Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Danier Leather -- The Follow Up

This morning the mailman delivered me a small express post parcel from Danier Leather. When I opened it, there was a gift card inside for $50.00. That is an impressive sum of money, by my standards, to be giving someone as an apology. I was expecting something in the range of a business card holder. Some years ago we were giving a dinner party and one of the bottles of wine we served turned out to have a pickled grasshopper in the bottom of it. We did not discover this, of course, until the bottle was empty. There were the predictable jokes about the great body of the wine, but JG was upset enough to contact the LCBO and the sales rep for the wine company. We got one (1) replacement bottle and one (1) bottle of the same plonk as an apology. Danier Leather is in a whole different league.

I am just about to dig out my box of cards, find a 'Thank You' one and handwrite a letter of thanks to the company. That is, after my eyes stop whirling.

Wait till the Fundraising Committee sees what we've got for the auction! My experience with charity auctions leads me to think that the best thing to do is to buy something with the card and auction it, as people won't bid much beyond the face value of a gift certificate, but they will push up the price up if something looks particularly succulent.

Is this the power of the internet, do you think, or would the incident have played out the same way if I had just snail mailed the letter and not blogged about it? Is the question worth a BlogRhet post for some discussion on this issue? I would love to know if other people have had that kind of response to posting a complaint.

Monday, 29 October 2007

Will I be there by Candlelight?

I have been obsessed by songs and poems about candles for the last little while. Please forgive me if some of these quotes are not accurate; I'm working from memory here.

Jesus bids us shine with a clear, pure light
Like a little candle, burning in the night.
In this world of darkness, so let us shine -
You in your small corner and I in mine.

This was my mother and my aunt's favourite hymn. They had jokes about it. My aunt, who could draw amazingly well, once made a cartoon of herself as a candle in a corner. I had it for years, but I can no longer find it. Never mind. Their memories steadily shine away in my heart.

My candle burns at both ends.
It will not last the night.
But, ah my dear, and oh my dear,
It gives a lovely light.

I love candles; at Christmas I celebrate the solstice by lighting candles all over the house. Big fat cinnamon scented red ones, tall silver tapers, a row of tiny green evergreens, a creamy coloured angel with gilt wings, a square green one with holly painted on it. I hover in the living room with a candle snuffer in my hand, but I love every heated minute of it.

Night's candles are burnt out.

There's that still, deep blue or grey moment, every morning, just before the dawn, when everything is an outline. I often wake then, for the most mundane of reasons, and wish I had done so earlier, so that I could have taken a few minutes to look at the stars. We live in the deep country and our neighbours are few and thankfully don't have yard lights. At night I can go out onto the deck or kitchen porch and see a whole sky of blazing stars. Not so much candles as diamonds. A river of them. I don't know why that's such a memorable line of Shakespeare's, except that the scene is so famous.

Yes I answered you last night,
No this morning sir I say.
Colours seen by candlelight
Do not look the same by day.

Candle lit faces are softer, more relaxed. Is that the light, or the effect of the candles? Faces glow, eyes shine, smiles are more vivid. One of the most beautiful photographs I have ever seen was of a child, holding a fat tapered candle, with the light of the flame reflected in her eyes. I lived my childhood with my mother's light reflected on me. She loved the sun. I love stars. And candles.

Friday, 26 October 2007

Panning Elizabeth

The YD and I went to see Elizabeth, the Golden Age, this afternoon. I had read three reviews on the film, one of which was a rave and two were less than enthusiastic. After seeing the film, we are also less than enthusiastic. 'It's so disjointed,' muttered the YD as we left.

Indeed. In trying to hit on all the highlights of the middle years of ERI, the movie has made itself into a series of flashy episodes with no central thread. And the scriptwriters took some really weird liberties with history. (JG says that I know far too much about Elizabethan history and that someone who didn't might not be so underwhelmed.) But! Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh have become one person, flipping cloaks, exhibiting tobacco at court, committing piracy on the high seas and, finally, personally running a fire ship into the Armada, a feat which neither of them performed. I'll forgive them the Armada bit, although why a white horse got equal time and Sir Whatsis had to swim underwater for a long way in his boots, coat and stuffed puffy pants is beyond me.
They haven't aged Blanchett enough either. No one would want her to be less gorgeous, but she was 25 in 1558 and the Armada is shown as arriving in 1585. That's 28 years. 25 + 28 = 53. She should not be discussing with Walsingham the fact that the court physicians can swear that she is still able to bear children. Or she's lying. The real Elizabeth did that a lot. But the poor movie goer is confused.

I could go on, but I am probably boring the Americans to tears. (You should hear me about liberties taken with TLOTR!) In its favour, the film has gorgeous costumes, great special effects, amazing lighting and a wonderful performance from Blanchett. Even with nothing to work with, the woman is amazing. But why they had to bowdlerize her speech to the army at the time of the Armada is beyond me. As is why they chose to show a six year old Isabella of Spain a lot. Mary Queen of Scots is suitably hateful except for the Scottish accent. I can't believe they did that! Her first language was French and she didn't speak much Scots at all, as far as I know. (I am going on. Sorry!)

The YD was a bit put off by the music, also. Too much sound and fury in all the exciting moments. (Torture scenes, Mary's beheading, the storm that did for the Armada, etc.) The YD mentioned that the Tudors are all over the place right now, and she's right. The mini series running on Henry VIII is giving me even more historical heartburn. I'm driving my husband crazy with my whines about historical accuracy. Elizabeth - The Golden Age is worth going to see, though, if you like historical drama. Buy some popcorn and some earplugs and suspend disbelief.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

More about Danier

For anyone who has not been reading this thread, I posted a sad story about being ignored in a retail store here, the commenters urged me to write it up as a letter, which is here, and before I send it, the retailer, Danier Leather, found the posted copy and their representative sent me this email.

I talked to the writer of this email this afternoon, a conversation somewhat muddled on my end as I managed to fry my Blue Tooth connection half way through. Annette T was patient with me, however, and we managed to get a two way information exchange done. Although Annette had read the letter and the post it stemmed from, she had not picked up that the main threads of that post were discourtesy in retail personnel (Julie at Using My Words) and discrimination due to age, my ongoing preoccupation. Nor had she picked up on the cross links to BlogRhet threads; not surprising since I noticed that my BlogRhet logo does not link to the blog and that I had not explicitly tagged the BlogRhet threads. (I really didn't structure that post well. I'm an embarrassment to myself.) What I hope she took away is that I was as objective as I could be in recording the incident.

What she got across to me was that she is very good at her job, which is cleaning up after the snags that are bound to happen at a many outlet retail chain, and that she is prepared to take the time and effort to understand the background from which I wrote. I hope she enjoys BlogRhet! As it is her job to do, she ended up by offering me a gift to placate me. I wasn't going to accept it because the acknowledgement of the incident was what I was wanting, but then I thought of my latest effort at fundraising, which is an auction to be held in Christmas shopping season, and accepted. We're into the last $50,000.00 we need, by the way. What she cannot do, of course, is specifically sort out what actually happened -- that's the job of the manager of that outlet, poor thing.

It's quite possible that as a 'consciousness raising' effort, the post and letter have been a success.
It certainly has brought it home to me that I need to structure my posts better and make my points more clearly. The example I used just overwhelmed the main theme, not just in Annette T's mind but in the commenters' as well. Well and so. If the sales staff at Danier are going to get educated about ageism, the least I can do is learn from it also.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Danier Leather is Blog Savvy

Like, Whoosh!

When I got home from a day of meetings, I found the following email in reply to the one I posted yesterday. And the letters are still sitting in my car because I forgot I was out of stamps. Now I'm embarrassed -- I should have posted the letters in the mail before I posted the letter. On the other hand, this is certainly one quantum leap faster than snail mail. I intend to phone Ms Trocki in between tomorrow's meetings (fundraising is still taking over my life) and will report back. But certainly this is a pretty comprehensive and courteous reply to my specific concerns.

Dear Mary,

I am responding on behalf of Jeffrey
Wortsman. Our customer service department and Mr. Wortsman himself, regularly check blogs to anticipate any service issue and we came across yours. Although we have not received your letter, we would certainly like to assist you. I would like to begin by apologizing for the level of service you received from our Kanata location. This is not the way we strive to do business. We would also like to thank you for taking the time in giving your feedback, it is important for us to hear from our customers for our growth and improvement. I would love the opportunity to redeem our company in your eyes. At your convenience, please contact me at 1-877-9danier to discuss this further. The district manager for that location, as well as the VP of Store Operations are aware of what occurred and will follow up with the store staff through coaching and

I look forward to speaking with you soon.

Kind regards,

Annette T
Call Centre
Operations, Manager
Danier Leather Inc.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Letter to Danier Leather

To the commenters on the 'Ouch that Hurt' post. Here it is and I am about to mail it.

Mr. Jeffrey Wortsman,
President and Chief Executive Officer
2650 St. Clair Avenue West
Toronto ON Canada
M6N 1M2

Dear Mr Wortsman,

On October 5th, 2007, I visited your Kanata Centrum store and was very unhappy with the experience. Here is a description of what happened:

I wanted to buy to buy my husband a wallet as a birthday gift. I have shopped in your stores before; in fact, I have purchased, over several years, four coats and have never been unhappy with the service. I am a white haired senior citizen and on that day I was dressed (as I mostly always dress) in tidy but inexpensive clothes. I entered your store and found four staff members behind the counter, one serving a customer, two working at something and the fourth acting as greeter. She greeted me but did not follow up. I asked for the location of the wallets and one of the workers raised her head and pointed. I went and chose a wallet and returned to the counter to pay for it. I saw two cash registers, one in use. I stood there and no one looked at me. I walked up to the counter. No one seemed to notice.

The door of the store opened and a woman came in. The greeter said hello, the woman made a remark about the scent of leather and the greeter asked her if this was her first time in this store. When she said yes, the greeter walked past me and my wallet and offered to show her around the store. The clerk at the cash register was taking a long time, arranging a payment of some sort. The other two clerks did not raise their eyes from their binders. I waited. I started off interested in how long it would take for someone to notice me. After, maybe, five minutes, no one had. At that point I was so angry that I was afraid to say anything lest I lose it completely. I put the wallet down on the counter, slowly, stepped back, slowly, and walked out of the store. No one noticed.

You are quoted in a news article as saying : "We are taking the necessary steps to return the Company to profitability and are employing strategies that focus on our key customers." Senior citizens are very likely to have available cash to spend. And in the near future the number of senior citizens is going to increase dramatically. You would, in my opinion, be wise to advise your staff that conservatively dressed seniors might be key customers.

Yours truly,

Ouch, that hurt!

There's been a somewhat amusing discussion going on in the Ottawa paper lately. Seems that Reader's Digest did an article in which they set up phoney incidents in some of Canada's major cities to judge how courteous the city was. They ranked the cities, and Ottawa came in dead last. The Ottawa Citizen replicated the phoney incidents, and several articles and editorials on the subject have appeared, the latest in this morning's paper saying that Reader's Digest is unimportant. I found this funny because early this month I found the perfect candidate for the Rudest Retail Store. Serendipitiously (ew, is that a word?) Julie at Using My Words did a post on courtesy.

You want a perfect example of rudeness (and ageism, too!)? I've got it. I went into a leather goods retail outlet -- it's a chain with four stores in Ottawa -- to buy my husband a wallet as a birthday gift. I have shopped in this chain before; in fact, I've spent considerable money there. On this particular day I was dressed as I mostly always dress, in decent but not expensive clothes, but I am a very obviously a senior citizen and, er, a substantial one. I entered this particular outlet and found four clerks behind the counter, one serving a customer, two working at something and the fourth acting as greeter. Her eyes slid by me. I asked for the location of the wallets and one of the workers raised her head and pointed. I went and chose a wallet and returned to the counter to pay for it. There were two cash registers, one in use. I stood there and no one looked at me. I walked up to the counter. No one seemed to notice.

The door of the store opened and a woman came in, a slim, well dressed thirty something. The greeter said hello, the woman paused and the greeter asked her if this was her first time in this store. When she said yes, the greeter walked past me and my wallet and offered to show her around the store. The clerk at the cash register was taking a long time, arranging a deferred payment of some sort. The other two clerks did not raise their eyes from their binders. I waited. And waited. I started off interested in how long it would take for someone to notice me. After, maybe, five minutes, no one had. At that point I was so angry that I was afraid to say anything lest I lose it completely and become the gaga senior everyone dreads. I put the wallet down on the counter, slowly, stepped back, slowly, and walked out of the store. No one noticed.

My debacle took place over three weeks ago, but I was telling the story at dinner on Saturday and I realized that I am still angry. Very angry. I should write to the store manager, except I am pretty sure she was one of the people behind the counter. I should write to the company headquarters, I suppose. I haven't because, written down, it looks so petty and I don't want a 'Getoverit' response. I think what was so awful was that I felt invisible. Not worthy to be a customer in this expensive store. I would expect that all of the clerks work on commission, and the wallets are probably the least expensive items in the store. But someone should have told the staff that a customer buying a wallet might just return and buy something more expensive and, therefore, should be worth a minimum of notice and that senior citizens often have money to spend.

It's tempting to name the store here and tag the chain name. But that's petty, too, if I do it without having tried to inform the chain management first. I've always had empathy for the visibly different people who are discriminated against. The little kid who can't get served. The wheelchair bound person whom other people's eyes slide past. The people of colour who are judged by skin tone. The fragile old lady whose companion is asked questions when she, herself, can answer them. People whose accents cause rude requests for repeats. All those. I've frequently admired the calm and good humour with which such people respond to rudeness.

Now I am one of them. I am sure I could have used calm and good humour to salvage the situation. Instead I was so angry I cried. And I have stayed angry. And sad. And more tolerant of the focused fury with which some minority leaders demand attention to their perceived incidents of bigotry and bias.

And, in response to the Citizen's 'Fuggetaboutit' editorial, yes, it is all a matter of perspective.

The toad beneath the harrow knows
Exactly where each tooth-point goes;
The butterfly upon the road
Preaches contentment to that toad.

Joining the Raging Grannies is starting to look like an option.

Friday, 19 October 2007

October Song

This is the first time in over a week that I have had a chance to write a post, and I can hear thunder in the distance, signaling that I may have to shut down the computer or that I may lose the satellite signal that connects me to my virtual world. Bummer. In the meantime, though, it's beautiful. We still have a lot of gold and bronze leaves on the trees and the rain and wind are knocking them off -- they're swirling past my window, high contrast against the grey/black storm cloud to the south. There's a soft sibilance as the rain hits them and tiny splatting noises as they hit the deck. And as a counterpoint to that, there's the sound of clucking and squawking as a flock of fifteen turkeys straggles past the open window, chattering among themselves. As I write this, the sky is getting brighter and the gold leaves are glowing. No more thunder; I may even get this done and up.

I have just been playing around with Facebook, a toy world which the YD seduced me into several weeks ago. It's a champion time waster at the moment, but it is allowing me to get my trip photographs up and indexed so that the friends we went with can see them. I had meant to do a travel post, but this is easier. I may still get the post done as well because I have some really good pictures. Or at least so says my BIL, who is an amazing photographer and whose opinion I value highly. Plus he's a tech whiz and I now know how to shrink my photos to easily loadable sizes without hauling them through a photo paint program. Well, I'll get it done if I can refrain from adding things like Visual Bookshelf to my Facebook page -- fun but a real time eater.

Do they give out championships for procrastination? Is there a twelve step program? Timewasters R Us? Although I don't count time looking out the window at the world as wasted, exactly, it isn't getting the laundry done. Nor the six or seven documents sitting on my desktop waiting to be edited. Nor the letter for the Hall Committee. Nor the fundraising phone calls. I've got a pile of sewing and mending including Little Stuff's Hallowe'en cat costume. If it would ever stop raining, there are flowerbeds to put to sleep, and a lot of tidying up around the house. Wednesday morning it did stop and we raked leaves. You would never know it. But here I am, eating cookies and typing and thinking about the old joke about work. 'I'm not afraid of work! I can sit right here beside it and do nothing.'

Posting, for me, is not work. It's my virtual window to the world and time spent looking through it is not wasted. How I love to read about what all of you are doing and thinking. Pause there while I took some photos of the leaves pattering down. The big sugar maple by the corner of the deck has a circle of gold below it and the wind is whisking more off all the time. And the sky is darkening again. More thunder. More rain now. There's a pair of soggy blue jays vacuuming up the corn that the turkeys left behind. And I have to stop for a minute and close the windows since it is really raining hard now. Wonderful. I get back and the satellite is now down.

Well that gives me time to download and edit the leaf pictures I just ran out in the rain to take so that I could illustrate this post. And to think about the flying feet of time, since I have just spent the morning writing this, playing with it and dealing with a series of phone calls. eheu! fugaces labuntur anni. Not to mention minutes, seconds and hours. I don't want to stop time. Nor even turn it back. But I would love to have more of it. Time to do things well, without scanting other things. Time to look out of the window without worrying about the unwashed clothes. Time to write really good posts about meaningful things, instead of babbling on. Well, this babble will have to do as the satellite is now back up and I have to get back to the real world. Always vowing to do better next time. To stop squandering the time I have. Hollow laughter. And that's not a noise the turkeys are making.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

More Book Stuff

In September Bub and Pie tagged me for a meme about books. Five questions about books, as a matter of fact. And then last week she produced a meme answer to a question created by Veronica Mitchell. The question:

Ten Literary Characters I Would Totally Make Out With If I Were Single and They Were Real But I’m Not, Single I Mean, I Am Real, But I’m Also Happily Married and Want to Stay That Way So Maybe We Should Forget This.

B and P's book posts are always memorable, but she has surpassed herself with the 'Snoggably Delicious post. After I managed to stop laughing, I just had to do it. And so I am combining the questions.

Here we go.

Total Number of Books
I had to do this calculation for another meme I did a while ago. A bit over 1000 and still accumulating, in spite of the number I give away, sell second hand and lose when the YD raids my bookshelves. Augmented by about three a week from the library, those I borrow from a neighbour with a similar obsession about Sci Fi and Fantasy and those I borrow from the YD (and, mostly, return.) Number read. All of them, many more than once. Lenses on my glasses? really thick.

Last Book Read
A library book, The Alphabet Versus the Goddess, The conflict Between Word and Image, by Leonard Shlain. 432 pages, plus notes.

This is a somewhat overwritten and heavily layered treatise on left and right brain dichotomy and how it affects society. In spite of this rather turgid style, I found the thesis to be persuasive. Writing, he says, is left brained, linear and 'masculine' and societies that adopt it go through identifiable phases of austerity, misogyny and madness because they deny the right brained, intuitive and feminine parts of themselves. Our society, he says, has come through this and because of photography, typing and computer literacy is entering' a new Golden Age' with increased values of 'tolerance, caring and respect for nature' and for the rights of women. I love this prediction. The man is working on a macro time scale, however, and it is unlikely that I will be around long enough to see if he is right.

Last Book Bought
Teaching is a Learning Experience, A For Better or For Worse Collection by Lynn Johnston. This is a comic book.. Johnson has been putting out these collections for a long time and we addicts rush to buy each one as soon as it hits the shelves. If you don't know her work, I commend it to you. The best introduction is The Lives Behind the Lines. If you do know it, here's notice that the '07 collection is available.

Five Meaningful Books
1.) The King James Bible and the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, 1939 version. The language in these books informed and intoxicated me from about the age of seven upwards. I loved the sonorous, rolling periods, the antique words and constructions and the sheer opulence of the language. I read through the whole thing the first time looking for the amazing stories, skipping what I did not understand or what bored me. Then I started over again. And again. When I discovered that Jane's father, in LMM's Jane of Lantern Hill, also reveled in the language and stories, I felt a strong sense of identification. Speaking of LMM, I would have to put in a nomination for beddable character for Kenneth Ford's father, Owen Ford, in Anne's House of Dreams. He's far more fleshed out than Kenneth.

2.) Tolkein's The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I read The Hobbit first, and when I discovered TLOTR, in my first year at university, I was hooked. The language, the world he created, the depth and colour. I had been reading all the fantasy books I could get my hands on all through high school, but this was so much more.
Beddable character? How about Gandalf? How cool would that be! Or if you want a slightly more approachable version, Barbara Hambly's Antryg in the Windrose Chronicles or Ingold in the Darwath Trilogy.
3.) The Last Days of Pompeii. I tried to take this out of my school library when I was, maybe, eight. It was not on my grade's approved shelf and the librarian made me read her a page of it before I was allowed to take it home. This, of course, meant that reading the whole thing was a point of honour. And I discovered classical Rome. And historical fiction. And the rest, as they say, is history. My favourite historical fiction series is Dorothy Dunnett's Chess sextet. Francis Crawford has got to be one of the most toothsome males ever created. And highly skilled, as Dunnett makes quite clear.
4.) Charles Darwin's The Voyage of the Beagle. I read this when I was supposed to be revising Lucretius' De Rerum Natura for a final exam. A whole world of new things, places and ideas spread out before my enchanted eyes. I've never reread it, but I've been an avid consumer of natural history books ever since. And I failed the exam, needless to say. A snog connection? Lucretius and Darwin both strike me as having been dry old sticks and down on women. At a real stretch, however, I did a make up course in Latin which included Catullus. Milia basia, deinde centum? Hmm.
5.) Jane Austin. Persuasion is my favourite. There is not, for me, a beddable character in the lot, however, mostly because I don't think Austin took her imagination that far. Now if you consider Darcy after Elizabeth has been married to him for a while and has managed to loosen him up, I might be interested. If we weren't both married.

To catch my interest, a paper guy has to appear to know how to give a girl a good time. And not too overtly either. That's one of the best things about Lord Peter -- Sayers leaves the details to the reader. You can have Jondelar; he never varies his technique. In Bub And Pie's comments, Nikki mentions Jamie Fraser, which is a thought, but he is so married. It's not the good body thing that does it for me, either. I am struggling to remember the title of an historical fiction novel in which the heroine goes to bed with a man with a deformed spine, simply because he needs her so much, and is wonderfully well served. Sigh. Short term memory short circuit. It was set in Italy or Spain, I think? Ring a bell with anyone? Speaking of bells, I had an adolescent crush on Hemmingway's men, but I don't think I would be turned on now. The silent type could quickly pall. Which lets out Lawrence's Mellor, fascinating as I found it when the book was illicit. Illicit is a turn on. Anne Rice can sure do that. Better stop this!

I've been too disorganized to know who has done either of these memes. If you haven't, and like the idea, you're tagged. Please let me know, so that we can continue in this delightful vein.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Goodbye, goodbye to everything

Two of our neighbours died this week. One was a man of sixty-five, father of three, grandfather of seven; the other a woman two decades younger. Both were unassuming people, good members of the community, both in their own ways lovers of the countryside, the place in which they lived. Both were and are shining examples of courage and grace, in their quiet lives and in how they faced their deaths.

Liz had cancer. A woman who loved life, delighted in her animals, laughed a lot, she was tall, with a curious stalking grace and an infectious smile. She faced her diagnosis with determination and dignity, endured the treatments, went into remission and resumed her life. I chatted with her at a gas station in early summer and except for being very thin, she seemed fine, laughing with me about the weather, running in to pay for her gas with her heron gait. Today I read the obituary she wrote for herself, in the first person. It's just beautiful. It reminds me of the Robert Louis Stevenson poem in which the little boy says goodbye to the farm: it's sweet, moving and pure Liz.

George took a lot longer to die. Complications of diabetes first put him on dialysis, then necessitated a kidney transplant. Eyes crinkled with laughter, back straight, George kept on running his business, working in the sugar bush, giving of himself to the community, loving his life and his land and enjoying his friends. He lost a leg. He kept on hunting and working and being the centre of his big, busy family. He lost a second leg. He was making plans to rig up his four wheeler with hand controls when the kidney transplant failed. I think that he believed that his family had been through enough; he refused to go back on dialysis and he died quietly and with dignity last Saturday.

He had mentioned that it would be nice to have his funeral held outdoors in the midst of his beloved maple trees. So that is what his family did and the fact that it was cold and wet and miserable did not deter the many, many mourners, the honour guard of twenty fire fighters or his little grandkids. Several of his eulogists mentioned that George would have said that the trees needed the rain.

We sang 'Amazing Grace' at George's funeral. And the phrase has stayed in my mind. These gentle people died as they had lived, with such amazing grace.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Hi, Me.

I'm answering five questions from Julie Pippert at Using Your Words. Here are questions four and five as she gave them to me.

4. What do you appreciate about your relationship with your children and what do you wish you could change?

5. If you were to mentor a young woman (say college age or thereabouts) in what area would you mentor her and how would you guide her.

These two questions tie themselves together in my mind, as my children are two daughters, now forty and forty one, so I sailed with them through that age range. 'How did you mother' and 'how would you mentor' are pretty close to the same question although mentoring young women not your daughters is in many ways easier than dealing with your own. (Speaking from experience, here.) They're less likely to think you know nothing, for instance.

The thing I appreciate is that I do have a relationship with my daughters, a good one. The phone rings and a voice says 'Hi, it's me'. Although they are not and do not look a bit alike, their voices are very similar on the phone and so my stock answer is 'Hi, me.' And we laugh. It's a ritual. They might be phoning with an invitation to dinner or lunch, with a request for babysitting or a mock plea for help ('I need to sort out my closet. Come and help me?') Or just to chat or to talk something over. They enjoy family meals chez parents on occasions like Thanksgiving, they come out from the city for a day to walk or cross country ski or help their father in the woodlots. And I haven't had an argument with either of them for a very long time. We laugh together when we are together.

I'm almost fatuously proud of both of them. They're clever, athletic and well spoken. They have amazing careers. They're funny and thoughtful and good citizens. 'A credit to you' would have been the comment in former generations. But they've really done it themselves, capitalized on their opportunities, worked hard and intelligently. If I could change anything it would be the old 'mother instinct' thing -- I wish they didn't have to work so hard to succeed, take crap from time to time, have problems. I would remove the pea from under the pile of mattresses, bumps from the road, stress from their lives. Except that they seem to thrive on stress. I well remember my mother carrying on about how hard I worked at that age, how much I had to do, and I remember thinking she was making far too much of it. So I keep my mouth shut (or try to), even when they are up to their asses in alligators.

My mothering when my daughters were small consisted mainly of supplying them with opportunities to learn, both about themselves and about the world around them, providing them with clean clothes and snacks, taking them to hospital when they broke something, and keeping an eye on them. When they turned into teenagers I continued to do these things, sat through their drivers' tests and restrained myself from screaming or laughing at inappropriate moments of teenaged angst. I also delivered occasional lectures which were received about as you would expect. Although the YD, in particular, used to turn up when she was in her twenties from time to time and say things like 'Remember when you told me drunken women were repulsive? Well, you were right!' Validation. Hah! I lost my temper with them about the usual number of times, threatened them with hanging by their thumbs from the clothesline more than I should have, and loved them. A lot.

As for mentoring -- I always felt that you do that along with the mothering. Life skills 101. I told the girls many times that they needed to learn a skill with which they could support themselves (boys are always told that, aren't they?) so that they never would need to batten on to some man to look after them. I would give a young woman the same advice today, but with a different emphasis. Too many young women (and young men) find themselves, after they graduate, locked into a job that demands a huge investment of hours and effort and erodes their private and family life. I hate it that young women seem to have to put off having children until they are established in their careers. To fix that we need to change the whole corporate ethic in the 'developed' world. But in the meantime, girls, in particular, need to develop a range of skills and interests so that they can look after themselves (and more easily juggle career and family) without getting locked into either a high pressure office or a series of low paying jobs.

I hate to see 'college age' girls so preoccupied with a boy friend that they neglect the benefits of things on campus such as late night bull sessions, cultural events, volunteering opportunities or sports. And they should run like a rabbit if the boy friends want them to curtail their educational choices and activities. I also hate the sexual flaunting and risky promiscuity that are not new (I went to University in the sixties!) but seem to be more widely publicized if not practiced. I still think drunks are disgusting. My major mentoring advice would have to be that a young woman not let herself get talked into doing anything she really isn't sure she wants to do, whether it is a course choice, sex or a stunt on a motorcycle. To learn her strengths and apply them. To stop worrying about things she doesn't do quite as well. And to expect to have to be flexible.

I'm presently reading a book of essays by Barbara Kingsolver, High Tide in Tucson, where she writes in an essay called 'Somebody's Baby'
Who really understands what it takes to raise kids? That is, until after the diaper changes, the sibling rivalries, the stitches, the tantrums, the first day of school, the overpriced-sneakers standoff, the fist date, the safe-sex lecture, and the senior prom have all been negotiated and put away in the scrapbook?
She's right on, but what I would add to that is that the scrapbook only contains material pertinent to the kids you have raised; it doesn't make you an expert on child raising. The best I can say is that I had really good material to work on and that I didn't screw up.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

QandA -- Part One

I've got the five question challenge from Julie at Using My Words. If you haven't been to her blog, do go. You get two for one at the moment, as her sister is guest blogging for Julie. They're both thoughtful and really funny; top quality.

Anyway, here are the first three questions and my answers, because the answers are sure stretching out.

1. What are your beliefs about household chores … who should do what? And to what degree (as in, how high or low is your tolerance for messy and dirty)?

Ideally, the residents of the home split the chores evenly among themselves. Providing they are of an age to push the vacuum rather than ride on it, that is. Chores can be split to a certain extent by preference but the split has to be fair. In Utopia, this happens. In my Elder Daughter's house it almost happens, providing she threatens the teenagers with death and dismemberment at frequent intervals. In my house, things did not and do not happen in any way like that. We have a last century gender split on a lot of tasks -- he does the cars and I do the meal planning. He stokes the furnace and I do the laundry. When we do switch tasks, he has to check the furnace and I have to refold the towels.

Sheepishly I confess that I find it hard to give up control of my laundry room. I want laundry done my way. So my family have always had their clothes washed, folded, ironed (!) and placed in their rooms. I do things like iron sheets and dish towels. I want the towels folded in thirds. I'm totally weird about laundry. (Boy, is this embarrassing or what?)

The rest of the chores do not affect me in the same way, but I do want them done thoroughly. So I used to do a lot of the picky stuff myself. For instance, pulling the teenaged girls' waist long hair out of the bathroom drain after they cleaned their way. Digging Barbie doll shoes out of the shag rug. Wiping fingerprints. I have a low tolerance for dirty dirt. Messy I can live with, but JG can't, so I've always picked up a lot. The kids had a toy box on wheels when they were toddlers and the game every night consisted of me supervising a wheel through the downstairs while they threw things into it. The toy piles morphed into piles of wet dirty boots in our (tiny) front hall as they got older and so, when we built this house, we put a huge walk in closet in the (very large) front hall. Also two walk ins in the master bedroom. Stuff is out of sight. JG is happy. As for me, I have a cleaner now. I tidy up before she comes, and I do the stuff she misses after she leaves. And I'm happy.

2. Who are your closest friends and why?

My closest friends are books. I have good people friends from as far back as high school and some neighbours that I count as wonderful friends, but where I go if I need amusement, solace or information is to a book.

I can lose myself or distract myself with an old favourite, sit up into the small hours with an exciting plot, find a reference or quote faster in Bartlett or the Oxford Companion than from Google, learn something or find something to mull over. I put myself to sleep at night by continuing plot lines or working myself into a favourite -- I can be at school at Avonlea or wander in Lorien or dock at Meetpoint with the Pride.

I probably have four hundred books in this room alone, and as many more stashed elsewhere around the house. I go to the library every three weeks (it's a half hour drive) and bring home a dozen more. I borrow from my friends. I buy books at bookstores and on line. I give a lot of books away. I sell some. But the stash continues to grow. It's good to have lots of friends.

Why? I suspect because with a book, I am in control.

You know, I'm not coming out of this looking very good at all.

3. If you could write a letter to yourself in the past, what age would you choose and what would you tell yourself?

Not much point in giving good advice, because I wouldn't listen to myself any more than I listened to adults as a child and good advice as a young woman. Nor would the young woman I was want to know what she would become. But if I could, I would warn myself about one specific event that took place when I was sixteen. My math teacher made a really horrible racial remark about one of my friends. We were so astonished by this that I, and all my classmates, sat in utter silence and did nothing about it. We were '50s kids who were trained to be quiet, passive and polite. I would love to write myself a letter explaining what was about to happen and warning myself to be prepared to stand up, protest and leave. I've regretted ever since that I did nothing.

On the letter thing -- I am writing a series of letters to my granddaughter, lest death or disability remove me before she's old enough to relate to me. I have a great curiosity about my own grandmother, who died when I was around three years old and would love to have more of her than her (beautiful) embroidery and a few bad photographs. I cherish every word I have that my mother wrote. I think the mommyblogs may prove a treasure to the children of the 21st century.

Monday, 1 October 2007

Baring our Breasts

This button came from The League of Maternal Justice, I think, although there are several good sites and posts in other places. ( See Major Bedhead and Her Bad Mother, which my computer will not allow me to load this morning.) The problem? Facebook is categorizing pictures of breastfeeding as obscene. The answer? We're bugging them.
I looked, but I don't have a pic of myself breastfeeding. In the 1960's you did not get your picture taken while nursing the kid, in my family. In fact, my MIL always ushered me into a bedroom when I was visiting her and firmly closed the door. The 'Flower Children' might have been exposing their breasts on the west coast, but in Ontario and Quebec, no concessions were being made. Which brings me to my favourite breastfeeding story.
We took the younger daughter to Expo '67, the 'we' being JG and his parents. She was two months old. In the whole Expo site there was one (1!) child care station. And it poured with rain while we were touring. I had the YD jammed into a backpack and had made a raincape which tied over the backpack and her fuzzy little head. Mostly she slept contentedly, but when she got hungry she could be pretty noisy about it. So we took to stopping in restaurants so that I could feed her. One stop was in the Russian Pavilion, which had a huge cafeteria. We got our lunches and settled down in a quiet corner while we all ate. I always wore a jacket and blouse and to nurse and so I unbuttoned these and stowed breast and baby under the loose cloth. And I had a paper carton of milk with a straw in front of me.
YD was very hungry and took to gulping and swallowing air, giving herself an airbubble. And, of course, started to scream. I hiked her up across my shoulder to get the airlock fixed but she was pretty cross about it and it took a while. Meanwhile a waiter, observing this, came trotting over and asked me politely if he could warm the baby's milk for me. (Paper carton and straw!) My FIL burst into gales of laughter, the poor miserable waiter finally figured out what was happening and slunk away in disarray, poor man. And the baby finished her lunch.