A Little Explanation

11

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.

Photo via thehothands.org

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.

Advertisements

It Can Happen Here

14

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.

3952887305_c28d7bdb14

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

6

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.

Michelle-Obama-Inauguration-Jason-Wu

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.

Dubrovnik in October

5

I’m continuing to blog about past travels because Pete is steadfast in his refusal to travel with a baby.  This is my method for dealing with my travel bug.

We went to Croatia on our honeymoon in October of 2010.  We chose Croatia because:

a) I wanted to go to Europe

b) we wanted to go somewhere warmish

c) we wanted to go somewhere neither of us had been before.

Croatia was an easy decision.  I had always wanted to see Dubrovnik, and Pete had been to neighbouring Slovenia and really liked it.  We had a winner!

Croatia was an easy decision. Look at the gorgeousness.

We travelled the last week of October because I was teaching college at the time, and that was my Reading Week.  We spent a week there, and saw as much of the country as we could in that very short time.

After a three-hour layover in Vienna where we ate some chewy airport strudel and attempted to nap, we landed in Dubrovnik.

Airport strudel is never a good choice

It was an absolutely gorgeous day.  We had left snow behind in Canada and arrived to temperatures in the mid-twenties.  Just warm enough for short sleeves without being too hot.  Heavenly.

T-shirt weather! In late October!

We had made arrangements to stay in private accommodations we found through our Lonely Planet guidebook.  Our host, Marija, was warm and friendly, and took us to her home on the side of the hill overlooking the walled city.  Her house was similar to a B&B, but we had a separate entrance and we had the use of her gardenside outdoor kitchen.  Note to self: our next house must have an outdoor kitchen.

That first day we wandered (in our jet-lagged stupor) around the city and enjoyed some beer on a patio, which was outside Dubrovnik’s city walls, overlooking the Adriatic.

Beer on a patio overlooking the Adriatic

As we soaked up the sun and the view, we saw a cruise ship* begin to pass.  We patio-dwellers were snapping photos of it while the cruisers were snapping photos of us.

The Costa Serena sailing toward Italy

The next day, Pete and I woke up to much colder temperatures, cloudy skies, and drizzle.  Not a big deal, except that this weather stuck around for the rest of the trip.  Bye bye t-shirts!  Thanks, sister, for lending me your rain pants!

Stradun, Dubrovnik’s main street

Despite the weather, we really enjoyed exploring Dubrovnik.  What really struck me about the city is that although it is a picture-perfect walled city, it is a living city.  Often, cities this beautiful are full of tourists but few residents, due to the cost of living, or to inconvenience (think Venice).  But Dubrovnik is a vibrant place.  Walking along the city walls, you can see into apartments and rooftop terraces.  There are schools, playgrounds and soccer fields for the children.

Basketball court within Dubrovnik’s city walls

Dubrovnik’s vitality is all the more stunning considering how badly it was shelled during the civil war.

A photo displaying the damage Dubrovnik suffered during the civil war

I won’t linger too long on the topic of the civil war here, because it has been well covered elsewhere, but Pete and I did visit museums detailing the impact of the war.  I highly recommend War Photo Limited, a war photography museum in the old city.  It is curated by a former photojournalist and it is excellent.  It is a difficult museum to visit, but it is moving and will leave you impressed by the strength and resilience of the Croatian people.

View of the harbour from the city walls

After taking in the museums and historical sites, we spent time wandering around the city.  Although it was a cool evening, the city is absolutely breathtaking at night.  We got lost more than a few times in the labyrinthine alleys of the old town.

Our honeymoon was off to a lovely start.

Happy travels, everyone.

* I later realized that this ship was the Costa Serena, the sister ship of the ill-fated and now infamous Costa Concordia.

Two Tired Parents Go to a Lecture

0

Last night, Pete and I went to a lecture at the Craigleith Ski Club.  It was organized by the Georgian Triangle Lifelong Learning Institute.  The GTLLI offers courses to members (mostly retirees) wanting to expand their horizons, but once a year, they put on a special event like this one.  In 2011, when I was pregnant with C, we went to a lecture by former Canadian ambassador to the UN Paul Heinbecker (who was one of my professors in grad school) and we were, by far, the youngest people there.  Still, it was a fantastic lecture and there were very delicious snacks afterwards.

We were excited to get tickets to this year’s event.  This time, we were not the youngest people there (damn you, hip twenty-something couple!) but we felt like we might be the exhaustedest (not a real word).  You might argue that octogenarians are likely more tired than even the most frazzled new parents, but we were the first people rushing out of the ski club so that we could be in bed by 9:15.  So, I stand by my statement.

Last night’s lecture was by CBC journalist Brian Stewart, who was a foreign correspondent for decades and is perhaps best known for his coverage of the Ethiopian famine.  His CBC crew introduced the world to Birhan Woldu, the little girl who would become the face of the famine.

Birhan Woldu in 1984; Brian Stewart; Birhan Woldu in 2004.
Photos via Make Poverty History

Stewart’s lecture, Hope Out of Ruins: Human Endurance in an Age of Crises, was an optimistic take on the state of the world.  Stewart believes that despite what the media would have us believe, there has never been a period in human history with more stability, tolerance and peace than this one.  Coming from a man who has covered some of the most devastating catastrophes of the last several decades, it was an uplifting message.  Stewart was careful, however, to warn that our 24/7 news cycle and short attention spans are compromising our ability to understand our world.

For instance, we are more likely to think that crime rates are rising in this country, when they are, in fact, falling.  When the news media cover violent crimes, they don’t point out that such crimes are rare.  The fact that they are rare is the reason why they are being featured on the news in the first place.  An event is considered “newsworthy” when it is extraordinary.  I used to use this famous example when teaching my policing students about crime rates: if 1 airplane out of 10,000 leaving a particular airport crashes, the headline will not be “9,999 planes land safely.”  This is by no means a critique of the news media, it simply illustrates that we see the noteworthy, extraordinary events on the news.  The problem with this is that we become so accustomed to seeing these events nightly that we begin to think that they are a lot more commonplace than they are.  By every measure currently in use, crime rates have been steadily falling in Canada for several years.  Yet the high-profile shootings in Toronto and the horrific case of alleged murderer Luka Rocco Magnotta lead the public to believe we’re living in a more violent time.

Brian Stewart pointed out that we are facing a dilemma.  We are living in a relatively stable, peaceful time, but we are more pessimistic and cynical because of our constant exposure to negative media coverage of current events.

Stewart mentioned dozens of encouraging developments, the fact that dictatorships have fallen across most of Europe and much of South America, that all but one African country hold elections, and that human rights are increasingly respected while our tolerance for war has markedly diminished.  What to do about this cynicism was left for us to ponder.

It was a great evening; an intellectually stimulating date night.  And we were in bed by 9:30.

Being a Mother is Hard. Let’s Not Make it Harder: A Birthday Rant

5

My sister wrote a comment a few weeks ago in response to one of my recipe posts.  I just had to re-post it, because it’s spot-on.  A bit rambly, a bit ranty, but spot-on.  And she was entitled to rant that day, because it was her birthday.

I love The Office and I will use any excuse to post Dwight’s birthday sign.

To provide some context, I had been telling her about how much I had been struggling to find some balance in my life.  I’m raising a toddler, trying to keep a house clean, to cook homemade meals every night, to have quality time with my husband, to keep in touch with friends and family, to read books and exercise and practice my banjo and pay attention to politics (isn’t Rob Anders a dickhead?).  I can never manage to keep up with everything at once, and that often frustrates me.   She wrote me this great, insightful comment and it came at the perfect time.  She’s smart, that sister of mine.

Here it is:

I’m very impressed with all your home cooking and baking.  It makes me think, though, about the pressures that we put on ourselves as women.  Just a few generations ago women worked unbelievably hard to do physically demanding, never ending cleaning and cooking…and child care and clothes making and farm work and volunteer work and care for elders and church duties and some piece work or other work to bring in extra income.  As soon as modern equipment made that work a little easier, the cult of domesticity took hold and expectations soared, so the work load, and the guilt just shifted.  Then women took on work outside the home, which is fantastic in many ways, but then the “double shift” started.  Convenience foods became more common, not surprisingly.  But of course, whenever things get a little easier, the expectations increase again.  I am finding that many of my women friends are feeling the pressure to add even more time and effort to their daily work schedule to make home cooked everything.  It doesn’t matter if this is added to a work day outside the home or a work day at home with kids (and quite frankly I find it easier in many ways now that I’m at paid employment during the day rather than home every day).  I feel some guilt and embarrassment when I rely on convenience foods (not fast food but pre-made lasagnas and the like).  I’m very much in favour of better, home cooked food.  It’s appalling how many chemicals and salt and sugar are used in commercially prepared foods.  Still, it’s frustrating that each time things get a little easier for women, somehow the expectations on us increase and our work is just as time consuming and our “failures” just as guilt inducing.  Who places these expectations on us?  How can we get out from under these expectations and feelings of responsibility?  Both my husband and I work full time.  I know he doesn’t feel any sort of guilt or shame when our house is messy and has not even considered that home cooked is better let alone felt the pressure to work even harder to ensure we eat home cooked.  So, be it resolved that we should eat home cooked and let something else slide, like perfectly decorated and perfectly tidy houses.  We should definitely give up the appearance that all of this is effortless.

I know this isn’t my blog, but it’s my birthday and this is my rant.

She’s right.  I’ve been putting a tremendous amount of pressure on myself to be perfect at all of this, and it’s not necessary.  In fact, it’s counterproductive.  I was mulling this over today when a friend posted a link to an article about how difficult it can be to be a mother in our culture.  It’s a great read.

So instead of rushing around sweeping and mopping and scrubbing for the rest of C’s nap, I’m going to loaf and have some tea.  And when she wakes up, I’ll be a much happier mom for it.