Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Saying it like it is

     I'll be honest with you, there's a lot about Mitt Romney that scares me. He seems to have changed his stance on many issues over the years that he has been in the public eye. He rarely offers details, even when pushed for them. He is not my favorite candidate, but I don't hate him. I don't think that everything he says is evil and awful. It saddens me that so many Democrats and Obama supporters can not hear a good word from Romney's lips.

     Many among my women friends have their knickers in a knot over two comments in the debate on Tuesday, October 16, 2012, and I don't really understand why.

     The first is the "binders full of women" line. It probably would have been more clear to say something like, "binders full of curriculum vitae from talented women," but of all the things Romney said, is this really the thing we care about most? Personally, I'm more concerned about his tax plan, the details of which are still unclear to me.

     The second is the anecdote Romney shared about his chief of staff in the Massachusetts  gubernatorial office. Here's what he said:
"I was proud of the fact that after I staffed my Cabinet and my senior staff, that the University of New York in Albany did a survey of all 50 states, and concluded that mine had more women in senior leadership positions than any other state in America.
Now one of the reasons I was able to get so many good women to be part of that team was because of our recruiting effort. But number two, because I recognized that if you're going to have women in the workforce that sometimes you need to be more flexible. My chief of staff, for instance, had two kids that were still in school.
She said, I can't be here until 7 or 8 o'clock at night. I need to be able to get home at 5 o'clock so I can be there for making dinner for my kids and being with them when they get home from school. So we said fine. Let's have a flexible schedule so you can have hours that work for you." (transcript courtesy of ABC)
So, after Romney went out of his way to include women in his cabinet, one of them asserted herself and asked for a reasonable schedule so that she could also be a mother. And he agreed. Governance is not a nine to five job, but Romney, as he presents himself here, was willing to work with a staff member who wanted to be home most evenings.The only part of the above statement I take umbrage to is the idea that it is only women in the workforce who need this flexibility. All caregivers, male or female, should feel empowered to ask for the flexibility they need to do their jobs well and take care of their families.

     Today, instead of talking about the challenges women and men face in trying to balance careers and families, and how that chief of staff was gutsy to ask for what she needed, people are saying things like this:

     I am a mother, and I have a professional career. I do want my evenings free. I want to be able to cook dinner for myself, my spouse, and our children, or to enjoy a meal that one of them cooks for all of us. Unfortunately, the realities of the American workplace make this increasingly difficult for me and for my husband. Every week I have to make decisions about whether I will stay on campus for a meeting or event and let the kids sit in after care at school or skip the meeting and pick them up on time. Whether I will put time into my family or into my career.

    Instead of taking pot shots at sound bytes, let's talk about issues and solutions.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Dear Beloveds

Dear beloveds,

Deep down, I do know that, God willing, I'll "do just fine" on all the tasks remaining between me and the PhD I'm working toward. Barring unforeseen calamity, I will get there. However, the path is not without stress and worry.

You do not help me when you respond to my stress by dismissing it. When I take the long view, I have confidence about my ability to complete the whole project, but when I am in the throes of a single task with a short deadline, as now with a prospectus defense in mid-October, that one task consumes me, worries me, and stresses me out. When I tell you how I am feeling, I need you to not dismiss it. Remind me to get enough sleep, remind me to take a walk, remind me to pray, remind me that you believe in me, but don't tell me I have nothing to worry about.

I know that you love me and you think I'm brilliant. You might even be right. However, in my community of scholars, I'm nothing special. No one gets here without being brilliant, and when one is surrounded by brilliance, remaining shiny requires effort. When I worry about ridiculous things (being late, running out of cat food, whether my shoes match my sweater), I keep it to myself. If I'm telling you about my stress, please believe that it's warranted. 

I love you, too,

Sunday, March 11, 2012

On Whackadoodlery

     I know that on the spectrum of green living, my lifestyle is firmly within the realm of Crunchy Green Granola. This is a lifestyle that has evolved over the years, and most of the time, it just seems normal to me. Every once in a while, though, something happens to remind me how whackadoodle much of society thinks that I am. 
     Like the time, my friends gave me a tote bag which tells the world, in pink, flowery letters that "I might like you better if you recycle." Well, yes, I think recycling is important, but I'll like you even if you don't. Well, probably.
     Or the time we were hosting a party, and some friends brought zucchini and batter for frying. MMMMmmmmmm. As she handed me the roll of paper towels for draining the zucchini, Erin said, "I knew you wouldn't have any. I almost didn't bring these as I thought they might burst into flame upon entering your kitchen." Well, okay, no I don't buy paper towels, but this is a perfectly good application for them, and fried foods really are better when well-drained. I put the paper towels on the usually empty rack glued to the bottom of the cabinets by a previous occupant, and there they stayed for several weeks until they'd been used up on odd jobs. Paper towels can go into my compost sprawl, so I don't mind using them when available/necessary.
     Then,  today, when I delivered the soup I had agreed to make to feed coaches and judges at Sofia's gymnastics meet, the moms organizing the spread whipped out a box of plastic, disposable crock pot liners. I had no idea such things even existed. I watched in horror as they lined my crock pot and poured my home-made, mostly organic, from scratch soup into a giant plastic bag inside a hot crock pot. I said nothing. Well, nothing out loud. Here's what I was saying on the inside:
"Ladies, the crock part COMES OUT. Even better, it fits in the DISHWASHER! And even if it didn't, all you have to do is put a little soap and water in the crock pot and turn it on high for half an hour or so, then dump and wipe. Really, sisters, would you really rather eat plasticy food than clean out a crock pot?"
I calmly walked away, leaving them to their work. When I went back later to pick up my crock pot and the leftovers, one of the women complimented me on the chicken and rice, and noted that there's just enough for our supper. 
     I brought the soup home in the lined crock pot, plugged it back in, and am enjoying a bowl as I type. It's not so bad. Still, I'd rather be whackadoodle, even if that does mean scrubbing the occasional crock pot.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


My love affair with the Jewish holiday of Purim started with the cookies:

kate & erin & anna & sofia make amazing hamantaschen

What’s not to love? They’re triangles! With poppy seeds! American baking does not use nearly enough poppy seeds.

For years, I made these cookies every February, knowing only that Purim usually falls in late winter, and bakeries in and around New York always had these cookies that time of year. It would have been enough just to have the cookies.

The more I’ve learned about Purim in the last couple of years, though, the more interesting the holiday is. On the simplest level, Purim is the commemoration of the holocaust that Queen Esther prevented. It would have been enough only to know that this holiday celebrates one of my favorite scriptural stories.

The Velveteen Rabbi discusses the cookies and the story in terms of concealment and revelation. In the text of Esther, God works through Mordechai and Esther, though He is never mentioned directly. Like the poppy seeds (or apricots, or prunes), God is concealed, hidden from view. It’s a beautiful reminder to look for God in the people and events around us. Though, if your hamantaschen, like ours, tend to ooze open, flaunting their secrets all over the cookie sheet, this metaphor works less well.

I love the cookies, and I love the story, and I love the holiday which reminds me to enjoy them both each year.

Water, hot, lack thereof - see also #firstworldproblems

I sent the following e-mail to my landlords today:

Hi, Trustees,
We have no hot water at Lillies House today. The hot water heater is not leaking, and all wires and pipes seem to be appropriately attached. None of the breakers in the fuse box are flipped. Is there something else I should look for on my own?
We can live without hot water for a couple of days, so no rush.

One of them wrote back:
Hi Kolokolchiki,
Well your tougher than me, I am definitely getting too old for cold showers.  I called Super-Intendent Man and he is working at the Fire House Wednesday.  He has been using Local Plumbing Guy lately.  Please call them ASAP at XXX-XXXX and arrange for them to come and look at it TOMORROW.  I don't want you gals to have to take cold showers.
Trustee #1

This e-mail made me laugh. I had no intention of taking cold showers. Ugh! 
There's a pot of water on the stove waiting for me to turn it on to heat first thing when I wake up. Taking a bucket bath in my own tub will be way easier than bucket baths on the Trans Siberian Railway. To wit, the room will not be swaying back and forth, the surface on which I am standing will actually direct the water toward the drain, and there will be a clean, dry place for my clothes. It won't be as nice as a bucket bath in a steamy dacha, but it'll be way better than some of the spring fed creeks I've bathed in. 

Dear Life, 
Thanks for preparing me to do without and work around when modern conveniences fail.
Much love, 
Buckets for toting and heating (via electric immersion heater) water and pans for transferring to washbasins and the dry sink. Batama, Irkutsk Region, Siberia, 2007.