As settlers and pioneers, Suffragettes, union organizers and war workers, women always have played critical roles in American history.
On the other hand, I don’t recall hearing the word “feminism” until I was well into my college years. Betty Friedan (The Feminine Mystique, 1963), Helen Gurley Brown (the somewhat improbable editor of Cosmopolitan magazine) and Shulamith Firestone (The Dialectic of Sex, 1970) may have been more accessible than philosophers like Simone de Beauvoir (The Second Sex, 1949) and slightly less frenetic than boundary-pusher Germaine Greer (The Female Eunuch, 1970), but my friends and I never found their books on our mothers’ bookshelves.
That’s not to say there wasn’t change simmering in the land, even before Friedan and those who came after her began stirring the pot. In fact, it was a pot-stirrer of a different sort who began changing the routines of daily life in our neighborhood through, of all things, a cookbook. Murmur the word “oddments” around women of a certain age, and at least some will come to attention like a hound who’s just caught the scent of a good rabbit. “Peg Bracken!” they’ll say. “Why, I haven’t thought of her in ages.”
An advertising copywriter, Bracken made history with The I Hate to Cookbook (1960). After discovering many of her friends shared her distaste for hours of kitchen time, hours they all considered monotonous and wearying, she solicited, sampled and culled recipes, stitching them together with breezy and irreverent narrative. In the midst of promoting the use of simple cake mixes to avoid baking from scratch, she wrote,
“We don’t get our creative kicks from adding an egg, we get them from painting pictures or bathrooms, or potting geraniums or babies, or writing stories or amendments, or, possibly, engaging in some interesting type of psycho-neurochemical research like seeing if we can replace colloids with sulphates. And we simply love ready-mixes.”
For homemakers hesitant to serve up ground-beef-and-cornbread casserole to a surly husband, she advised adding a bottle of wine to the menu – common enough today but nearly inconceivable then.
“The sort of wine doesn’t matter too much. It can be a whimsical little $4.95 bottle or a downright comical 59 cent vintage; it’s the principle of the thing that counts.”
And what once-new bride or weary, cash-strapped mother can forget her first reading of Bracken’s classic instructions for a tasty and economical Skid Road Stroganoff?
“Add the flour, salt, paprika, and mushrooms, stir, and let it cook five minutes while you light a cigarette and stare sullenly at the sink.”
Even her daughter acknowledges Peg really enjoyed cooking–she simply longed for a little freedom from the constraints common in those years.
One constraint was the apparently universal conviction that dessert was necessary. Even worse was the expectation that dessert would be homemade, and as complex as possible. A naked brownie for dessert? Impossible. There had to be ice cream atop the cake, with a thick chocolate sauce and a sprinkling of toasted walnuts or pecans. Apple pie? Fine, as long as you remembered the cheddar, or the caramel sauce, and were skilled enough to weave your own lattice crust.
Never mind Shulamith Firestone. Surrounded by cooks who actually knew the size of their saucepans, we knew the revolution had arrived when we read that dessert could be “honeydew melon with a scoop of lime sherbet”, followed by what Bracken called oddments -“a plateful of store-bought petit fours or other rich little cakes, or a dish of good chocolates, or a bowl of nuts and raisins, or all three.” It even was possible to skip the melon and sherbet, and have twice as many oddments. It was revolution, indeed.
We loved the odd little word, and we loved the basic concept of a few small things in place of one big thing – the possibilities were endless, and the word’s meaning began to expand. Sewing baskets suddenly were filled with “oddments” of thread, bias tape and zippers. Junk drawers became oddment drawers, and oddments of soap – the remnants of bars waiting to be melted down for use in the laundry – lurked under the bathroom sink. We may have seized on chocolates and nuts for dessert with enthusiasm and gratitude, but we became equally appreciative of all the Little Things surrounding us that served perfectly well as substitutes for Big Things in our lives.
And that’s what I’ve brought you here. After weeks of main-course dishes, I’ve produced a little plate of oddments for your enjoyment. They’re follow-ups to stories you’ve already read or can read by following the links. No doubt more chapters will be written for each, but for now these are the perfect finish – and like Ms. Bracken’s plate of petit fours, there should be something for everyone.
Slender, dark-haired, Yoani Sanchez walks the streets of Havana. Passing into and through the shadows of the Castros, she thinks of toasters and lemons, a scarcity of pork and the hunger of children. Fingers curled around the flash drive pushed deep into her pocket, she walks quickly, intending a liaison, a tryst, an encounter far removed from the world’s prying eyes. Her longing is for a computer – her desire, to send her words into the world… (Continue reading “Yoani Sanchez ~ After Five Years”)
After five years of requesting travel documents to receive multiple awards outside of Cuba, Sanchez, 37, received a passport in late January allowing her to depart on a three-month tour of 12 countries in South America, Europe and North America, after which she will return to Cuba.
Speaking to several hundred publishers, editors and journalists gathered for a semi-annual meeting of the Inter-American Press Association in Puebla, Mexico, Sanchez was reported by Tim Johnson, Mexico City Bureau Chief for McClatchy, to have emphasized that underground blogs, digital portals and illicit e-magazines are proliferating in Cuba as flash drives are passed from one person to another on buses and street corners.
“Information circulates hand to hand through this wonderful gadget known as the memory stick,” Sanchez said, “and it is difficult for the government to intercept them. I can’t imagine that they can put a police officer on every corner to see who has a flash drive and who doesn’t.”
A simple news search will provide details of Ms. Sanchez’ time in New York and Washington, as well as more information on her future travels.
The Way We Worked in Blue Rapids, a photographic exhibit sponsored by the Kansas Humanities Council in partnership with the Museum on Main Street program, opened February 2 at the Blue Rapids Museum.
The exhibit featured eighty large-format photographs taken by Blue Rapids photographer Tom Parker and a running slideshow of more than 400 additional photos he captured during 2012. Parker himself has described the scope of the project.
“Over the past year I photographed the men, women and children of our town performing the diverse tasks that are at their core the building blocks of rural America. While the other [exhibit] sites focused on their particular histories – mining, agriculture, black populations – ours was a photographic record of how we worked in Blue Rapids during 2012. We called it a snapshot of a single year, and thought of it in terms of the historical record. (Continue reading “Working Fools”)
The full exhibit now is available on the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street site. Captions provide the name of the people or persons working and the location, as well as larger-format photographs. It’s a delightful page, and some of the “jobs” shown may surprise you!
A retired elephant named Rosie had lived at the [Endangered Ark in Hugo, Oklahoma] for some time. A bottle-fed orphan, she bonded well with humans but was ostracized by her herd and sometimes attacked by them. After developing arthritis because of her injuries, her ability to walk was compromised, and lying down or getting up were difficult.
Maine veterinarian Jim Laurita and his brother Tom had a relationship with Rosie stetching back to the 1970s. They met her while working with Carson & Barnes [circus] as teenagers. Tom had been a juggler and ring master, Jim, an elephant handler and trainer. Rosie’s plight moved the Lauritas to establish Hope Elephants, a non-profit organization dedicated to conservation education as well as the care of retired and injured elephants. A primary purpose would be to bring Rosie to Maine, allowing her to receive state-of-the-art physical therapies for her injuries including hydrotherapy, acupuncture, laser treatments, ultrasound, and time on a 60-foot-long underwater treadmill, the first such device designed for elephants. (Continue reading “Victor, Hugo and the Elephants)
If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video or two ought to be worth even more. Rosie and her friend Opal have indeed moved to Hope, Maine, and life is very good, indeed. They’ve become quite the attraction, the object of fundraisers, publicity and school tours galore. Sometimes, good intentions aren’t enough. In this case – and at least to this point – good intentions seem to have resulted in a very good end.
Finally, of course, there’s the tree – the Ghirardi Compton Oak. (Click image for a larger view)
Barry Ward, Executive Director of Trees for Houston, put it best. “If everybody pitches in and cooperates and thinks about what we can do, the likelihood is you will save one of the most significant Compton oaks in North America. The question now is: Does the city council have the will to go ahead and make it happen?”
In the end, they did have that will. A bid was accepted from Hess Landscape Construction of Orange County, California, for $197,500. When Erik Hess and his crew showed up and went to work, they not only impressed the town with their competence, they inspired a community as well. And when they put their 1,300 horsepower and 400,000 pounds of equipment to the test, the old Ghiradi oak groaned, creaked and complained – but she moved. (Continue reading “Follow the Muddy Dirt Road”)
It seems to be generally agreed that five years must pass before the success of such a move can be judged. Still, after ten months, the tree is doing well. It’s been trimmed again, has settled into its spot and has a lovely crop of new leaves just beginning to emerge. Catkins and old acorns cover the ground around it, and should a visitor happen by while the ground still is damp from rain, it will be clear that others have stopped by to visit the tree – deer and raccoons certainly, and no doubt other residents of the thickly wooded land nearby.
Though the fence has been removed, a piece of the red, white and blue bunting that was hung there last July 4th still is in place on a nearby pole. It’s a sign of pride – in the strong, resiliant tree, in the community that made its move possible, and in the nation which so often imagines Liberty as a tree.