Thursday, March 30, 2006

Barbie, we hardly knew ye!

A few weeks ago, I started volunteering at a community arts center on Thursday afternoons. I've only been twice so far, but I really REALLY like and respect the program. From 2:30 to about 3:00 is book club. Volunteers read to the younger kids or listen to the older kids read to them. This past Thursday, I read the most bizarre book to a little girl. It was a book about Barbie, set during the American Revolution. Barbie helps an innkeeper while the innkeeper's son is off fighting the Redcoats. Along the way Barbie reveals her patriotism, helps carry out a few missions, and meets Ken, whom she woos with a homemade scarf. If I hadn't sat and read the whole thing out loud, I'd never have believed this book was ever published. When I decided to blog about it, it took nearly half an hour of searching to find a record that the book does, in fact, exist.

Let's take a moment and review the things I found on the way to proving that I didn't have a large pink-hued hallucination...

Bumper Stickers

There is a Barbie-related bumper sticker. Two versions of it, actually:

No Barbie entry is complete without a Dave Barry link!

Especially a link to a column he wrote about using Rollerblade Barbie in an attempt to set his underwear on fire.


There are many, many Barbie books. An Amazon search turned up 19 pages of books. Not 19 books; 19 pages of books. Some were pretty standard licensed-character fare...color words, shopping trip, sticker books. There are subcategories of Barbie books. Especially intriguing: "Barbie Feelings" and "Barbie Mysteries." There are Spanish-language Barbie books, which is cool. None of these had cover photos, so I'm not sure if there is a Latina Barbie in the stories, or at least a Latina friend doll.

The "Barbie Rules" series is also amusing:

Barbie Rules #1: Be Your Own Best Friend
Barbie Rules #2: Be Proud of Yourself!
Barbie Rules #3: No Teasing Allowed

This would probably be useful for those times you need a plastic role-model to quell your daughters' sibling rivalry:

This I found more than a little disturbing:

"From picking the perfect wedding dress, to finding the best present, to throwing a surprise bridal shower, Barbie has tons of fun because Barbie Loves Weddings! This storybook is filled with all-new full-color photos and wonderful wedding stickers. "

It's sort of paradoxical. On the one hand, Barbie is clearly an adult, so it's not abnormal that she would help plan a wedding and throw a bridal shower...but I am not very comfortable with the idea of little girls being obsessed with weddings and getting married. When I meet or hear of women who have been planning their dream wedding since they were little girls, it squicks me out. I'm not sure I can explain it rationally, but it seems like girls would be better off dreaming of being princesses in frilly dresses than brides, and even then I'm not too keen on the whole "prince charming" angle.

No girl should be raised to think she needs a man to rescue her, and that she should sit around patiently in a ball gown waiting for him to arrive. Little girls do not need to rush into marriage, either. No marriage is a perfect fairy tale, and your wedding is not necessarily going to be the "best day" of your life. I had a blast at my wedding, but I didn't build it up to be the Best. Day. Ever. No wedding is perfect. Mine was darn close to perfect for me and MB, but it wasn't magazine-spread-worthy.

Anyway, it seems odd to market a children's book about wedding planning. To add another layer of weird, there is a second version of the book available:

Notice that the African American friend doll has been replaced with a white bride and groom. Is this version for the slightly racist parents out there? I was a little disappointed that version 2 didn't feature an interracial couple.

Plastic and PC?

Apparently the Barbie machine is trying to be more politically astute, so this wedding thing seems like a missed opportunity. Then again, there's this article, which details how, in Barbie's historical "diary" of the 1960s, the author gave Barbie and her black friend Christie a role in supporting the Civil Rights Movement. The author never specified Christie's race in the text, and was counting on the art to show her properly. (Christie is an actual doll, not just a character made up for the story.) When the book's proofs came back, Christie was as white as Barbie, even though there is reportedly a line in the story where Christie remarks that a little black girl "looks like me when I was little."

Barbie likes that old-time religion

There is also a Pagan-Lite Barbie, called "Secret Spells Barbie."

And you thought I was making this up. I am not that good.

I couldn't find any good web posts about it. I had one I was planning to use, but then upon further reading it proved to be a magic-is-evil, anti-Wicca rant, and that ain't cool. I don't link to hate, dogg. So here's a weird and ranty--but occasionally funny--article about it. May not be suitable for sensitive audiences (as if I have one of those).

Another one that I'm NOT MAKING UP:

Forest Princess Barbie. Because everyone wears formal gowns and high heels when they go hiking! Dude...what? I do!

All this, and still no sign of American Revolution Barbie

So I finally tried a search query using "Barbie" and "horse Lizzie," which was the horse Barbie tends to in the book. That led me to a paper written for a women's studies class. Not kidding. Luckily, the paper provided me with a title...Barbie: A Ride for Freedom. The title at long last led me to a link proving it exists somewhere.

With the search over, it's time for some reminiscing...

I think someone could probably write an entire Master's thesis on the cultural implications and impact of Barbie. I'm kind of ambivalent about Barbie in general. I had Barbies when I was a kid, and I turned out okay. No major body-image serious fetishes for pink clothing, stiletto heels, or shopping. My mother did, however, wait until I was seven years old before I was allowed to have any Barbies, and when I got my first Barbie dolls, I got the Heart Family:

The Heart Family was made by Mattel, but they were more conservative. They were definitely marketed as a married couple with kids, instead of the non-married but long-committed Barbie and Ken. The mom had a Barbie body, but also dark hair and a hole in her hand so she could wear her plastic diamond ring. The dad was a brown-haired Ken with a gold wedding band painted on his hand. They had twin toddlers--a boy and a girl.

All the Barbie-style dolls I acquired after that were assimilated into what became a giant family. The Heart Family mom and dad were the parents, and they had many daughters--a Barbie, a Jazzie (taller, smaller-breasted, and flat-footed...also had crimped hair and some FAB 80s fashion sense), a Skipper, a Stacie, and a random doll of about Stacie's size that a friend gave me. Eventually they also had the dark haired version of the new Quints dolls. (My foster sister had the red-haired ones, and my sister had the blonde ones.)

I had the run of a tiny storage room off of our landing, where I set up the kickass Barbie house my aunt had made from four cardboard boxes. This was the BEST BARBIE HOUSE EVER. She wallpapered it with wrapping paper, added cutouts of paintings from magazines to decorate the walls, and made the most ingenious furniture from cardboard boxes, contact paper, and cloth. She made a bedroom set for the parents and one for the kids and a living room complete with a couch, armchair, television, and coffee table. She included a store-bought kitchen with plastic food.

That house was one of my most treasured things as a kid. I played with my Barbies until the summer before my freshman year in high school, and I turned out all right. I carefully packed away all of my Barbies and clothes and furnishings when I moved out to go to college. Sadly, the Barbie house had to be sent off to the great recycling pile in the sky, after more than 5 years of valiant service.

So, I know that just owning Barbies is not enough to give girls a skewed view of the world and their own girl-ness...but I still feel wary of the ideal that the Barbie machine seems to be pushing, and feel simultaneously impressed and horrified that it is such a juggernaut of both the toy industry and, in a way, of our culture. I'm not sure how I'll approach the Barbie issue if I have daughters someday.

At least I'll always know that the Barbie-as-Revolutionary-War-hero book wasn't a figment of my imagination. I'll always have that.

Reading: bad historical Barbie fiction; The Dogs of Bedlam Farm by Slate contributor Jon Katz

Playing: crazy mind games; Hypnotize, by System of a Down

Monday, March 27, 2006

What happens when broke people watch too much HGTV:

Or at least when this broke person does.

What's that about a road?

I had all kinds of good intentions when I sat down, all kinds of plans for the interesting things I was going to write about...but alas. Now that it's time to actually write something, I'm not coming up with much.

Uh...I got this book for a dollar in the library's used book corner today:

I adore Laurie Notaro.

What happens when I insist on blogging instead of just going to bed:

>>I managed to leave both my purse and lunch bag of gargantuan-ness at work today.

>>When I got home from my once-weekly night shift at the record store, I could see the cat's head and ears silhouetted against the kitchen curtains as he watched me get out of the car. For some reason, it struck me as almost unbearably adorable :)

>>We went to see V for Vendetta on Saturday night with my mom. I rather liked it. In fact, I really liked it, and wouldn't mind seeing it again. It was definitely a movie requiring a bit of forgiveness of the absurd, but then again, it's based on a graphic novel, so it doesn't need to be as firmly rooted in "real life" as most films.

>>My dad and I are going to go see The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada tomorrow night. Dare I hope for two really good movies in the span of a week?

Reading: Abhorsen, the final book following Sabriel and Lirael; The Blue Girl, by Charles de Lint.

Playing: The Greatest, by Cat Power.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

quatro times nueve

Four jobs you have had in your life:

1. ice cream scooper

2. instructor in a science program for Girl Scouts

3. clerk in a very eccentric trinket shop

4. seasonal employee for the DNR

Four movies you would watch over and over:

1. The Princess Bride

2. The Usual Suspects

3. Grosse Pointe Blank

4. Empire Records

Four places you have lived:

1. My parents' house

2. My college apartment

3. My very nice current apartment

4. a geologic field station in Cardwell, Montana (if we're counting any place that was occupied for more than a month)

Four TV shows you love to watch:

1. Miami Ink

2. Design on a Dime

3. almost any nature or science program

4. real-life ghost story programs, even though I get creeped out and can't sleep

Places you have been on a TRUE vacation:

1. Yellowstone National Park

2. Great Smoky Mountain National Park

3. South Dakota

4. road-tripping through Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi, then across the Gulf to Texas, up through New Mexico and Arizona, into Utah, a bit of a south-to-north jaunt across Colorado, and back across Kansas, Missouri, and Illinois.

Four websites you visit daily:

1. Hotmail

2. Mimi Smartypants

3. Amalah

4. Go Fug Yourself

Four of your favorite foods:

1. vanilla bean ice cream

2. tuna salad

3. pb&j (or h)

4. grilled cheeze-ees at Turoni's

Four places you would rather be right now:

1. outdoors

2. curled up somewhere with a good book and a snack

3. on vacation

4. snuggling with the boys (one human, one feline)

I'm tagging:

these three people plus some others through email.

postcards for the smartass in everyone


Sunday, March 19, 2006

Addendum, Caveat, Etc.

First: Also, when your ex-husband/boyfriend/whatever--whom you threw out last summer after a spectacularly entertaining screaming fight--comes around at 9:00 on a Sunday morning and bangs on your door insistently for 20's not your fault, and clearly you have every right to ignore him, but DAMN it sure does rack up points for the Miss Trashtastic Pageant.

Second: Our neighbor is not that bad. I know this. While this stomping/jumping/shrieking was pretty much a daily thing back before Christmas--for two months...almost every day--we recently had weeks and weeks of relative decency. She doesn't threaten us, she doesn't deal drugs (as far as we know), and most of the time her children don't throw trash in our yard. Most of the time. So, while I do occasionally feel the need to vent and complain about her, I fully admit that it could be so much worse.

I am, however, COMPLETELY FUCKING OVER the assholes who sit in the parking lot blasting their car stereo bass. OVER IT.

Third: I've been browsing local real estate websites lately, ogling houses for sale in the city and outlying counties. A good friend of mine appropriately calls this "the grownup version of playing dress-up." I have a general guess of what we'll be able to afford when we finally are ready to really start shopping, and I've been snooping around to see what's available in our price range. Right now, it looks like it's:

        >>small, soul-less, 80s-built, one-levels in niceish neighborhoods
        >>larger--but still smaller than we want--slightly bland houses in those questionable transitional neighborhoods that can swing either cute and young-family or shady and lock-your-doors-24-hours-a-day in a few years' time
        >>huge, roomy, beautiful historic houses in scary-ass neighborhoods where people get shot or engage in standoffs with the police. (I am not making this up. The neighborhood where one of my best friends grew up had this happen just a few weeks ago. Luckily, her parents moved to an area of town that's pretty much at the top of the dreamy list when we were in college.)

There's also the mystery houses, the ones that are too good to be true. I drive by one of them every day on my way home from work. It's this big old place on a corner lot. It has 3 bedrooms, 1.5 baths, a fireplace, built-in bookcases on one wall of the living room, wood floors, high ceilings, and a big bay window off the front room. It's a block away from a library, and faces a huge park that is ringed on all sides by big, nice-looking houses. The yards look neat, the houses look pretty well-maintained, the cars parked out front aren't total clunkers, and the park seems well-tended. It looks every bit like an area on its way to being gentrified. But no matter how nice the weather has been--even on days when the riverfront near work is packed with people--from January until now, I have never once seen children playing at the park. Never once, even though there is a nice playground in the middle. No kids playing, no dog walkers, nothing. Ever. So there's more to it than the fact that the house is listed at $65K and has been sitting on the market since about Christmas.

But then...oh, then...there are the dream houses. Like the one I found last night. The huge 3 bedroom, 1 full/2 half bath, 1899 farmhouse with a huge wraparound porch and a full basement for $99,900. The commute would suck, and the utilities run about $250 a month. But oh...that house. That I covet it.

One more thing, and then it's time to watch Lost on DVD

Is this not the most glorious piece of carrot cake you've ever seen?

And because I'm a nerd, I measured it:

Since carrots are vegetables, I'm not going to feel bad for eating this while I watch TV.

Reading: Lirael, sequel to Sabriel.

Just Finished: Wee Free Men, by Terry Pratchett

Playing: a new mellow mix CD

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Dear Upstairs Neighbors

If you want to let your horrid, brattish, one-diapered one-in-elementary-school children stay up past 11 PM, that is entirely your own business. However, when you let them jump up and down repeatedly, run around in circles while stomping as loud as they can, and shriek at the top of their lungs, it becomes our business.

Fuck you, and good night.

PS Your music is great. Know what would make it better? If you'd KEEP IT TO YOUR GODDAMN SELF.

Monday, March 13, 2006

A post worth 10,000 words, or so they'd have you believe.

It's possible that I may have been conned, that this really is just a cheap ass garden glove repackaged as a "cat grooming glove" and sold to suckers like me for $4.00 a pair. But you know what? The cat likes them, and he's a lean (sort of), mean shedding machine, so I'm not sure I care. The cat who can stand about three passes with a brush before he goes berserk and starts gnawing on the handle actually digs these bad boys:

I rocked the thrift store circuit this past Thursday with my mom and sister. They are the best thrift store shoppers ever, and apparently I share some of their talents. I scored these sweet Keds for only a dollar!

This very cool book about coelacanths was also a dollar, in the used book corner of the public library:

I spent a large portion of the evening cleaning out our closet. See? See how nice it looks?

We've only lived here for a year and a half. Seriously, though, this is pretty good for me. I'm a horrible packrat, and cling to the (probably delusional) notion that all I need to solve my clutter problem is as many shelf systems and Sterilite bins as I can get my hands on without going broke. I'm having trouble convincing my more practical husband of this argument. I feel like I did a pretty decent job with the closet. Just look at this pile o' crap I pulled out to get rid of:

Jeans, anyone?

Speaking of el gato...

I was looking at this picture of him the other day, and realized he must have been smaller when we first adopted him.

Still quite large, but not as large as he is currently. He was 18 months old when he came to live with us, and I'd assumed full-grown, but he just looks so much younger compared to now:

There are no pictures of a younger me to share, but here's a photo of my bear, who I've had since I was about four years old:

My mom made him for me, because she's just that cool. My sister has one that is a mirror image of mine...light where he's dark and dark where he's light. Also, this is the turtle that MB gave me when we'd been going out for four months.

Two living fossils in one, huh?

squirrel-like rodent found

One more link...

Ancient Cypriots used biofuel.

Reading: The Gallery of Regrettable Food by James Lileks.

Playing: August and Everything After by Counting Crows

Monday, March 06, 2006

In dog years, I'm 175. Almost.

Dude. Put like that, it doesn't seem so bad. Could be worse; I could be a dog. Then I'd be REALLY out of shape and crotchety. All in all, I'm not so worked up over turning 25, which will happen a week from today. I don't feel too much different than I did at 18. Granted, the pants I wore back then have long since ceased to fit and the shirts are largely mourned as well, but I can still technically fit into the bottom half of the boy-shorts and halter-top swimsuit I got in 10th grade. Let's not discuss the halter...please, let's not. So. Being able to wear half of a swimsuit I bought almost 10 years ago (GOOD GOD.) has to count for something.

I feel like I've been able to outgrow some of the less-desirable attributes of adolescence (huge imaginary audience complex, largely self-centered worldview, embarrassing amounts of righteous indignation, some measure of naivete) without becoming too jaded or boring. While I don't really have a swinging nightlife these days, I really never did have much of one to start with. I still see my closest friends from high school on a regular basis. I still have the same best friend I've had since kindergarten, and that rocks.

I still feel about 19-ish years old. It boggles a bit to realize that my baby sister is now 19. I mean, that's hard enough to believe without doing the math to place myself at the appropriate relative age.

Some days I feel like my life is moving along very well, according to some plan which I might not fully understand yet, but nonetheless seems to be leading me somewhere very good. Other days I feel like we'll never achieve "real" adulthood, with its steady finances and home ownership and such. Other days I suspect that perhaps the steadiness of adulthood is just a carefully crafted illusion, woven by caring parents around the world who want their kids to be able to experience the joy of youthful obliviousness. Maybe grownups always secretly worry if the jobs will hold out, if the money will stay steady, if the goals will be met. If so...oh, well. As long as I can still fit into those swimsuit bottoms, it's all good.

But it's special to me.

Tonight I had a waffle doused in maple syrup that I had a hand in making. I wasn't going to say anything, because big whoop, maple syrup. But then I started thinking...and I'll bet there aren't all that many people who can say they helped make the maple syrup they're pouring onto their waffles.

Here's how it came to pass. I did a year of AmeriCorps service last year, and my host site was a local nature preserve. This nature preserve is seriously cool, and includes some of the last stands of virgin forest in the state. Every year, they have a pancake breakfast and make some of the syrup for it with sap from maple trees found on the preserve. One day last January or February, one of the volunteers showed me how to tap maple trees, and I actually tapped one of them by myself. Somewhere in all the syrup they made last year (some of which was bottled and sold), there was sap from the tree that I tapped, and that's pretty cool.

Witness giant sin-crushing loaves of bread!

I only wish I was clever enough to have made this up.

Stay tuned for your regularly-scheduled freakout

I signed up to take a whitewater kayaking class in April. I developed an irrational fear of kayaking around the age of 12 or so, when I read an article about the sport. Apparently the article implied that the kayaker is completely unable to escape from the kayak once the dry skirt is in place. My overactive imagination immediately went into hyperdrive, and I became very, very afraid of the idea of being in a boat that 1. is likely to roll over and 2. from which I would be unable to escape.

Once someone helpfully pointed out that at least the search teams would know where to look for your body if you drowned in your kayak, I was pretty much never going to go near the damn things. But then, years later, I found that I really love to canoe. Hanging out with canoeing people generally leads to hanging out with some kayaking people, too, and they tend to look like they're having a lot of fun. I'm sure there would be a scandal if they took my parents' $100 (They paid for the class for me as a birthday gift, because they rock that hard) and let me get flipped upside-down in an inescapable boat. Right? ...right? I expect I'll be excited until the moment they put me in the actual kayak, on the actual river. Then things may get interesting.

Reading: Marley & Me: Life and Love With the World's Worst Dog by John Grogan. This book is SO good. It's wonderful because of the dog in question, and because of the way it's written. I love the way good journalists are sometimes able to write excellent and entertaining nonfiction. (Other examples: Tim Cahill, who once referred to me, to my face, as "the girl with the funny jokes." DUDE. DUDE!, and Steve Fiffer, author of Tyrannosaurus Sue). I have absolutely loved this book. It has hilarious moments, serious moments, heartwrenching moments, heartwarming moments, more hilarious moments. I have to confess that I haven't actually finished the book yet. I got to the part last night where it is clear that the inevitable is going to come to pass, and I knew that if I kept reading, I'd bawl all night. But don't let that dissuade you! Read Marley & Me. You'll be glad you did.

Also reading: Sabriel, by Garth Nix. I'd never heard of this author until a friend of mine sent me two of his paperbacks from England. I'm four chapters into Sabriel, and it's totally engrossing. It was a struggle to put it down and return to work today once my lunch break was over.

Playing: The Legend of Johnny Cash (yes, again) and this CD, even though the company that made it is teasing me cruelly with this...the best lotion I've ever, ever found, and it's out of stock and unavailable to order. I may weep.