Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Christmas Angels

Under the Mad Hat put up a post last week about what she was making for Christmas, and asked her readers to tell her what they were doing. Rather than load up her comments, I decided to talk about Christmas presents here.

We all know what Little Stuff is getting for Christmas -- a three foot long recumbent stuffed moose, courtesy of her grandfather's having gone a bit nuts at the Christmas Auction. What she's getting from me is a set of wooden alphabet letters that spell her name, on wheels and pulled by a small wooden engine. At present, the first coat of paint is on and I need to get them sanded down and the second coat applied. Then I will paint tiny flowers, butterflies and other colourful designs onto them. I have pewter paint for the wheels. And that's it for stuff I am making this year.

In other years my long suffering family has received paintings I made, dolls clothes (from baby dolls to Barbies), caftans, crewel wall hangings, ditsy Christmas ornaments, photo montages, and on and on. I love to make things. This year the gifts are somewhat utilitarian. (If my daughters are reading this, I urge them to stop. Now.) One of them needs new kitchen cutlery and the other, kitchen dishes. I am buying Canadian, which I always try to do. I also try to buy locally, if possible, from craftspeople in the area. One of my neighbours, for instance, makes spectacular turned wooden bowls. If I do gift baskets, it's all local and highly slanted toward maple sugar products or cheese.

But the shopping that I do for fun is for 'Christmas Tree Angels'. Local kids whose parents are having trouble putting a Christmas together for them are identified by a local organization* and their age, size and two wished for gifts written onto a paper angel. I collect one angel for each of my parents and two aunts whom I loved and who were very good to me. Then I assign an angel to each one and go off to look for what I think that each one of them would buy for the child.

This year my aunt who was an art teacher has been assigned a teenaged boy who 'loves to draw', and today I put together a kit of a portfolio drawing pad, a case of varied pencils and the bits and pieces my aunt taught me how to use -- kneaded eraser, conté crayon, that kind of thing. For my parents I chose a pair of sisters who need clothes and I bought them each a set of pajamas and lovely pink fuzzy dressing gowns. (I'm not sure my Dad is really into the pink fuzzy bit, but he can choose the toys to go with the clothes.) My other aunt's child is another little girl -- this aunt was a very dressy, well groomed woman and I think she would have enjoyed the incredible array of Barbie clothes.

I have never been comfortable with In Memoriam commemoration of the day of death, and so I came up with this way to remember my family with love and joy, and also to pass along a bit of the happiness they gave me for so many Christmases.

* This one is close to us, but the one I work from is actually at the Community Health Centre

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Auction Report

The Community Health Centre's Auction was Thursday which coincided, to the planning committee's dismay, with the first big winter storm. On Thursday morning we had SNOWFALL WARNING IN EFFECT plastered all over the Environment Canada forecast, and about 10cm on the ground by 9:00 am. School buses were cancelled. Snowtire installation became a top priority. Late morning we held an emergency consultation at the CHC and decided, after much gnashing of teeth, to go ahead with the event. Country people would not be daunted by a quite ordinary snowfall, we reasoned. But we were pretty nervous, especially when the snow turned to freezing rain in the afternoon and the wind came up.

However, we soldiered on, most of us in four wheel drive, collected all the auction donations and spent the afternoon laying out the tables, setting up the dessert station and worrying. It was also enormous fun to see everything we had to auction. The big items we had used on the publicity posters -- we had a Peterborough cedar boat, a time share, an antique clock, beautifully handcrafted bowls, artwork, and other very generous donations, a tandem truck load of gravel, for instance. (In the hinterland, this is big. Our household, for one, tractors that much gravel every year or so to patch the laneway, the apron in front of the barn and the worst potholes in the saw yard and landing.) But when the small stuff came out of the bags, it was fascinating. Pashimi scarves, beautiful Christmas decorations, lots of gift certificates (one for haircuts, of which more later) and not least, the gorgeous red purse from Damier Leather.

The hall looked spectacular. We were lucky enough to have a local pancake restaurant, Temples, (On the Fergusson Falls Road, for those of you in this area) donate the use of their building. It is brand new, post and beam construction, and really beautiful. A fire was burning in the big stone fireplace at the far end, the staff loaned us cream tablecloths and the whole room glowed.

We were due to start at 7:00 pm, but shortly after 6:00 pm the doors opened and people started arriving, wanting time to look the tables over. By 6:30 they were streaming in and I was torn between tears of thankful joy and terror lest we run out of dessert. One of the team offered to donate all of her already done Christmas baking (now that's organized!) and after frantic phoning I managed to get a driver to collect some pies I had forgotten to pick up earlier. (They fetched $16.00 each!) By 7:10 we had three workers on the dessert table serving, and there was barely room to move around in the hall.

The auction was a mix of live and silent bidding. Our auctioneer, Charlie Hollinger, is an elderly and highly skilled professional, now retired, who generously helped us. We planned three short sessions of live bidding and had twelve silent auction tables, which we closed serially throughout the evening. In this kind of silent auction, you announce the imminent closing and people rush around, trying to be the lowest closing bid. When the table with Danier's purse closed, there must have been half a dozen women hovering beside the bid sheet. Into this crowd sailed our mayor, a large and jovial man with a considerable fundament, who simply cut a swath through the ladies like a tanker among pleasure craft and got the winning bid.

Most couples had one bid number between them but I had picked up my own before the crowd arrived and JG got one of his own when he got in. Now JG can get a bit carried away at an auction, especially when people keep buying him glasses of wine. True to form he got the winning bid on a 3' long stuffed moose, which he plans to give to Little Stuff as her Christmas present. He also got the load of gravel, and numerous other items. We had a lot of gift certificates to auction, one of which was for haircuts from the barber who cuts JG's hair. I decided to bid on that. I checked back at intervals and found that someone had always bid after me. About the third time this happened, I took a close look at the handwriting -- JG was trained as a draftsman, and makes a very distinctive number 4 and 8. I rushed over and asked him what his bidding number was and, sure enough, I was bidding against him. He is going to have some pretty expensive haircuts.
It wasn't just JG and the mayor who were spending generously. By the time we closed, we knew we had done well and when the poor beleaguered staff got the money counted Friday morning, we had approximately $10,000, not counting straight donations, of which there were several. One of our new Board members phoned me Friday morning and said she was amazed at the warmth and generosity of this community and felt extremely lucky to be living here. And so do I.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Monday, 19 November 2007

Charity Begins At Home

Since I have been out of the house all day working on a charity auction, I have not got my Monday Mission post up. Sincere apologies, and here it is. No stats, no references (although I have them). Just banged up. More sincere apologies.

When I first thought of this topic, I intended to write a humourous post. Something about sending out letters with appeals to send me to camp or at least build me a hole to hide in when all the Christmas appeals start to pour into my mailbox. But I find that I don't want to be funny. The first waves of the tsunami have in fact landed in my mailbox, and I am being urged to buy a kid in Africa a goat or support health research or the city's Hospital Foundation (three different hospitals!). All of these are worthy. All are needed. But my local community is full of children who need help just as much.

These kids are in trouble right from the start. Their parents have only seasonal income if any and so use the food bank regularly; this means that the children's' food is starchy and lacking in protein and vitamins. The children aren't thin. They are pudgy and lethargic and have bad teeth, skin problems, poor eyesight among their problems. Unfortunately, far too many of them are bottle fed as their very young mothers don't care for the idea of breast feeding and have little support if they do attempt it.

Many of them live in isolation, on marginal farms or in the bush a long way from anywhere or anyone else. Because their parents are tired and very, very poor, most of them live in dirt and squalor, maybe in an old school bus or half finished, poorly insulated cabin. They don't go anywhere very often because their parents can't afford to buy gas or their decrepit vehicles are not running. Some of them have only one parent, a teenaged girl living with her mother and a succession of boyfriends -- hers and her mother's. There is sometimes domestic violence.

There are no books. If there are toys, they are cheap plastic and they break. What is always present is a television. And the television is on all the time. By the time these children are school age, some of them have up to a year of developmental delay and a significant further number of them have speech delays. Their teeth have caries. Some of them are wild -- 'behaviour problems'. Some of them are terrified of school and other children and adults. They are dirty and badly dressed and they don't smell very good, either.

In my local community are many caring, giving teachers who work their hearts out to give these kids a chance. Some of them have started a program called 'Grow With Books', which sends a book home to registered children every two months from birth to age five. It runs on fundraising. There's a program called 'Children's Resources on Wheels' which runs play programs and buses with toys and books that can be borrowed, among other things. It runs on a shoestring. There's a program called 'Healthy Young Families' which has a nurse practitioner, a social worker and other dedicated staff and starts with prenatal health and nutrition and works up to age six or so. It gets government funding, thank goodness! There are other good programs with wonderful people working their hearts out to provide assistance. A lot of them are partly supported by fundraising or Trillium grants.*

In the cities there are children as needy as these. The special problem here is getting the children to the programs and the programs to the children. In time. By the time they are school aged, the help is often remedial help. In a country as rich as Canada, that's sickening.

A part of the problem is that these children are off the radar and hard to reach. The Community Health Centre that I volunteer for is a major player in helping these children. As well as a primary care function, the CHC is mandated to do 'health promotion' and client support. Much as I grumble about the fundraising and running around, it's a worthwhile thing to do.

*For readers not from Ontario, the Trillium Foundation is a government run body that hands out funds raised by government run lotteries and government sponsored casinos.

Friday, 16 November 2007


A Simon and Garfunkel song has been playing nonstop in my befuddled brain for the last while -Oh Cecelia, I'm down on my knees I'm begging you please to come home.

Making love in the afternoon with Cecilia
Up in my bedroom(makin' love) I got up to wash my face,
When I come back to bed
Someone's taken my place.
The trouble is that not only is the damn thing on an endless loop, I'm also thinking about the words. Never do that. 'My bedroom'? Not 'theirs'? So then why does he ask her to 'come home'? I'm sure the answer has to do with metre, rhyme and stress, but it's bugging me.

After running around pretty well nonstop on the Health Centre's fundraiser business for the last few days, I had planned to take this morning off and do housework, etc. Especially etc. I had a cherry pie filling thickening on the stove when the phone started ringing -- press release deadline looming, EA's email fried, chair of fundraising committee needing an edit job, now-now. Well, I got the pie baked, but the first load of laundry is still in the washer and lunch time is rapidly approaching. Time to stop and give JG some food.

Speaking of food for JG, that's why the pie. Last Sunday week we held the Community Hall's fundraising Hunter's Dinner and I made fruit pies for it. Mostly the bakers donate meringue pies, but I stink at meringue, so I do two crust -- blueberry and cherry. Both of which JG adores. I went down to the Hall early to make salads and took the pies. By the time JG got there to eat, they were long gone. He has been plaintively demanding his own pie ever since. The one I made today is a bribe, because I have to be away all day tomorrow at a CHC event and most of the day Sunday working at the Hall. New version of Marie Antoinette's apocryphal utterance -- Let him eat pie!

The pie came out of the oven perfect -- the ones for the Hall all ran over. Rats!

All this driving around has started me off composing haiku in my head. The best versions never get written down. I have three different lines sloshing around in my head.

Stripped branches bending,
Dead leaves, sere grass, fine rain falling.
Snowless November.

I'm sure the other versions were better.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

And on the way I lost it!

Julie Pippert at Using My Words has put up this topic for the Wednesday Humpday Hmm. I've never tried a Hmm topic before, but this one reached out and grabbed me.

"It's made me think about loss, what we value, and potential gain. Let's write about that. Imagine losing all your material possessions (except the few you can carry)... Or, tell us a story about some sort of loss. If you can inspire through hope, and tell us about something you gained from it, and real value, please definitely do that."

So I am going to make a list of things I have lost, some material and some not. And then I am going to go through the list again and put in things I have gained and balance that against the losses. I don't know how this will work, but here goes.

When I was a girl, I thought I would be a painter -- an artist in oils. I loved to paint, I entered my paintings in shows and won awards and my aunt the art teacher raved about my work. I thought I was The Best! It took a summer at art school when I was seventeen, surrounded by people who could really do it, to convince me that I was at best a talented amateur. It was my first experience with really looking at myself and seeing what others might see. At the time it was devastating and left me dazed and lost, not knowing who or what I could become. I spent the next three years trying on different persona, floundering a lot of the time, and finally settling on a life choice that was the very opposite of my aunt's, much as I still loved her. And I never again thought I was The Best, at anything.

Looking back, I think I must have been a really repellent teenager, convinced I was a Gift to a Waiting World. Finding out I wasn't has made me tolerant, and able to look at other people and see what they are about and enjoy them for what they are. I have learned to look for and celebrate talent of all kinds in others and in myself, too. I've made myself into a tolerable graphics artist, a competent photographer and a life long student of art in all its forms, whether it's a glorious oil or a really clever advertisement or a beautifully made quilt. I love to sew and knit and to make my house a warm and welcoming home. Small talents, but I've used them for other people and for myself. I probably get more joy over Little Stuff's delight in her furry cat costume than I ever would have at winning a juried show.

As a young woman I was slim, athletic and strong. I swam, I did winter sports, taught myself to ski, did a lot of work in the outdoors, lifting and hauling in the sugar bush. Even into late middle age I did a lot of hard physical labour. My husband took early retirement and we built ourselves a retirement home. And I mean, we built it. I lugged floor joists and rafters, hauled knee wall forms up ladders, lifted and carried 12' sections of drywall. Well, now I am a senior citizen, with arthritic joints and am no longer either slim or athletic. My knees swell, I have no grip in my dominant hand and ladders are agony. I'm terrified of falling if I ski. I have lost, almost entirely, the confidence and the willingness to try things, lost the sense of myself as a useful worker. People offer to carry things for me, to pull me up steps. I'm not a helper any more, I thought; I'm someone to be helped.

Sure, when my body started to fail to obey me, it felt at first as if the walls were closing in. But being unable to slug stuff around the woodlot left me time to explore other activities. I've joined several organizations and groups that help other people, whether in co-ordinating group activities (a local syrup makers' association, for instance) or managing an organization that helps others (the board of a non profit seniors' residence). If I can't do the heavy lifting, I can make posters and phone calls and take minutes. I found out that I'm good at fundraising. I can wash dishes at the local hall dinner and put face paint on kids for the Santa Claus parade. And I'm not giving in, that's for sure. I can still use snowshoes. I can swim just fine and I find I can step dance. At half speed, but who cares! I can look after my granddaughter, even if I have to tell her to climb up herself because I can't lift her.

It didn't matter to me a lot, even as a teen and young woman, to be pretty and to be admired. But I did enjoy having beautiful, smooth skin. Not any more. I have wrinkles, skin tags, sags and the discoloured spots that age brings. I get rashes and itches and my skin is getting thinner and papery and sort of soft, like tissue paper. Yuck. And there is no lotion or potion that will change any of it much. I just have to put up with it and wonder how much worse it is going to get.

I suspect most of you know the poem 'When I am an old woman, I will wear purple.' My colour is red -- or pink. I really enjoyed Andrea's posts on colour in clothing, and some of the comments, because I've always loved colour but working in an office is not the place for yellow trousers and three coloured shoes. Thankfully, I don't have to worry any more. No more sensible business suits and blouses with little bows at the neck. I haven't had to put on tights for ten years. The YD buys me lovely Christmas clothes, to smarten me up I suspect, and they are much admired. I buy clothes for colour and texture and comfort, and I don't really care what anyone thinks of them, unless I have to go to parties of my husband's associates. For these I have a black dinner suit but I wear a silver turtle neck with it. And red shoes.

Through sixty five years of living, you lose a lot of things. I've lost my babies (they grew up!), homes I have loved, my parents and aunts. I've lost track of friends, lost jobs, lost skills I didn't practice. Pieces and bits fall out of my memory from time to time. I've lost confidence in some ways. I've also lost my cocky, insufferable teenaged self and the hard, unsympathetic woman I could have become. I hope I've lost the path to becoming a whiny, querulous old woman, although it is hard to think so, rereading three paragraphs of whining. Although I have lost some friends, I have made a lot of new ones. My babies have been replaced by wonderful women with whom I am well content and a cherished grandkid. I have a home that my husband designed just for us, and I love it. I'm certainly not lost for things to do and places to go! And if I have to lose, as they say, my marbles, I am going to have fun while it's happening.

Monday, 12 November 2007

The Power of One

Crossposted at BlogRhet

In early October I had an unfortunate experience at a local branch of Danier Leather. In the course of a blog post mainly about agism I described this incident, and in the Comments to the post several readers advised that I should write to the company to complain. This seemed like a good idea and so I wrote a letter to the local store and one to the president of the company (always go to the top). My commenters had asked me to let them know what was happening and I therefore posted a copy of the letter to the president as a follow up. The next morning I had an email in my inbox from the Call Centre Operations manager; it seems that the company does a frequent search of the Web for mentions of its name and that of its president (which is why I am not naming him here).

The email apologised for the incident, assured me that there would be follow-up and asked that I call the writer. When I did, we had a good conversation about what I had written and why, I apologised for posting the letter before snailmailing it and I was offered a gift as an apology. All very nice. What really intrigued me, however, was the speed of the response and the fact that the company was trolling the internet for references to its name. Some of my comment writers had included incidents of their own in which they had complained about service, with varying results. But I defy anyone to cite a faster response than the one I have just described.

All of which is a preface to the main theme of this post, which is the power of using the internet. It never occurred to me that the Danier Leather people would pick up a reference to themselves in a blog. Search engines are amazing tools. I know that some of you have visit counters of more or less sophistication, some of which track what search words were used to get the visitor to your site, some of which track where the visitor comes from, and much more. I just have a simple hit counter but I am contemplating an upgrade now. And so that is Question Number One -- do you have a sophisticated counter and if so, what does it tell you about your visitors and how do you make use of the information?

Question Number Two is this -- have you written a complaint about any company by name (as opposed to writing to the company) and if you have, what kind of response did you get? As I said earlier, I was absolutely amazed by the speed with which my complaint was picked up. As well, I was impressed with how seriously they took it. It makes me wonder if other big companies are internet savvy and have a protocol for responding to mentions of them. And if so, what kind of companies they are. Danier is a provider of luxury goods; would this make them more complaints sensitive than someone like Sears or Walmart?

Third and last, I find myself thinking hard about how this power could be harnessed and used to address some of the issues that BlogRhet contributors are concerned with. Things like lack of sensitivity in advertising or child unfriendly retail outlets (I know of a coffee shop that did not have a baby changing table in the washroom, for goodness sake) or staff. Things like lack of respect (basic good manners!) for the poor slobs who are spending the money. Julie Pippert did a good post on that one on her home site. I, for one, am completely sick of grocery checkout staff who chat with a co-worker while scanning and bagging my purchases. The local grocery where I shop has a complaints station and posts the complaint, plus answer, on the wall at the front of the store. There's no such facility in most of the big chains. But there is the internet, hmm?

If this kind of thing interests you, could you give some thought to the questions. If you have done post(s) about similar things, could you drop off a link, please. I'd really like to hear your ideas and if I get some good ones, do a follow up post on the topic.


Friday, 9 November 2007

I went to a line dancing class yesterday. The first time I have done that kind of thing in fifty years. No kidding. In high school I used to square dance and do 'country dances', which is essentially square dance in two long lines. Loved it. Unfortunately I married a man who can't do this kind of dancing and so I lost track of it. And I thought I had forgotten how until about half way through the class when I stopped stumbling over my own feet and knocking into the people beside me and my feet took off. In little bits, that is. I still lost track from time to time, but I have the basics of two dance lines and can do the first one with full speed music. And I loved it. It is so nice to realize that you still have a skill that you thought was long gone.

What is line dancing? This is -- although this is one pretty slick foursome.

What's with the class? Well, it goes back to government money. The Province of Ontario came up with some funds last year to get seniors to be more active. Our township got a chunk of it and commissioned a small study to see what seniors would like to do, if it were available.

In our township there are a lot of small community halls, each one supported by a small group of people who like this kind of activity. When the old small townships amalgamated into the big one we now have, all the little township halls became the property of the amalgamated township, but the local groups continued to run them. I am a committee member on one of them. Each hall committee gets $1000 per year to run its hall. This basically pays for the telephone and we raise money to keep the halls going by various means -- dinners, euchre parties, rentals for funerals and other celebrations. And we are all very keen on keeping OUR local hall going. So the halls were all asked to send a rep to work on the study and guess who got sucked in. Hi.

We ended up deciding that what was needed was a roving seniors' centre that went from hall to hall and provided exercise opportunities and socialization for seniors and the people who would bring them if they couldn't drive. And the survey of activities turned up with line dancing and shuffleboard as two of the recommendations. We also got a small further grant to put in a facilitator to get it up and going and she is a real darling. So, we have an experimental line dancing class to see how it will be received and I decided I had better go along and show the flag.

Glad I did, even if my knees are squeaking like rusty hinges today. It'll be a while before you see a video of me, however.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Wordless Wednesday

The Christmas dresses were being unpacked today.

Monday, 5 November 2007

Deer in Trouble

Lanark Highlands deer are dodging bullets this morning as the start of the hunting season began at dawn to-day. Local hunters began setting up in the bush well before dawn and soon after sunrise the crash of high powered rifles could be heard in several locations.

Little Buck, the G Acres resident deer, is sticking very close to the house this morning, as the G's have an understanding with the local hunt camp and no hunting is permitted in the vicinity of the house. Reached at his favourite feeding station, Little Buck was resigned. "I plan to stay within a few hundred feet of the house for the next two weeks," he said. "But it is going to be pretty tense."

As the orange coloured bodies whine by on their ATV's, it is not only Little Buck who is tense. All of the local deer are nervous and jumpy, liable to forsake their normal habit patterns and jump out onto the road at the least provocation. Over the next two weeks, a great deal of venison will be harvested for local tables, but the deer population is deeply upset.