Thursday, February 28, 2008


(Lingbergh Flying Across The Atlantic, sculpture by Alexander Calder)

I have software which allows me to see where some of the folks who visit my blog are signing in from. I wonder about you all -- who is reading me in Estonia? Lambeth, England? Who are my loyal peeps in Fargo and Mount Laurel, who check in every day? I'm glad I offer you something you want to see, though I have no idea what it is. This is just to say Hi. And I notice when you connect. Feel free to say more when you're ready.



(Image by little gator)

Additional recipes from the extended dyke family who love to eat, after the fold.

This lasagna-like Greek dish is so popular and so rich, it needs only a salad to complete the meal. Myra often doubles it to make sure there are leftovers. It'll serve 6-8.

1 lb ground turkey (traditionally, beef, veal or lamb is used, but with all the other fat in this dish, turkey is an acceptable substitute)
1/2 chopped Vidalia or Walla Walla onion
2-1/3 cup whole milk
2 large brown eggs, beaten
3 tablespoons melted butter + 4 tablespoons sliced butter
2/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
4 ounces of Ginny's tomato paste
2 cups water
8 ounces ziti, bucatini or penne pasta
4 tablespoons all-purpose white flour
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cook the pasta in rapidly boiling salted water. When two minutes from being done, scoop out and save in a saucepan. To this pan add 3 tablespoons melted butter, 1/3 cup milk, 1/3 cup Parmesan, and one beaten egg. Do not cook, just stir together and set aside.

Crumble the ground turkey in a large saucepan and brown over medium heat until no longer pink but not deeply brown (it will cook more in the oven). Add the chopped onion and cook until translucent.

Drain the meat and onions in a colander. Return to the saucepan and add the tomato paste, allowing it to caramelize briefly in the pan before adding 2 cups water, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add salt and pepper. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 15-20 minutes.

While the meat sauce is simmering, make a roux. In a medium saucepan, melt remaining butter over medium heat. Before it browns, whisk in flour until it is well-mixed. In a slow steady stream, whisk in 2 cups milk until it is completely smooth. Cook, whisking often, until the sauce is thick and bubbly, 6-8 minutes. Add salt and pepper. Add the other 1/3 cup of Parmesan.

Layer half the pasta mixture in an 11 x 7 inch baking dish. Spoon the meat mixture over it evenly, then add the rest of the pasta on top of the meat. Pour the cream sauce over the top, smoothing with the back of a spoon until level.

Bake until browned in places, 35-40 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool 10 minutes before serving.

Myra makes these when Ginny has produced some of her home-made cottage cheese. They can be frozen and reheated later -- Margie says they are better after freezing.

2 cups dry curd cottage cheese
2 egg, slightly beaten
2-1/2 cups all purpose flour (they won't "puff" properly with whole wheat flour)
2 teaspoons canola oil
Kosher salt
3/4 cup warm water
One chopped Vidalia or Walla Walla onion (or 3-4 scallions, if you'd rather)
1/2 cup butter

Make the filling by combining the cottage cheese with one of the beaten eggs and seasoning to taste with salt. Set aside.

Mix salt and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a deep bowl. Add the second beaten egg, oil and water to make a medium-soft dough.

Knead on a floured board just until the dough is smooth -- overworking with toughen the dough. Divide into two parts. Cover with a cloth and let stand for at least ten minutes.

After the dough has rested, roll it as thin as you can on a floured board. Cut rounds from the dough with the open end of a wide glass. As you cut a round, hold it in the palm of your hand and place a spoonful of filling in it, folding over to make a half-circle. Press the edges together with fingers -- the edges must be free of filling. The edges have to be well-sealed to keep filling from leaking.

As each pierogi is made, placed it on a towel-lined tray and keep covered with another towel to prevent them drying out.

When all the pierogis are made, bring a large pot of salted water to a vigorous boil. After it is boiling rapidly, drop a few pierogies at a time into the water -- don't try to cook them all at once.

Stir very gently with a wooden spoon to separate them and keep them from sticking to the pot. Boil for 3-4 minutes. Cooking time will depend on how thick you made the dough and the quantity of filling. They will be ready when they are puffed.

Remove each pierogi with a skimmer to a colander and drain thoroughly. Then transfer to a deep buttered dish and drizzle with butter to keep them from sticking. Cover and keep hot until all are cooked and ready for serving. Top with chopped onions which have been lightly browned in butter.

OR -- if you're making them to freeze, store them in a buttered freezable dish in the refrigerator until chilled, then put on an air-tight lid and freeze. To re-heat them, you can pan fry them in butter over a medium heat until they are light brown in color, or bake them in an oven until they are hot and plump.


Every summer, there comes a time when zucchini is ripening in the garden faster than normal human consumption can accommodate. Myra is always searching for recipes which will use up zucchini in new and tasty ways. Here's one:

This should feed 4-6 as a main course.

4 cups chopped or grated zucchini, squeezed in a cloth or paper towel to get out the extra liquid
2 cups cooked black beans (canned is okay), drained
4 teaspoons olive oil
2 teaspoons cumin
8 whole wheat tortillas
1 cup shredded queso fresco
Kosher salt and ground black pepper to taste
Myra's corn salsa as a topping

Saute the zucchini, beans, olive oil, cumin, salt and pepper for five minutes. Spread one-eighth of mixture onto each tortilla. Sprinkle each tortilla with one-fourth of the cheese. Fold each tortilla in half and cook in pan until the cheese melts and the tortilla is toasted. Cut into wedges and serve with corn salsa.

Another zucchini-user is this recipe which Jaime would make with Margie. To please her, he substituted the traditional pork with ground turkey.

Serves 6. Serve with rice.

3 pounds ground turkey
2 medium onions, coarsely grated and squeezed firmly to remove excess liquid
2 zucchinis, coarsely grated and squeezed firmly to remove excess liquid
2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup dried breadcrumbs
4 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2-4 chipotle chiles in adobo
Kosher salt and ground pepper
2 quarts of Ginny's whole canned tomatoes with juice
4 tablespoons vegetable oil

In a large bowl, combine the turkey, onion, zukes, eggs, breadcrumbs, oregano, cumin, 3 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Mix well. Form into 32 (2-inch) balls. Transfer to a large plate and place in freezer until fim, 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the tomatoes and chiles in a blender. Process until smooth and set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large, straight-sided skillet over medium-high heat. Add 8 of the meatballs and cook until brown, turning often, 4-5 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Repeat with remaining meatballs, 1 teaspoon of oil per 8 meatballs.

Reduce skillet heat to medium-low. Add the tomato sauce puree and return all the meatballs to the skillet. Cover. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. Uncover and simmer until the sauce is thickened, about 5-10 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Serve four unless more than two teenagers are at the meal.

1/4 cup of Ginny's home-made sour cream
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3-4 tablespoons good olive oil
1/4 thinly shredded cabbage (about 2.5 cups)
4 scallions, thinly sliced (about 1/2 cup)
1 serrano pepper, halved lengthwise, one-half minced
3 ripe high-flavor tomatoes
1 large ripe avocado
1 pound fillets of firm white fish -- Ginny prefers hake, bass or grouper -- cut into 16 equal strips
8 whole wheat tortillas (6-inch)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

In a non-metal bowl, mix the sour cream and lime juice. Put half the mixture in another bowl for serving. Toss the cabbage, scallions and minced serrano with remaining sour-cream mixture. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Dice tomatoes and avocados, and drizzle lightly with olive oil to coat avocado. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

In a large non-stick skillet, heat oil and the remaining half serrano pepper over medium-high head, coating bottom of pan. Season fish on both sides with salt and apper. In two batches (starting with larger pieces), cook the fish until golden brown on all sides, 5-6 minutes. Remove the serrano piece.

Using warmed tortilla, fill each tortilla with slaw, fish, and avocado/tomato mixture. Drizzle with reserved sour-cream mixture. Serve immediately with corn salsa.

Serves four if there is another hearty side dish. This is Davonn's particular favorite. Takes half an hour to make.

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup fresh hazelnuts, skins removed, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons white-wine vinegar
1 pound large sea scallops (about 12)
1-2 bunches (about 1/2 pound total) baby arugula, washed well and dried
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Clean the scallops of muscle and cut in half horizontally. Divide arugula among the serving plates.
In a large skillet, stirring frequently, cook butter over medium heat until it is golden brown and most of the foam has subsided, about 4 minutes. Immediately transfer the butter to a small bowl and stir in the hazelnuts and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Cover the bowl to keep the butter warm and set aside.

Wipe out the skillet with a paper towel. Season the scallops generously with salt and pepper. Place the same skillet over medium-high heat. Once it is hot, cook the scallops in two batches (to avoid steaming) until they are browned and opaque in the center, turning over once with a thin-bladed metal spatula, about 2 minutes total.

Top the arugula with 3 scallops each. Spoon hazelnut butter over the scallops.

Myra really loves Cobb salads, and if she has one or two of the ingredients, that's excuse enough for her to make this "use up the leftovers" meal that actually calls for a lot more than leftovers. This will feed her and Ginny a lovely lunch.

(You can trade this in and out, depending on what you've got left over.)
2 hard-boiled brown eggs, chopped
1 ripe avocado, chopped
2 of Ginny's best ripe tomatoes, chopped (organic heirlooms preferably)
2 cobs of roasted corn, cut from the cob
2 cups of organic baby greens or lettuce
1 cup of fresh or lightly steamed frozen sweet peas
1/4 cup bleu cheese
1 large chicken breast, grilled or pan-fried
1/2 cup roasted pine nuts or other roasted nuts
3 strips thick-sliced prosciutto or organic bacon (for Myra only), fried and crumbled

2 tablespoons fresh Myra mayonnaise
1 tablespoon plain yogurt
1 teaspoon anchovy paste or mashed anchovies
1.5 teaspoons white wine vinegar
1 small scallion, minced
2 teaspoons minced fresh tarragon leaves
1 tablespoon minced fresh chives
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Whisk together all the dressing ingredients. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Line up the salad ingredients in rows on two plates, contrasting color and texture. Put the bacon on Myra's plate only. Drizzle with the Green Goddess dressing and let each diner toss her salad her own way.

This makes four burgers, which often will feed only two. Even Myra the meat-eater finds these a delicious and acceptable substitute for a cheeseburger.

1/2 cup medium-grind bulgur
1 can (14.5 ounces) pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup plain dried breadcrumbs
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1 large brown egg
1 large carrot, coarsely grated
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons tahini
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a medium bowl, mix bulgur with 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt and 1 cup boiling water. Cover bowl, and let sit until bulgur is tender (but still slightly chewy), about 30 minutes. Drain in a fine-mesh sieve, pressing to remove liquid.

Place beans in a medium bowl; mash with a potato masher until a coarse paste forms. Add breadcrumbs, scallions, egg, carrot, cayenne, tahini, and bulgur. Season with salt and pepper, and mix to combine. Form mixture into 4 patties, each about 1 inch thick.

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-low. Cook patties until browned and firm, 5 to 8 minutes per side. Serve on whole wheat buns with Myra's mayonnaise, thick slices of ripe tomato, and fresh lettuce.

These are very popular for the annual Boxing Day Tea and other special events. Makes 4 dozen.

1 cup Texas pecan halves
1 cup all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup confectioners' sugar

In a food processor, pulse pecans, flour, granulated sugar, cinnamon, and salt until mixture resembles coarse meal; add butter and pulse until a dough forms. Shape dough into a disk, and wrap tightly in plastic; refrigerate until firm, 30 to 60 minutes.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Pinch off and roll dough into balls, each equal to 1 level tablespoon. Space 1 1/2 inches apart on two large baking sheets. Bake, switching sheets from top to bottom halfway through, until cookies are just golden around edges, 20 to 25 minutes.

Cool 5 minutes on sheets; transfer to a rack to cool completely. Place confectioners' sugar in a bowl. Roll cookies in sugar twice to coat thoroughly, tapping off excess.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Hey, ya'll -- Once again some of my posts have been selected for inclusion in this month's 11th Carnival of Radical Feminists, this time hosted by Holly Ord at the wonderful MenstrualPoetry.

I REALLY encourage you to hop over and read some of the other selected posts and expose yourself to new blogs. I always pick up a wealth of new ideas, well as new sites to add to my blogroll, from this excellent Carnival.

And, to give you advance notice, I've signed up to be a host of the Carnival myself next May. I'm very much looking forward to all the great reading I'll get to do, as well as giving back to my community. Thanks, Heart, for starting this shindig rolling!

According to the National Women's History Project, today in 1922 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the 19th Amendment to the Constitution which guaranteed women the right to vote. Only 86 years of enfranchisement. We got a LOT more way to go, sisters.


A blog carnival is a periodic gathering of previously-published posts from other blogs which are all pertinent to a chosen subject which is hosted by a different blogger for each edition. This particular carnival aims to foreground the the finest radical feminist posts from around the blogsphere. The host reviews submitted posts and selects those which will be featured. Posts are submitted by their authors, using the entry form online found here for this Carnival of Radical Feminists.

There are hundreds of other carnivals on a wide array of topics. To peruse a list of what is available, go to the form link above and find the sidebar option.

The next (12th) Carnival of Radical Feminists will be hosted by Debs at The Burning Times. Entries must be submitted at the form above by 14 March 2008. The Carnival will go online on 21 March 2008.

About the Carnival of Radical Feminists:
The Carnival of Radical Feminists will be held each month on the full moon. Hosting responsibility will be shared, and at least to begin with, pending additional radfem suggestions and process, our goal will be to foreground posts in the feminist blogosphere which highlight or showcase radical feminist analsis, theorizing, process, events, politics, and ideas, and which celebrate and honor sisterhood as it has been herstorically envisioned by radical feminists.

We hope the Carnival of Radical Feminists will build the profile of radical feminist bloggers, will direct extra traffic to participating bloggers, and particularly newer radical feminist bloggers, and will build radical feminist community worldwide.

All submissions consistent with herstoric radical feminism are welcome, whether they are written by men or women, and even if the blogger does not specifically identify as a radical feminist (yet!).

We define radical feminism as follows:
---We believe that women are oppressed worldwide by patriarchy, the “rule of the fathers”;
---We seek to abolish patriarchy;
---We understand patriarchy to be a system of structures and institutions created by men in order to sustain and recreate male power and female subordination. The structures of patriarchy include, but are not limited to, the law, medicine, religion and the traditional family;
---Women’s oppression is rooted in both the structures of our society and in capitalism and white supremacy. Patriarchy includes not only male rule but also heterosexual imperialism and sexism (Charlotte Bunch);
---In order to abolish patriarchy, we must challenge its root components and causes which we locate in oppression of females by males;
---We believe that the uprooting of sexism simultaneously inaugurates the uprooting of racism, class hatred, homophobia, lesbophobia, transphobia, ageism, ableism, competition, hierarchy, ecological disaster, and economic exploitation of all kinds;
---The revolutions, so-called, which the world has known to date, have been coups-d’etat between men which have pruned certain branches but have left the root embedded for the sake of preserving male privilege over all women (Robin Morgan);
---We are a journey of women becoming. We do not seek reconciliation with the fathers; rather, we affirm our original birth, our original source, movement, surge of living. We Re-member our Selves (Mary Daly);
---We are woman-identified and woman-centered. We put women first, not only in our politics but in our personal lives;
---The expression of our politics is concrete: we oppose pornography, prostitution, the institution of marriage and the traditional family, sadomasochism, compulsory heterosexuality, gender coercion, and dominance hierarchies of all kinds; we endorse, support and work to envision and create peaceful, respectful, noncoercive, relationships, structures and institutions which affirm the importance of all human beings, all creatures, and the earth;
---We affirm lesbianism and lesbian separatism as revolutionary paths for all women who choose them.
---We understand gender as a structure and system of subordination, and as such, we seek its eradication.
---We pursue and celebrate sisterhood.


Tuesday, February 26, 2008


(Poster by Austin Cline)

If you heard Katie Couric's report last night on the new survey of religious affiliation by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, you would be left with a very different impression of its findings than if you read the article covering it in the New York Times. The CBS News report, "Religion in the United States" (video here), shows reporter Wyatt Andrews and other commenters giving us statistics that are often in subtle contradiction to the message of the images shown.

One key finding of the report is that 84% of the 35,000 people interviewed indicated they are practicing or affiliated with a religion. Of named groups, the two highest are Evangelicals (26.4%) and Catholics (23.9%). However, two-thirds of the scenes of worship portrayed, particularly those which last more than a second or two, are of Evangelicals -- their presence dominates the impression of religion in this three-and-a-half minute clip.

Andrews also repeats the report's assertion that 23 million Catholics have left their religion to join other faiths, what they call "an amazing 10% of all American adults". Because of the context in which this statement is placed, we are left with the strong impression that Catholics are leaving to become Evangelicals, although this is not directly stated.

Andrews goes on to assert that many Catholics leave their church in search of a denomination with "fewer rules". However, when a woman who is a former Catholic is asked why she switched faiths, she doesn't mention rules at all; she says she finds her new faith "more joyful", opening her "arms and heart". This is another Evangelical code phrase, successfully distracting us from the reality that Evangelical faiths have just as many "rules" as Catholics.

A very significant finding of the study is given fair emphasis in the television coverage, which is that the loss of native-born Catholics has been completely compensated for by immigration to the U.S. of Catholics from elsewhere, overwhelmingly Mexico and Latin America. One of the report's authors states "Immigration is reinforcing the generally Christian make-up of America." Gee, you really don't get that idea from the anti-immigration rhetoric, do you?

The third key finding is that 44% of those who claim affiliation with a religion state it is not the religion in which they were raised. The Times article indicates this includes "shifts among Protestant denominations", labeling it "a highly fluid and diverse national religious life". Well, if you limit it to Christianity, that is.

Left out of the TV report but in the Times article is the fact that "the group that had the greatest net gain was the unaffiliated. More than 16 percent of American adults say they are not part of any organized faith, which makes the unaffiliated the country’s fourth largest 'religious group.'" The Times identifies this 16% as "largely under 50 and male. Nearly one-in-five men say they have no formal religious affiliation, compared with roughly 13 percent of women."

Also not in the TV report -- in fact, in seeming contradiction to their imagery -- is the survey's finding as reported by the Times that "Protestantism has been declining...In the 1970s, Protestants accounted for about two-thirds of the population. The Pew survey found they now make up about 51 percent. Evangelical Christians account for a slim majority of Protestants, and those who leave one evangelical denomination usually move to another, rather than to mainline churches."

The lessons to be drawn from this study are complex and enormously useful. Here's a few I can see immediately:

(1) The rhetoric that America has become or is becoming "secular" and "amoral" as linked to religiosity must be contradicted in every arena. If amorality is on the rise, it is being spread by religious people.

(2) The fact that America's Christianity is being reinforced by Latin American immigration should be highlighted, with the addition that "Anyone who lies to you about this is coming from a perspective of religious intolerance, in which their particular faith is considered the only 'real' Christianity and all others must be eliminated."

(3) One out of six people (one out of five men) don't want to be boxed into an organized faith. These "independents" should be recognized by progressives instead of falsely counted by the Evangelical Right as part of their constituency. They are not atheists, but they are not necessarily part of the Right, either.

(4) The decline of Protestantism should be mentioned as motivation for the Evangelical War on Other Faiths, which is covert and needs to be unroofed. Since 44% of those who are religious have switched from another faith, reclaiming religious tolerance as part of liberal values will be key to stopping Evangelical claims of persecution when they are not given free rein to persecute non-Evangelicals. This will also help illuminate the reality that the Christian Right is engaged in an effort to exterminate Islam.

(Igor 1987, photo by Philip-Lorca diCorcia)

I've just discovered Big Think, so I can't give you a comprehensive impression yet, but I still wanted to tell you about it so you can explore it with me. From their FAQ:

" is a new and growing website, currently in its beta version, with a simple mission:

"This is a digital age, one in which a wealth of accessible information empowers you, the citizen-consumer. But where is the information coming from? How accurate and unprocessed is it, really? Ask yourself this: how empowered do you feel debating a television screen or a newspaper?

"Our task is to move the discussion away from talking heads and talking points, and give it back to you. That is Big Think's mission. In practice, this means that our information is truly interactive. When you log onto our site, you can access hundreds of hours of direct, unfiltered interviews with today's leading thinkers, movers and shakers. You can search them by question or by topic, and, best of all, respond in kind. Upload a video in which you take on Senator Ted Kennedy's views on immigration; post a slideshow of your trip to China that supports David Dollar's assertion that pollution in China is a major threat; or answer with plain old fashioned text. You can respond to the interviewee, respond to a responder or heck, throw your own question or idea into the ring.

"Big Think is yours. We are what you think."

(Jongo image from Raízes da Tradição)

There's a great article by Elizabeth Dwoskin in the Utne Reader about Slave Songs in Brazil and the work of a Brazilian government program called Griô Action to preserve the cultural past of former slaves there. At the site linked above is a video by Dwoskin which shows jongo, described by the article thus: "Afro-Brazilians used jongo to honor their ancestors, to sing of the pangs of slavery, and even, researchers say, to communicate with one another in a code their overseers couldn’t understand. With its innuendo-inflected storytelling, its call-and-response lyrics, and its competitive yet playful pairings of encircled dancers, jongo is seen by folklorists as a great-grandparent of the treasured samba."

Also at Utne Reader is Shame on US, an article by Hannah Lobel on "how an obsession with obesity turned fat into a moral failing". This is a must-read, but here's a couple of paragraphs for you:

"We are obsessed with obesity. We have become hysterical. Yes, people have gotten a bit heavier, but we’re not committing mass suicide by doughnuts. The once ubiquitous mantra that 'overweight' Americans have higher mortality rates than the 'normals' has been debunked in the pages of the Journal of the American Medical Association. And the standards that peg some 66 percent of us as overweight or obese are not only arbitrary, they’ve shifted: Some 31 million people became overweight in 1997 when the top end of the body mass index’s 'overweight' category was lowered from 27 to 25.

"If the problem of obesity is overstated, the solution—self-willed weight loss—is science fiction. As recent studies have shown, to abandon the ranks of the overweight or obese, an American must achieve some Herculean combination of the following: overcome a genetically predisposed weight; starve through the hunger that naturally stems from exercise; resist the savvy marketing cues that trick us into consuming ever larger portions; and move into a better neighborhood, one with access to fresh foods, fewer fast food joints, and safer sidewalks."

Here's a couple of recommends from Liza Cowan. The first is 3 Quarks Daily which hopes to "present interesting items from around the web on a daily basis, in the areas of science, design, literature, current affairs, art, and anything else we deem inherently fascinating." They deliver. I especially enjoyed "The Continuity Wars" by Frans B. M. de Waal about scientific comparison of human brains to that of other animals; the mini-biography of Maya Angelou; and the article about whether keeping options open is functional or dysfunctional, "The Advantages of Closing a Few Doors."

Her second find is BloggingHeads.TV, which is described by one source as "a lot of charmingly wonky people having all sorts of lively, policy-diatribe-infused discussions about the issues of the day". Using split-screen streaming videos featuring two people in remote locations, BloggingHeads is punditry that is still dominated by white boys, but you can scroll down the page and find alternatives, something not available on TV.

(Listen to the revolutionary granny telling stories / Ting geming lao mama jiang gushi, poster from 1965)

There are only four more days to get your entries in, sisters, to the Women’s History Month Blog Carnival. Their call states:

Come Together: Healing Tensions among Women Working for Equality
What Tami Said and Women’s Space are partnering to host a blog carnival to encourage a dialogue between all women committed to gender equality.
Dates: March 1 through March 31
Theme: Come Together–Healing Tensions Among Women
Working for Equality

We are accepting essays, poetry, photographic essays, art, You Tube presentations, short fiction and other creative expressions designed to strengthen the bonds among women and heal rifts caused by historic and current conflicts, as well as by differences in race, age and sexual orientation.

Beginning March 1, submissions will be posted alternately at What Tami Said and Women's Space, and eventually on an as-yet-to-be-developed blog dedicated to the Come Together blog carnival. We are planning to close the month with a live open discussion on Blog Talk Radio.

Submission Guidelines: Submit work no later than Feb. 28 to Tami at What Tami Said or Heart at Women's Space. We cannot guarantee on which blog your work will be posted.

Along with your submission, please include a short bio (2-3 sentences) and a link to your blog if you have one.

Women only
Feel free to voice your hurts and disappointments, but focus on solutions not attacks
No personal attacks
No hate speech
Use examples and facts to back up your statements
Contributions should reflect personal experiences or direct personal investment as opposed to the academic or theoretical. This is important: We want to hear your truth, your lived reality. This includes how you have been personally affected by conflicts over feminist politics, strategies, history and theories.

For more information, check out the post at Women's Space.

(Cat on Bike, poster by Jay Ryan)

The main result of a ten-year study of more than 4,000 Americans by researchers at the University of Minnesota's Stroke Institute in Minneapolis is that "Owning a cat could reduce your risk of a heart attack by nearly one third." Dinah says "Taik dat an SUK ON IT, huminz."

A couple of updates to previous posts:

BOOKWOMAN, Texas's only feminist bookstore, is open at its new location.
5501 North Lamar # A-105
(between North Loop and Koenig Ln.)

10am-9pm Monday-Saturday
Noon-6pm on Sunday

Across the street from the U-Haul and next door to our wonderful new neighbors at Great Hall Games.
BookWoman, serving the women's community for 30 years.

They are still fundraising to pay for the move, so if you have bucks to spare or books to buy, contact them above and do a mitzvah.


(Mary Badham as Scout Finch)

Regarding the reference to Winston County, Alabama in To Kill A Mockingbird, little gator tracked down the quote:

'Miss Caroline printed her name on the blackboard and said, “This says I am Miss Caroline Fisher. I am from North Alabama, from Winston County.” The class murmured apprehensively, should she prove to harbor her share of the peculiarities indigenous to that region. (When Alabama seceded from the Union on January 11, 1861, Winston County seceded from Alabama, and every child in Maycomb County knew it.) North Alabama was full of Liquor Interests, Big Mules, steel companies, Republicans, professors, and other persons of no background.' - To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

She meant Republicans as they used to be, the Party of Lincoln. Not the current incarnation.


Monday, February 25, 2008


Another excerpt from my novel-in-progress, Ginny Bates. If you are already a familiar reader, begin below. The action in the story resumes immediately after my post two days ago. If you need background, check the links in the sidebar on the right, fifth item down, to get caught up.

10 December 2004

Myra sat on the white brocade sofa in what was now David's living room. There was a vast new blue carpet laid down over the old carpet. The cleaning service had gotten out the bloodstains but everyone's eye was drawn to the slightly cleaner splotches on the old white carpet. So Ginny had picked up the phone and gotten a new look delivered within the day. David's relief was visible on his face.

Nobody was using the bathroom off the living room, however. They went through David's office to the guest bathroom, or used the half-bath off the kitchen.

Ginny was sitting on a low padded bench in front of her, one side touching Myra's left calf. The funeral home had brought these benches in, and every member of Helen's immediate family were sitting shiva on them, except Myra. She was exempt partly because she was not blood kin and also because it hurt her knees after half an hour being on them, and Ginny had said "There's no need for pain in the observance of respect."

Sitting shiva had begun after they returned from the funeral on the evening of the 8th. It had continued through Thursday and Friday until sunset, when it was suspended for shabbos. With havdallah tonight, it had resumed. Food had been brought in by members of Helen and David's temple, and after eating, a minyan had been present so prayers were done. Everyone except the family were now gone. Nate and Elyse were putting coats on their toddler Elena and the new baby, to take them home to bed. Noah and his girlfriend Gayle were also leaving.

Ginny had put back on the clothes she'd been wearing since the funeral, her black velvet outfit with a tear in the left shoulder. Myra had not ripped her clothing but was keeping on the same attire, too, rinsing out her underarm and crotch areas each night in the bathroom sink and hanging them to dry on the shower rod. She and Ginny were sleeping in the guest room. Margie was in Ginny's childhood bedroom, which she had whispered to Myra was a depressing place. Gillam and David had put rollaways in David's office, each of them trying to take care of the other.

Shiva was fascinating to Myra. She found she was enjoying it, especially when friends of Helen's were not present. The family had nothing to do except sit and talk with each other. In her family of origin, this would have been a torment. But Ginny's family liked one another, liked conversation, and were allowing David to set the topic. David, in turn, was deflecting attention back toward his daughters, his grandchildren. It was quiet but not boring.

Myra was hearing a wealth of stories, things she itched to pull out her notebook and write down. Families construct narrative through stories, and now that Helen was gone, the narrative could shift, was shifting already. It was doing Ginny a world of good to be spending long stretches in a room with her sister and her father, Myra could tell.

Remarkably, neither Margie nor Gillam had gotten fidgety yet. They'd used their chances to play with Elena, and Myra had quietly told them to take two long breaks a day on their own, upstairs in privacy, to call friends or (she knew in Gillam's case) access the internet on their cell phones. But they also seemed happy to sit and listen. The anecdotes were frequently hilarious, and even when they weren't, the adult emotion on display was not aimed at them. They could participate without demand.

After Nate and Noah's departure, David stretched out his legs -- something he was doing often, Myra noticed, wondering if his joints were hurting him as well - and he said "I forgot to ask Ms. Greenbaum if she would organize some help for me next week."

"For what?" asked Cathy.

David looked apologetic. "I don't think I'm up to the task of sorting through Helen's things. In our bedroom. Her...clothes, in particular. But I'm not going to be able to sleep in there again until it's done."

"I'll do that for you, Daddy" said Ginny.

"Me, too" echoed Cathy.

"Oh, no, that's too hard a thing to ask of you -- " began David.

"I'd like to do it" said Cathy. "I don't think mother would appreciate it being someone other than us."

"Well..." said David.

Ginny looked at Cathy and said "I know this violates custom, but -- you want to do it tonight?"

Cathy looked at David, who said "I have no objection." Cathy said to Michael "We'll need storage boxes from the garage, could you carry those up for us?"

As he left the room, Ginny went to the kitchen and returned with a carton of trash bags. Myra was standing and asked "Would it be all right if I went with you? I mean, if you want my support."

Ginny said "I would appreciate you being there with me. What about you, Margie? Gillam?"

David was standing also. Gillam, showing extra white around his eyes, said "Uh...I kinda don't want to, is that okay?"

"Totally fine" said Ginny, going to give him a hug.

Margie looked torn. "I'd like to have something small, personal of hers, to keep, but..."

"We'll show you all the family items we save, and you can choose whatever Daddy wants to give up" said Ginny. Margie stayed on her seat, squeezing David's hand as he walked by.

Myra had never seen inside Helen and David's bedroom. It was vast and formal, with no sign of David's taste anywhere. David hesitated in the doorway, then crossed to the bed and sat down on the chest at its foot. Myra pulled over an armless stuffed chair beside him and sat with her arm next to his. "Anything you feel, anything at all, is fine to share with me" she murmured. "And if you change your mind, just tell us."

Ginny said to Cathy "Closet or dresser first?" At that moment, Michael arrived with a stack of plastic storage bins. Cathy took them from him. He said "I'm going to sit with the kids downstairs."

"Thanks" said Ginny. David said "I don't mind if you go in my study and watch TV with them. We did it after Mama died. Just don't tell Rabbi Mark, he's thirty years younger than me but like an old hasid in how conservative he is."

Michael grinned and said "I'll lock the front door. We can claim fear of crime in this neighborhood if somebody is nuts enough to drop by this late."

Cathy turned back to Ginny and said "The bathroom first."

Myra heard them talking to each other in there amid the clank of bottles. After half an hour they emerged with a partially full trash bag, a box with a few unopened items in it, and a gold tray holding an assortment of jewelry. Ginny handed the jewelry to David and said "She has more, we'll keep it all together." David set the tray on the bed behind him without looking at the rings and necklaces on it.

Ginny and Cathy went through the dresser next. They began speaking in single words: "Trash...Goodwill...maybe." Maybe meant it went into a separate box, for someone to make a decision about later, Myra guessed. Cathy created a double trash bag for clothes to go to Goodwill, because there were too many items for the boxes they had. Almost everything except underwear went in the Goodwill bag; Helen did not have much that was old or worn.

At the back of one drawer, Cathy found a bundle of letters wrapped in a scarf. When she pulled back the silk and saw what she had, she froze, unwilling to see who they were from. After a moment, Ginny took them from her, wrapped them again and set them in the Maybe box. Myra felt David shiver. She earnestly hoped the letters were from him, or Ginny, but she doubted it.

At the funeral she had seen the man Helen had been lovers with for decades. Ginny pointed him with a barely-breathed whisper, adding "Look at his wife's face. She'll divorce him now. He's clearly just lost the love of his life."

The closet was as big as Myra's bedroom had been when she met Ginny, with rows of built-in cabinets, drawers and racks. Half of one wall was clear plastic boxes of shoes. Myra heard Ginny say something inaudible except for the last two words, "Imelda Marcos." Ginny walked to the back, out of sight, saying to Cathy over her shoulder "I forgot about the fur vault."

Eight furs and three stoles were carried to the bed and laid out by them. "Thank god Gillam isn't here to see this" said Ginny.

Cathy raised her eyebrows. "I was going to suggest you take the black ermine hat for Margie, but if your kids are going to be upset -- "

"Margie won't. She'll point out the animals are already dead. And you're right, she'd love it. What do you think, Daddy?" asked Ginny.

"Fine with me" he said in a thin voice. "I -- never cared for any of them, do what you want."

"We could donate them to the consignment shop run by Hadassah" said Ginny. "This will bring in a lot of money."

"No" said David suddenly. "Women in the temple will recognize her furs. Helen would hate that. They have to go someplace anonymous."

"Oh, I'm sorry" said Ginny contritely. "Of course." Cathy went downstairs and raided the giftwrap closet for tissue paper, folding it around the furs before placing them loosely into trash bags and labeling them on the outside.

They unboxed shoes and made a Goodwill bag for them. They worked their way through three-fourths of the closet, which is how much space Helen's garments occupied, even with all of David's work suits and dress shoes. One entire drawer was boxes of jewelry, which Ginny added to the bed array. As they emptied the last drawer, Ginny said "We've found no mementoes. No scrap books, or things like -- well, stuff I made in school. Did she not save anything like that?"

"I have a cabinet in my office full of things" said David. After half a minute, he added "And her work desk in the kitchen alcove, we can look there." From his tone, Myra thought they wouldn't find anything there except household accounts and recipes.

Ginny pulled a chair into the closet and began lifting things down from the final shelf, high and at the back. These were a series of dress cartons and hatboxes, most of them empty. Cathy took one of the hatboxes and put Margie's bequest in it. They both turned as Ginny said "Huh."

She stepped down from the chair holding a wooden box, two feet long by one foot wide, with a hinged lid and a brass hasp. As it came into view, David said "Wha -- where did you find that?"

"Behind all the hatboxes" said Ginny as David reached his arms out. She gave him the box and he opened it with trembling hands.

"My's been missing since..." He looked up at Ginny. "This was Mama's. Your bubbe Rosa's. I brought it home after the funeral, and then it disappeared. I finally decided somehow it had gotten thrown out...I've grieved it, you don't know -- " Mentioning grief seemed to bring him to a halt. He sat down beside Myra again.

Cathy came to stand beside the bed, and Ginny sat back on Myra's lap, as David slowly lifted items from the box. A strand of cheap pearls. A leather fold that turned out to contain David and Sam's high school graduation certificates. A paper envelope full of old photos. A silk kippah, so old Myra was afraid it might fall apart in David's shaky hands. A tarnished yod and an equally tarnished baby spoon. A small blue jar of the kind that Vick's used to come in, which contained old rings and brooches.

Myra saw a drop of wetness fall onto the bottom of the box, which seemed to be leather. She realized it was a tear, running off the slope of David's cheek. Ginny wiped his face, then reached to the leather, which turned out to be a book almost exactly the dimensions of the box.

Ginny opened it curiously. Written in fountain pen on the front page was "Accounts, Ze'ev Baetz, 1919 - ". David drew in his breath sharply and said "That's his handwriting." They both turned to the next page. Ink lines had been hand-drawn down the sheet, creating columns headed with date, location, +/-, and $. Written underneath were lines indicating the purchase of "ethyl", cheese and crackers, or the sale of "1 bx asstd dry gds". The amounts seemed miniscule --meals for 15 cents, a sale of 92 cents. At the end of each week, a careful reckoning was made. He was not always clearing a profit.

It was a stark record of a lonely, hardscrabble life. No personal comments, no itinerary except for the list of locations which would, Myra was sure, reveal a route on a map. The handwriting was educated, if old-fashioned. The entries went on for about a third of the book, then ended with no final tally.

"I've never seen this before" said David. "I didn't know she had it. I didn't have a chance to go through the box before it...why would Helen have put it at the back? It must have been her."

Ginny didn't answer. Cathy said kindly "Perhaps she forgot it was there." Ginny began shutting the book, when Myra noticed a different kind of wear on the outer edge.

"Hang on, Gin" she said. "Open it again -- to the back, not the front."

When Ginny did, she and David gasped at the same time. A detailed drawing filled both pages, margin to margin. It was of a small town main street, with cars from the 1920s parked at angles before high curbs, glass storefronts full of items, people leaning against lampposts talking. It was done in pencil, the same lead used throughout (as sharp as you could get with a pocketknife, thought Myra) but a gifted hand still creating shading, depth of line, even clever erasure in spots to make the scene literally leap from the page. In the bottom left-hand corner was written "Z. Baetz."

Nobody seemed to be able to speak. David, his hands shaking violently now, turned to the next page in. It was blank, but the page following that had another scene, unmistakeably the Crosstimbers region of Texas, postoak savannah with a dirt road beside a barbed-wire fence. After a minute, Myra spotted the scissortailed flycatcher sitting on the branch of a tree at the focal center of the drawing.

Ze'ev never drew on the back of a page, as if someday maybe the lined sheets could be removed from the binding and framed. There were over two dozen scenes, each of them as complex and animated as what Ginny created. David suddenly pushed the book away from him, and then he was sobbing, leaned forward with his fists on his knees, his forehead resting on his fists.

"He said I had to learn a profession, I couldn't hope to keep a family on my painting!" wailed David. "He was so furious with me!"

Ginny and Cathy held their father from either side, Ginny crying with him.

"She never told me. She knew I got it from him, that hunger, and she never told me" David continued. "She should have told me."

A hunger Ginny had also inherited. But David had made sure she found the freedom to pursue it, thought Myra. We all come from a long line of people trying to give the next generation one square meter more of a room of their own. If we're lucky in our parents, that is.

Later, after David washed his face, they went downstairs together, David carrying the wooden box which he placed on his desk. Gillam was nearly asleep on his rollaway, Michael sitting quietly in the nearby easy chair. He said Margie had gone to bed, so Ginny went upstairs to check on her. David took the packet of photographs from the box to the kitchen table, where the adults had tea and David identified members of his family long dead in scallop-edged black and whites and a few tintypes. This time, Myra did get her notebook to keep track of names and histories.

That night, in bed, Ginny cried as she had not since her mother died. The following day, she persuaded David to open his cabinet of memorabilia and show his children and grandchildren what he had gathered over the decades. It was a good collection, including a lock of Ginny's hair that made Myra open the locket around her neck and compare it to those taken from her children at their first haircuts. She was struck by how perfectly David and Ginny's genes were being handed on. Both Nate and Noah had visible resemblances to Michael and to Helen, and little Elena looked a great deal like the photos of Helen as a baby. But somehow Ginny's DNA was sorting out everything but the Baetz lineage.

It was extremely hard to leave that afternoon. Ginny promised to be home the following Friday, and David said he would come visit after their return from the Galapagos. Myra drove to the airport in near silence. Margie carried her hatbox on board. Myra wondered if David was going to sell the house, if they'd ever again step inside it. She didn't want to lose the place where Ginny had grown up, although she suspected Ginny would not share that feeling.

Chris and Sima met them at the gate in Seattle. They both exclaimed over Gillam's shorn hair, a cut he had given himself more from empathy with David than personal grief, Myra suspected. Narnia was waiting for them at home -- Chris had gone to retrieve her earlier that day. Late that night, after the kids were asleep, Myra got up and went to Ginny's studio to look at the unfinished canvas again. She'd never had a chance to talk with Ginny about it. A sharing yet to come -- the idea comforted her enough to allow her to finally fall asleep without Ginny beside her.

The next shabbos, Myra made all Ginny's favorite dishes. Ginny got home at 5:00, bursting in the front door from her cab ride with screams of hello and the kind of excitement Narnia thought was appropriate, for once. Pat, Patty and their sons drove up from Olympia, in time to stand with Ginny as she led kaddish at sunset. Every leaf was put in the dining table with Allie and Edwina, Sima and Chris present.

Ginny was unusually quiet but seemed at peace. When Gillam expressed his anxiety about their going on the planned trip to the Galapagos instead of spending the holidays with David, Ginny reassured him and Margie both: "He was insistent. And, the thing is, he had already called a realtor by the time I left. The minute shiva ended. There's a complex ten minutes away from Cathy and Michael's that's for older folks with a spa, a cafe, maid service, and a wonderful garden. He can have a spare bedroom and there's a small sunny room at the back where he intends to paint. He's on the waiting list. I think he really wants to get things underway with his life, then come to see us once that's settled."

Margie and Gillam both looked flabbergasted at the mention of David selling his house. Ginny said gently "Mother and Daddy were not a happy couple. They had not been for a long time. He's grieving that she died, but not at losing her personally -- that happened years ago."

Myra felt a subtle stiffness from Patty and Pat. She covered with "So, we're planning to be back in time for our Boxing Day tea, only we're keeping the invite list small -- those of us here plus Jaime and Davonn. Well, excluding Allie and Edwina, who will still be gone."

Patty said "We'll be back the night before, but I don't know about driving up..."

"I can take the train if necessary" said Carly quickly. Pat frowned but didn't say anything. Myra covered again, saying she had begun trying to read The Voyage of the Beagle as preparation for re-living some of Darwin's experiences. This led into other conversation.

Pat and Patty left early; they had a hotel room for the weekend and planned to visit other friends. Truitt left with them. Carly and Gillam went upstairs, and Margie sprawled on the couch with her cell, talking to Jaime in hushed giggles. Everyone else took tea back to Myra's study. Myra sat on her big stuffed chair so Ginny could settle on the arm against her. Before joining her, however, Ginny went to say hello to the geckos. When she came back to Myra, she said "I see you put my canvas out of view."

Myra cleared her throat. "I cleaned up your work space before I left. I looked at your painting, Gin."

Ginny swiveled around to meet Myra's eyes. "Did you, now."

"I never have before. And...It's haunted me, a bit." Myra explained why. Their friends were very quiet.

Ginny kissed Myra's forehead and said, indirectly, "I suppose I'll never recapture that painting. I'll have to scrape it down and start over."

"I think you should wait" said Myra. "Set it aside. If nothing else, it's -- herstorical."

Ginny looked at her again. "All right." They turned to catch up with their friends' lives.

The next five days passed at jet-speed. Ginny started a new painting the day after her return, so Myra embarked on the preparations for their trip on her own, parceling out duties to Margie and Gillam when possible. She gave Margie a credit card with a list of suggestions and dropped her off at the mall to do gift-shopping for the family. She had Gillam create two batches of cake, cookies, or other edibles for the festivities after their return, freezing them as they were produced. She had to admit, both kids did a creditable job.

Once Ginny emerged from Painterland, she took over Myra's list with energetic efficiency. Myra switched to loading files to her laptop that she might want for the writing jag she anticipated on board ship at the Galapagos. On the 19th, they had an early gift exchange and celebration with Allie, Edwina, Ms. Schevitz, Sima, Chris, Jaime and his mother. Gillam was gloomy because Carly couldn't make it. The next morning, way too early, the four of them caught a shuttle to the airport.

When they returned at noon on the 26th, Ginny was in a fever of needing to paint rather than simply draw in her sketchbook. Margie was sick of Gillam's company, and when they pulled up to the house, she screamed when she saw Jaime's pink Vespa parked out front. He was under the carport, keeping dry. Gillam had a bag full of film he could hardly wait to develop. Myra felt congested and a little disoriented at the plunge back into responsibility. When her friends showed up, she let them do all the work of setting out a buffet. She kept drinking tea and closing her eyes to remember the warmth, the bob of ocean, the extraordinary presence of animals who were without fear.

Ms. Schevitz came over at 3:00, escorted on her walker by Gillam holding an umbrella over them both. She accepted a plate and settled in next to Myra. She said "There was just a bulletin on TV that there's been a large-ish underwater earthquake north of Australia. I wonder if it will ripple around the plate and affect us here on the West Coast."

Myra felt a sick, hot spasm pass through her. "How big is large-ish?"

"Oh, I think they said in the low 7's. No major damage reported."

But Myra got up and surprised everyone by turning on the television to find a report. It took her a while, and it was a brief notice, reinforcing what Ms. Schevitz had said. However, Myra turned to look at Chris and said "This is bad. I can tell." She was fighting the need to vomit.

Chris laughed and said "Are you doing that Obiwan Kenobe thing, 'There's been a disturbance in the force?'" When Myra said "I mean it", Chris stopped laughing. "Let's go in your study and see if NPR has anything" she said.

It took several hours for the real news to start coming in. By that time, Myra was in bed with a high fever. Ginny said "She must have picked up a bug on the islands, I don't know if I should take her to the emergency room." Chris, who had refused to go home with Sima at the end of the evening, sat with her hands on Myra's feet and replied "It's not viral. It's spiritual." A few minutes later, she borrowed their car to go home and bring back sweetgrass and sage, which she burnt in Myra's bedroom despite Ginny's vocal protests that it might exacerbate Myra's asthma. Eventually Ginny went to sleep on Myra's daybed, leaving Chris with Myra. who could hardly be roused from sleep.

The next morning, Myra did get up, dark rings around her eyes. She ate some toast when Ginny forced her, then glued herself to the television. Chris had to go to work, urging Ginny to keep pushing tea through Myra. Ginny had been separated from her second canvas and looked a little ill herself. When she insisted Myra stop watching network news coverage of what was turning out to be the worst human disaster in their lifetimes, saying it was sensational but not substantive, Myra went to her computer and began finding home videos of the waves as they hit. Horrific footage of people dying. Ginny tried to intervene again, yelling at Margie and Gillam to leave the study, they shouldn't see this. Myra would not be torn away, however. Weeping in fits, she said "This is really happening. This is my world, these are my people. I can't shut this out."

Eventually she fell asleep at her desk. When Ginny found her slumped over, her heart almost stopped. Myra woke up after she shook her, and crawled onto the daybed with Ginny, crying again. She said "This is it, the last of it. This terrible year is over. It was all prelude to this." She cried herself to sleep and Ginny lay holding her. Gillam crept back in after a while and whispered with Ginny, who asked him to make them all dinner. Margie came to help him. They ate in Myra's study, her curled on the daybed under a quilt, accepting the bites Ginny offered her.

The next day, she was better. Allie came over and helped her pull the safe from under the garden shed. Myra and Ginny took the gold to the bank, converted it to a cashier's check, and mailed it to the tsunami relief fund. "Just for starters" Myra said. When she found out that George and Laura Bush's entire contribution to the disaster had been only $10,000, she became so angry she drove to Nancy's and asked for an emergency session. David arrived that afternoon and spent a week with them, reassuring Ginny with his presence.

They had a quiet New Year's Eve. Myra had not been able to write anything new since the 26th, but she was coaxed into a round of line dancing with them all, trying to perfect one of Carly's defter moves. She forced herself back to an appearance of normal by Gillam's birthday, making his requested cake and thrilling to his thrill when he opened his big gift, a circa 1967 Mitchell BNC 35 mm movie camera in excellent condition.

The next day, she wrote a poem. Paradoxically, it was about Helen's death, but the heartache and dread in it was not about her. A week later, on the anniversary of Margie's rape, they spent that Saturday night playing games as an extended family, with Jaime, Carly and David present. Margie was still seeing Sheila twice a month. Myra and Ginny were going to Nancy every other week as well, and Gillam saw her as needed. But Myra was right: The worst was over. She added later, If you didn't count how Bush was trashing America and the world.

Copyright 2008 Maggie Jochild.


Sunday, February 24, 2008


Another excerpt from my novel-in-progress, Ginny Bates. If you are already a familiar reader, begin below. The action in the story resumes immediately after my post two days ago. If you need background, check the links in the sidebar on the right, fifth item down, to get caught up.

November 2004

For her sixteenth birthday, Margie asked to have a "teenagers only" party at the house. Myra and Ginny sat down to negotiate this with her. Afterward, Margie was unsettled at how well it had gone, wondering if there was something she had missed. Maybe she shouldn't have agreed to let Carly and Gillam, plus two guests, attend until 9 p.m. But Carly was a really good dancer, and she wanted Truitt there, so she could hardly let them come and exclude Gillam.

The actual day of her birthday, Saturday, they had dinner out at Margie's choice of restaurants. Jaime and his mother Nadia came with them all. Margie wore a low-cut top showing off Jaime's gift to her, a beautiful necklace of copper spirals that he explained came from his mother's native culture, the Purépecha of Michoacan. Myra privately thought the biggest gift of the night, however, was Allie's hand-made book of certificates for driving lessons, painted with hilarious scenes of her and Margie in a jalopy hurtling down hills or leaping canals teeming with orca.

Sunday night the party began at 6:00. After greeting the first guests, Myra and Ginny holed up in Margie's bedroom with the laptop and two plates of dinner they could heat up in the kitchenette. After eating, they watched a movie on the laptop, taking breaks to go out to the private deck and listen in on the conversations from the deck and yard below. The boom of bass from downstairs was like a heartbeat.

Ginny sat at the table to work on sketches for mural project she was bidding on in Vancouver -- her first public mural -- while Myra wrote. Twice, as pre-arranged, they made surprise visits downstairs, checking on the snack supply, making sure smokers stayed at the back fence by the sycamore, and keeping an eye on Gillam, who looked a little crazed with all the older teenager stimulation. Myra had locked off their bedroom, removed the power cable from her computer, and Ginny had covered gecko-world in black paper.

Davonn and a friend came for a while, making a huge impression. Upstairs, when they heard Marcia Griffith call out "It's electric!", Ginny and Myra had leaped to their feet and danced along privately. "Remember when we lived up here that couple of years, when both of them were babies?" said Ginny, brushing against Myra. "We have some memories soaked into the walls of this room" agreed Myra. "She's old enough to be an emancipated minor and leave us for good" said Ginny. They giggled. The "jeep on, stage two" plan was working.

For his guests, Gillam invited Tamika and another girl from school. When Tamika found out this was not a double-date situation for him and Carly, she began mouthing off but discovered Carly could give as good as he got -- this Myra heard from Margie the next day. They got acres of laughs from it while Gillam was out of hearing.

At 11:00, Myra went downstairs and began putting food away. Margie was dancing closely and dreamily with Jaime, but she finally got the hint and, bluntly, announced the party was over. Myra left the rest of cleaning to Margie. Once Jaime had been seen out the front door, the last to leave, Ginny set the alarm and they went to bed.

They slept in until 10:00. When they got up, not a single thing had been done to straighten up the house. Myra could smell stale cigarette odor in all the common rooms, despite Margie's genuine efforts to keep kids from lighting up inside. Margie was apparently still asleep. Gillam and Carly were munching bananas and standing with the refrigerator door open, trying to decide on breakfast. Myra said "Let's go out to brunch -- go get shoes on." As they scrambled to comply, Ginny wrote a note reminding Margie that part of their party deal was that Margie was completely responsible for clean-up. She took her cell and they left.

After eating, they went by a crafts bazaar and spent most of the afternoon there. Carly got dropped off at the train station, where an extra run had been added for the holiday weekend. When they got home, the house was clean -- the mopped floors were still damp -- but the back yard was littered with butts and cups. Margie was lying on the couch in a foul mood, Narnia beside her.

"Not quite done, I see" said Myra, looking out the back wall.

"I have a headache, three of my best CDs are missing, and Narnia has upchucked twice" complained Margie.

Myra knelt by Narnia, checking her eye color and looking in her mouth. Narnia's forehead was furrowed in misery. "Do you think somebody fed her stuff too rich for her?" she asked.

"Prolly" said Margie.

"Well, I'll make her some plain rice and keep an eye on her while you handle the back yard" said Myra. "There's ibuprofen in our bathroom if you want it."

Margie stomped outside. Ginny made pasta primavera as Myra coaxed rice into Narnia, then combed her slowly, an activity that always put Narnia into a trance-like state. Myra sang the tune she'd heard on NPR from an album of "songs just for dogs", a single line repeated over and over in exuberant approval, "You're a good dog, yes you are!" It never failed to calm Narnia completely.

After dinner, Myra stood and said "Well, my darling 16-year-old, I'm not Allie but how about if we go find an abandoned parking lot and you can practice driving around it for an hour?" Margie lit up.

"Can I please go?" said Gillam.

Margie was torn between the joy of leaving him behind vs. rubbing his face in it in person. Myra said to him "No teasing about anything that happens, not ever" and that decided it for Margie. He could ride in the back seat and eat his heart out.

"I'll stay home with Narnia" said Ginny. Narnia's stomach ailment had cleared and she did her best to convey her strong preference to go in the car, but once again humans failed to comprehend any form of basic communication.

When they got home, Margie was in flying spirits. Allie and Edwina had stopped by and got to hear a detailed description of every shift and maneuver. Ginny, in the kitchen, whispered to Myra "How did it go, really?"

"Whatever car we get her -- front and side airbags, as a minimum" said Myra gloomily.

Over tea, Allie told them she and Edwina had decided to go to Chicago to visit Edwina's family over Christmas vacation. "We'll leave on solstice and be gone a week" said Allie, looking at the kids. "I'll miss you something awful, but I need to meet her people and have a chance to get to know them the way she's gotten to know you."

"Will you be here for my birthday?" asked Gillam.

"Of course" said Allie.

"Carly's family is going to Chicago, too" said Gillam sadly. "Well, Lake Forest, near there."

Margie was fighting back tears, which startled Allie until Margie said "And Jaime, he's spending the holidays with his dad in Southern California!"

"Chris and Sima are going to Idaho for a few days, too" Myra said to Ginny. "Maybe we should plan a trip as well."

"NOT Denver!" said Margie with a choke in her voice.

"No, I meant someplace new and different" reassured Myra.

"New York!" said Margie and "Hawaii!" said Gillam simultaneously. Myra gaped at them as Ginny began laughing.

Myra said "We'll have to find people to replace us cooking dinner at the shelter -- I could offer to pay double-time for volunteers, I guess."

"I'd rather not go to a place that'll be overrun with rich tourists" said Ginny. Myra leaned over to whisper to her, and Ginny's eyes got big.

"You think we can still get -- booking?" she said.

"We can try. And I updated all our passports last year" said Myra. "We'll need shots, though."

"Where? Where?" demanded Margie.

"Let's wait and see if we can pull it off" said Ginny teasingly.

"Oh, please, just give us a hint!" pleaded Margie.

Myra said, "Well, it's a place where Annie Dillard has been."

Margie wheeled on Gillam. "You've read all her books, where's she been?"

Gillam, flushed with his sudden expert status, said slowly, "Tinker Creek, but that's not it. Uh...she lived in a cabin on Puget Sound for a while -- "

Margie turned back to almost yell at Myra, "TELL us that's not it!"

"They said shots and passports, remember?" said Gillam. "Lemme think...Oh -- OH! I know!" He whispered to Margie, and she raised both hands in excitement.

"Antarctica!" she shouted.

"Whoa, hang on" said Myra. "First of all, she wrote about the South Pole but I don't think she ever went herself. And yes, I'd love to go but it will take more planning than we can do in three weeks. We'll have to save that for another winter break -- maybe next year."

Margie said to Gillam "Where else?"

Gillam headed for the bookshelves, Margie trailing after him.

"Which book is it in?" whispered Ginny.

"Teaching a Stone to Talk" answered Myra. "But it's not on the shelves, it's on my nightstand, as it happens." She and Ginny giggled together.

"Iguanas!" Ginny whispered reverently.

"Boobies!" answered Myra. Allie and Edwina joined them in the ensuing hysterics.

Two days later, the second child of Ginny's nephew Nate and his wife Elyse was born. They named her Navit. After celebrating her arrival at dinner that night, Myra and Ginny announced the family was booked to fly to Ecuador on December 20th and leave from there for a four-day tour of the Galapagos.

Margie and Gillam both went out of their minds. Margie said "The seals there, they actually swim with you, come up and touch you!" "The pictures I take will be unbelievable!" said Gillam. Myra explained they'd be spending nights aboard ship, and Margie would have to share a cabin with Gillam because space was so tight.

"I don't care!" said Margie, dancing around the room. She stopped suddenly and said "Where's my cell, I gotta tell Jaime!" She rushed upstairs. Half a minute later, Gillam followed her.

"Thank you, mama, for giving us a glorious life full of opportunities" Myra said mockingly to Ginny.

"So glad you noticed" grinned Ginny.

7 December 2004

Ginny was in day two of Painterland on this particular canvas. Myra didn't usually keep track, but it seemed to her that Ginny's output was higher this year than it had been in previous years. Art critics (whom Ginny refused to read about her own work) had names for Ginny's shifts in theme and style, arguing between themselves about frickin' bullshit, as Allie put it, and jostling to come up with names for her "periods". She'd been in what they called her "nonconcrete recherché" period for almost two years now.

One thing Myra could say is that right before Ginny made a shift, she went into overdrive, burning out her jets as Myra thought of it. For a moment, she wished someone was studying her poetry that carefully and analyzing its origins, its influence, its chronology. Then she remembered how furious she had been at some of the stuff written about Skene, and she withdrew her wish.

The kids were in bed, and she was about to get one more bottle of water into Ginny before heading to the sack herself when the phone rang. The main line, not the cell. It was a Denver area code, so she answered it on the second ring.

"Myra?" said Michael's voice. "It's Michael, your brother-in-law. Are you still up? I need to speak with Ginny."

"Oh god, Michael. Is everyone -- is Cathy all right?" Myra sat down heavily.

"Yes. It's not her, not the boys or their families" he said.

David. Oh please, not David prayed Myra.

"Helen...she died this evening. Suddenly. Do you want to tell Ginny or -- I said I would -- "

But Ginny was there, brush in hand, sweat glistening on a face drained of color, reaching for the phone.

"She's here, Michael. I'll talk to you again later" said Myra, handing the receiver to Ginny and taking her brush as she stood beside her, letting Ginny lean on her. She didn't see Ginny's face but she felt two small percussions in her body, which she later thought must have been relief followed by -- what? Any death of someone you've known forever is nonsensical, a sudden hole in the fabric of reality. What was it like to lose your mother when you did not love her?

She listened to Ginny's questions and incomplete sentences, gleaning what she could. She heard Ginny say "No, I'll come tonight. If there's a flight this late -- I'll be there as soon as I can. Tell Daddy that. Is he -- " Then, "All right, don't interrupt him talking with Rabbi Mark. But if he wants to call me, tell him to use my cell number, I'll keep it on." After another minute, she said "I'll call you back -- is this Cathy's cell? Okay -- when I have a reservation, but I'll get a cab from the airport, don't send -- I mean it, Michael, I'd just as soon take a cab. Okay, thanks."

She clicked the phone off without remembering to let Myra talk to Michael again. Didn't matter at the moment, thought Myra. She sat down on the daybed and pulled Ginny beside her, covering her with the quilt there. Ginny folded her legs over Myra's lap and looked into her face, her eyes clear blue and wide.

"She -- Daddy wasn't with her. He'd gone to Cathy and Michael's for Chanukah -- the whole family was there, for dinner and lighting candles with little Elena and the new baby. At the last minute, mother begged off, said she wasn't feeling well and she didn't want to pass on anything to the baby. Daddy said she didn't look well." Ginny paused, and Myra thought she was keeping herself from saying "But she never does look really well any more."

"He called before Elena went to bed, to see if mother wanted to say goodnight to her. When Helen didn't answer, he left for home then. Not really worried, Michael said, but it was -- she would answer the phone, she always answered."

Ginny paused again, her muscles stiffening. "When Daddy got home, there was a -- pool of blood in the carpet beside her chair in the living room. And a trail of blood to the bathroom, that one by the front door. She was lying on the floor beside the toilet. Blood everywhere. The paramedics said she was vomiting it up, that the ulcer in her stomach ruptured or maybe an aneurysm, I don't know for sure what to call it...instead of dialing for help, she went to the bathroom. Passed out from loss of blood, and...died without waking up. Probably still bleeding into her stomach." Ginny's voice was thick with revulsion.

"Daddy -- he moved her but she was -- clearly gone. He didn't do CPR. The cops are there, still. They have to make sure it really was an accident, I guess. Michael said Cathy told him mother knew about the ulcer, she's had -- she's been passing blood in her stool. They told her she had to not drink any more, not even wine. Not a drop. And Cathy thought she wasn't. She's been -- hard to live with for a week or two. If Michael calls it hard to live with, it must have been -- hellish." Ginny's lips tightened. "Michael didn't say, but it's obvious -- she stayed home tonight to drink. A chance to be away from their scrutiny for a few hours."

Ginny trailed off. Myra squeezed her and said "How are you, my love? What's going on inside?"

Ginny's eyes stayed wide. "I don't know. I'm worried about Daddy. It must have been -- unspeakable to find. And -- I'm not surprised. I'm not surprised she's dead, and I'm not surprised it was this nasty. Is that terrible of me? I don't feel like crying, Myra. Not for myself."

"It's not terrible of you, no. It's honest."

“I need to get there, I need to be with Daddy. Let’s call the airlines --”

“Wait, Ginny. What about me, and the kids? Do you want me to go wake them up and us to go with you?”

“They might as well sleep. Which means you’ll have to stay here with them. You could all fly in tomorrow morning, is that all right to ask you? You’ll be the one telling them about their bubbe, is that fair?”

“Yes. I agree with you about letting them sleep. But you won’t be getting any sleep on the plane --”

“I wouldn’t sleep anyhow, Myra. Oh, and Allie and Edwina...” Ginny picked up the phone and dialed their number. When they didn’t answer, she left a toneless message, saying something had come up, everybody at home was okay but could they please call back as soon as they got this. She did the same with Chris and Sima. She sat with the phone in her hand, hefting it for a minute, and said “Will you try to get me a flight? I should go pack.”

“Are you sure? No processing needed at the moment?”

Ginny thought about it. “I’m okay. Thank god I have you.”

“Back atcha. Okay, go pack. Take some Rescue Remedy when you go in the bathroom.”

Myra got online and came up with a flight in two hours. After booking a seat for Ginny, she went on searching and made reservations for her and the kids on an 8:00 a.m. flight. It would mean getting them up at dawn, but she didn’t want to leave Ginny alone any longer than she necessary.

She made a quick list at her desk, while her brain was still clear, then went to the bedroom where Ginny was just closing her suitcase. Myra told her about her ticket, and Ginny picked up the phone on the nightstand to call a cab.

“I can take you” said Myra, “I’ll leave a note for the kids and be back -- “

“No, Myra, honestly, I’m okay. I don’t think I’m coasting on autopilot, I’m actually all right. I mean, yes, I want you with me, don’t take it that way.” Ginny kissed her gently. Her eyes were looking better.

“Let’s go through your carry-on, make sure there’s nothing they’re going to confiscate” said Myra. She emptied her pockets of cash into Ginny’s billfold, added her cell phone charger to the bag, and was about to make her some tea when they heard a discrete honk out front.

“Shit, that was fast” said Ginny. Myra felt scared suddenly. She walked her to the door, kissing her urgently and watching her pull her roller bag behind her to the taxi driver, who had popped his trunk. After they drove off, Myra returned to her desk to begin going down the list.

Lying on the edge was Ginny’s brush, thick with paint. Myra picked it up and used a kleenex to scrub where it had touched the wood. She walked to the table beside Ginny’s easel and picked up the palette as well. Then, for the first time in her life, she looked at one of Ginny’s unfinished paintings.

Shock reverberated through her. It was not at all what she expected. One third of the canvas seemed nearly complete, layers of pale color in a pattern reminiscent of the interior of a wave. It was as compelling as all Ginny’s work was, full of meaning that was not verbal, even in Myra’s hyper-verbal brain. Another portion, less than a third, was like a crude parody of the completed section -- just a few swaths of what must be a base color, almost geometric but -- well, the word for it was ugly. The remaining portion of the canvas, in five or six discrete areas, not all continguous, was some kind of interim stage.

This meant Ginny worked in fragments, going from section to section. It meant she really started off with not much at all, some sort of rudimentary idea that remained occupying the canvas for a long time. It was as if she felt her way to creating the final vision. This is not how Myra had imagined it, ever. But once the initial surprise left her, it made sense. How else to turn what was surely three-dimension and alive in Ginny’s mind into a two-dimensional static hint of what she saw?
And Myra’s first own drafts were so hackneyed she tended to throw them out, once the second draft was in place. But Ginny had to build on top of her drafts, one after the other.

She felt an ache for Ginny in her throat. It was like desire, but more intense. She would never really know Ginny -- however much they shared, she couldn’t comprehend how Ginny did what she did. Yet she wanted to, with all her being.

Tears pricked at her eyes. She didn’t know what to do with the canvas, to keep it safe and fresh, except to leave it. She turned the easel around, however, so it was not on view from outside or any other room. It felt vulnerable to her. She did the best she could to clean Ginny’s brush and palette, and put lids back on all the tubes of paint. She scrubbed her hands, then returned to Ginny’s studio and made sure the gecko mister was full of clean water. She mixed fruit paste with their Reptivite and put it in their habitat, in case they ran out of crickets in the next few days. She turned off the lights in Ginny’s studio -- the gecko world was on its own light timer -- and, reluctantly, left Ginny’s world.

She cleaned Narnia’s bowls, filled them with fresh kibble and water, and returned to her desk to leave a message with the pet-sitter who checked on Narnia when they were only gone for a couple of days. She asked the woman to come get Narnia tomorrow and take her to the doggie hotel for a longer stay. She also called the doggie hotel and arranged for Narnia’s visit, leaving her credit card number.

She walked outside and turned off the pool and hot tub heaters. She set the alarm system for a random lights-on sequence, then called the security company to explain they’d be gone for the next few days, at least. She was about to go into the bedroom and pack when the phone rang.

“I’m waiting to board and I was missing you so much” said Ginny. “Are you still up?”

“Oh, yeah, I don’t think I’ll sleep either” said Myra. “Wanna talk?”

“Maybe half an hour before they call us, I think” said Ginny.

Myra wanted to ask her about the canvas, but she decided it would be better in person.

Ginny said “Listen, tell Margie she can wear her Armani jacket and the Ralph Lauren skirt to the funeral, it’s understated enough, but not that Versace top. She needs to wear a plain black shirt, preferably long-sleeved and with a collar. And not the high-heeled boots -- something with a flat heel. Gillam has his good black suit, that will work for him.”

Myra made a note on her pad. She would get very tired before this night was over.

“But remind her, them both, about kriah -- they need to either wear something they will be willing to tear or they need to bring a ribbon they can tear. You, too.”
Myra made another note.

“Tell Gillam to leave his camera at home. And, Myra? I forgot to ask you. I think I want to sit the full seven days of shiva. I did for Bubbe, and it will be important to Daddy. But I won’t if you need me to come home with you earlier. We can’t keep the kids out of school a week.”

“We’ll stay through Sunday with you -- they’ll miss two days of school, and we’ll have the weekend there. I think you should do whatever you need, sweetheart. We’ll be fine” said Myra. “I just realized, I should rent a car at the airport, we’ll need it.” She made another note.

“I know Daddy said the reason he was staying in Denver is because of Nate’s kids, how little they are and he gets to see them a lot. But I”m wondering if this will change his mind, make him more open to moving to Seattle.” Ginny’s voice was not quite normal, though Myra couldn’t think of how it was different.

Myra said, without planning the words in advance, “David is the only parent left for me, you and Allie. We’re rapidly becoming the oldest generation.”

“Oh god, Myra. I’m not ready.”

“Me neither.”

They sat in silence for a while. Well, Myra’s end was silent. Airports are wells of noise pollution, and it poured over the line to her.

“I called Cathy in the cab. I talked to Daddy briefly. He sounded like he was still in shock.”

“This just sucks, Ginny. It’s bad enough to have her die suddenly, but the circumstances -- listen, there are services who specialize in cleaning up blood. The police can give you a recommendation, they use them after traumas. I don’t want you or any member of your family trying to do clean-up, hire it out, okay?”

“I’ll get it arranged in the morning. Daddy is at Cathy and Michael’s for tonight, so I’m going to sleep there, too.”

“Where will shiva be?”

“Not sure. Daddy also didn’t know yet if an autopsy is going to be required....Myra, I know I should be feeling compassion for her, it had to be a horrible way to die, even if she was completely drunk. But mostly I’m just mad.”

“I know what that’s like, Ginny.”

“And I don’t want Daddy blaming himself for not being there. He was not who made the decisions that led to her dying that way, and I can’t sit by and let him take on any responsibility for it.”

“But Ginny -- he has to figure that out for himself. I mean, yes, you can tell him you don’t believe he’s to blame. All the rest, though, he has to sort through. It will take time, longer than a week.”

“You -- this is like what you felt with Gil, how he died?”

“It’s similar in a couple of ways. I keep thinking of that Judy Grahn line, ‘Some die slow and some die quick.’ We all die, but when somebody does things that hurry it along -- I think every individual has to make sense of it for herself. Whenever David realizes he’s experiencing relief, too, you know the guilt is going to chew him and spit him out. But it will be cleansing, in the long run. Don’t try to protect him from it.”

They had another period of silence. Ginny said “What time does your plane get in, again?”

“We’ll be there in time for lunch. I wish it was sooner.”

“Me too. The graveside service is set for 5:00.”

“Ginny, I just realized -- where will we be staying? I mean, tomorrow night?”

“I don’t know. If Daddy goes home, I want to be there with him. We can figure that out after you get here, we can rent a motel room at the last minute if need be.”

There was a loud announcement very close to Ginny, and she said “That’s me, angel. I’ll call you and leave a message on your cell voice mail if there’s anything you need to know before you get here. Just in case you do go to sleep. I love you.”

“Love you back. I’m coming up behind you, Ginny Bates.”

“Our children are so blessed to have you as their mother. Bye, Myra.”

Myra got back online and arranged for car rental, printing out the receipt and folding it with her list. The phone rang again, and she answered it swiftly, saying “Ginny? Are you okay?”

“It’s me” said Allie. “I got up to pee and noticed the light blinking on the machine. Where’s Ginny?”

Myra told her everything. When she was done, Allie said “We’re coming with you. Even if Edwina has to fly back tomorrow night, she says. Can you add us onto your reservation?”

“I’ll call you back if I can’t. Otherwise, you want to meet us there? Here’s the info.”

When she hung up, she cleaned out the fridge of anything that would go bad in four days and carried it to the trash. She went into her bedroom and packed, starting to feel a little loopy. She took a bath and decided she had time for half an hour’s nap. But once she was lying in the dark, she missed Ginny too much to drop off. She dressed, made a quick cheese and egg pie, and walked upstairs to wake her children and deliver them a blow.

Copyright 2008 Maggie Jochild.