Monday, August 31, 2009

Women's Work

My parents raised me to be a feminist. Not the stereotypical man-hating, bra-burning kind of feminist, but the kind who isn't afraid to tackle things just because they are considered a "man's job".

When we had trees cut down around the yard over the summer, I challenged myself to cut up one of the fallen trees with a chain saw....just so I'd know how to do it. Jay gamely taught me how to do it safely (I have a healthy fear of chain saws). I learned that upper body strength is something I don't possess and very necessary to handle a chainsaw. Still, I can say I did it. I couldn't move my arms for the next week, but I did it. I can also honestly say I did not feel at all compelled to help with stacking the resulting firewood.

Likewise, I have tried to make sure my children don't buy into stereotypes of jobs that are appropriate for their gender only. I also try to encourage my teenagers to be their own homework, their own laundry, clean their own room. The idea is not to have clean rooms and clothes (although that would be nice), but for them to be comfortable with doing it themselves. According to the experts, it's supposed to build self-esteem.
I have a dear friend we'll call Marjorie. I can mention her because I know she won't read this. She wasn't raised to be as self-sufficient as I was. For instance, she always goes to the same full-serve gas station because she insists that whenever she's tried to pump gas herself, she does it wrong. There are many other examples of ways in which Marjorie could be more self-sufficient, but I digress. My point is that I don't want my daughter to be like Marjorie and depend upon a man to do the most basic of things for her.

So when we came home from back-to-school shopping at Staples yesterday with a desk chair for each teen and a computer desk for Kelsey (Tyler already had a desk), it became their job to do the assembly. Jay had warned me that he wouldn't have time to put anything together. Like I was going to ask....Hey, I used to work at a furniture store....simple assemblies don't scare me. I even read directions. But I wanted the kids to be able to do it themselves. Tyler was easy; he didn't want help and feels compelled to demonstrate his independence quite often.

Kelsey initially played the "I don't know how" card. What....they didn't teach you to read directions in 8th grade? I encouraged her to look at the pictures, read the directions if all else failed. I reminded her that all the members of the family on my side were mechanically inclined, with the exception of my brother (sorry Paul. You know it's true). My dad enjoys carpentry and working around the house. My mother can repair a toilet. My sister can hang sheet rock.

Once Kelsey got going, you could just see her mood change from a whiney "I caaan't" to "Hey....Look at what I did." The desk was more complicated so I helped, but she still took the lead. In the end, Kelsey had a new desk and chair she was very proud of and the attitude of someone who's now not intimidated by basic assembly. Kelsey was so pleased, she had to show off the pictures of her assembly process to her boyfriend to prove she'd done it all by herself.

Here, she poses in her normal state with her new accomplishment.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


When I first started researching the idea of keeping chickens as pets, everything I gathered indicated that chickens will eat just about anything, the exception being raw potatoes. I assumed that the chickens and the dog would be able to share in leftovers and the chickens would benefit from the items that normally are dumped in the compost pile (affectionately referred to as "the landfill"). Chardonnay the dog continues to eat most everything in front of her, but the chickens are actually picky.

I chopped up some overly-ripe strawberries the other day to serve our little pullets and cockerel. They came to me expectedly, looking for the handout my presence is associated with. I tossed the berries on the grass and got "the look". Since birds' eyes are on either side of their heads, they have to turn their head to look directly at something. In this case, one eye on the strawberry and the other on me. It was clearly a "What the Cluck?" expression as in "you expect me to eat that?"

My chickens don't like strawberries or tomatoes or several other things you'd think they would like. Their favorite menu items are pasta and eggs. The eggs can be boiled, fried, scrambled, whatever. My birds are into recycling apparently. They do love seafood. I'm sure they would eat chicken too, but we're not even going to try it….it just seems wrong.

I haven't eaten red meat or pork since 1984. Blame the research I did for an argumentative speech at Ithaca College on laboratory animals. When you discover the truth behind scientific research practices on lab animals, you also learn about factory farming. I swore off all meat except for seafood. I ate turkey only on Thanksgiving and Christmas day for several years as my one cheat. I finally added poultry back into my diet when my first child started eating table food, mainly to make it easier to feed him. Now that I have chickens, I still eat poultry, but with more misgivings. Soon after we moved the chicks outside into their coop, Jay and I were out there watching them. He asked that loaded question, "What's for dinner?" This was one of the few times I'd actually given some thought to dinner preparation, but I felt self-conscience about saying it out loud, in front of my new pets. So I spelled it, "C-H-I-C-K-E-N".

Friday, August 14, 2009

Cat Party

Last weekend, Jay and I attended the TICA (The International Cat Association) Northeast Regional Banquet and cat show in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. In addition to the normal cat show all day on Saturday and Sunday, there was a dinner and awards presentation Saturday night at the Royal Plaza Hotel. We went because not only is it an opportunity to party with a bunch of cat fanciers with no kids around, but my red tabby male, Tanstaafl Mickey Finn of Dracoonfly “Mickey” (shown here) was to receive a regional award for 11th Best Allbreed Champion for the 2008-2009 show season.

What does this mean, you ask? This means that out of the top 20 scoring unaltered adult cats (called the Champion class), Mickey was in 11th place of all the cat breeds in the Northeast Region. The Allbreed classification is further divided into longhaired and shorthaired breeds. Of the longhaired breeds, Mickey was 4th Best in our region. Either way, he earned the right to have the initials RW (Regional Winner) in front of his name to go along with the SGC for Supreme Grand Champion. There’s a lot more I could explain on cat shows, titles, etc., but I sense the eyeballs are already rolling with TMI (that’s Too Much Information).

My Rosette Pasties
But not only was I there to collect my cat’s award, but to celebrate the awards my friends’ cats won also. This was not the first time my cats have won Regional Awards, but definitely the most fun I’ve had at a banquet. Key to this was how well run it was this year by the Americats Cat Club….it was over by 9:30 pm. Normally these things drag on until 11. The other key was, again, the amount of wine I drank and the friends I drank it with (shout out to Mary Rastafari, aka RastaMary). I could say more, but what happens at cat shows, stays with the litter box.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Camp Stegall IV

I'm departing from my usual scintillating stories about cats, chickens and dogs in order to wax warm and fuzzy on something else important to family. Not just my husband Jay and the teenagers who live with us, but people I grew up with, the people with whom I have more in common than I care to admit sometimes. My family is fairly ordinary; my parents have divorced and remarried, both sets settling in North Carolina. My siblings and I live all over the country with my brother Paul (a.k.a. "Howard" with his own blog who sometimes comments on mine) representing Arizona, sister Diana resides in Minnesota, step-brother Jeff in Georgia and me in Connecticut. Paul and I each have two children, Diana and Jeff have more freedom.

The middle generation:
Paul, Diana, me and Jeff

The tradition is and has been for us to get together at Thanksgiving at somebody's house, eat a lot, see a movie and sing Christmas carols until we drop (or we convince Paul to stop). However, it's not always been possible for everyone to travel at that time. Having grown up as a child from a "broken home", I didn't fully appreciate the lengths my parents went to in order to have our family get-togethers until I was older. If my dad and step-mom, June, were hosting a holiday gathering with us children, my mother and step-father, John, were always invited and vice versa. So although my parents, Joel and Ruth, haven't been married to each other since I was nine-years-old, they are truly friends and accepting of the other's spouses. I'm sure this has caused angst between them at various times, but they have somehow worked it out internally for the benefit of everyone.

The younger and older generations:
John, Mom, Weston, Tyler, Paris, Kelsey, Dad and June with a rainbow backdrop

Four years ago, my dad proposed the idea of renting a house at the beach for a week in the summer where we'd all gather without the pressure of holiday travel and getting back to work/school after just 2-3 days together. Thus, Camp Stegall was born. He found a house with its own swimming pool, a block from the beach in Garden City, South Carolina (about 30 minutes south of Myrtle Beach). It is fully furnished, very upscale, with 6 bedrooms, 8 bathrooms and 2 kitchens. Each bedroom has a full bathroom. Mom and John stay at a hotel or camp nearby, spending the day and dinners with the kids and grandkids. Dad and June foot most of the rental bill and bring most of the staples - food, soap, linens, etc. So although we have to cook for ourselves (each family has its designated night to prepare dinner for everyone), and may become tired of each other after awhile, it's our vacation. Hey, anytime I don't have to deal with pet hair, feed or clean up after cats is a vacation for me.
Jeff comes up with some sort of souvenir gift for that year; so far we've had Camp Stegall visors, T-shirts, travel mugs and carry bags.
Dad and his famous nose immortalized on a travel mug for Camp Stegall III in 2008

This year, most of us visited Brook Green Gardens together, a beautiful area filled with statues and flowers. Definitely a nice place to visit, but the 90-plus temperatures and high humidity were draining. Go in the spring if you get the chance to visit.
Brookgreen Gardens, Murrells Inlet, SC

The Cousins
Kelsey (14), Paris (11), Tyler (17) and Weston (14)

Camp Stegall is our newest family tradition that I hope will continue into the next generation. It's kind of cool when you actually get along with and like your own family.