Wednesday, 29 July 2009

There must be at least thirty posts that I want to read backed up in my 'Following' list. I am managing about one post a week on my own blog and am scrambling to get one every two weeks up over at Canada Moms Blog. (I will have one up tomorrow morning over there.) Summer is not good for blogging, at least for someone whose husband does not know she is doing it. And I don't see any way that I can tell the man that does not let me in for a lot of nagging and cutting remarks about wasted time and silliness.

As far as I can see, most of what I do comes under those categories for JG. I'm not going to go into any detail about it, because I do, frankly, think it is wrong for me to discuss the man in public when he does not even know I am doing so. What I am going to do is ramble on a bit about what blogging means to me and how the secrecy affects me. This is pretty close to the line I have drawn and I am going to have to be careful. But I hope the stricture will force me to be dispassionate and honest - a state of mind I find hard to attain.

It is so, so easy, when someone criticizes, to be defensive, to say to yourself 'They just don't understand!', to allow hurt feelings free rein, to retell the narrative making all the points in your own favour. A more elaborate version of waking up at 2:00 am with the perfect retort to a nasty comment someone made to you the day before. It is even easier to be passive/aggressive, to retreat into silence, to behave in a way that will return pain to the person who is giving you pain.

For me, writing a blog is a way to be my own person. I love to write. I love to put words together in pleasing ways, to entertain, to give people pleasure and get validation from the comments they leave. It is also a way for me to sort out my own thoughts and emotions because to write well it is necessary to clarify what you are thinking, to order it, to identify and lay out what is going on. Whether the writer is telling a story, giving information or eliciting humour, the process is the same. When I write something that is not honest or clear, I can't leave the words there. I am compelled to redo it, correct it, make it real. To make it reflect me as I really am.

Often what I write is a narrative or an essay about something that interests me or that I care about. I love to do the Monday Mission assignments and work what I am thinking and feeling into whatever structure has been proposed. Sometimes I have to work hard at this blog, thinking things out, editing, amending, rereading to make sure it is coherent and true. Sometimes it just flows. The transitions are there, the words pop into my mind. After such a halcyon experience, I am often surprised at how true to me the piece of writing is. And, sometimes, the idea takes on a life of its own and veers off into new territory, no matter how hard I pull on the reins. I have some of this type sitting in draft, waiting for a resolution.

I write about my own little world with its birds and flowers and weather, its beauty and its beasts. (Essay about deer flies coming up soon!) I write about my granddaughter a lot because she is the future and I love that in her. I see her mother and my mother sometimes in her face and actions but her smile and her promise is all her own. I write about what I feel about my children and my friends and my neighbours. The post might start off as a rant but in the end it is usually positive because the good things are what stay true.

[Just a note in passing. I went and read through a bit of this, a blog that rates other blogs, the other day and was just disgusted. But I guess the writers and commenters there find validation in dealing out sarcasm and kicks in the teeth. I'm so glad I don't know any of them for real.]

I hope that the positive viewpoint, the humour, the sentiment, are the things that are real about me. The things that are good. I try to write out some of my faults so that I can look at them and decide if they are poisonous or merely me. (I should be running the vacuum over the floors this very minute, but too bad! The floors can wait. This is what I want to do now. The procrastination queen in action.)

I don't, very often, write about the wide world and its problems and its pain. When I was younger and more energetic and, I guess, more naive, I thought that I could help to change some of the horror out there. Now I concentrate on my own community and try to make it a better place through volunteer activities. There is enough to do to reduce poverty and all its accompanying misery right here in Eastern Ontario. (I have a writing assignment to do for the organization where I volunteer that I should be doing this very minute, but ... I'll get to it after I pick up the dead bugs from the floor. Maybe.) That's the inner person talking in this paragraph, or the best I can do to winkle her out of her shell. Is she a good person?

Well, no, not really. A really good, strong person would fold her arms and say, aloud, that this blogging world is really important to her, that the friends she has made here are important to her and that a few bugs on the floor are a small price to pay for being connected, alive and happy. Because writing and reading are the things I love to do. Being here in this community, reading about you all and talking to you is a solace and a strength for me. And I get here as often as I can, as often as the path of least resistance will allow me. And now I am off to deal with dessicated earwigs and flies. And to try to forget how much of myself I often hide.

Monday, 20 July 2009

A Sheltering Tree

The happiness of life is made up of minute fractions - the little soon forgotten charities of a kiss or smile, a kind look, a heartfelt compliment, and the countless infinitesimals of pleasurable and genial feeling.

Coleridge, 'The Friend. The Improvisatore [1828].

I went and had lunch with a friend and her husband today. 'A friend' is such a general term, and can mean so many different things. 'J' and I have known each other since our children were in their teens; we now have grandchildren in their twenties. We have lived in the same general area the whole time, not usually in the same town or city but close enough that keeping in touch is a local telephone call. And we don't see each other very often because we both live very busy lives. Often we are exchanging news on the fly in the parking lot of the grocery store in our common shopping town or making a quick phone call for a particular purpose. Yet if I had to define 'friend', it is J whom I would describe.

Here is a woman who not only laughs at my funny stories but rings in her husband and he laughs too. And they don't seem to get tired of listening to me tell them; how brave is that, hmm?

When I went through a bad patch in my life, J opened her home and her arms and her heart to me, listened to me rant and, when she thought the moment was perfect, told me it was time to suck it up and get on with things. And I knew she was right.

Here is a woman who never minded when I and other friends and co-workers laughed at her attitude to yard sales. Who roped me into helping her sort out her mother's worldly goods for a yard sale. Who worded her wedding invitation, when she and her present husband both embarked on their second marriage together, like this. "Wedding at xxx p.m.. Reception and yard sale to follow."

She reads my blog and tells me I write well. Priceless praise because if she didn't think so, she would tell me that, too.

Here is a woman that, when we haven't had a good sit down and chat for years, can pick right up on where we were when we left off, remember the kids' names and careers and make me feel as if those years were only days.

She is a woman with a lot of friends, and we all feel special.

She is funny and generous and courageous and down to earth. Her career included teaching and she can give 'The Look' like no one else I have ever met. And her smile would melt an icicle.

'Friend' is such a general term. It can mean much or nothing much. If, like all well raised Canadian girls, you are familiar with Anne of Green Gables, you could call J a kindred spirit. If one of the miserable dot com's had not co-opted the word, you could call her simpatico. What I am doing is quoting Coleridge -- again. 'Friendship', he said, 'is a sheltering tree.' J is such a tree, complete with strong branches for birds to nest on and children to swing a tire from. And I find happiness there.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

What to Wear - A Wearing Prospect.

If political correctness matters in these matters, I might say that I am sartorially challenged. If you want it straight up, I'm a frump. I wear pants( with Lycra) a size too big because they are comfortable, my sweaters are all from the twentieth century, mostly cotton knit crew necks in plain colours. I start off wearing them to go somewhere and as time goes on they get demoted to housework sweaters and then to working in the bush sweaters. Sometimes I get them mixed up. My shoes are, um, sensible and they all need cleaning. Add white cotton undies and short, straight hair that gets attention once a day. Add glasses. Add wrinkles. Add a lot of wrinkles. However, I should confess that I have always dressed like this from my teens on up.

Every once in a while the YD tries to smarten me up with a handsome Christmas gift sweater that fits and has no pulls or bleach marks. And while she is living in the States, when I visit her I have access to the Coldwater Creek store where I can find clothing in my size that I actually like and look okay in. Sadly, the brand can be accessed in Canada only by catalogue and if I don't try something on before I buy it, the result is not good.

A few years ago my husband sent both daughters out to buy me a smart black suit. Since he did not like what they chose, I took it back to (wait for it) Holt Renfrew and changed it for what I thought he would like. Unfortunately this took place during the post Christmas Great Return and I had to settle for trousers and a jacket that, while both black, do not quite match. I wear this suit a lot and each time the mismatch annoys me. However, the husband likes it.

When the YD changes locations she winnows down her wardrobe a lot and I get some of the rejects, which are all beautiful garments, quite formal, that I wear when I am being Chair Of The Board, things like a pale pink wool jacket and a silk pant suit. The Elder Daughter has given up and gives me pajamas. I like pajamas. I like cotton knit, smooth or fuzzy, in pretty colours with flowers -- the kind of fabric that I think I would look silly wearing in daylight. My night time attire is actually pretty snappy.

A few years ago I bought a very smart summer suit - slim black pants and a black and white flowered jacket. With Lycra, of course. This outfit has been to every wedding, dinner, shower and event the family has held in summer for several years. Even I cannot justify another summer in it. And I have another great niece getting married in August. I needed something to wear to her wedding. The prospect did not enchant.

Earlier today I went into a local store and tried on (shudder) a dress. The last time I wore a dress was to my father's funeral in 1997. The size I thought I would take would not zip up. The hem length looked weird to me. I bethought me of the trauma of buying and wearing sheer tights. I headed off to the separates rack. And there I found a lovely chiffon top in black and white that fits and looks fairly decent on me. I quickly bought it. It has ruffles, which will annoy JG no end, but they are very small ruffles. I tried to find a pair of white trousers to go with this but the plain flowing ones that suited the top were only available in cream and looked terrible. I am going to have to go to the city and spend an afternoon in a shopping mall going through all the white pants until I find a pair that 1.) fit and 2.) complement the top.

To say that I am not looking forward to this is a tiny bit of an understatement. I wonder if my white jeans would do. Hmm. No, probably not, eh? Why couldn't the girl just elope, for goodness sake. And I have to buy a wedding present as well. There is no politically correct way to express what I am feeling.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Mary goes to a Party

I have just put another washer load of laundry out on the clothesline and am typing here with frequent glances out the window to make sure none of the heavy clouds rolling by has begun to spit rain on the sheets. With any luck I will get this load partly dry before the heavens open and yet more miserable cold water sheets down on my sheets and towels. This weather is Very Annoying. We had a local fair here that just about got rained out on Saturday and the blue sky of Sunday morning gave way to black cloud and rain by Sunday afternoon. Luckily it did not rain until after I got home from doing my stint in the ASK booth. Tomorrow ASK has planned a 'summer fun' day -- Bocce, croquet, swimming and a barbecue to follow. At last summer's picnic, a couple of hardy souls cooked during a thunderstorm and we did not lose the electrical power until after the coffee had perked. I was in ankle deep water pulling the croquet hoops. I hope we will be a bit luckier tomorrow.

ASK is one of the organizations I work in. It is the Active Seniors' Koalition (and I confess to being responsible for the 'K' spelling because I wanted a nice acronym). A few years ago the Township where I live funded a study to see what the needs of the community's seniors might be. We were lucky to hire Linda, a really excellent person to run the study, and after she had her data in she convened a meeting of people from all the service organizations, community halls and health providers in the local area and we put together a working group to organize and support the ideas that the study had generated. We got a bit of funding, hired a co-ordinator with boundless enthusiasm and got under way. She started us on line dancing and found a guy who really knew shuffle-board to set up temporary courts with tape in one of the halls. We charged a nominal sum to cover the hall rentals and we were away.

When we ran out of money Linda took over again on a volunteer basis and she and some others put together some funding proposals. We got a grant to make the shuffle-board courts permanent and the local Health authority found us some cash for co-ordination, advertising and equipment. Linda got paid again, we convened another meeting on how to spend the equipment dollars and the group decided they wanted WII games. We also printed information sheets and put up a booth at the rainy local fair to advertise our programs. During the time I was there, I was delighted by the response I got.

Unlike worthy and healthy 'exercises for seniors' mornings, the ASK programs are geared to be fun and flexible. We run them in the local community halls and we try to provide things that will get people out and moving.

Our part of eastern Ontario, about an hour+ drive from the big city, is a magnet for retirees, especially Armed Forces types who want good accommodation at a fairly low price. Many retirees build their own homes -- JG and I are an example. These people want to integrate into the community; they are prepared to give back by volunteering for all sorts of stuff, and many of them are pretty dynamic folk. There are also a lot of widows, some 'native', some 'not from here', who feel uncomfortable at dances and euchre parties without a partner. And a few widowers, ditto.

This is a dancing community; the older folks have danced all their lives and love it. Line dancing suits them perfectly and we now have enough participants to run it in two places at two levels. The shuffle-board suits people with reduced mobility and is a real social event with brown bag lunches and tournaments. The WII is just starting up, but I suspect it will also prove popular; people's faces lit up when I explained it and they said that their grandchildren loved it. A way for grandpa to score big points with the kids, I suspect, if he can talk about WII sports. And the picnic is just hilarious. Wrinklies in big floppy hats and embarrassing shorts whopping one another's balls into the rough and eating up a storm. I love it. This year I am the designated photographer and I will post the best of the results.

This association is not unique; you will find similar seniors' organizations all over the place. But we do several things that make it work. Given our widespread geography and the really lousy winter roads, taking the programs out to the community halls is really popular. And we are self-managing; the things we do are all things people have asked for. It complements the hall dinners and euchre parties already in force and we welcome drivers, kids and grandkids to anything we do. Also, no one has to sign up for anything. Arrive for an event, pay your three dollars and you're in, for one class or session or for more.

My big floppy hat and camera are all ready and I am now going to go and make salads for the pot luck. And I hope the sun beams down on us. Or, at least, we don't get lightning this time. My laundry just got rained on.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Life with Little Stuff

I honestly don't know how you young mothers find time to write a blog while dealing with kids, household and all the other bits of stuff and fluff that are needed to keep a family going. And hold down a job, many of you. I have had one six year old for ten days and I am a wreck. Not only that, I did not put finger to keyboard for the whole ten days, other than to write (at Little Stuff's dictation) emails to her parents detailing what frogs she had caught each day, what she had painted/made/baked, and how far she was with the latest jig saw puzzle. We went through two 500+ piece jig saws.

It would have been easier if it had not rained just about every blessed day. We did get out a bit between rain showers, mostly to the beaver pond or the marsh to collect the latest in the frog study. We had promised her the beach and a fishing trip in the big boat and neither of these treats happened. 'I guess we aren't going to the beach today Grama, are we?' she would say, small nose pressed to the rain washed window. Luckily the birds were not deterred by the wet and we had a hummingbird show every day on the screen porch. We also reduced the chipmunk population by live trapping the little wretches that were tunnelling in the septic tile bed and releasing them far, far away.

Grama is tired. Grama is tired, mostly, because Little Stuff usually spends 8:30 to 5:30 five days a week in either school or daycare. Her parents try to make her weekends fun to make up to her for lack of time during the week and what this boils down to is that she expects to be entertained or provided with things to do. 'What can I do now, Grama?' was heard a lot chez G this last while. Words to strike terror into the heart of any grandmother trying to make the visit fun so that the parents can relax and know their child will be happy while they are away. I will say for her that, given a craft or toy, she has good concentration and a long attention span. Grandpa taught her to play 'Doe, a deer' etc. on his keyboard and she practised it for hours. She worked at the jigsaws for up to an hour at a time, if someone was doing it with her.

Someone, meaning me or Grandpa. More often, me. I have created a couple of games that are ongoing, one being Spider and the other being a similar pretend game with two china birds that sit on the windowsill near the kitchen table. Spider appears at bath time and at tea parties, the china bird game is requested for each snack time and sometimes the birds join Roo and Spider at the tea parties. I get very tired of them and struggle to come up with new jokes and scripts but Little Stuff loves the game and I am not hopeful that she will tire of it soon. Spider is now almost two years old and the bird game has gone on almost as long.

Grandpa takes her out in the punt we keep on the beaver pond. They got a bullfrog into the punt but it escaped before they could tie down the screen over the top of the old drywall pail that was being used as a holding pen. He comes back wiped out, staggering into the house preceded by a pink cheeked, bright eyed Little Stuff full of stories about their adventures. They were not able to catch a garter snake either. I am thankful for small mercies. Two tree frogs, a leopard frog, a pickerel frog and assorted dragonflies and moths were quite enough.

We also took her to a local conservation area where there are a lot of showy lady slippers in bloom. I loved watching her; in between photographing the flowers she regularly peered under the board walk in search of amphibians and any other goodies that might be present. Looking, in her sundress and straw hat, like something out of a Victorian drawing. You've got to give her credit for perseverance anyway.

I now have two events for the Seniors' group I belong to; preparing and working in a booth to explain our programs and helping organize games at a picnic. One is on Sunday, one on Tuesday. Rain, of course, is forecast. After I get these two obligations out of the way, I may sit down and write something sensible for a change. And there are all of you, with all you do, writing thoughtful and wonderfully funny and fascinating stuff. But if anyone mentions a frog in the next little while, I may scream.