Wednesday, September 17, 2014

When I was ten

From a prompt from my Writers' Group.

When I was ten I think I was an annoying child.  Ten is such an awkward age.   Too old to get away with temper tantrums, whining or other behaviour now deemed childish.  I was expected to know how to share, to let grownups go first, to remember my manners--the list went on.  I was old enough to recognize the look of disapproval or disappointment when I didn't quite measure up to maternal or paternal expectations.

But while I was too old to be a little kid and get away with very much, I was too young for many of the activities I longed to partake of.  I was too young to watch scary movies, I was too young to stay up until midnight on New Years Eve and I was definitely, in my mother's opinion, too young to go to the pre-teen dance at the local community centre.

I'm trying to remember if things improved when I turned eleven -- but I don't think so.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Now, where did I put . . .


I used to misplace my keys from time to time.  This never occurred at a convenient time; inevitably, I would be leaving for work and perhaps running late when the crisis would strike.  Everyone would have to get up and start the hunt for Mom's keys.  Yesterday's coat, the downstairs bathroom, the dogs' leash basket;  all were fair game.  Everyone, including myself, became heartily tired of  this exercise.

Perhaps there was a serious consequence at some point --   a missed interview or airplane flight.  I've been merciful and allowed myself to forget.   But at some point I decided that henceforth my keys would be placed in my purse immediately I entered the house no matter what domestic chaos presented itself at my entry or how laden down with groceries.    No excuses or else!   Somehow it has worked.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014



I can be moderately extravagant about some things (did someone mention travel?).   Somehow, it's worth it to me.   I suspect most of us have at least one weakness, something that brings us happiness, makes life worthwhile, helps us carry on . . . no, that would be love.   But there are those items, that you can buy with money. that make it easy for us to bring out our wallets.   It would be important to ensure there isn't more than one, or maybe two of these indulgences, wreaking havoc with our budgets.

Does anyone still buy magazines?   It used to be the practice of young women to buy these colourful missives of either fashion or home d├ęcor,  cut out those photographs that were most appealing and paste them in scrapbooks for future reference for an upcoming life in their own household.   I don't know if it was always the case but I understand now that even the editorial articles and photographic spreads are funded by the advertisers although always designed to appear objective.  Articles on the no make-up look never involved not using make-up; rather buying and using new products that promised the no make-up look.

Knowing my general proclivity for reading, a few magazines from a dentist's office were passed on to me.   A two page spread on what was termed footstool poufs caught my eye; seventeen in all of striking colour and size variation.   The prices were noteworthy.   For an item made of a modest amount of fabric and polyfill the prices ranged from $199. to $1474.   Even with my modest sewing talents I felt I could duplicate most of them for under $30.  I, too, could have 'a fun hit of pattern and colour.'

Now let me think about what to spend the difference on . . .

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Here's To the Pier

You're always there for me
On a sunny summer afternoon
When crowds jostle for space 
On the journey along your wooden planks.

On a brisk and blustery winter day
I grasp your railing -- just in case
And tread with care, aware of
The foaming surf below.

I may commence my perambulation
In low or troubled spirits
But steady progress calms my mind,
Ever present, ever constant -- the Pier

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Colonialism is alive and well in 2014

Do you want to feel like Violet Crawley (aka Maggie Smith)  the Dowager Countess of Grantham from Downton Abbey?  Cruise ship travel can be a voyage into the past as well as a journey to foreign destinations.   It was my daughter who provided the title for this post as she viewed the situation with fresh eyes.  The guests or cruise ship passengers departing Southampton, U.K. were 95% caucasian, mostly from Great Britain, as were the officers.

It was a little like a step back in time and culture:    We dressed for dinner, often in formal attire, we left our staterooms in the morning and found them tidied up upon our return.   At mealtimes, napkins were whisked off our tables and elegantly spread on our laps as a printed menu in an embossed leather folder was handed to us for our perusal. Our beds were turned down each evening and a wrapped chocolate placed on our pillow. 

Perambulating around the ship, we were greeted with 'Good morning, madam' from every staff member we passed and any request for information or direction was met with friendly instructions if not accompaniment to the correct location.    It was all surreal yet surprisingly we sank into our roles as though born to them.   Playing gracious lady of the manor seemed natural in the elegant surroundings of our ship, somehow vaguely modelled after the Titanic with the grand entrance staircase.

The cruise ship staff was mostly from the Philippines, some from India and other former British Commonwealth colonies;  this was, after all, a British cruise ship company.   We shared frequent smiles and jokes with the staff.   But were the workers still smiling when their long shift was over and they were back in their cabin, a much less luxurious cabin than mine? 

I feel disconcerted when I read that major cruise lines such as Carnival and Royal Caribbean are incorporated in foreign countries like Panama, the Bahamas, Bermuda and Liberia.   Their ships fly the flags of foreign nations and thus avoid all U.S. and British taxes, labour laws and safety regulations.

It is my understanding that the crew signs contracts of nine months on, three months back home.   We chatted with our waiter, a most capable and hardworking individual, and discovered he had a wife and five year old daughter at home in India whom he was looking forward to seeing next month when he was due for his break.   The assistant waiter, from the Philippines, had been working with the cruise line for many years. I know that many people from the Philippines come to Canada as nurses and nannies.   They come from a poor country that, despite a hardworking population, does not seem to be able to provide citizens a better standard of living.   Women leave their own families behind to come here to care for our children and elderly relatives and send home money.   Some eventually bring their families over but only after many years.   I understand that cruise ship jobs are coveted although the salaries and hours required would not be acceptable to North Americans or Europeans.  

In a way, cruise ships are a little like Disneyland for adults:   a fantasy world full of guilty pleasures.  

Or there's always the tour bus alternative.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Gift Books


Do you give books as gifts?  This post on The Passive Voice estimates that 9 million fewer  books were given as gifts in 2013 in the U.K.   Did you receive a  book as a gift last year?  In the past, I would buy books for my children to give as birthday presents when invited to a friend's birthday party.   This would inevitably be over their objections as they were of the firm belief that the latest plastic action hero figure was infinitely preferable.  I would expound on the virtues of books, not to mention their longevity but I have doubts as to my persuasive powers.   Usually, I would let them choose a second gift; children's books were $5 or less in those days.

Gift cards to large chain bookstores like Chapters are popular choices for thank you gifts and honorariums for guest speakers or workshop facilitators when a Starbucks card was deemed 'not enough'.  At least  recipients could make their own choice and these days large books stores have many non-book items for sale including cosmetics and towels.

I would hesitate to rely on the bestseller list in choosing a gift book.  Have a look at the current top ten and consider whether one would fit your gift giving objectives.   You might offend someone.   The recipient might wonder whether you were sending a subliminal message with your choice.

Many people have e-readers and might not be happy to receive a physical book after they spent several painful afternoons purging their collection.   A paperback book seems insubstantial somehow;  a throwaway item and hardcover books are usually more than $30.00.   If it is a reference book or something that will be re-read annually the money would be well spent but for a one-time read that may not even be finished, perhaps not.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Staying Connected

Nowadays, staying connected usually implies by means of cell phone, e-mail, Skype, Face Time, Facebook or some other invention of the Internet age.  Not so long ago handwritten letters were the norm, with telegrams reserved for emergencies.  No one wanted to get one of those.

When was the last time you wrote or received a handwritten letter from a friend or relative?  Can't remember?   Me neither.   That's probably why I'm not in a hurry to go to  our mailbox. Mostly bills.  But a letter, written a hundred or two hundred years ago, kept a tenuous link alive in an era when travel across oceans or continents took weeks or months.  I've read some interesting vignettes on this topic over the years that have stayed with me.   It was the custom in the past the write letters in a small horizontal script with lines closely spaced.   Sent infrequently, it was necessary to include as much information as possible to the loved one. After filling both sides of the page with text, the writer turned the paper and continued writing horizontally over the previous words.   Every scrap of space counted.

I've also read of another custom of considerably less volubility at a time when the recipient of the letter paid the postage, not the sender.   The impoverished settler would go to the local post office or greet the mail carrier at the  front door of the one room sod house.   Practice required that the addressee  be allowed to hold and look at the letter before deciding to pay the prescribed fee - one cent - to gain permanent possession.   In the tale, an  explanation was offered  for declining the letter:  The letter was from his sister as could be seen from the return address which also confirmed she was still living at the same location.   The fact that she was writing a letter in a clear hand showed that she was alive and well.   That was all her brother needed to know and in fact the envelope was empty.  I suppose a penny was a lot to pay.  

At least there was still a connection.