My Favorite You

We had been binge watching The Crown all evening. I was relaxed in my recliner, with the Christmas lights all around me competing with the glow of the television and the golden flickering fire. I was in my fuzzy jammies, with my dachshund, Quagmire, gently snoring against my hip, covered by a fuzzy blanket. I think I may have nodded off a few times myself. I could have stayed right there for the rest of my life.

But alas, I had to go to work in the morning. So at the end of an episode, I gently raised my seat back to the upright position, eliciting a sleepy moan from Quagmire. I peeked under the blanket, and he burrowed deeper.

“Sorry, buddy. Time to go pee.”

No response.

So I picked him up, and he draped himself over my shoulder like a bag of wet cement. Except he was warm and relaxed and cozy, and miraculously still asleep. I stood there for a moment, giving him cuddles and kisses.

“Of all my favorite you’s, this is my favorite you,” I whispered, as I carried him to the back door.

I set him down on the back porch, and for a moment he seemed like he wasn’t quite sure where he was. But then he trudged groggily down the ramp and did his business, and came back immediately to lean against my calf. I closed the door and picked him up again, and carried him into bed and tucked him in.

After brushing my teeth and making sure all the doors were locked and that the on lights were on and the off lights were off, I came back to the bedroom to find Quagmire still snuggled right where I had left him. I climbed into bed, making sure I didn’t crush him, then arranged him pointy side out. We spooned as I drifted off to sleep, feeling as though all was right with the world.

The next day, I thought about how I don’t say this often enough to the people I love in my life: “Of all my favorite you’s, this is my favorite you,” and then go on to give details. I need to start doing that. People deserve to hear it. Maybe that should be my New Year’s resolution. That’s one I think I might actually enjoy keeping.

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Bite-Sized Goals

This strange year has taught me much about the goals that I set, and how I achieve them, and how I handle disappointment.

After I put a little free library in front of my house in the summer of 2019, my goal was rather vague but nevertheless sincere: I wanted to promote literacy in my community, especially among children. Nothing sets you up for success in life as much as becoming an avid reader from an early age. And I also wanted to pass on my love of reading to younger generations.

With that in mind, I cast about for ideas on how to draw people to my little free library. I started a Facebook group for it. I talked about it on our community page and on Nextdoor.com. I tried to set up a geocache, but there’s one nearby that refuses to move, so my geocache isn’t allowed. Drat.

Most of all, though, I wanted to make it a pokestop on the Pokemon Go application. Children love the game, and they’re drawn to pokestops within the game. I downloaded the app in August, 2019 in hopes of suggesting my library as a stop, and discovered that you can’t nominate stops until you’ve reached the highest level in the game, level 40. So my goal switched from nominating a stop to reaching level 40 so I could nominate a stop.

Every time I would advance a level in that game, I would get so excited. I was one level closer to achieving my goal! Yay, me!

But then, one day when I was around level 25, I opened the game up to discover that someone else had nominated my little free library as a pokestop! And just like that, I was cast adrift, doomed to wander the planet devoid of a goal. Woe is me.

That’s when I realized that having the goal was the thing. And having someone else achieve it for me was not nearly as satisfying. Time to set a new goal.

But who was I kidding? By then I was hooked on Pokemon Go, so I altered my goal to help feed my addiction. I decided I would still get to level 40, and make other little free libraries pokestops. Oh, and make my drawbridge a pokestop, so I could play at work. Yeah. Because with a pokestop right outside my front door, I now knew the luxury of playing at home. I may as well have that at work, too.

I had been obsessed about reaching level 40 for just over a year. Then one day, while at level 39, I found out that the good folks at Pokemon Go had decided to lower the level at which you could nominate pokestops to level 38. Woo hoo! I had arrived!

But I also kind of felt like I had been punked, or at the very least, someone had handed me a cheat sheet. Again, not nearly as satisfying. But did I start nominating stops? Heck yeah!

Now I’m waiting to see if my nominations will get implemented. New goal. They say it could take anywhere from a few days to several months. Every day, I eagerly open the app to see if they’re there. So far, nothing.

What to do while waiting? I still wanted to reach that highest level. Just to say I did. I soon realized that “just because” goals are never as much fun as regular goals.

And then, just the other day, I reached level 40. I was alone. The game does not provide you with the level of fanfare that one might expect after racking up, I kid you not, twenty freakin’ million points, but there you have it. Goal achieved.

And that same day, I learned that they’re raising the top level to 50.

I’m not sure how to feel. I’m not sure what I want to do. Now I know that I don’t thrive when deprived of closure.

But I’m going to apply my learning somehow, some way. For example, I know now that I am most happy when I’m working toward a goal. I’ve learned I need to break my goals into bite sized pieces, because gigantic goals, once achieved, can be a massive let down. I’ve learned that the goal posts can move, and that’s okay, but I’d much rather that they stay put. Short term goals are much more apt to stay put. But most of all, I learned that when I find myself adrift, I can always pick myself up and create a goal to get me heading in the right direction once again. And that’s all the closure one can expect out of life.

Who knew one could achieve so much personal growth from a computer game?

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The Rational Dress Society

I first learned of the Rational Dress Society by watching a show on Youtube entitled, “The Deadly Fashions of the Victorians”. Not only did it discuss their love of lead paint, and of gas heat which was prone to explosions, and of baby bottle designs that were impossible to clean and were therefore bacteria factories, but it also went into detail about the wearing of corsets.

Corsets were in fashion for 500 years. Heaven knows why. They restricted breathing to the upper lungs, often causing the lower lungs to fill with mucus. There is a reason that women were often described as “breathless” or having a “heaving bosom”. Women practically had to hyperventilate to breathe in one of these contraptions. A recent study shows that a woman wearing a Victorian corset of the most extreme type from the 1860’s had to breathe 25% faster to avoid fainting. Women who wore corsets were prone to lung infections.

Further, corsets caused livers to be squashed upwards. Many Victorian livers, after autopsy, were shown to be deeply ridged as they attempted to push through the rib cages in a desperate search for enough space to function. Corsets pushed the stomach and abdomen down as well, and were the source of many a prolapsed uterus.

According to Wikipedia, some mothers forced corsets upon their daughters at very young ages, and this caused distorted bones. Sometimes women’s rib cages would crack and puncture their lungs, bringing about death by fashion. The strictest of mothers would force their daughters to wear corsets even at night, and some even resorted to tying their daughters hands or chaining their waists to prevent them from taking the corset off for a comfortable sleep.

The Rational Dress Society was founded in 1881 in England, to protest such harmful fashion. The members felt that a woman’s movement should not be impeded, her health shouldn’t be put at risk, and her figure shouldn’t be deformed. I have no doubt that I’d have joined this society, and gladly. I’m all about comfort. I haven’t even worn heels in decades, and can’t imagine that I ever will again. The society also spoke out against high heels, and any clothes that were heavy for any reason other than warmth.

The RDS wasn’t promoting radical fashion changes. They just believed in comfort and convenience, and perhaps a style that wouldn’t render the wearer sterile. Was that too much to ask? Some of the most ardent members of the society were women cyclists, who wanted freedom of movement to cycle, as riding a bicycle was “an opportunity to escape overly restrictive societal norms.”

Unfortunately, the existence of this society didn’t seem to alter the popularity of the corset. It continued to be worn into the early 20th century. What seemed to bring about the change was a combination of things. The hobble skirt came into fashion, and it required a wider waist. In exchange, ironically enough, it severely restricted the legs. That fashion got women out of the habit of wearing corsets for about 6 years, which was the beginning of the end for corsets.

But the thing that really took the corset down was something I love: The fact that women were finding their voices. They were learning to speak out as suffragettes, and when they got the vote for women in 1920’s America, they found the time to look up and say, “I don’t want to be uncomfortable anymore!”

Good on them! We owe those suffragettes a debt of gratitude not only for getting women the vote, but also for taking our bodies back. That is why I look on in horror when I hear girls today complaining about the size of their waists.

I think the Rational Dress Society would be proud of me, sitting here in my t-shirt and baggy shorts and bare feet. No woman should ever be restricted in any way! Never again.

The internal results of tight lacing a corset.

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Mid-Month Marvels: The League of Women Voters

A recurring theme in this blog is the celebration of people and/or organizations that have a positive impact on their communities. What they do is not easy, but it’s inspirational, and we don’t hear enough about them. So I’ve decided to commit to singing their praises at least once a month. I’m calling it Mid-Month Marvels. If you have any suggestions for the focus of this monthly spotlight, let me know in the comments below!

Without a doubt, the looming presidential election is the most important one ever held in America. I genuinely want everyone to vote. This will shape our nation and, indeed, determine if it even exists as a democracy moving forward. I cannot stress this enough: Please vote.

Having said that, there is no better organization for me to promote this month than the League of Women Voters. It is a completely nonpartisan organization that has but one agenda: preserving everyone’s right to vote. If you believe in democracy at all, this is an organization worth supporting.

The League is celebrating its 100th year, as women (white ones, at least) were given the right to vote in the 1920’s, and the League evolved from the women’s suffrage movement that obtained that right. The League was instrumental in establishing the United Nations. They sponsored the first televised presidential debates. They maintain a website called VOTE411.org, which provides nonpartisan information about both state and national elections. I can’t tell you how many times I have referred to this site for information.

The League of Women Voters website advocates for the following:

  • Voter registration

  • The COVID Elections Fund to ensure safe and accessible elections.

  • Fighting voter suppression

  • Removing money from politics

  • Fighting gerrymandering.

No matter which side of the political debate you fall on, surely these are issues that all of us can agree upon if we want a genuine democracy. I can think of no organization that I trust more with these tasks than the League of Women Voters. Please join me in supporting them here.

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Taller Leñateros

While aimlessly surfing the web in hopes of finding something to blog about, I came across a fascinating little publishing collective called Taller Leñateros. It is located in a little town in the state of Chiapas, Mexico called San Cristóbal de las Casas. It consists of a group of modern Mayans who are keeping their traditions, and the Tzotzil language, alive.

Their website is equal parts delightful and confusing. It lists their extensive catalog of books, postcards, and posters. They make their own paper and ink in the traditional Mayan way, so each item in the catalog is a work of art. Indeed, some have won awards. If you are interested in a specific title, you then have to (unfortunately) write it down, and then go to the “sales” page and check it off. The prices are only listed in Mexican Pesos, so you then need to find a currency converter to figure out what everything costs. I have no idea how they determine shipping and handling, or if they can even ship internationally, because I have yet to purchase anything, but I plan to, if possible.

Their books are full of Mayan poetry, songs, art, incantations, and stories, and can be purchased in English. Each one is beautiful and intriguing. Published by hand, I’m sure they will be collectors’ items.

Here is a tiny taste of the first few paragraphs of their beautifully written “about” page:

“We are the woodlanders who walk in the hills gathering dry branches and deadwood from fallen trees, collecting firewood without chopping down the forest. We come down from the mountains, carrying bundles of wood, of pitchpine and split encino, for the hearths of the Royal City of San Cristobal de Las Casas. We walk through the mist, leading our burros, selling firewood from house to house. We knock on people ’ s doors, offering pine needles as well, to spread on the floor, moss, flowers of bromeliads and orchids for manger scenes.

“Thirty years ago we rented an old adobe house in San Cristobal and we planted a little avocado tree in the patio. The sprout took root and grew and now it’s as tall as the tree where the Moon showed the first Motherfathers how to weave. The house shrank under the shadow of the leaves and filled up with dreams and we called it a «Workshop,» first «of Dreams»and then «Woodlanders’» Something between theatre and witchcraft.”

I hope you will take the extra effort required to support this collective, because according to this article, they’re struggling to survive. Their headquarters are on a dusty little side street in a dusty little town in Southern Mexico. And while they’ve been there since 1975, someone is trying to push them out, and they’re mired in lawsuits. I hope they find a way to keep going. I hope someone helps them improve the website and ramp up their online sales. I think if the world really knew about them, they would not only survive, but thrive. I wish them Lekuk me avo’ra. (Good luck.)

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Dr. Virginia Apgar

Many of us have heard of the Apgar score that is given to infants right after they’re born. It’s a way to assess their health. Five different categories are measured: skin color, heart rate, reflexes, muscle tone, and breathing. The higher the score, the healthier the child is.

This test did not exist before 1952. It’s hard to imagine, but before that time, infants were not really closely observed right after birth, and because of that, critical situations were often overlooked. I’m amazed so many people made it to adulthood back then.

A lot of people think the Apgar score got its name from the mnemonic Appearance, Pulse, Grimace, Activity, and Respiration, but no. That came later. The score actually was named after Virginia Apgar, the amazing doctor who invented it.

According to an article entitled “Virginia Apgar, the Woman Whose Name Saves Newborns”, Apgar was known for a whole host of really impressive things besides the Apgar score. She was a doctor who helped establish the medical specialty of anesthesiology, she advanced the study of birth defects. She was the first female full professor at the Division of Anesthesia at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons. She became the director and later the vice president of the March of Dimes.

You’d think all of that would have kept her busy enough, but no. She also gardened, took flying lessons, played the violin, and was a fly fisherman. She made stringed instruments by hand. She apparently had a wonderful sense of humor and had the ability to comfortably talk about even the most embarrassing of topics. I think I would have liked her.

I just love hearing about miraculous women. It’s frustrating to me that so many of them tend to fall through the cracks of history. At least Apgar got a postage stamp. But here is a woman who still saves thousands of lives a year, 46 years after her death. We should be taught about her in school. In fact, schools should be named after her.

Three cheers for Dr. Virginia Apgar!

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A Most Solemn Occasion

Today Ruth Bader Ginsberg will be the first woman to ever lie in state at the US Capitol. And she has really earned that right. She fought for justice her entire adult life, and has done much to significantly increase women’s rights. She’s a personal hero of mine.

Because of RBG, women can have credit cards in their own names. Women can establish their own credit history and buy property in their own names. We can play sports in school. We can consent to our own medical treatment. Because of her, women in the military who get pregnant can both keep the child and keep the job. Military women also get the same family benefits as their male counterparts because of her.

Younger women have the luxury of taking all of the above for granted because of RBG. We older women know better. Women’s rights are tenuous at best, and there are people actively working to roll them back even as you read this. Many of those people are women themselves, and that’s a contradiction that I’ll never be able to wrap my head around as long as I live.

Think of this. Distinguished people have had the opportunity to have their coffins displayed in the Capitol since 1852. That’s 168 years. And in that entire time, only 2 females have been accorded such a privilege. The first was Rosa Parks in 2005. Again, she definitely earned that honor. But since she did not work for the government, she was said to be “lying in honor”, not “lying in state”. She was guarded by Capitol Police. Whereas Justice Ginsberg will be guarded the military. Sadly, because of the pandemic, the general public will not be able to be present at the ceremony.

But lying in that powerful building is a distinction that more women should be accorded. I cannot believe that only two women in 168 years have broken this glass funerial ceiling. This is the 21st century, after all. I can’t help but wonder what Justice Ginsberg would think.

I know, like all of us, she would be horrified to see her legacy besmirched by having the next justice rammed through in a few short weeks when it took an average of two months to confirm all the current sitting justices. I’m sure she’s spinning in her grave thinking that they’re going to confirm someone in an election year when the Republicans forced a slot to remain vacant for 8 months during the last election year. The hypocrisy is too much to bear.

If that really happens, then there truly is no justice. And RBG would be heartbroken to hear me say that. It’s the last thing she would want. In fact, those were her dying words: “My most fervent wish is that I not be replaced until a new president is installed.”

I wish I had the opportunity to meet Justice Ginsberg in person. I wish I could be at the Capitol right now, to pay my respects. All I can do is hope that she rests in peace and in power, and that future generations will see all these political dirty tricks for what they are.

Rosa Parks, Lying in Honor, 2005

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I Am My Mother’s Mother

Recently, I watched an amazing movie, Life Itself. I highly recommend it. It’s a multi-generational tale, and it shows how the actions of one generation impacts the next and the next and the next. We all are intertwined, part of a legacy. We each carry with us the choices of our forefathers. Here’s a quote from one of the characters in the movie, Elena Dempsey-González:

I’m not sure whose story I have been telling. I’m not sure if it is mine, or if it’s some character’s I have yet to meet. I’m not sure of anything. All I know is that, at any moment, life will surprise me. It will bring me to my knees, and when it does, I will remind myself that I am my father. And I am my father’s father. I am my mother. And I am my mother’s mother. And while it may be easy to wallow in the tragedies that shape our lives, and while it’s natural to focus on those unspeakable moments that bring us to our knees, we must remind ourselves that if we get up, if we take the story a little bit farther… If we go far enough, there’s love.”

This got me thinking about my own family. I’ve written a lot in this blog about how, at age 49, I moved all the way across the continent to Seattle, a place where I had never been and knew no one, just to start over. People tell me that this was brave. I just thought I had nothing to lose, and it turned out that I had everything to gain. But I am not the first person in my family who has taken a leap like this. Far from it.

My mother, at age 48, moved us all from Connecticut to Florida. She, too, felt she had nothing to lose. I wish, for her sake, that that risk had worked out as well for her as mine did for me. I landed on my feet and then some. Her situation became much, much worse, in terms of finances and lifestyle and location. It’s really heartbreaking to think about. She deserved so much better.

Her mother, my grandmother, came through Ellis Island when she was 23. She learned English on the way over, using an English/Danish dictionary and the Saturday Evening Post. She had $10.00 in her pocket, and she was met in New York by a Danish minister. Her husband, my grandfather, worked his way over on a Danish ship.

My great grandmother and my great great grandmother on that side seem to have never left their home places, but my great great grandmother’s husband committed suicide, leaving her with seven children, and that must have been a challenge all its own.

My great great grandmother on my grandfather’s side was born in Sweden but moved to Denmark in her 20’s. That may not seem as extreme, but back then, I’m sure it was still a huge transition into the unknown. It would have been a language change. She went there looking for work. She most likely brought the BRCA1 genetic anomaly to our family as well, and many of us have been paying for that ever since. (Not all legacies are good ones.)

I don’t know as much about my Father’s side of the family, but I do know that his mother came to America from Ireland, young and single, and hoping to make a better life. She met my grandfather because she was a waitress in his restaurant. He liked to say that he only married her so he could stop paying her. In any case, he left her with 4 children to bring up on her own, which was far less than she deserved.

We each carry on a legacy. We each add to that legacy. I come from a long line of strong, risk-taking women. Sometimes those risks worked out, and sometimes they didn’t. But I’m grateful for all of them, because they led to me.

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Why I Air My Dirty Laundry

Sometimes, perhaps too often, what I write in this blog makes relatives and friends squirm. I discuss my sexual abuse at the hands of my stepfather. I talk about the sexual harassment I’ve experienced on more than one occasion. I describe my struggles with depression and my weight. I talk about my childhood. I rant about politics and other disappointments. I share the many ways I feel misunderstood. I expose my soft underbelly.

There are some out there who wish I wouldn’t do this. They find it embarrassing. They can’t even bring themselves to read my book all the way through, even though it’s an anthology of mostly quite positive posts. (I’ve found that the more someone knows me personally, the less apt they are to actually read my book or my blog. I suspect this will hurt my feelings less and less as time goes by. Time will tell.)

But I have good reason for airing my dirty laundry. I believe that most of us have experienced trauma of one kind or another. It’s a big part of the human condition. Personally, I have always felt that the worst part of trauma is the feeling of isolation. It’s easy to feel as if you’re the only one going through stuff if nobody else is talking about it.

And here’s something I can’t stress enough: None of these things were my fault. The trauma visited upon you by others is NOT. YOUR. FAULT. I say this because very few people will tell you this. Nobody told me this. It took me decades to figure it out on my own.

So I talk about it. I talk not only for myself (writing is excellent therapy), but also for those out there who feel like they don’t have a voice. If just one person feels a tiny bit less alone for having read my blog, then I’ve accomplished what I have set out to do.

Perhaps, too, it has something to do with my lack of filter, and my utter indifference to the standard levels of mortification. Or maybe it is more about the fact that I have complete confidence in your self-determination. If something I write makes you uncomfortable, I am quite sure that you will exercise your right not to read it.

Namaste.

Not alone

The 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment

One hundred years ago today, the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution passed, giving women the right to vote. This was a major breakthrough, and one that should never be taken for granted, given that the women of Saudi Arabia only got the right to vote 5 short years ago. I will never understand, as long as I live, why every single woman who can vote does not do so.

The first country to give women the vote was New Zealand, in 1893. It’s hard to believe it took us 27 years to jump on the bandwagon, given the fact that New Zealand clearly didn’t self-destruct in the interim. Even Russia beat us to it by 3 years, and the UK beat us by two years.

It seems like a simple concept: if a government is supposed to represent all of us, then it should be elected by us all. But women had to go to jail, starve themselves, be tortured, and even die to gain us this privilege that we so callously neglect. Because of that, I firmly believe that every woman should view voting as a sacred obligation.

Vote, ladies. It’s not only your right but it’s also your duty. Do it for every woman who fought so terribly hard to do so before you.

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