Thursday, August 31, 2006

What's in a Name

I have a fairly common name. Michelle. Michelle my belle...blah, blah, blah. If I had a dollar for every bozo who started singing that piece of drivel at me, college would be all but paid for. If I ever meet Paul McCartney, we're going to have words about that one, let me tell you. The cool thing about a common name is that you can almost always find personalized stationary and little key chains with your name on them. Drawbacks include being one of three or more "Michelles" in school and the ongoing one or two "l" debate. I'm a two "l" girl myself.

I kind of figured, when I named my blog that it wasn't a terribly original name either. Hence the creative spelling. I seem to remember a singer called Phranc, so the ph thing has probably been done to death too, but hey, it's my little blog and I'll call it what I want. Right? Right.

My dear friend Marz found the coolest new 'zine called...yep, The F-Word. (sigh) I'd be kind of annoyed at myself for being so boring except that this 'zine is ephin' cool! I read the thing cover to cover over the last two days and have also inhaled the earlier online version. Seriously, you must check them out.
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A few favorite articles include:

The Left Needs An Extreme Makeover - in which Zhubin Parang discusses the tendency for us lefties to scare the bejesus out of mainstream America and why this can be not so good.

I Am Controversy - in which Katrina Wong skewers glitzy Broadway show-stoppers about Vietnamese women pining away for distant white guys and gets an earful from an audience member.

On Virginity - in which Kat Allen writes about the "hot dog in the bun" theory and trying to give "it" up at the ripe old age of 21.

The F-Word 'zine is the labor of love of one Melody Berger, a senior at Temple University majoring in, what else, women's studies. She started the project as a continuation of a feminist theory workshop she taught to high school kids for the past three summers. While I like the original on-line version, I am in love with the subsequent printed edition. It looks like it was laid out by a scrapbook happy, angsty sixteen-year-old. Yet the articles are intelligent, sometimes angry, sometimes funny and always well written. Including an interview with the indomitable Margaret Cho and another with (ohmigod!) Gloria Steinem entitled "A Royal Audience with the Queen of the Feminists" The art work inside is edgy, provocative and fun. There are ink and pencil images of fiesty females generally making a ruckus (drawn by the amazing Cristy C. Road) as well as darker images like the gun wielding woman clutching a silicone breast implant gone wrong drawn by Lis Boriss. That one accompanies Zhubin Parang's article about fighting the FDA's approval of silicone breast implants with NOW.

Maybe I'm getting a little old for this sort of thing, but I just love it. It's so refreshing, so inspiring to read these words pieced together by people motivated enough to bother. It's nice to know that somebody is still awake in this country. I guess that's always been the appeal of little 'zines, though. They are by nature an alternative source of news and opinions from young people who don't have to answer to the mainstream media conglomerates.

I remember a quote from the afterward of Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel (another favorite writer of mine) She said she wanted to write like rock and roll. After reading her first book, I think she accomplished just that. So have the writers at The F-Word.

Rock on.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Another Reason I Miss My NYC

Summer is starting to wind down. The temperatures will be dropping a bit. Football season is starting. Hey, we may even get a few pretty orange and yellow trees this fall (though that is not the norm in sunny L.A.).

Fall is coming. My favorite time of the year. When I was a New Yorker, I loved the fall. There was a particular kind of "bite" to the fresh air in Central Park. The trees all changed into the most amazing colors. I got to rescue my favorite coat and gloves from the back of the closet. The city seemed to wake up from it's lazy summer days and begin to really move again. Of course, New Yorkers are never lazy. It just gets too damn hot to do anything in August.
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After 9/11, it just sort of lost that magical quality. I guess I associate clear blue skies and crisp air with airplanes falling out of the sky now... and other things. Damn it.

Still, autumn always makes me a little wistful for the upper west side and H&H Bagels...maybe a stroll through the park to the carousel.
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Here's another cool thing about New York City that I stumbled across the other day. They have a program called Nontradional Employment for Women, or NEW. This program trains women for jobs like "sheet metal worker", "electrician" and "train operator". When you figure that many of these women are heads of household (read: single working moms) and working at traditional minimum wage jobs, this is pretty kick ass. You can make a lot more money working in construction than you usually can waiting tables. Not to mention the total lack of health care and nifty things like pension plans that you suddenly get when working in unionized, skilled labor jobs. Why should we deny ourselves the opportunity to earn a living wage because girls don't lay bricks?

NEW is New York City's top training program for women in the
trades. After completing NEW's curriculum, graduates enter local apprenticeships
or begin nontraditional jobs in the building and construction trades, the
utilities and transportation fields, or facilities maintenance and repair.

Skilled blue-collar work
is an excellent choice for women who are fit—or ready to get in shape—and who
like active, physically challenging work: It offers high wages (a journey-level
worker generally earns over $35 per hour); excellent medical benefits; pensions,
annuities, and paid vacation time; and the opportunity for further education.

I just love this. It's so New York. I'm sure programs like this exist in many other cities (at least, I hope so) but there is something very gritty and "gettin' our hands dirty" about this program that reminds me of the atmosphere around town after that September day. Yes, we grieved. Yes, we were afraid. But we also rolled up our sleeves and started taking care of each other.

That's what this program made me think of. New Yorkers are so refreshingly real, compared to some of the people in the entertainment biz that I meet out here. These people at NEW are giving women the tools to make a better life for themselves and their families .

I like that.

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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Eatin' Vegan

Usually, my blog is dedicated to feminist issues and interests. I believe that I am just as worthy a person as any guy and I deserve to be treated as an equal. I also have this crazy idea that human animals are not the only creatures who have a right to live in peace on this planet. Yup. Go figure.

I recently committed myself to buying only cruelty free beauty products. I don't think little bunny rabbits and beagle puppies should have to suffer for me to have pretty eyeliner. (and yes, feminists wear eyeliner). ;p

Not long after, I started to think about what I was spending my money on at the grocery store. Did I really need to eat factory farmed meat? What was I supporting when I spent money on milk and eggs? The more I found out, the more I liked tofu scramble, soy milk and fresh veggies. So, these days I am trying for a mostly vegan menu at home.

Last week Marz, T3 and I had a little cooking party and made some loverly things. I was feeling pretty optimistic so, this weekend I bought my first vegan cookbook, Vive le Vegan by Dreena Burton. I've never really been much of a cook. I can bake like a pro, but cooking regular food always seemed kind of scary. When you bake, there are precise instructions to be followed. You put in the right amount of baking powder and flour and things turn out ok. Cooking is a lot more...well, free-form. I need my instructions.

I've found a lot of really cool vegan/vegetarian bloggers here that are so inspiring. After reading some of their posts (and drooling over their food pics!) and checking out some recipes on-line, I felt inspired enough to give this cooking thing a shot.

This cookbook is great. It has clear, easy to follow recipes and the food tastes great. No more bland steamed veggies! Hooray!

Here are pics of my very first vegan meal that I cooked all by myself. I did the Greek Basmati Rice (pg 94) and Lemon Herb Tofu (pg 65) and a salad. I loved getting to go shopping for my ingredients at the farmer's market this morning, too.

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Here's the tofu. This was my favorite part of the meal. The tofu really absorbed all the flavors and baked up nicely. Very tasty!

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And here is the Greek basmati rice. Yum! Next time I will remember to add the garlic (doh!) and maybe a little more water for the rice. But, even with my little mistakes, it turned out pretty good.

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All in all, I was pleased with my first attempt flying solo. I love that I had a great, flavorfull meal that didn't support factory farming. Thus, doing my little part to help ensure that this planet is around for future generations of little girls and boys who will treat each other with respect and get equal pay for equal work.

Hey, a girl can dream, right?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Missing a Blog "Friend"

I have another confession to make.

I have gotten terribly addicted to blogging. Not just writing my own blog, but reading other people's blogs. It's amazing to me, that there are all these other folks out there, writing about stuff that I think about too. The vegetarian/vegan bloggers alone have an amazing little community. Then there are the political folks. Of course, I'm a big fan of the cyber feminists and BlogHers. The blogging moms blow me away with their adventures in parenting. It's a weird thing, the internet. You get to "meet" people you live thousands of miles away from. Whole virtual communities spring up around beliefs, causes, shared ideas. Blogging is such a strange hybrid too, because you feel like you sort of know a person through their posts, even though those posts are not directed at you specifically. There is an intimacy here that seems out of place sometimes and very reassuring at others.

This brings me to an interesting dilemma.

There is a woman whose blog I used to love to read. She posted almost every day, then mysteriously vanished. Was she hacked? Is she all right? I don't know. We never communicated through e-mail, I just left comments on her blog and she left comments here. I hope this doesn't come across as being nosy. I really do believe the world is a better place when people look out for each other. Especially as women, it's much better to have each other's back than to be constantly clawing each others eyes out.

So, if anyone knows or is in contact with Painter Beach Girl (or if she's reading this post), please let her know that Meesh and Marz and other folks are worried about her. We miss hearing about Chef and Red and Blue. We hope she is all right. We hope she comes back soon...

Monday, August 14, 2006

What Do I Want To Be When I Grow Up?

As you may know, I am going back to school these days. I'm working on a degree in journalism. Someday I will have my beautiful degree and I will be able to leave this soul-killing admin job for good. Oh yes! Until then, I must study, study, study.

I am often asked, "What field do you want to work in?" Well, I know I don't want to do television. I want to reduce the emphasis on my appearance as much as possible in my next career. (I have also been an actress for many years).

I might want to work at a newspaper. I can see myself running around town 'a la Lois Lane...but with actual super powers, writing up stories for The New York Times or the Chicago Tribune, righting wrongs about town. (insert my personal theme music here) Maybe I could work my way up to being a foreign correspondent and travel around the world, writing stories and helping to make the world a better place for the people who don't usually have a voice. That would be my alter ego of course. When I'm not fighting for the under dog through my superior investigative reporting, I will be flying through the air, plucking kittens from tress and lifting school buses full of children off of rickety bridges!
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Perhaps, I will eschew the whole super hero thing and simply work at a magazine like Newsweek or Time. I can freelance a bit and have articles published in Bitch magazine. This will be when I'm not covering stories at the U.N. thus facilitating my work for Interpol as an international spy.

Then again, I just might want to go work for The Onion.

Report: 47% Of Satellites Currently Monitoring
Celebrity Parenting
July 24, 2006 Issue 42•30

LOS ANGELES—Just days after the launch of SURI-II, whose state-of-the-art instruments are expected to provide the first-ever infrared images of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes' infant daughter, a report published by NASA revealed that nearly half of all communications and reconnaissance satellites currently in orbit are engaged in collecting and transmitting data relating to the child-rearing practices of Hollywood stars.
According to Monday's report, the SURI-II is one of 73 celebrity-surveying satellites currently deployed by the U.S. and assigned a variety of tasks including analyzing the rising levels of hostility between new mother Britney Spears and husband Kevin Federline, calculating the long-term effects of Julia Roberts' decision to bottle-feed her twins, and tracking the ever-changing whereabouts of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.
"In the 15 years since the first crude orbital crafts were launched to monitor Demi Moore's second pregnancy, fame-monitoring satellites have proven invaluable in our pursuit to better understand the star-studded world around us," New York Post Page Six columnist Richard Johnson said. "Were it not for the highly detailed information these satellites transmit back to Earth, celebrity researchers today would be unable to explain the origins of the adorable outfits Brooke Shields picks up for Rowan."

See the rest of this article HERE.

Dewey Decimal System Helpless To Categorize New Jim
Belushi Book
August 14, 2006 Issue 42•33

DUBLIN, OHIO—Members of the OCLC Online Computer Library Center’s Editorial Policy Committee, which oversees the Dewey Decimal System library classification system, were no closer Monday to assigning a definitive call number to the recently published Jim Belushi book Real Men Don’t Apologize.
"With all due respect to the author, we remain unsure how to categorize this particular work," said committee chair Leslie Buncombe, who, despite repeated readings, still wasn’t sure if Real Men was "an actual book." "What is it Autobiography? Self-help? We can’t even tell if it’s fiction or nonfiction," Added Buncombe: "Too bad it can’t be shelved by its ISBN number. Maybe it’s Fantasy Biography? I don’t even think there’s a code for that." If no decision is reached within the week, librarians may be forced to shelve it in the "phantom zone" between Jenny McCarthy’s book of marriage tips and novels in which a cat helps solve a mystery.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

History Corner or Women I'd Like to Meet

Ever play that game where you try to come up with five or ten people, dead or alive, that you would want to meet? I'm really bad at that game. No matter what the numerical limit is, I can never stay under it. There's always just one more fascinating person I would want to have coffee with. Well, add another one to the list.

Margaret Brown.

You know, "Molly" Brown, The Unsinkable Molly Brown.

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Last week I rented A Night To Remember. It's a British film made back in 1958 about the sinking of the Titanic. I totally recommend picking this up if you have the inclination. It was a great flick. You can play a rousing game of "What did James Cameron Steal From This Movie" if you have a pen and paper and an ounce of sense. Great fun. But, I digress. As with any story about the doomed Titanic, Margaret Brown figures in as a colorful, outspoken, brassy gal traveling in first class. Kathy Bates played her in the most recent version, Tucker McGuire played her in A Night To Remember. She has always been one of my favorite parts of the tale. At a time when most women were forced into very confined roles and given very little power over our own lives (we were still eight years away from the right to vote in 1912) she seemed like a woman who didn't suffer this sort of nonsense.

But aside from talking back to sailors in life boats and being generally outspoken, what did she really do? Who was she? I did a little reading this week and I gotta say, Margaret Brown was an amazing woman.

She was born into a poor, working class, Irish family. Her parents emigrated to the U.S. during the Irish potato famine like so very many others. The family of seven lived together in a one bedroom house in Hannibal, Missouri. She worked in a tobacco factory as a child to help earn money for the family after attending school until the ripe old age of 12.

She moved to Leadville, Colorado with her brother and later met John James Brown, an engineer for one of the local gold mining companies. They fell in love and got married even though Margaret had planned on finding herself a rich man to marry. I guess she figured love was a more important consideration for life-long commitment than a large bank account despite her childhood experiences with extreme poverty and child labor. As it turned out, J.J. invented a method of preventing cave-ins at The Little Johnny Mine and was rewarded by his employers with a share of the gold mine. Nice little bonus, huh?

So, now that Maggie was a wealthy gal, what was she to do with her new found position in society? Lounge around the big house and eat bon-bons? Hells no! She put her good fortune (literally!) to use helping people who didn't happen to marry successful gold mine engineers. Check out some of the stuff she did:

* She put her money to use first in getting herself a little more education. She learned to speakFrench, German, Italian, Spanish and Russian with the help of tutors.

* She became a travel writer for the Denver Times newspaper, and wrote of her adventures, such as crossing the Alps in a Mercedes limousine. (Do they have roads across the Alps suitable for a limo?)

* She was one of the first women to attend the Carnegie Institute. Molly studied acting in the style of Sarah Bernhardt.

* While in Switzerland, she hired a master yodeler, and became adept at yodeling.

* For the Catholic Church, Molly organized a "Carnival of Nations," in 1906 based on the St. Louis World's Fair she had attended in 1904. Being the progressive person she was, she included booths not only for the mainstream European nationalities, but also for the African -Americans, the Chinese-Americans, and the Native-Americans.

* She also became friends with Denver's Judge Ben Lindsey who organized the nation's first juvenile court system, (which helped form the basis of the modern U.S. juvenile courts system)for which Molly raised funds by donating the proceeds of a Cripple Creek mining operation.

* She became a suffragette and attended national rallies on women's rights in places like Newport, Rhode Island, where the Browns rented a summer house.

* She was on the picket lines with the United Mine Workers, and the United Garment Workers, fighting for improved labor conditions. After the Ludlow Massacre in Colorado, she was there with Mother Jones aiding the relief work for the victims of that strike.

* In 1909 and 1914, she ran for Congress

Titanic Stuff:
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We know from the transcripts of the hearings that took place in New York and England after the sinking that Mrs. Brown had words with the officer in charge of her life boat. He was convinced that they were all goners and that the Titanic would simply suck them all to the bottom of the sea when it went down. What were they teaching these guys back in the day? Anyway, she wasn't having any of it and she organized the ladies in the boat to keep rowing in order to stay warm. Then, once they were all aboard The Carpathia, she began putting together a fund for the victims of the disaster who would be left completely broke. Now really, who starts organizing a relief committee after a night spent bobbing around on the freezing cold North Atlantic after watching the largest ship in the world sink to the bottom of the ocean with most of the steerage passengers still aboard?

When the RMS Carpathia arrived to rescue the survivors, Margaret assisted with the rescue efforts; her proficiency in languages was an asset, she helped prepare survivor lists for outside communication and raised funds with other rich survivors to help those less fortunate among surviving passengers and crew, collecting $10,000 by the time the ship made port in New York City. For her calm action in the disaster, the media acclaimed her as one of the heroines of the hour. She was quoted as saying that her survival was attributable to "typical Brown luck... we're unsinkable". She became known as the Unsinkable Mrs. Brown for the rest of her life.
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She went on to head the Titanic Survivors' Committee, participated in
fundraising for victims of the sinking and helped to get a memorial to the Titanic erected in Washington, D.C.

I think my favorite thing is that she ran for Congress years before women could even vote in The United States. That just rocks. With her concern for less fortunate, working class folks and her ability to get things done, she'd have been a great congreswoman. I would have voted for her...if I had been allowed to vote.

So, I now have to add Mrs. Margaret Brown to my list of people (dead or alive) that I would want to have a long talk with over tea and biscuits. I mean, c'mon, checkout the look she is giving the photographer here...

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That's a woman with opinions and a story or two to tell.

Friday, August 04, 2006

A Little Friday Fun

I admit it. I go to the gym. (sigh) I also get outside once and a while and go hiking or take a run around the park. No really, I do. I swear!

I used to go to this really crap gym down the street from where I work. The equipment was never really clean, some of it was broken. The staff was surly and most of the people were just too cool to bother being friendly to anyone. Combine all that with my love of public dressing rooms (shudder!) and you can imagine how much I looked forward to working out. Oh. The joy.

Something that has always seemed funny to me is how we get in our cars and drive to the gym so we can get on a treadmill and run in place. One of my favorite things about going to the tenth level of workout hell (a.k.a. my old gym), was the cool kids on the treadmills. They'd be all dolled up in their designer sweatpants with their iPods and imported French water just killin' themselves running, yet they were getting nowhere. I like to think of it as a metaphore for life.

I came across this video on YouTube today and could not stop giggling. Finally someone has put the acursed treadmill to good use.


OK Go - Here It Goes Again

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Ohmigosh, Put That Away!

Happy Breastfeeding Awareness month! You might not be seeing that on any Hallmark cards this month, but there it is. Are you aware?

I came across this article online the other day and it really got me thinking. The Reader's Digest recap is this: A small parenting magazine printed a picture of a baby breastfeeding on their cover and lots of people, including mothers of small children, freaked out.

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It's no secret that breastfeeding is a complicated issue in this country. Americans have a pretty strong puritanical streak and we get all weirded out about anything involving sex. We can watch all kinds of gun fights and implied rape scenes on TV, but please, for the love of god, keep the sex on the Playboy channel!

Personally, I look at this photo and I think it's beautiful. I can only imagine the feeling of holding your baby close to you, of being that connected to another living being. That's probably really romantic, but hey, I've never had a newborn baby to try and raise. Would I want to whip out a breast and partake of that closeness in the food court at the local mall? It might not be my first choice, but with a nursing bra and a light blankie to drape over myself, I don't see why not. I certainly wouldn't want to banish myself to the smelly, not-so-clean, crowded bathroom to feed my hungry baby. Talk about insulting and unsanitary.

Like so many other things about a woman's body, breasts are more than their outward appearance. They are symbolic. Whether you need a sturdy amount of under-wire or can go braless while jogging, those mammaries have meaning. Are they just a sexual object for men to oogle? Do we celebrate their biological purpose in relation to our kids? What happens when the symbolic, sexualized meaning we are so obsessed with clashes with the practical reality of them?

One mother who didn't like the cover explains she was concerned about her 13-year-old son seeing it. "I shredded it," said Gayle Ash, of Belton, Texas, in a telephone interview. "A breast is a breast, it's a sexual thing. He didn't need to see that."

Wow, I had no idea my boobs were so dangerous.

"I was SHOCKED to see a giant breast on the cover of your magazine," one person wrote. "I immediately turned the magazine face down," wrote another. "Gross," said a third.

Gross. Really? What about these?

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Somehow I doubt that Maxim or Sports Illustrated gets quite the amount of outraged letters that this baby magazine received. As a matter of fact, I think it is safe to say that both publications have made quite a healthy profit based on their titillating covers month after month. It's not just men's magazines either. Women don't seem to have a problem buying magazines with covers like these:

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National Geographic hasn't lost circulation because of photos like this one of African tribeswomen .

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And who could forget this Vanity Fair cover of a pregnant Demi Moore? This was one of their best selling issues ever.

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It seems that breasts are ok. Nipples, clearly are not. (just ask Janet Jackson). The sexualized pictures of scantily clad models are perfectly fine to put by the checkout stand at the supermarket where any 13 year old boy may see them. The nonsexual pictures of "exotic" women from an anthropological study are ok to publish. It seems that once we add a baby though, all goodness-gracious breaks loose.

Whether or not to breast feed is obviously a very personal decision. I certainly don't think that women who choose not to should be labeled as "bad mothers" either, as some recent ad campaigns and government guidelines are doing. The more I read about it, the more I see yet another situation where we are damned if we do and damned if we don't. If you choose to breast feed, my god don't do it in public because it's indecent. If you choose to bottle feed, you are a terrible parent who isn't providing the best for your baby. WTF?!

There are certainly benefits and drawbacks to either plan of action. Call me a "lactavist" , but I think people could calm down a bit on this issue. I would much rather my kid (if I had one) see a woman breastfeeding her baby, than the cover of Maxim any day.