Monday, March 31, 2008

Notes from Inside My Bathroom Vanity

I listened to Michael’s unhappiness increase from grumbling to roaring, with a liberal helping of swearing heaped on. The faucet on his side of the bathroom vanity started leaking a few days earlier and had created quite a mess, so we had a hot date at Home Depot and picked up two new faucets. (The general intention at the time was that we can't upgrade his without upgrading mine.) Michael’s temper arose from his attempt - apparently futile - to install the first faucet.

When the noise level became alarming, I checked in with him to see if I could help in any way. His exasperation showed through quite clearly when he told me no. The man practically rolled his eyes.

Aside: A little history is in order here. Michael knows how to do handyman stuff, but he does not accomplish those types of tasks elegantly. It always takes much longer than anticipated; it always requires at least one trip to the hardware store in the middle of the project; and it always generates a mess of epic proportions. On the other hand, I don't necessarily know how to do all the tasks, but I have an intuitive understanding of the mechanics of things. I can look at them and unravel the puzzle of how they go together, figure out what the problem is, and make at least a good start at fixing them. The way I see it, Michael works the brute strength and training aspect while I work the problem solving and finesse aspect. Together, we make a great team.

Okay, we make a great team, but only if Michael lets me be on his team. And when his team is losing, he apparently doesn't want his wife coming in and saving the day. At least, that is how it seemed on Saturday.

I'll spare you the details, but bottom line, it turned out that Michael needed to get inside the vanity cabinet and he did not fit. (I think the not fitting made him as angry as any of it.) So I crawled in and, haltingly, did the work. Of course, all the fittings were over tightened and wouldn't come off. While I fit in the cabinet, my brute strength quotient is fairly low and therefore the struggle went on for hours.

I know many of my readers can't help but ask what it feels like to crawl inside a bathroom vanity. In a word - lousy. The vanity opening (Michael removed the doors) is a generous 21 inches wide; however, that 21 inches is divided by a 3 inch upright board, leaving 9 actual inches on either side to squeeze ones body through watching out for the door hinges all the while.

Michael couldn't manage it because his upper body parts are not flexible, like mine. So, picture this: I thrust my head and shoulders into a very dim, dank, hole and then I flatten my breasts out to get them through. Once I have accomplished Operation Booby Trap, I pull my bottom arm in. If I have to - and mostly I did have to - I can flip myself a little sideways and manage to squash my other arm in. At this point, dear reader, I must rely on my lower ribs to support my body. My lower ribs are, of course, resting directly on a narrow, raised, piece of wood.

The vanity is 21 inches deep. I'm pretty sure my body is longer than 21 inches from head to waist. Heck, I was 21 inches long when I was born! So, once thrust inside the sink, I must become a contortionist. A contortionist with tools, albeit the wrong tools for most of the time. Periodically, I would simply have to get out. Under-the-sink makes in-the-MRI seem like a walk in the park. The reverse of wedging oneself in requires a whole other level of commitment. First slide out the top arm, then pull out the top breast. Then scoot backwards and pull out the second breast. Finally, more scooting to release the shoulders, bottom arm, and head. And don't lift your body up - kind of a natural action when exiting - because you will hit your head on the sink bottom.

While inside, I faced other challenges as well, most notably UFOs settling on my cheek or neck with a ticklish, creepy sensation. But what really grossed me out when the UFOs landed in my mouth. The very worst UFO event occurred when a tiny piece broke off a large plastic nut I was trying to wrestle into submission and landed in my eye.

All I could think of was imminent blindness or at least a trip to the hospital. I desperately wanted out from under the sink and that is exactly when my chances of getting out seemed most hopeless. I panicked. I hit my head on the underside of the sink. I scraped my arm (the top one) trying to withdraw it. Once I had my arm out, my breasts got caught in a vise grip that had not existed until that very moment. With one arm inside and one arm outside, my head and shoulders inside, and my lower trunk and legs akimbo outside, I tried to smash my ample bosom flat enough to pop it out. Yes, I did escape and, with Michael's help, located the eyewash cup in under a minute. The piece of plastic washed out without any trouble, although my eye felt gritty for the rest of the day.

At this point, I thought to ask Michael for safety glasses (of which we have several sets in our garage). Note to self: put safety glasses before sticking head in small opening and banging away on things that are stuck.

By Saturday evening, we had the new faucet installed and I just needed to crawl back inside to do the final quarter-turn tightening on the water lines. Which I did. Except, according to Michael, the hot water leaks and I have to go back to retighten that one. Oh, and put in the new faucet on MY side of the vanity. Now, all I have to do is decide if I'd rather crawl under my sink and install the matching faucet or stay safely away from the vanity cabinet and live with mismatched faucets.

What do you think?


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A Blogging Primer

(Presented to WIVLA as part of a panel discussion on 3-18-08)

Blog is a word coined from the phrase web log (as in Captain’s Log). A web log is to a website as a film is to a still photograph: both contain images, but one uses dynamic images and the other uses static ones. (Thanks to a fellow blogger for the idea. See

Bloggers want to keep a running, dynamic record of their thoughts, idea, complaints, visions, products, families, ad infinitum and to do that, they write posts, or messages, that are published in real-time on the internet in a blog.

The reason that a person wants to blog determines the type of blog to set up. For example, you can blog as a personal journal and for this would likely choose a private blog which no one else can see without access to your ID and password. Or you might want to set up a blog for a group to use equally - a critique group or extended family, for example. Group blogs can be read and written into by any member of the group, making planning, brainstorming, and other group activities easier. A group blog can be private or public.

Public blogs are intended to be read by anyone who happens along. Public blogs can be controlled by the owner insofar as whether or not comments will be accepted and from whom; whether those comments must be approved or moderated by the blog’s owner; and whether the comments can be anonymous or not. There are many variables that the blog owner can control and the owner’s purpose or intention for the blog will define how she sets up her blog.

Before you do anything else to create your own blog, go on an afternoon or evening’s jaunt around the blogosphere. Read other peoples blogs at random. You will be AMAZED by the variety, topics, formats, languages, and creativity abounding there. You will undoubtedly be offended, tickled, perplexed, and outraged along the way but you will get a much better notion of what a blog can be and do. Read comments, as well, because that will help you make some choices as you put your blog together.

Once you determine the purpose of your blog - a social blog, a retail blog, a political blog, a personal blog, or a group blog - you need a title for it. Have the title ready before you sign up because it is practically the first question asked in the process and if you aren’t prepared, you might pick a title that you come to regret. Make your title reflect your intention. “Mary’s Musings” is not a great title for a hard-driving political blog; “Front and Center with Mary” may not be the best title for a recipe-sharing blog.

You have your intention and your title. Now you need a blog host; someplace to house your posts. There are many, many websites offering blog hosting. Rather than tell you about them in abbreviated fashion, let me refer you to a good, educational website with lots of information: This site will give you not only the information you need to make good choices but also links that will let you look before you leap and comparison shop.

I have blogged at Blogspot (a.k.a. Blogger, and now owned by Google) for four years. It offers lots of help for beginners and lots of advanced features for experienced bloggers. It is a large, well-known blogging host and not likely to disappear with my 123 precious posts.

Speaking of which, even if you are just blogging as a complete lark, you must immediately start saving your posts to a back-up site. Who knows when the worst might happen and they slide into oblivion forever? Who knows what your lark may turn into two or three or six or ten years from now? Your blog posts might end up being your best-seller or an important record of when you sold a certain piece of art, there’s just no telling.

As a writer, I worried about the safety of my blog posts. In my research about this concern, I came across a website called Creative Commons. In the organization’s own words,

Creative Commons provides free tools that let authors, scientists, artists, and educators easily mark their creative work with the freedoms they want it to carry. You can use CC to change your copyright terms from "All Rights Reserved" to "Some Rights Reserved. We're a nonprofit organization. Everything we do — including the software we create — is free.”

You can find Creative Commons at

I first put CC on my blog in November 2004, but somewhere along the line I made a template change and lost it, something I just fixed today. Templates are the framework of your blog and good blogging hosts offer a wide assortment of templates for different purposes. Don’t be afraid to make template changes, but when you do, be sure to keep track of the different elements of your blog so everything gets put back.

The last thing I want to mention today is blogger courtesy. Don’t borrow without attribution and, whenever possible, publish the link right there in your blog so your reader can go to the source for more information. Promote your favorite blogs and websites, too. Cross-linking with like-minded blogs is a great way to get your blog read by more people.


Monday, March 17, 2008

The Continuing Curse of ISMs

I listened to callers and commentary on a progressive radio station tonight and the curse of ISMs reared its ugly head once again. I feel frustrated and irritated about the pervasive prejudice that still gets bandied about without being challenged.

Aside: Before you get all "I'm not prejudiced" on me, take a deep breath. I am talking about institutional prejudices and cultural prejudices that persist in our society. I know people who truly believe that they harbor no racial, ethnic, gender, or sexual orientation prejudices yet who display them on a regular basis. These people are rarely challenged because institutional and cultural prejudice is, by its very nature, insidious.

What am I talking about? First, let me give credit for opening my eyes on this subject to one of those two great, sister, advice columnists - Ann Landers or Dear Abby. (I really can no longer remember who, I read the column perhaps thirty years ago, but I have never, ever forgotten it.)

Now, here's the gem of wisdom.

When a person uses gender, racial, ethnic, or sexual orientation as an adjective or as a descriptive term, the person is displaying prejudice - often unconsciously - UNLESS the adjective or descriptive is required for clarity or is germane to the topic at hand - because using that adjective or descriptive word indicates that you find it to be outside the norm.

Examples: a woman doctor, a black lawyer, a homosexual father, a Muslim politician.

The test for this is to restate the label with its "expected" gender, racial, ethnic, or sexual orientation descriptive and see if it sounds stupid.

Examples: a man doctor, a white lawyer, a heterosexual father, a Christian politician. Just for kicks, try this one: a heterosexual couple. If that sounds redundant, you need to give yourself a good talking to.

We don't say a "man" doctor because we expect doctors to be men. Likewise, we expect lawyers to be white, fathers to be straight, and politicians (at least in America) to be Christian. Or, some people do. And even people who can happily accept a black doctor or woman lawyer in actuality may still bow to the institutional prejudice that says it is somehow unusual, unexpected, or rare.

After hearing me praise my rheumatologist, a friend who also has lupus asked me for a referral, which I happily gave. A couple of months later, I ran into the person and asked how the doctor's visit had gone. My friend said, "Oh, I loved Dr. P., but you didn't tell me he was black."

No, I didn't. And why would I? Does Dr. P. being black have anything to do with his skills and qualifications as a doctor? Not at all. But how many times have you heard someone refer to a "black doctor" as if this were a revelation?

Aside: And, no, I didn't give you any hints about the gender of my friend either, because what, really, does gender have to do with friendship or displays of prejudice? I could have really turned that little example into a nice condemnation of somebody by adding a touch of gender, a hint of religious persuasion, and the lightest tint of color, couldn't I?

Those of you younger than I am (57) may not remember the consternation caused by a riddle that popped up in the 1970s. It went like this: A boy was injured in a car accident. He was rushed to the hospital by his father. The emergency room doctor, upon seeing the boy, exclaimed, "I can't work on this child. He is my son." How could this be?

Believe it or not, you young'uns, people were absolutely baffled by this riddle. All kinds of suggestions would be raised - stepson, adopted son, mistaken identity, etc. - before people would give up and say, "This must be a trick question."

Can you guess the answer? I hope it is very obvious to today's reader. The doctor was the boy's mother. But in the 70s, this notion was almost heretical. Oh, we had women doctors; we just didn't think about them or think there were enough of them to be worth considering seriously, even for the purposes of a riddle.

I raised my children on the Rule of ISMs: Never use an adjective or descriptive word to describe someone's gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation unless you have a specific and pertinent reason to do so.

Example: If a woman friend wants a referral to an ob-gyn and expresses a preference for a female physician for this very personal care, it's okay to say something like, "I know a really good woman doctor you might like."

I am hard put to come up with additional examples because I rarely find a reason to qualify people by physical or cultural attributes. And I am not trying to be holier-than-thou; it's just that I have been practicing this for 30 years and I've gotten pretty darn good at doing it.

If you aren't already following the Rule of ISMs, please start now. If you already do, thanks from the bottom of my heart. You are making the world a better place for all of us.


P.S. And a Happy St. Patrick's Day to all of you from the very Irish Devereux clan. (I figure that bit of ethnic reference is completely appropriate given the day, although, by way of full disclosure, I must admit that I am Swedish-German- English and not a bit Irish meself.)

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Finding my Feminist Roots: When Being the Best is Undercut By Being a Woman

With the Texas primary coming up on Tuesday, I have been thinking long and hard about who to vote for. Of course, I am going to vote in the Democratic primary - and attend the caucus afterward - but that shouldn't surprise anyone who reads my blog. Clearly, I am a left-leaning liberal feminist from way, way back.

Our choices this year seem like an embarrassment of riches. The excitement of having either a woman or a black person run for president is electrifying. But I have great ambivalence about which candidate best represents my beliefs. Michael and I have been discussing this off and on for several months.

Michael went ahead and voted early one lunch hour at a polling place very convenient to his job. I waited because I haven't been certain who to vote for. I am as susceptible as anyone to the excitement Obama generates and I find him very reminiscent of John Kennedy in his ability to engage the younger generations. (Kennedy died when I was 13.) On the other hand, Clinton is stronger in experience and political savvy. I do not think that "outsiders" really make it in Washington because they don't have the political green stamps and skeleton-in-the-closet knowledge to use in making deals.

My grade school education taught me that our government works on a quid pro quo basis - you help me and I'll help you; you cross me and I'll get you back. Compromise in Congress, compromise between the executive and congressional branches, compromise that has been taken too far with lobbyists but that's another blog. I think Hillary will be far better prepared to negotiate those rocky shoals than Obama. (Compare Lyndon Johnson with Jimmy Carter to get my drift.)

On Friday, Michael and I engaged in yet another discussion of the primary race. I asked him who he had voted for and he indicated Clinton. (I have his permission to reveal that to the world.) I told him that, after much internal debate, I had pretty much decided to vote for Obama. I then asked his reasons and he basically said everything I just stated above. He went a step further and told me that his vote was win/win for him because he voted for the person he thought would be best, but he would be okay if Obama won, going back to the unprecedented situation of a black person and a woman both in serious contention for the Democratic Party's nomination for president.

Musing about this for a minute, Michael added that he remembered learning in college (which hasn't been so long ago for him) that the social hierarchy in America consisted of white men, black men, white women, black women. Privilege and opportunity, acceptance by society followed those rankings.

That rang a bell for me, also and got me thinking. I said to Michael, "We have an older experienced white woman contending with a younger, less experienced, but charismatic black man. What if the roles were reversed? Let's say an older, more experienced black man versus a younger, less experienced, but charismatic white women?" And then I stopped in my tracks, caught by an aha! moment.

There would never be such a competition in our society as it exists today. There could not be a white female or black female Obama. That person would never have made it out of the starting gate. I know it as surely as I know my own name. Michael agreed wholeheartedly when I told him what had occurred to me.

When I went to graduate school, the head of my department told me pointblank that my talents would outstrip my male colleagues because a mediocre man could get into programs that only an exceptional woman could attain. He cautioned me that I might be disappointed in the abilities of the men around me.

Apparently, the same conditions apply to politics today: It takes a superbly talented and experienced woman to get into the political game that a relatively inexperienced - albeit charismatic - man can get into.

Aside: I attended graduate school at Washington University in St. Louis on a full tuition scholarship in a new program that called Technology and Human Affairs that has since morphed into Engineering and Public Policy. Lacking an undergraduate science degree, I could no longer get into this program, but at the beginning it was multi-disciplinary.

You know, I feel terrible about this realization. I feel betrayed in a way. I (among many other people) worked so hard for women's rights in my lifetime and what has it gotten? The chance for a woman to play with the boys, but not on a level playing field. All this has made me decide to vote for Hillary Clinton instead of Barack Obama. He is young and charismatic and he has a future in politics, but let him earn a few more stripes in political service before going to the head of the line in the Democratic Party for 2008's election.

Clinton is experienced, dedicated, and a work horse by all accounts. Even her opponents in Congress applaud her work ethic and her bipartisanship. She is ready to step into the Oval Office and I think she should be the Democratic candidate for President this year. She can beat McCain because she knows the ropes. Even the polls, flawed though they may be, show Clinton besting Obama against McCain. And that is what this is about, right?

I want a Democrat back in the White House. I'll support Obama if he is the party's choice, but my heart - and my vote - is with Hillary Clinton.


PS As they say in Chicago, "Vote early and often!"