Monday, 28 January 2008
A little bias there? Nah. Not me. Seriously, though, by most measures of success, I think my daughters rate way up there. Well educated? Check. Successful careers? Check. Satisfying family and friends? Mostly. Well rounded? Sports and outdoor activities, check. Involvement in the arts, spotty. Readers, yes. Current events and community aware, yes, in different ways. Contributors to society, yes (they both have a collection of awards and honours). Happy? Some of the time, as I see them. Too busy to draw breath? Yep. Well, so are all of us.
I had a bit of a conversation about this with the YD yesterday because she came out from the city for the day to help her father clear trails. She was talking about being comfortable in the woods, and how a friend of hers with whom she had gone cross country skiing was not because she did not have a sense of where she was and was nervous she would get lost. The YD and her sister, from the ages of eight and nine were allowed to roam loose in the woods around our weekend cabin. We taught them how to find their way, how to make a fire if they needed one, gave them whistles to use if they got lost and, mainly, allowed them to go where they pleased. Later they had a boat of their own that they were allowed to use by themselves (once they passed basic swimming competency level) on the marsh and streams near our property. And they trotted off to play by themselves when they weren't needed for chores.
You see, when they were seven and eight we bought recreational land, built a four season cabin on it and spent almost every weekend there, year round. We started with 100 acres and ended up with 300, including a sugar bush and miles and miles of old logging trails which we cleared for hiking and skiing and JG's ATV and snowmobile. I taught them how to start and manoeuver a snowmobile when they were so small that it took both of them to steer properly. A matter of necessity, as I saw it, because if they were with their father and he got stuck, they would have to be able to get back and summon help. So they learned to love the woods and to love to ski. We skated on the beaver ponds. We hiked for miles. And, because the cabin had no electricity, after dark the amusements were reading and playing games.
It worried me. I worried that they were losing out on the scheduled weekend activities that their peer group was getting -- things like organized soccer. I fretted about their not having the access to the weekend television programs that all their friends would be talking about. I tried to get them the sort of lessons and skill training that I felt they should have, things like swimming lessons, music lessons, Brownies. They got Bible stories but not Sunday School. I also worried that they were missing out on opportunities to learn about the arts -- another area where events often took place on weekends. I tried to get them to concerts, to plays, to show them what was available. We went to see the D'oyle Carte do the Pirates of Penzance, I recall. To see the Lippizaner stallions. Their grandparents took them to a Toronto performance of Guys and Dolls one summer. One girl joined a city wide children's choir which performed some pretty serious music.
But all of this had to be scheduled for weekdays after school, not weekends. They both started gymnastics lessons and for one girl it became a passion. She took it up at school but until she was in secondary school, it was still a weeknight activity. The other girl tried different sports and activities and finally settled on one that could, until she was well into her teens, be carried on on Friday nights. But in some ways, I figured they were losing out, especially on the time just to hang out with their friends unscheduled. And if it happened on Saturday night or Sunday, we did not go.
By the time they were in their upper teens, I felt confident about leaving them in the city if there was something important going on. They got driver's licenses as soon as they could and got themselves to their own activities in my car or by bus. I gave them a lot of independence, in fact. I guess I always favoured letting them do things, from boating by themselves to taking a plane solo to their grandparents' city. They had bikes which they rode through city traffic (my mother was horrified). I never restricted what they read. I tried always to be respectful of their opinions and needs, with varying degrees of success, I suspect.
The limiting factor was that they had to fit their activities and lives into our lives. We did not schedule around them; we did not become parent supporters. Frequently they got themselves to their own activities and, as they got older, did things themselves, singly or as a pair. (They went to Disney World as a pair in their teens on a trip one of them won; wild horses could not have dragged their father there.) I do not know, I will never know, whether I could have done better for them. But that doesn't matter. I think parenting contains a paradox: you only get one chance to raise a child but you get a new chance every day. And so we all have to play it by ear, and to a great extent trust our instincts, our sense of what feels right and of what is valuable. For ourselves as well as for them.
Sunday, 27 January 2008
There was once a little tree that sat by itself on a small patch of lawn. In the winter time the little tree was covered in snow and ice. Under the snow and ice the little tree slept and it dreamed about butterflies. Lots of butterflies, gold ones and orange ones and yellow ones, dipping and drifting in the summer breeze. Once and a while the little tree would wake up, just a bit, but when it saw all the snow it would go back to sleep again.
Then one day the little tree woke up a bit more than usual, and the snow and the ice were almost all gone.
'Oh, my goodness', it said. 'The sun feels warm, and my roots aren't frozen and cold any more. I will have to do something to celebrate!'
And so the little tree sucked up some water from the newly thawed soil and it made some little green buds. Then it waited.
Soon the sun got much warmer. The last of the snow went away and green grass shoots started to push up out of the mud around the little tree's patch of lawn. A robin perched on the very tip of the little tree and sang its spring song.
'Wow', said the little tree. 'It's really spring. I will have to do something to celebrate'.
And so the little tree sucked up lots of nice warm rain water from the soil and it made some flower buds. Then it waited.
The little tree kept waiting until just the right day came along. The sun was very warm, and a lovely breeze was blowing just right.
'Whee,' said the little tree. 'It's time for me to bloom!'
And so the little tree pushed very hard on the buds that it had made and POP, out came beautiful purple blooms that had a wonderful perfume. Then the little tree waited.
The lovely smell of the flowers drifted along on the breeze. Soon a handsome yellow butterfly smelled the perfume.
'Oh, my', it said. 'That smells delicious. I bet there is some sweet nectar in a flower that smells so good.'
And away it flew, following the perfume, to the small lawn where the little tree waited.
'Hello, butterfly', said the little tree. 'Come and have a drink of my nectar. I've been waiting for you to help me celebrate spring!'
'Oh, thank you, lilac tree', said the butterfly.
And he did.
Monday, 21 January 2008
I had a bit of a debate with myself about what I should wear. I own a kilted skirt in Royal Stewart, purchased on a holiday in Scotland some years ago and in need of a lot of inventive adjustment of the pleats outward before it would be wearable. But somewhere I had picked up the idea that at Burns Dinners the women do not wear kilts; that sartorial splendour is left to the men. Women, I thought, are supposed to wear the tartan to which their heritage entitles them as a scarf or sash (arisaid) over ordinary evening dress. I do have a scarf in my husband's designated tartan but I thought that might be a bit ostentatious, given that my own heritage, while British Isles mongrel, includes not a drop of blood from north of the border. So I put on my usual uniform of black dress suit (and red shoes). My husband's curtsey to heritage was to dig out his school tie, said school being aggressively Scottish in nature.
I need not have worried. While there was one woman decked out in the long skirt and wound sash of perfect compliance, there were also many women in kilts and floor length tartan skirts, tartan jumpers and tartan suits. Those who did not rise to tartan wore black. And the attire of the men ranged from suit jacket with tartan scarf or jacket and kilt through the gamut to the full Highland regalia of black boiled wool jacket with small tails and silver buttons, obscure tartans that I am sure were their family heritage, highly decorated sporrans, shirts with stocks and some most creative socks and footwear. They were gorgeous -- peacocks in full plumage. It was the mirror image of the bright dress and black suit chiaroscuro of an ordinary dinner dance.
What is a Burns dinner, you ask. (I am going to tell you anyway!) At this dinner, the evening started with some dedicated drinking, followed by the piping in of the haggis, a Scottish delicacy immortalized in Burns' verse. That is, a resplendent gentleman appears carrying a large tartan bag with various things sticking out of it, blows into it and commences to march. The result is a howling noise not suited to indoor dining. Following him is a decked out person of indeterminate sex, bearing a silver platter on which reposes an undistinguished brown blob. All of the guests are supposed to follow this couple in procession around the room but the assembly skipped this step (I am not sure why as the master of ceremonies requested us to march).
After the haggis processes, it is placed on a table in the centre of the room, Burns' Address is read out and it is ceremonially stabbed with a sharp instrument. This instrument is probably a dirk although I hope the presiding mentor did not whip it out of his sock. The assembly is invited to recite the Selkirk Grace before meat in its best Scots accent. Dinner is then served. We were offered a roast beef dinner, accompanied by a small spoonful of haggis on request. One haggis served over 100 diners. I rather enjoyed my taste.
After dinner and a good few toasts and congratulations to the various cooks and organizers, a troupe of 'Highland' dancers took the floor and performed a variety of strenuous leaping dances, ending with a Highland fling. The dancers, all girls, ranged in age from perhaps ten to the late teens and were lovely to watch, although I was a bit puzzled by one set of dances in which they wore petticoats under their kilts and held the edge of said petticoat daintily in one hand throughout the leaps. A lot of discussion takes place about what is customarily worn under a kilt, but I have never heard of ruffled underskirts before.
After the dancers came a serenade by the piper. He seemed to have a defective pipe somewhere as one high note consistently became a dissonant squawk. The tunes, however, were recognizable and many people sang along.
When he left, a pair of musicians set up and played dance music. JG and I were among the youngest couples at the party, we figured, at 65 and 68. Much to our amazement, the bulk of the attendees danced, steadily and skillfully, for the better part of two hours. The older people in our community like to dance, throng to dances and dance well, even with the added weight and arthritic joints that most of them have. It was a lot of fun to watch the people on the dance floor but a tad dangerous to be on it if something like the 'Gay Gordon' was underway. And you have not plumbed the depths of delight, let me tell you, until you have seen a two kilted couple performing a spirited waltz.
I hope we go again next year. After I do one of A) serious dieting or B) letting out a pleated kilt.
Wednesday, 16 January 2008
More Conrad Black, please
National Post Published: Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Re: A Nation Seeking A Hero, Conrad Black, Jan. 12.
Callipygian. Yes of course I looked it up. There are not many positive things that have come from the witch-hunt prosecution of Conrad Black. But if locking him up gives him time to write special pieces for the National Post on a regular basis, then I see the positive side much more clearly. Playful, well-researched, intelligent and powerful writing is lacking in much of journalism today. More of this great stuff to come I hope.
Stephen Morin, Toronto.
ps: Callipygian = shapely buttocks. Yeah, a LOT of research.
Tuesday, 15 January 2008
Here is what Black said:
With trepidation, but not embarrassment, I offer the thought that Mrs. Obama, a formerly disadvantaged alumna of Princeton and Harvard, to judge from her well-strategized appearances on national television in exiguous dresses and trousers, is as callipygian as Jennifer Lopez. (That is my only concession to political correctness for 2008; you look it up if you must.) I saw her on TouTube saying that, "Reform must be from the bottom up." In her well-favoured case, this could be a double-entendre.If this is what Black thinks is politically correct, the sooner he goes to jail the better. Sans dictionary and, one hopes, sans access to the outside world. The idiot loves big words. 'Exiguous' is defined as 'scanty' in JG's Random House Dictionary. 'Callipygian' means 'having well-shaped buttocks' in the same source. And so what I think Conrad has said about Michelle Obama (whose first name he could not be bothered to use) is that she wears sexy clothes and shows off her butt. Or so I interpret it. The comment tells you more about Black that it does about Mrs. Obama; patronizing, sexist and in very, very poor taste. Is there anyone in the English speaking world other that Black who doesn't need to look up a word like that? What are you prepared to bet that he wrote the paragraph to give himself a chance to use it? Here, by the way, is the only photo of her that I found that would in any way validate Black's description, and I had to page through a lot of photos of her in full skirts and pearls. She strikes me as thoughtfully turned out.
I am extremely tired of reading physical descriptions of women that intend to establish their characters through the way they look. We don't judge men that way, to state the obvious. With very few exceptions, a woman in the public eye has her hair, figure, clothing choices and general attractiveness mentioned before anything else. And, historically, her 'womanly' skills. Cookie baking! Queen Elizabeth II has had her 'dowdiness' and hats analyzed to death. Jacquie Kennedy Onassis' hats and spending habits were constantly picked at. Whether a woman is too attractive or less than attractive is always a factor. Blonde and busty denotes stupidity. Anything other than extreme thinness is treated as a character flaw. Bloody hell!
The question is not one of women who choose to dress provocatively. The problem is that just being a woman is provocative -- riding a bike in lycra shorts and a tank top can get a young woman raped and killed. So can being out late in a parka and heavy boots. I believe that the kind of garbage Black wrote about Michelle Obama is a sort of licence to men to think about women only in terms of their physical attractiveness, to depersonalize them, to produce an atmosphere of complicit salaciousness which gives permission to move toward the extreme of mindless lust. If that sounds overdramatic, so be it. I am resolved to protest the publication of this stuff wherever I find it.
Starting with Saturday's National Post. A shortened form of this rant has just gone into the Letters to the Editor section. I'll be really surprised if it gets printed.
Monday, 14 January 2008
January 14th, 2008
The Bird Feeder
The Bird Feeder chronicles the winter life of a varied cast of feathered friends. Featuring Charles Chicadee, Harriette Woodpecker and Natalie Nuthatch, playing themselves, with a host of relatives and peers, stuffing their beaks at the Chez G sunflower dispenser and suet ball. An ongoing subplot brings in the antics of the Chez G bluejays who both visit at the feeder with Charles and Natalie et al. and compete with the squirrels below for bread and nuts. As a contrast, the varied visitors to Little Stuff's Christmas gift feeder in the city are briefly featured.
The film provides audiences a rare opportunity to experience Charlie and his team as they travel to and from the feeders and performa dawn to dusk show every day. Charlie and his team bring their unique styles and perspectives to watchers at every window.Through rousing onfeeder performances and behind-the-scenes caching, this engaging film breaks down the true essence of each bird's feeding habits and the personal and professional challenges that unite legions of fans from Hollywood to the Heartland.
Release Date: January , 2008
Genre: Comedy and Documentary
Running Time: dawn to dusk.
Distributor(s): Canadian Winter
MPAA Rating: R for pervasive language and some sex-related humor.
Director: Helmet Hawk
Producer: George Goldfinch
Movie Casts:Charles Chicadee- Himself
Harriette Woodpecker- Herself
Natalie Nuthatch- Herself
Guest appearences: Mr and Mrs Urban Cardinal; Bruno Blue Jay; Sara TreeSparrow, Janey Junco; Norvo Nuthatch, Guilliame Grosbeak, Hamish R Hawk;
Cameo: The Flying Squirrels
Friday, 11 January 2008
In fact, it is forty nine years since my beloved aunt, in the grips of depression, hanged herself, leaving her pubescent daughter to my parents' care and causing such grief and guilt as I still cannot adequately describe. From the vantage point of the 21st century, it is possible to speculate that my maternal grandmother and all her daughters had varying degrees of bipolar disorder that in my aunt's case, exacerbated by the menopause and the sudden death of her husband, sent her over the edge into clinical depression, undiagnosed and untreated in accordance with the practice of the times to tell such sufferers to 'pull themselves together'. Her death was of benefit to my mother and her next younger sister in that they did learn to recognize menopause as a time that they would be vulnerable and to take steps to get support. My aunt, thirteen years younger, was able to benefit from hormone therapy. My mother took the unprecedented decision in her life to put herself first, tried out tranquillizers and finally returned to university to do a master's degree, thus keeping herself fairly stable.
My family used to describe their depression as 'the black dog'*, a condition that caused, for example, my grandmother's withdrawal from the world into the cocoon of her bedroom for almost a year when her mother died. I clearly remember talking one of my aunts down from an alcohol fueled threat of suicide when I was in my early twenties. You see, my positioning in the family was that of 'the little ray of sunshine'. I was always seen as the happy, lucky, stable golden child whose path through life, if not strewn with roses, was at least anticipated to be free from thorns. And when post partum depression hit me like a hammer after my elder daughter was born, I followed my mother's recipe of keeping busy and exercising my mind, took a university course and, deliberately, got pregnant again as soon as possible. I clearly remember crying big salt tears onto the fuzzy head of my younger daughter while frantically thinking about how I could hide my misery. I was not supposed to be sad -- I had a mild case of 'the baby blues' and a few days would clear it up.
I navigated that choppy and iceberg dotted sea with limited help from fairly unsatisfactory counselling and medical help and managed to hold onto my 'ray of sunshine status until I was in my early forties, when a combination of stressors tipped me into depression. I spent a few months in the basement weeping, watching television and snarling at my nearest and dearest and pulled myself sort of together again, partly out of the necessity of caring for my parents, especially my mother whose physical illness and growing dementia required, it seemed to me, a show of strength. Ignoring the well meaning advice of hospital counselors who told me to step back, I did my best to help as she became critically ill and died, struggling to fulfill my role as little friend to all the world and bringer of hope and good cheer.
A few months after her death I went to a doctor for help to stop smoking through hypnosis and in our first session I lost it. 'You have a clinical depression' said this wonderful man and he quickly arranged for most effective drug therapy and counselling. I went onto the first of the SSI's and for the last nineteen years I have been on one form or another of these drugs and feel, mostly, very well. I do have 'ups and downs', as they say, and some of the drugs' side effects, such as lowered libido and fluid retention, are frustrating, but mainly I function well.
One of the ways to fight this disease is to try to know yourself, to accept what you are and celebrate what is good about it, to tolerate mistakes and move on from them, to take responsibility where you can but not to be afraid to ask for help. I cling to the old prayer in which one requests that God grant you the skill to change what you can, the courage to endure what you must and the good sense to know the difference. Another is to be disciplined about diet, exercise and way of life. I do fairly well at the first of these, I think, but I suck at the second. (Finished a box of chocolate liqueurs last night at bedtime. Blush!) Humour helps a lot! As does time and maturity. In TH White's marvelous book, The Once and Future King, he talks about the benefits of time and maturity in a wonderful metaphor, equating the angst of the growing adolescent and young adult with the fledgling bird and the self knowledge of the mature adult with a grown bird, the oil on its feathers allowing it to ride the waves with serenity.
I find that I think of my vulnerability to depression as a medical condition of the same type as bad allergies, a little less serious that Type II diabetes, a physical condition that requires me to be aware of my health and to take medication without guilt. That's a long way from my diagnosis. It's also a long way from the attitudes that caused my husband's family, in the late 1950's, to relegate one of his aunts to the upper floor of a house that several of them shared and to refrain from mentioning that she was there. There's an interesting body of work developing on the changes in attitudes to all types of mental illness but there are, unfortunately, stigma still attached to some of them. Lately I have been reading about a lawsuit brought against his employer by a sufferer from bipolar (?) disease who was let go from the fear that he could not do his job**. Fifty years ago he would not have dared to tell them. Even thirty years ago he would not have had medication that allowed him to function well.
We've come a long way but there is still an even longer journey to go. If publicizing my history of illness will help that, even a little, I am 'out' and will try to do so. And hugs to my friend for doing so too.
Wednesday, 9 January 2008
Being forcibly reminded of the chocolate generated spare tire and inflated derriere by the commencement of the bathing suit season, I could reasonably decide to make a new set of resolutions to take effect, entirely logically, after the end of the berry and sweet corn season when giving up sprinkles of sugar and gobs of butter would, of course, become easier.
Early in October, when failing to do up the zipper of the heavy weight trousers retrieved from storage, I would, of course, realize that dieting/eating sensibly was of no avail because, so close to Thanksgiving, I should wait until after the holiday dinner when it would, miraculously, be too close to Christmas and the essential obligation of eating the treats of the season to bother. Easier to buy some new trousers.
At present I am avoiding the scales, the mirror and most of my wardrobe. 'Oh, that this too, too solid flesh would melt,' as they say. My mouth is full of delicious Christmas gift chocolate as I type this. My BIL gave me Turin Bailey's filled chocolates. My husband gave me chocolate truffles. The ED put a Lindt bar in my stocking. The eldest grandson contributed a chocolate filled chocolate log. (Absolutely marvelous!) Could anyone suppose, even for an instant, that I would blithely begin, on January 1st, to count my calories, join a weight loss group or even eat more sensibly? As far as I can see, my only recourse is to pig out on this heavenly fare until it is all gone, and to do it as quickly as possible so that the increased curve of my tum and bum do not settle in for a long stay.
If you do not think this is a credible course of action, I do not want to hear it, okay?
For those of you who want me to come and tidy up for you, I would be glad to do so. That is, after I deal with the Christmas stuff, which is still in a pile in the doorway of my laundry/sewing room because I have to clean the storage room and there is no room in the laundry room because of the pile of unironed Christmas tablecloths and the mending which has been accumulating since (blush) last January. No exaggeration.
If I had a list of resolutions, these items would be on it, along with the bathroom shelves and under sink cupboard, the drawers in my night table and the unfinished Christmas present for Little Stuff which I now have scheduled to be finished for her birthday. In May. But, of course, I do not have a list. Or if I do, it is in the knitting basket with the size two sweater sleeves.
Hey, procrastination is an art form. It takes a lot of work to do it right.
Tuesday, 8 January 2008
Monday, 7 January 2008
Ten years ago we had a thaw that turned out to be the weather event of the century around here, even beating out the huge snowfall of '72 that broke the backs of barns and arenas all around Eastern Ontario. As the temperature hovered just below freezing, it began to rain and it continued to rain for four long days. Hydro towers crumpled as they were coated in thick ice, cars crumpled as they skidded into poles and trees or were hit by falling branches, people huddled around their fireplaces or stoves, in candlelight, or moved to improvised shelters where generators could be found.
Out here in the highlands, we're prepared. At chez G we even had a generator, although it was a kilometre downhill at the sugar camp and it took us the better part of two days to hack our way down to it and bring it up on the tractor. It was dark, however, and noisy. The noise came from trees creaking under the weight of the ice, cracking, breaking, falling. They fell in piles and windrows and heaps. The tree lined roads were all but impassable, the laneways giant games of spillikins. Our sugar bush lost 60% of the crowns of the trees and was almost impossible to navigate. The snaps, crackles and pops went on day and night.
The most horrible thing of all was how beautiful it was. The first day that the skies cleared we tried to walk out to assess the damage. We got lost, so many landmarks were gone or obscured. But this is what it looked like.
The main road to the sugar camp.
The Canadian government sent in the army. It poured millions of dollars into cleanup and help for the farmers who had lost cattle, maple bushes, Christmas tree farms and buildings. But it will be a generation or longer before the forest recovers.
Sunday, 6 January 2008
What I remember about the ice storm is the dark. During the ice storm I wanted to get to Perth, a half hour drive from our rural home under normal conditions, daily to visit the hospital where my elderly aunt lay, confused and ill. And in fact I made it every day except one, because some of our neighbours had cattle on the farm two south of us and they were chopping and hacking a hole down the road every day to see to the cattle.
There was no light anywhere. With the sky mostly overcast, at dusk everything faded out and there were no landmarks, nothing, only my headlight beams, as I slithered and bucked down the road, catching the ice on the branches and stumps. Once I got to the paved roads, where the trees were farther back, everything glittered as I passed, but I moved in a small circle of my own light. Rarely, a lantern on a porch or the lights of another car would give some relief.
Late on Friday afternoon, as I passed the parking lot of the grocery store on Highway 7 in Perth, I could see a dim blue glow, a lot of small blue lights, but I was too preoccupied with driving to see more. It was on my way home, after my hospital visit, that I realized what the blue lights were. Ahead of me across the level fields of the farms just west of Perth stretched a ribbon of blue riding lights. I was driving behind a convoy of army trucks, each of them carry blue side lights. I could see the whole long line of vehicles in front of me heading for a staging point at Lanark Village. The army was on its way to help.
Armed with chainsaws and determination, these youngsters cleared the way for the highway crews, checked on every isolated home and camp, set up generators, helped in the emergency shelters and generally endeared themselves to all of us, even though their attack on the piled broken trees could be mighty scary. They worked like beavers. Each night as I drove home from Perth there was more light -- another section of power lines restored. And one wonderful day, twenty one days after the lights went out, the hydro crew got to us and the power came back on.
I followed those trucks, beacons in the dark, with tears in my eyes and ten years later I still find myself weeping when I think of that ribbon of light.