Saturday, 31 March 2007

Blowin' in the Wind

We just got back from our monthly run to the dump (for city folks, note that no one comes for your garbage when you live 'in the bush'.) As usual I come back discouraged and a bit sick because of the mess that is our local garbage disposal site. Plastic bags festoon the trees and bushes all around, and especially downwind, the paper recycle has a huge pile of soggy cardboard outside in the mud, there is a lot of stuff in the actual tip that should not be there and the recycle shed has been closed because no one is prepared to look after it.

It's the plastic bag part I mind the most. For the last year or so all of the bigger stores in our shopping town have contributed to a cloth bag campaign. The bags cost a dollar, are available to buy in most stores and hold a lot of stuff. They fold flat when not in use, are washable and light. A lot of people have adopted them with enthusiasm, but you'd never know it at our waste site. Part of the problem is bears -- they get into the tip when the dump is not open, tear open the green bags and rummage through for anything good. The smaller plastic bags all get ripped open and scattered and then they blow. After the bears have had a good rummage the crows arrive, and loosen any bags the bears might have missed. Some of the township waste sites have electric fencing to keep the bears out, but ours is almost full and due to be closed so this improvement has not been made. And the bags blow.

When we built the house I persuaded JG that I needed a cupboard in the kitchen for recycle and I have capacity to store cans and plastic for about a month. Glass has to go into the tip, as the local recycle business cannot find a market for it, but at least it is inert, so I don't mind throwing it in there. I have two big compost bins, and we burn the clean paper. That leaves uncompostable scraps and plastic wrap to ditch. The other big item is newspapers -- we take two dailies and three local weeklies, plus an enormous number of coloured advertising fliers -- but that gets recycled, thus using up my cardboard boxes to pack it in. And I confess to the fact that a lot of the uncompostable but edible scrap gets dumped back in the bush, thus making the local raccoons plump and happy. So we lug boxes of paper, usually two bins of recycle and one small bag of the rest.

The waste disposal site at a hamlet not far away still has a recycle centre. This is a lot of fun as books, baby clothes, small appliances and lots of other fascinating stuff is all sorted and stored in an old trailer where you can go and add and subtract. There is also a local habit of plonking good junk down at the end of the laneway so that neighbours and passers by can see it and take it away if they like it. JG is enthralled with a jar of goodies one of our neighbours has set out, but so far has not succumbed.

He is a real problem -- you do not want to let him lose at an auction because he bids on boxes of mixed goodies and then keeps it all. He has lumberjack tools, a complete welding outfit, hardwood plank storage, building equipment and supplies and tools, automotive tools, and more. At present we have three storage buildings (one with two annexes) and a garage and the only reason the garage is not stuffed is that we only finished building it in December. Give him time and the cars may be back outside again.

Although I am not, blush, blameless myself. I can't bear to get rid of books and the cabin that we built here before the full time house is at present housing my paperback collection, because the hardcover books take up all the bookcase space in this fairly large house. There are probably 200 books in the office, some of which show in the photo behind the bag, and more bookcases in the living room and bedroom and TV room downstairs. And I need more bookcases. So, while I complain about JG the packrat here, I would not dare complain to his face. 'What about all your books?', he would say. Maybe I had better let him investigate that jar!

Friday, 30 March 2007

I know exactly where everything is!

I was just plodding around Blogher at 54.0 Mbps, being amazed at all the stuff on there. I also had a look at their blog categories, which don't exactly impress me. Can anyone tell me why 'life' is a separate category? Sounds a bit like that drawer in the kitchen where you put bits that don't belong anywhere else.

Mine is always full, so maybe I should not stand in the door of my little glass house and throw stones.

When I was an undergraduate five of us shared an off-campus house. Mine was the smallest room of the five and my course work required the largest physical number of books. I usually had books, papers and index cards piled on every available flat surface, including the bed. My housemates used to look in the door and snicker as I dug like a terrier in the debris, looking for something and (very often) muttering about getting organized. For some reason this struck them as funny.

One day a sign appeared on my door saying "I must get organized." It became the housemate's motto and mantra and, to this day, is a tag or an insult in letters and emails. And to this day, I have not achieved it.

I do make sporadic attempts. I was filing photographs this morning and came across this one. I thought I would pop it in here, to celebrate the arrival of spring, robins, redwing blackbirds and mud! This is a shot of my small white lilac bush last February after an ice storm. I'm going to try a series of pics from the same angle as it greens up this year.

Thursday, 29 March 2007

May I borrow a cup of labels?

Slouching Mom (who has a great blog, by the way) directed my attention to the fact that my links weren't working, probably because I had pasted the URL in with a double http reference. I checked my list of other blogs and found that this was true and corrected them. This morning it hit me that the links inside the posts were probably faulty as well. I have just spent far too long correcting some of those. Grr. I guess whoever set up the new Blogger program thought it was helpful to put that it. Well, not to me.

My editing speed is super slow because my connection speed is not high. Living as we do at the end of a long muddy back road, we do not and will never have high speed cable. The area we live in is quite rugged and we are behind several hills that preclude our picking up a wireless signal overland. This leaves satellite. Which we now have and which makes me whimper each month when the bill comes in. The download speed is good, relative to the 24.6 we got on dial-up (picture me sitting in front of the screen with a cobweb draped from my nose to the monitor.) But the upload goes in bursts and if I try to send a big file I often get timed out. Since I do a graphics business out of the house, this remains frustrating, but at least I now only have to hand carry big stuff on disk one way back to the client. But digging into all the old posts, and waiting while they reload, gives the spider another chance.

As I looked at the older stuff, I realized that I was not making good use of the label option. The last section of Under the Mad Hat's blog on blogging talks about this. Of the various things she would like to see done, the rationalization of the post labels seems the easiest to undertake. So, I am wondering, what is the blog etiquette on this? Is it impolite to look at other people's labelling system and try to adapt some of it for one's own use? Is there anyone out there with more experience than my paltry month who is doing this? It seems like something worth pursuing.

Wednesday, 28 March 2007

Grey matters

I had an aunt who really believed in the 'Sleep on it" theory -- that if you thought about a problem and did not come up with a solution, if you had it in your mind when you went to sleep, you would wake up in the morning with a solution. Well, some of her decisions were downright strange, but she was convinced it worked for her. It happened to me today; I was thinking about a story plot when I went to sleep and woke up this morning with a possible fix for it. As I was stumbling around making the morning coffee, there was this answer. Normally I don't think of anything until the coffee has worked its magic. Heaven help me if I have to find a new package of filters or anything.

Probably it's the imminent sixty-fifth birthday that is prompting me to be so aware of how my mind is working or failing to work. Someone said in a post not long ago that her mother does a daily crossword puzzle to ward off Alzheimer's. That's me, too. My morning is up or down depending on whether I can get the references I don't know by filling in the blanks the other way, and this is very much a matter of luck because my knowledge of geography is (and always has been) abysmal, and I don't know the titles of modern singers' songs and CDs. In fact, my memory for proper names has always been purely awful.

If you ever had me for a teacher, you sat in the classroom in alphabetical order for the first three months of the school year while I painfully put names and faces together. I can still wake up sweating when I remember introducing my husband to my grandmother (who had not been at our wedding due to illness) and blocking on his name. I was twenty. You can imagine how much worse this quirk of the memory is now that my short term memory is shot. Little Stuff has to tell me the names of all the characters in her videos every time we watch them, and I can tell she thinks I am pretty feeble about this. The only reason I went to my high school reunion is that my best friend from back then can remember names -- I stuck to her like glue for the whole weekend, and she covered for me, bless her.

There is nothing more terrifying than having your mind melt down on you. It happened to me after my first child was born -- mood swings, inability to concentrate, the wh
ole thing. There wasn't much, if anything, going on with the mental health of new mothers in the early sixties. 'You've got a case of the baby blues,' I was told. 'It will pass off,' I was told. Yeah, right. But what am I supposed to do now, today, tonight? The baby wasn't gaining weight well -- I used to walk around the house with the baby in one arm and a can of powdered formula in the other, weeping, because I couldn't decide whether to keep on breastfeeding or switch to formula. The fact that this same baby slept for six to seven hours at a stretch, and had a father from a family of attenuated ectomorphs did not enter my mind. Here's a shot of the same kid, age seventeen. Skin, bone and a lot of muscle from gymnastics.

One morning, when our second child was a few months old, and I had started to climb out of the slough for the second time, my husband drifted downstairs from where he had been lolling in bed, listening to CBC, and informed me that he had heard a program about something called post partum depression and he guessed I had had quite a case of it. He was sorry that he hadn't been more sympathetic at the time. I was too busy to strangle him.

Since then I have learned to deal with the periodic bouts of depression that I think are purely genetic and based in brain chemistry, with my memory when it acts as if one of its tires is flat, with the fact that I'm not the student my mother wished I would be, that my husband and kids will always be able to beat me at Trivial Pursuit, that sometimes I won't find the words or the energy to be the grandmother or friend I would like to be. I know I have to write down passwords, names and other necessary facts, 'cause they just don't stick to the grey matter.

The head doesn't work too badly most days. Some mornings I can just wing through the crossword, dial the phone without looking up the number, come up with the right word at the right time. Only, if you're a former student of mine, don't pop up in the soup isle of the grocery store and say "Mrs. G.! Remember me?" Not while I have access to a whole row of heavy soup cans to bean you with.

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?

I had a lovely time last evening roaming around the mommy blog world while JG watched the Quebec election results. The only downer was to read about other people experiencing spring as I live through the frozen mud and slush that is an integral part of Eastern Ontario's March. Although spring has been arriving earlier the last few years, I assume because of global warming. When I first lived here, in the Sixties, the snow melted in April but now it is happening in March, two years out of three. Anyway, we have a week of good 'sugaring' weather forecast -- the sap runs best if there is a variation of +5 to -5 Celsius degrees, with sun, and Environment Canada says that is what we are going to get.

One of the things that impresses me most is how well people do dialogue as they record what their little ones are doing and saying. Another is how wide the range of interests and abilities is, especially among the mothers of children with challenges whom you would think would have less time and energy even than the rest of us to record their lives. I work with the mother of a boy with Down's Syndrome (Is Trisomy 21 now preferred? She uses DS when she talks about him) whose days are precision scheduled, structured around where he is and what he needs next. I remember well how hectic my life was when I went back to work full time, and my girls were pretty self sufficient by then.

"If you can fill the unrelenting minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run,' said Kipling. It's that 'unrelenting minute' that is so apt. Whether you are a working-outside-the-home mother or not, life is a mass of detail, scheduling and endless tasks of the sort that have to be done again and again. Plus, it is my observation that a lot of fathers -- a lot of men -- opt out of the detail even if they are really useful otherwise. The Elder Daughter's man does his share of the housework and child care, for example, but if he can't find something he needs he expects the ED to know.

When I first started back to work full time JG offered to do the grocery shopping to help out. I was touched and delighted -- and really taken aback when, on the first occasion of his doing it, he strolled into the kitchen and said, 'I'm ready to go. Where's the list?' I had assumed that making the list was part of the task. Silly me. In my observation men do what they choose to do and women both do the remainder and keep track of the whole thing. Daddy will drive the kids to their music lessons, but mommy knows when the lessons are, that kind of division of labour. I would be glad to know this is not so but I swear I have never met a man who was a household gatekeeper.

Sometimes I dream of a world where everyone's schedule and tasks are flexible. Where it would be assumed that paid employment for everyone was arranged so that the work of the home did not have to be done in snatched minutes of multi-tasking mayhem. Where the childcare and minutiae of daily life have importance! ('Do you work?' 'No, I'm a stay-at-home mom.') Where I wouldn't have to worry that my driven and madly multi-tasking daughter is going to crash and burn.

And Quebec is going to have a minority government. Fascinating.

The Latin title, very roughly rendered, means 'who will look after the guardians (gatekeepers)'? Would you believe I studied Latin language and literature for four interminable years of University?

Sunday, 25 March 2007

Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice

Saturday's paper had an op ed piece on 'princess' clothes for little girls. It caught my attention because female body image and all the surrounding issues are a preoccupation of mine and because once again I have a little girl to dress. It's one of the grama jobs to buy clothes, right?

Ever since Little Stuff came out of the three to twenty-four month class, I've had a harder and harder time finding clothes that I want to buy for her. Her parents like bright colours and practical stuff and I most emphatically agree. But a lot of the little kids' clothing outlets seem to stock pink with ruffles and pink with glitter and ruffles and ruching and flowers and gathers with glitter and sequins and … yuck! As Little Stuff would say. Not that she would say it about the clothes: she likes pink and glitter. But the over-elaborate clothes are a nuisance to wash, and the glitter rubs off and the pale colours show dirt, and that's just the first reason that I don't like them. Also in the toddlers' selection are very short skirts and tee shirts with messages on them, I guess so that the under fives can look like their big sisters who are trying to look like the pop tarts. What's annoying is that further down the racks in the selection for little boys are tough, practical pants and shirts with cute designs on them. Too much camouflage stuff, but more choice of reasonable play clothes.

Almost exactly a century ago my mother and her sister posed for these formal portraits, poor little things. I imagine their daily play clothes were not such a production, but my mother used to describe the process of getting the curls and bow in place for church and even the fact that she remembered it so clearly speaks of the misery of it. Almost sixty years ago I was a little girl who rebelled against long hair and braids and white dresses with embroidery. My mother always loved trousers and allowed me to wear them (and jeans) a lot, but I still, as a teenager, had to wear gloves and a hat to go into the downtown shopping district because that was expected of well brought up young women and it would reflect badly on my father if I were not dressed 'properly'.

Thank goodness those days are gone, I guess, but the pendulum sure has swung a long way the other way. I can deal with the piercings and the incredible tee shirt messages -- that's just adolescents being themselves. But acres of jiggling flesh hanging out of low slung pants is just sad. And the little girl copies, fluffy and impractical, are more than annoying. What are we saying to little girls when these are the clothes on offer? I know what skirts and ribbons and all that said to me -- they said 'Don't run, don't get dirty, don't dream of climbing that tree! Smile and be pretty and obedient and sweet." I am so, so lucky that my mother didn't buy into it and helped me survive the fifties. (Although she did draw the line at letting me get into the bathtub in my new jeans and wear them wet until they shrink-dried skin tight.)

So, the question is -- how do we make sure today's little girls don't get sucked in by this decade's sartorial disasters, with all the accompanying misbehaviour by the so-called stars who are wearing the stuff and setting the styles? The latest dolls make Barbie look absolutely harmless by comparison. The lyrics of a lot of the music, at least the ones I can understand, are not too salubrious either. I worry that the clothes are saying 'Ooh, you are so sweet and cute and not to be taken seriously!' And, 'Ooh, you look just like Britney and can you sing her song?' Not to pick on one apple out of the whole bad barrel, or anything, but that poor woman is seriously in trouble. Am I wrong in thinking the copy cat clothes are giving the wrong message?

I am sure there is a portion of the pink thing that is just little girls being little girls. Her mother and I let Little Stuff pick out her own Christmas dress in December. And out of a small selection of garments that would fit and would wash, she selected a little number in pale pink with furry trim and sequins on the front. She liked it because it felt soft and furry, she said, and because it was pink. Fair enough. She also got white Mary Janes and tights with a lacy design to go with the dress, because grama likes girly stuff too. I hope to goodness it doesn't warp her tiny mind, but I have some evidence it will not. She is choosing her own clothes and dressing herself now and she routinely picks out jeans and a shirt. I guess we only have to keep her out of the bathtub in them.

There's a book called The Language of Clothes by Alison Lurie that has some interesting theories about what we wear and what that says about us. One premise is that we all 'read' clothing, unconsciously as well as consciously. It follows, then, that whatever we wear says something to the people who look at us. The papers, for example, are all describing what Barbara Amiel Black is wearing at her husband's trial and discussing the meaning of her clothing choices.

Some choices send pretty obvious messages. Pink ruffles say something like 'Look at sweet little me' and on a woman my age would be a matter for both laughter and pity. Pink ruffles on a little boy would condemn him to much the same judgment. On a little girl, the outfit gets her treated as if that is what she were saying, and to my mind too much of that is not a good thing. And there are ruffles and worse than ruffles. Dressing up and playing tea party, I believe, is fine as one of a series of things to do, but dressing as a tiny pop tart should be limited to Hallowe'en, if then, because in our climate the kid would freeze solid.

Friday, 23 March 2007

No thank you, not today

If I wanted a longer or stronger penis, I sure would not have far to go to get one -- many, many people send me emails each day just begging me to try their remedy. Or if I wanted pirated software, there are almost as many friendly souls offering great bargains. I also have a fair number of offers of herbal and other remedies, and lots of chances to help honest souls retrieve their money. I must have been to a lot of the wrong web sites, I guess. I do dump cookies, but I get tired of reentering data to get back to the sites where I do want to be, so I don't do so indiscriminately. Every one and a while my Norton icon starts winking its evil little red eye at me and eventually I get fed up and run the damn system scan, which takes a long time and is boring, and up come the little messages about the cookies, with the comment that they're sort of harmless. Norton the nanny nag. Easier to dump the penile promises.

If I don't get a batch of emails, I can always enjoy the phone calls of even friendlier souls who really, really want to know how I am today. Or open all the letters from charities, national, regional and local, who want a minute of my time. The only advertisements I pay heed to, in truth, are the ones in the little local paper from our nearest town. It has a thriving environment of theatre and we try to get to a lot of them. Amateur, sure, but fun. We also have a pretty rich local visual arts community and they do open studio tours and exhibits with fair frequency. I normally do my charitable giving close to home because I know where it is needed locally and I can find out the proportion of the collected donations that actually go to where they are needed rather than into sending me address tags, greeting cards and other pieces of nonsense.

Right now I am up to my yin yang in a fundraising campaign for our local Community Health Centre. It is run by a community based board, and we had the temerity not to wait up to eight years for the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care (this is Ontario) to fund an expansion we desperately needed. We went ahead and built it and are just over two thirds of the way to paying for it. It's hard slogging because we are neither a rich nor a populous community and because in Ontario everyone expects the province to pay for health care. This in the face of every hospital around running lotteries is hard to believe, but that's the attitude. So far we have resisted sending out a barrage of begging letters, but we may have to do so. Or I may have to phone all my neighbours and ask them how they are today. What a horrible thought.

On another topic, the ongoing battle with Blogger continues, and I am going to make another try at getting an identifying picture into my profile. I found this dear little guy, who was drawn by Thackeray, the author from whom my title quote is drawn, and I am going to paste him in here and leave him for a while, despite the Help column that says I can delete him once he is saved in the profile. Hasn't worked yet. But I can get stubborn about more than refusing to give to Heart and Stroke. Again. And. Again.

Edit note: Did it! Yes! Huge thanks to Peter Chen of Blogger Tips and Tricks. You made me very happy.

Thursday, 22 March 2007

Oh, Brave New World! That has such bloggers in it.

There's an awful fascination in touring around through new blogs. I'm finding wonderful stuff, and a lot of terrific writers. (I am about to paste in a lot more names in the 'People I Learn From' column.) There are so many different ways that people approach things: I read something and I think 'right on' (or should that be 'write on!'?) Then I read some comments and have to go and look at the page of the person who wrote the comment I liked and then……. It is now almost the middle of the afternoon and I have got very little done except bop around the blogosphere, getting pulled farther and farther in. And my office is getting worse. Piled with jobs that could have been done today.

This is actually a shot from my last babysitting day -- Little Stuff is in my swivel chair contributing to grama's mess. She will be four in May and in the last month she has gone from fairly random scribbling to drawing faces with eyes, noses and mouths (and ears, yet), and can reliably print a version of her name that is recognizable. She's a daycare kid and so she sees her name on everything: she could make an attempt at the first letter around Christmas time and now, all of a sudden all six letters are there, sometimes out of order or upside down, but there they are. Her mother is worried that she insists on making the 'u' flipped vertically. Can't see it as a problem, myself. Her aunt had vertical and horizontal displacement problems, mild dyslexia in fact, at that age, and she was just fine by age seven.

Mind you, the younger daughter's Grade One teacher was just stellar, and highly trained in multiple approach theories of teaching reading. For me, Grade One is one of the most important years in school and deserves the best teachers and the smallest class size. That's the year that most kids can learn to read and they should end the year able to read to themselves. The other really important level is the first year of secondary school (or last year of intermediate in some systems), the year the majority of kids are thirteen. That's the year that the spoons should be taken out of their little mouths and the pressure applied, if necessary, to cause them to learn how to research.

I read, I think in a book called The Tipping Point, (and I know I own a copy, somewhere) that a research study done in the States found that the only consistent indicator of superior performance in school was the presence of books in the home. Not reading to kids, or parents who read, but that the home had books. I hope I've remembered that properly. I have so many dern books in my home that I can't find the one I want when I want it. I've thought about that a lot and it seems to me that the correlation must be that if there are books there, the kid goes and looks in the books to find out things and learns to research. And once a child knows how to do that, there is no stopping her.

I wonder what the internet and Googling things will do to that statistic. A while back I got a frantic cry from the middle grandkid, whose project was due the next morning, and what I did was hit the computer and email him a selection of web sites. If that had been my own kid twenty years earlier what I would have done was either drive her to the library or start hauling books off the shelves. Even ten years ago, if I had been procrastinating for a whole morning, I would have been doing it with text in my hands, probably newspapers or magazines. Only, I wouldn't have been able to stick a comment on the op. ed. page, the way it can be done in a blog. I guess it's the interaction that is so seductive.

And being able to fiddle with it. I have now pulled it back twice to fix typos. I should get a life!

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

It might as well be.............

I had thought of several erudite and pundit like things that I wanted to write today, and then I woke up and the sky was turquoise and the sun was coming up all rose and pink behind the trees and the goldfinches were swirling around the bird feeder chirping in a crazy kind of counterpoint and it is the first day of spring. Besides, I couldn't find the picture or the text I wanted to use. (Have I mentioned that my office resembles an archaeological dig?) So I started throwing loads of wash through the machine and lugging them out and hanging them on the clothesline. And the goldfinches had better stay in their own part of the yard!

We live in one corner of a three hundred acre bush in a house that we built ourselves when JG took early retirement twelve years ago. Our 'yard' is a series of clearings of about two acres on the south and west sides of the house. It is still a vista of snow and naked trees, even though the calendar has officially announced spring, but some of the spring birds are back, and the year round residents are aware of it. The chickadees have switched from 'chickadee,dee,dee' to 'hey sweetie'. The jays are starting the spring 'doink doink' call that they give with a bob to the lady when they really get going. Later they will doink, bob and present aforesaid lady with a nice seed. If she accepts it, less polite behaviour follows.

We've left an old fence line between two parts of the cleared field and we have a feeding station set up there for the deer. We put out corn and deer ration there and lately have had six or seven regular visitors, all groups of does -- we only see the males in the fall. The does are still in small groups, but the bigger ones are chasing the smaller ones away from the feed, which I believe is a sign of the spring break-up when the gravid does all separate to their own birthing territories. We had one last summer who used the clearing where JG has his sawmill as a nursery.

It is now mid afternoon and the screaming blue of the sky is starting to be painted over with wisps of cirrus cloud -- cirrus fibratus (I have this book). But the sun is still almost hot, and it is melting the snow back like crazy.

We're supposed to have rain this evening. The sap should have run this morning, however. We used to make maple syrup -- did it for over 25 years -- but JG has enough arthritis now that he isn't mobile enough, and I was glad when we stopped as holding up my end of the job was getting harder every year. But on the first sap day of the spring I miss it, miss the bustle as everything gets scrubbed up and ready, miss the drum of the sap coming down the 'lines' and hitting the wall of the gathering tank, miss the scent of the steam. Here's what our operation looked like on a day much like this morning, a few years ago.

The spell checker doesn't do Latin, or bird words. Too bad. I am going to go and splosh in the puddles.

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

It's not a river

I have three lines of a song from a CD running through my head: three lines of Joan Baez' The Lily of the West, to be precise. Although she swore my life away, deprived me of my rest, still I love my lovely Flora, The Lily of the West. It is driving me nuts that I can't block it or distract myself away from it. This is actually a fairly respectable sonic haunting. At least, I know where it came from. JG was playing Joan Baez on Saturday, for most of the dinner hour and early evening. Yeah, I know that it's Tuesday today. I'm not sure how long it's been ticking away back there. It could go on for days, too.

Listening to something else doesn't always help. Damn it!

I also do back of the mind counting. If I count in my head to keep track of something, especially the 'one thousand and one' cadence, sometimes my mind will keep on going after I consciously stop. Hours later I will find myself *still* counting in the same sequence -- 'three thousand, two hundred and ............' ahk!

Very disconcerting to have your, what, subconscious, doing its own thing.

There's a really fascinating book about how this works for poets called 'The Road to Xanadu' by John Livingston Lowes, I believe. And if you Google the title alone, there's a neat article here about web writing.

One of the things that has reconciled me to growing old is the fact that my associative memory has improved while a lot of the rest was going to hell in a handbasket. I'm pretty darn good at crossword puzzles and I wasn't when I was younger. And my passive vocab. is huge. Now if dear old Joanie would just quit singing inside my ears.

Sunday, 18 March 2007

And She's Mine

I read the lyrical descriptions in the mommy blogs about the things the little ones are doing and saying -- a garden of nna mmoy's 'Frances Fridays', for example or Under the Mad Hat's 'A Little Joy'. I smile and think 'Yeah, I remember that, that watching and recording with bemused delight.' But Younger Daughter came to stay with us overnight, and as the weekend wore on I realized that it never stops. I still watch her and delight in her, in the musical way she speaks, in the whirlwind she creates in my kitchen as she makes Sunday brunch, in the shine of sunlight on her hair, in her enthusiasm for life and adventure. I think it never stops, the wonder and pride and joy.

Not that the YD makes my life a bed of roses, or anything. She and a group of her friends went on a whitewater canoeing trip last month and she brought all the photos out to show me. It's one thing to see shots of her running rapids -- I know she's a strong swimmer and skilled paddler.

It's the waterfalls they were running that raised the hair on my head. What there is left of it. The YD is an adrenaline junkie; she has also enjoyed mountain climbing, rappelling out of a helicopter, bungee jumping and hiking in the African desert and has brought home photos and videos of every escapade for her parents to enjoy. When she decided to try parachuting, she took me along to photograph the event. And that's her leisure moments. Don't get me started on her job! Or the places she thinks make fine vacation destinations.

What is really odd is that I don't worry excessively about her physical safety. She was a sturdy, healthy child and has always shown both stamina and the ability to bounce back from reverses. She is, for all the wild things she does, knowlegeable and careful in planning, and she has the best equipment she can find. She's tough. And she's mine! And now that she's gone home, I guess I can go and put the kitchen in order.

Friday, 16 March 2007

Contagious Magic - Blogging (2)

There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

Dear old Hamlet -- always the apt words. But we don't believe in sympathetic magic, do we? That if we wear our lucky hats we will do better, or even win, when we run; that if we get up and walk around our chair the cards will start to fall for us, that if we step on the crack we will break our mother's back? Only very little kids believe stuff like that! Perhaps. Frazer calls it 'contagious magic' and there is a form of it that I do believe happens.

I think that how we describe behaviour and relate to it calls the behaviour into being. If a mother calls her daughter 'her little ray of sunshine', over time and with emotion, the daughter will try always to appear happy and sunshiny. If one of my little daughters does things in a way that I characterize as 'neat' and the other one does not, I will think, and talk of, my daughters as 'the neat one' and 'the messy one'.If I do it often enough, the ways in which the two girls do things will tend more and more toward neatness and messiness. If my parents don't value the things I do and the way I do them, my value to myself in my own eyes will decrease. Is that magical? I think so, in the same way that when you plant and water a seed, a sprout appears. Even though we can identify the chemistry and describe the process, the shoot is still a new life.

While we are growing up, part of the process requires us to throw off the parental values and identify ourselves to ourselves. Often this takes the form of rejecting those values or of opposing them. Adolescent Ray of Sunshine writes bad poetry about her smothering mother, messy daughter decides that she really likes mess, denigrated daughter gets angrier and angrier and breaks away. Once we recover from that, we start a continual process of inventing ourselves the way we want to be. Our choices in clothing, food, friends, types of sport and entertainment, all contain traces of contagious magic. Advertising is contagious magic gone crazy -- just look at the 'beauty industry' alone.

And some of us shape ourselves with words. Some people do it in conversation or in diaries or in ritualized words of promise or prayer. Blogging, putting up the words on the screen, reading what others have said, responding to that, reshaping the thought pattern, refining the images, setting the words out so that others can read them, rereading the words in the light of the comments they receive,; all acts of defining self. If I have found a common thread in the mommy bloggers' world of words I'm learning about, that is it. This self definition is a common preoccupation, also. It is written about a lot and in a lot of different ways.

I'm trying to learn about this world of words and images (lots of images, too). I suspect this post sounds like Psych 101, and that's a bit embarrassing, but it's what I think tonight and maybe tomorrow I'll do better.

Thursday, 15 March 2007

Mad as a March Hare

It's been a long day. This morning the local maple syrup producers had the annual 'Tapping Out Party'. For those of you not from Eastern Ontario, this is an event to celebrate the start of the maple syrup season and is held around here on the Thursday of March Break. It's a kid oriented event, with clowns and fiddle music and step dancing and some local celebrity who is given a brace and bit, drills a hole into a sugar maple tree, taps in a 'spile' (a slanted spout) and hangs a bucket on it.

This year the weather was cold, with a piercing wind, and those of us who were managing tables outside got just a bit chilly. I got spelled off at noon, by which time I could not feel my feet. It is, however, a wonderful spot for kid watching. Hordes of little folk attended, all bundled into puffy snow suits, scarfed and mittened until what you saw was two eyes peering out of a bundle of wool and Goretex with small boots thumping along at the bottom. There was ice carving, a bunch of wooden toys to play with and, best of all, maple taffy which is made by boiling syrup to the 'hard ball' stage (258ºF+), pouring a strip of it onto the snow and, as it cools, winding it onto a stick.

Sometimes the party organisers charge for this treat, which restricts the sugar intake somewhat, but this year it was free and the girls who were pouring and winding were being generous with the servings. The result, as you can well imagine, was a bunch of animated snowsuits whose inhabitants were all on a sugar high. There were taffy treats stuck to scarves, mittens, noses and mommy's coat. The little faces were joyously dripping with melted maple sugar. Safely barricaded behind my table I watched it all with great pleasure, but the parents who have to do the clean up job have all my sympathy.

Wednesday, 14 March 2007


Does anyone else have the kind of absorbent mind that holds on to words and expressions and phrases like a sponge full of soap? I do crossword puzzles, and if I don't try to remember something, but just write what my mind turns up, I am frequently correct. (If I try to remember someone's name, a big white blank turns up, but that's another problem.) My mind is like my grandmother's button box; a huge jumble of things with no provenance. I can recite multiple verses of nursery rhymes I learned as a child, pop songs from when I was a teenager and jingles from products long vanished from the shelves.

Wow, I hear you say. How marvellous! Well, not entirely. You see I often do not remember where I got a particularly nice set of words. Dysfunctional associative memory. Up comes a lovely phrase, and if I don't watch it, I think it's mine. This is all by the way of prefacing an apology to Bub and Pie, whose caption for her link list I repeated with a small variation when I set up mine. The words I remembered were: 'Oh, the places I've been, oh, the people I've seen". I think it should be 'Oh, the places I go, Oh, the people I know.' From 'Winnie the Pooh'? Robert Louis Stevenson? Oh, rats! I have embarrassed myself far too often by failing to attribute something, or taking it as my own. Sorry, bubandpie!

And on the subject of memory -- little kids have a fantastic ability to remember something they've heard and come out with it, word perfect, on the worst possible occasion. Or they call you on something you said way back when and you think, "Whoa, you're only three years old, you're not supposed to remember that!" This is your kids. Your grandchildren have you on toast, because when they tell you that you promised them something, you can't remember whether you did say it or not, so you end up going along with it.

And Little Stuff also corrects me when I recite nursery rhymes that do not quite match the version in *her* book. She may have inherited my spongebrain, at that.

Tuesday, 13 March 2007

What would you do?

I've just been reading a cry from the heart from Her Bad Mother, who was worried about a teen mom with a newborn in an upright umbrella stroller and wanted to help or advise her. She decided not to do so, but says "What would you have done?"

I would probably not have noticed the problem, truth be told. My generation was a lot more laissez-faire about safety than yours. My girls were on skates at age two, playing (sort of) with hockey sticks and pucks by age five, and never, ever wore helmets. They had bikes and roller skates, ditto. They had a sort of suspended car seat with no seat belt until they grew out of it and then they went on booster seats in the back, with no seat belts until I bought a car that had them in the back seat. My granddaughter got her first helmet at about a year old so that her mother could skate and push her in a sports stroller. (Like Her Bad Mother, my daughter has two strollers.) She wears her hockey helmet to skate and ski and toboggan. I buckle and stuff and swear (silently) while I fit her snowsuited wiggly self into her car seat. It's a whole different mind set.

It's hard to judge how much of a problem a tiny baby is having unless you know the baby. In Africa I watched mothers slinging their very tiny kids into shawls and even the youngest usually went onto the mother's back. Getting the baby slung properly involved swinging the shawl around in an inimitably graceful manoeuvre which did, however, cause the infant's head to snap back at one point in the arc. The back carry also meant that the bigger children's legs were splayed way out to either side of the mother's hips.

When my older daughter was born, my mother found for me one of the first ever baby knapsack carriers. It was, essentially, a pouch in a bent tubular frame with a sling seat inside that could be adjusted as the baby grew. It was wonderful and I was the envy of all who saw me. But it did require that baby could hold up her head. Older daughter could do this very young (she could roll over at five weeks old, and grew up to be a gymnast.) Younger sister was born in July of 1967 and we decided to take her to Expo '67 in Montreal in early September. And we took her in the carrier, wadded in with diapers to keep her head in place.
Just as an aside, there was one (1) nursing station on the whole Expo '67 site. And it rained buckets the whole time we were there. I got a few weird looks while I nursed her, from time to time.

I vividly remember sitting with my mother in a restaurant -- a long time ago now -- while she fulminated about a teen mother who was feeding her toddler french fries. My mother really, really wanted to go and tell the girl off. As I sat in a restaurant not long ago with my daughter while she fed her toddler french fries, I thought about this and chuckled a bit. I once got my grandmother to talk to a tape recorder about some of the problems of caring for December born infants in a farmhouse heated with a coal stove. It's priceless!

Where am I going with this? Well -- I believe that babies do thrive in many different situations, many of which would not seem appropriate to another mother from another time or place. I buckle on helmets, and throat guards for hockey, I cope with the [censored] car seat. You know what, though. Neither of my daughters tasted a french fry until they were school age. You never know who's watching!

Monday, 12 March 2007

Mary versus Blogger -- Round Three

Hey, I'm getting a bit of a handle on this! I've even managed to add links to some of the blogs I have read and admired and laughed over. Some of them.... there are a bunch more, but I ran out of steam and listed url's. More are coming.

If you happen by here, I would appreciate any comments and/or advice about my template choices and how I have things arranged. Some of you have beautiful custom artwork in your title box. Haven't figured out how to do that yet, nor have I found it in Blogger Help.

On Blogging (1)

This is a response to Gingajoy's Hot Blogs on Hot Action, and Her Bad Mother's I am the Cheese, I am posting this very tentative response.

In the late 1960's, when my children were born and until they were in school, we lived in a small housing development half way up the Niagara escarpment. Most of my neighbours were a lot older than I was. My community was other young wives and mothers of my husband's fellow graduate students who lived all over the city. I felt very isolated. My lifeline was the telephone, I also wrote a lot of letters and the arrival of the mail was a big event in my day. I would have killed for the 'mommy blogosphere'.

Now I live in the country at the end of eight kilometres of very bad road, a long way from anwhere else. I have good friends and great neighbours with whom I exchange news, gossip and information. But except at that level I have no one to talk with. Having written that, I realize that it sounds very strange and that I had better expand on it. I think that by 'talk with' I mean 'exchange ideas, develop concepts, explore these ideas in depth.' The sort of free-wheeling, interleaved discussion spiked with laughter that I remember from my undergraduate days and a few other happy intervals where I was with a group of people who both enjoyed and were capable of that sort of conversation. That sounds so, so snobbish but I don't mean it to be. It's the same sort of isolation that a chess player, say, would feel in a group of bridge players. Not better, but different.

I've looked on the internet before and not found the kind of interaction I wanted. News, gossip and information, lots of it. Political discussion ad nauseum. Lots of sex talk of a type that I find really boring. A lot of kids whom I find really incomprehensible. (I've got two teenaged male step grandkids; guys, I do try!) Then I found 'the mommy blogs'.
GingaJoy says " it would be very easy (and interesting) to do a content analysis of our blogs to show that we are presuming a shared knowledge among our readers (related to kids, breastfeeding, sex, etc). This will reveal a great deal about our perceived sense of audience and also our community."
Even though I'm a senior grandmother, I still feel empathy with this group. I'm a North American, university degreed, privileged woman who is awed by the eloquence, depth of knowledge and feeling in the blogs I am reading. And I'm totally fascinated by the networking.

The temptation to jump in and write comments was too much for me. That's where I started. One of you whom I know personally commented that I should start my own blog. So I did. Why I did so is outlined in my first post, Busy as a Beaver. Although I am still feeling a bit like the stranger at the wedding, I think I'm already an addict.

Especially if I have now figured out tabs AND links. And, uttering a little prayer to deus ex machina, she hit the publish button.

Sunday, 11 March 2007

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Little Stuff, the grandaughter, brought her mother over this morning to build a snowman.

As the work of art grew, Mommy and I referred to it as a snowlady. 'No," says Little Stuff, "It is a snowman. It is also a lady." Grampa, on hearing this, cheered and mentioned how much he has mourned the passing of 'chairman'. Maybe when Little Stuff gets old enough to save the world, she'll rationalize the English language.

Saturday, 10 March 2007

My head is stuffed with cotton, hay and rags!

I'm not sure who said that, but I'm guessing it was the Scarecrow in 'The Wizard of Oz'. Like him, I could sure use a brain transfer. Thank you for your informative emails -- I am now ready to try to add links here. Soon. Not to-day because I am still smarting from having the Blogger editor eat yesterday's attempt to post. I got it up and even previewed it but the preview was not exactly like the actual post and when I saw it there I didn't like the length or punctuation, once I saw it on the screen. I then tried to edit it. The punctuation would not change and the changes would not repost. I tried yelling at it, reasoning with it and ended up sobbing and pleading that I was an old lady and it wasn't FAIR! In the end I deleted the dern thing. Wasn't a great piece of writing anyway.

To-day I was going to try getting a picture onto my profile, but I just checked my email and got hit on to do a couple of things this afternoon, so maybe later. When I feel stronger. And smarter.

I never have been particularly organized; my drawers, filing cabinet and thought processes are all a mess. I keep string, elastic bands, clothes I can't wear, useless bits of information, poetry and esoteric vocabulary in these locations. Under them may or may not be found the scissors, clean underwear and information about our health insurance that I'm asked for. I am also not a good time manager. After 44 years you would think he would know better, but my poor husband keeps making suggestions about how to make things better. For instance: "I would think you would trip on all those papers on the floor." "Do I have any socks?" "You don't usually iron in the evening, do you?"

He needs to do the same things at the same time in the same way every day. He needs me to do that too. And I'm hopeless. Am I out the door running the errands I was asked to do? No, I am sitting here typing. Our elder daughter struggled as a toddler and small girl with separation issues, phobias, unidentifiable fears. As late as her last year of high school she needed to know where I was if she had something stressful going on. I didn't have to be with her, but she needed to know she could reach me if she had to. Her daughter is a lot the same and when she stays here she keeps close beside me all the time. Both my husband and my daughter are highly successful people. You would think I could learn. Only I don't.

Oh, yeah, and the spell checker is a bit anal retentive on this thing. (Sorry, Google programmers. You sound so proud of your 'Out of Beta' editor.)

Thursday, 8 March 2007

Busy as a Beaver

Busy as a Beaver

I managed to catch this image last fall as the pesky thing was storing up branches for winter food. I took over twenty shots to get one good one, which is pretty standard for my photographs. And as good a place as any for me to start. This is my very first post. I've been reading and occasionally commenting on other people's efforts for a while, wondering if I really wanted or needed to do this. The best blogs I've found have been those of mothers with very young children (and I'm about to turn sixty-five with a three year old granddaughter), science fiction aficionadas (I'm an addict) and custom carpenters. What in heaven's name does that range of interests tell anyone. It's taken me a while to decide to stick my prose out.

I have also decided to omit all references to my husband except for the most superficial, because he is a very private man and it would both hurt and horrify him to find himself discussed on line. I've been following the debate on several blogs about how much to reveal about family, especially husbands and minor children (see a garden of nna mmoy), and I've found some really excellent discussion and thinking about it. Tentative conclusion is that my daughters will have to take their chances, and the granddaughter can be disguised. But what this space needs to do is give me a voice of my own as I cope with becoming a certified senior, a far too busy volunteer, an on-call grama and, I am very much afraid, a senior with increasing health issues.

Back to Mary the beaver and her pile of sticks. I do a small graphics business out of a home office, and the whole office is strewn with piles of stuff to be filed, sorted and rationalized. Four or five binders from the board of directors of a local organization where I'm vice chair (and the chair is in Arizona, sniff) balance precariously on top of the first stratum. The basement is full of laundry. I have a ToDo list headed "Find the ToDo lists". I need to clean the freezer before I run out of cold weather. My kitchen drawers would not impress Martha. I have lived in this house for twelve years and I still do not have doors or trim on most of the rooms. I need to paint this spring; bedroom, bathrooms, two porches, one huge deck, half of which appears here. I want a vacation. All of the above are irrelevant and can be ignored, except the vacation. I'm tired. It would be a lot simpler to pile up some books and branches and take to the den.

Books have always been my best friends, therapy, indulgence. I'll give anything in print a try and I read over and over again favourites like Tolkien, Jane Austen, Dorothy Sayers. I read all of the display ads in the two daily papers we take. I read signs along the highway. Finding the blogging community is just a new form of that addiction. I'm not sure what writing a blog myself is going to be about, but this form of reading is not a one way street. I find myself writing very differently when what I write could be read and responded to. I think this is what I need right now. Whether the blogging world needs me is quite a different matter. Time to get brave, publish this and get on with the next thing.

Note: May edit

I have just removed some references to my husband from this post. I have done this because I have decided to take the blog public and he may ask to read it.