to view wall) really hits the mark.

Luckily, litbrit at Shakespeare's Sister has some good commentary that includes the gist of Warner's piece, as well as some good quotes from Warner's piece, in It's All in the Family.

Although I still think there were a lot of problems with Warner's book about high pressure east-coast motherhood (my review of Perfect Madness is back here, on the old Mothers & More* blog), I have to applaud her for this article, and for summarizing so many mothers' feelings about the recent elections and "family values" so damn well. So thanks for using your powers for good, Judith. I hope everyone we voted for can do the same.

*if you're interested in the local Mothers & More group (in Washtenaw County), the local website is at www.mmwashtenaw.org.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Check Out This Table of Contents

...at the most recent (26th already!) Carnival of Feminists, at A Blog without a Bicycle. Love the blog title, love the arrangement, and the contents are all interesting - including This Is What a Feminist Blog Looks Like, Hot Topics, Halloween, and a really wonderful look at the Archives.

Did you all vote? It seemed pretty busy at my polling place - more so than in other off-season years, despite a cold November rain.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

On My Nightstand and on the Floor

I have lots of books. In piles and stacks and scattered around the house, there is a mixture of what some people would consider trash, some better literary selections, solid non-fiction and science, and highbrow academic tomes with endnotes and bibliographies that exceed the length of the always-subtitled papers.

Here's what's I've been reading lately:

On This Hilltop
, by Sue Hubbell

Friends and relatives think that it is great fun that we have a farm in the Ozarks. They conjure up pictures of husking bees, barefoot boys with cane fishing poles, and healthy outdoor work that tones the muscles and earns the right to enormous dinners composed entirely of apple pie (p. 3).

I picked up a copy of Hubbell's later essays about bee-keeping and living in the Ozarks - A Country Year - on a whim on paperbackswap.com, and now I'm hooked and working my way through all of her books. This one is a collection of essays that Hubbell wrote for a St. Louis newspaper in the mid 70's. Although some of it is definitely dated (but still fascinating, as when she describes the impact that local factories had on women's roles), most of the essays are timeless. These pieces aren't as deep or as detailed as those in A Country Year, but sometimes a light-hearted description of caffeine highs and truck gardening is just what you want to read.

Digging to America, by Anne Tyler

No quote here, because I've already returned this to library. I should have written down some quotes, though, because I remember thinking that there were a lot of good ones. This was my book club's choice for this month, and another one that I thoroughly and unexpectedly enjoyed. It sounds damning with faint praise, but this was just a thoroughly nice book. The characters were interesting, complicated, and so real I had a hard time believing that they were fictional. The issues - adoption, immigration, exile, social class, parenting, generational conflict - were handled deftly and intelligently. I liked most of the characters, and I liked the book, and I loved the ending. I think I'll buy this one for my mom.

Learning to Bow: Inside the Heart of Japan
, by Bruce Feiler

Sakamoto-sensei believed that clothes were a good indicator of character. He regularly monitored the shoe racks in front of the school to see which students were stepping on the heels of their sneakers instead of slipping them on all the way. This behavior, he said, was an early sign of deliquency (p. 77).

This is the fascinating account of a middle school teacher who went to Japan to teach "English literature and American culture". It's next month's selection for my book club, and rather eye-opening in terms of cultural differences in gender roles, education and how schools work and what they teach.

Secret Confessions of the Applewood PTA
, by Ellen Meister

Maddie looked up and spotted a heavily made-up woman with an enormous mane of long, strawberry-red hair, bounding her way toward them, breasts bouncing chaotically from side to side. She wore a stylized sweat suit like Suzanne Podobinski, but instead of the intentionally sedate accessories the PTA president wore to suggest superior breeding, this woman was loudly accented with diamond jewelry, an oversized handbag, and some kind of hybrid footwear, part shoe and part sneaker, that Maddie thought looked like an experiment gone terribly wrong (p. 7-8).

I can't remember which blogger recommended this, but so far it is a satisfying look at suburban housewives. The characters are more likeable and probably more realistic than those in Tom Perrotta's Little Children, though they are also less memorable. Applewood PTA reminds me a lot of Jennifer Weiner's books about modern mothers (Little Earthquakes and Goodnight Nobody). But between these books and What Do You Do All Day? (and all of the non-fiction, like Judith Warner's Perfect Madness), I've had enough of east coast unhappy housewives. Let's have a little insight into how parents live in Texas, or Oregon, or Wisconsin next, ok?

In Pursuit of Gender: Worldwide Archaeological Approaches
, edited by Sarah Milledge Nelson and Myriam Rosen-Ayalon

I propose that the workload level for mothers that necessitated these changes in child labor and infant-feeding practices was present in Middle Woodland societies of the Midwest rather than the Late Woodland, as proposed by Buikstra et al. (1986:540). The evidence consists of the thinning of vessel walls that occurs in the fifth centry A.D., the population increase that begins in the Middle Woodland, the visible use of starchy supplemental food, the energy requirements necessary to establish and maintain the social network of Hopewell societies, and evidence of greater stress in the skeletons of at least some Middle Woodland skeletal populations (p. 233).

OK, so not every academic paper has a subtitle. Eleven of the nineteen papers in this book on prehistoric gender do have bipartate titles, but "Mothers' Workloads and Children's Labor during the Woodland Period", by Cheryl Claassen, quoted above, does not. Although I found several of the papers very interesting, a few years away from academic jargon really makes me appreciate writers like Robert Sapolsky.

The Essential Rumi, translated by Colman Barks

I have lived on the lip
of insanity, wanting to know reasons,
knocking on a door. It opens.
I've been knocking from the inside!...

I saw this on the swap rack at my library this morning. Sometimes I love Saline. It's small enough to have a swap rack that works on an honor system, but large enough to have gems like this left in the rack along with the Harlequin romances.

Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics, by bell hooks

...I want to have in my hand a little book so that I can say, read this book, and it will tell you what feminism is, what the movement is about. I want to be holding in my hand a concise, fairly easy to read and understand book; not a long book, not a book thick with hard to understand jargon and academic language, but a straightforward, clear book - easy to read with being simplistic (p. viii).

And I think that hooks has done just what she says she intended above, though I'm only a few chapters into it. I've been working on a blog post on the different types of feminism - from anarcho-feminism to post-structuralist feminism, and this is a refreshing change.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Book Meme from Jennifer UtP*

*Under the Ponderosas

The rules:

1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the next four sentences on your blog along with these instructions.

Edward Duensing's Talking to Fireflies, Shrinking the Moon: A Parent's Guide to Nature Activities was at the top of the stack next to the computer - though my husband's How to Survive a Robot Uprising by Daniel H. Wilson was perhaps equally close. What the heck, I'll give you a piece from both, since you never know when you'll need this information.

But before you leave, you can enjoy one more activity while watching drops of water plummet from a waterfall - an activity that will impress the children with the value of mathematics and science, and with your knowledge of the world. Using the head-rolling technique described above, focus your attention on a drop of water as it begins its descent, and count the number of seconds it takes for that drop to hit the botton (one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi, splash). Multiply the number of seconds by itself, and multiply the answer by 16. What does all of this multiplication tell you?

This is from a chapter on how you can watch a single drop change shape and fall from above. It tells you the the height of the waterfall in feet, in case you were wondering. Too bad we don't have any waterfalls nearby. Though there are a couple of dams on the Huron & Saline Rivers. Hmm.

Watch for the following telltale signs in the days and weeks before your robots run amuck: Sudden lack of interest in menial labor. Unexplained disappearances. Unwillingness to be shut down. Repetitive "stabbing" movements.

- from the chapter entitled "How to Recognize a Rebellious Servant Robot". Do you know where your robot servant's manual kill switch is?