Histoire Through Histoires (reblogged)

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When the evening news came on last night, Brian Williams was standing in the American cemetery in Normandy, France.  Somehow, as he rattled off the evening’s headlines, my ears went deaf.  As I sat safe and warm in my living room and stared at the lines and lines of white crosses behind him, an unbidden image of the young soldiers buried under each one, and thoughts of the families who lost them, consumed me. I found myself crying real tears for all those thousands of men I never knew. With those images still weighing on my mind this morning, I’ve run across an outstanding article written by Evelyne Holingue in honor of the 70th anniversary of D-Day. Outstanding enough to share.

Here’s an excerpt: Both my parents grew up in small villages in Normandy, an hour away from the coast. Children during WWII, they understood early on the meaning of the words “enemy” and “occupant” and the need to be resourceful, but they remained children, acting like children, despite the war. My dad and his friends invented their own coded language that they used when passing German soldiers on their way to school. With polite smiles and nods, they were in fact insulting them. When school closed because of the frequent bombing, they wandered around and got to know some of the soldiers who having left kids at home missed them and . . . Read the rest here: Histoire Through Histoires.

Women’s Equality Achieved! Oh wait.

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It’s raised its ugly head again.  The one thing, aside from winter, that I really detest about living in Northwestern Wisconsin.

Sexism.

I’m a capable woman.  I was raised to be, by a dad who had no fear of teaching me how to use power tools and a mom who instilled in me, from a very early age, her firm belief that a woman could do absolutely anything she wanted to do.

I spent more than forty years living in Southern California, where absolutely nobody ever questioned my ability to do whatever needed doing.  I could do minor household repairs, care for the yard, and service my own car.  I checked my own tires, my own oil, my own tranny fluid.  I could (and did) change my oil, replace an alternator, and change a radiator hose, all by myself, all the time humming “I am woman, hear me roar” under my breath.  Once or twice I even belted it right out loud.  I know how to pull a dent and mix, apply, smooth, and sand body filler.  Anything  you could do, I could do too.  Maybe not better, but I could do it.

Sexism was not on my radar.  Ever.

Ah, but then I moved to Wisconsin.  One of my favorite things about Wisconsin, ironically, was the fact that it really felt as if I had travelled back thirty years through time to a much less complicated world.  Life was slower here.  It wasn’t quite Mayberry, but in many ways it was close.

But of course there is a downside to all things, and I found very quickly that there was a big (and unanticipated) downside to moving back thirty years in time.  When the furnace needed repair, I called the repair people— and they asked to speak to my husband.   Plumbers, electricians, carpenters, well diggers, ditto.  Car dealers, boat dealers, home improvement and sporting goods store employees, ditto.  “You want a barbecue?”  The eyes scan nearby customers.  “Isn’t your husband here?”

To say this took some getting used to would be an understatement.  I was freshly amazed every time.  I asked my husband, “Is it just my imagination?” and he assured me, “Nope, it’s for real.”

It didn’t just happen on the home front, either.  Even in a place where one would think sexism would have no home at all—a university—it was alive and well.  When I had a bit of a problem with a student in one of my first years teaching out here and approached the then-chair of my then-department to discuss it, he told me the student clearly had no respect for me because I was female.  “Female professors often have trouble maintaining control in their classrooms,” he said.  “It’s not your fault,” he added, more than a little condescendingly, like a pat on the head.

What?  How does one even respond to that?  I smiled and thanked him for his help.  Oh yes I did.  I was too stunned to even be able to think of any other response.

In recent years, I haven’t had to deal with repairmen of any kind, and I’ve also since changed jobs (and there are no such issues where I work now, I’m happy to say).  On the home front, as long as I stay in my proper realm, which includes grocery stores and not much else, the problem is more or less nonexistent.

Well, in the winter, anyway.

But in the summer, I do not stay in my proper realm, because summer means car shows.  And every year, without fail, I am re-exposed to the problem that I’ve once again somehow managed, over the long winter, to forget.

Cars are a guy thing.  And guys do not want women cluttering up their car thing.

Tom and I both have classic cars.  That’s our hobby.  Mine’s a 1974 GTO.  This is my car:

MY GTO

People who like my car often have questions about it. They want to know whether we did a frame-off, ground-up, rotisserie restoration (yes), what size engine it has (350), whether it’s “built” (only a little), if it has air shocks (yes), what kind of transmission it has (started with an M20 manual, now it’s an automatic with a shift kit), what kind of carburetor (4bbl; I had a Holley, but we just replaced it with a Rochester), how many horses (about 400), and how the ram air works (I won’t bore you).

My point:  I know all those things.

But nobody, and I mean NOBODY, wants ME to tell them any of it.  One of two things will happen every time I try:  1) Their eyes will glaze over and they’ll just walk away, or 2) Their eyes will glaze over and they’ll shift the conversation over to Tom.

I love my car.  I would really like to be able to talk about it with people who also love it.  But I can’t.  It seems there is no man anywhere on the planet—OK, anywhere in Wisconsin—who wants it to be known that a woman might know more about a car than he does, even if it’s HER CAR.

To give him his due, Tom is sympathetic—but he really doesn’t understand the degree of my frustration.  He can’t.

And it’s not just my car.  If I try to talk to anyone else about their cars, I meet varying degrees of politeness and amusement—and sometimes downright boorishness and hostility.

For example:  Tom and I were at a small local show this afternoon, and we admired a car we’d never seen before—a black, chopped ‘30s coupe with a gleaming, flawless paint job (black is hard to do well).  We’d seen it arrive and had commented to each other about the way the man’s wife stood silently by for a good twenty minutes while her husband talked about his car to a couple of other men who had strolled over to look at it.

I mean, she stood like a statue a few steps back from the conversation, dead silent, with her hands politely folded in mute support of her husband’s achievement.  Nobody asked her anything.  Nobody invited her into the conversation.  She just stood there.

Tom asked me what I’d do if he did that to me.  I said, “I’d pull a Kitty.”  He didn’t know what that meant until I reminded him of the That 70’s Show episode in which Red takes Kitty to a car show.  “I’d buy a funnel cake,” I said, “and shake the powdered sugar all over your interior.”

He laughed.  Tom totally gets me.

A little later, we wandered over to the black car to get a closer look.  It really was absolutely beautiful, and it was with more than a little reverence, and with a complete failure to remember the way the owner had treated his wife earlier, that I admired the paint and asked him who’d done it.  He answered fairly curtly—a local body shop we know and have done business with ourselves—and I started to say something complimentary about them when without any warning at all, he literally turned his back on me and addressed himself to Tom, even though Tom was all the way over on the other side of the car and I was in mid-sentence.

I always forget how rude people can be, and it never ceases to amaze me.  You’d think by now I’d be used to it, but honestly, this afternoon, I was so furious that I was just about ready to quit the whole shebang.

But then I thought of all of the thousands of women who have been fighting this fight for well over a century.  This car show thing is not news.

If you ever think the women’s movement is over, that the fight has been won, go to a car show.

I will be there. You can’t stop me.

I am woman.  HEAR ME ROAR.

 

Because I am a woman, I must make unusual efforts to succeed. If I fail, no one will say, “She doesn’t have what it takes.” They will say, “Women don’t have what it takes.”

~Clare Boothe Luce

Fun Times in Hagenson Land

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Laugh or cry?  You be the judge.

Tom decided this morning that the kitchen sink was dirty.  Me, when I make that judgment, I just get out the cleanser, you know, and do a bit of scrubbing.  Not Tom.  He plugged up both sides of the sink, got out the Clorox, poured a good quart of it into each side, and turned on the hot water.  While the first side was filling, we had a little debate about the benefits of cleanser, and then he switched the faucet to the other side, and I shrugged (what woman complains when her husband wants to clean something?), went upstairs to escape the bleach smell, and forgot about it.

Ahh . . anyone who knows Tom is well-acquainted with his colorful vocabulary.  Twenty minutes later a stream of invective you can only begin to imagine invaded my peace.

“What?”  I yelled downstairs.

“Um, a little help here?” he hollered.

I go downstairs.  The smell of bleach is overpowering.  That might be because it’s in the dining room.  And the living room.  And everywhere in between.  Yep–the bleach-infused water has made its way across the hardwood and out both kitchen doors in its quest for freedom.

The knife drawer was full of water.  The cabinet under the sink, ditto.  The recycling bin, ditto.

I quickly assessed the situation.  “Did you forget to turn off the water?”

I confess, it was hard not to laugh–but I managed to refrain, since I knew he’d have trouble finding any humor in the situation.

Tom predictably responded with several words containing the letter F.

Wait.  It gets better.

Tom is usually a great one for solving problems, but in the same way that his solution to the dirty sink problem differed from mine, his solution to the flooded-house problem was not to get the mop (oh no, not the mop, which is what I would have done) but to take every single towel from both main-floor bathroom cabinets and fling them, many not even unfolded, onto the floor to soak it all up. By the time I got downstairs, he had already achieved a colorful patchwork of towels from the dining room through the kitchen and into the living room.

One rule every housewife knows, a rule that Tom had chosen to ignore, is that one never, ever uses bleach when washing towels.  You wind up with varying degrees of fade and tie-dye.  All of our towels have now suffered this fate.  He swears they’re fine.  As I’m the one who put them in the washer, I know they’re not.

On the good side, you could do surgery on our floors if you wanted to.  Not a germ in sight.  But my eyes are still watering.  Whether it’s from laughing, crying, or bleach, I’m not sure.

Fun times in Hagenson Land today!

Pot Luck: In a Jam

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With my birthday coming up later this week, my family has been hounding me for a wish list.  I dutifully got out a sheet of paper, but then I merely stared at it while my mind and the paper both remained entirely blank.

Problem is, I really can’t think of anything to put on it.  I have everything I want, and everything I need, already.  I confess—I’m one of those people who are hard to buy for.

Several years ago, I came up with a brilliant solution:  I asked for a tree.

My husband thought I was nuts.

“We live in the woods, and you want a tree for your birthday?”

“Yes,” I said.  “I want a weeping willow.  We had one when I was a little girl, and I always loved it.”

They got me one.

The next year, for Mother’s Day, they got me another.

And for my birthday that year, they got yet another.

Over time, I wound up with six.  At that point, my husband said “No more willow trees!”

So then I started asking for fruit trees, because when I was a little girl, we had a yard full of fruit trees, including figs and persimmons and plums.  If you’ve never had a fresh fig or a persimmon, you don’t know what you’re missing.  And my mom’s Polish plum jam was to die for.

I can’t grow persimmons or figs in Wisconsin, but I can grow plums.  So I asked for a plum tree.

My kids cheerfully complied with my request.

Over the course of the next few years, we planted not just the one plum tree, but two (I needed a second variety as a cultivar), and also two pears, two apples, and two cherries.  I spaced them carefully along the driveway, and although they haven’t all survived, the ones that have look very pretty.  Unfortunately, they’ve never produced much of anything.

Until this year.

This year the trees all seem to have decided to make up for lost time.  In fact, I wondered if they were having a competition.  We got a good dozen-and-a-half each of pears and apples, and a whole tree full of cherries (though the birds got to them before we picked a single one—next year I’m gonna buy a net.)

But if it was a competition, the plum tree won.

You have to understand, this is a teeny tiny tree.  It was only planted maybe three years ago.  But this year it managed to produce an easy fifty pounds of fruit.  That’s not fifty plums—that’s fifty pounds of plums.  The branches were hanging clear down to the ground.

My “About me” page says I can’t grow much of anything, and that’s really no lie.  But apparently I can grow plums.  Oh boy, can I grow plums.

And although plums were actually never on my list of favorites when I was a little girl, or not when it came to fresh eating, I can still taste my mom’s jam.  Man, she made some great jam.

So with my fifty pounds of plums, I decided I would make jam.

Problem is, I don’t actually know how to make jam.  I’ve never done it before.  And I don’t have my mom’s recipe, which was conveniently stored in her head but was apparently never written down.  So I went online in search of a recipe that sounded like what my mom used to make.

And what did I find?  Polish plum jam.  Powidła śliwkowe.  As soon as I saw it, I was certain that was what my mom used to make.

So as I write this, that’s what I’ve been doing:  making Polish plum jam like my mom used to make.  Or anyway, I hope it’ll be like hers.

But while it’s cooking, I still have a birthday list to draw up.  We’ve really about run out of space for trees, but maybe I could squeeze in one more.

Do I dare to plant a peach?

Pot Luck: Gimme a Head with Hair

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I tried a new hair conditioner a week and a half ago that promised to leave my hair smooth and sleek, soft and shiny.

It didn’t.

It left my hair looking like I’d rubbed a couple tablespoons of Crisco into it and left it there.  It took me eight days and five kinds of shampoo, plus a sad little session with a bar of Irish Spring, to get it out.

My hair hasn’t been smooth and sleek in a long time.  It used to be, but with age, alas, comes a coarser, wirier texture that rarely even looks brushed, much less soft and shiny.  Nobody warns you about this, by the way.  They warn you about all kinds of things that come with age, but not that one.

So I’m perpetually in search of a product that will give me the hair I used to have.  The kind of hair that prompted people to tell me I should be doing hair product commercials on TV.  The kind of hair that strangers in the grocery store would reach out and touch.

That hair is long gone.  And it seems like the older I get, the more badly I want it back.

Come to think of it, I’d like the body back, too, and the face as well.  I don’t feel any different on the inside from the person I was when I was twenty-one, so why should the outside look different?  It’s a fresh shock every time I look in a mirror.  And photographs are even worse.  It was a couple of years ago that I saw a picture of a woman in my house and thought—Who is that lady?  I literally had no idea who she was.  And then I realized it was me.

That really happened.  Terrible picture.  And no, you don’t get to see it.

I looked at that picture and thought, Oh crap, I’m old!  When did that happen?

(I suspect if you’re older than I am, you’re laughing at me.  “Old” is always twenty years older than you currently are.  But I know you’ve worn these shoes.  You know exactly what I’m talking about here.)

Many of us spend a lot of time lamenting the passing of our “best years” and wishing we still looked like we used to.

But wait.

I am not the person I was when I was twenty-one.  My sense of self is no different, which is why I don’t feel any different—but I’m not the same person.

At twenty-one, I hadn’t been to college yet.  I certainly hadn’t started teaching yet.  I hadn’t even had any kids yet.  I was still living in the same house my mother bought when I was six, and I had no idea in the world that I would one day wind up living in Wisconsin or that I’d be so happily married to the man who shares my life today.

I had not, in fact, done or said or thought or seen any of the things I’ve done and said and thought and seen in the past thirty-plus years.  I’ve done a lot of living in those years.  A lot of laughing, and a lot of crying, too.  That’s three-fifths of my life.  And I want to erase them?

I had young hair, a young face, and a young body, yes, but also a young heart and a young mind and a young soul.  And I don’t mean those last ones in a good way.  I mean immature, inexperienced, untested, and at times, downright foolish.

Youth, as they say, is wasted on the young.

And you know what?  I don’t want to erase those years.  I don’t want to be that person again.  So why would I want to look like her?

I don’t.  Not really.  To try to recapture the girl I was thirty-some years ago would be to try to turn back time.  Stop the clock.  And if you stop the clock, you don’t move forward—you stand still.

And meanwhile, everyone else is still moving forward, and you’re going to be left behind.

I don’t want to be left behind.  I just want to find a good conditioner.

Because even though I now realize that these are the best years, and even though I don’t want to be that girl again, I do still want her hair.

Pot Luck: Moderating the Hummingbird Wars

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I’m given to making the occasional unplanned purchase.  You know how it is—you’re walking innocently along, pushing your shopping cart, when some end-cap display catches your eye and you think, “Hey, that’s just what I need!”

This happened to me last summer.  It was a display of hummingbird feeders, on sale for five bucks.  Such a deal.

So I bought one, along with a big bottle of bright-red specially-formulated commercially-produced hummingbird nectar (five more bucks).

Went home, took the feeder apart, washed it according to the manufacturer’s directions, filled it with the red stuff, hung it on a shepherd’s hook in the front yard, and went in the house to watch the birds flock to the new feeder.

Nobody came.  Not one bird.  A few days later, my husband found a dead one in the driveway.

I have no idea what happened, but I surmised that perhaps hummingbirds are better off avoiding bright-red specially-formulated commercially-produced hummingbird nectar.   I poured it out, discarded the rest of the red stuff, washed the feeder, and found a recipe online for homemade hummingbird nectar.

It’s not hard.  Four parts water, one part plain old regular granulated table sugar.  Bring to a boil, cool, pour into feeder.  No dye necessary.

The birds loved it.  I don’t know what variety of hummingbirds they were (one of you can probably tell me based on the picture below), but for the rest of the summer, there were always two or three or even four of them hovering and fluttering around the feeder, politely waiting their turns.  I could almost hear them:

“No, really!  You go first!”

“After you, Fred.”

“My pleasure, old chap.”

“Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?”

OK, I made up that last part.  Oh, wait, I mean, I made it all up.

But seriously, they were polite.  They all got along just fine, and there was plenty to go around.

Hummingbirds, Summer '12

Alas, but that was last summer.

Things were going OK this summer, too, until a few weeks ago when a new hummingbird moved into the neighborhood.  At first, I was really pleased—this one is a ruby-throated hummingbird (the only kind I can identify), and he’s breathtakingly beautiful.

Unfortunately, he’s also a selfish, boorish party-pooper, like the kind of neighbor who never bothers calling the cops when you have a party because he’s a vigilante who takes the law into his own hands and scares away all your friends.

Yep.  This beautiful, much-revered ruby-throated hummingbird, his greens shining in rainbows like oil on water, sits on a twig near the feeder when he’s not even hungry and chases all the other hummingbirds away.

You can hear him buzzing at them.  “MINE,” he’s saying, like the seagulls in Finding Nemo (“Mine!  Mine!  Mine!”), except they’re funny, and he’s not.

The polite hummingbirds never challenge him, even though they were here first.  They just wait and come back when it looks like he’s not around.  But even when he’s not sitting guard on his twig, he’s always somewhere nearby.  They never get closer than about three feet from the feeder before the ruby-throated vigilante comes swooping in from who-knows-where like an insane dive bomber.

It became apparent that drastic action was necessary, but I didn’t know what to do.  You can’t just put a feeder outside and then go running out there yelling, “SHOO!” every time you see the wrong bird.  And I didn’t want to just take it down.  When a selfish person is hogging all the goods, you don’t remove the goods so nobody else can get any either.  You have to have a plan.

So I went out yesterday and bought a second feeder.  Set it up clear across the yard from the first one.

I’m waiting to see what’s going to happen.  Will the polite birds organize, maybe send a decoy to one feeder while the others feed at the other?  Will the vigilante exhaust himself trying to guard both?

I don’t know.  Whatever happens, it won’t be long before all the hummingbirds start heading south, and both feeders will go back in the cabinet until next spring.  I just hope the polite birds get enough to eat before it’s time for them to leave.

 

UPDATE:  I did a little checking this morning–and guess what?  It looks like they’re ALL ruby-throated hummingbirds.  The polite ones are female, and the vigilante is a male.  If this is the case, I can’t help wondering–What is this dude thinking?  That is so not the way to catch women!

Take a look here and see what you think!

Pot Luck: Stargazing

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The luckiest kids get to go to a summer camp they love.

I was a lucky kid.  My camp?  Skyline Ranch Day Camp, in Topanga, CA.

The kids were divided into groups by gender and age, with a counselor for each.  Every morning, our counselor would receive the day’s schedule—it changed every day—and we’d be running off to whatever our first activity would be.  There was plenty to do:  trampoline, archery, BB guns, swimming, horseback riding, arts and crafts, hiking.  We’d throw ourselves into each activity for half an hour, then run at top speed to the next one.

Sometimes horseback riding or swimming would go for a full hour.  Calloo, callay!

Sometimes there were field trips: Busch Gardens, Disneyland, ice skating, fossil hunts, the beach.

Camp was never boring.  Ever.

And once a month, there’d be a weekend overnight event.  Bud, the camp’s owner and head honcho, would break out the barbecue (a massive homemade affair fashioned from half a fifty gallon drum with half an acre of diamond-shaped steel mesh grill surface), and cook hamburgers and hot dogs for everyone—everyone consisting of what seemed like a hundred assorted kids and counselors.  No idea what else we ate, but man, those burgers were good.  The big kids got to sleep on the flat roof of the Arts and Crafts building.  You had to be ten, as I recall, to be considered a Big Kid.

The year I was eleven is the one I remember best.

Two of my girlfriends and I, and two boys, twin brothers whose names I don’t recall, arranged our sleeping bags in a circle and lay there on the asphalt shingle looking at the sky.  Talked about our lives, where we lived, what our dreams were.  And then—

“Look!” said one.  “A falling star!”

“Another!”

“Another!”

The sky was alive with meteors.  It seemed like hundreds.  None of us had ever seen anything like it.  Some of us were sure it was the magical quality of that particular night; others thought every summer night was like this, and we had just never noticed before.

It was neither.  It was the Perseid meteor shower, an annual event courtesy of the Earth’s passage through the trail of the comet Swift-Tuttle.  But we didn’t know any of that.  We just knew it was cool.  I wish now that our counselors had known, that they had advertised it as a night of stargazing, had grasped a fabulous teaching and learning opportunity.  But maybe they just didn’t know.

It was many years before I ever heard the phrase “Perseid meteor shower,” and even more before I connected it to that magical night when I was eleven, when the world was still so wondrous and new.

This weekend is the anniversary of that magical night more than forty years ago, and tonight is the peak viewing night.  You can expect in the neighborhood of seventy meteors an hour, all over the sky, best viewed between midnight and dawn.

Honestly, you should go out and take a look.  Go someplace dark, away from the lights of the city, and take a sleeping bag.   Take people you love to talk to, or go alone.

Talk about your life and your dreams.

If you wish on a falling star, your wish just might come true.

You can click here for more on the Perseids and other meteor showers to watch for this year.

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