Women and men and preconceived sexual role traits

April 14th, 2011 by kara

In the course of my new job, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about traditional societal sexual roles and how they can colour our expectations of the people we meet on a daily basis.

In one instance, my co-workers and I were talking about women in nontraditional fields of employment. One co-worker is ex-military, and explained why he would be reluctant to have females serving alongside him on the battlefield. He talked about how difficult it would be for him to ‘allow’ a woman to be in harm’s way, because he has been programmed since childhood to protect the ‘weaker sex.’

He said that he would be distracted with worry over the fate of the delicate flower next to him in the trench, and that would probably cause him to fight less effectively.

I said “Wait a minute–if there’s a woman next to you, she’s undergone the same combat training as you, has the same weapons and the same capability to defend herself and cause the enemy serious harm as you do.  She also has the same equal responsibility to look after YOU that you have to look after her. And you’re telling me that you can’t overcome the instinct to protect her? You can’t treat her as a teammate and let her do her job, while you do yours?”

He said that no, he couldn’t, at which I replied something rude about evolution evidently not catching him up, and him thinking with his male sexual organ instead of his brain.

Another day, a coworker and I were talking about love interests and dating. She commented that men just naturally have a wandering eye, and that because of their penis and men-ness, are expected to wander. “They can’t help it, they’re men,” she said, shrugging. “That’s what men do, right?”

And again, I said “Wait a minute. Just because they’re men, they’re expected to be unfaithful, and they’re held to a different standard of fidelity?! That’s HOOEY.”  Except I didn’t say ‘hooey’, I said something else much more descriptive.

This co-worker is an intelligent woman, much younger than I, an attractive, engaging woman who I thought had a higher level of self-esteem. I was saddened and shocked to find that she truly believes these antiquated stereotypes of expected behavior for men.

Come ON, people!  Just because men have penises, that doesn’t mean they have no self-control! Let’s all agree that men are rational, evolved beings who do not need to think with their hoglegs, and who can overcome the programmed knee-jerk reaction to ‘save the wimmenfolk’ and then jump their bones.

Although…if one IS a man, arguing that one “just can’t help it, I’m a man, you know what animals we can become” could be a very handy cop-out. How many will take that easy way out, even though they know it isn’t true?

Knife sharpening kit saves money, makes cutting safer

April 8th, 2011 by kara

My trusty old Olfa Touch-Knife, plus brand new edge, courtesy of the Spyderco Triangle Sharpmaker 204.

So I came down with some type of lung crud and can’t muster up a lot of energy to do anything today, but I did manage to get my hair-cutting shears sharpened in preparation for our fuzzies’ weekly grooming session. Everyone will get the hairs between their toes trimmed THIS SUNDAY, whether they like it or whether they don’t, so I got out my Spyderco Triangle Sharpmaker 204 Kit and went to town.

And as long as I had the kit out, I decided I might as well sharpen EVERYDARNTHING in the drawer. Now our chef’s knives, Grandpa Plagens’ meat carving knife, all the paring knives, and even the fershlugginer vegetable peelers are all sharp and fresh! Joy!

Everybody who uses a cutting implement of any type will tell you that a sharp knife is easier and safer to use, because you don’t have to apply as much force to cut successfully, so there’s less risk of fumbling the cutting implement and losing control–along with a limb or eye or something else equally useful. Sharpening is something that should be done on a regular basis.

In the beginning I didn’t sharpen my knives regularly, though. Sharpening knives used to be very intimidating for me, because I didn’t want to do it wrong and ruin the edge.  Yes, I knew that if I screwed it up, I could always take it to a professional and have a little snack of crow while they fix my mistake. But you gotta remember that I don’t like to screw up in the first place. Hence, I never tried.

Plus, I hate to pay someone to do something for me that I should be able to do myself. Having the kit at home means that I can (and should) sharpen my knives myself on a regular basis. Along with saving money on medical care for accidental knife wounds, this saves money by letting me keep the very good quality knives I’ve selected and not purchasing new ones to replace them merely because they’re dull.

I’ve really got no excuse for avoiding this task. I’ve got that amazing sharpening kit, sitting right at the back of the knife drawer, of which I can’t speak highly enough. The Spyderco Triangle Sharpmaker base holds two brass safety rods and the triangular ceramic sharpening rods at exactly the correct angle (35 or 40 or 12 degrees, depending on what you’re sharpening) and it comes with a comprehensive manual and even a DVD for Pete’s sake. One would truly have to have a glass eye and wooden banana (in the words of my sainted mother, Norma) to screw it up with the 204.

And you can use the kit to sharpen just about anything that has an edge or functional sharp point. Have a wood plane that needs some refining?  You can use the 204 to sharpen that blade–just be careful, because the brass safety rods don’t deploy for the configuration to sharpen a plane blade. Does your ice pick, awl, or upholstery needle need a new point? It’ll do that as well, along with thinning and pinking shears, and my little Olfa Touch-Knife craft cutter. Honestly, I think I bought that darn thing when I was in high school, and I still have it–I just use the 204 to put the edge back on it every once in a while, and it’s ready to help me clip coupons every Sunday.

Plus, it is such a joy to use a sharp implement. Makes me want to go back out to the kitchen and cut cauliflower and broccoli and cucumbers for broccoli salad, and maybe find some fish to fillet, maybe a roast to trim. Eh, maybe after my nap.

My body betrays me

April 6th, 2011 by kara

For the most part I’ve always considered myself healthy. Yeah, I have exercise-induced asthma, but I’ve overcome that by avoiding exercise (grinning). I have a sensitive stomach, but everybody in my family is that way, so I just use a lot of over-the-counter antacids and anti-diarrhea medications, and don’t eat the day before a really important or stressful event.

I am usually in pain somewhere on my body, but I’ve always attributed that to my foolish youthful years when I engaged in behaviors like body building (trust me, ladies, even if you can leg press 450 pounds, that doesn’t mean you SHOULD), mountain biking (my friend Dawnn went with me off-road ONCE and refused to go again, stating that I was ‘crazy’) and firefighting (to this day, all I have to do is press on my right shoulder and I remember so clearly helping to lift a grass rig pump back onto a truck and feeling something ‘rip’ inside it). That shite all catches up with you eventually, so try to take care of yourselves, Dear Readers.

And if you look back a few posts, you can read about how I tend to faint pretty easily in the face of bodily insult, even though I don’t consider myself to be a ‘tightly-laced’ and fragile woman.  I’m hypothyroid due to an autoimmune malfunction, and just recently I was diagnosed with Sjögren’s Syndrome, another autoimmune disease in which my immune system attacks my moisture-producing glands.  It causes dry eyes, dry mouth, dry you-know, and general low-level misery.

Oh, and I’m also extraordinarily lazy and overweight, both of which may be either causal or resultant, depending on what type of mood I’m in that day. And don’t forget my history of depression, and a bunch of other stuff that has happened along the way: Carpal tunnel syndrome, gallstones, tonsillectomy…you get the picture.

I’ve always just dealt with things that come up by either a.) Ignoring them, or b.) Taking massive doses of over-the-counter meds to alleviate symptoms and making token efforts to improve my general health. There have been many bottles of vitamins purchased and discarded years after their expiration dates, having languished unswallered in the fridge.

Huh. (Counting on fingers, moving to toes.) All things considered…I guess I’m not very healthy. But I’ve never thought of myself as sickly.  At least, not until the Sjögren’s diagnosis.

It feels like this all started back in December, when I started bloating after I ate anything. Remember that I’ve had periodic instances of really bad stomach pain before, but a course of OTC omeprazole usually takes care of that. But the bloating…mygod. It’s difficult to BREATHE when one’s stomach is distended fully by whatever’s fermenting in there. My regular doctor advised cutting out dairy to see if the bloating was caused by lactose intolerance, but that didn’t make much difference, so I went to see a gastroenterologist.

Way back when I was 11 years old, I had really bad stomach pains which my doctor diagnosed by treatment–he said I had gastric ulcers, handed me a little bottle of Maalox and told me to drink some whenever my stomach hurt. At my first appointment in December 2010, my new gastroenterologist told me that this is not a valid method of diagnosis, that only an endoscopy can confirm stomach ulcers.  Okay, it’s not my fault that my childhood doctor didn’t scope me 31 YEARS AGO, and that I was not bright enough to insist on a visual examination of my digestive tract to confirm the diagnosis, so let’s move on to the present day, shall we? My new gastrodoc said we’d start with a nuclear study of my gastric emptying function, and if nothing was wrong there, we’d move on to scoping. That test was done mid-January, and showed nothing out-of-the ordinary.

In the meantime, I’d been having twinges, like little excruciating muscle cramps, in my parotid salivary glands. Whenever I’d see something appealing, I’d salivate, and then I’d feel sharp pain in my saliva glands. Weird, kind of reverse Pavlovian response. I pretty much lost my appetite due to the pain, but my saliva glands kept swelling and I kept chewing a lot of gum at work, because my mouth was so dry. (But don’t worry, Gentle Readers, I found my appetite again. Dangit.) I suspected a stone or stones blocking my salivary glands, kind of like what happened in my gall bladder, but on a much smaller scale. I didn’t put the swollen parotid glands together with dry mouth, dry eyes, fatigue, and all-over general pain.

On February 17, my glands were so swollen that I couldn’t see my earlobes when I looked in the mirror. I had a big square-jawed face like John Goodman, and wearing my headset at work or even turning my head hurt enough to make me pout. I visited my regular doctor the next day (Friday), and she somehow got me an appointment that same afternoon with an ear, nose and throat specialist, who picked out my type of thyroiditis and guessed Sjögren’s. Blood testing that following Monday confirmed I had both the Sjögren’s and rheumatoid antibodies.

So there actually IS something wrong with me. Oddly enough, hearing this diagnosis didn’t bring me down; it was actually a relief to know there was a reason I had been feeling so universally crappy.  My ENT put me on prednisone to manage the symptoms and I had my first appointment with a rheumatoid specialist on March 30.  Learned a lot about Sjögren’s and how I can get rid of the prednisone eventually, using other medications to manage the troubling symptoms.

My gut issues may or may not be related to Sjögren’s, but I’m addressing those as well.  Colonoscopy and endoscopy are scheduled for tomorrow (I’m making light of it by saying it’ll be like when they dug the Chunnel, because they’ll meet in my middle) so hopefully my gastrodoc will find out what mutant goodness resides there.

There is no cure for Sjögren’s Syndrome, but I can’t picture it changing my life very much. After all, I’m not a competitive sportsman or working as a volunteer firefighter anymore, so I don’t have to have a tremendous amount of stamina or physical capability. (I am very glad, however, that I got my eyes LASEK’ed back in 2007, because I probably wouldn’t have qualified for the surgery now with decreased tear production.)

It’s just really…disappointing, for lack of a better term, to find out that I have this weakness. It feels like my body has betrayed me. I don’t trust it anymore, especially now that I know there’s actually something wrong, and every little twinge, ache or oddity I experience is now suspect. Last night, for instance, I had a 10 ounce bottle of citrate of magnesium as part of the scope prep, and after I drank it, I had a deep ache in my back, between my shoulder blades. I couldn’t help thinking about how women can experience back pain as a symptom of heart attack, and I wondered if I was having a heart attack (foolish idea!) or the citrate of magnesium was tweaking my kidneys. And DAMMIT, I do NOT want to have to worry about stuff like this.

I guess given how much trashy food, Diet Coke and alcohol I’ve consumed, toxins I’ve exposed myself to, and all the late nights and hard work I’ve inflicted on my body, that it really doesn’t owe me much in terms of fidelity. And I’m trying to eat better and treat it more kindly now, but I guess I should have been doing that all along, eh?

Alternative to no-calorie sweeteners?

April 3rd, 2011 by kara

Recently I was diagnosed with Sjögren’s Syndrome, an autoimmune disorder which screws with my moisture-producing glands. Quick-and-dirty version is that my body is trying to kill any tissue in itself that produces saliva or tears or mucus or digestive fluid or the like. More on that particular joy later.

My stomach is also giving me grief, and whether this is related to the Sjögren’s or not, I’ve had to make some changes in my intake. It seems that I can no longer tolerate either the carbonation or the artificial sweeteners in the gallons of Diet Coke or Coke Zero which I used to drink on a daily basis, so I must move to uncarbonated beverages which do not contain aspartame or sucralose. Given that I absolutely detest the “sugar mouth” bad-breath aftertaste I get after drinking beverages sweetened with sugar, I must then move to either an unsweetened beverage, or one that’s sweetened with stevia, which was recommended by my rheumatoid specialist.

Just to add to all this fun, I have also found it necessary to drastically cut down on my caffeine intake so that my freaking heart does not break out of my sternum and gallop off without me. Apparently this must mean my days of being able to chew No-Doz for faster absorption without any undesirable side effects are also behind me. Gettin’ old, fallin’ apart…

The obvious successor to Diet Coke/Coke Zero is iced tea, which is readily available unsweetened commercially, both in fountain and bottled versions; but what is NOT so readily available is DECAFFEINATED unsweetened iced tea. Top that off with the fact that I’ve become a bit of a tea snob, and I’ve become really difficult to quench.

So when I know I’ll be away from home, I provision myself with home-brewed, unsweetened, decaffeinated iced tea.  I’ll fill up my 32-ounce Speedy-Q travel mug with ice, wedge a straw in there, and fill the negative space with freshly-brewed decaff iced tea. I’ll fill up a metal Sigg-like bottle with the same, and the travel mug helps retain the ice cubes, so that during an eight-hour work day I might have to get just a little more ice from the machine at work. I try to avoid the water and ice at work, however, because it tastes to me like PCBs and carcinogens. Yes, I know I’m probably being foolish, but I can’t help the image of dumping industrial waste down my throat, and with the Sjögren’s I’m drinking quite a lot of whatever.

“But Kara,” you ask, “Why don’t you just drink water or fruit juice?” Good question.  I do drink water, and if it’s from my refrigerator (in-line filter + very cold) or from a Brita filter (very well-filtered + very cold) or from a refrigerated bottle, I drink a lot of it. But sometimes you want something with a little more flavor, like Coke Zero…mmm…no.  NO. NOT like Coke Zero.  Like orange juice, or water with lime twist, or…tea. Only problem with fruit juice is that a lot of it isn’t JUICE, it’s high-fructose corn syrup, and why would I want to drink a ‘fruit cocktail-style beverage’ that has more sweetener than a Pop-Tart? I’m trying to take care of my pancreas, here. Adult-onset diabetes is common in my family, and I’m really not wanting to hasten that at all, at all.

So I’m drinking more water, and experimenting now with things like iced mint tea sweetened with honey. I’m still working on where to get stevia in sufficient bulk quantities so we can experiment with mixing up a gallon of Kool-Aid to see if that will work. Yeah, I know, it’s kind of blasphemous to mix a health food with Kool-Aid, but my 12-year-old palate MUST have sweet. I’ll let y’all know how THAT goes.

It’s Friday. Again.

March 25th, 2011 by kara

Heather just commented a little while ago that the days seem to fly by so fast for her, that before she realizes it’s time for her to go to bed so she can get up in the morning and do it all over again.

That’s the same feeling I’m getting about my weekdays–it feels like the weekdays are just zooming by, and every time I turn around it’s Friday again.  ‘But Kara, isn’t that a good thing?’ you ask. You may point out that I’m not feeling particularly fulfilled by my 9-5-er and it would seem fortunate that the time I spend there passes so quickly.

That could be a good thing, IF I felt as though I were accomplishing something while I’m there, rather than just marking time to collect a paycheck. I think about how much I should be working on writing for a living and practising that craft, and if I were doing that a little bit more every day, think how much closer I’d be to my dream of writing for a living!

Instead, Time’s fleeting nature is looming threateningly. I’m feeling pretty mortal here, folks, and getting a glimpse of that downhill slope. And the swift approach of each weekend is a mocking reminder of how little I’ve accomplished in my life to this point.

So, hooray.  It’s teh weekendz again, yay for teh weekendz.

Keeping a journal: I finally get it

March 22nd, 2011 by kara

Ever since my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Grigg, told my mother I’d be a writer many people in my life have had very high expectations of me.

I’m sorry to have disappointed so many of you.

Although florid description comes naturally to me the actual process of writing and storytelling does not. Plus, let’s face it–Mrs. Gregg’s prediction put a certain, shall we say, pressure on me to achieve.  If ‘writing’ is something that came so naturally to me, then I should have been able to do it successfully on my own, without training, while dropping from my mother’s womb, even.  Because I supposedly have this talent already, I’ve resisted regimented methods of trying to develop it.  I’ve not taken any classes in fiction writing, I don’t have a particular technique or ritual, and (probably thusly) I haven’t even finished a noteworthy piece of fiction.

Ever.

So there.

And that was the sound of me cutting off my nose to spite my face.

I’m not saying that’s a good action plan, as it certainly hasn’t worked well so far.  Because what I want more than anything in the world, more even than a pony, a Jeep Wrangler, and an ofume bathtub combined, is to make a living by entertaining people with stories.  To create a narrative which opens a door into another world for a fascinated reader, to divert someone from their own life into an exciting and attractive place of both our minds’ eyes making, what a gift that would be!

Anyone who’s ever found an author who ‘speaks’ to their reading tastes knows that avaricious joy of reading their new novel, or even re-reading an old one; you are re-fascinated by the scenery, re-engaged by the characters, and sucked in to a new storyline which takes you away from your own world, and maybe gives you a different glass through which to see it when you come out the other side.  It’s almost like visiting with old, beloved friends…sometimes in a creepy, voyeuristic way, but still.  You know and love these people, because you’ve spent how much time reading about them, becoming invested in their travails.

So one would think that I’d be dedicated to pursuing whatever means were necessary for me to become a published writer.  Or even just a ‘successful’ writer, in which ‘successful’ means ‘she finally freaking finished a damned story.’

One technique for developing good writing skills and habits that’s often been recommended to me is journal-keeping, which perversely I’ve resisted.

During childhood and my teenage years, I was too mistrustful of the world in general to record my most-secret thoughts ANYWHERE, for fear that someone would find my journal and expose my super-soft underbelly to the world for ridicule and ritualistic killing.  A short while after my teenaged years, I was reluctant to keep a journal for fear someone would find it and expose my super-evil id to the world, upon which I’d be arrested or drawn-and-quartered to curtail my vicious mind.

It’s tough hiding one’s psychopathy from the world in general.

Suffice to say, I’ve had a lot to write about during my long life, but I haven’t always done it, either out of fear of discovery or laziness or just plain inconsistency.  Occasional writing to find a resolution to problems has been cathartic for me, but it’s an exceptional process rather than a regular habit.  When I’ve had a really difficult problem I wrestle through it by pondering, processing, and then writing about the whole mess, and the problem is resolved.  These emotionally-charged missives rarely get shared with anyone, though.  Looking back on them after the process, they seem too raw, too personal to share.  I guess I’m still very guarded.

One thing I DID do, however, was to keep a paper Franklin Planner.  From 1992 to 2003, I kept (with amazing inconsistency) a record of my schedule and daily occurrences.  Using a zippered binder and usually a fountain pen, I’d plan my day, make notes of entertaining stories or jokes worth remembering.  Sometimes I’d jot down a dream, or notate a significant event.  Sounds kind of like a (gasp) journal, doesn’t it?  Except for the “amazing inconsistency” part, that’s kind of what it was.

In 2003, I moved to using the Franklin Planner on a Palm Pilot, which is electronically much more efficient, but soulless at the same time–there’s no method for saving ephemera, no ink colour changes, and my address book is changed forever whenever I update an address, so I can’t enjoy seeing the addresses of friends and family follow a time line through my records.  Yes, I’m an infogeek.

So for the past 19 years, I’ve lugged 11 of those years around in paper format.  Sadly more than 2/3 of those planner pages were empty of any mark at all, let alone anything interesting.  Rather than being a valuable reference for me, they became a paper albatross, a symbol of my failure to be productive or consistent, and a glaring reminder of my packrattedness.

This past weekend, The Wonderful Pumpkin suggested we work in our almost-two-car garage to try to clear it out and make it useful as, well, an actual structure in which to store cars.  I agreed, and we went down there with an optimistic attitude toward purging.

We shifted items around the garage, organizing and storing some, and placing others on a discard pile for a future garage sale.  We jockeyed items around the garage, ending up dancing around that one last box in the middle of the floor: The Box of Yearly Binders.

With the Franklin system, one purchases a refill at the beginning of the year which contains monthly index pages, daily pages for the entire calendar year, and other useful record-keeping paperwork like address book tabs and budget planning pages.  Most of the pages, except for the current month, are stored in a thick binder that is kept at home.  The current month’s daily pages, along with the index pages for the rest of the months, are kept in a smaller binder that travels with you wherever you go.  The index pages for the months are used for future planning, and the daily pages are used for prioritized task lists and note-taking for each individual day.  At the end of each month, one removes the daily pages for the previous month and replaces them with the daily pages for the following month.

Then one obsessively guards all this paper, fretting about its well-being and security and developing hernias from lugging it around because one cannot bear to think of shredding all that history, but recycling it/throwing it away are much too risky.  One’s super-evil id may come to light at the recycling center, and really, who wants that?

Since both The Pumpkin and I have been working on overcoming our mutual packrattedness together, we decided Sunday was The Day to sit down and finally winnow through all those Franklin pages together, to shred the damning evidence and information which might be used to steal our identities and recycle the chaff.

The Pumpkin was done in about 45 minutes—he’d never really gotten into using the Franklin Planner system because it’s absolutely at odds with his horizontal filing system, so he only had a few yearly binders to sort through.

On the other hand, I was sitting on my bottom on the garage floor (in the sunlight, so it wasn’t as dire as it might sound) until 7 p.m.—right around 3 ½ hours.  I skimmed through most of the pages, picking out notes I’d made which contained account numbers or credit card purchases, prescription drug labels pasted in and employment notes scribbled, and set those aside for shredding.  I also found some noteworthy jokes: “Q. Where does Napoleon keep his armies?  A. Up his sleevies!”  Heh!  That’s GOLD!

I read through mundane scribblings which marked the time immediately after my first wonderful husband had been killed in an auto accident, through jobs and birthdays and birthdates, through meeting my current Wonderful Pumpkin, through illnesses and the death of my mother and some wonderful pets and some awful jobs and wonderful achievements and insights, and some amazing and terrifying dreams.  When I traded in my ’86 Mustang, the first car I ever bought myself, I peeled off my Rogers City Fire Department sticker at the car lot, and through tears I pasted it to a clear zipper pocket used to hold receipts in my binder, and I saw that for the first time in about a decade.

I cry at the oddest things.

In essence, I relived 11 years of my life in about 3 ½ hours.

It was exhausting, but good.  My only regret is that there wasn’t MORE of it all, that there wasn’t more detail, more attention paid to daily happenings, more description of what I felt and thought and observed.  I have a fear of forgetting things, and using the Franklin was one way of bolstering my memory.  I didn’t use it very well, but the little bit I did record provided me some poignant glimpses back in time.  I understand now that those details, those memories, are what makes journal-keeping so valuable.  Instead of reading about someone else’s life, I was recording my own, and that, too, is a valuable reminiscence, even though I didn’t see the value at the time I recorded it.

So now I get it.  I understand now how keeping a journal can enrich my memory and help me to be a better storyteller.  After all, how can I be a good storyteller if I can’t tell the story of my own life, let alone a life I’ve made up as I go along?

Rick says I should keep a journal on my computer, but knowing how wordy I am while  typing, I think it’s better if I keep one on paper.  Typing is very fast for me, and like a roll of quarters, typed words are easily “spent.”  Maybe if I hand-write my journal, I will think my thoughts more thoroughly, and being more deliberately considered, they’ll be richer for the additional thought.

Tea and nostalgia

March 13th, 2011 by kara

A very good friend of mine who’s a Tennessee native introduced me to a beverage from her childhood a while back. Karen’s parents and grandparents used to mix Kool-Aid and sweet tea for them, in a half-and-half ratio. It’s really refreshing, without the overwhelming sweetness of straight Kool-Aid, perfect for my palate, which is stalled at the chronological age of 12 years.

However, up until a week ago, I always mixed Kool-Aid and UNsweetened tea–if I’m drinking iced tea, that’s all I want in it is tea. But last week I was trying to use up the remaining half-gallon bottle of ReaLemon juice before the expiration date (darn you, Sam’s Club), and I put some into my unsweet tea. Actually, I put quite a lot in there, to the point where it was quite puckery. I had to sweeten the tea with Splenda to make it drinkable.

When I took a sip of that very sweet, very lemony tea, I shot backward in time to my childhood, when my father and I would make ourselves glasses of Lipton Instant Iced Tea with Lemon. We’d put way too many spoonfuls of that instant tea into the glass, and stirred and stirred forever until it finally dissolved into a muddy-looking slurry of tea, sugar and lemon. We’d sit in the side yard under the big elm tree, in aluminum lawn chairs laced with nylon strapping that my father re-wove every few years, and I’d run in every so often to make us a refill.

I have such vivid memories of sitting under that big elm tree with my father, post-rose-bush-pruning or post-cedar-hedge trimming, relaxing and enjoying our tea after some hard work. After working so hard in the hot summer sun it was almost too cool in the shade of the elm, but we’d sit there anyway, with our muscles pleasantly limp from exertion, sweat and sap drying the backs of our necks into goose pimples in the brisk breeze off Lake Huron. We’d drink our tea and smack our lips in complicit companionship, savoring that sweet-puckery flavor, and then letting the ice cubes dilute the last few drops to a more civilised ratio. My father wasn’t a tremendously demonstrative man (in fact, for a long time I thought he only had two emotions: Laughter and anger), but especially at times like these, I knew he loved us tremendously.

Today, I sip my sweet-puckery tea, and suddenly I miss my father just as much now as when he died in 1984.

Pantylines are unfairly vilified

February 11th, 2011 by kara

I’ve never really worried a lot about whether my panty lines showed through my pants. Probably never been that concerned about my appearance–most of the time, I’m worried about more basic problems, like whether the hem of my skirt is caught in the waistband of my pantyhose when I leave the bathroom at work.

But to hear advertisers and the media talk about the horrors of visible panty lines, you’d think wearing underpants was the third biggest sin in the entire world, next to being a liberal and choosing not to have children.

Really, unless you go commando, the only other alternative you have for avoiding panty lines is to wear bloomers that cover you from waist to mid-thigh. Two extremes, equally (un)appealing in my book.

Isn’t wearing panties a GOOD thing, like eating well and volunteering in your community? Going commando to me smacks of raciness, of looseness and a certain cavalier willingness to do anything, anywhere. And yes, before you ask, I have gone commando, but that was a long time past and isn’t a state I’m ever in these days.

And really, do you WANT to know that your postal carrier/veterinarian/attorney doesn’t let anything get between them and their Calvins? Is that a piece of knowledge that we want to have about our friends, coworkers and neighbors?

If you’re concerned about your panty lines ‘ruining’ the appearance of your outer clothes, you might need to a.) invest in some better, properly fitting panties that won’t make you look like a balloon animal with a tightly-tied string bisecting you, and b.) check the fit of the outer clothes you’re wearing.  None of us want to be able to see what you had for breakfast through the strained fabric of your too-tight dress–maybe your panties are showing because everything else is, too?

And finally there’s c.) wearing the proper undergarments. Along with making sure your panties fit you properly, you might also want to invest in a slip to wear with skirts and dresses. My friend Dannette tells me I’m being quaint and dating myself when I talk about wearing pantyhose and slips with skirts, but the fact is a properly-fit slip can completely change the fit and fall of a skirt or dress for the better. Instead of having the garment cling to your hips and try to creep up your thighs, you can add a light layer of polyester or rayon and enjoy having your dress drape your curves to flatter them as it should.

Oh, and wearing a thong panty to escape panty lines might be minimally better than going commando–IF that’s why you’re wearing it. But if you’re wearing said thong panty with low-cut jeans that are so very tight and low that they expose the waistband of the thong and give you a muffin top like the balloon animal above, you are NOT sexy.  Ew.

In conclusion, panty lines mean you’re WEARING panties, which should be considered a good thing whenever you’re not about to do sexy times, which is most cases.

“I know you can GET the job, but can you DO the job?”

October 31st, 2010 by kara

At my new job I’m working with some former military people, some of them very traditional and conservative. The suitability of women in non-traditional roles, such as the military, has come up a few times, and it’s been a little jarring to hear these staunchly conservative people stating firmly that women have no place in the service.

As a former firefighter, I’d like to think that I worked hard and performed the work necessary to fight fires and help keep my fellow firefighters safe. I joined the fire department because I wanted to help members of my community, not necessarily to prove that I could ‘do anything a man can do.’

In the non-traditional employment fields, there seem to be two schools of thought: Anti-women and pro-women. Those who are anti-women staunchly state that females cannot do the same work as men, and therefore no female will never have any business even trying.

Conversely it seems like the pro-women faction insist that women, all women, can do anything men can do, and insist on the opportunity to try it–along with modified standards for the same work.

In my opinion, neither of these factions is correct. Fundamentally speaking there are tremendous physiological differences between the two sexes, which result in radically different capabilities. I believe that women can do a heckuva lot more than they themselves and many men give them credit for. But to categorically insist that women can do everything men can do is untrue.

You may notice that I carefully avoided using the word “feminist” during the first part of this note. That is because I don’t believe the argument about whether women can work alongside men in non-traditional fields like military service and law enforcement and firefighting is truly about the political, economic and social equality of the sexes. And political, economic and social equality is really what feminism means.

Feminism doesn’t mean that any woman who wants to can become a firefighter–it means that all women should have the opportunity to to try to become a firefighter, which is the same opportunity that men have. If at any point a woman (or a man) who wants to be a firefighter is unable to perform all the required duties of that role, then they should go home, have a hot bath and move on to their next challenge.

Maybe it’s more accurate to use the word “feminist” to describe those who fight for the right to challenge and ultimately prove themselves in a non-traditional field, like I did in 1989 on my hometown fire department. My motivation to serve on the fire department was wholly and truly to be helpful and capable in the face of tragedy. If I found that I couldn’t perform all the functions that I was supposed to as a firefighter, I would have bowed out and gone home–because I would have become a liability to the department, rather than an asset. And my participation on the fire service should always be about helping, making a good difference, and contributing positively, rather than about me.

Back in 1989 (as in 1997 when I joined the Highland Township Fire Department), I was able to perform all the duties of a functional volunteer firefighter. In the testing for both the Rogers City Fire Department and the Highland Township Fire Department, I passed the same physical agility testing as did the other men and women who were accepted into the departments. Females had to drag the rescue dummies the same distance as the males, and every single body had to lug a high-rise hose pack up a full flight of stairs in full turnout gear with SCBA in 90-degree weather.

Everybody had to do it successfully. If you couldn’t perform the physical agility testing, you couldn’t be a firefighter.

And that’s the way it should be. In my opinion, there should be one set of standards, one performance benchmark that everybody needs to meet in order to be a [whatever]. If you can’t do [x], you can’t be a [whatever].

Back in 1989, I was also working as a newspaper reporter.  The volunteer firefighting gig was a free-time thing, in between Jaycees and serving in a few other community-service capacities. Yes, I was considerably younger and much more energetic back then. Shut up.

Anyway. A fellow reporter from another local newsmedia found out that I carried my turnout gear in the hatchback of my ’86 Mustang. She was thrilled and wanted to interview me as a female firefighter, the first one ever in my hometown. I was a vanguard, a ground breaker, like Margaret Sanger and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

I was horrified at the thought. I didn’t WANT to be the story, I just wanted to be part of the cavalry that was part of the story, if that. I refused and she was befuddled why I wouldn’t allow myself to be put in the spotlight. I couldn’t even articulate why myself, until several years afterward.

Several years after that, I could explain that I didn’t want congratulations for doing something so ‘challenging’ to a woman, because I would rather people saw a woman taking on a challenge as a natural and accepted occurrence rather than an exceptional phenomenon. I would rather that women everywhere could become electrical linemen, or a snipers, or firefighters, without having to endure speculation that they’re ‘hunting for a husband’ or ‘a closeted dyke’ or ‘just trying to prove something.’

I think that one should be allowed to do/work/perform/create whatever one wants, as long as one can fully perform that work up to the safe and accepted standards. If I had a daughter who wanted to be an astronaut, I’d explain that the training is astonishingly rigorous and that if she wanted to be accepted into the program, she’d best get ready to work her bottom off. If I had a son who loved designing Barbie clothes, I’d encourage him to go to design school and develop his eye for fashion, and not to give up in the face of disapproval from general society.

But if my son turns out to be a crappy Barbie clothing designer, it’s no big deal.  No one dies if he makes shoddy or unimaginative Barbie clothes. On the other hand, if my daughter cheats her way through all her math classes and gains promotions by sleeping with her superiors, then she puts other peoples’ lives at stake by not honestly working to be the best astronaut she possibly can.

One of my coworkers talked about being in the service with women. “They can’t handle it, when it comes right down to it, they’re just not ready for the fighting and hard work,” he said. “Some of them weren’t any better than prostitutes.” Another coworker talked about her husband’s experiences with women who couldn’t perform the same tasks as men, and how she worried that they might endanger her husband when they were distracted by hormonal fluctuations and fretting about hair and makeup.

My heart hurt when I heard what they had to say, and I felt that they were thinking of me personally the same way. I understand that they had bad experiences with women in non-traditional roles. I know that not every person is a good person, and that there are women (and men!) in the world who will do the wrong thing and be bad people and not work hard. But that doesn’t apply to me, and it doesn’t apply to everybody in a non-traditional field.

I tried not to let myself be painted with that brush, but I don’t think I stood back far enough.

When I meet a person, I meet an individual, not a stereotype. I don’t meet a housewife, or a postal worker, or a florist. I meet people who happen to do those jobs, individuals with their own strengths and beliefs and personalities. I wish other people would think the same way.

Dinnertime

August 27th, 2010 by kara

So I’m working a job now where I don’t get home until after 8:15 p.m., but Rick is working a more normal schedule. That means that he gets home hungry for dinner three hours before I’ll even be hopping into the Buick Regal to wend my scenic way back to the nest. If I start fixing dinner when I get home, that means we’ll be eating as late as 9:30 p.m., and it’s not healthy for Rick to go to bed at 10 p.m. with a full stomach.

And unless I’ve been exceptionally proactive and motivated that morning, it means Rick is either cooking hamburgers/hot dogs/sloppy joes for himself, or eating (yet another) peanut butter and jelly sammich.

And we all know exactly how proactive and motivated I am in the morning, which is -4 on a scale of 1 to 10, so my Wonderful Pumpkin eats hisself a LOT of PB&J.

“Don’t worry,” he says trying to make me feel better, “I really LIKE peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.” That doesn’t really work, because the Pumpkin likes a lot of different foods, but it doesn’t mean that he should eat them for days and days on end. Nutritionally speaking it doesn’t seem balanced, and I worry that it might eventually cause him to snap, and I’ll come home from work to find the entire 7-pound jar of Peter Pan we found at Sam’s Club pasted over the whole kitchen.

Rick insists he can’t cook, which is really not true. The man can make a mean chicken stir-fry on his own, with just the envelope of stir-fry seasoning mix from the store, which is still home-made in my eyes. He could do that before we met.

“But I can’t just go into the kitchen and say ‘Oh, we’ll have pan-fried chicken tenderloins with cole slaw and biscuits for dinner tonight’ and fix it,” he says to me. I have to remind him that I started cooking and baking when I was old enough to hold a hand mixer steady in a bowl of cookie dough, and anyone with 33 years experience in anything is going to be ‘better’ at it than someone with less.

When I was on the fire department in Highland Township, I’d be in the middle of fixing dinner when my pager would go off, and I’d have to abandon everything to respond. In the middle of grabbing my stuff and listening to the address of the call, I’d be giving Rick instructions on how to finish fixing all the food that was in-progress at that moment. “Finish steaming this until it’s fork-tender, drain and mash the potatoes with butter, milk and salt & pepper, and pull the biscuits out when they’re nicely browned on top!”

And when I returned, dinner was always done perfectly. So the man can cook–he just doesn’t know it.

Or maybe he doesn’t want to know it.

But I’ve been fretting lately over how poorly nourished we are, and the more often we opt for pizza or take-out food, the more money we waste on junk that just fills our stomachs without really doing us any good. We’ve got to figure out a way for us to have home-cooked meals with me on this crazy schedule.

The logical thing to do would be to plan the weekly meal menu, and then do as much of the food prep as possible ahead of time, either on the weekend or in the morning. I’d then leave instructions for Rick on how to finish preparing the meal, and he could have a hot, homemade meal when he’s ready for it, and I could have leftovers when I get home.

Again, though, that’s assuming that I can remain focused and motivated to plan all this ahead of time, stick to the schedule, and peel potatoes at 8 a.m. on days OTHER than Thanksgiving.

So we joined E-Mealz, to get their weekly menu plan and shopping list that will allow us to save money while still eating well. We were pretty gung-ho about it, until I looked at the first menu plan.

It sounds lovely, and I’d be very pleased to be working with a ready-made meal plan with such wonderful food, mostly from scratch. But I’m not the one who’d be doing most of this prep–Rick would.

I looked at the first recipe, Chicken Dijon, which calls for two chicken breasts pounded to 1/4″ thickness, and asked him “Are you okay with doing all this prep and cooking?” And then I knew that for this first week, at least, that Rick would be eating PB&J.

This weekend, we’ll take a look at the menu plan and see how much we can collaborate on the food prep.  I’ll let you know how that works out.