Thursday, 26 February 2009

Milestones, Rites of Passage and Earth Shaking Events

A week after the event I am still amused by Little Stuff's huge excitement over losing her first tooth. She wasn't nearly as excited about it's arrival, having been a baby who cut teeth fairly easily. I don't remember her mother and aunt regarding the loss as a Big Deal; in the case of the YD, she had fallen on her face at the tender age of eleven months and knocked out one of her three teeth. She had the gap toothed grin for years. For her the milestone happened when her two adult teeth finally grew in and she could chomp down a row of corn on the cob as fast as the rest of us.

I look back and remember the events that were important to me, some of them, I am sure, common to all of us. Menarche for me was a very big deal. I was younger by a year than most of the other girls in my Grade 8 class; I did not have my first period until late in the spring of that year, long after most of my friends. I remember being elated when it finally happened. And I have often thought that there should be a celebration for the event, a puberty fête, a way to mark the day. A rite of passage. My father would have been incoherent with embarrassment, I suspect.

Although, maybe not. The day before my wedding he took me aside and haltingly tried to explain to me that a man might be prone to performance anxiety on his wedding night and that I should not expect too much. I had already found this out but that was not something I could tell my shy and formal father. What I did tell him was that it would not be a concern because I had my period. He took this information fairly well and went on to buy for me a very sweet and lacy pair of pajamas for the event. My poor father.

In fact my wedding was a somewhat strange rite of passage. JG and I were both undergraduates at the time; he and a room mate shared an apartment and I was living in a boarding house. (People did not routinely live together before marriage in 1963; at least not people we knew.) We planned to be married in the spring after his graduation. It soon became obvious to me that JG was dreading the formal event that my father would expect, the walk down the aisle, the many friends of my parents who would be guests and strangers to him. One Sunday morning as we had breakfast, his room mate having been banished for the weekend, I said to him 'For two cents I would phone my parents and tell them we are getting married right away'. JG solemnly handed me two pennies and I picked up the phone.

Our parents received this news as might be expected. My mother said 'I will have to talk to your father,' and hung up on me. His mother said 'What's your hurry?' in a voice that would have frozen lava. They came around, however, and arrived the next weekend to join us in the University chapel where the University padre married us. My mother brought a white dress and hat for me to wear; my father gave us the money he would have spent on a big wedding for our wedding gift. In thousand dollar bills, two of them. A lot of money in 1963; we paid off JG's student loans and still had some left over. The thing that made my mother-in-law the happiest was the fact that our first child was not born until three years later.

For a milestone, rite of passage and earth shaking event all in one, I believe the birth of the first child qualifies on every count. When the Eldest Daughter was born I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I had dealt with a tiny baby. I did not know anyone who had successfully breast fed. I had been weeks overdue, I was in labour for two days and there was not a family member living close enough to help. I recall pacing up and down the kitchen with a can of Enfilac in my hand weeping because the baby was not gaining weight and maybe I wasn't breastfeeding properly. I remember being totally stressed because she wouldn't stop crying. What saved my sanity was my husband who had been fifteen when his brother was born and who was quite calm about the whole baby thing. That and the fact that the ED was a calm, strong baby who slept six hours at a stretch and rolled over on her own at six weeks old. She also had the most wonderful smile in the world. For me. And we both survived my inexperience.

Milestones. The first pay cheque, the first boyfriend, the driver's licence and access to a car, graduation, buying your own furniture (not early relative hand-me-downs), the first time your baby says 'mum' and means it (the ED's first intelligible word was 'bugger'), the first legal drink in a bar, the first new car you can afford, the first home you (and the mortgage company) own, the first passport and trip overseas, the first sale of your work, the first gray hair (age 29, sigh).

Rites of Passage: for me, confirmation, wedding, the first orgasm, leaving home for University, wearing maternity clothes, the YD's first day of school (two and a half hours of time of your own!), the YD's departure for University (she never lived at home again), the day the husband retires (and you realize that time on your own is a thing of the past), the last time you use hair dye to cover the white, the day you are told you are going to be a grandparent, the first Canada Pension Plan payment, the funeral of the last relative of your parents' generation.

Days the Earth shifts under your feet: the first day alone with the baby, getting fired from a job you love and think you are doing well, the day your mother is diagnosed with dementia, the day she dies, the first time you look at a photograph of yourself and you see an old woman.

Milestones and rites of passage and days when your life changes. So many, some wonderful and some endured only because there is no alternative but to endure. Days you wish back again so that you could do better, days that you would like to live over again. Days that shine in your memory and days that you only want to forget.

The moving Finger writes; and, having writ,

Moves on. nor all your piety nor Wit

Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,

Nor all your tears wash out a Word of it.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Signs of Spring

This post is a Monday Mission, as organized by Painted Maypole. For info and links to other participants, please visit her blog.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Tangled in My Words

I was cruising around on Facebook last night and came upon a status update from one of my favourite bloggers. She was frustrated because a post she was writing would not behave itself. Boy, did she have my sympathy: a lot of my draft posts do not behave well at all. I've been blogging for well over a year now, going for two (Cripes, it will be two on March 8th), and I still don't know whether I'm doing it well. Second guessing yourself is an insidious disease, and one to which ex English teachers are prone.

Sometimes, when I'm writing to make a certain point, the post will just take off and I find myself tangled in tendrils of sententious truisms. The writing goes trite and overemotional unless I take the pruning shears to it and, even if I do that, I often lose the main thread and end up with a badly butchered and truncated argument. Some of those drafts are still in the word processing folder waiting for me to gather up my courage and rewrite from the start. I probably should delete the whole bunch and start the draft all over again but I don't. These mangled bits sit on the shelf and gaze down at me reproachfully. 'Your logic function is screwed again', they say to me.

And there is another thing I do. Overuse of metaphor. Stretching analogy within an inch of it's life. Overcomplicating. The previous paragraph is a fine example of Mary at her most elaborate and I am only leaving it in to make it an example. There's also a fine example of a compound/complex sentence up there that needs its commas revised, at the very least. Not to mention big, pretentious words by the dozen. Words like 'pretentious'. Oh, well. Eight years of studying Latin are hard to shuck off. I wish it made me a better Scrabble player, but that's another post.

There are things I do well: use cadence; tie paragraphs together; fit person and tense properly. When I'm 'on' I can come up with an apt phrase or word that just clicks into place. But when I'm struggling to get an idea laid out, the piece can end up looking like one of those ornate mediaeval page capital letters that you have to work to figure out. It's odd, really, because when I do a graphics layout I am all about white space, simplicity and clean lines. When I take a photograph I am very conscious of the grid, distance and sight lines. It is only when I write that I complicate things.

My major problem, as I see it, is that I like the way I write. It's fun to let a thought loose and follow it where it leads me. I am not writing this post in the hope that commenters will pop up and say 'No, no, Mary G, you are a fine writer'. What I am mulling over is whether the way I write is appropriate to blogging. Because I hate pompous, over literary bloggers. The writers I find myself following with joy are the ones who write clean, clear narratives that tell you a lot about the person. The writers I love are the ones that make their intelligence and education serve their purpose and whose every word is clear and appropriate. The blogger whose angst I noted is one of these and her explorations of her own problems and depression and moments of joy shine like jewels.

All over the blogging world is advice about how to increase your readership, make yourself more popular, write to the audience, sell yourself. When I started blogging, I was not prepared to do this and I still am not. In consequence, my reader list is pretty static and my 'bounce rate' is high. I'm not unhappy about that. The people who do read and comment are a wonderful bunch of folk and, I guess, prepared to put up with the odd patch of purple prose and pomposity. Thanks, all of you.

It is probably old age that makes me stubborn like that. When you get to be a certified Senior, I figure it gives you licence to wear what suits you (elastic pant waist and all), choose some at least of the things you do and say what you think in the best way you can. But, come to think of it, I've been stubborn like that all my life. It's just easier now. And those chopped up drafts can just sit there and whine until I am good and ready to deal with them. After I have my nap.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

A House Made of Asbestos

I have been reading a book called Risk, The Science and Politics of Fear by Dan Gardner. It is a fascinating explanation of how we assess risk and build risk avoidance into our lives, customs and laws. His thesis is that the way we do this has been built into us from Naked Ape level up and so our 'Gut' deals with risk assessment in the same way that our primitive ancestors learned to survive. For instance, listening to stories about narrow escapes (I saw a tiger on the way back from the river!) prints the information in the forefront of the mind and causes the listener to adopt behaviours that will avoid the risk. Supposedly rational educated modern humans react to dramatic stories in the media in the same way and obsess, for instance, over SARS or shark attacks, instances of which are vanishingly likely to affect the listener.
Most of us, even those of us who paid attention in maths class, are not what Gardner calls 'numerate' in our normal processing of information. We read stories about child abduction and subsequently see a near and immediate threat to our precious children. The numbers, as Gardner lays them out, tell a very different story. He gives the percentage risk of an under 14 year old American child being abducted by a stranger in 1998 as 0.00015 (1 in 655,555) or 90 children. Of those 90 children, 60% were retrieved and returned home within two days. In the same period, 285 children drowned in swimming pools. But our 'Gut' screams at us that our own child could be one of the 90 and we decide that we had better walk that child to and from school. The behaviour that kept our ancestors alive and breeding (stay away from there; there might be a tiger), hard-wired into us, does not take account of the size of the sample.
It's a most interesting read. There's a lot of analysis of how the media and modern speed of communication play with this, of how politics in a democracy riffs off it, how psychology and sociology differ in approach and analysis of the way risk affects our lives, our communities and our societies. I'm only part way through, but I'm talking about it here because it correlates in my mind with two recent things I have read.
The first was an article in the paper discussing peanut allergies. The writer made the point that the chances of an anaphylactic incident from peanuts served on airlines or a classmate's peanut butter sticky fingers are vanishingly small. The article has provoked a spate of earnest letters to the editor in which the writers urge people to stick with stringent methods of avoiding even the slightest chance of contact. The other is an internet forwarded goody that a friend sent me yesterday. When I read it it struck me as funny and in some parts quite pertinent to how we deal with raising our children. I'm going to quote some of it here; North Americans bear in mind that it seems to have been written by a Brit.

CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL MY FRIENDS WHO WERE BORN IN THE 1930's 1940's, 50's, 60's and early 70's !
First, we survived being born to mothers who smoked and/or drank while they carried us and lived in houses made of asbestos. They took aspirin, ate blue cheese, raw egg products, loads of bacon and processed meat, tuna from a can, and didn't get tested for diabetes or cervical cancer. Then after that trauma, our baby cots were covered with bright coloured lead-based paints.
We had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, doors or cabinets and when we rode our bikes, we had no helmets or shoes, not to mention, the risks we took hitchhiking. As children, we would ride in cars with no seat belts or air bags. We drank water from the garden hose and NOT from a bottle. Take away food was limited to fish and chips, no pizza shops, McDonald's, KFC, Subway or Nandos. Even though all the shops closed at 6.00pm and didn't open on the weekends, somehow we didn't starve to death!
We shared one soft drink with four friends, from one bottle and NO ONE actually died from this. We could collect old drink bottles and cash them in at the corner store and buy Toffees, Gobstoppers, Bubble Gum and some bangers to blow up frogs with. We ate cupcakes, white bread and real butter and drank soft drinks with sugar in it, but we weren't overweight because......
We would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back when the streetlights came on. No one was able to reach us all day. And we were O.K. We would spend hours building our go-carts out of old prams and then ride down the hill, only to find out we forgot the brakes. We built tree houses and dens and played in river beds with matchbox cars. We did not have Playstations, Nintendo Wii, X-boxes, no video games at all, no 999 channels on SKY, no video/dvd films, no mobile phones, no personal computers, no Internet or Internet chat rooms...........WE HAD FRIENDS and we went outside and found them!
[cut more of the same here]
You might want to share this with others who have had the luck to grow up as kids, before the lawyers and the government regulated our lives for our own good. And while you are at it, forward it to your kids so they will know how brave their parents were.

This might be the height of old fogydom. 'Things were better in the golden age of our childhood'. And it certainly has some glaring logical flaws. But it makes a point, I think.

What do you think?

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

What can I do now, Grama?

I spent the weekend looking after Little Stuff. Miss Perpetual Motion. Miss Constant Chatterer. Miss 'What Can I Do Now, Grama?'. I'm not complaining, mind. She loves being here and if thinking up stuff for her to do is what it takes to give her mother a break, then I'll keep it coming. But it does mean that my brain is mush today* and the thought of tackling the Monday Mission is too daunting to contemplate. Maybe later. Much, yawn, later.

However, that is not what this post is about. It is about spool knitting.

I keep an activity box. It has puzzles, crafts, games, whatever inexpensive and amusing stuff I can find or collect. Little Stuff is allowed to dip into this box once daily, and whatever is on top (with a little cheating by Grama depending on the weather) is her activity for the day. On Sunday what came to the top was a purpose made knitting spool (also called a knitting Nancy or French knitting spool).

Those of you of a certain age may have had knitting spools made of an actual empty thread spool (wooden, and usually a twist spool because the hole was bigger) with four finishing nails driven into the top in a square and with another larger slim nail (or, if you were lucky, a crochet hook) to use to hook the wool over the nail. The one I bought is a far cut above that. It is a yellow plastic spool, longer than a thread spool and wasp waisted, with a bumpy strip at the centre to hold onto. It has a matching thread pick that has a cap to prevent it sticking the unwary owner. It has curved metal loops instead of nails. It is a handsome piece of equipment. (Athough not up to this one!)

It took Little Stuff about half an hour on Sunday afternoon to 'get' the pattern of making loops and lifting. She lost the pattern several times, I put it back together and she kept relentlessly trying. By the time her parents came to get her, she had the technique down pretty well. By Monday evening, her mother reported to me, she had worked all Sunday evening, from breakfast till school time on Monday, after school and all evening and had about two feet of cord. She is making a hot pad, she told her mother.

I wonder what I will have to come up with next time to beat that.

*Yes, I do know it's Tuesday.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Winter Wonderland

This is a very interesting group that links people who want to post a photo essay. I hope to heck I have the link in there properly. Anyway, you can find the info at this site.

Some times beautiful things are gorgeous with colour and drama. Some other times, not. I just read a marvellous post about a brown tablecloth that brought its owner quiet joy. And it made me think of this.
Take a walk along a frozen stream in the quiet, quiet winter forest. And just look.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Clenching Our Fists

What is this all about? To find out, you need to read this post from Don Mills Diva. It's far more eloquent than anything I could write.
The type of lifting of material and reattributing it somewhat that she describes has also happened to me. A part of a post on a sensitive topic, a post that I had very very carefully constructed to lead toward my final argument, was lifted and used out of context. Needless to say, I was not happy. I could not even find a place on the offending website that would allow a non member to post a comment.
I have never bothered to put copyright notices or equivalent on this blog; I figure that people who have ethics and a conscience will ask and attribute and people who don't would not be deterred by anything short of a leg hold trap. Our information is all out there, for sure, and the list of less than ethical institutions that suck it up is headed by Our Very Own Government. So, what's the use. If you blog it or Facebook it, they will come.
Kelly's request, however, just seemed to make my hands and mouse move of their own accord to set this up. She's that eloquent. So, please go and take a look and I hope to see some fists popping up around the place.

Bits of this and that.

I had this nice little post I was writing and it was trotting along on its leash beside me, occasionally sniffing at things but pretty well behaving itself and all of a sudden it stopped behaving and took off, sniffing around clichés, lifting its leg on trite little aphorisms, tugging me along behind it. When I jerked the leash it paid no attention. Even when I deleted the tangential stuff it would not come to heel, just kept pulling me back into the dead wood. So, I have put it in the drafts kennel for now and it can just stay there and sulk for a while.

In the interim, a chez G yard update. We've had a barred owl visiting us the last few days. It perches on the old apple tree beside the bird feeder and hunkers down to wait for a mouse or red squirrel to visit. My daughter shoved her bare feet into clogs on Sunday afternoon and scrunched out into the snow to take its picture. The owl was so calm that she was able to get right up to it and take some marvellous portraits.

And you are getting these shots in all their glory because on Saturday we got hooked up to broadband. A local internet provider sent out a crew one of whom climbed 90' up the tall pine tree behind the garage and bolted an antenna to the top of it, and hooked in a node. The pine in question is the one in the centre of this photo, and the climber is seen as a dull blue blob in the zoomed shot below.He then ran wires to the house and set us up. Woo hoo! I am now able to go and read blogs with a really heavy upload without waiting five minutes for them to open. So expect my Following list to expand over the next while. I can even get video clips and music now. I'm not sure I'm ready for the 21st century, but it has finally arrived here. Until lighting strikes the antenna, anyway.

I'm hoping the owl has found the hunting so good here that it will stick around so that Little Stuff can see it this weekend. Grama will be child minding.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Monday Mission

Painted Maypole has set us the task of doing a greeting card this week. You can get the links at her site.