Wednesday, 28 January 2009
When I woke up to news that the school buses had been cancelled and that a major snow dump was forecast, I decided to forget the hour+ drive into a city clogged by bus strike traffic and enroll for the podcast. And so I phoned the contact number and asked to be included.
After a short, polite delay, I was informed that the meeting was yesterday. And when I looked at my calendar, there was the Tuesday circled.
I think I need a cup of coffee and a new brain.
Tuesday, 27 January 2009
One was my very high achieving and equally uptight mother, a woman who had decided at the outbreak of WW II to abandon her career and marry a sailor. (You got married in 1940, you quit your job, at least at the firm where my mother worked.) My mother applied the same drive and rigour that took her through a Master's degree during the Depression to being a housewife, looking after her war damaged husband and raising me. And as I grew old enough to understand, she complained about all of these tasks, averring that the height of woman's emancipation had been reached in the 1920's and that she was caught in a backlash. To an extent, she was right. The late 1940's and the 1950's were the heyday of the white picket fence mythology.
My other role model was my mother's younger sister, my aunt Marion. Unmarried, amazingly talented in art, a gifted musician, she was an elementary school teacher who had her own apartment, drove a Carmengia, took fascinating vacations with compatible friends and generally seemed to dance through her life. Again, as I grew old enough to understand, I realized that this was not entirely so. Marion had a winsome, heart shaped face, a figure that Marilyn Monroe might envy and a horror of commitment. She did experiment with sex, she told me, but found the act of intercourse so funny that she could never really get into it. And although she had a network of family, friends and colleagues when she needed them, she was subject to fits of deep depression in which she felt entirely alone.
When I was a university undergraduate I got proposals. I even got a diamond engagement ring once. I gave it back, for various complicated reasons. But when I met the man who is now my husband and knew I had a real choice to make, I thought of the lives of my mother and my aunt and I chose my mother's path. Deliberately, knowing how much the yoke sometimes galled her, I made a commitment for life to be like her. I look back now at that cocksure girl and wonder if I ever could have been that person.
By the time I was in my forties I had two teenagers, a full time job, a dog, and a husband whose idea of fun was to spend every weekend at a waterless, non electrified cabin in the woods, chopping and stacking wood, building things and, each spring, making maple syrup. For all these activities my participation was, he believed, essential. And it was. He lived for the weekends, he needed to do these strenuous things and he needed me to help him make it work. Some of it I did, in fact, enjoy a lot. But there wasn't a lot of time left over for me to be my own person. And there were times when the yoke, indeed, chafed.
I dreamed, in odd moments, of a home that was just mine, of a life that I could order, of solitude to read, to create, to be subject to no one. I dreamed of being able to indulge my own taste, to do things without hurry, to roar off in my little sports car to fascinating spots, to have my own money and spend or save it as I saw fit. I saw myself with a career for which I was fitted and well paid and appreciated. I look back now on that rebellious and sullen woman and wonder if I ever could have been that person.
I have a daughter who lives that life, minus the Disney touches. She has a friend who has a husband, three kids, a dog and a career such as the aforesaid collection and her health permit her. They have, I am told, conversations in which each wants what the other one is fed up with having. Her friend says "We get together and yearn for the other's life. We always come down to the understanding that you can't have it all and life is about sacrifice and difficult choices, particularly if you are a woman. I see all she has accomplished and experienced and feel like I'm missing out in a huge way, here in suburbia, and she looks at my kids and feels the same thing."
I did not realize, in my twenties, that choices made can take you to unforeseen places. I did not realize in my forties that all choices lead to a place where the road not taken looks better, less stony, less steep. I learned that in fact all roads have stones and mud and hard uphill climbs.
Now, in my sixties, I am learning that all roads eventually connect. In Lord of the Rings, Frodo quotes Bilbo - "He used often to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep, and every path was its tributary." There is great scenery along the road. You meet friends there and journey with them a while. You learn things. Even when the feet are sore and the legs weary, the road dismal and steep and boring, it takes you forward. There is no map; I find I no longer want one. It is my road and I will follow wherever it goes.
But I can't help wondering if, should I be around twenty years from now, I will find myself wondering how I could ever have been the person who wrote this.
Sunday, 25 January 2009
Sunday, January 25th, 2009 10:30 pm
Robbie Burns 250th Birthday
Overcast, - 20ºC (-3ºF)
Sunset today was 5:00 pm. The days are getting longer. And that is about the only good thing that I know about today. The majority of it was dismal.
My knee is still giving me a lot of trouble; as I sit here writing this diary entry it is aching fiercely and I have had to get up and walk around twice. This has now been going on since the third week in December and I am getting very, very bored with it. Here I am with lovely new Christmas present snowshoes, my pool back in service and a new treadmill but most things I do just tease the joint and I end up limping. Yesterday I did a half hour walk on the treadmill and danced twice at the Burns' night party and I spent the last half of the night awake, propping the knee with pillows, getting up and walking around and generally getting no sleep at all. And so today I am dismal and projecting my tiredness and crankiness on everything around me.
Grumble, grouch. I overcooked the salmon at supper time. I missed a phone call from the YD. I have been running up and down stairs to do the laundry and that means I can't really settle to anything else. I finished my book and am out of new things to read. My husband went out snowshoeing without me and found all sorts of fun tracks to follow. There is a little black cloud hanging over my head and it's raining on me.
It's amazing how writing all this down makes it trivial, how the good things pop up like Whackamoles as I list all the grumpy ones. This time last year my husband was in the hospital having just had complete knee replacement surgery and he was groggy and hurting. Today he was out on snowshoes. What a difference a year can make!
I tried out my new mask and snorkel in the pool this afternoon and it is the best mask I have ever owned; far superior to the one I lost sometime last summer. Lighter, more comfortable, with a thing called a 'splash baffle' on the snorkel tube that prevents the standing wave from slopping down it when I am doing breast stroke. And I did get a good twenty minutes in swimming this afternoon, knee or no knee. And all the laundry done except for the cold water trousers load.
And the book was interesting -- Orson Scott Card's Ender in Exile. It's a pot boiler of the first order, filling in a hole in the Ender tapestry. What is interesting is the way he does it, so carefully picking up all the threads and colours. He knows he is contradicting some of the original Ender book and in a postscript he tells the reader that he has revised the relevant chapter to fit this new piece in and gives directions for reading the revision. The Ender aficionados will have nothing to grumble about. Hm. I think I should put the Ender books into my library thing.
Well, I've almost talked myself into a more reasonable frame of mind and that is, after all, one of the main purposes of a diary, isn't it? After a record of the weather. It's a good thing no one will read this.
It is 11:00 pm. I am going to make the bed and crawl into it.
Monday, 19 January 2009
LS: Grandpa! I've caught a fish.
Grandpa: Hold the pole steady there. I'm getting the fish.
LS: Grama! Look what I caught.
Grandpa: Good stuff.
Grandpa: You've got another one.
LS: Can I hold him, Grandpa?
Fish: My brother warned me that there was something strange about that worm.
LS: Look Grama. This one is a bigger one.
Grandpa: Well done, Little Stuff!
Fish: Someone. Get. Me. Off. The. HOOK!
Granpa: Boy, this one took the bait, hook line and sinker.
LS: Don't hurt him, Grandpa
Fish: OW! That's my tonsil you've got in the pliers.
Fish: That's the last worm I'm going to eat. Ever!
(Grandpa is washing the blood off his finger.)
LS: Is that your blood Grandpa or the fish's?
Grandpa: Mine. Ouch.
Fish: Serves you right! Meany!
Grandpa exhibits his catch on another occasion.
Fish: I want my mommy!
Friday, 16 January 2009
My mother's youngest sister died yesterday; the very last of my aunts and of her generation in our family. She was over 80 and had been failing for several years, both mentally and physically, and her death, which came quickly and peacefully, was merciful. Still, tonight I feel bereft. As one of my cousins pointed out when I called with the news, we're the eldest generation now. It feels a bit strange and a lot lonely.
My aunt Trish, was the youngest in her family; my mother and one other sister were a lot older, young adults when Trish was born. Trish was closer to my age and generation than to my mother's, our children were much of an age and I always regarded her more as a friend than as an 'aunt'. Like her whole family, Trish was intelligent, funny and quirky. A 'true O'Neil' my mother would say, a story teller, wonderful fun to be with.
When I moved to the city where she lived, her boys were both under ten and my girls four and five. We did reciprocal babysitting, did things together as families, talked endlessly on the phone.
My red haired aunt coveted my red haired daughter, she said. It was one of the family jokes. My great grandfather had flaming red hair; he had ten children and none of them inherited it but in the second generation each of his children produced at least one red haired child. Trish was the red head in her family and revelled in it. When it started to darken she 'tweaked' it. She also loved pink and when we shopped it was my job to tell her whether a particular shade of pink 'worked' with her hair or not.
I brought her pink roses just before Christmas. The last time I saw her. She was so, so frail and she didn't really know who I was. But when she saw the roses she brightened right up.
Trish did everything at speed and with style. She wore ridiculously high heels and tapped along confidently, back straight, head high. In later years she slipped in those heels on some ice and smashed her elbow. It was plated and pinned and after a year or so of therapy she was back at work. Typing! And the only complaint she ever made was that it was weird to have her husband putting on her bra and combing her hair for her.
She was kind to me, generous. One year on Christmas Day I had flu. She arrived with her family for Christmas Dinner, which it was my year to host, took one look at me and ordered me off to lie down, grabbed an apron and took over the whole meal.
The worst thing she ever did to me was make me sub in her bridge group. They were all experienced, skilled players and I was......not. It was worth it for the dessert afterwards, though. She was a wonderful cook and let me in on some of my grandmother's recipes that even my mother did not know.
I have photos of her as a child, teen (holding me, in fact) and bride, but no good pictures of her from later years. In every shot I could find she is either in the background or turned away from the camera. Not from self consciousness but because she was doing something else -- skating, biking, skiing, laying out a picnic lunch. And laughing, always laughing.
We used to walk in a park by the river. Take a picnic lunch to celebrate her birthday. She loved it there with the water and the trees and the birds and the wind blowing her hair. She loved spring and summer.
This isn't a shaped piece of writing -- it's bits and pieces. A patchwork. But I guess a life isn't tidy either, is it? I can't think of a good way to end it either. A piece of my life fell away yesterday. And I am poorer for it.
Wednesday, 14 January 2009
We did not count on as much snow as we got.
On Sunday we decided to try to burn it anyway and I took my camera and hiked back to the burn clearing. This is what the woods looked like along the way.Here is JG trying to get a burn going beside the doors in the hope that the fire would spread back into the dry stuff behind and underneath. He is using lumber scraps we collected in the barn to get it going. Where he is standing, he's about two feet above ground level.Now it is blazing merrily and you can see the side of one of the doors on the left of the flames. You can also see that there is a snow layer at least two feet thick on top of the wood on top of the doors. What you cannot see is that snow starting to melt and running merrily down the wood onto the fire.A horrible hissing sound. In spite of our best efforts, where there is this much smoke there is no fire.However, the quantity of smoke did allow me to take this shot. I love the way the sun is playing with the shadow of the branches.
JG is now contemplating using the claw on the tractor to lift sections of the pile and shake the snow off.
Sunday, 11 January 2009
Ready for spring occupancy, this charming bungalow is newly decorated outside and in, close to lawns, birdfeeders, apple trees and in a neighbourhood noted for its flying insects and frequent showers. A fine family home not to be missed.
This Monday Mission is explained at Painted Maypole's blogspot, where you will also find links to other participants.
Friday, 9 January 2009
3.You live in a country bordered by the biggest and most culturally invasive (in the nicest possible way!) nation in the world. What do you like most and least about your neighbour, the USA?
Um, you might want to get yourself something tasty to drink and settle in for a while, because this will be a long answer. And not because I don't have the time to write a short one. Rather, the subject is one dear to the heart of each and every Canadian including, I expect, those living in Iqaluit, who only get American satellite television feed and have to miss the CBC news.
I'm sure you've heard the saying about sleeping next to an elephant -- that you have to understand when he is going to turn over and be prepared. America is the elephant (and Canadians get really snarky when they are called Americans, even though they are North Americans, because we think of ourselves as Not-Americans). Canada is the mouse and never has mouse watched cat more carefully than Canada watches the USA. And copies it, talking about cats.
When I was a girl and young woman, it seems to me looking back now, that Canadians really did build self identity around being not American. Several successive governments tried things like banning American magazines at the border, refusing to test missiles (rendering our participation in NORAD more ludicrous than usual), talking up images of Americans as loud, insensitive, uneducated and uncaring. Even fifty years later there is still a lot of that. Look how proud the Chretien government was of refusing to get involved in Iraq. (While at the same time taking a heavy role in Afghanistan?)
As a girl and young woman I bought into it. I remember being quite upset when the government of the day replaced our dull green Royal Mail boxes with the Queen's crest on them. Instead we got bright red boxes saying Canada Post (equally inane in both English and French). I just knew that having a queen and a parliament was a Big Thing in not America-ing. Huge Canadian angst over national identity, for so many years, fuelled, I now think, by jealousy of the obviously strong American identity and brand.
And this is weird because as I have visited parts of the USA I have found charming diversity of culture, of accent and cuisine, wide variance in architecture, in the way people look and talk. I think you see the same thing in American literature, for all that they are proud to be a 'melting pot'. While in Canada, the great multicultural experiment, I have found less diversity from sea to sea to sea.
I suspect that what Loth is asking is tied to the USA's exported culture -- the lowest common denominator coke and cuties stuff, the inane television and occasional visible loud and obnoxious tourist. The bad tourist rap has some truth in it. I was once in a lingerie shop in Paris where two American women were repeating themselves in ever louder voices to make the vendeuse understand what they wanted. I stepped up with my English Canadian French, got them sorted and after they left the store the vendeuse thanked me and commented on them in very good English. (There's truth in the 'nasty Paris salespeople' stereotype, too.)
Oh shoot, I just went on to my second page of text and I'm barely started.
I would have identify that exported Mickey Mouse stuff as one of the things I like least. You see, I grew up almost American, being born and raised in a border town, Windsor, opposite Detroit, "Mo Town'. I grew up with American radio, knew lots of American kids whose parents had summer cottages in Canada, shopped in wonderful stores in Detroit (and, sadly, smuggled the shopping home). My mother did her Master's degree at Wayne State, my aunt took art there and the campus, library and fine arts holding there were impressive in the extreme. The sheer Yankee in-gen-oo-ity of the auto assembly lines was admirable. The pop music culture, which came to us Fifties kids via radio, was amazing. The Detroit skyline was and is beautiful. All of that is genuine American culture, of the kind they have at home. Yes, they created Disney World. Yes, they produced Madonna. They also produced Mia Angelou, and the first National Park scheme in the world.
On the downside, again. Mo'town. I don't know how many of you who are not Canadian will have heard Gord Lightfoot's 'Motor City Madness'. My father sat in Ambassador Park on the Detroit Riverside, that evening and night in July, 1967 and watched Detroit burning. Some of the ugliest race riots ever took place over several days at that time. Soon afterwards schools started to desegregate, and real efforts were made to lessen racial prejudice. Meanwhile, on the Canadian side of the river not only I but also my parents had attended fully integrated schools and had Black colleagues. Windsor and area, one of the terminals of the Underground Railway, had, for Canada, a big African American population. I hasten to add here that the Canadian record holds lots of instances of racial prejudice and ugly treatment of minorities and is not something we are proud to own.
In fact, I do not believe at all that wearing a maple leaf pin or Canadian flag pin is a signal that you are a Good Guy... it's just nice for Canadians to believe. Besides, Americans have now caught on and are buying little Canadian flags to wear abroad. Truth. I heard it on CBC.
What do I like about the USA? So much. The Smithsonian. The wide, beautiful roads and glorious bridges. Cotton knit and denim. The clean, well planned stores (shops, Loth) where you can buy nice things at good prices (and yes, I include Walmart). Inventiveness and drive. The funny little western museums where they preserve their hundred year old pioneer history with a mad lack of selectiveness. St Augustine, Baton Rouge, San Francisco, Philadelphia. The waitresses who call you 'honey' and stare when you ask for vinegar with your French Fries. (They do the same thing in Holland, but they bring the vinegar in a little bowl and watch you pour it with bemused expressions.) The well dressed, hard edged women entrepreneurs. Their very free press. Their confidence and joi de vivre.
America and its citizens can be obtuse, narrow minded, insular, tasteless, cocky.......ugly. (But they do not hold a patent on being those things.) The gun worship sucks. They can also be generous, funny, courageous, marvellously creative. Without the USA, we would have no internet in its present form. In the end it comes down to the fact that so much of what they do is bigger than life, addictive or just plain fun. There's a reason that what they do is copied all over the world. It works. Strange as it sometimes seems to outsiders, the United States of America functions very well, hanging chads and all. And we all watch them, learn from them and, sometimes, take the bad with the good.
I've been in parts of Africa where the only clean, cool drink you can get is Coke. And I hate the stuff, I really do. America the Beautiful scores again.
Thursday, 8 January 2009
Here are the rules if you want to participate in 5 Questions.
Send me an email saying: ”Interview Me” to email@example.com
I will respond by emailing you five questions. I get to pick the questions.
You can then answer the questions on your blog.
You should also post these rules along with an offer to interview anyone else who emails you wanting to be interviewed.
Anyone who asks to be interviewed should be sent 5 questions to answer on their blog. It would be nice if the questions were individualized for each blogger.
Here we go.
1.You obviously read a lot. If you could choose, which author would you most like to write like?(Rather inelegantly expressed question, that!)
I read and reread favourite books and none oftener than Jane Austen. Her name leapt immediately to mind. But then I thought better of it. I am not a patient, perfectionist kind of person and painting on that little bit of ivory would probably drive me into babbling idiocy.
No, the author whose skill I crave is someone you may never have encountered. Scott Young, a journalist, sports writer, columnist. He is the father of Neil Young, whom you probably know. And one of his best books is a biography of his son titled 'Neil and Me'. It is well worth reading as a record of a father/son relationship.
More important to me, however, is Scott Young's skill as a columnist. He wrote a personal column in the Globe and Mail for years, and if there had been blogging then, the column would have made a marvellous blog. I used to park the kiddies in front of the TV in the morning, get my coffee and turn to his column. It was as if I had a wonderful, humorous, erudite friend sitting across the table.
His sports books are also excellent of their kind. If you have a hockey loving son (sorry UK mothers), you could do far worse than get him 'Scrubs on Skates' and the sequels, books still in print after, maybe, forty years. But the best, for me, is an adult book he wrote, using the characters from the juvenile hockey series, called 'That Old Gang of Mine'. It is the funniest send up of Olympic sports I have ever encountered, as well as being a compelling read.
If I could only combine humour, elegance and economy of language, and the ability to engage the reader anywhere close to Young's work, I would be a happy woman.
2.If you could go back in time and give your 18 year old self some advice, what would it be?
I would tell myself to suck it up and work harder. As a child and teen I was blessed with a wonderful memory. I could listen to a lesson and remember it, regurgitate it onto an examination and get marvellous marks. I never learned good work habits because up until I was about eighteen, I never had to work to learn. And then I went to university and hit the wall. I crashed and burned in history because I did not know how to analyse and arrange data. I struggled in my second choice of minor, Latin, because I had never really learned it. And by my final year, there was too much material to memorize, plus my ability to memorize became only average. Nor did I do the work I needed to do to understand. I failed the same exam three times and ended up with a pass degree instead of the honours one I wanted. I feel as if I had wasted my university years. And the habit of sliding through things has lasted the rest of my life.
4.If you could change one thing about yourself, be it physically or an aspect of your personality, what would it be and why?
I have to pick just one? Oh, okay.
I procrastinate. I have been working on these questions for several days now, and I'm on number four only because I passed (temporarily) on number three. I should, right this minute, be putting together a draft letter for a committee to approve at 9:30 am tomorrow. Since I sat down at the computer I have 1.) checked my running Scrabble game (I just scored a triple word with a Q in it and I'm feeling smug, especially since I lost the last two games I played by a wide, wide margin), 2.) checked Facebook, 3.) read a half dozen posts or so and commented, 4.) sent off a series of emails, and 5.) reheated my coffee. I am now about to leave the computer and go and get another one. (There are two empty cups sitting beside me.)
Last month (it might have been two months ago) I posted a picture of my horribly messy office and said I was not going to blog again until I had Done Something about it. A while later I posted a picture of my half cleaned office. The desk and worktable are once again covered with books, papers, coffee cups, Christmas cards (the ones I received plus three I have not sent yet) and other bits of strayed stuff, including the 2008 calendar from the kitchen. I swear it breeds when I'm not looking.
I don't really think you want to hear about the laundry room. There are at least socks and probably long underwear breeding away down there.
I think that otherwise I have a fairly integrated personality, but if I could become an organized person, it would make my life a lot easier. You see, I am married to another procrastinator. And so, I cannot complain about anything he does not do, because he would be able to come right back at me, the easier because my office does not have a door on it, nor does the laundry room, and so my sins are right out in front of him at all times.
My much adored Younger Daughter, who has inherited the procrastination gene big time, comes up with many ways in which I could galvanize her father into action, or hire a carpenter, or ....... But I'm just too disorganized to do them.
5.Most embarrassing moment, please.
I only have to do one? Whew.
I don't remember people's names. I might be able to recollect them in tranquillity, but faced with the necessity of introducing people, I blank. My grandmother did not, due to age and illness, attend my wedding. And when I took my husband home a few weeks after the wedding, and presented him to my grandmother, I could not remember his name.
The other question of the five I was given is this:
3.You live in a country bordered by the biggest and most culturally invasive (in the nicest possible way!) nation in the world. What do you like most and least about your neighbour, the USA?
This question deserves a post all of its own, don't you think. And besides, if I leave it till later, I can, maybe, get the draft letter done. After I check the Scrabble board and Facebook, that is.
Edited to add, check out Kaye over at the Road Goes Ever Ever On. She's done five questions off this post. I'll add others as they are done.
Wednesday, 7 January 2009
Monday, 5 January 2009
Madame Caramelcorn, turban feathers quivering, gazes deeply into her crystal ball and sees....snow.
Oops. She has grabbed her granddaughter's snow globe by mistake.
Madame Caramelcorn sets off on a frantic search for her own crystal ball and finally finds it packed away with the glass balls off the Christmas Tree.
Deep breath, meditate, try again.
Madame C, turban feathers by this time bent a little out of shape, gazes deeply into her crystal ball and sees.........dust.
She uses her feathers to clean the ball. By this time the poor things have definitely seen better days.
Humming a little tune to calm herself, Madame C tries again. Gazing deeply into the ball she finds evidence that she has been having a bad morning.
Obviously, the ball is in reverse. After a lot of fiddling around, she is able to flip the tiny switch on the base and turn the ball to fast forward.
Madame Caramelcorn glares into her crystal ball. What does she see? Is the world going to hell in a hand basket? Will the Canadian Juniors win the World Championship? Will the first day of school go well? Will she learn what she actually has in the freezer under the layers of frost? Will the price of oil go up?
No. Not one of these truly vital pieces of information is revealed to her.
Madame Caramelcorn sees ... a forecast of snow.
This is a Monday Mission, a fun writing exercise managed by Painted Maypole. Go to her site to see what all of the participants have done.