Thursday, November 26, 2009

his name was einar

When I was a kid I read a long series of books that had belonged to my mom. The heroine was a young woman, and the books chronicle her life growing up, getting married, and starting a family. Along the way the readers got a few valuable life lessons. What particularly stuck in my mind was the the idea that if you go out without your wedding band, you have to watch out because men will think you are available and it will be awkward.

It was all steeped in 1940s morals and values, and I gobbled it up.

The main character gets married around book 2 or 3. The courtship is traditional and safe, and she marries someone her family know well and love.

The traditional heroine in those books from when my mom was growing up married her first cousin. So, I've always associated marrying your cousin with safety.

In the US, not so much. From today's New York Times:

WHEN Kimberly Spring-Winters told her mother she was in love, she didn’t expect a positive response — and she didn’t get one.

“It’s wrong, it’s taboo, nobody does that,” she recalled her mother saying.

But shortly after the conversation, Ms. Spring-Winters, 29, decided to marry the man she loved: her first cousin.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

substance, substance, substance

I've read Sarah Palin's book Going Rogue. I was going to say something smart about it, but it's just really tedious. Poorly written, 400+ pages, nothing interesting.

What I remember a week after finishing the book is the constant presence of Ms. Palin's young daughter Piper, 7. Her mom mentions her often, and Piper really seems to be a spunky little girl.

And then it hit me: That's how Sarah Palin wants us to see her. Spunky little girl. That's probably what she was at that age, and it's what she wants to remain.

Sad part is, though, that when you're a grown-up all attitude isn't enough.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

if you have cancer, you want to know it, believe me

There are new guidelines out for mammograms and women's self exams in screening for breast cancer. In short, in the US mammograms will no longer be mandatory for women in their 40s, and women will no longer be taught to examine their own breasts for lumps.

I was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer when I was 46 years old. I had found the lump myself. I was not part of a risk group. I have no family history of breast cancer. Most breast cancer patients don't.

I understand how statistics work. The bottom line is that on the whole, the gain of all of those mammograms, and all those examinations, don't outweigh the costs, risks (x-rays equal radiation, never a good idea), and anxiety that is created. From the New York Times story: Over all, the report says, the modest benefit of mammograms — reducing the breast cancer death rate by 15 percent — must be weighed against the harms.

If you're part of those 15 percent, things look a little different, though. If a woman like me didn't have mammograms, and didn't know how to do a self exam, chances are that she would live much longer with aggressive cancer spreading, making treatment less effective.

Part of the research that has informed the new guidelines is Swedish. A Swedish friend told me about it a while ago. She also said that in Sweden women are no longer advised to do self exams, because it causes anxiety. Someone on one of the morning shows today said that "our breasts become our enemies".

The bottom line for me is that in the end, life is going to kill all of us. There is no avoiding that. But we have to make sure that whatever we have, that can be treated, gets detected as early as possible.

So, if we won't have mammograms until we turn 50, we need to make sure we learn how to examine our own breasts.

If it freaks you out, get over it. You really have no choice.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

you tell me

This is a two month old little girl. I've borrowed the photo from the front page of the November 16, 2009, online edition of the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter. The headline says that a billion people in the world suffer from hunger. And then there is this pull quote from a UN expert: "There is no lack of food, it's a matter of social inequality."

It seemed to me that a mainstream American paper wouldn't use those words, 'social inequality', so to compare I looked up a similar story in the New York Times. It was the only story on global hunger that had a picture. Here is the photo they used:

And here is the quote from their UN expert: “The way we manage the global agriculture and food security system doesn’t work,” said Kostas G. Stamoulis, a senior economist at the organization. “There is this paradox of increasing global food production, even in developing countries, yet there is hunger.”

There you have it. The Swedes call it social inequality. To the Americans, it's a 'paradox'.

When I was a kid there were posters with photos of starving children on them on the walls of the school cafeteria.

No really, there was.

If I didn't know it before, I learned at the age of 7 that I was privileged. And they told me that with privilege comes responsibility. Where does it say that the readers of the New York Times couldn't handle the same truth?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

the little house on the prairie, all grown up

Annaa Mattsson - we've never met, but we did have the same teachers for high school, ten years apart - wrote on her blog recently about having read a pile of American fiction, aimed at women. There was a theme, she said, and she summarized it like this (translation is mine, Annaa writes in Swedish):

A smart young woman grows up in small town, and leaves to a different and preferably larger town for school or work. She starts her career there, and she finds love. Then something dramatic happens, and the young woman abandons her career and, if she can't convince him to come with her, she also abandons her new found love. The young woman then returns to "where she belongs", the small town where she grew up, and her large family. And her friends, who, according to Annaa, have outrageous demands on her time and availability.

What's going on? Annaa asked on her blog. Family and friendship is more important than love and personal success? What kind of crap is that? She didn't recognize this moral-to-the-story, and figured it had to be an expression of American culture.

I have been thinking a lot about women and choices the past few months, because my friend Barbara and her daughter Shannon are writing a book and a blog on the topic. Often when I talk to Barbara or read their blog I have an unsettling feeling of being out of my element. I understand what they are talking about, but at the same time I don't. Sometimes I think I am just stupid, and sometimes I think there are actual cultural differences.

Annaa's question, and her observation, really helped me. I felt validated. I think Annaa did see an American theme. I think there is a strong pull for American women to stay home and take care of their families. To Swedish women that can be jarring, because we've been raised differently, and Swedish society works differently.

After I had been thinking about it for a couple of days, I realized that Annaa had described almost exactly the life of internet sensation Ree Drummond, aka The Pioneer Woman. She is a woman in her early 40s, who has just published her first cookbook. She also has a large sprawling website. She is incredibly funny and talented, and popular among women. Right now her cookbook is number 11 on Publisher Weekly's list of bestsellers, non-fiction.

The New York Times describes Drummond, and her book, like this:

Ree Drummond lives on a cattle ranch in Pawhuska, Okla. She is also a writer, photographer and home-school teacher to her four children. She is also funny, enthusiastic and self-deprecating, making the book appeal to pavement-pounders and pioneer types alike. A self-described “career gal in black” and a vegetarian, she was between jobs in Los Angeles and Chicago when she met the man who would become her husband during a stopover in her hometown. Now, she is rooted in a community where meat is eaten at all three meals, pasta is still regarded with suspicion and vegetables other than potatoes are considered entirely optional.

I wonder if the popularity of The Pioneer Woman can be explained at least in part by the fact that while she is living out, very happily, women's fantasy of being whisked away by a handsome cowboy (she refers to her husband as 'Marlboro Man'), she is also fulfilling a social norm, the American social norm of returning home. And, not only does she return 'home' as in to her part of the country, she's returned 'home' in the most American sense of all: home to the prairie.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

california economy

From the HR department:

Please be advised that pursuant to a recently enacted California state law (the income shifting and tax acceleration provision of ABX4-17), state wage withholding rates will be increased by 10 percent. This increase will be effective with your November 23, 2009 paycheck.

In the event that you wish to make changes to withholding amounts for state taxes, please complete and submit the Form DE 4 to the Department of Human Resources.

Please visit the State of California website for more information on the new withholding requirements:

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

simple swedish

This is funny, but probably incredibly confusing for the non-Swedish speaker when he gets to substantiv (nouns).


Today it's one year exactly since I finished cancer treatment!

- Posted from my iPhone

Saturday, November 07, 2009

out of office auto-reply

I just got this, in response to an email I had sent:

I am out of the office today on a mandated, unpaid furlough day due to severe state budget cuts imposed upon the California State University system. As a result, I will be unable to reply until my next business day or later.

Most employees of California State University, East Bay are being furloughed an average of two days per month from August 1, 2009 through June 30, 2010, due to deep cuts in State support for the CSU budget. Classes will remain in session on furlough days, but most administrative offices are closed. The Library, Student Health Services, and Student Housing offices will be open, but with reduced staff. The Bookstore and food service operations will remain open with possible adjusted hours. The University Police Dispatch Office and patrols will remain fully staffed.

Please refer to for a list of furlough days for the balance of the academic year. Thank you for your understanding during these difficult economic times.

For the record: All California State University employees are subject to a 10% pay cut. Even if classes won't be canceled during university-wide furlough days - meaning administrators are out - classes may be canceled for faculty furlough days. At California State University, East Bay, each faculty member has been asked to pick two unpaid furlough days per month during the fall quarter. Those days may or may not be teaching days.

Friday, November 06, 2009


marina, calif. nov. 1

I made it 60/40 fennel heavy and that was pretty good

Today's organic produce delivery had advice attached: to make a salad from fennel, mandarin oranges, salt, pepper, and olive oil. Yum.


Watch this and be inspired. Explanations to the images can be found here.


I've been sick with the flu for a couple of days, so I haven't really watched any news. Yesterday I listened to The Real Housewives of Atlanta, and Project Runway.

This morning when I read The New York Times, and then turned on MSNBC, I learned that there has been not one but two mass shootings in the US during the time I was away from the news.

I have nothing to say, other than that it is very sad.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

it's gorgeous out here: 68 degrees, sun, blue skies, blue ocean, a little breeze

Why would anyone drive to one of the prettiest places in the world, the Central California coast, only to sit in the car and read? With your back to the view?

-- Posted from my iPhone