[syndicated profile] alpennia_feed

Posted by Heather Rose Jones

Monday, October 16, 2017 - 14:00

This article only scratches the surface of the peculiar fascination that emerged in the Renaissance around physiological ambiguity and gender identity. If one picks through the dubious concepts of anatomy and the strong binarist and heteronormative positions of both medicine and the law, there are some interesting developments in attitudes toward subjective gender identity.

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Full citation: 

Daston, Lorraine & Katharine Park. 1996. “The Hermaphrodite and the Orders of Nature: Sexual Ambiguity in Early Modern France” in Premodern Sexualities ed. by Louise Fradenburg & Carla Freccero. Routledge, New York. ISBN 0-415-91258-X

Publication summary: 


This is a collection of papers looking at issues in the historiography of sexuality, that is: how to study sexuality in historic contexts with consideration of the theoretical frameworks being used. In general, the approach is to dismantle the concepts of universals and essences, by which “history” has been used to define and persecute “others.” The papers are very theory-focused around how the study of the “other” points out the narrow and distorted picture of history in the mainstream tradition. One feature that these papers challenge is a clear dichotomy between a pre-modern understanding of sexuality as “acts” versus a modern understanding as “identity”. The papers cover not only queer sexuality by a broader variety of sexualized themes in history.  As usual with general collections like this, I’ve selected the papers that speak to lesbian-like themes, but in this case I’ve included on with a male focus that provides an interesting counterpoint on issues of gender identity.

Daston & Park 1996 “The Hermaphrodite and the Orders of Nature: Sexual Ambiguity in Early Modern France “

The late 16th and 17th century fascination with hermaphrodites would give the impression that such persons were common. As well as the volume of discourse on the topic, the nature is different from previous medieval discussions and later early modern ones. The opinions and positions are contradictory, even when limited to the medical community, and include both formal and informal expertise (e.g., surgeons versus midwives). The focus of this article is specifically on the discussions of learned physicians, in order to narrow the range of variables.

Classical opinions fell in two general camps. Followers of Hippocrates and Galen considered hermaphrodites to be truly intermediate in sex, neither male nor female, although a spectrum was recognized that included effeminate males and masculine females. The Aristotelian view was that hermaphrodites had both male and female genitals but that the “true gender” of the individual would be apparent from temperament and essential personality. (One might summarize these as the “neither” and the “both” models, with reference to binary gender.)

Medieval Arabic medical manuals and the European texts derived from them discuss surgery to “treat” hermaphrodites, but this raised the question of identifying the “true” sex that was to be the output of the surgery. In general, medical literature of the medieval era avoided moral judgments, in contrast to medieval philosophical literature which viewed gender ambiguity more negatively.

Beginning around 1550, medical literature began addressing the theological and moral implications of gender ambiguity. For example, Paré whose discussion of hermaphrodites in the context of birth defects then slides sideways to discuss sex between women and then to examples of women transformed into men.

This shift in the moral tone of the discourse was accompanied by a focus on the Hippocratic model that saw hermaphrodites as a midpoint in a continuum of gender, situated between the effeminate man and the masculine woman. This positioning now linked hermaphrodites to discussions of sodomy and other sexual transgressions, as well as to transvestism. Like those topics, hermaphroditism represented a blurring or destruction of gender boundaries.

The shift to moralizing about hermaphrodites branched out into using biology for titillation. Paré was accused of obscenity by the Paris medical faculty due to his intentional inclusion of prurient material intended to appeal to the growing association of hermaphrodites with lesbians and thus with pornography. Thus, hermaphrodite anatomy became associated with a pointed focus on sex.

The law had no context for taking a neutral approach to the legal status of hermaphrodites. All interpretations required fitting into a strict gender binary. While medieval legal practice assumed there was an “innate” gender identity that could be determined by self-reporting of the individual hermaphrodite, Renaissance practice was deeply concerned with the possibility of deception and fraud and preferred to bring in outside experts to examine the supposed hermaphrodite and proclaim a gender assignment that the law would then impose.

The impact on individual lives of this approach is documented in any number of legal cases. Marie/Marin le Mercis was assigned female at birth but at 21 abandoned female dress, changed to using the masculine name Marin, and announced the intention of marrying a fellow maidservant, a widow named Jeane le Febvre. Marie/Marin was condemned to die for sodomy and cross-dressing, but an expert witness was brought in who testified that Marin had a penis that emerged from the vagina during arousal. The death penalty was avoided, but Marie/Marin was required to live as a woman and not have sex of any kind for two years to determine which gender nature would emerge.

Another case (which may demonstrate class privilege) was that of a lawyer’s daughter who was caught having sex with a woman but then was judged to be a hermaphrodite with a hidden penis. Having been judged to be officially male, the defendant was not only allowed to live as a man but to study philosophy at the university.

Reliance on outside testimony for legal questions of sexual performance (e.g., accusations of impotence relevant to divorce proceedings) was an established practice.  However the use of expert testimony for questions of hermaphrodite gender was new and related to concerns about gender fraud. This concern intruded into the lives of physiologically ambiguous people even when no potential crime was involved.  Such was the case in 1686 in France of Marguerite Malaure who was declared “predominantly male” and legally required to dress and live as a man (under the name Arnaud). Marguerite was strongly opposed to this judgment but had to petition the king to be allowed to return to a female life.

These are only some of the cases that illustrate this conflict between whether the “truth” of gender was to be found in physiology or subjective personal identity. But arguments from subjective gender identity were highly heteronormative and binary, often concluding that the object of sexual desire was a certain evidence for (heteronormative) gender identity. Physiognomy was also consulted to determine “true gender”, evaluating the subject in relation to gender ideals. Did the person have “feminine” or “masculine” features. But the primary emphasis was on the genitals. This was the context in which we see the evolution of the trope of an enlarged clitoris being associated with lesbianism.

Anxiety about hermaphrodites is also contemporaneous with general social anxiety about gender blurring, as exemplified by tracts such as Hic Mulier.

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The weekend kicked off not, as I expected on Friday morning with WomenVenture’s Marketplace and Luncheon, but with a surprise invite from the Tretter Collection at the University of Minnesota to go to the premier of TPT’s LGBTQ MN history documentary, Out North (airing tonight on TPT) at the Cowles Dance Center on Thursday night. The documentary is pretty good, though there are inevitable gaps. It would have been outstanding to hear something about immigrant queer history, for example, which doesn’t turn up much despite the longevity and legacy of local organizations like Shades of Yellow. I’m sure other folks with more knowledge about the queer history of the Cities as well as the rest of Minnesota will have additional thoughts, but with that caveat, I enjoyed it. Coverage of the early organizations and samesex marriage history is pretty detailed and there are some great interviews with Lisa Vecoli of Tretter, Rep. Karen Clark, Andrea Jenkins, Lou Hoffman and a number of other activists, artists, politicians and religious leaders. I really liked the presentation and I’m hoping they do some more followup posts on their blog or interviews on a different show to add some more depth and voices to it. I should mention that I have a moment of glory during Lou Hoffman’s interview; a number of years back, I wrote an article about the Bisexual Organizing Project for an indie newspaper that no longer exists and there is a brief shot of the paper, the article and my byline. Only problem is that it is the article where the paper misspelled my last name (“Lundhoff”), and thus I will be remembered, I suspect. Oh well, nice to be included.


After that, we headed home and I rose in the wee hours of the morning to head over to run a Queen of Swords Press book table at WomenVenture’s Luncheon and Marketplace at a fancy hotel in downtown Minneapolis. And it was fancy! And likely very successful for some vendors. But not, alas, me. Tables were quite spendy, and we were charged extra for Wifi and parking, and while lunch was good and it was nice to see both my Senators on stage congratulating WomenVenture on its 40th anniversary, it was not a couple of hundred dollars worth of “nice.” I think it would have helped had they not enthusiastically sold us on the “giant crowds eager to spend right before and right after lunch” angle. I sold a couple of books, handed out a few cards and flyers for my November talk at DreamHaven, politely discouraged people eager to send me their latest opus and had some nice chats with the vendors around me, but that was it. I did, however, spend the time fine-tuning my table rap, so there was that.

At 3PM, I had to throw everything together and motor over to the Fairgrounds in St. Paul to set up our table for the Twin Cities Book Festival That part went well, and Michael and Sherry and I got things set up and ready to go for Saturday in time to meet up with Kevin for a nice dinner at ChinDian Café (Indian/Chinese fusion food). Mike showed up early the next day and we zipped back to the Fairgrounds. We were pretty much a table-setup machine so we each had time to make a quick tour. I scored a copy of Edward Gorey’s The Haunted Looking Glass: Ghost Stories, which made me happy.

The day was a whirlwind – I sold a fair number of books and a few mugs, Mike sold some books and we talked to a ton of people. Lots of folks stopped by, including Rachel Gold, Paul Weimer, Charlie Jane Anders Venus DeMars and Joyce Sutphen. I chatted with acclaimed local cartoonist Rob Kirby and bought his latest. And then at the end of the day when we were tired and crispy, Matt and Kevin turned up and helped us load out. So big thumbs up on the TC Book Fest. I’ll definitely look at it for next year. Many thanks to Mike Merriam for being an excellent companion and fine tablemate!

This week is a mad scramble to get the new Emily Byrne book prepped and other stuff before I take off for Sirens next week. Gonna be lively.


almost time

Oct. 16th, 2017 07:28 pm
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[personal profile] kareina
...to head to the train station to pick up my favourite unrequited love. I am looking forward to the next couple of days.

Between work and now I have manged to spend about an hour moving dirt to cover the rocks at the base of the sledding hill (about half done with that now, I think), get some much needed vacuuming done, and bake some gluten-free, dairy free cookies (he does have a rather unpleasant combination of food allergies!), and even found time to have some dinner and read a little.

One of Those Days

Oct. 16th, 2017 03:48 pm
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[personal profile] hollymath
Been a strange, nerve-jangly sort of day.

I missed a lecture because there were no fucking buses for 40 minutes. I know I could've turned up late but I was all wound up by then, and I can catch up because the lectures and slides are recorded.

We got the orange sun around lunchtime, it's clear and sunny here now (though still with particles of dust in the air hurting my eyes) but it's gone down south where a million more people are tweeting about it, and a million freaked-out status updates on Facebook and bad-joke tweets haven't helped somehow. That we feel such a sense of impending doom at such a minor change in the quality of the light makes it easy to see why humans had to invent religion.

I didn't feel doomy but I was also pretty sure it was something to do with the hurricane, and the hurricane is because of climate change and that make terrified and so miserable. My anxious brain told me "One day we'll look back on these as the good old days, weather-wise," because my anxious brain hates me.

I slept awfully last night. Went to bed early, woke up after midnight and didnt get back to sleep until five in the morning.

Andrew emailed while I was out saying the washing machine is broken, he thinks he can fix it but I'll need to help. But when I got back home he's out, so I'm sitting here writing this instead. I hope the washing machine's okay, we can't afford it not to be. Don't know where he is, but I think he was going to buy food. And I thought of something on my way home that I wanted but I forgot to tell him to get.

The people next door are having building work done on their house, and the loud whine of the drills makes it hard to concentrate or relax.

I need a hug or a cry or a sleep or a vacation. But none of those things seem like they'd be enough really.

Guess the author!

Oct. 16th, 2017 10:07 am
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[personal profile] james_davis_nicoll
"Atwood lifted much of HANDMAID from Heinlein. Yet the world thinks she’s an original."


Oct. 16th, 2017 06:52 am
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[personal profile] hudebnik
We attended an awesome concert yesterday afternoon: the 8 men of Capella Pratensis, singing a Pierre de la Rue mass interspersed with other related Marian stuff as might have been heard by Hieronymus Bosch at the chapel of his confraternity (of which Pierre de la Rue and Petrus Alamire were also members). They perform from original notation, all standing together and reading from a single large choirbook as depicted in the 15th-century illustrations, and this practice adds an interesting edge of intensity: more camaraderie, more risk, more interaction. And the voices were absolutely spot-on.

Cooking Diary

Oct. 16th, 2017 05:35 pm
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[personal profile] soon_lee
Week starting Oct 9:
Monday: Okonomiyaki with chicken
More... )

Failed crosspost

Oct. 15th, 2017 10:54 pm
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[personal profile] kiya
I don't know why On The Naming of Cats (and other Things) didn't crosspost properly and I'm too fucking tired to chase it down.
[syndicated profile] alpennia_feed

Posted by Heather Rose Jones

Sunday, October 15, 2017 - 19:00

(If you’re unfamiliar with the phrase “the uncanny valley” in visual representation, this Wikipedia article is a useful start, especially the section on computer animation.)

I had something of an epiphany the other day when reading Nalo Hopkinson’s The Salt Roads and following discussions online about a recent lesbian romance novel and contemplating other books in my past that have poked at me in uncomfortable ways around the issue of representation. Representation in books is something of a hot topic these days-- the idea that everyone has a right to see the many facets of their own identity represented in the fiction they read, complicated by the nearly infinite number of intersectional combinations those identities can create.

My epiphany is this: sometimes I take more joy in a book that comes nowhere near to representing my own specific identities as long as it clearly shows a world in which I could exist. That is, where the individual points of representation are distributed widely enough across the spectrum of the possible that I can find myself in the interstices. Sometimes this can be more satisfying than a book that comes much closer to representing my own specific intersections and yet erases the possibility of some essential aspect.

The world represented in The Salt Roads is one in which it is an assumed and given fact that women have connections with other women. That those connections will be of widely varying types. And that those types will include a range of romantic, sensual, and erotic connections. The Salt Roads is a book that makes me feel like I exist somewhere within that world even though I have very little in common with the protagonists on the basis of culture, ethnicity, economic status, and life story. It isn’t that the characters represent me--none of them come close to representing my own romantic and sexual experiences--but that the world has a place for me within it.

What do I contrast this with? Books where women live lives of isolation. (Or where women don’t exist as multi-dimensional human beings at all.) Where all their key relationships are to men. Or where women are unremarkably exclusively heterosexual in every emotion and action without ever straying from that path. Books where every single character is driven by motivations that I find incomprehensible, with no indication that other possible motivations exist.

You might think that, as a lesbian, I would find a great deal of inclusion and representation within the field of lesbian fiction, but here’s where the other part of my epiphany kicks in. Contemporary lesbian romance--and that’s the core prototype and dominant market presence in the lesbian fiction industry--depicts a world in which women experience a fairly narrow range of types of relationships, interactions, and expectations. There is, as a rule, an expectation that there will be certain types of attraction, that relationships will progress according to certain types of scripts, and that the eventual goal is taken from a specific set of outcomes.

I can hear people saying, “But wait! There’s an incredibly wide variety of personality types and relationship shapes and plot arcs within lesbian romance,” but that comes from looking from inside that set of expectations. You aren’t comparing it to the possibility of what could be. It’s a bit like being a white American and looking at an entire literary genre and seeing all the diversity in it but failing to notice that all the protagonists are white Americans. Or, for a more frivolous comparison, it’s like being excited about the enormous variety of offerings from See’s Candies and failing to notice that they all have chocolate in common. No they don’t! you protest. There’s that one item in the Nuts & Chews box that’s just peanuts in nougat. I’m sure there’s at least one choice that doesn’t have chocolate. My case rests. You aren't thinking about the existence of fresh peaches. Or tomatoes. Or roast beef. You're still thinking in terms of chocolate and not-quite-but-almost-chocolate.

The discussion that was the other half of the inspiration for these thoughts revolves around a recent contemporary lesbian romance novel with the “shocking revolutionary twist” that one of the protagonists is asexual. Now I think it’s a lovely idea to have asexual protagonists in books, though setting them in a formulaic romance may undermine the point a bit for the reading public. I haven’t read the specific book itself, so I’m not talking about whether the topic was handled well or badly in that specific instance. I may or may not read it--I’m not sure I’d enjoy a novel that treats asexuality as an “afterschool special” educational project, given that contemporary romance isn’t really my thing in the first place.

But what struck me was the significant number of readers within the lesbian fiction community whose response was along the lines of, “Wow, this is fascinating, I never knew that such a thing as asexuality existed! I don’t know any asexual lesbians! This introduces me to people and ideas that I’d never encountered before! Thank you for educating me on this topic! Nobody’s ever written about it before.” (Hint: Yes, people have written novels with asexual and aromantic protagonists before. Please don’t erase their existence.)

Let’s get one thing out of the way. Of course you already knew that asexual lesbians existed. You’ve met them, both online and in real life. You just called them “frigid” or “sexually hung-up” or “full of internalized homophobia” or "repressed" or “emotionally unavailable” or any of the other popular labels for people whose erotic response is radically different from yours.

And the people saying this--that they didn’t know asexual lesbians existed--are saying it in online social spaces where people like me have been participating all along. It means that they’ve never seen me. They’ve never actually listened to any of the things I’ve said in those online communities around the topic of representations of desire and sexuality in fiction. I don’t exist for them. It means that every time I’ve interacted with them, they’ve pasted a picture on top of my existence that’s something other than who I am and interacted with that, because they literally didn’t believe that I existed.

And that’s what I mean by books that create worlds that I could exist in. If an author of lesbian fiction literally doesn’t know that asexuality is a possible thing, they certainly aren’t going to write fictional worlds that represent it, or that have a space in which it could exist. That part of the map of human territory won’t be an empty space labeled “here be sea serpents and mermaids” there won’t even be an empty space on the map it could be penciled into.

The third book I’d like to bring into this discussion is Ellen Kushner’s The Privilege of the Sword. I’ve previously spilled a fair amount of ink over how that book was an emotional flash-point for me, because it came so close to being the perfect book for my emotional core...and then it veered sideways and was a perfect book for someone who was not quite me. Reviewing my reaction in the context of the current topic, I think one of the places where it failed me that I hadn’t been able to articulate properly, is that the female same-sex relations that I’d seen represented in the world of Riverside were fairly narrow in scope--in part because of the relatively small number of examples. Riverside is a world where it seems like half of the men have been in some sort of romantic or sexual relationship with another man, but whatever the author’s intent, we don’t see a similar normalization of women’s relationships. For that matter, we don’t see a full range of women’s relationships at all. To quote my post-review analysis:

“There’s a point in Katherine’s sexual explorations with Marcus where a point is made about ‘having sex with your best friend’ and I think that was when it hit me that The Privilege of the Sword doesn’t seem to show women having serious, genuine friendships with other women. Men have deep and binding friendships with men. Men and women can have genuine friendships as well as relationships based on desire or familial bonds. But women’s friendships are shown as being contingent (“do our husbands get along?”) or as play-acting (Katherine and Artemisia) or as part of power jockeying (the two actresses).”

Here was an excellently-written story of a daring, resourceful, and passionate young woman, and it existed in a world where women don’t seem to have genuine friendships with each other--much less enduring passionate feelings for each other. It came so close to hitting my personal target and then denied the existence of things that are at the core of my being. (Note: the Riverside serial Tremontaine has been a bit better about representing a variety of women’s interpersonal and same-sex romantic interactions.)

So if you’ve ever wondered why my reading habits and my reviews don’t align on a simple “lesbian books good, non-lesbian books less good” axis, it’s because I’m not only a lesbian, and all the other parts of who I am are just as important to me as that one. In the aggregate, they are more important. I’m not interested in reading and praising lesbian novels that nevertheless leave me feeling like an alien from another planet whose existence the author doesn’t quite believe in.

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[personal profile] cellio

A few weeks ago I wrote about a Stack Exchange design change that made the site much harder for me to use. I wrote a post about it that got a lot of attention -- which led to a meeting invitation from the relevant product manager. We had a very productive conversation, after which they fixed the main problems I reported (and one that came up during our meeting). Woot! Calm-but-firm user feedback works sometimes.

The meeting was supposed to include one of the designers, but time zones are hard. The product manager and I spent the better part of an hour talking about the design, use cases, the need for responsive design, vision problems, and so on. Through screen-sharing, I showed him what things were problems for me, what I was using user scripts or CSS overrides to get around (but I can't do that on my tablet), what I was just having to put up with, and what site functions I was just ignoring because they're too hard now. While it's not about the top bar (the specific UI change that led to this meeting), I pointed out a problem that basically means I can't do some key moderation tasks on any mobile device. (No word yet on whether they're going to fix that.) Along the way we bumped into a couple things where, apparently, normal people see some color differentiation that I couldn't see, and he said they'd work on that. He shared some of their then-future plans for the top bar and asked for feedback. He said they are trying to move to responsive design, which will make a lot of things better, but we both know that's a big change for a site that wasn't designed that way from the start.

This UI change has been quite contentious among the larger user community. Some users are, sadly, being quite rude about it. I'm glad that, against that backdrop, someone was willing to take the time to try to understand and address the problems I was facing with the new design. I'm one of about 15 million users and about 500 moderators, and nonetheless I was worth a few hours of somebody's time. Courtesy of course matters, but even with courtesy I'm usually brushed off, not engaged, when part of a large user base somewhere.

This is actually my fourth* significant meeting (not email, not site chat, but synchronous meeting) with SE employees -- two community managers, one VP (escalating a problem), and now this product manager. All have left me feeling that the employees in question really cared about me as a user and moderator, and most of them resulted in my problems being fixed. I'm pretty impressed.

* I was also interviewed by a member of the design team for the now-ended Documentation product, I think because of this post I wrote about some planned changes there. That was them doing user research (for which they paid me), not me bringing something to them.

this week: holy unmercenaries

Oct. 15th, 2017 06:58 am
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[personal profile] elbren
Saints Zenaida, Philonella, Hermione, and Eukhidia healed the sick regardless of their ability to pay. Zenaida and Philonella established their free clinic in a cavern with mineral springs. Zenaida specialized in pediatrics and treating mental illness, and Philonella in gynecology and distinguishing medicine from magic and astrology. Hermione and Eukhidia founded the first hospital-hostel, offering treatment and lodging to travelers and the poor.
ink outline drawing of four 1st century women
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[personal profile] we_protect_each_other posting in [community profile] 2017revival
Did this a few months ago. Trying again. I have become a more active poster, but only by a bit. I have been rewatching things, adjusting to a new job, and so on, so it felt time to do it again.

Describe yourself in five sentences or less: I'm a long-time internet citizen with too many fannish interests to count. I'm a high school English teacher in my first year of teaching, so I'm constantly exhausted. My commute to work is so long that it's having an impact on my health. I'm 26 and employed but live with my parents and dogs. I'm sometimes too much of an open book online, but I'm an introvert.

Top 5 fandoms: Stargate SG-1. Avatar: The Last Airbender. Amorphous DC stuff including Young Justice, Wonder Woman, and Arrow nostalgia at the moment. Always Doctor Who. YouTube stuff?

I mostly post about: Screams into the void, be they about fandom thoughts that I have no other outlet for or things about my real life I don't want to directly put in anyone's lap. Also tons of Dear Author Letters because I have an exchange addiction.

I rarely post about: I don't actually post about politics and religion often, but I don't shy away from them either.

My three last posts were about: Two Dear Author Letters and one post about how terrified I am to return to work on Monday.

How often do you post?: A few times a month at least since I started making an effort, sometimes more with motivation.

How about commenting?: Every time I go through my reading page, I try to find at least one thing to comment on unless it's redundant. I don't always succeed, but I am a big proponent of reciprocity of interaction for fanworks and am a generally supportive person when I can be.

sorta this new thing

Oct. 15th, 2017 02:51 am
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[personal profile] alenepasserine posting in [community profile] 2017revival
Name: Alene works for now
Age: 45
Location: northeast Texas

Describe yourself in five sentences or less: I'm outdoorsy yet cursed with horrible grass allergies. I believe in love but never for me. I'm a hermit who's regrettably a nurturer and a fixer. I rarely meet a book I won't devour. I have a 90% chance of turning the wrong way at an intersection.

Top 5 fandoms: Lucifer, Court of Thorns and Roses, all things Middle Earth, Guild Hunter, varying bandfic

I mostly post about: Travelry, hikery, kayakery

I rarely post about: Squashy feeling-things

My three last posts were about: State parks, the TPWD geocache challengs, and anti-aging products

How often do you post? Depends on if I've done anything interesting lately

How about commenting? Not friends with anyone or in any communities yet, but when I am, it varies. I get chatty phases and quiet phases.

And here she is

Oct. 14th, 2017 07:40 pm
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[personal profile] ritaxis
 I can't manage a photo just now but my granddaughter Eloise looks very like a baby. She's just under six pounds and healthy. She's 35 weeks, so she would probably have been an 8 pounder at term. Emma's in decent shape too. I have not been in her presence but that will happen soon.


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