What is a “Week-End”?

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I’m sure you’ve seen these e-cards popping up on your Facebook newsfeed periodically.  This one is particularly fitting for me.  I’m a stay-at-home parent to my eighteen-month-old, and weekends don’t really exist anymore.  The problem is that I still (after a year and a half) haven’t managed to absorb this new reality.

All week, I look forward to Friday.  I think, “Friday’s almost here!  Woooo!”  And then Friday arrives and Pete and I are both exhausted.  We put C to bed, have a beer, watch Marketplace (and The Fifth Estate if we’re staying up really late) and go to bed.

Before you feel too sorry for me, we sometimes have date nights.  We will often visit with friends during the day and we occasionally go away for the weekend.

But typically, weekends are very similar to weekdays around here.  They involve making meals, cleaning up after meals, dishes, laundry, grocery shopping, errands, and more laundry.  I’m starting to forget what a real (read: childless) weekend is like.  I’m a modern-day, non-fictional Dowager Countess of Grantham.

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Of course, the Dowager Countess doesn’t know what a weekend is because she doesn’t associate with anyone with a profession, but that’s neither here nor there.  I have something in common with the inimitable Maggie Smith.  Glass half-full!

I think the solution is going to be letting go of the concept of a weekend.  Weekends no longer exist.  They have been abolished by a small, semi-benevolent dictator.

The problem hasn’t been that I have bad weekends.  They just don’t live up to my old expectations of relaxation and rest.  In order to avoid the disappointment I feel every Sunday (when I’m more exhausted than when I started this weekend business on Friday) I have to make myself forget about the existence of the forty-hour work week.  If I just conceive of Saturday and Sunday as days when Pete happens to be around more, I think I’ll be able to enjoy those days for what they are now, rather than what I think they should be.

And besides, weekends are terribly middle-class, dear.

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Love and Mourning in Zagreb

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This will be the last post about our Croatian honeymoon in 2010.  I’m almost wistful about this.  It’s been so nice reliving the trip.

Pete and I had the good fortune of arriving in Croatia’s capital city, Zagreb, in time for All Souls’ Day.  We found out about this while waiting for a bus in Plitvice, when a park employee let us know that the next few days in the capital would likely be very busy due to the holiday.  This information would come in handy.

When we arrived in Zagreb we walked from the bus terminal to the train station (it’s a long story) and we were greeted by this amazing sign.

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Croats do not appreciate handguns or ice cream on their trains.  They are serious about this.

We spent a night in a hotel near Zagreb’s downtown core and the next morning we wandered into the city centre.  It was a stunning, sunny, 15-degree day.  This was such a relief after our chilly few days in Plitvice.

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We were told by the man in Plitvice that the Dolac fruit and vegetable market would be full of people buying flowers for their departed loved ones.  Everyone in Zagreb would then travel to Mirogoj cemetery, north of the city, to pay their respects together.

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We were also told that we should absolutely visit Mirogoj cemetery, which is often called the most beautiful in Europe, but that we should be prepared to walk, since the buses would be packed.  Again, invaluable advice.  There were long lineups for all the buses, which were all crammed full of people clutching flowers and candles.

So we walked there and we were not disappointed.  Mirogoj cemetery is breathtaking.

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It was also a much more celebratory atmosphere than what we had been expecting.  People were milling about, talking together, buying items to lay on gravestones and eating roasted chestnuts.  They were taking pictures, and even having picnics and lunches among the graves.

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In all, we spent three days exploring Zagreb.  Both of us were completely taken with it.  I’ve been to a lot of European capitals, and so has Pete.  Zagreb has a lot going for it.  It has a lot of what we were looking for in a European city without being enormous or completely crowded with tourists.

It has a gorgeous town square.

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It has a clean, efficient transit system.  In fact, tram rides within the city centre are free.

It has beautiful achitecture reminiscent of what you would find in Vienna.*

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It has an impressive art gallery, with a collection donated to the city by a very, very wealthy benefactor.

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A benefactor who had this incredibly creepy death mask made of himself.

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It has beautiful parks with equestrian statues.  There are a lot of really gorgeous green spaces that we really enjoyed, especially after being so cold for the previous few days.

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Zagreb also boasts St. Mark’s Church, a 13th century building with Zagreb’s coat of arms on its roof.

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And, nearby, there is the Museum of Broken Relationships.  A perfect place to visit on a honeymoon!

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Also, there are these impressive mutton chops.

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The world’s shortest funicular.

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Nikola Tesla.  I’m so sorry, Croatia, that I always thought Tesla was Czech.

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Europe’s tiniest bathroom.

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And last but not least, giant, delicious kebabs.

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So, Pete and I spent our last day soaking in these sights and wishing we had booked a longer honeymoon.  A week is definitely not enough time.

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We were thrilled to discover, after a few days of terrible food in the nearly-abandoned hotel we stayed at in Plitvice, a great little brew-pub in Zagreb’s old town.  If I could remember its name, I would share it with you.  But I can’t, for the life of me, remember what it was called.  I do know that it was on Tkalčićeva street, which is a very charming and chic part of town.  They had good food, at a very reasonable price, and their beer was so, so good.

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We ate there a few times, and made sure we sampled all their varieties of beer.  Just to be thorough.

On our last night, in a mostly empty restaurant near the airport, we drank mistletoe rakija and toasted to a wonderful trip.  If you ever get the chance to go to Croatia, then absolutely go.  But maybe skip the mistletoe rakija.

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*Please note: I know nothing about architecture.

A Little Explanation

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I’ve been writing some heavier posts lately.  Pete has been proofreading them for me and he thinks that I should explain where these posts have been coming from.

You see, I struggle with self-doubt and with the idea that my writing is banal.  When I was in second-year university, a professor wrote this scathing word on one of my papers and it has haunted me ever since.  Looking back, that paper was banal.  I phoned it in.  But for some reason, his critique stuck with me.  I seem to have applied the crushing label “banal” to all my writing ever since.

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So, when I felt I had been posting too many recipes or lists of books that I’ve read (boring!) I decided to write about politics and current events.  I am a political science grad after all, and minimal-fee-paying member of the Canadian Political Science Association (don’t tell them I’m no longer a student!)

Anyway, whenever Pete reads my heavier posts, he always says: “Well, I think it’s really interesting and well-written, but probably no one is going to read it.”  Which is likely true, with the exception of my mom and sister.  But that’s okay.  I’ll post another recipe shortly and drive traffic up.  And I’m hoping, after they’ve jotted down the ingredients, that they might stick around and read about One Billion Rising.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

It Can Happen Here

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I apologize that I’m publishing such a downer of a Valentine’s Day post, but I watched the video for One Billion Rising and felt compelled to comment on it.  But I’ll back up a bit.

I’ve been volunteering for a local women’s shelter, My Friend’s House.  I serve on the Board of Directors (and several sub-committees) and even though I’m new to this work, I’m finding it very fulfilling.  For one, it’s a great way to give back to my community.  Two, it’s a cause I really believe in.  We are doing good work.  And three, it is necessary work.  Unfortunately, there is a need for this shelter.  It is never empty.

I live in a lovely community.  It is on the shores of beautiful Georgian Bay.  There are ski resorts nearby and affluent people vacation here.  Even more affluent people retire here.

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A lot of people have a picture-perfect image of Collingwood in their minds, and that image does not include domestic violence.  When I joined the board, another new member expressed his initial surprise that there was such demand for our shelter and for the outreach services we provide to victims of abuse.  Collingwood just doesn’t seem like that kind of place.  Unfortunately, every place is “that kind of place.”

And, as Canadians learned this week, domestic violence can happen to any kind of person.  On February 7, 2013, Senator Patrick Brazeau was arrested for domestic assault and sexual assault.  His alleged victim has not been named due to a publication ban.  I will resist the urge to delve into a discussion of Senate reform (Could we start with term limits? Is that too much to ask?) and stick to my point.  Domestic violence is not something that happens to other types of people.  Patrick Brazeau’s arrest should remind us that this type of violence can, and does, take place within every stratum of society.

This brings me back to One Billion Rising, the awareness raising campaign organized by Eve Ensler.  One Billion Rising urges women to come together to fight gender-based violence.  The video  is slick, unnerving and moving.  My initial reaction was that women coming together and dancing doesn’t accomplish much, and that this video would likely go the way of Kony 2012.  But I’ve changed my mind, and I’m hoping that this movement, at the very least, inspires women and girls who may bristle at the word “feminist” to come together and support one another.

But I really hope that this campaign helps people realize that gender-based violence is not a women’s issue.  It’s a human rights issue.  And in the same way that it can happen anywhere, to anyone, it will take all of us coming together to stop it.

Michelle Obama and the role of First Lady

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Barack Obama’s second inauguration took place nearly a month ago, and I’ve been mulling over a blog post ever since.  It struck me at the time that the news media were focusing on elements of the event that were of no real importance.  That’s not surprising.  The 24/7 news cycle has reduced many newsworthy stories into tiny soundbites for rapid consumption.  But I was still disappointed to see that one of the topics the television media could not seem to stop discussing had to do with Michelle Obama’s appearance.  Michelle Obama, you see, now has bangs.

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This fascination is nothing new.  Television journalists, talk show hosts, and bloggers alike have been talking about Michelle Obama’s hair, her wardrobe and her toned arms for more than four years now.  And I’m certainly not going to argue that Michelle Obama isn’t beautiful, fashionable or fit.  She is all of those things.  But when we focus on Michelle Obama’s looks, what we are ignoring are her accomplishments.  We are not discussing her intellect.  And we are most definitely not discussing her role in U.S. politics.

This phenomenon is not unique to the current First Lady.  Hillary Clinton was routinely mocked for her pantsuits and hairbands during her husband’s time in office.  Even while serving as a profoundly effective, and well-respected, Secretary of State, her appearance was regularly subject to ridicule.

Although there are clearly many elements at play here, I would argue that part of the problem is the very role of First Lady.  The fact that there is an official position reserved for the (female) spouse of the President is part of what reduces Michelle Obama to her wardrobe or her hair.  Because a U.S. President’s wife is expected to fulfill so many official duties, she is required to abandon her career (Michelle Obama is a Harvard-educated lawyer) in order to support her husband in his presidential role.

In Canada, the wife of the Prime Minister is much less visible than the U.S. First Lady.  Part of this has to do with our constitutional monarchy: our governor-general (who represents the Queen) performs ceremonial duties that are often carried out by the U.S. President and First Lady in America.  The result is that the Prime Minister’s wife is not the most visible woman in Canadian politics.  In fact, Laureen Harper keeps a rather low profile.  Our long-serving former PM, Jean Chretien, had (and still has) a very private spouse.  Many Canadians had difficulty even coming up with Aline Chretien’s first name (that is, until she confronted an intruder at 24 Sussex while the PM slept).

My point is this: when the most visible woman in a country’s politics is the leader’s wife, her role as spouse (or mom-in-chief) inevitably overshadows her own professional accomplishments, her intellect, or her political potential.  And this makes it seem much more acceptable to discuss what she is wearing, rather than what she has to say.