What year is it? Because I'm not sure.
Paris Courtney, one of my daughter's friends since kindergarten, from when Paris still combed her hair with a stuffed snake, is finishing up her senior year in high school doing the wow-is-this-way-too-much-work International Baccalaureate program.
Her required senior project includes a poster of the Webster's definition of the word feminist, "A person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes."
“I thought, that’s a pretty neutral standpoint,” said the artist.
But this definition turns out to be so controversial her principal, in Portland, Oregon, the bastion of liberalism, won't let her display the poster at her school.
Principal Mark Neffendorf finds the posters, "disruptive" and "subjective."
Because dictionary definitions are like that.
Like the American flag, the word feminist has been culturally appropriated, the word is now so loaded we can't even use it, or even its definition.
We get upset when ravers wear war bonnets, not understanding the meaning behind the symbol. The appropriation of the word feminist, the word being twisted and deformed until its very definition can't be displayed in a hall of education, is just as egregious an abuse.
What kind of education system does this? What kind of educator says, "I don't want you to learn the meaning of a word?" And if that word is loaded with cultural significance, what an opportunity to investigate the phenomenon.
Maybe through art, the perfect forum for exploring meaning.
Being a feminist has been maligned as a wish for selfish fulfillment by female professionals. But it's those who have the least who gain the most. We must stand up for them. Paris's principal must stand up for them.
Does he think female genital mutilation, sex slavery, unequal pay, access to contraception, domestic violence and access to education worldwide aren't issues? Does he not fear that his senior girls might be raped next year in college, but doesn't have to worry about that with the boys?
And if this principal gets fired, it won't be a statement on his entire sex's capabilities.
If Paris were a boy, studies show that she would have gotten more teacher attention than girls who raised their hands just as often. I hope with this incident, she gets the attention she deserves.
"Feminism, the radical notion that women are people." said Dame Rebecca West.
Portland, Oregon, 2014. The word feminist is still radical.
If Camille had started building the Parthenon on the day she was born, in only two years, she would already be done.
When I was her age...I can hardly bear to think how clue-less I was. She is much more clue-full. Although no more equipped to face finishing the Parthenon. But it's not like she would have had to have built the Parthenon by herself, so never mind.
Okay, so at 17 Joan of Arc led the French army into battle and Judy Garland made $150K in 1936 dollars playing Dorothy and I think Blaise Pascal got off tumblr every once in a while or he wouldn't have had time to invent the calculator.
But there will be time for all that later in life, after she stops scrolling through instagram. I'll help her after I finish my tea, but first, let me adjust the color in this photo.
Ann Oakley was a crack shot by 15. But there will be time for that after I buy Camille a soft scarf and more minutes on her phone and we watch the sad, sad orca movie and I give her her new slippers and boots, and we get the creams for her eczema and her favorite shampoo and we sit at the gelato place on the plaza.
Later Camille will study for the art history test, review the vocabulary works for the quiz in English and finish the essay, while listening to music. I'm sure painting her nails would help her do better on the test, which do I need to remind her? Is tomorrow.
There will be time later to be depressed, maybe even while we are at Ikea. Or when we walk back from town because I refuse to pay for another $20 taxi ride. I hate Switzerland on Sundays when everything is closed and we have to buy eggs at the gas station. But if I get her gummy bears, maybe she will do the little happy dance or fill out the application for a state school in California.
Aunt Valerie was cooking dinners and working at a bank and had a successful business up her leg-o-mutton-sleeved wedding dress by the time she was 17.
And by the time Nicolo Paganini was 17, he had dazzled audiences with his violin virtuosity. But then he had to pawn his violin to pay gambling debts--so I guess splurging on Swiss chocolate isn't so bad, even if we can't get the leather Burberry pants or the new thing in a Louis Vuiton box your roommate's mother bought for her this weekend.
There is still time to build the Parthenon and save the semester math grade, if we get in touch with a tutor.
Maybe we will figure out how Susan Hinton wrote The Outsiders by the time she was 17, after Camille eats her pasta alla carbonara and I finish my glass of presseco.
On the forest trail near my house in Kyiv, a random display of the minimalist lifesyle
When I had a baby I wondered what I really needed to have with me when traveling. A friend gave me one of the best pieces of advice/wake-up calls ever: "All you really need is a boob and diaper. And you can probably improvise the diaper."
The following lists the essentials, and the one-level-above-the-essentials, for when we arrive jet-lagged at post, on a three-day-weekend, five miles from town, with no car.
Living out of a suitcase makes you pare down to what's really important. It's an interesting lesson. For me, the internet and tea in a real cup are the new boob and diaper.
Absolutely don't forget:
visa card/check book
Everything else is just a happy bonus.
salt and pepper
couple tablespoons of baking soda and baking powder in ziplocs
granola bars, rice crispie treats
tea, teapot (a metal one is least risky) and stevia
coffee cone, filters, coffee and grinder
My kids we're all, "DO NOT PACK THAT CHEESE WITH MY CLOTHES!" when I was scrambling for room in the suitcases. But we've all really been enjoying--and it's made the first couple weeks of dinners in Kyiv easier--the perishables I picked up last minute at Trader Joe's. Stuffed with MY clothes in the luggage:
no-nitrate turkey bacon
chicken Apple sausages
cheddar, lite jarlsburg, feta, parmasean
Sheets I bought a set of soft jersey sheets at Target. They come squished into their own little bag, so they hardly take up any room.
Comforter/blanket I am in love with my new silk comforter--lighter than down and less bulky to pack. For Stefan we brought his favorite marshmallow-type blanket. Camille is suffering with the welcome kit sheets and brillo pad blanket.
SHOULD HAVE BROUGHT PILLOWS. Or sent them ahead, they could have been waiting for us in Peter's office and even if we didn't get them until day 2 or 3, it would be better than the weeks we've been sleeping on these wads of dryer-lint.
Bought two pashmental-type turkish towels minutes before we left Washington. They are super soft, beautiful and light weight. I am much happier having them than just the extremely, uh, exfoliating welcome kit towels.
Clothing--whatever. Stefan needs more socks, but those are easy to buy if I can just get downtown. I have my summer stuff, plus jeans, plus some work clothes that I will be totally sick of by the time I get my things. It's chilly already here, it's been raining even, so I'm glad I lugged around a pair of boots all summer. Should have sent more work shoes, but even Kyiv has shoes.
School supplies packed in new back packs.
Dog leash. Some treats would have been nice too.
A deck of cards and books, kids are getting bigger and I don't need toys anymore really. Stefan packed his own juggling balls and Rubicks cubes.
In the past I have ordered a net grocer or King Arthur Flour delivery, but Kiev has a commissary, so we picked up chocolate chips and peanut butter, and the stores in Kyiv have oatmeal, popcorn and really good flour.
Some drinking glasses, (this is the second time the welcome kit gave us only plastic cups, ugh) teacups, mugs, wine glasses, the wine aerater and a vase for flowers. A couple more work outfits and/or spare shirts for Peter would have been good too.
The dog has taken living out of a suitcase to a new level. She has been sleeping in a suitcase every night. Next time, send ahead a doggie bed.
Today Camille and I headed out to one of the main walking street of Kyiv, Khreshchatyk Boulevard. I'm looking for a fabric store that a local publication wrote a raving review about, but only tells us the street, not the address.
I've downloaded a taxi app, but Uber it is not. The app can't find our street, and neither can the taxi driver. I walk a block to the gate and have the guard explain to the taxi driver where our street is. The driver finds us and in the rain, takes us downtown. Traffic is horrible. Then we discover why. The driver turns off the radio and we can hear people shouting.
The driver is doing the exact opposite of what RSO recommends: he keeps driving towards the demonstration. Drivers, wrapped in the Ukrainian flags, are getting out of their cars. A large crowd is chanting something which with my excellent Russian language skills sounds like, "Wha wha wah! Wha wha wha!"
I have the driver stop. It's raining and there is a demonstration. What a perfect day to sight see!
Chocoladitsa provides us with a warm covered terrace in which to drink melted-candy-bar hot chocolate and fresh mint tea. This costs $8 including tip. Camille and I sit there for a long time, planning our Christmas holiday. It's always good to have something to look forward to is my policy, demonstrations on the street or no. And when we go back out, the crowd has left and the sun is out!
We stroll along until I realise we have come to the end of Khreshchatyk Boulevard, and wow-- look at that statue! I remember seeing it surrounded by fire on CNN back in the spring. This quiet park-like square witnessed the world's most recent re-revolution. And to prove it, you can pick up some souvenir toilet paper and door mats printed with poltitians faces.
So we stand in Ukraine's most dramatic spot and marvel. Never did find the fabric store though.
For the first time ever, as soon as we walked into our newly-assigned house, the miracle of the internet was all set up and ready to sink into. But for the first time ever, we walked in to no living room furniture. If I had to choose, I would pick internet, but one week later, we are all ready for some embassy-issued sofas.
Surrounding our house: apple trees, grape arbors and pear trees full of fruit. That's how far out of town we are: we live in a neighborhood of dachas.
Maybe because I'm not working, not in the middle of an MFA program, not in the land of shopping, don't have teeny kids, am not working with a contractor on the house, don't have any of my stuff to take care of, organize, clean or use-- or maybe I have just forgotten how to amuse myself--I am at a loss for things to do.
Or all this internet is making me boring. Tomorrow I will try knitting, reading and staring at the apple tree in our yard and see if that helps.
On Saturday, Peter and I had nothing better to do, so we went on a six hour stroll around our new city. We walked past parks and metro stations and the most obvious evidence we are back in the former Soviet Union: kiosks selling kvass, everyone's favorite beverage made of fermented bread.
We walked down one major street all the way to Saint Sophia, the cathedral in the very center of the city. On Sunday, Ukrainians celebrated Independence Day; on the square in front of Saint Sophia's--built in 1027--stalls were set up with handmade items for sale, and everyone was wearing embroidered national dress. Down the road was a street fair, with tons of paintings I wouldn't wish on my worst hotel room and many that I regret not buying.
Along with sofas, the house lacked another crucial feature: wine glasses. Peter and I bought a crystal pair on the street for a dollar from someone selling old stuff, then had a cup of tea from another kiosk--it's fun to be back in a country that understands my constant need for cheap crystal and non-stop tea. On the way home the taxi driver kept saying, "You walked all this way?" --more than seven miles.
The three-day Independence-weekend was a nice bonus, and this weekend is another three-day weekend! If you have to show up with jet lag and a mostly unfurnished house with pillows as fluffy as one cotton ball each--two three-day weekends in a row is a good way to begin.
We pass the four day work-weeks wandering around the bare herringbone-style hardwood floors, listening to Good Mythical Morning all day long and waiting for our lives to start. At night, we lay awake, feeling like it's dinner time. One particularly bad night, I was awake until 7:30 am.
A couple nights ago, at 2:30 am, not feeling tired at all, but knowing I should go to bed, I made the mistake of checking my email one last time. I found an urgent note from our neighbor in Tahoe. A bear tore down our front door and rummaged through our kitchen. It's the same issue as in Ukraine, someone wants his territory back. Next thing you know, the raccoons who work as guards will be leaving because they've been drafted.
This bear didn't touch the vodka, but did eat tofu corn dogs (delicately leaving behind the sticks), no-nitrate bacon and frozen shrimp. Clearly a Californian and not a Russian bear.
Yesterday I went to the Embassy, which made me miss everyone at U.S. Embassy Bucharest terribly. I started weeping in line in the cafeteria, wishing for the faces of darling people who work in the cafeteria in Bucharest.
In Moscow, I remember telling my friend Erica: When you find yourself crying remind yourself, it's the jetlag.
I honestly don't remember feeling like this in Moscow. (Or Bucharest, or Niger. Did I?) I must have, or I wouldn't have been so full of wise advice for Erica. But in Moscow I had the metro right outside my door and didn't have to think about learning to drive just so I could buy a wineglass! Camille didn't leave after just a few days! Bears didn't break in! We had sofas!
This has been the most exciting, boring week ever.
On the day we are flying to Ukriane--the war zone you can take your family to!- to see where we will be living for the next two years, we are problem solving massive renting issues with the new house. I needed a reminder of why we wanted a California home base to begin with. Yes, THIS. This and this and this.
I thought it was some kind of plein air poison oak, but apparently, I'm so allergic to biting flies my ankle has blown up like a balloon. A swollen, blistered, festering balloon.
Since we arrived, the house has been doing nothing but creating its own to-do list: hey guys! trim trees, replace railings, install bear-proof box for garbage, remove mismatched track lighting, which does have matching long cords stringing their way to various outlets, install clothesline since it's 85 degrees everyday. Then my mom came to visit. But months ago I had signed up for this outdoor painting workshop with Northern California artist Phillys Schafer. So the timing was perfect to be away, all day, everyday, while crucial decisions were to be made like: which limbs on the trees should be loped off and a bear box that is brown or green?
In spite of the bad timing, the painting workshop has been a refreshing mental swim in the lake. Phyllis spouts excellent advice constantly and demonstrates her amazing technique. She somehow juggles students with advanced degrees in art or architecture or have been painting for years, to students who have never painted before day one of the workshop. Her teaching agility almost surpasses her painting ability, but she's a rockin' painter, so not really.
She whipped this out on Tuesday during one session.
We've painted up on Mount Rose at 8000 feet, along a creek--where I had to make little paper ankle protectors to keep the flies off--and at Star Harbor on the Nevada side of the lake. My little easel has taken me places away from the demanding house that I never would have visited if not for the class.
Tomorrow I will be "finding the edges" and "not getting too noodle-y" --some of Phillis' words to live by--near the creek. Then we go back to our location where I lost my mountaineering sunglasses that Stefan hates, and then two days later found them in the grass where I'd painted a pine tree's portrait.
"If it gets too much to deal with where you are, go somewhere else for a while," says Phillis about details in painting, but also my life.
Starting Saturday I'll devote myself to visitors and home-improvement. And I'll have six paintings and fly bite scars to remind myself of a week when I went away for a while.
The last three houses we've lived in: Niamey, Niger, Moscow and Bucharest, we saw photos before we moved in, but didn't actually see the houses. We are in the foreign service, man! We have never been to the city in which we agree to live for three years, let alone choose the house. Shopping for a house on the internet didn't scare me; so what if we can't actually visit it before we buy it? At least we, not the post's housing board, get to choose which one it is.
I've been looking at properties in Tahoe since all there were were glossy property magazines. Since I splashed into the water from a slide in Meek's Bay and sat at a card table playing Aggrevation with my brother-in-law (and I think that was on he and my sister's honeymoon--which my parents and I totally crashed!) this place smells like home to me.
Peter and I honeymooned here as well, my newly-wedding-ringed hand holding down the crossword puzzle in a cafe by the lake.
Pine needles, rocks, stars, the moon through the sugar pines, crazy crows answering Stefan's "Ca-caw!" Freezing cold, clear water, an altitude head-ache, a bright blue sky.
My somehow inner family is here, in the horse shoe pit next to the house and the chipmunks scrambling around and around the cedar trunks. My sister and neices visited first, my sister's cabin is just a few miles down the road.
We aren't even going to the lake it's so much fun to play house! Peter removed 100 screws from the walls, painted and did things with a hand saw. Turns out all those lego kits were actually putting-together-Ikea-furniture-training for Stefan. We are making Camille's room pretty.
Stefan plays harmonica by the fire, a bat flew into the house at sunset, and Peter and I came home to a place we'd never been before.
When the movers finished with the house our final weight was thirteen hundred pounds over our maximum of 7900.
The shipping office couldn't tell us what the cost would be to pay for the overage to shipped, but I'd heard nightmare amounts of $8 a pound. The detritus of our lives or my antique art table wasn't worth $10,400-- even if it was only one dollar a pound, it wasn't worth $1,040.
Going out to the warehouse and having the movers open the crates so we could go through each and every box and throw stuff away sounded like a nightmare.
Meanwhile the car's differential light came on and the car started making a strange noise.
And we couldn't go out to the warehouse until later because I had a job interview.
Peter dealt with the car, I did my interview--not my best interview I must say--and we headed to the warehouse, way out in Corbeanca to throw literally half a ton of our personal items in the garbage.
We waited an hour while they rearranged the containers and lined up all eight of ours. They opened the first one with a crow bar, and started opening the packed boxes. They made a dumpster-sized box for us, and we started pitching stuff in: books, papers, my head of Hera statue, half empty boxes of stationery, empty boxes and mostly-used-up candles. We got rid of our mattress when I pointed out that it was over 17 years old and even the Embassy only keeps mattresses for 15 years.
My antique table weighed 100 pounds for the top and 100 pounds for the legs. We left behind an Ikea dresser with wonky drawers, and a ton--well, one-twentieth of a ton--of shelves. I parted with shoes, doll clothes, old postcards and a huge stash of fabric. And like a needle in a haystack, in a wad of paper with a seashell and a hair-tie, we found the missing back door key! (Which saved having to have to pay to have the door re-keyed.)
Going through the boxes and throwing stuff out was surprisingly easy. Detached from the house, the items wrapped in paper had less emotional pull. Much of the stuff, like massively-heavy step-down transformers that never worked, we'd meant to get rid of anyway.
We kept kid's drawings, all Stefan's legos, all our clothes, which we'd already culled numerous times in the last month, our antique cabinet, artwork, everything from Camille's room becuase she lives light on the land, and most importantly, photos.
Sitting on an ice chest in a warehouse, having four movers open every box at your feet with a huge trash container next to you is the most efficient way to get rid of stuff!
By nine p.m. we'd gone through six containers and had gotten rid of 1500 pounds. We went through one more container. Peter gave his bike rack to Vlad, I unloaded some shoes and we found the vaccuum cleaner that belongs in the house here in Bucharest. And rice! Why did we have so much rice? One box we opened was a case of packing tape the movers had mistakenly left in our container.
With the last round we purged 100 more pounds, and I traded it for just the top of the antique table. I never liked the legs anyway. I'll buy new, better legs. After I throw something out of equal weight.