Friday, January 31, 2014


I have mixed feelings about this shirt.

Actually, I have pretty unmixed feelings about this shirt. I don’t like it.

I don’t like it because it sends a message that a daughter is her father’s property (my princess?)

I don’t like it because it sends a message that there is conflict between daddy and the young men his daughter chooses to date, even before the young man has shown himself to want anything other than to be loving and kind to her.

I don’t like it because it rejects the idea of consensual sex between the daughter and the young man.

I don’t like it because it models violence as a normal part of human relations. 

Of course, I do like the idea of fathers holding their daughters in high regard and being willing to protect them. I would like the T-shirt more if I thought that there is no way that it could co-exist with a parent who would ask a daughter who was raped or threatened, “Why were you out so late? Why were you drinking? Why were you dressed like that?”

But you know what would make me really like the shirt? If it were directed at the sons of the fathers wearing it, if it were titled “Rules for Being Allowed to Date Someone Else’s Daughter”, if numbers 2 and 6 were missing, and if number 8 said, “She’s a precious human being with the right and power to say no, just like you, not your conquest.”

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Cutting Loose

As I wrote last week, I heard readings from her latest novel, The Cutting Season, by award winning author Attica Locke, and immediately bought the book and had it autographed. 

The book more than lived up to the promise of the excerpts the author read. The genre is that of a murder mystery, and I love murder mysteries, but the book reads more like a novel in which the mystery, while well written and satisfactorily solved, serves as a plot device to develop the characters and themes. 

The main character is a Louisiana woman, Caren Gray, the descendant of slaves who has come to work as the manager of a plantation where her ancestors worked both as slaves and as free paid workers. The plantation, Belle Vie, passed into the hands of the Clancy family after the Civil War and at the time the book opens, has been run as a historical site and venue for weddings and parties for two generations.

Caren herself grew up on the plantation because her mother worked there as a cook. We learn as the book develops why Caren left the plantation, why she argued with her mother and was estranged from her at her death, and why she came back to live and work as the plantations’s manager. Caren’s fractured relationship with her mother is one, in my eyes the main one, of several relationships at the heart of the book. 

First and most important are the personal relationships. In addition to Caren’s relationship with her late mother, revealed in flashbacks, there is Caren’s relationship with her own daughter, which, as we learn in the first scene with the two of them together, is beginning to experience some strain. Morgan wants to attend her father’s upcoming wedding, and Caren has put off buying her a plane ticket. Eventually this leads to us learning about both Caren’s and Morgan’s relationship with Morgan’s father. Finally, there is Caren’s childhood relationship with the younger son of the Clancy family, Bobby, which ends when they both reach puberty.

There are also the wider relationships: Caren’s relationship with her employer and with the employees she manages. Her employees, as it turns out, view her as something of an outsider and protect her from information about what is going on at the plantation, even when that information involves her own daughter. Her employer, the older Clancy son Raymond, hints from time to time that he views her as a charity case who owes something to his family. 

Both Caren’s friendship with Bobby and professional relationship with Raymond are part of the book's treatment of the relationship between the white members of society and the black ones.  But there is a new racial conflict brewing between the black workers and the new migrant workers coming in from Mexico and Central America to work the jobs in the fields for lower wages.

Finally there are the geographical relationships. Both Caren and the Clancy brothers view Belle Vie as home, but the differences in the way they do so further develops the treatment of the relationship between races as well as explaining more about Caren’s relationship with both her mother and daughter. Additionally, there is the relationship between the plantation and the cane fields beyond.

When Caren finds the body of a dead migrant worker on the plantation grounds, all these relationships come into play. Caren has reason to believe her daughter knows something about the murder, and calls the child’s father, who takes it on himself to come down to Louisiana from Washington, DC to see for himself what is going on.  An even older mystery, about the disappearance of one of Caren’s ancestor’s known as Jason, becomes significant in looking at the recent one. An unsatisfactory employee whom Caren had been about to fire becomes a suspect in the murder investigation. The secrets the plantation workers are keeping finally come to light and with information obtained by a journalist who is writing a story on the labor practices of the company that owns the cane fields, eventually lead to the killer.

The real resolution to the story, however, in my mind at least, takes place in Caren’s evolving relationships with her daughter, her daughter’s father, and the Clancy family. The book has not so much a happy ending as a hopeful one, as Caren is able to let go of some of the guilt over her estrangement from her mother and some of the control she keeps over her daughter, and to cut loose from Belle Vie and consider moving away from Louisiana. Yet for those who are fans of pure whodunits, this book works well, too, with the solution being enough of a surprise to keep the reader puzzled but not so much of one as to seem like something that would only happen in a book.

So thank you, Attica Locke, for such a wonderful addition to my library and I hope to the libraries of my readers as well.

Friday, January 24, 2014


My husband and I went to the Shaw Center last night to see the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence given out. The award was given to a woman named Attica Locke, for her book The Cutting Season.  The book is about an African American woman who becomes the manager of a plantation that is used for wedding and parties, after growing up on that plantation when her mom worked there as a cook, and leaving it the first chance she got.

The author said* she got the idea for the book when she went to the wedding of a black woman and white man at Oak Alley. She herself is married to a white man. At any rate, she didn't realize that Oak Alley was a real plantation until she got there, and then she became extremely angry at the juxtaposition of the pretty setting with the history of slavery there.  She also found it bizarre that no one at the wedding acknowledged the history. The bride's father is a preacher, Ms. Locke said, and “I’ve never met a black preacher who couldn't find a microphone at a wedding", but he didn't say anything. 

"They didn't even jump a broom, nothing". She and her husband said a prayer (quietly, not out loud, I think.) 

Locke later went back and stayed at Oak Alley overnight and gathered ideas for her novel. She noticed that these days, the gardeners on the plantation are all Mexicans and the workers in the cane fields behind it are migrant workers, "and I don't know how anyone stays there without getting a headache". I really liked her, and bought a copy of the book and had it autographed.

I have heard many authors speak, between the Gaines Award events and the Historical Foundation monthly meetings, and usually don’t find myself thinking that I like the author. I don’t generally think I dislike the author, either, I just focus on the work and whether I want to buy the book and read it. 

Ms. Locke had begun by saying, “I’m going to be real”, and in my mind, that’s a signal that no, I’m not. I say that not because I think the people who use that phrase are lying, but because simply using the phrase reflects an awareness that we present ourselves in different ways in different situations. That being the case, the speaker has to pull up “real” from the pool of potential personas, and how real is that, when you think about it?

Yet when she began to speak, about the wedding and her husband, and black preachers and her subsequent trip to Oak Alley, I did believe I was hearing the real woman sharing her reactions and confusions with the audience because she trusted that we, too, would either see what she saw, or else at least have our own minds boggled by her description of what she called “plantation Disneyland”.  

I should add at this point that Saint Anonymous’ UMW is planning a trip to Oak Alley in April, and that my best friend D, the one I walk with every week and share birthday outings with, is coming with me. What I probably haven’t mentioned before is that my friend D is African American. I shared with her by email earlier today Ms. Locke’s take on the wedding experience, and got the response, “Gee, how interesting.   Yes, a good read before visiting Oak Alley.”

We should say a prayer.

*all quotations are as best as I can remember.


My sister posted this picture of my dad and me to my Facebook timeline, with the comment, “You were the apple of his eye.” The picture was taken at my niece’s wedding, four weeks before my own wedding to John.

I'm the one on the left, rocking that 1980's perm and beaded top.

The impression I got from my dad was that my sister was the apple of his eye. She is the baby, and a sunshiny personality, whereas I am sarcastic and withdrawn. On the other hand, he frequently remarked to me that of all of his five children, I was the only one who was planned. As arguments for family planning go, I’m not too sure how well that works.

I came to realize in time that my dad loved all of his children, including his stepson, but he had a way of praising each of us to the others, which, while not a a bad thing in itself, combined with his habit of teasing and criticizing whichever of us he was with, created the opposite effect of what he was going for, promoting family unity among his widely dispersed offspring. My poor dad. He had the most amazing insight into other people, and as I got older, I relied on his advice on how to handle a wide range of work and life problems, but his insight stopped short of himself. As you can see from the picture, I am my father’s daughter, but I hope not in that respect. 

My sister, however, was not being resentful when she posted, “You were the apple of his eye", just commenting on how happy we look to be together in this picture. My sister is going through a bad time that is testing even her sunny nature, and I have been doing the best I can to provide long distance support. My dad would be proud of how all his children are rallying around her.

Just like he planned.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Mad Dash

“So what did you buy in your mad dash?” CD asked.  The  “mad dash” he referred to was my buying spree at the mall the night before, triggered in part by my being mad at my husband. 

My darling had been in a mood all day long. We had plans to go to New Orleans for lunch and then to watch racing at the Fairgrounds, plans that were my idea. However, he had signed off on them, and I had gone cheerfully to watch a movie with him Saturday so it was my turn to pick.

When it came time to leave, however, John was having problems with an engineering program he was using to double check breach analysis figures. He kept getting an error message.

I suggested we cancel our plans for the Fairgrounds so he could stay home and mess with the software. He declined. All the way to New Orleans, however, he mused out loud about why he was having problems with the software.

It didn’t help that our first choice restaurant was closed. We headed for another favorite restaurant, with John speculating the entire way that they would be closed, too. Actually, they were open, but that didn’t make him any happier that I could see, especially when the waiter gave us the bill for the party at the next table, a bill that was $15 more than ours. It all got straightened out, but by that time I didn’t have high hopes for what was left of the day. The high point was when the ice cream cones my husband bought us melted some on his way to our seats. He threw his away, but I ate mine, getting ice cream on several articles of clothing, plus my nose, in the process. By time I returned from cleaning up in the ladies room, my darling had decided we were never going to that race track again. “Well, you’re not,” I thought to myself, “because next time I come here, you won’t be with me.” We watched a few more races without betting and then went home.

I got home to find a message on the answering machine from a jeweler who was fixing a necklace I got as a Christmas gift by lengthening the chain. It turned out that they were still open and would be for long enough for me to get to the mall and pick it up. I would have let it go until today, but I liked the idea of putting some distance between me and the grump.

The repairs to the necklace were $50, and I had been in need of a new nightgown with long sleeves ever since the colder than normal weather set in. As soon as I got to Dillard’s, I was of course confronted by rows of cosmetics, and the realization hit me that I could use a lipstick that would go better with the coral colored blouse I was wearing than my current one did. Only after I tried on and fell in love with the perfect shade by Dior did I find out that their lipsticks are $34. (Their lip liners are $30, but I bypassed that until I can try the one I have and see how it works.)

I wandered around the nightgown department facing more sticker shock. If I hadn’t been living in a cave, I would have known of Hanro of Switzerland, a company that makes $200 nightgowns of the sort that look like long T-shirts. I might, at a stretch, pay $200 for a silk and lace confection of a nightgown that would be completely impractical and not stay on very long anyway, but not for a long T-shirt. Yes, I know, that makes no sense. But I have my dollar rule. If I pay $200 for something, it had better make me $200 worth of happy.

As I headed for a fitting room with the two lesser priced, prettier looking gowns I did find, my phone began playing Love by John Boswell, my special ringtone for my husband. I fished the phone out of my purse, thinking Love is a Battlefield might make a better choice. “I’m sorry,” were the first words I heard. The next words I heard were an account of how he had tried the software on the new tablet I had given him for Christmas, and it worked fine, so the problem was his old computer, and when would I be home so we could go out for dinner? I promised him that I just needed to try on two things and then I’d be home.

From the top: "Mine, mine mine", "Maybe" and Maybe Not". This is exactly how I try to organize items in a dressing room. Thank you, Dillard's.

“That was my husband, calling to apologize,” I said to a bored saleswoman who hadn’t heard me on the phone and didn’t care. “Where can I try these on?” That she cared about. I tried on the gowns and bought them both, for a total of another $127. I talked to the saleswoman about the $200 nightgowns. “Their panties are expensive, too” she said, pointing to a pair of plain white boy briefs on the counter marked $21. Good thing my husband had called. 

So this morning I commented to friends online that I really shouldn’t go to the mall when I’m mad at my husband, prompting the “mad dash” comment. Of course, nothing but the overpriced lipstick was a true impulse purchase. And it did look good on me when we went out to dinner. So did the necklace.  And the - 

Well, let’s just leave it at that.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

I'll Have the Salad

“Don’t you have a blog to tend to?” Wink asked in a recent thread on the OT. I forget what exactly I had done to annoy her, but I find that sometimes simply posting while elderly is enough to clue my juniors into the fact that they are not going to be young forever, either. At any rate, she is right, of course, but I have been facing blogger’s block, if there is such a thing.

A few days later, in that day’s lunch thread*, a new poster responded to someone’s mulling over whether to have a salad with the words, “No good story ever started with ‘I’ll have the salad’.”

“Has any good story ever started with, “I’ll have the steak?” I asked. Back in my day, calling someone a “meat and potatoes man” (and it was never a “meat and potatoes woman”, because she was having the salad) was a way of describing him as manly but unadventurous. A man’s man, but in the sense that he drank and cussed and knew how to fix the plumbing, not in the sense that he could make his way through a new country and blend in with the inhabitants while eluding spies. “Plenty of them,” our new poster (whose name abbreviates to SOS) maintained. So being the literal minded soul I am, I asked for titles and authors.

Of the ensuing spat let me just say that it turned out that SOS meant that no adventures start with safe choices, and that he backed down graciously when another poster told him that I have a blog about salad, so that I didn’t like to see salad disrespected. I bumped into SOS a little later on a thread about the upcoming New Orleans Jazz fest, and had to tease him that one year we had gone both weekends with a Danish foreign exchange student, “who (and I am not making this up) loved to make salads.” At this point SOS decided that maybe it was better to say, “No good story ever started with ‘I’ll have the soup’.”

But this led to my asking myself, if by story we mean someone’s personal narrative and not a written story, then how do we decide where the story started? Since my last post was penguin pictures taken in Antarctica, let’s take that story as an example. I first came to the realization I could go to Antarctica when I got a brochure for an Antarctic cruise from my alumni association, but my interest in the White Continent was piqued years earlier, when I read the book, Mind Over Matter: The Epic Crossing of the Antarctic Continent, by Sir Ranulph Fiennes. I subsequently read a few other books by Sir Ranulph and think I can safely say that he probably never started an adventure with the words, “I’ll have the salad.” Perhaps the words, “That explosion was a little more powerful than I intended,” but not, “I’ll have the salad.”

However, reading the book did not leave me with a concrete plan for getting myself to Antarctica, and I had pretty much forgotten it by time the cruise brochure arrived in the mail, a few months before our fifth and last foreign exchange student, Laura, arrived at our door. I looked it over, wondering how I could convince my husband to go, and how I could convince Laura’s parents to let us take her along. Laura solved the latter problem by asking to go to another host family, but before she moved on, we took her out to dinner at a nearby restaurant. We had to sit and wait for a table, and the person waiting opposite me was holding a menu, with the desserts prominently displayed on the back. I must have been on a diet back then, because I grumped about being confronted with pictures of gooey desserts. Laura promptly placed her hand between me and the pictures, saying, “So” with her usual Gallic charm.

It took three years, but I date that dinner as the beginning of my story of how we went to Antarctica. That means, that yes, my adventure began with the words, “I’ll have the salad.”

Remains of our salad at La Nazarenas, Buenos Aires

*There are three daily threads that are referred to as IM threads: the Good Morning Thread, the Lunch Thread, and the LNST (Late Night Snack Thread). That’s why I find myself drawn to the OT. It is the hangout for bigots, MRA’s, would-be PUA’s, fat-shamers, slut-shamers, and assorted types who are different from me, but this ongoing habit of checking in with each other every morning, noon, and night is kind of, well, there is no other word for it, sweet.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Penguin Pictures

There's a reason for these.

Okay, the reason was that I needed a place to park them to give them a web address so I could post them in a message, but now that they are here, I'll just leave them.