Monday, February 27, 2012

Handy Couple for a Day

I spent the past two days at my Mom’s. Hub and I left early Sunday and arrived on Long Island just in time for lunch at Ben’s Deli. The three of us enjoyed corned beef and pastrami sandwiches and shared a dessert. The apple strudel was my Mom’s idea. She loves strudel.

Then it was time to begin work. Hub and I spent the afternoon sorting and hanging pictures and drapes and fixing the vacuum cleaner. Then we were off to Home Depot to buy storage shelves for one closet and a lamp for the bedroom.

Hub the Handyman
Returning from the store Hub assembled the shelves. Mom and I filled them with photo albums, boxes of pictures and scrapbooks.

We were dog tired after working all day!
This morning hub left for a business trip. Mom and I visited a friend of hers who is housebound with full-time help. She is almost blind, hard of hearing and has assorted other health problems that make it difficult to talk or easily maneuver around. It is a harsh fact that so many of Mom’s friends – she is 87 – are gone or in poor health. Mom is in amazingly good health with more energy than a lot of people decades younger.

After a late lunch back at the apartment I drove home.

I arrived in the early evening to –

A bookcase in the family room full of pictures to be hung.

A couple of bookshelves full of toys to be stored away following a visit by the grandchildren last summer. They will be visiting again this August, it is almost March, so I doubt the toys will make it into storage this year.

Boxes of books in the garage from our move almost two years ago. I need to clear a couple of shelves to make room for them. 

Boxes in the closet full of loose pictures, empty albums and empty picture frames purchased with good intentions.

Boxes full of I am not sure what in the garage yet to be unpacked.

Two kitchen shelves stacked with plastic ware for summer meals outdoors. The plates, cups and utensils should be stored so that a few casserole and other dishes can be returned to their original home. The dishes remain in a box somewhere; I think on a shelf in the laundry room. Somehow I have managed to cook meals for months without them.

You get the idea. I should set aside time to be my own handyperson and hang pictures, make albums, unpack boxes…

But time passes and stuff does not get done.

I could do some things this weekend, but hub wants to work on the taxes (an undertaking our marriage just barely manages to survive each year). If the weather is nice we will take a long walk in the afternoon. Next week I will spend time with a girlfriend, now living in Las Vegas, in town for a few days visiting family. The following weekend my sister-in-law will be here.

The handyperson chores will have to wait.

Maybe I can put my kids to work when they visit this summer.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Forty Years Together

We married on Long Island the day after a snowstorm in February 1972.  It was a sunny, bitterly cold Sunday afternoon. Most guests made it to the wedding, including friends travelling a distance. One couple from upstate New York practically had to dig themselves through the highways, but made it to the island. Another couple traveled from the South. A highway sign fell on their car, smashing the hood. But they made it.

1972 was the year -
The Winter Olympic Games were held in Sapporo, Japan.
Hank Aaron became the first baseball player to sign for $200,000/year.
Congress approved the Equal Rights Amendment. It was never ratified.
Women ran in the Boston Marathon for the first time.
George Wallace, Governor of Alabama running for President, was shot and paralyzed.
White House ‘plumbers’ broke into National Democratic headquarters at the Watergate in Washington D.C.
11 Israeli athletes were slain at the Munich Summer Olympics.
The TV show M*A*S*H premiered.
On December 30th Nixon halted bombing and announced peace talks with North Vietnam.

Forty years later –
The summer Olympics will be held in London.
Alex Rodriguez was the highest paid baseball player in 2011 at $31,000,000 (that's millions).
We are again at war.
We can watch M*A*S*H reruns.
There are still (or is again?) right wing extremists running for President.
We own stuff barely on the horizon four decades ago, such as our computers, iPhones and iPods (I do not have either iProduct, but it seems most people do).
What did we do before Starbucks, post-it notes, the Internet, push through tabs on drinking cans, Cabbage Patch Kids, YouTube?…but I digress.

Our two sons are married with families; we have four grandchildren and two grand dogs.

Our anniversary day found us driving almost 400 miles from one son’s temporary home in Columbus OH to our place. I can tell we are getting old because we stop more to pee, stretch our legs and buy drinks - which is why we have to stop and pee more. We arrived home about 8:00 p.m. tired and hungry, purchased a couple of sandwiches at a local bar and ate at home.

 Two nights later we decide to celebrate our anniversary and go out to dinner, using a coupon at a local restaurant purchased from an online deal company. I knew exactly where it was. I scooped the coupon out of the file and quickly perused it as we walked out the door.

Uh oh.

I screwed up.

The coupon expired four days earlier.

We agree to go to the restaurant and plead our case. Hub parked the car while I went inside. To make a short story even shorter, I walked out. I realize I erred, but was more irritated by the arrogance and attitude of the two employees (not kids). I would have been OK if they had said, sorry, we can’t honor it because…and were nice about it. They were not.

We went to a local bar-restaurant with good food and reasonable prices, enjoyed a nice dinner and went home for coffee.

Our 40th anniversary splurge is a trip planned later this year.

One of the biggest changes in our lives recently and in the future is our approach towards opportunities. We have come to a point in our lives where, when opportunities present themselves, we often say yes. Previously we usually decided we did not have the time and the money. We figured we could always do things later.

Well, later has arrived. I am not sure how long both of us will be fit and strong enough for travel and other activities before health or other issues impose limitations. We can no longer wait for the right time. The reality is the time will never be perfect. Our time is now. Happy anniversary!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Birth Control Through the Ages

Listening to the debate about birth control an observer might think it is a product of our decadent society. Not true. Birth control is not a modern idea. Various contraceptives have been used since ancient times.

Condom use dates back thousands of years. Some ancient societies were unaware of their birth control powers; condoms were used to prevent the spread of disease. Cave paintings in France dating back 12,000 to 15,000 years indicate condom use. King Minos of Crete used condoms made of goatskin around 3000 B.C. There is evidence of condom use in ancient Egypt and Rome.

Numerous records exist of items inserted in a woman’s vagina to prevent pregnancy.

Hippocrates, a Greek physician practicing around 400 B.C., discusses a birth control device similar to modern intra-uterine devices. The IUD was a hollow tube filled with mutton (old sheep) fat. 'Pessaries' composed of a variety of substances were common birth control devices in ancient Greece.

What is a pessary, you might ask? Defined in the Medical Dictionary: “an instrument placed in the vagina to support the uterus or rectum as a contraceptive device.” The second definition, “a medicated vaginal suppository.”

The Greeks believed pungent, sweet smelling odors attracted sperm and helped a woman become pregnant. On the other hand a foul smell deterred sperm and prevented pregnancy. Therefore, depending on a woman’s wish, either sweet smelling or foul smelling products were placed in the vagina. 

The Greeks used Pennyroyal, a mint-flavored plant, in cooking and winemaking. It also induced abortion.

I wanted to stick with credible contraceptive methods, but I cannot resist citing this one by Soranus, a Greek gynecologist practicing around 200 A.D. He suggested a woman hold her breath during intercourse, then sneeze, then jump up and down to prevent sperm from entering the womb.

Neglect of an effective birth control policy is a never-failing source of poverty which, in turn, is the parent of revolution and crime.
                                                            - Aristotle (384BC-322BC), Greek philosopher

Moving on to other parts of the world…

In New Zealand small stones were inserted in a woman’s uterus to prevent pregnancy.

Around 7 B.C. the discovery that a North African flower called silphium had contraceptive properties created demand throughout the civilized world. Eventually demand exceeded supply and the flower became extinct by 300 A.D.

The flower Queen Anne’s lace, or wild carrot, has been known for millennia as a birth control method. Seeds eaten within eight hours after sex prevented pregnancy - think morning-after pill.

Dong quai, or Chinese Metallica, was widely used for menstruation problems. Taken early in pregnancy it induced abortion.

It is not economical to go to bed early to save the candles if the result is twins.
                                                - Chinese proverb

Rue was another plant used to relieve menstrual problems. It also resulted in abortions.

American slaves chewed cotton root bark. Ancient Egyptians prepared a mixture of several ingredients, including acacia bark, applied it to wool and inserted the soaked wool in the vagina. The bark acted as a spermicide and the wool a barrier to insemination.

Unripe papaya was eaten to prevent or terminate pregnancy in parts of Asia. Papaya seeds are a male contraceptive, cutting sperm count to zero. Sperm count returned to normal when the man stopped eating the seeds.

Mercury was used in many cultures for a lot of physical ailments as well as for birth control. The problem is mercury is highly toxic and caused a variety of serious illnesses.

Knowledge collected over centuries on a wide variety of subjects was lost when Rome fell and Europe entered the Dark Ages. Birth control information, often passed down by midwives, practically disappeared in medieval Europe. After the plagues decimated the population in the 14th and 15th centuries, the Church and secular leaders launched an effort to repopulate the continent.  A hidden agenda in the Church's campaign against witchcraft and midwives was an attempt to ensure the elimination of birth control information.

Citric acid inhibits sperm and sponges soaked in lemon juice and inserted in the vagina were a deterrent to pregnancy. Legend says Casanova inserted half a lemon rind into his lovers as a precaution against pregnancy. Lemon and lime douches following sex were recommended as a birth control method, but apparently were not as effective as pre-sex citric acid procedures.

Coitus interruptus was widely practiced throughout history.

The first oral contraceptive pill - ocp - manufactured and available to the public was produced by G. D. Searle and Company. The year was 1960.

Birth control that really works: Every night before we go to bed we spend an hour with our kids.
                                 - Roseanne Barr (1952-   ), actress and comedian

And finally I will end with the lyrics from Loretta Lynn's song "The Pill," first recorded in 1972 but not released until 1975. The song was written by Lorene Allen, Don McHan, and T. D. Bayliss.

 You wined me and dined me
When I was your girl

Promised if I'd be your wife
You'd show me the world
But all I've seen of this old world

Is a bed and a doctor bill

I'm tearin' down your brooder house

'Cause now I've got the pill

All these years
I've stayed at home

While you had all your fun

And every year thats gone by

Another babys come

There's a gonna be some changes made

Right here on nursery hill

You've set this chicken your last time

'Cause now I've got the pill

This old maternity dress I've got 

Is goin' in the garbage

The clothes I'm wearin' from now on

Won't take up so much yardage

Miniskirts, hot pants and a few little fancy frills

Yeah I'm makin' up for all those years

Since I've got the pill

I'm tired of all your crowin'

How you and your hens play

While holdin' a couple in my arms

Another's on the way

This chicken's done tore up her nest

And I'm ready to make a deal

And ya can't afford to turn it down

‘Cause you know I've got the pill

This incubator is overused

Because you've kept it filled

The feelin' good comes easy now

Since I've got the pill

It's gettin' dark it's roostin' time

Tonight's too good to be real

Oh but daddy don't you worry none

'Cause mama's got the pill

Oh daddy don't you worry none

'Cause mama's got the pill

Friday, February 10, 2012

Brouhaha Over My Uterus

It is a sign of the times that the political debates of the Presidential season changed over the past couple of weeks. They have veered from - the sky is falling and Obama is leading the country to economic ruin - to social issues, represented most recently by the brouhaha over my uterus. That is because the sky is NOT falling and the economy is getting better, which even the Republicans must concede. If the economy is not good political fodder, social issues always are.

The brouhaha is not really over my uterus. I cannot have any more babies. At my age it would be a miracle (unless in vitro fertilization is considered and we are not never going there). But there are millions of young women who are or will be impacted by the debate over birth control and abortion.

I get so tired of reading and hearing from politicians, the vast majority of them men, lecturing women about what they should or should not be doing to their bodies.

It is nobody’s business what I do with my body. If I want to regularly overeat and indulge in a Paula Deen-like burger between a doughnut that might eventually lead to astronomical medical expenses and an early death, well, politicians are not ranting about sewing up my stomach.

Republican Presidential contenders are not discoursing about health care for the kids they want born, or pre-school programs for them, or adequate, affordable housing, or job training for their parent(s), or a quality education so the kids can get jobs two decades after birth.

I find this so infuriating, frustrating and sad because the debate and the controversy have been going on for well over a century.

Ninety-six years ago – on February 11, 1916 – Emma Goldman was arrested for preaching birth control.

Emma Goldman speaking in NYC to garment workers about birth control, 1916 

Goldman worked as a nurse and midwife on the lower East Side of New York City in the 1890s, a neighborhood overflowing with European immigrants. She realized the need for contraceptives and began speaking out for birth control, attacking Comstock, an 1873 federal law outlawing the distribution of birth control devices and literature.

Anthony Comstock is probably considered a hero by the anti-birth control, anti-abortion crowd – if they ever heard of him. Comstock, a country boy, landed in New York City and was outraged by the decadence. He worked hard to have the sex trade business shut down and eliminate prostitution. Shocked by printed birth control advertisements, he linked the issues, believing the availability of birth control led to the illicit sex trade and prostitution.

Comstock lobbied Washington for an anti-obscenity, anti-birth control bill. Congress passed the law in 1873, making it a federal crime to distribute contraceptives or abortion information by mail or across state lines. The statute was also responsible for obscenity and pornography rules leading to book banning, restrictions on art and literature, and a ban on sending pornography through the mail.

Comstock applied to intrastate commerce. Several states followed with their own laws. Connecticut passed the most restrictive legislation, declaring the use of birth control a crime. Married couples could receive a one-year prison sentence if convicted.

Emma Goldman was not the only one speaking out against Comstock. Birth control crusader Margaret Sanger openly challenged the law and fled to Europe for a year to avoid prosecution. 
Announcement of the opening of Sanger's Brooklyn birth control clinic

Sanger pioneered research in oral contraceptives, opened the first birth control clinic in Brooklyn, New York, in 1916, and gained a minor victory in 1918 when the courts allowed women to use contraceptives for therapeutic reasons.
Flyer for birth control meeting  

Challenges to Comstock continued. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law in a 1936 case, but permitted doctors to distribute contraceptives across state lines.

The first oral contraceptive pill manufactured and available to the public was produced by G. D. Searle and Company in 1960. The Supreme Court declared the ban on contraceptive advertising unconstitutional in 1983.

Comstock is still officially on the books. The law is often cited in obscenity and pornography cases. But I digress…

I want to thank Emma Goldman and the other brave souls who stood up to the arrogant and intolerant ones intent on controlling women, so that women could live better lives today.

Researching this article I came across some interesting information about birth control methods throughout history, some simply folklore, some that work, and some simply ludicrous. I’ll share them with readers in a future post. Stay tuned!

Monday, February 6, 2012


I spent the weekend in Philadelphia with my sister and niece. We spend a weekend together every year. The tradition began when my niece was a freshman at the University of Pittsburgh. My sister was going out to visit – it was Parent’s Weekend – and her hub was working. I went along for the ride. We had a great time and decided to make girls’ weekend a yearly event.

We had four girls’ weekends in Pittsburgh and then one year in Philadelphia where my niece is attending law school. We missed last year because we were busy selling Mom’s house, getting rid of most of her stuff and moving her into an apartment.

We renewed the tradition after the one-year hiatus this year.  The two of them – sister J and niece K - were determined to be very careful about what they said and did, fearing I would write about it. I told them I would not write anything that might be remotely embarrassing. Which, dear sister and niece reading this, I would NEVER do. Really. But I figured I could write about the fun things we did. After all, it is already posted on Facebook courtesy of K.

Saturday evening we saw Motherhood The Musical. The 90-minute no intermission (be sure to use the ladies’ room before the show starts – you don’t want to miss anything) show is hilarious. Any and all Moms will find at least a piece of the show they can relate to. Three women throw a baby shower for friend #4, pregnant with her first. There are wonderful, original numbers such as, Hallelujah the Kids are Finally Asleep, Costco Queen, Minivan, and Grannyland.

One of the best lines – I am prejudiced, but as a Granny I can definitely relate – from the song Grannyland goes something like, “What is my business?” – and pointing to her daughter – “You!”

Another tune is re-worded to the song sung by Barbra Streisand The Way We Were. How Great They Were is about how our (sagging, drooping) mammaries were once great (before babies, of course).

Picture taken from the stage of the show audience Saturday night.
We are the last three on the right, second row.

Saturday morning we took the train to Manayunk, a funky Philly neighborhood with lots of bars, restaurants, and small boutiques. We ate brunch at a place called Winnie’s and spent a couple of hours walking in and out of the stores. There are a number of consignment shops and collectible galleries in the neighborhood. We had great fun roaming the aisles and bought a couple of items.
Returning to Center City we changed from our jeans and sneakers into more urbane attire and made our way to the Four Seasons Hotel for High Tea before heading to the theater. 

We spent two hours in a room filled with other tables of women (we did not see one man at tea), many there for special occasions, obvious as waiters carried out birthday and celebration cakes. After the difficult decision about which tea to select (I finally chose a mint and chocolate-flavored tea), the waiter brought over a three-tiered, three plate holder. 
Not a picture of our food, but similar!

The top plate contained four different kinds of finger sandwiches. The second plate had two kinds of scones. Four different pastries adorned the bottom plate. 

There was clotted cream, a lemon topping that was absolutely luscious, and a jam the waiter said was made by the hotel – all garnishes for the scones. Everything was wonderful, deliciously decadent and delightful.

To assuage our calorie guilt we walked the 1½ miles to the theater – both ways. It was a beautiful night, especially for February in Philly.  Speaking as one who is not particularly fond of the cold, it was brisk without being uncomfortable.

Friday night we shared tapas at an Asian fusion restaurant, Sampan. It was restaurant week and Saturday night and the place was packed. We spent a couple of hours enjoying a variety of dishes, all  scrumptious. Did I mention we ate our way through the weekend?

 A picture of Reading Terminal Market not taken by me.

Sunday morning we walked over to the Reading Terminal Market for breakfast at the Down Home Diner and a walk around the mouth-watering stands. Then it was time to part. Niece K went home to her law books. J and I walked to 30th Street Station. J took the Megabus home and I took the train home, in the opposite direction.

A note on cameras and pictures - I obtained all the pictures for this post from the Internet. My camera has seen better days and needs replacing. I was hoping to buy a camera this weekend with the help of J and K, but never got around to it. I have no idea what to buy. I want something to take adequate pictures of my travels; I have no illusions of being a photographer. I want a reasonably priced, idiot proof (almost), small camera. Any suggestions?

Note to J and K: I hope this post meets with your approval.