Sunday, 28 February 2016

The Happy Homemaker... Not.

I am not a happy homemaker. Remember Betty White in that role on the Mary Tyler Moore Show in the seventies? She could cook, and clean, and smile prettily all at the same time. She made homemaking sexy, supposedly. Well, I'm no Sue Ann Nivens, that's for sure.

Betty White as Sue Ann Nivens, The Happy Homemaker
Betty White as Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show

And I'm certainly no June Cleaver from Leave It To BeaverJune was the epitome of the multi-tasking fifties housewife, wasn't she? Nope. That's not me. Not even close. For one thing Hubby and I don't have any children. And for another, I can't imagine myself in nylons, a dress, pearls, and a paring knife, effortlessly counselling Beaver while preparing dinner for four, in my spotless kitchen. 

June and Beaver Cleaver
June Cleaver in her pearls, in an episode of  Leave It To Beaver

Don't get me wrong, it's not that I don't like cooking, I do. It's the spotless kitchen part that always gets me. I mean... I love a spotless kitchen. In fact, I love a well organized, spotless house. It's just that I hate making it spotless. Really, really hate it. 

We all laugh at the unrealistic images of women portrayed on television way back when. Cooking in pearls. Ha. Imagine. But I'll bet that it's not just me who sometimes still feels inadequate about my lack of housekeeping skill. Okay, maybe 'skill' is not the word I'm going for. It's not skill I lack; it's motivation. I'd rather be reading, or drawing, or blogging, or working out, or pretty much anything at all rather than cleaning my house. Which is problematic because, like I mentioned above, I like a clean house. 

In my thirties, once I started working full time as a teacher and could afford it, I started to pay someone to clean our house. It was well worth the money to me, to come home one day every two weeks to a clean house. In the off week, I'd clean the bathroom, maybe dust a bit. Obviously I'd change the sheets, do the laundry and tidy up. But coming home after work to the sight and smell of a clean house... when I didn't have to clean it myself... was... well... wonderful. And lest you think that Hubby was sitting with a beer in his hand watching football while I was doing chores, let me make it clear that he does plenty around our home. 

For one thing we have a large vegetable garden every  year. He does all of that. He plants, weeds, harvests, freezes... and usually cooks... everything that comes out of the garden. He does all the grass cutting, and snow plowing, and wood splitting (we have a wood stove in our living room.) Once he retired and I took on more responsibility at work, he took over all the grocery shopping, and much of the cooking. The other women at work were green with envy when they found out that Hubby made my lunch each day. So the housecleaning, laundry etc has always been my territory. And I'm okay with that. I mean I hate cleaning, but I'm fine with it being part of my share of the work.

Hubby and I have never had much of a problem over the division of household chores; he's never looked at household chores as being linked to gender. That's probably because his mum, my mother-in-law, always worked outside the home, and his dad helped around the house. I remember my mother-in-law, Milly, telling me about one evening in the fifties when she was having coffee at the kitchen table with a neighbour. Ed, Hubby's dad, came through the kitchen with an armload of laundry he'd just finished doing, and the neighbour lady couldn't stop giggling at the sight of a man doing housework. 

Desi does housework
Desi does housework,  in an old episode of I Love Lucy

I wasn't surprised when I read a 2013 article in The Atlantic, that says "The difference between a happy marriage and a miserable one is... chores." Or more specifically how a couple approaches the division of labour in and around their home. Apparently a 2007 Pew Research Poll said the division of labour in the home is "one of the top three issues associated with a successful marriage." And as much as things have changed in recent years, it also doesn't surprise me that women still perform twice the number of tasks around the home, and in most homes "assume the burden of 'mental labour,' or the planning and co-ordination of tasks." You can read the Atlantic article here if you're interested. 

I say it doesn't surprise me because, when I was working, I was constantly amazed and sometimes appalled at how many women who were much younger than me were married to men who did nothing to help with household tasks. Nothing. One colleague laughed at lunch one day about her plan to send her husband a message, to try to get him to pick up his dirty laundry and place it in the laundry basket. She purchased several extra plastic laundry baskets, and placed them all around their bed, so he couldn't help but notice they were there. The next morning she found his dirty underwear lying between two of the baskets. I can't remember what she did after that. Probably gave up. 

Or the story of another colleague who complained one day that she and her husband and two kids were off to his parents' cottage the day after Commencement in June. And in the next few days, she'd have to finish her marking, do her report cards, attend commencement and then go home to pack for herself, the two kids, and her husband. And when she suggested that he at least pack for himself, he replied that she should "just throw him in a few shirts." Of course we all encouraged her to do just that. To throw a few shirts still on their hangers in the trunk of the car and say... "Here's your stuff, honey." But I know she didn't.

I'll never understand why two intelligent adults can't come to a fair and equitable arrangement about workload around the home. But apparently, according to the article  36 Household Chores Men Don't Bother To Do in The Telegraph... they can't. The article goes on to say that a 2014 survey of 1,000 working mothers in the UK, conducted by "Mumsnet," shows that only 5% of men "take primary responsibility for giving the house a weekly clean," compared to 71% of women. That leaves 26% of couples who share the tasks equally. And apparently this problem is not all down to the men. Interestingly, of the women surveyed 66% do not want their partners to do more. Really? And why is that? Well, they are either happy with the division of labour or... the men don't complete the tasks to their exacting standards. 

I guess I would say to those women that men can learn, too. You know, Hubby wasn't always the domestic god he is now. He's always done whatever task around the house needed doing. But his cooking skills back in the day stretched to spaghetti sauce and steaks on the barbeque. Unless we were camping; in the bush he's always been the main cook. I remember one night shortly after he retired, when supper was boiled potatoes, grilled pork chops, and steamed cauliflower. Nutritious? Yep. But a tad monochromatic. Now he excels at Asian food, complicated stir-frys, soups of every description, and fish. He's very good with fish. As he said to me once... "I can read a cookbook... therefore... I can learn to cook."

But I want to get back to what I started talking about at the beginning of this post... my domestic skills. And my lack of motivation to do housework. It's become more of an issue for me lately, since I retired. How could I justify the expense of paying a cleaning person, if I had time to do the cleaning myself? And since I was no longer working all day, five days a week, marking in the evenings, and prepping lessons one day on the weekend, how could I justify not doing it? It's not as if I am burdened with more than my share of the household chores. I can't use that excuse for whining. It's just that I hate cleaning. Period. And sometimes I feel a bit inadequate that I'm not measuring up on the domestic front. I guess it's the "I'm-not-June-Cleaver" guilt complex. Silly isn't it? 

So what do I do? Well, first I don't do housework unless I'm listening to a book on my i-pod. I can clean like the dickens if I've a good P.D. James novel on the go. And I try really hard to not procrastinate about cleaning. But I also have decided not to attempt to clean the house any more than it was cleaned when I was working. So every two weeks, a full clean. And in the off weeks, I clean the bathroom, do a touch up, and all the weekly stuff like changing beds, laundry etc. That's it. I didn't retire so I could clean my house more. And I'm trying to do one special thingie every couple of weeks... you know those drawers that never get sorted, or the cupboard that has everything but the kitchen sink in it and needs to be reorganized, or the kitchen blinds that need washing. I will admit that this part of the plan has fallen a bit behind schedule. Okay. A lot behind schedule. 

But... I never claimed to be a domestic goddess, did I? There are just too many other interesting things to do and see that are not cleaning my house. Like blogging, or drawing, or working out... or reading.

Ooh, look. There's my new Ann Cleeves mystery. Surely those kitchen drawers can wait another week. 

So dear readers, how does it work at your house? Do you divide the domestic chores equitably? And what do you do to make your share of the household tasks more palatable? Are you a natural domestic goddess, able to flick that 'swiffer' and smile at the same time? Or are you, like me, tempted by the demon book to neglect your domestic duties?

Linking up with All About You Link Party at Mama and More

Thursday, 25 February 2016

In Dire Need of Some Spring Inspiration

Have you seen the 1980 movie Private Benjamin with Goldie Hawn? Well... there's a scene where Judy/Goldie is on guard duty at night. It's dark, it's raining. She's soaked, her wet hair hanging in her face. She's in a helmet, carrying a full pack and a rifle, draped in a green rain-slicker that looks like a big garbage bag, and of course, she's wearing heavy army boots. And she's whining: "I want to be normal again. I want to go out for lunch. I want to wear sandals..." 

I love that bit about wearing sandals. In fact, I feel like that every winter around this time. So tired of wearing heavy coats, scarves, and gloves. Sick to death of pulling heavy boots on every time I want to go out doors. Especially this week. You see, I was home with my mum in New Brunswick last week basking in what felt like spring sunshine and watching the snow melt in the fields. 

New Brunswick in a warm February
February thaw in New Brunswick. Just enough warmth to make me think spring might come.

But while I was down east thinking that spring might be just around the corner, Ottawa was experiencing the worst one-day storm in history. Over fifty centimetres of snow. And then I came home. And this week it's snowed again. And yesterday we had a melange of sideways snowing, freezing rain (also sideways), and rain. And tonight the temperature is supposed to drop to -15°C with a wind chill of -24°. So it's back in the deep-freeze for us. And all the melted snow and slush will become pure ice...and... and... and... argggg. I love winter, but I hate this crap. And so today I'm whining... I want to go out to lunch, and I want to wear sandals. And I think I need some stress-relieving spring fashion inspiration. Really, really need it. 

And then this morning I opened an e-mail from Matches Fashion on "Spring Colour Trends." Oh my. Yummy colours like orange. And tangerine. Lovely. I could feel my mood lifting.

High Heels in the Wilderness: Spring fashion inspiration
Looks from Tangerine Orange collection

So, second cup of tea poured, I buckled down to do some serious spring fashion research. First I trawled around the internet. Theory has some nice things for spring. So does J Crew. But their creams and beiges, and pale blues just weren't doing it for me this morning. Besides, I couldn't get that Matches Fashion e-mail out of my mind's eye. Their editors have organized (Or should I say curated? It seems to be the in-word for fashionistas these days) into five colour collections: Vivid Red, Tangerine Orange, Citrus Yellow, Bright Green, and Cobalt Blue. That's what I really was craving... colour. 

So based on my research, on what I've read in fashion magazines, and seen around the web. Considering what I would actually wear, what might work for me, my lifestyle, and my over-fifty (almost sixty) year old body... here are the looks I chose, all from

Skirts and dresses in lovely blue and green. With bright flats.

Blue and green spring looks on
Looks from Blue and Green collections

Pants and culottes with little cardigans, or loosely draped pullovers. I'm seriously going to put culottes on my spring wish list.

Bright spring looks on
Looks from Red, Blue and Green Collections

And sunny yellow sweaters and skirts. Looks as if skirts (or dresses) are definitely on my spring radar this season. That sweet yellow cardigan reminds me of one of the outfits from my post on Fifties Fashion last week.

Sunny yellow looks from
Looks from Yellow Collection

You'll note that there are no outfits with jeans. I don't need inspiration to wear jeans; I already wear them entirely too much. I'm hoping to focus more this spring on skirts, and dresses, and culottes. And did you notice? In all the shots... everywhere, everywhere... sandals, sandals, and lovely little flats. Not a heavy boot in sight. 

Sigh. I feel so much better. I can't be gloomy when I'm planning my spring shopping. Now.... I have to survey my closet, look at what I have and what I don't have, what still fits, and what won't work this year, and then make my list. But never mind that now... I'm sure you'll be hearing more about that whole process before I'm finished. 

Now, I really must go. I have book club tomorrow evening, and I'm not even halfway finished my book. I've been so wrapped up in Harper Lee and her life and work this week, I've hardly read anything else. 

I can hear the wind blowing outside my window, and I know the temperature is plummeting. Now that I've satiated my dire need for spring fashion inspiration... I'm happy to spend the evening reading in front of the fire. And later when Hubby and I settle down for our long winter's nap, I know that visions of sweaters the colour of sunshine and orange sherbet will be dancing in my head. 

How about you, my friends? Are you in need of some spring fashion inspiration? Are you longing for sandals and sweaters the colour of orange sherbet?

Linking up this week with: Visible Monday at Not Dead Yet Style, #IwillwearwhatIlike at Not Dressed as Lamb, What I Wore at The Pleated Poppy, Style Me Wednesday at Shopping My Closet, Passion 4 Fashion at Rachel the Hat, Fun Fashion Friday at Fashion Should Be Fun, Casual Friday at Two Thirty-Five Designs,

Monday, 22 February 2016

Harper Lee's Long Good-Bye

Harper Lee died on Friday, two months shy of her ninetieth birthday. But she has effectively been lost to most of the world for a very long time. Since 1964, four years after the publication of her famous, and famously beloved, novel To Kill a Mockingbird was published, and two years after the equally beloved movie version starring Gregory Peck as Atticus hit the theatres, she has guarded her privacy, studiously avoided publicity, and spurned requests for interviews. Apparently when a friend once suggested she use a form letter to refuse requests from the press, she quipped that it should simply read: "Hell, no." 

Nelle Harper Lee in  1961  source
It's not my intention to narrate the story of Harper Lee's life here, nor retell the events that surrounded her rise to fame and her subsequent rejection of the life of a "literary celebrity." William Grimes' excellent article on Harper Lee, published in the New York Times on the day of her death does a much better job than I could. You can read that here if you like.

As a high school English teacher I taught To Kill a Mockingbird for many years. It is an eminently teachable novel. The vocabulary is challenging but not beyond the scope of most fourteen and fifteen year olds, there is much to learn and discuss in the book, and the characters capture the imagination and the hearts of most readers, even teenage ones. I still love the book, and I've watched the movie at least twice a year since 1994, depending on the number of classes of grade nine I taught in any given year. Yet I never grew bored with either. Or failed to well up with tears at crucial moments. Like when Reverend Sikes exhorts Scout to "Stand up, Miss Jean Louise. Your father's passing."

Yep. I needed a tissue there. Again. But as wonderful a book as To Kill a Mockingbird is, I tend to agree with the stance taken by Canadian writer Lawrence Hill in his 2009 article in the The Toronto Star. Hill, whose own novel, The Book of Negroes, grapples with issues of racism, contends that while Mockingbird is a worthy book it should not be the only book in the high school curriculum that deals with themes of racism. That students should not stop reading To Kill a Mockingbird, but should simply read more books like it, books which teach anti-racism but which are more current and which are Canadian. I would like to add, though, that many Canadian high schools do just that. Overall, I agree with Lawrence Hill; students need to be exposed to current Canadian novels which look at race issues in Canada. But To Kill a Mockingbird is still a great book. And the passage of time has not diminished its greatness.

Harper Lee based her fictional Maycomb on her hometown Monroeville, Alabama. Here seen  in the 1930's. source

Monroeville in the 1930's. source
So, as someone who knows the novel To Kill a Mockingbird very well.... and who knows a fair bit about Harper Lee, her closely guarded privacy, and her pronouncements that she would never publish another novel... I was stunned when Harper Collins announced early in 2015 that it was set to publish Go Set a Watchman, a "new" novel by Harper Lee. Along with many other readers, not to mention Lee's friends and neighbours in Alabama, I was surprised, then thrilled, and then... well, skeptical. Really? A "new" work? 

Go Set a Watchman is set in 1950s Alabama, during the civil rights era. In particular during the protests and violence that erupted over racial segregation, and the US Supreme Court ruling in the case of Brown v. Board of Education. Scout, now an adult living in New York City, travels home to Maycomb, Alabama, where she encounters her father's apparent moral about-face and struggles with her own subsequent disillusionment and despair. I won't say any more about the plot. You need to read the book itself. Because despite the opinions of some, including several members of my book club (we read and discussed the novel last fall), I think it is a book worth reading. 

Old county courthouse in Monroeville used as the model for the courtroom in To Kill a Mockingbird.  source
Go Set a Watchman, as might be expected of an early draft of  To Kill a Mockingbird, is not great literature. But it is undoubtedly the work of Harper Lee, conspiracy theories to the contrary. There are flashes of the brilliance of To Kill a Mockingbird, and beautiful passages of description and dialogue. But there are also many weak passages of long, rambling discussion and political theorizing that I skipped through. For a better understanding of the novel, and of the "southern Liberalism" of the fifties which Lee seems to be exploring in the book, you should read Adam Gopnik's article "Sweet Home Alabama" in the New Yorker. Or Kevin Young's insightful review in Slate.

Nelle Harper Lee and her older sister  Alice Lee  source
If you do read Go Set a Watchman, make sure you have read To Kill a Mockingbird first. Because, as Gopnik says in his article, once you know and love the character of Atticus, only then can you really understand the depth of Scout's disillusionment with him. And to me that's the value in reading Watchman. In Mockingbird we see Atticus as a hero; in Watchman we see him as a man. Flawed, clinging to outmoded values, trying desperately to shore up a society that is crumbling. 

I also don't agree that Go Set  a Watchman will weaken Harper Lee's literary legacy. I mean really, To Kill a Mockingbird is still the great book it always was. Okay, so the "discovery" of the Watchman manuscript, shrouded as it is in mystery and controversy seems contrived and a bit silly. And Harper Lee's lawyer and purported "great friend" Tonja Carter seems to be a bit shady, what with accusations that she has manipulated the author, her refusal to answer questions from the press, and the weirdly coincidental announcement to publish Watchman only a few months after the death of Harper Lee's fiercely protective older sister Alice. Alice would probably, according to some articles, have objected to the publication. 

But none of this real-life literary melodrama should touch Lee's work itself. Or alter the effect that Lee's characters and their struggles have on her readers. And I think the flawed nature of Go Set a Watchman is interesting in that it reveals to us that, just as Atticus is shown to have feet of clay, so Lee herself as a writer is not perfect. 

Since Harper Collins' announcement last winter, I must have read fifty articles on Lee herself, and this "new" work. And what they revealed to me besides all the hype and controversy was a glimpse into Lee's early working life, before and after To Kill a Mockingbird. How she struggled to revise Mockingbird, once even chucking the manuscript out of her window into the snow, how she struggled in vain to write a second book. And eventually how she withdrew more and more from the glare of publicity, tired of the scrutiny and the media circus, ever more protective of her privacy. So, you see, she wasn't a literary genius, who gave birth to one miraculously perfect work and then withdrew from the world. She was a gifted writer who struggled, just as many young writers struggle. And seeing her less than perfect second (or is it first?) novel makes her seem more human. Like the rest of us. 

I'm sad that Nelle Harper Lee has died. I hope that all the fuss in the last months of her life, since the publication of Go Set a Watchman in July, was not distressing to her. That having long ago said good-bye to all that, she didn't feel once again beleaguered by her own celebrity. Because that would be very sad, indeed. 

Linking up with All About You at Mama and More

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Fifties Girl

I finally saw the movie Carol a week or so ago. My friend, Elizabeth, and I both loved it. And we decamped to my favourite Indian restaurant to enthuse about it afterward. The acting is superb. I loved Cate Blanchette and Rooney Mara. But it was the cinematography, the opulent shots of city streets or roadside motels, yearning looks out of car windows, surreptitious sideways glances, smoulderingly evocative half-smiles which kind of left me breathless. As Tim Robey of The Telegraph says in his review of Carol... director Todd "Haynes makes unhappiness beautiful." So... yeah. The movie is beautifully filmed. There was that. That and the clothes. Sigh. The clothes.

Cate Blanchette and Rooney Mara in Carol

The costumes in Carol are stunning, I think. But then again I love the fashion of the fifties. I am a fifties girl after all. Born in the fifties. And in my fifties... even if only for a few more months. I've rapsodized about fifties fashion on the blog before (here and here), about vintage fashion or current looks that riffed on vintage fashion. And with the exception of the hats of the twenties, I love the fashion of the fifties best.

I adore the tiny pill-box hats and slim fitting suits. Wearing a hat and gloves with a suit, like in this Vogue cover shot from 1953, is so elegant, so civilized. My mum says, when she was young, a lady did not venture downtown in Fredericton without her hat and gloves.

Vogue September issue, 1953

This burgundy suit from Vogue with the silk scarf tucked around the collar is the epitome of chic, don't you think?

I love this shot too. Trousers with pockets, a sweater, and flats, is a timeless look. Blanchette wears pants like these beautifully in the film, especially as the road trip with Therese unfolds. I'd wear those plaid pants and mock turtleneck myself. I'd lose the belt, add my jean jacket, and be good to go.

Trousers with pockets, Vogue 1951

This Vogue cover look from 1951, is echoed in the film Carol.

See? I love that coral hat and scarf on Cate Blanchette. Doesn't she remind you of Lana Turner in that outfit? Or Grace Kelly?

Cate Blanchette in Carol, in fur coat and coral hat and scarf

And that bag. I remember when I was a kid, my mum's bags always snapped shut with a satisfying click. That way a lady could remove her gloves, place them into her bag, tap out a cigarette, and snap the bag shut with elegant and confident élan.

Long shot of Blanchette in fur coat and coral scarf and gloves

Here are four more looks from the film that I love. Cate in more suits, especially the grey with the scarf, is divine. And brooches, she wore tons of brooches in the movie. Rooney in her plaid tam-o-shanter. And Sarah Paulson, who plays Abby, in a plaid jacket with a knotted neckerchief. Love the mix of patterns there. And you just know that Cate in the red suit is about to snap that bag shut.

Four beautiful fashion shots from Carol

I love a period movie. There's nothing like reliving the past on the big screen... full immersion in another age for two whole hours, so to speak. But we've been reliving the fifties and early sixties on the small screen, too. I know many of you were devastated...okay maybe disappointed is a bit more realistic... when the very stylish Mad Men wrapped up last spring. But if you're looking to scratch that vintage clothing itch, to ogle some fifties fashion, it's not the only game in town, you know.

Stylish Mad Men

Hubby and I love the new TV series Partners in Crime, based on the Agatha Christie "Tommy and Tuppence" mystery novels. The books take place in the twenties, but the television version is set in the fifties. Tuppence is adorable in her hats and cardigans, slim suits, and slacks and plaid jacket. I'm particularly fond of the yellow sweater and beret. Hubby and I really enjoy the Partners in Crime mysteries, but then we haven't actually met a British mystery show we don't love. And I have to admit it's created some serious hat envy for me.


These shots below from Netaporter's magazine The Edit are a good example of life imitating art, don't you think? Even if the wearers of these hats have never watched Partners in Crime, those berets look like pure fifties fashion to me. And according to Alyson Walsh who writes the blog That's Not My Age... the cardi is back this season. Hmmm. I might look for a lovely yellow or red cardigan, like Tuppence's. I could pop on a beret and a couple of vintage brooches and be the very epitome of mid-century chic.

Three looks from

IIf you haven't seen the movie Carol yet, you should. If only for the clothes. The cars. And the wonderful period settings. Check out this article by Jeremy Allen which analyzes the "Cars and Clothes of Carol," as well as some of the settings in the movie which was filmed in Cincinnati. Apparently Cincinnati looks more like 1950's New York, than New York itself.

I'm at my mum's in New Brunswick this week. We scoured all her old photographs looking for shots of fifties fashion. She has lots of pictures of her sisters and herself in the forties. But by the mid-fifties Mum had four kids and undoubtedly not much time for picture taking. I do have a 1958 photo of my two older sisters in their matching skirts and blouses, crinolines and all... but it's in my album at home. Ah well... I'll include it in another post.

I'm quite happy to be at home in New Brunswick just now. Not just because Mum and I are having a good visit... but also because Hubby is back at home (too many homes) in Ottawa "battling" (his word) a mouse in our kitchen. And because they've just received over fifty cm of snow. By the time I swan in later this week, the roads will be well cleared and the ski trails freshly groomed. I hope.

Now that's a coincidence, isn't it? Fifty centimetres of snow. Fifty. Fifties fashion. I'm in my fifties. For a while yet anyway. But I'm trying not to think about that too much.

Have you seen the movie Carol? What did you think?

Linking up this week with: Visible Monday at Not Dead Yet Style, #IwillwearwhatIlike at Not Dressed as Lamb, What I Wore at The Pleated Poppy, Style Me Wednesday at Shopping My Closet, Passion 4 Fashion at Rachel the Hat, Fun Fashion Friday at Fashion Should Be Fun, Casual Friday at Two Thirty-Five Designs,

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Not Just Sittin' Around, Grace.

I'm retired from teaching as most of you know if you read this blog regularly. And if you don't, well... I'm retired, as I said. And Grace Coddington is not.

Retirement sign

I retired three years ago after thirty years in the classroom. My career was a mix of day to day supply work to get my foot in the door, a few years teaching adults, then twenty-four years teaching teenagers at secondary schools in the Ottawa area, the last thirteen of them as department head. Teaching for me always meant being fully immersed in school life: running the school newspaper, sitting on or chairing school literacy committees or board-wide assessment and evaluation committees, organizing school professional development days, or presenting at them. Yada, yadda, yadda. I'm not trying to make myself sound self-sacrificing, here. I love to talk, I thrive on change, and I hate to be left out of anything. So being part of the committees that made the decisions which drove change was mostly a selfish move on my part.

I loved my job. But teaching is stressful, and the planning, prepping, researching, seemingly endless meetings, constant professional development, not to mention the hours and hours of marking each week, can expand to fill as many hours as you let it. And if you want to do the job right, it will. Expand to fill all your time, I mean. The idea that teachers' work hours are the same as students' classroom hours is a myth. Big time.

So when I was eligible to retire, I thought long and hard about what to do. I still loved my job. Still had tons of energy for the classroom. But what I was finding I did not have any energy, or enthusiasm for was the constant change. The new initiatives that successive governments mandated, throwing out the old curriculum or methods, that we had sometimes barely implemented, let alone had time to assess, and bringing in new ones that were supposed to solve all the problems in education.

I made the actual decision to retire one evening in May 2011, when I arrived home for supper at 7:00 pm, after a four hour meeting at school during which the "leadership team" discussed "new" initiatives for the following school year. Then after dinner I marked. May is a big marking month and, with two senior classes that semester, I couldn't afford to take a night off. It was late. Hubby was in bed reading. I was sitting at my desk, with big tears rolling down my face and dripping onto some poor student's final creative writing project, when something clicked in my brain. "I can't do this anymore!" I yelled to Hubby. "I need to decide tonight when I will retire."

Teacher joke

So that night Hubby and I set aside my marking, and using the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan website, we looked at scenarios. How much pension could I expect to bring home if I retired the next year? How much if I waited for two years? And we decided that I would quit at the end of the following year. And, you know, once I knew the end was in sight, I went happily back to my marking. In the end I worked an extra semester. I resigned my headship in June 2012, and worked part time for one more semester teaching in a new program that we had been implementing. And I officially retired at the end of January 2013.

Now, I don't want you to get the idea that Hubby and I had not planned for this day. That I just decided to retire out of the blue that May evening. Financially we'd been preparing for this for years. Even when I worked teaching adults in the early years, and made about 40% of the salary I would make in a regular high school, I started putting money into investments. Hubby was a very good influence on me in that way. He's not just a pretty face, you know.

So.... anyhoo. As I said, I'm retired at 59, and according to fashion news sources Grace Coddington, long time Creative Director for Vogue, at 74, is not. I read in an article on the Business of Fashion website that she's stepping down as Creative Director. She is still planning to do several fashion shoots for Vogue each year, but is freeing herself up to do other things. And as she very emphatically puts it, she is "definitely not retiring" because she doesn't want "to sit around." Uh. Okay.

Canoeing on the Bonnechere River 2014
Canoeing on the Bonnechere River 2014

I'm actually a big fan of Grace and her work. I've seen "The September Issue" twice, read her memoir, and I swear I can tell if a fashion shoot in Vogue is one she has styled. She's one of a kind, for sure. But I had to smile ruefully at that comment she made about retirement and sitting around. Actually, my friend Elizabeth and I had a good laugh together about it one night at dinner. I said that when I was trying, through umpteen e-mails, to organize lunch with a group of retired teacher friends, I'd frequently receive a reply..."Sorry can't make it on the 12th.That's my week for sitting around." Of course, I was joking. Trying to find a date to get all those ladies together is Iike herding cats... man.. they are busy people!

Sitting around is not my definition of retirement, nor is it what defines the lives of my retired friends. In fact according to a July 2015 article in the Montreal Gazette, by Donna Nebenzahl, sitting around is exactly what most retired people do NOT do. Dorothy Bye, who has a PhD in psychology and is an expert on aging says that "contemporary retirement takes all kinds of forms." She uses terms like "hybrid," "partial," and "bridge retirement" to describe how retirees are fashioning all manner of combinations of work and non-work. Full-time short term work, part-time work, or even starting entirely new careers, what she calls "encore careers." Byers says:"retirement is not resignation, it's regeneration."

France trip 215
France trip 2015

According to Gillian Leithman, a corporate trainer who specializes in preparing workers for retirement, many people begin to define success in entirely different ways when they approach retirement. That "meaning replaces money." And of course finding just what will provide that meaning is not necessarily easy; you don't just walk away from work and into a meaningful and fulfilling retirement. It takes work to fashion your life after work, so to speak. And according to Byers it's creativity, and being adaptive, that will help determine if you'll find happiness in retirement.

After three years, I'm still finding my feet with this retirement thing. In many ways I miss the classroom. Not the marking. Not the stress of parent-teacher interviews, especially dealing with the parents of a struggling student. Nor the stress of trying to support teachers in my department who were dealing with difficult situations, inside and outside the classroom. I don't miss the tedium of those necessary, but boring, board-wide committee meetings. I do miss the excitement of working with the teachers in my department, my peeps as I called them. Getting excited about ideas, building a program we were proud of, sharing the joys and the stresses of day to day life in the classroom. And I miss the kids. The energy of the classroom. The whole performance thing. Because in many ways teaching is performing, holding an audience, getting them on your side. Kind of like stand-up comedy, some days.

I remember a conversation Hubby and I had two or three years before I retired. We were camping, and one night around the fire, sipping wine and waiting for supper to cook, I started talking about my impending retirement. I think I was almost grieving over the fact that my career was winding down. That something which was so integral to my identity might soon be done. Who would I be when I wasn't Ms. Burpee anymore? And I remember saying to Hubby..."I can't believe that it's almost the end." And he replied, "Why not look at it as a beginning, instead of an ending?"

And just like that. My perspective changed. That doesn't mean that all my anxiety disappeared, or that tears were not shed when I walked away from JMSS. Or that I didn't struggle to find my path. But it does mean that I started looking ahead, and not back. I am a change junky, after all. And retirement is one change that I certainly don't regret making. And what with skiing, and cycling, and walking, and skating, and canoeing, and travelling I haven't been sitting around much. Well, except for when I'm reading, or drawing.... or blogging.
Alpe D'Huez, France trip 2015
Many, many turns in the road on our trip to France last May.
Now back to Grace Coddington and her throw away comment about retirement, and sitting around. If you look at what the experts say about contemporary retirement, at what hybrid, and partial, and bridge retirement looks like. Not to mention those "encore" careers. It kind of looks as if, despite her protests, that retiring is exactly what Ms. Coddington is doing. But...sshhhhh...don't tell her I said that.

What about you, dear readers? Are you closing in on retirement? Does the prospect of life without work make you nervous? Or are you already there? Any advice or enlightenment you can share with the rest of us?

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Help. I've fallen into a Pants Rut. Skinny Cropped, Skinny Full-Length... Always Skinny.

You know, I think I'm stuck in a pants rut. Or a trousers rut, if you prefer. Every pair of pants I own are either skinny cropped, skinny ankle length, or skinny full length. With a dash of flared jeans, and even then only slight flares, almost boot cut. 

And so I've been considering... maybe... trying to shake things up a bit. I now have a board on Pinterest devoted entirely to pants. And I've been sitting on my exercise bike, perusing blogs and fashion websites on my i-pad for pictures of pants that are... pleasing to me. Like these. I love skinny cropped pants. With longer tops and flats, or heels, or oxfords. Yep, I sure do. 

great cropped pants looks
Looks from The Chic Street JournalDeath by Elocution, and  The Edit on Bloglovin'

And since the looks above are kind of hard to pull off in a Canadian winter. I pinned this one. I love the proportions here, the longer coat and the rolled cuff on the pants. I could do this in the winter. Wait a minute, I DO do this in the winter.

great look for skinny pants and ankle boots
And that, my friends, is the problem. 

Thursday, 4 February 2016

On Learning to Tell Your Inner Critic to Shut It.

I signed up for an art course in November, to start in January. I'd been looking for a course for a while. I didn't want to study painting. Or life-drawing. Or flower-arranging. So, I settled on an illustration course offered by the city of Ottawa. I bought my supplies the weekend before. I was excited. I was pumped. Then someone from the city called me a couple of hours before I had to leave for my first class. The course was cancelled; only one person had signed up. Me. At first I was disappointed. Then I began to think I might have dodged a bullet, so to speak. I mean, I hadn't even picked up a pencil, except to correct English papers in how long? Since... ah...1974... at least. 

I used to love art. You might even say I was passionate about it. Drawing in particular. All my projects in elementary school and many in high school were illustrated, the drawings matted with contrasting paper; even the lettering was usually drawn on construction paper and carefully cut out and pasted on elaborate covers that had taken longer to prepare than the rest of the assignment. Sigh. I loved school in those days. At home I was always sketching. I haunted the art supply department at Zeller's; imagine Zeller's even having an art supply department, but they did. I spent my money on sketch pads, charcoal, oil pastels, books on how to draw cartoons, how to draw children, how to understand and appreciate abstract art. I dreamed of doing something artistic when I grew up. Not necessarily being a painter, painting had never interested me much, but maybe a fashion designer, an illustrator, or a graphic artist. 

My early art work
Some of my early "art." Lots of girls in "outfits." 
This is some of the "art" I did in junior high. Girls, girls, girls, lots of girls in outfits. Some of them inspired by the Sears catalog, or by fashion lay-outs in Miss Chatelaine. A few portraits of historical figures like Pauline Johnson and Samuel de Champlain for school projects, and an attempt to render our Prime Minister when, as a twelve year old, I was deeply into Trudeau-mania. That's my step-brother in the bottom right. I tried to copy his grade seven school photo, not entirely successfully, if you know what he really looked like.  

Then in high school things changed.