Archive for the ‘beauty’ Category

Quilted Caturday

I am not a quilter, though I often wish I were. These feline quilt blocks make me yearn for the skllz and the time. They come from a blog with the enviably goofy name Katinka Brusselsprouts. It’s a beautiful blog worth a visit even if you can’t thread a needle. Katinka will lead you to the original source for these patterns, Regina Grewe, whose site is also an Augenschmaus (treat for the eyes – yes, she’s German).

This one looks like a little imp – equal parts charmer and stinker. Such an adorable face!

This little guy looks like he’s sleeping in perfect repose in a perfectly alert posture – the ultimate Zen practitioner (after Shironeko, that is).

Little Miss Daisy (my nickname for her)  looks like the picture of pure innocence. But she’s a cat, so you know she’s got to be cooking up something.

And finally, the Cat before Christmas, who has his very own quilt. To be honest, I love the first three best, because their focus is so intently on the cat, without any distraction from the background. But this little guy is still sweet and seasonal. Merry Catmas to all! (Or should that be “Merry Quiltmas”?)

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About three weeks ago, I informed the Sungold universe via Facebook that I was in love. No, not that I was in a relationship. Not that I’d gotten divorced. (Indeed, my dear mate and I were enjoying a local high point.)

It was, um, far more complicated. I was smitten with a kitten. And my husband is allergic. Like, asthmatic allergic, which is cruel, since he loves him some kittehs.

On August 11, a thin orange cat with stunning mackerel markings walked up to me as I was pulling scuzzy weeks from my driveway. He said, plaintively, “Meow?” as cats tend to do. Of course I answered in kind.

Within moments my kids informed me that this little guy could be Little Lion, a much-loved cat their friends had lost earlier in the summer. I held on to Orange Kitty until Little Lion’s family confirmed that we hadn’t found him. We then checked to make sure OK wasn’t an escapee from our friends across the street, who at one point had had two orange/ginger cats. No luck.

That night, Orange Kitty drifted off to sleep in the comfort of our porch furniture, seemingly secure in the knowledge that these silly humans who’d fussed over him all evening and provided stinky fishy cat food would carry on their tuna-scented gravy train in the morning.

But (cue Dragnet music or Darth Vader’s theme): The Ditch Witch arrived sometime between 7 and 8 the next morn. Despite the absurd, even cutesy name, this digger is the H-bomb of the construction world. It commenced to tunnel under roads and sidewalks, preparing the way for 21st century gas delivery. (My town is the poster child for the urgency of infrastructure repair.)

By the time I checked on Orange Kitty, he had vanished, like any intelligent kitteh would. And he stayed vanished for a full four weeeks.

This very last Thursday night, I spotted him in our backyard at 6:20 p.m., evidently hot on the trail of a mouse. He broke off his hunt to issue his trademark pathetic meow and allow us a whisker rub. I was elated. He greeted me! He came trotting up to me! He begged to get in the back door! But my kids were about to be late to music lessons, so I couldn’t dally. By the time I sped back home, the only orange was a streak in the sunset.

But hey, at least we knew he was alive.

Yesterday, Friday, he appeared in once again in the early evening. I was sitting on my front porch – just in case – as I’d done faithfully all those weeks before.And yet he took me by surprise. (Which is actually not surprising, in light of the dozens of porch-hours logged in vain hopes of finding him.) He came meowing up to the porch, instantly seizing my attention.

We were ready this time. We wined and dined him like the prodigal kitten. (And no, we didn’t overfeed him – he’s very thin and we want the food to stay inside him – plus the wine was for me. Obviously.) He again fell asleep on our porch furniture after a few longing glances toward the living room.

Today, I went onto the porch around noon to call him. No kitteh. I slipped back into the house and commenced a samba-esque rendition of “Just the Way You Are.” I got to a rest … and heard “meow! meow!” in the key of G#. A Billy Joel fan?

We’ve spent the rest of the day with this charming pumpkin. I bought him toys and food and worm pills. Two of the three were a grand hit. I figure I’ll need to take him to the vet this week, which will take care of the de-worming. I’m fully aware the vet visit could bring heartbreak. (I notice Orange Kitty is breathing too fast, though his gums look pink to this rusty observer, and he doesn’t seem to be sneezing or coughing, nor is he evidently in pain. He eats well and likes to play.)

We need to ascertain, too, that no one has lost him. Surely, he was once loved and fed with kindness; otherwise he’d be skittish and feral instead of sweetly social.

But my heart can’t help but leap – nay, pounce! – at the hope that we might have ourselves a part-time kitty, one who could live outdoors due to my sweetie’s allergies, yet enjoy lots of mutual love. And feeding, which would be a whole lot less mutual unless he starts sharing his mice (ugh). (Ideally, I think cats belong indoors, but when the alternative is life as a stray, an outdoor gig might be a decent compromise.)

Whatever happens, I take the appearance of Orange Kitty as blessing in my life. A mitzvah. An arc of grace (at least until he falls off the porch furniture; it seems I still attract rather clumsy cats).

Oh, and my statement that we might just have us a part-time cat? Scratch it. We all know who “owns” whom – on whatever temrs he chooses.

Night-night, sweet Orange Kitty. May you please favor us with your presence tomorrow, the next day, and all the days thereafter.

And it not: Well, the cat came back. Not once, but thrice. Reason for hope, even if – as one of my friends has suggested – OK is just one of those “nonmonogamous” kittehs.

(Click here if you can’t see Laurie Berkner singing “The Cat Came Back.” Yes, she’s a “kids’ singer,” but not only – not in the least.)

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Dear Bear and Tiger,

The Bear baskets are on the left. The Tiger baskets are on the right. The presents not in baskets are to be shared.

If you fight over Hello Kitty I will only bring you vast amounts of bunny poop next Easter. Seriously.


Your Easter Bunny

This missive was left by the Rabbit, gracing (?) baskets full of sugar and plastic crap that will probably condemn my children to tooth decay and type-2 diabetes.

Kindly note the pastel colors. For all her turdly threats, this is a high-class rabbit who respects Easter traditions. (She also knows that the Tiger loves any poop reference. She further realizes she’lll regret this cheap poop joke a thousand-fold as the Tiger compares each and every chocolate egg to … well, ’nuff said.)

The aforementioned Hello Kitty product is a bubble-blowing set. The Bunny is weary; she has lost all photo-taking capability and merely wishes to sleep until the rain ends in southeast Ohio. (That might be late December, at the rate we’re going.) This blog will not feature a picture of said plastic-crap bubblicious Kitty. You will therefore have to use your florid imaginations. Suffice it to say that the HK product looks incredibly ineffective, as you would expect from a Kitty without a mouth. I mean, how else should she blow bubbles?

Perhaps we’d best not answer that question.

Instead, here is a thing of beauty from the Bunny’s garden. It was not toothsome. That is why we could capture it in a picture, which was taken a few days ago, before the Bunny and her handler committed to a good nights’ sleep. The rain clings to the blossoms. Its fragrance makes us believe in magical rabbits, unearthly and perfect. If only blogs offered scratch-and-sniff functionality!

Happy Easter – or belated spring solstice – or whatever blessed moment you choose to celebrate as the earth awakes from its too-long slumber.

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Long time no meow. Earlier today, longtime reader Euchalon Grandy commented on this blog’s unfortunate radio silence:

Oh No!  I’ve killed Kittywampus with my angry rant!  Please, Sungold, Oh Please come back!  I’ll never post after midnight again!  Nothing but kittens and pink, puffy unicorns from now on…

First: Euchalon, if you bring puffy unicorns onto this blog, they will be driven away by the fierce sound of hissing. (I am honored that you missed me, though!

Second: The blog went dormant because I went on spring break. Even as a student, I never did that! (Too broke.) Then, once I got a teaching job, either my husband or I had too much work (usually both of us). This year, I felt squeezed between winter-quarter duties and spring-quarter prep. I’m still not sure when I’ll get to filing my taxes. Yet I ever-so-maturely decided: SCREW THAT. And so, we were off to the beach. Hilton Head, South Carolina, to be precise, which turned out to be a delight.

The drive south was long indeed (and rains threatened to wash us clean off the mountainous West Virginia Turnpike), but it was also a curious compression of space-time. We left Ohio in sodden winter; by North Carolina, the redbuds were bursting forth; and as we plunged deeper into South Carolina, spring wrapped its green tendrils around us and refused to let loose. It was as though we’d driven three weeks into our future. (Well, the palm trees won’t come to SE Ohio anytime soon, I’m afraid, but the redbuds will soon catch up.)

If you want to view vacation instrumentally, there’s emerging scientific evidence that play is good for us, as Jonah Lehrer reports at Wired. Studies are showing that not just preschoolers benefit more from unstructured play than from direct instruction; even young adults learn better when they have time for play. I’m here to testify that it works for the, um, no-longer-quite-so-young adults, too. As Lehrer notes,

Nietzsche said it best: “The struggle of maturity is to recover the seriousness of the child at play.”

And so I finished my grading from last quarter on the beach, then launched into some reading and brainstorming for a new class that began yesterday already. It was all pretty painless with the salt breeze wafting in the window and the tides whispering and roaring. Nor was it all work. I read a novel for fun and started Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. (I’m not far enough into it to comment yet.) The kids dug such deep holes in the sand that they could practically disappear underground. They scampered after shells and flied kites with their dad. Most days, we were treated to weather in the upper 70s, balmy enough to sit and read a book (my favorite beachy activity) even with kite-brisk winds. One day I had a cocktail on the beach – a Funky Monkey – another experience completely novel to me. Evenings, we dined with other families who’d traveled with us and played board games next to the pool. When everyone was sunburned and avoiding the peak sun, we putt-putt golfed amid semi-tropical bougainvillea and palmettos.

Instrumental thinking? Oh, screw that too!

It was my first trip to the Deep South, apart from New Orleans, and a few things jarred. At the resort where we stayed, black men took care of security, while Latina/os cleaned. The guests were overwhelmingly white, with a few Spanish-speakers in the mix. More than one business establishment called itself a “plantation” of some sort. At the same time – perhaps because we’re steeped in white privilege – we met unfailingly warm, friendly people, from the (black) security guards who used humor to spice up their day, to the (white) elderly lady who informed my husband that she once lived in Ohio, but the good Lord brought her back to the South.

Now we’re back home. I was greeted by my unfinished syllabus and the tragic crayon-in-the-clothes-dryer incident that exploded 10 minutes before we were due to leave on break. I’ve thought more than once: Why are we not still at the beach? and our friends who went on the trip are querulously asking the same. But just this one thing: When we rolled into town again, weary from an 11-hour drive, we were saluted by a stand of daffodils welcoming us home in our front yard. Even the snow that frosted our yard the first night home couldn’t drag them low.

(The pictures below are all courtesy of my husband.)

Two crispy-burned kids in the surf.

The beach, backlit by sunset.

Sungold turning toward the wind.

A friend and I, casting long shadows framed by palmettos.

Just the beach. That is all. It is enough.

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In my offline reading this week, I came upon an argument for the allure of big boobs. The writer stated that all men prefer large breasts – and that women with small ones risked being misread as men.

Well, I’ve never been mistaken for a man, even though I’m decidedly not one of those gals who – as Susan once said of Edie on Desperate Housewives – enters a room several minutes after her breasts. The only time I was taunted for looking boyish, I had short hair and was five years old. Most of us lesser-breasted girls endured some teasing in junior high and beyond, but we were teased very specifically as girls. (Of course, no one escaped: the busty girls just had to deal with other forms of harassment. And everyone’s bra strap got snapped, sooner or later.)

Now that I’ve reached an age where gravity is an irresistible force and the flesh no longer an immovable object, smaller breasts have some real advantages. Who’d have thought that in seventh grade?

As for all men desiring large breasts? I doubt that’s true, either, though I think it’s still a widely held preconception. It may well be that some college-aged men, having grown up with ubiquitous access to porn, really do expect DDs or more. Even back in my youth, some men were fixated on size: the “breast men” of yore.

But all men? I started to do the math, and I realized that if all heterosexual men insisted on larger-than-average breasts, half of them would be left without a partner. It would be worse than China! Men would have to discover a dude-bro version of Lake Wobegon – one where instead of all the children being above average, all the boobs would be bigger than a C cup.

Back here in the real world, though, most men ultimately seem more interested in whole women, not just their parts. At least, that’s been my experience and observation. Yours, too, I hope?

Echinacea in Berlin’s Tiergarten, July 2010; photo by Sungold

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When my little Bear was actually little, he loved the show “Bear in the Big Blue House.” Now my Tiger has discovered it, too. Yes, it’s aimed at preschoolers, but Muppets are ageless. Myself, I can’t stand the squeaky voice of Tutter the Mouse, but I’m utterly charmed by the big Bear and his little niece Ojo.

(Image borrowed from here.)

I’ve always loved the show’s music, too, even after logging thousands of miles with those tunes filling our car. The one that always struck a melancholy chord in me is “The Goodbye Song,” sung by the Big Bear in a duet with his lovely friend Luna the Moon at the end of each episode. Meant to help the child let go of the fantasy world and transition calmly back to reality with the promise of another day, it had an opposite effect of me, evoking fragility and impermanence and frank loss.

(Click here if you can’t see the clip.)

It’s partly the key change that would put me in a melancholy mood, but most of all it was Luna’s voice. Before googling the show yesterday to see if it’s still in reruns (apparently yes, but not where I live), I didn’t know that Luna was sung by Lynne Thigpen, an actress and singer whose career spanned the stage (Godspell), movies (Anger Management), and oversized Bear muppets.

Thigpen was struck down at age 54 when she suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage in early 2003. When she died, the show died with her. Her Wikipedia page says that “the crew’s hearts just weren’t in it anymore.” I had wondered why the show disappeared so abruptly and blamed corporate greed at the Disney channel. Wish I’d been right.

I never knew Ms. Thigpen, but I love her voice, and I love her work. I wish I’d known her name years ago. Her voice lent company and comfort in those topsy turvy, sleep deprived, sometimes lonely days of early parenthood.

Bear: Hey, this was really fun

Luna: We hope you liked it too

Bear: Seems like we’ve just begun

Both: When suddenly we’re through

Bear: Goodbye, goodbye, good friends, goodbye

Both: Cause now it’s time to go

Bear: But, hey, I say, well, that’s OK

Luna: Cause we’ll see you very soon, I know

Bear: Very soon, I know

Both: Goodbye, goodbye, good friends, goodbye

Bear: And tomorrow, just like today

Luna: (Goodbye – today)

The moon, the bear and the Big Blue House
We’ll be waiting for you to come and play
To come and play, to come and play.

She died too soon. Tomorrow is not just like today. It’s not OK.

So to Lynne: Goodbye, goodbye, good friends, goodbye. And to Luna: Thanks for the light.

(Photo of Lynne Thigpen from her tribute page at Muppet Central.)

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Gratuitous flowers for a sex post: Cascading morning glories captured by me, Sungold, in October, back before the frost bit ‘em.

The Denver Post ran an article today asking why an arousal-booster for women called Zestra can’t find TV stations willing to run their ads, even as Viagra ads are literally driving in circles around us. Historiann took the article to task for its casual disavowal of feminism, and I’ve got nothin’ to add to her critique except a vigorous nod of approval. Figleaf chimed in to say that the stations’ ad policies spotlight the illegitimacy of autonomous female desire.

What most struck me about the article, though, was its conflation of libido and arousal, which is endemic in “science writing” that reports on “pink viagra.” Here’s how reporter Mary Winter framed it:

Now, you would not know it from the $300-million annual ad campaign for erection-enhancing ads for Viagra, Cialis and Levitra, but women suffer more sexual dysfunction than men do — 43 percent to 31 percent, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In other words, the potential market for flagging female libidos is huge. But here’s the irony: When the makers of Zestra went to 100 television networks and stations to buy ads, the vast majority refused them. The few stations that did take their money would run the ads only after midnight or during the daytime.

The stations “told us they were not comfortable airing the ads,” Zestra co-founder Mary Jaensch told “Nightline.” The double-standard here — men, you deserve sexual pleasure, and women, what’s wrong with you hussies? — is breathtaking.

So how about this ad: a Camaro, a woman, and a vibrating driver’s seat?

(This is just the end of the article; read the whole thing here. Winter is very sharp and witty on the Viagra ads!)

In a way, it’s unfair to pick on Winter, because most writing about female sexual dysfunction fails to draw basic distinctions between arousal, orgasm, desire, and libido. It also tends to ignore the reality of the physical pain some women experience (which K has explored eloquently at Feminists with Female Sexual Dysfunction.) In practice, women can of course have issues with any or all of the above, and problems in one area can easily spill into another. A woman  suffering from vulvodynia, for instance, might be able to orgasm, but if sexual activity hurts, that’s likely to dampen her libido. Another woman might have a generally low libido (meaning she doesn’t crave sex very often) but develop desire responsively to her partner, at least in certain situations. There are probably as many variations as there are women.

Now, getting back to Zestra and the Denver Post: Winter’s article refers mainly to libido. She’s partly on the right track, insofar as that “42 percent” figure refers mainly to women who complain about low libido. (Some feminists have criticized that figure as too high, but let’s set that debate aside for today.) Winter does hint at the primary issue here – arousal – in that apparent throwaway line about a vibrating driver seat in the Camaro. Why yes, I think quite a few of us gals might enjoy such a ride! But if we got a good buzz per gallon, that wouldn’t mean our libido was revving – only that our engine was purring smoothly.

Libido is not the primary target for Zestra, though Zestra’s website refers to a whole host of potential benefits: stronger libido, greater satisfaction, more earth-shaking orgasms, and a more harmonious relationship with one’s partner. (That last point comes up only in testimonials; the overall tone of the website is “try this for yourself,” not “use this to please your long-suffering husband.”) It’s being marketed to women who suffer from sexual problems of any sort due to illness (including cancer), postpartum changes, menopause, antidepressants, stress, and even widowhood. But what does it really do?

Zestra’s primary mechanism, as far as I understand it, is to enhance arousal and response during sexual activity. As far as I can see without having tried it myself, it looks like it might increase engorgement and/or creaste prickling sensations in a nice way. In the best case, yummy sensations start a cascade of increasing desire during lovemaking. As a topical agent applied directly to one’s ladyparts, Zestra doesn’t act directly on libido, which is regulated by the brain and a complex dance of different hormones and neurotransmitters (including estrogen and testosterone, but also thyroid hormone, stress hormones, dopamine and lots of other nifty “messenger” chemicals). A topical gel won’t directly influence that chemical brew. It’s only logical, though, that if sex is more pleasurable, some women might want it more. Biological anthropologist Helen Fisher has written about how hot sex with a new partner gives us a dopamine high akin to cocaine (quick summary of her ideas here). Maybe hot sex with in a newly reinvigorated relationship can give us the same buzz?

Also, the testing for Zestra relied on women who committed to have sex eight times in a month, so it’s unlikely many of them had a super low libido. (For more details on the testing, check out the clinical study.) These women were already open to regular sex. As a group they sound to me more like women who basically like sex but were frustrated by difficulty getting aroused. They don’t sound like the subset of women who’ve given up on sex – a group that constitutes about 15% of American marriages, by the way. (This according to Tara Parker-Pope in the New York Times, where “sexless” was defined as no sex at all with one’s spouse during the previous six to twelve months.)

In other words, the mechanism behind Zestra appears to be entirely different than flibanserin, an orally-administered drug recently rejected by the FDA for ineffectiveness. Flibanserin was supposed to increase libido directly by changing one’s brain chemistry. It too was compared to Viagra, and quite wrongly so: Viagra targets a mans plumbing, so to speak. It produces an erection (though it almost always requires mental and/or physical stimulation to be effective). Flibanserin left physical arousal untouched while aiming to increase psychological arousal and desire.

Calling flib a “pink viagra” was just misleading. In the case of Zestra, the comparison appears more apples-to-apples, since both Viagra and Zestra appear to work by increasing engorgement.

I still think it’s too bad that flib flopped. Yes, the drug was intended to be a Big Pharma Bonanza. I don’t really give a shit. If it had really helped women live better, I’d be all for it. I trust women to make decisions about their bodies (though I also insist on our responsibility to understand our bodies. At any rate, flib failed to gain FDA approval because it didnt work.

As far as I know, there’s still nothing  on the market that specifically helps women who only desire sex once in a blue moon. For some women, hormone therapy (sometimes including testosterone as well as estrogen) delivers a libido boost. But hormones carry some risk. Women fear breast cancer if they take estrogen and they fear growing a beard and unibrow if they take T. But these are the choices, because there’s no drug that specifically targets libido.

Zestra interests me because it seems to be quite safe (worst side effect: transient burning sensations in some rather precious real estate). I’m skeptical to the extent that their studies are pretty small. Unavoidably, the very fact of running a study is an intervention in itself. This can have real effects on its findings. How many of the couples studied would have had sex at least eight times in a month? If most would’ve had less, that means Zestra wasn’t the only independent variable. Perhaps the twice-weekly commitment, combined with a new toy or just wall-to-wall pictures of George Clooney and Jon Hamm would fire their engines just as well. I’m pretty sure I’d be off and roaring on that program! (Where do I sign up?)

Seriously, I have been meaning to try Zestra just for the fun of it, since it sounds like its potential benefits might not be limited to people suffering from difficulty with arousal … and, y’know, anything for science! I’ve got a packet of it in a drawer but I’m not so sure what my lab partner would think.

As always, I’m very curious if any of you out there in bloglandia have given Zestra a whirl? And if so – are you willing to dish? Pretty please?

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Still Alive on November 15

after multiple nights of sub-freezing temperatures

one rose


two Silver Tidal Wave petunias

three yellow nasturtiums

and a single orange nasturtium.

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So let’s say you’re seeing your doctor, whether for a checkup or an acute problem. She looks you over carefully. Just on the basis of your appearance, she decides you’re at risk for significant health problems.

Sure, most readers of this blog are aware that appearance counts for a lot (too much!) when it comes to work and dating. But in the doctor’s office? Did you know that one common measure of health is whether you look your age? For all the time I’ve spent studying medicine, this practice was new to me.

Researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto report, via Eurekalert:

“Few people are aware that when physicians describe their patients to other physicians, they often include an assessment of whether the patient looks older than his or her actual age,” says Dr. Stephen Hwang, a research scientist at St. Michael’s Hospital and an associate professor at the University of Toronto. “This long standing medical practice assumes that people who look older than their actual age are likely to be in poor health, but our study shows this isn’t always true.”

For patients, it means looking a few years older than their age does not always indicate poor health status. The study found that when a physician rated an individual as looking up to five years older than their actual age, it had little value in predicting whether or not the person was in poor health. However, when a physician thought that a person looked 10 or more years older than their actual age, 99 per cent of these individuals had very poor physical or mental health.

(Read the rest here.)

Where I live – in an Appalachian county in Southeast Ohio – I suspect you actually do see lots of people who look a decade older than their chronological age. I’m basing this on anecdata gathered partly while in the waiting room at the ob/gyn’s office, where grandmothers-to-be often accompany their young pregnant daughters. I live in a pocket of endemic poverty. Poverty does beat people down. It ensures that they’ll grab cheap, satiating calories over a bunch of colorful veggies – just because it’s not pleasant to go to sleep at night with a gnawing sensation in one’s belly. We know that diabetes, for instance, is rampant in this region. So is extreme obesity.

But the pitfalls of using appearance as a proxy for health ought to be obvious, too. Take, for example, your faithful blogger Sungold, whose miraculously youthful complexion is due to … being born near the 49th latitude with her head in a book. I think I probably do look a few years younger than my age (especially compared to the local population) just because I didn’t get much sun as a youngster. But does that mean I’m healthy? Long-time readers know that I’ve got something undiagnosed, which is sort of like fibromyalgia and a bit like thyroid issues and a mimic of multiple sclerosis – but is apparently none of the above.

People who have a medical problem but look healthy are not well served by this rough-grained appearance test. Doctors will tend to dismiss their complaints because hey, they don’t look sick.

People who look much older than their actual age may also be poorly served. For example, too many doctors address problems like obesity on a radically individualized level, often with a dollop of shaming for letting oneself get too fat. The people in my region look old because they face multiple oppressions. Whatever wise or foolish decisions they’ve made in the past, they need a doctor to propose constructive solutions, not prejudge them based on appearance.

I hope doctors will take this study to heart and move toward evidence-based medicine when it comes to appearance. By all means, if someone looks extraordinarily aged, use that as a reason to inquire further. But do inquire. Please do ask. Appearance can only project a 2-D image. Patients’ words and embodied experiences can supply the essential third dimension.

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A couple of folks have asked me off-blog if I’m okay in the wake of my post last Monday when I wrote, “I’m wound up, worried, and sad about a bunch of things I can’t write about here.” I’m sorry I tripped some alarms. There were several students of mine involved in deep, severe crises last week. They pushed most other thoughts out of my head. I couldn’t find a way to talk about their various plights publicly while maintaining their privacy and confidentiality. Their stories point to some broad social problems, so they’ll probably inspire me to write about them in some way, maybe just with a time lag to shroud identities.

Anyway, I am okay. Overworked and overtired, but okay.

And I has a moonflower. In fact, I have heaps of them. They’re five to six inches in diameter. They open in the evenings and close during the day – the opposite of morning glories, with whom they share heart-shaped foliage.

How could I not be okay?

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Today was crap. I caught a student plagiarizing (off Conservapedia, no less!) and that’s the least of my concerns. I’m wound up, worried, and sad about a bunch of things I can’t write about here.

But this? It warmed even my shriveled soul.

(Click to enlarge.)

In case you’re having trouble diciphering:

Dere MaMa

I love you mama you are the best mama

in the howl younavers

you ar betr than the howl werld.

His signature follows (I blanked it here), along with maps of the werld (I am doing a backfloat on it – which sounds about accurate for today) and a diagram of the younavers, which consists of pointy houses that look like mountains – and me.

Of course, I cried when he gave this to me. Who wouldn’t?

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So I just flew back from Germany with my family, and what’s the first thing I see at the screens at JFK? Not my connecting flight – lordy, we’d missed that already, because JFK is still JFK, and it is dysfunction beyond any mere family dynamic. No, the tube is tuned to CNN, and Prop. 8 has just been relegated to the history books. Wahoo! I’ve been a loud cheerleader for the “equal-protection” argument all along, even before Olsen and Boies bet the house on it. From what I gleaned, it sounds as though “equality” carried the day. I’ll know more about the judge’s reasoning tomorrow, I guess, when I’m a bit less stunned from jet lag and oxygen deprivation.

We also got an impromptu lesson on how to drive an airport shuttle bus. Because Delta had mucked with our flight times without telling us, then parked us on the tarmac for a good half hour before finding a gate, then sliced more of our connection time by unloading baggage as if it were my grandma’s porcelain (one piece at a time, almost prissily), and then vetoed any chance of catching our original flight by sending us to wait for an inter-terminal train that was broken. It only went one way. The wrong way.

Hey, JFK has improved since our last sojourn there: the one with flood, tornadoes, and threats of arresting my darling husband.

So yeah, the shuttle. We rebooked for the last flight out of the day, and then got on this “shuttle,” where the driver needed to be instructed on how to put it into reverse, how to stay under 10 mph – no, really, UNDER 10 MPH! – and here’s where you have to make sure no plane is crossing your path, and here, and here – it was like watching an astronaut getting his first training, except you’re in the space capsule with him, and you’re positive you’re about to crash with the people you love best, plus their stuffed animals. None of the seats have belts. There are only four seats. I keep hectoring the Tiger to hang on (FER FUCK’S SAKE! …well, that part was conveyed by my tone). The newbie’s teacher said, at one point, “Just like driving in New York.” Fuck yeah. I’ve driven in New York. I wasn’t ready for primetime, but this gal wasn’t even in line for the late-late show. Also, she didn’t have my 16-year-old blonde sister to dangle out the window as a peace offering for a scary traffic move. This was the real thing, weaving in and out of 767s and more.

The shuttle adventure was awesome simply because we lived to tell the tale. Also, the other family riding it had two children who clearly intend to grow up to be Dora and Diego (from Nickelodeon, aka Dora the Explorer). The Tiger righteously complained about their decibels. Might he be inching toward his own genuine appreciation for an “indoor voice”?

More delays, this time presided over by an Asian-American flight attendant who keeps us down to three minutes tops outside the confines of our seatbelt. People turbo-pee, then wait out the end of the flight, wondering if said flight attendant might earn more money for less bother as a dominatrix. (Okay, I admit it: I am the wench wondering that.)

We finally land in Columbus at 10:30, just before our car rental agency is about to close. As I grab my gate-checked bag, I note that it has grown a new strap that seemingly sprouts from the top of it. I ponder whether this could be a trunk, and if so, might my carryon be morphing full-blown into an elephant? If so, how should I expect it to change in the days ahead? (Note that hallucinations have already seized center stage in my perception.) Then I notice the Emirates tags on the faux-Sungold luggage. Oops, someone grabbed the wrong red bag. My sweetheart husband sprinted toward the baggage carousel. By pure coincidence, I spotted and waylaid the lovely and apologetic perp as she left the ladies’ room. My computer cord was in there, so if it had scampered away, I wouldn’t be writing this now. But hey, full disclosure: A couple years ago, I was the woman who took off with someeone else’s crimson carryon, certain no one else had a matching color. I’m pretty sure I was less gracious, more doofus-y, and just plain panicked.

From Columbus, my beloved drove back from the airport in spires, gyres, and forks of lighting that backlit the night sky green-violet-grey. At times you didn’t need headlights at all. We found an all-Grateful-Dead, all-the-time station on Sirius radio. (Why do I not have this in my daily life?) It was the best Dead light show, ever. But then again, I didn’t have to drive. All that was missing was China Cat, Black Peter, and Terrapin Station. I love my husband a little extra for taking on the responsibility and letting me enjoy the storm – a pleasure that echoes back to my dad, and to his mother before him.

Oh, and we got a whiff of skunk as we inched through the Hocking Hills. Just to remind me that this is home. (I think the skunkish message for my husband is a whole lot more contradictory: home/not-home/fascinating-weird. But he likes it!)

And now I’m back in our beloved house, feeling melancholy about places and friends left behind in Berlin. I’ll reintegrate in the next day or two. Transitions like this are always beastly for me. But as the Dead remind me again and again, transitions – those unbounded, undefined spaces between the songs, even the very gaps between the notes (focus on Jerry and Phil to see what I mean) – are the wellspring of creativity and innovation and surprise and ineffable beauty. Coward that I am, I shouldn’t shrink from transitions just because they exact massive housework (like moving house, really) and overtired children (who were both champs).

In the meantime, until I can fully appreciate transitions and the Prop 8 victory, I drink a marbiggie (aka a slightly oversized martini), applaud the Prop 8 decision, and lay me down to rest.

(Go here if the clip doesn’t deliver Jerry to you.)

Update 8/6/2010: I fixed a few typos. I’m sure there are more. Writing on jetlag and lightning intoxication is a sure recipe for fingers running amok on the keyboard.

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This isn’t news for my local readers, but I want to say a few words in tribute to Art Gish, who was killed in a tractor accident earlier this week. Art was a fixture around Athens, Ohio, selling his organic produce at the farmer’s market, often including such exotica, by American standards, as dandelion greens. You’d see him on campus if a progressive speaker came to town. You’d see him and his wife Peggy in front of the courthouse, demonstrating and holding vigils.

But sometimes you wouldn’t see him, or Peggy, because they were somewhere in the Middle East delivering a message of peace and compassion that was inspired by their Mennonite faith. Peggy, who was once taken hostage, was in Iraq when Art was killed. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to get such news while far from home. Neither she nor Art ever fliched because something was hard. Still, my heart aches for her.

There’s a terrible irony in his own tractor causing his death, on his own land, after he had stood up to tanks and bulldozers far from home in the West Bank. Here’s an AP photo of Art facing down an Israeli tank.:

(Source: Phil’s Clippings)

Art’s life and work were honored on Democracy Now yesterday; I can’t embed the clip, so go here and then fast-forward to about 9:35. Last year, DN interviewed Art and Peggy here about their work with the Christian Peacemaker Team. (It’s also impossible to embed, so I’ll include the transcript at the end of the post.) But Art was no publicity seeker. To the extent that the AP and DN recognized his work, he would want us to direct our attention to the work yet to be done, the peace yet to be made.

Art was just 70 – no longer young, to be sure, and with a full life behind him, spanning all the way back to his work in the civil rights movement of the 19960s. I didn’t know Art well – just to say hi to him – but I know his work was not done.

It seems almost trite to wish him eternal peace, and to wish his family peace in the here and now. But that’s what Art stood for, and that’s what he and his loved ones deserve. Peace – and the living memory of the work to which he dedicated his life.


The DN interview, fall 2009:

AMY GOODMAN: Five years ago this month, in April of 2004, the first photographs from inside Abu Ghraib appeared in the US media. The photos showed Iraqi prisoners being tortured, abused and humiliated by US forces and private contractors.

While the first photos were broadcast on 60 Minutes and published in the pages of The New Yorker, the initial reports of torture actually came months earlier. Beginning in 2003, members of the Christian Peacemaker Team in Iraq began documenting dozens of cases of torture and abuse of Iraqi prisoners inside US military facilities.

We’re joined right now, here at Ohio University in Athens, by two local peace activists, longtime members of the Christian Peacemaker Team, Peggy and Art Gish. Peggy Gish has worked in Iraq with Christian Peacemaker Teams since October of 2002. She helped document the first reports of abuse inside US prisons in Iraq. She’s author of Iraq: A Journey of Hope and Peace. Her husband, Art Gish, has been part of the Christian Peacemaker Teams in the West Bank since 1995. He’s the author of several books, including Hebron Journal: Stories of Nonviolent Peacemaking.

Thank you so much for being with us. It’s wonderful to have you with us. Peggy Gish, let’s being with you. President Obama just took a surprise trip to Iraq. You, yourself, were kidnapped there in Iraq.


AMY GOODMAN: Just talk to me.

PEGGY GISH: I’m sorry, I’m not hearing you right.

AMY GOODMAN: Oh, just listen to what I’m saying, just as I’m talking to you here. What happened to you in Iraq?

PEGGY GISH: What happened in Iraq?


ART GISH: What happened to you in Iraq?

PEGGY GISH: In Iraq, yes. Well, two of us were traveling to a very impoverished area in northwestern Iraq, and there were groups of people who wanted to work nonviolently to deal with the struggles there. And two of us were abducted on the way home. I was kept only two days, and my—


PEGGY GISH: In the compound out in a desert. And my colleague was kept for another six days. Then we were released unharmed, which we think has something to do with them hearing about the work of CPT and the kind of work that we were doing.

AMY GOODMAN: Of the Christian Peacemaker Teams.


AMY GOODMAN: Well, talk about that, and your work being seminal in getting out the photographs of Abu Ghraib.

PEGGY GISH: Yes. We started this work in the summer of 2003, and what—it grew out of just helping the Iraqi families that had people detained among their family. And then we began discovering gross abuse in all of the prisons of Iraq, not just Abu Ghraib. And there was a lot of brutality from the very beginning of the house raid in the middle of the night, where soldiers acknowledged that they had thirty seconds or forty seconds of absolute terror to subdue the people, and then brutality in the questioning, the interrogation process, torture going on in that process, as well as in the imprisonment time. So we were hearing stories from men and women who had been in Abu Ghraib and other prisons, and we compiled a report on seventy-two prisoners that became part of a pool of evidence, and we were one of several organizations, Iraqi and international groups, that put tremendous pressure on the system to make it public.

AMY GOODMAN: Why have you chosen to live in Iraq for so many years under the gun, I mean, in the midst of the US attack, why you’ve chosen to live in Iraq?

PEGGY GISH: Yes, why do I go back? I go there because I’ve been given a deep love for the Iraqi people, and love is really what has overcome the fear that I have to struggle with when I go there, but also because I am from a country that has done tremendous damage to their society, to the people, devastated the lives and culture of a people, and I want to do some small part in trying to help the people of Iraq, but also to let the people here know what is really happening there. So part of our work is just truth telling, witnessing what the occupation has done, what that has meant for people.

And it has been a horrible thing for the people of Iraq. It has meant up to a million people killed, a continued physical devastation of the country. There’s still very little clean water or electricity, very poor medical care. People have been traumatized. Friends tell us that they are so despairing and depressed and do not see much hope for the future of their country, at least not for generations. And so, it is a devastated country. And people say, “I don’t feel like it’s getting better.”

AMY GOODMAN: When were you last there?

PEGGY GISH: Two weeks ago. I just came back.

AMY GOODMAN: What was your reaction to President Obama’s recent surprise trip this week and his calling for troop reductions in Iraq?

PEGGY GISH: Yeah, I didn’t catch all that question.

ART GISH: What was your reaction to Obama going to Iraq this week?

PEGGY GISH: Yeah, I wish that Obama would be speaking out clearly, acknowledging the harm that the US has done there more clearly. And what we see and what Iraqis see is that Obama is just following in the same policies concerning Iraq that Bush has. The timetable for withdrawing is very similar to what Bush had put on the table. And they—I guess I’m afraid that he’s just being sucked into it, being pressured into a kind of aggressive military policy for dealing with the struggles of the world.

What’s happening with Iraq is now being transferred over into the work with Afghanistan, so we’re going to take troops from Iraq, but we’re going to increase the war there, the war on terror. And that is what we ought to be addressing, is our whole foreign policy, the way we are dealing with this whole problem of terrorism in the world.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Peggy Gish. Her husband Art Gish, also a Christian Peacemaker. Art, you spend your time in the West Bank, in the Occupied Territories.

ART GISH: Yes. Since 1995, I’ve been going to the West Bank every winter for three months. And I just came back from spending another three months there.

AMY GOODMAN: Why? Why have you chosen to go there? And explain how the Christian Peacemaker Teams developed.

ART GISH: Christian Peacemaker Teams came out of the peace churches, the Quakers, the Mennonites, the Church of the Brethren, out of the idea that if we’re really serious about peace, we ought to be willing to take the same risks as soldiers take and go into a nonviolent—into violent situations and be a nonviolent presence there. What if people who want peace made the same kind of commitment that soldiers make?

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean?

ART GISH: That we go there, and we take risks, and we stand in the middle, and we work for peace in there.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what you’ve done in West Bank.

ART GISH: OK. The most important thing we do is listen. And we listen to all sides. We act as international observers. I like to say we have the grandmother effect. There are things nobody would do if their grandmother is watching. So, in any conflict anywhere in the world, it’s really important to have outside observers there who are a presence there, and the people know they’re being watched, and that will reduce the violence.

And then, third, we also engage in nonviolent direct action. If the Israeli military wants to demolish a Palestinian house, we’ll sit on the roof of the house. We stand in front of tanks and bulldozers, and our slogan is “getting in the way.”

AMY GOODMAN: We just passed the anniversary of the death of Rachel Corrie on March 16th.

ART GISH: Yes, I knew her.

AMY GOODMAN: A few days before the invasion of Iraq—


AMY GOODMAN: —she was killed in Gaza by an Israeli military bulldozer. She stood in front of a house—


AMY GOODMAN: —just like you, standing to prevent it from being crushed. How did you know her?

ART GISH: I did some work for ISM. That’s the group she was working with, International Solidarity Movement. And I led the training for two days of nonviolence training for her, so I trained her to stand in front of bulldozers.

AMY GOODMAN: And your thoughts, your reaction after she was killed?

ART GISH: Well, that touched me very deeply, since I have some responsibility in that. But she’s one of my heroes, of course. And, you know, I think of the times I stood in front of tanks and bulldozers, and it could have happened to me.

AMY GOODMAN: And what happened in those cases? Explain exactly what you do. For example, talk about your experiences in Hebron. Did it happen there?

ART GISH: Yes. There was—in the main central produce market in Hebron, I saw two Israeli bulldozers, two Israeli tanks smashing the whole area. And a big tank came toward me, and I stood there, and it stopped, right in front of me. I didn’t realize that day that maybe I saved my wife’s life that day, because while she was kidnapped, she showed a picture of me standing in front of the tank to the kidnappers, and they were quite impressed and said we’re going to let you go.

AMY GOODMAN: You were in the West Bank. But you, when you were kidnapped, in Iraq.

PEGGY GISH: I was in Iraq, yes.

ART GISH: She was in—yes.

AMY GOODMAN: And you had this photograph with you?

PEGGY GISH: I had the photo with me and the photos of my family, my children, right, and showed that to them. And then they went out with it, and ten minutes later the guard came back in and said I would be released the next day with our translator.

AMY GOODMAN: What drives you to devote so much time to this kind of activism? For our radio listeners, your white hair, Art, your white beard. For kids who might think, what on earth are you doing? You live safely here in Athens, Ohio, but you’re constantly going off to places where you put your own lives in danger.

ART GISH: Well, first of all, it’s a privilege and a gift to be able to stand with the victims, with the oppressed of the world. That’s a privilege. I wouldn’t want to give it up for anything. What motivates us is our religious faith, our faith in God. And as Peggy put it so well, it’s love. It’s our love for the people that drives us.

AMY GOODMAN: Where were you born, Art?

ART GISH: Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.


PEGGY GISH: I was born actually in Nigeria. My parents were working there when I was very young. And then I grew up in Chicago.

AMY GOODMAN: And what got you involved in this peace work, Peggy?

PEGGY GISH: Ah, what got—well, we started our activism with civil rights work, and it a just opened the door to all kinds of other issues for us. Then we became involved with the anti-Vietnam War protests and draft resistance, death penalty abolition. And so, we began to see the interconnection with so many oppressions and problems, economic problems, with the war machine. And then we heard about a group that had a different kind of response, one that would be of standing with people and working with them nonviolently within their countries in those situations.

And so, as we worked in Iraq, we looked for those creative people who were interested, and we did a training with a group of Shia Muslims in Karbala in 2005, and they became known then as the Muslim Peacemaker Teams. With them, then we went into the city of Fallujah seven times during the year of 2005 to work for reconciliation between Sunni and Shia. So that’s the kind of thing that we do. And it’s exciting because we’re a part of a movement of the local people who are doing that and building that up for their country.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you planning to go back to the West Bank, Art? Peggy, to Iraq?

ART GISH: I hope to.

PEGGY GISH: I hope so.

ART GISH: Insha’Allah.

PEGGY GISH: Yes, we hope.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both very much for being with us, Peggy and Art Gish.

ART GISH: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: They’ve written a number of books. Peggy’s book,Iraq: A Journey of Hope and Peace. Art Gish’s book, Hebron Journal: Stories of Nonviolent Peacemaking and At-Tuwani Journal: Hope and Nonviolent Action in a Palestinian Village.

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Once upon a time, when I was a feisty college-aged feminist, I could hardly stand to watch a James Bond movie. The sexism just pissed me off. Now, I wouldn’t necessarily shell out money to see Bond in the theater, but if he turns up on the television, I’m mostly amused. That doesn’t mean I’m happy about sexism in the media. I’ve just learned, with age, to pick my battles.

Gustav Klimt painted a lot of women. Not all of them would pass a hypothetical “feminist correctness” test. (Was Judith really so sultry, and so bloodthirsty?) But you know what? I have very little desire to critique his paintings. I just want to enjoy them. I think that’s perfectly fine. Sometimes pleasure just is. Sometimes it can be left unanalyzed. Even on a blog dealing with gender and feminism.

Here’s Klimt together with Gustav Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. Enjoy! (Or if you don’t, you can be the critic in comments.)

(Go here if you can’t see the video.)

Video via the Suspect Guru Museum, which has lots of other wonderful art clips.

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Since the intense heat is keeping us partly apartment-bound, I’ve been grateful for any and all kid distractions. A few days ago, I came upon a wonderful set of bird pictures by photographer Andrew Zuckerman (via Andrew Sullivan and the Daily Telegraph). The Bear and I had a great time looking at them. The Tiger enjoyed them too until he started to complain that the site was woefully short on tigers.

Zuckerman’s site includes multiple views of the birds, all photographed in intricate detail against a white background. There are even recordings of their calls. The various macaws are especially stunning. Here’s a hyacinth macaw …

and a blue-throated macaw …

and finally, in honor of my blogging pal Badtux the Snarky Penguin, and because the Bear obviously enjoyed read its name out loud, the jackass penguin:

Go here to enjoy the whole set!

All images here are obviously copyrighted by Andrew Zuckerman; I will take them down if anyone objects, but I hope they’d be seen in the spirit of friendly promotion. He’s got a book with the set of photos, called Bird.

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I know Ghana is still smarting from their unfair loss to Uruguay. I sympathize. Germany’s Kicker magazine’s take on it: Luis Suarez has been the World Cup’s best goalkeeper. (In case you missed it, Suarez is the field player who blocked a Ghanaian goal with his hand in the 120th minute – the end of overtime – with the ultimate result of Uruguay winning on penalty kicks. Suarez is blocked from tonight’s match due to the red card he got for so flagrantly breaking the rules.)

And yet, I’m still looking forward to watching Uruguay play the Netherlands, for two excellent reasons: 1) Uruguay has played really attractive soccer from the very start, when they tied hapless France in the tournament’s second game. 2) Uruguay has some really attractive players.

So here, in the tradition of Female Desire Week, are a few pictures of my two favorites, Diego Forlan and Diego Lugano. Forlan is the key to Uruguay’s offense, while Lugano is the linchpin of their defense (and captain of the team). Forlan is extremely intense – look at those eyes! Lugano appears calm and unflappable under pressure. They are both a pleasure to watch, even without the close-ups.

Am I objectifying these guys? Sure, a little bit, insofar as desire always has a subject and an object. But there’s a difference between saying someone’s sexy and sexualizing them – that is, seeing them only in terms of their sex appeal. These guys are too good at the beautiful game for their talent to be wholly eclipsed by their beauty.

Diego Forlan:

(photo source)

(photo source)

(photo source)

And Diego Lugano:

(photo source)

(photo source)

(photo source)

All photos have been shamelessly swiped in the interest of making the world a bit less bleak. I’ve linked to the source where I found them. If anyone objects to my use, I’ll sadly but promptly remove the image.

For more World Cup yumminess, see litbrit’s collection (which is more ethnically diverse than my two Diegos) and the series at Jezebel (here’s a good discussion of why looking at these guys is a harmless pleasure; try here for some lovely legs).

Just for good measure, here’s the whole Uruguayan team – plus two:

(photo source)

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One of the little pleasures of parenthood is the sudden surfaces of memories from deep within the body. Sometimes, when my kids were younger and I was trying to ease a snug shirt over a noggin, I’d flash back to how it felt when my own mother tried to help me out of a too-tight shirt. I’ve noticed, too, that Playdoh throws me back to my own childhood whenever I get a whiff of it.

Smell, it turns out, isn’t just the most potent trigger of nostalgia – an experience I’ll be you’ve noted too. The types of smells that short-circuit time are also generationally and geographically specific, according to neurologist Alan Hirsch:

We’ve also looked at geographic distributions of olfactory evoked nostalgia. While baked goods are number one, people from the East coast describe the smell of flowers as making them nostalgic for childhood. In the South it was the smell of fresh air, and in the Midwest it was the smell of farm animals. On the West coast it was the smell of meat cooking or meat barbequing. It also depends on when you were born. For people born from 1900 to 1930, natural smells made them nostalgic for their childhood—trees, horses, hay, pine, that sort of thing. People born from 1930 to 1980 were more likely to describe artificial smells that make them nostalgic for childhood—Playdoh, Pez, Sweet Tarts, Vapo rub, jet fuel.

(Hirsch was interviewed for Salon by Sarah Breselor; read the rest here.)

Jet fuel? Geez, were these folks the spawn of Tom Hanks’s character in The Terminal?

For me, it’s not only Playdoh that sends me back. I used to hide in our lilac bushes in front of the house in North Dakota. Another Dakotan association, hay – but also freshly cut grass – gives me the same feeling of transport through time, though cut grass also reminds me of band practice in college. As for Pez, the smell leaves me untouched, but the act of stuffing Pez into their dispenser does evoke a body memory.

What about you? What smell or other trigger puts you right back in your childhood?

Weirdly, the mild scent of petunias also makes me feel nostalgic, but for what? They weren’t a major feature of my childhood. These I photographed behind my house in Ohio a couple of weeks ago; they’re mixed in with flowering (non-edible) sage.

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Traditionally, German soccer teams have purportedly embodied “German virtues” (die deutsche Tugenden): a tough work ethic, discipline, organization. They’ve been made to sound much like a Mercedez-Benz. At their best, their performance indeed resembled German engineering. Otherwise? As Swiss National Coach Ottmar Hitzfeld recently described the German virtues: “Not necessarily play well, but win anyway.” If you’ve never lived in Germany as an expat (or as a German!) there’s no way to convey what a basic article of faith the German virtues have been. There’s gravity. There’s the fear of draughts. And then there are the German football virtues. All these are fixed elements of the German universe.

In that spirit, the old-time German stars tended to take themselves pretty seriously. The legendary Franz Beckenbauer, for instance, is one of those guys who makes you worry his whole face might crack and shatter if he smiled too warmly. His skin looks that much like brittle leather (perhaps it’s an antique ball, circa 1927?). Luckily, Beckenbauer doesn’t crack a smile often. Sure, it’s a stereotype – the humorless German – and even some of Beckenbauer’s contemporaries, the stars of the 1970s and 1980s, broke the stereotype on occasion. Still, they didn’t break the edifice of “German virtues.” Why, they helped build it higher, brick by brick.

Monty Python had their own take on this, with their Philosophers’ World Cup:

(via Cookie Jill at skippy the bush kangaroo; go here if you can’t see the clip.)

So maybe Marx wasn’t the most promising footballer. (Note Beckenbauer, however, in the lineup of philosophers. They’re not quite shittin’ you.)

And yet, the revolution did come, ushered in by none other than my alltime favorite soccer star, Jürgen Klinsmann. My Klinsi** coached a young, inexperienced team to third place in 2006. The German football-nation danced in the streets. Everyone in Berlin forgot how to be humorless (possible exception: those yippy little dogs that poop everywhere). Upon Klinsi’s departure, he handed the baton to Jogi Löw, who’d provided the tactical brains of the operation.

And today, the revolution in the “German virtues” burst onto the world stage. The boys (and they’re mostly still boys, many too young to drink legally in the U.S.) didn’t just win 4:0 against Australia. They didn’t just pass the ball like magicians, with the grace and style of Otto the Goalie Kitteh. Above all, they looked like they were having a blast!

ABC has snagged my Klinsi as a commentator. His verdict? “They’re having fun with the ball.”

Sounds like a real improvement on the old virtues to me! And oh, were those young, pass-happy Germans ever fun to watch! “Fun” is a virtue I can gladly get behind.

I lived in Berlin for just shy of a decade. I stepped in a lot of the aforementioned yippy-dog-doo. I figure I’ve earned the right to prognosticate. Sungold’s magic 8-ball sez: Germany might just make it to the finals! And if they do, it’ll be with virtuoso command of their passing game and a huge dollop of fun! Oh, and I’m hoping to catch a glimpse of Klinsi now and again – always my idea of fun fun fun.

** I say “my Klinsi” because back in 1996, I appointed myself president of the American women’s Klinsi fan club. Since no one has stepped up to depose me, I hereby appoint myself president-for-life.

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This post doesn’t get a trigger warning, exactly – just a sticker for minor TMI and, well, a bit of ickiness.

Yesterday Hitler went into his bunker one more time. By the time my lecture ended at 2 p.m., he had died again – and not a moment too soon. While we’ve still got another week of classes, I must say it’s a mighty relief to know that Hitler is now charred beyond recognition. For all the satisfactions I’ve found in teaching this course, it has been emotionally and intellectually arduous. (And of course, my own struggles are a trifle, compared with those who were actually, historically victimized by the Third Reich.)

But this is not a post about Hitler. Indeed, now that Hitler is out of the picture – and just in time for the three-day weekend, too! – I finally feel free to take some time to sticky-tack my own life back together. For instance? Long-deferred trips to the doctor, including my first-ever visit to the dermatologist. If you’ve checked out my little Sungold pic, it’s obvious that surveillance for skin cancer ought to have started with me still in the womb. And indeed, the doc agreed that two of the spots I’d identified as potential trouble were precisely that. Out came the portable deep freeze, which spritzed all points of suspicion with liquid nitrogen. Those trouble spots now look far worse than ever, but I’ve been assured that any rogue cells have been killed dead, and that the dark-brown spots will eventually fade, rather than being the first step toward dressing as a Sexy Dalmatian next Halloween.

But then there was a third spot, not nearly so suspicious, but quite uncomfortable whenever I leaned back against a hard wooden chair. My doc said no problem, we can remove that mole, too. This trick, however, required a signed consent form, a shot of lidocaine, and a few stitches.

Afterward, I asked to see the “specimen,” now floating in a jar, which would be sent to pathology. It looked remarkably like a very pale pencil eraser. It look like a pencil eraser had mated with a fetal pig preserved in formaldehyde. Yes, I do see the biological implausibility of this. I’m going for the aesthetic point while realizing that this is – at best – the opposite of aesthetic.

I am not grossed out by things floating in glass jars. For that, I spent far too much time reading historical medical journals while working on my dissertation. I was just fascinated at how this plug of tissue, barely reddened and fringe-y where it had moments earlier nestled near my spine, had gone within seconds from being me to not-me.

All of which brought me back to a theme that has preoccupied me ever since, some weeks ago, I was looking through some college-era pictures. Those quarter-century old pictures were also, emphatically, me/not-me, though mostly on a symbolic level.

Nestled among the photos was an old braid of hair. My hair. It wasn’t a mere representation. This braid? It was physically me. I had grown it, brushed it, more or less tenderly cared for it. And then one day, soon after I met my someday-husband, I needed lightness, and so off went my locks. (This was before anyone was aware of Locks of Love. From today’s vantage point, I suspect my braid is too short to donate. Anyway, the vintage of my braid (1992!) hardly makes me a fab donor candidate.)

This braid is still tangible. You can pick it up and stroke it, marveling at how much softer my hair was in my youth, back when I rarely blowdried it and never colored it.

It is a piece of my youth, transported, whole and unfaded, into my increasingly middle-aged present.

Mostly, though, I almost feel as though this disembodied piece of me should be able to bear witness. It cannot, of course. But it should, dammit! Nothing else in my life has stayed inert since 1992. I’ve married, borne two children, moved from Germany back to the U.S., bought a house, finished a dissertation, embarked on a teaching career, seen my husband through two forms of cancer, and learned to like horseradish.

I think similar thoughts about my kids’ teeth as they lose them. I have no dignified way to keep them. They pile up in plastic ziplocs like tiny pawns for a game as yet to be determined. These little gamepieces are both of my children and yet wholly other. I do not know why I keep them. I couldn’t bear to thrown the in the trash. They’d require a solemn burial.

I guess there are two aspects of our permeable, detachable, deconstructable bodies that perturb me.

One is that these lost teeth remind me of aging, and I don’t just mean my own. As he approaches his seventh birthday, the Tiger now has only half of his top teeth. When his permanent teech ease into place, his little-boy grin will be gone forever. Actually, it already is. When that little boy is gone, he’s gone for good. He’s essentially dead, apart from those fragments of memory we carry with us. They are never enough.

The other thing? All these loose part – these spare parts – remind me that it’s not just the body that’s permeable. Our selves are permeable and unstable. Call me a postmodernist, but I think this is both true, and deeply unsettling.

Or maybe I’m just my mother’s daughter. For years after her gallbladder removal, she kept a vial of her stones in the medicine cabinet. I’m guessing they’re still there.

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I’m sitting in front of my TV, like so many of you, watching the post-HCR vote speechifying. I’m grinning like a fool, tearfully.

James Clyburn just said that Nancy Pelosi got it done through tenacity and compassion. I’ll have more to say about this later, but I think that this combination – which I’ll call radical compassion – is precisely what we need to move forward, and not just in the healthcare arena.

(And speaking of hope: My miniature iris is up, too.)

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