Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Anyone Need a Good Role Model?

One sunny morning a couple of months ago, I was driving down the highway headed to the mall. To start my Christmas shopping, I think. And I listened to an interview, on CBC radio, with Chrystia Freeland, then Minister of International Trade in the Canadian government. She was explaining, clearly and in a way I could perfectly understand, the Canada-European Union Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) which had taken years to negotiate and which had finally and very recently been signed. And I thought, what a well spoken, impressive, confident young woman she seemed. Especially when the interviewer asked her about the possibility that the trade deal might only serve to enrich the already rich, the infamous 1% in our society... "Well, as you know that has long been an area of interest of mine," she said. "In fact I wrote a book on it," she chuckled. Not a brash or snide chuckle of bravado, more of a rueful chuckle, as if she were embarrassed that she'd been called upon to toot her own horn. And of course she knows perfectly well what she's talking about in this area. She's written two well respected books, the latest one called Plutocrats: Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else. My intention is not to go into the trade deal specifics here, or even to discuss politics. I just want to say that right then, at that moment, I kind of wished that I was fifteen again. Because, if I were fifteen again, then I could say that when I grow up I want to be just like Chrystia Freeland.

Chrystia Freeland at her swearing in as Foreign Affairs Minister at Rideau Hall
Freeland, left, at the swearing in ceremony last week at Rideau Hall. source
And so I smiled to myself again when I heard last week that Prime Minister Trudeau, in his recent cabinet shuffle, had moved Chrystia Freeland to a different portfolio: Minister of Foreign Affairs, effectively making her Canada's top diplomat. I'm pleased that this smart, savvy, Harvard and Oxford educated, former high-flying journalist, author, grandchild of Ukrainian immigrants will be in many contexts the face Canada presents to the world. What a fabulous role model she is for girls and young women in Canada. For young women anywhere, actually.

Because I think the world needs positive role models right now. In particular positive female role models. Leaders in our society who present to the world a smart, caring, compassionate face. Leaders whom we all can look up to, but most importantly leaders our young people can look up to, and hope to emulate. I mean that's the really important part, don't you think? And they're out there, folks. It's just that we haven't been focusing on them lately.

Take Jody Wilson-Raybould, for example. She's Canada's Minister of Justice and Attorney General. And she's aboriginal. A lawyer and former regional Chief of the British Columbia Assembly of First Nations. How's that for a positive role model for Canadian girls, and most especially for Canadian girls of First Nations heritage? Pretty darned cool, I'd say. 

And ironically, sitting beside Wilson-Raybould in the photo below is one of my own former role models. Kim Campbell. Oh, how I admired her back in the day. I remember when I first heard her on the radio when she was Minister of Justice back in the nineties, so cool and smart and measured in her responses to the interviewer. The first woman in parliament who I thought had it all goin' on. I still think that actually. So what if she became Prime Minister in 1993 only because she won the Progressive Conservative party leadership when the hugely unpopular Brian Mulroney resigned a few months before an election? So what if she was only Prime Minister for a few months? I remember that she was pilloried in the press during the election campaign. In particular, I recall one evening becoming incensed on her behalf when a reporter commented on the unflattering (according to him) white pants she was wearing at a rally. So what that she lost the election when the Liberals won a landslide victory? According to one source I've read, one of the reasons she lost was that her "frank honesty," in direct contrast to Mulroney's "highly polished style," got her into hot water. And the fact that she admitted to a reporter that it was unlikely that the deficit or unemployment would be much reduced "before the end of the century." No matter that that's exactly what happened. Mustn't be honest during an election campaign, Kim. Sigh. I still think she's fabulous.

Jody Wilson-Raybould and Kim Campbell at hearings held by the Committee on Justice and Human Rights
Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada with former Prime Minister Kim Campbell, herself a former Minister of Justice.
So maybe we should pause here to think about what makes someone a good role model. Certainly all these women are smart, very well educated, and highly successful in their careers even before they entered the political ring. And as far as Kim Campbell goes, successful when she exited the political fray. They all wield or have wielded considerable power. But it's how they wield this power and what they choose to do with it that matters most, I think. Being successful, or rich, or powerful alone doesn't make someone a good role model. In fact, I'm not even sure that I know what makes a good role model. I guess we all have our own definitions. For me it's always been someone who holds values and qualities to which I aspire. And who can wield power responsibly, sensibly, and with respect for others. As a young woman, I admired Kim Campbell's calm confidence and her obvious intelligence. And her ability to survive in a field dominated by men. And later I admired how she remade her life, and her career, after her crushing political defeat. 

I'm chuckling now. I can almost hear the internet trolls growling as I write this... what about when she did this, or said that, or spent this amount of taxpayers money on such and such? And I want to emulate Bugs Bunny, another one of my heroes, and say: "Ah, shaddup." Let's not split hairs. Stop talking partisan politics. And let's all agree that whether or not we like or dislike the political views of any of these women, we have to admit that they are impressive. 

But you know, you don't have to be powerful, rich, or even that successful... in the sense that these women have been successful... to be good role model.

Many years ago when I was a young teacher and was desperately trying to finagle a transfer from my job at an adult high school to what I really wanted to be doing which was teaching adolescents, I remember my principal encouraging me to keep trying. He said that I would be "a good role model for teenagers." I kind of laughed at that. Really, me? I know he probably meant that I was a lot younger than many of the high school teachers in our board at that time. Declining enrollment in our schools had slowed the hiring of young teachers to a trickle. I know he was thinking that I was lively, had a good sense of humour, loved sports, and reading, and such. But he didn't know what I knew, that I was anything but a good role model. 

I mean, hadn't I flailed about for years before I settled into teaching? Hadn't I tried numerous jobs, quit university, worked as a cosmetician, then returned to school to finish my degree, took a job I hated, then chucked it all and moved back home for a year, before I finally returned to Ottawa and settled down to the job I grew to love? Yes, I had. And who wants to emulate someone who has taken that convoluted pathway? 

Well, turns out it was all that flailing which helped me relate to kids in high school. Kids who were facing that huge question: What to do with their lives? Especially kids who were struggling with the answer. Turns out that opening up to kids, and to parents, about my own struggles was a good thing. As one friend who has sons who were flailing said to me, "Oh, Sue. I look at you and it always makes me feel better about the boys. If you turned out so well, maybe they will too." I never, never forgot that. I think that's one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me. Anyway, I guess my point here is that role models don't have to be perfect. Or have taken the direct route to success. Sometimes the scenic route can be more inspiring or comforting to kids who are plotting their own course.

I've digressed a bit from my earlier discussion about positive role models for young women. I guess the whole point of this post is that we all need to try to be positive role models for girls and young women. And not to underestimate the power of our ability to make a difference in someone's life. Whether we're parents, teachers, politicians, sales clerks, or snow plow drivers. 

I love the fact that the new snow plow operator who plows our road is a woman. Hubby says the "lady driver" is much better than the male drivers ever were. More considerate. We live at the end of a road, and after she turns the plow, as she passes by a second time, she makes a dip into our driveway to scoop out some of the pile she's just deposited there. Thus saving Hubby a heck of a lot of shoveling. Then Hubby gives her a cheery wave from the window, and she always waves back. So... considerate and friendly. 

Now, that's behaviour we all should emulate.

              Women giving women a boost.  Gif by Brooklyn illustrator Libby Vanderploeg

As I was writing this post, on one of my trips into the kitchen for a cup of tea, I asked Hubby who his role models had been when he was growing up. What an interesting discussion we had. About who each of us had admired and why. 

So now it's your turn. Want to weigh in on the power of positive role models? Who were your role models when you were growing up? 

Linking up with Thursday Favourite Things Blog Hop at Katherine's Corner, Fabulous Friday at Pocketful of Polkadots, and Saturday Share Link-up at Not Dressed As Lamb

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Of Underwear and Outerwear

 I've been shopping for underwear lately. No... not that kind of underwear. Sporty underwear. Base layers, bottoms and tops, to wear under pants and under a fleece. Light but warm layers suitable for skiing and cool weather hiking. And for travelling. I always bring ski underwear bottoms when we travel. No matter the season. Even when we're not hiking or skiing. They are perfect for wearing under jeans on a cool rainy day, and for lounging around overly air conditioned hotel rooms, even in summer. Even in France. But more on that later.

Since we are leaving for South America in four weeks and five days... but who's counting?... I've been making lists and stocking up on what I will need to pack. I bought hiking boots and a new light toque before Christmas.

Adrienne Vittadini sweater, scarf Norsdtrom, toque Bula, earrings from Magpie Jewellry
Wearing my new toque with this old Adrienne Vittadini sweater and my navy scarf
And this week, I shopped for ski underwear. Base layers, as they say. Warm light layers are winter staples for skiing here at home, and will hopefully be useful for hiking in Argentina. I specifically looked for silky, synthetic tops and bottoms. Easy to wash and dry when travelling. And easy to slide under a fleece or a pair of jeans or hiking pants. 

I found exactly what I was looking for at Bushtakah. I love that store. It's where I bought my hiking boots in December. Everything in the ski section was 30% off, and I was able to use the $20.00 coupon I received when I bought my hiking boots... so I saved big time. I went home with two "Hot Chillys" turtleneck tops and one pair of long underwear bottoms. All three are lovely and silky, without being clingy. And I promptly tucked them away for our trip.

But then I started thinking that maybe I needn't wait until the trip to wear them. Maybe I should test drive my new winter staples. Lovely, silky turtlenecks should not be languishing in a drawer in the middle of winter. 

raspberry fleece from MEC, black Hot Chillys base layer turtleneck from Bushtakah
My new black Hot Chillys turtleneck with a raspberry fleece hoodie from MEC
In keeping with a sporty-skiing theme, I pulled on my new black silky base layer, with this woolly fleece hoodie from Mountain Equipment Co-op. And I decided to see what would happen if I paired these sporty tops with a couple of my more dressy pieces. So I hauled on my black crepe Aritzia joggers. And added my Max Mara fuschia tweed coat. Who says a hoodie can't be worn with a dressy pant and coat? 

raspberry fleece from MEC, black Hot Chillys base layer turtleneck from Bushtakah, black joggers from Aritzia, black boots from Stuart Weitzman     raspberry fleece from MEC, black Hot Chillys base layer turtleneck from Bushtakah, black joggers from Aritzia, black boots from Stuart Weitzman, fuchsia tweed coat from Max Mara

What with the cuffed pants, and hiking socks, and lace-up boots... I look a bit vintage. As if I should be sipping an après-ski kirsch at Schruns, Austria in the 1920's. And chatting with Ernest Hemingway, and Hadley. Maybe I was channeling Sonja Henie from that old film "Sun Valley Serenade." Or simply inspired by the ensemble below. I found this 1936 sweater pattern in a box of old knitting and sewing patterns at my mum's last winter. I may attempt to knit one of the sweaters from this book one day. Just not this winter.

vintage knitting pattern for ski ensemble from 1936 pattern book by Monarch Yarns
Ski ensemble from Monarch Yarn pattern book 1936
Now back to base layers... I also bought a lovely fuchsia turtleneck when I was at Bushtakah. I like it here with my black Lulu Lemon zippered jacket, and my tweed coat. You know... normally I would wear black socks with these joggers and my Stuart Weitzman boots. Bu-ut... these grey hiking socks, peeking out like that, are beginning to grow on me. Still, the outfit definitely needs some sort of scarf. It's a bit boring, and maybe a teensy bit too matchy-matchy. I'll work on that. 

black zippered jacket from Lulu Lemon, pink Hot Chillys base layer turtleneck from Bushtakah, black joggers from Aritzia, black boots from Stuart Weitzman,       black zippered jacket from Lulu Lemon, pink Hot Chillys base layer turtleneck from Bushtakah, black joggers from Aritzia, black boots from Stuart Weitzman, fuchsia tweed coat from Max Mara

And speaking of working. Phew. I took a ton of pictures this morning for the post. Moved most of the furniture in the sun room around to find a place where I wasn't standing in stripes of sunlight. Then after I had uploaded all the shots to my computer realized that they were overexposed. Ever single one. So after lunch, when the light was better, I redid all the shots. But by this time Hubby was home from skating, and talking to me from the kitchen the whole time I was trying to pose. Then he was in and out of the room. "Go away, " I barked. He did. But then he came back right away because he needed to "consult" on dinner. Gad. So I ended up with one bunch of shots where I was relaxed and smiling, but the picture quality was poor. And one bunch where I had pinched lips and an exasperated expression, and looked like I really wanted to be somewhere else. Or maybe I just wanted someone else to be somewhere else. Ha. You think?

I included this overexposed shot to prove I haven't totally lost my sense of humour. And to show my snazzy new long underwear bottoms. They are so silky and smooth that my pant leg just sliiiides down over them. 

 raspberry fleece from MEC, black Hot Chillys base layer turtleneck and long underwear bottoms from Bushtakah, black joggers from Aritzia, black boots from Stuart Weitzman
See my snazzy, silky base layer bottoms?
I laughed when the sales clerk at Bushtakah said these bottoms were so pretty that I could wear them as leggings. Ha. I don't think so. But it did remind me of when Hubby and I were in France and I accidentally wore my ski underwear bottoms as ...ah ... outerwear. 

It was when we first arrived in Provence and were staying in a little cottage outside Avignon. We'd been on the go for pretty much two weeks straight and I was looking forward to a slow-down day. A late breakfast that we prepared ourselves. Maybe a walk later. A bit of grocery shopping and some time to plan the rest of our week. And so when Hubby mentioned, after breakfast, that we should check out the area he had scouted out on the map, where we might leave our car and walk into old Avignon, I said "sure." And I slipped on my sandals and sunglasses, and climbed into the car. Let me paint a picture for you at this point. An hour before this, I had rolled out of bed, washed my face, combed my hair, and pulled on a long tee shirt and my light ski-underwear bottoms that looked like verrry thin leggings. I had no intention of getting out of the car. 

But somehow it had become lost in translation that Hubby meant this to BE the day we walked into Avignon. While I meant this to be the day that we planned how we would be walking into Avignon. You know... on another day when I had make-up on and had done something (anything) with my hair. 

A day when I wasn't wearing underwear bottoms. 

Sigh. Wearing underwear as outerwear, especially with bad hair and no make-up, is not how I prefer to represent myself to the world. I won't say anymore except that I was very glad that my tee shirt was long and my sunglasses big.

So, my friends, how do you feel about underwear as outerwear? Any tales of mixing very casual pieces with somewhat more dressy ones? Or any tales at all? 

I just now realized that my post title is verrry similar to a post on Catherine Summer's blog Not Dressed As Lamb. Sorry, Catherine. You can check out Catherine's post here

You can find the Hot Chillys turtleneck base layer here and the underwear bottoms here.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Reality Bites... At 60

Have you ever noticed that the passage of time isn't smooth? That days, weeks, months... even years... can unfold but time seems to be standing still? We seem to be standing still? And then all of a sudden, we lurch forward. We're catapulted from one clearly discernible chunk of time into another. At least that's how it seems to me.

I love that word "chunk." I used to use it a lot in teaching, when planning courses with my department, "chunking" up the weeks of a semester, into units, and the units into lessons. It had to be done, no matter how arbitrary it seemed... how arbitrary it was, actually... because otherwise you might get to May and realize with a sinking feeling that you'd only covered one element of the course and the final exam was looming. Time, the days and the weeks, can get away on you when you're talking to kids, and exploring exciting new activities with them. I used to think there was no better lesson I could teach a student-teacher than how to "chunk up" a course.

I look at my life like that too. In chunks of time. There's that whole shadowy, unreal, almost fictional, time in the lives of my family before I was born. Then the chunk that was my early childhood before we moved to the apartment building owned by my grandfather, before my parents separated. To be truthful I don't remember much of that time. And what I do remember I'm pretty sure aren't my memories at all, just stories told by my mum and my older siblings. 

My first clear memory is of my mum and I flying to Newfoundland to visit my uncle and aunt who had just had a new baby. I remember that time vividly. The early rising and driving through the pre-dawn darkness to the airport. Mum reading to me on the plane from my "Little Golden Book" called The New Baby. I gather from her stories that Mum was not as excited as I was to be flying. That, to her chagrin, every time the pilot issued a warning that there would be turbulence, I kept repeating it. "Turbulence, Mumma. We're having turbulence." "Yeee-esss dear. I heard," I imagine her replying through gritted teeth. 

1956 version of "The New Baby."
The 1956 edition of The New Baby... the same one I owned.

I remember that trip in vivid colour. What we had for lunch one day when the wife of a family friend took Mum and me shopping and out for lunch... to an automat. You know, those places where you could see the dishes through the little windows? And you opened the window and put the plate on your tray. Lunch in a restaurant was a rare treat when I was almost six. Apparently I embarrassed Mum by wanting pretty much everything I saw. I mean, it was hard to know when you picked one dish that a few feet down the line there'd be a different one that you just that moment realized you wanted even more than the last one. Sigh. I remember Mrs.Tucker, our host, was very gracious, but I caught hell from Mum afterward. I also remember coming home to my uncle's house that afternoon with a new pink plastic umbrella, which I promptly hid from my two younger boy cousins. Boys were so trying in those days. 

The rest of that time before I started school and Mum went to work is all wrapped up with images of Christmas at my grandparents, books we read, and old movies.  When my older brother and sisters were in school, Mum and I would sometimes watch old movies on "Mid-day Matinee" on television. She'd do the ironing. And I'd ask endless questions about what was going to happen to whom in the film. It seemed to me that Mum knew everything. Took me years to break the habit of asking "What's going to happen now, Mumma?" 

And then I started school, and there were school bus rides, new kittens, playing tether ball at recess, report cards, teachers I loved, and those that scared the pants off me. And then that awkward chunk that was junior high, and the year Mum married my step-father and we moved to the farm. That was wonderful. And then the high school chunk. And onward. And, you see, the funny thing is, that even though I was aware that events might be months or years apart, within each of these chunks, I was unaware of the process that was happening. I was growing up, changing, learning, becoming an independent person. But it seemed to me as if I stayed the same for years until I lurched forward into a different chunk of my life and became an entirely new person. 

And with each lurch into a new phase of "me," I was sure that eventually I would lurch into a "finished" phase where I would be confident, successful, beautiful, and have everything under control. Where I would have all the answers, and life would be smooth sailing and easy peasy. Ha. I stopped waiting for that phase when I turned thirty. But I still experienced my life in chunks. Learning, changing, and inexorably growing older. I welcomed the advent of some of the changes. Like the day I realized that somehow without my realizing it, I had become an experienced teacher. Comfortable in my classroom, able to relax and enjoy myself and not stress so much about whether I was doing a good enough job. That felt great. Other changes, however, were not so welcome.

I remember one day in my late thirties, I was "turning my closet" as my friend Margaret says. And I tried on a lovely, royal blue corduroy, full-skirted dress from Laura Ashley, which I loved, and which was several years old. And like a dash of cold water, I knew that I had suddenly, in a moment, become too old to wear the dress. Of course it's not like my face morphed into wrinkles and frown lines that exact moment. Just that I suddenly realized the reality. I was almost forty. And the dress did NOT go with my face anymore. I looked silly in it. Like mutton dressed as lamb. It was a bit of a shock. Not a huge emotional moment or anything, just... surprising. "When did that happen?" I remember thinking.

But I was not so sanguine about another big shift in reality moment. My most traumatic lurch forward, into a new chunk of my life, happened when I was almost fifty-one. I had been going for physio on my back for two months. The young guy who was my physiotherapist was from Australia, a cross-country skier, working in Canada, and training for the World Championships the next year. We bonded over talk of Australia (Hubby and I had been there on an extended trip a couple of years before), and talk of skiing, and cycling. And his assistant, the kinesiologist, was an equally young, equally athletic extrovert. We had lots of laughs as I lay with a heat pack on my back, or tried in my motor-moron way to master the exercises I was supposed to do. Those two kibitzed and ribbed each other and I always chimed in. I want to make very clear that our chat was friendly banter, not flirting. More like the jokey way I interacted with students in the hallway; teasing, laughing, as people who like each other do. 

But one day after I left, I climbed into my car, and adjusted the mirror to fix my hair. Oh. My. God. I was old. Bright sunshine on my face illuminated every single line and furrow. Every single one. It was like a kick in my solar plexus. I was a pathetic, middle-aged, wrinkly old woman. How stupid I must look making jokes and joining in the banter with those two young guys! It seemed as if in that moment I saw who I really was. The reality of being fifty-one. And it literally hurt. It did. I remember I almost cried. Maybe I did cry. The next day I told one person, my friend Marina. "What an idiot, I am," I said. "Who do I think I am going around acting as if I'm still in my twenties, as if I'm the same age as those young guys?" I don't remember what she said. Something sympathetic, I know. But I walked around for days, in mourning for my youth. For the years when I was young, or even young-ish, and attractive and not some sad old git who was only pretending. How had I not noticed that I wasn't me anymore? Or at least the me I thought I was seeing in the mirror. Whew! Talk about an emotional over-reaction. But that's how I felt. And then, in a week or two, it subsided. 

It had been years since I thought about that day, the day I realized I was middle-aged, and the ensuing weeks of self-doubt. Until last May, when I turned sixty, I read in The New York Times an article called I'm Too Old For This by Dominique Browning, who was also sixty. Browning says that turning sixty was "profoundly liberating" for her. She says that she always felt insecure about her looks. Until one day she unearthed a trunk full of old photos, and as she looked at them she thought: "Even when I was in the depths of despair about my looks, I'd been beautiful." And it was a revelation to her. She says that when we get to be sixty, we should consider ourselves "too old" to worry anymore about all that insecurity nonsense. All that torturous, self defeating, I'm not good-looking enough, or smart enough crap. 

That's kind of how I felt when I turned sixty. Sort of liberated. I remember thinking: "Okay, so you're sixty. This is your life. This is your face. This is your body. This is you." And I felt pretty good. Good enough, anyway. I think maybe I've been catapulted into that "finished" chunk that I dreamed about when I was young. Except not in the way that I thought. Not beautiful, but wise enough to realize that beauty ain't everything. Successful, in that I've had a successful career. Certainly confident... most of the time, anyway. I don't have all the answers, but I now know that no one does. And while life is not all smooth sailing, easy peasy... I'm pretty lucky. I'm even beginning to take a more sanguine view of that day when I was almost fifty-one. To feel empathy for myself instead of exasperation. I know, I know... I seriously over-reacted. But I was only fifty-one. I was deep into menopause. I wasn't ready then for reality, not ready then to be the woman I saw in the mirror. 

But I am now. 

And I keep thinking of this bit from Browning's article: "I have no doubt that when I'm eighty I'll look at pictures of myself when I was sixty and think how young I was then, how filled with joy and beauty." 

Well, I don't know if that's what I'll think when I'm eighty. I'll have to get back to you on that. In twenty years.

Me at 3, 13, 38 and 59 years of age.
Visual evidence of  "the whirligig of time"...as Shakespeare says.

How about you my wise readers? How do you fare when reality bites... and you are faced with the evidence of time passing? 

Linking up with Thursday Favourite Things Blog Hop at Katherine's Corner, Fabulous Friday at Pocketful of Polkadots, and Saturday Share Link-up at Not Dressed As Lamb