Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Sisters in the Wilderness ... and well ... Sisters.

This is a reprise post from 2014:

Canadian writer and biographer Charlotte Gray wrote a fabulous book a few years ago called Sisters in the Wilderness. Gray's book is a double biography of iconic early Canadian writers and sisters Susanna Moodie and Catharine Parr Traill, authors of Roughing it in the Bush and The Backwoods of Canada respectively.


These names are touchstones for anyone who has studied Canadian Literature, and according to Gray, the sisters are frequently referenced or alluded to in tons of current Canadian fiction, including the works of Margaret Atwood and Carol Shields. The sisters are cultural icons in Canada because they came here determined to make a great success and, like most Canadian heroes, they had to settle for survival instead of triumph. And here I make a little bow to Margaret Atwood whose book Survival helped many, including me, to understand Canadian literary archetypes... including the difference between American literature where the hero triumphs and Canadian lit where he doesn't "get dead."




 I read the writing of Moodie and Parr Traill in university and have often thought about their work which chronicles how utterly unprepared they were for the reality of nineteenth century Canada ... which was, quite literally, the backwoods. Wilderness. And I've also wondered at times when portaging or paddling in Algonquin Park what it must have been like to emigrate here, have a family, carve out a meager living and know that it's likely that you will never, never again see the family and country you left behind.


nineteenth century cabin near Algonquin Park
The restored nineteenth century  ranger cabin at Basin Depot, near Algonquin Park. 
So, how comforting it must have been for the two sisters to have each other. Their families eventually lived on adjacent homesteads. The sisters apparently had a close relationship and they certainly had common values and interests, if not personalities. Sisters can come in handy like that, even if they don't live nearby.

What would we do without our sisters? I have two big sisters. They're very different from each other and my relationship with each is different from my relationship with the other.

One sister lives far away. We share a passion for books and all of our lives we have talked about what we are reading, what we've read, or plan to read. She used to tell me stories when I was little, her own original stories. I still remember some of them. I also remember the children's book she wrote when her own children were small. So on extended long distance phone calls we talk about books. Or we talk about writing. I taught creative writing all of  my teaching career; I loved teaching, but my writing class was my passion. My sister is a poet. Now that her children are grown, she has more time to devote to her passion, so she attends writing retreats and belongs to a writer's group. She has had the courage to put herself  "out there" and has had several poems published. I'm very proud of her work. And of her.

My sisters, my brother, a cousin, and me in 1958
1958. That's me with the enormous head, my two sisters, my older brother and a cousin who's the same age as me.
My other sister lives quite close to me. She is a successful business woman and pharmacist. We talk about work a lot. About being a "boss." About working with people and building and maintaining an effective team. I was a department head for the last half of my career and team building was key in doing my job effectively. We also talk about our need to do a job well and about lifelong learning and working to develop new skills even after you have been doing a job for years. My sister has never stopped trying to be better at her job. I really admire that. And her ability in the past few years to roll with the punches, and never lose her sense of humour. If we're not talking about work, we're planning a shopping trip. We love to shop, although I now have much more time for that than she does. We constantly talk about clothes. What's new this season. What I've bought. What she needs for a conference in Florida. We laugh (and moan) a lot when we shop... especially when bathing suit shopping. We complain how we really need to work on losing that little spare tire, and then we go for lunch. Ha.

What would I do without my sisters? I look to them for support and guidance; I need them to commiserate with or simply to share my joy or my suffering. I need them to laugh at my jokes, to listen to my whining and not to hang up on me when I am a pain.

My sisters and me, 1989
1989. My wedding day. Three sisters...with very large shoulder pads. It WAS the 80's after all.
And so you might be asking what does all this have to do with the book Sisters in the Wilderness. Well, truthfully, not a lot. I started talking about Charlotte Gray's book so I could explain the origin of the title of my blog. Sisters in the wilderness, facing the unimaginable dangers and privations of the 19th century Canadian bush... me in the wilderness on my very first canoe trip... facing the unimaginable (to me) privations of Algonquin Park. (What? There's no where to plug in my blow dryer? ) Could anyone be as unprepared for what faced them in the bush as Susanna Moodie and Catharine Parr Traill? Well, yea..... me. But I must reiterate, I do not wear my high heels in the bush. It's just a metaphor!

So thinking and  talking about Susanna Moodie and her sister Catharine Parr Traill lead me to my own sisters. And how much I value them. Although, truth be told, I don't think either of them would be much good to me in the bush. In my heart of hearts, I know they'd want to bring their blow dryers too.


What do your sisters mean to you?







Friday, June 24, 2016

There and Back Again Or My Almost Last Trip to Algonquin Park

I've been canoeing in Algonquin Park ever since I met my husband. You might even say we had our first date in a canoe...but that would be exaggerating. After all, our first date was in December.

But it was only a few months later that he managed to convince me to go canoe camping with him. I had never even been in a canoe before. So he gave me a few paddling lessons, told me what to pack, and what NOT to pack (i.e. my blow dryer!) and off we went.... for the May 24 long weekend, 1985. 

I won't say that it was an entirely enjoyable experience that first time. One long, seemingly interminable, paddle, one long portage (carrying all our gear and the canoe), another short paddle, a second portage and a final shortish paddle. Whew... it seemed to me that we would never reach the lake where we were camping. I was nervous the whole weekend... about bears in particular. And then on Saturday while we were out fishing...it snowed...albeit briefly...but still...SNOW?! 

My first fish in 1985, on Shirley Lake, Algonquin Park
My first fish in Algonquin, 1985

Over the years I've become a pretty good paddler. I've stopped worrying about how my hair looks and have become used to sleeping with a tiny pillow on a tiny air mattress. I'm rarely nervous, even at night. And I have grown to love the campfire, the sunsets, and the quiet. 

Still, it was not without trepidation that I contemplated our trip this year. I hadn't been into "the park" since 2010. My back had been playing up for the last few weeks. Our really wet spring guaranteed there would be bugs... lots of bugs. But it's our 25th anniversary this year... and we went to Booth Lake in Algonquin Park on our honeymoon. We had to go.

So we packed. Getting everything into three big packs and one small fishing bag is not easy. In the shot below, the tent, sleeping bags and air mattresses are already in the packs. All the rest of this stuff had to go in too....and we still had to leave room for the food. 


I've learned to travel light. Very light. That's all I packed, below... including my pillow, my towel and my cosmetic bag... filled mostly with bug repellent, after bite cream, sunscreen and muscle relaxants for my back.


Below is a shot of the access point...where we unload the truck, put everything into the canoe and head out. I don't have a picture of what it looked like on the day we set off this year. That's because it was raining. Hard. And I didn't want to get the camera wet. And I wasn't in a mood for picture taking; I was too busy struggling into my rain gear.


Shall Lake access point, Algonquin Park

We'd barely begun paddling, not even out of sight of the parking lot, when my hip and lower back began to throb. I shifted my position, knelt on the bottom of the canoe, and the pain eased. "I'll loosen up," I said to Hubby when he suggested we abort the trip. The rain eased up when we reached the portage an hour later. It takes another hour to carry our packs and canoe through the portage and I felt better to be up and walking, even if it was with a pack on my back. 

Then just as we had loaded up the canoe and pushed off ... the rain began again. And my back began to throb... and my ten year old Gortex rain jacket decided to give up the ghost. In minutes I was soaked through.  Another hour later we had reached our campsite, but it was raining too hard to set up. By now, tired, in pain and sooo wet, I began  to shiver. Misery... thy name is Sue. 

I leaned against the trunk of a big pine tree to keep out of the rain and Hubby rummaged through the packs. He found a rain poncho and pulled it over my head. Then from the fish bag among the lures he pulled out the fishing gloves...big rubber things with a liner that would help keep my hands warm. I could barely get them on, my hands were so wet. And then...under the big tree, out of the wind, the mosquitoes started to buzz around the only part of me showing, my face. I stood there leaning against that tree, shivering, back throbbing, trying to swat mosquitoes away... whimpering and murmuring to myself, over and over...."I am NEVER doing this again!" 

We came very close to turning around then. Hubby suggested that if we left we could be back at the truck by 6:00 and home by 9:00. I only had to make the call. I knew he would feel guilty if we stayed and I was hurting and miserable. But I would feel guilty if we turned around, went home after all the work to get ready and get up here...and my back made a miraculous recovery. And besides it was Hubby's birthday today. I sniffed and gritted my teeth and we stayed. 

And of course things got better. Our friends arrived a while later and helped set up a large tarp for shelter from the rain. Then the rain backed off. We put up the tent, scavenged for wood for a fire, and before it set the sun came out briefly.


View up Booth Lake toward the Opeongo River, Algonquin Park

Amazingly we even went for a swim. Then... in dry clothes having washed the bug repellent off my face and hands.... I stood in front of the fire and sipped a glass (i.e. plastic cup) of wine... ahhhhh. That was better. And later, the pain in my back eased; we ate supper, shared laughs with friends around the fire.... things were okay. Good, even. 



For the next three days we fished, swam, ate, told stories. Watched Chris, the son of Hubby's long time fishing buddy, try to learn, somewhat unsuccessfully, to flip a huge pancake like his dad does. Apparently it's all about the knee action. Don't ask; it's complicated.  

We tried each night to get a halfway decent shot of the huge red sun just as it slipped below the horizon.

Sunset over Booth Lake, in Algonquin Park
Sunset over Booth Lake
We howled at the wolves and waited for an answer. One night Hubby swore he heard them reply.... "That's some guy from Toronto who's camped on the big island," we teased.

Our last night we sat quietly in the darkness and listened to the loons call. I love that sound. Makes me feel lonesome and right at home all at the same time. Then the bugs came out in force and we beat a hasty retreat to our tents.

 Loon on Booth Lake, Algonquin Park

The day we left, I paddled out feeling okay. The wind was at our backs which was a bonus. Paddling into the wind is really strenuous and though you eventually get where you're going... it can feel utterly futile at times. 

The sun shone and I even got a couple of good pictures.


Water lilies on the Opeongo River between Kitty Lake and Farm Lake, Algonquin Park


Water lilies on the Opeongo River between Kitty Lake and Farm Lake, Algonquin Park

Still at the end of three hours of paddling and portaging, the sight of our old red truck was most welcome. We changed into the clean clothes that we had left in the truck and dreamed about the cheese burger we planned to order when we stopped for supper on the way back to Ottawa. 


Seriously though, you might ask... What was I thinking? The bugs, the pain, the rain, the dirt ..... the bears (well, there's always the chance of bears.) Really, why do I  continue to go on this trip?  And you know, I'm not sure. There are moments when I am utterly convinced that I will NEVER come back. Like that moment under the tree. In fact re-reading my trip journal, I notice that there has been one of those moments pretty much every trip... since 1985. Bugs, or leaking tents, or ....well, something. And I was pretty sure for a while last Sunday that this would be my very last trip to Algonquin Park.

But I've grown to love being out there... in the wilderness....most of the time. And when we get back home I can't describe my feeling of accomplishment. I DID this! Me.... a naturally sedentary, hair obsessed, high heel wearing... wuss... not to put too fine a point on it. And doing it has changed me... I believe. For the better.


My turn in the stern on our 2010 trip.
And besides, isn't paddling a canoe somehow an iconic Canadian thing? I'm thinking of Pierre Trudeau in a buckskin jacket paddling a birch bark canoe... or Margaret Atwood... or Tom Thompson. All quintessentially Canadian, all canoeists. And now ... me. 

Okay, now I really do have to wrap up this post. And go make a couple of phone calls ... for appointments... let's see... physio... pedicure....



Monday, June 20, 2016

Not Fashion Week... Not a Fashion Post

Hubby and I are loading up the truck in a couple of days. Packing the cooler, filling the book bag, tying the canoe on the truck, lacing up our sneakers, and heading up the Ottawa Valley for a week in the semi-wilderness. 

Our canoe laden, loaded truck, headed for Bonnechere Park

We're not canoeing into the real wilderness of Algonquin Park this trip. We'll be sleeping in our tent trailer, instead of on the ground. And we won't be portaging. But we will be paddling and fishing, biking and swimming, and lazing around with our books. A whole lot of that last one. 

And so I can assure you that this week will NOT go down in the annals of chic fashion. Most definitely not a fashionable week. And this is most definitely not a fashion post. 

This is as gussied up as I am likely to be all week. My Aritzia tank, flip flops, and either my Brooks Brothers walking shorts, or my black, drawstring, cotton pants from Green Tree Eco Fashion. These pants have been a workhorse in my summer wardrobe since 2014. 


Black tank from Aritzia and Brooks Brothers walking shorts        Black Wilfred Free tank from Aritzia, black cotton drawstring pants from Green Tree Eco Fashion

I'll wear one of these outfits one day over the course of the week when we drive into town for provisions. We usually take a day to meander along the back roads, indulge ourselves with a big, greasy breakfast in Barry's Bay, and stop on the way home at a lovely pottery and craft store in the village of Wilno. Wilno is Canada's oldest Polish settlement, and Hubby and I keep thinking we should drive back up the valley one Labour Day weekend for their annual community supper. Apparently they've been serving traditional Polish fare at this event for more than sixty years. 

Most of the time, though, I'll be in shorts and a tank top, or sweat pants and a tee shirt. Or my new bathing suit, which I finally bought last week. It's a black one-piece. I know, I know. So boring. 

 Miracle swimsuit from Brio, zippered cover-up, stretchy shorts

But I spent two hours in the dressing room at  Brio, a swimsuit specialty store, trying every high-neck, one-piece suit they had. Striped ones, paisley ones, red ones, blue ones... and they were all too long in the body, too big in the butt, or too something or other. I even became all tangled up in the complicated straps of one and had to call for help to extricate myself. I tried all of their tankinis and had no luck there either. Then the helpful and very patient salesgirl brought me this "Miraclesuit," I slipped it on, and, miracle of miracles, it looked ten times better than anything else I had tried. So black or not, I bought it. 

I'm not much of a cover-up person; I've owned lovely feminine sarongs and the like, and never worn them. That's probably because we do most of our swimming when we're camping or wilderness canoeing. So, I bought a black, zippered Gabar cover-up too. Much better to pull on over a wet bathing suit for cycling back to our campsite from the beach, or clambering back into the canoe... than something fluffy and delicate.

This is my new suit sans the cover-up. Do you like how I doctored the shot? I'm sixty, and I'm okay with that... mostly. But I do take a jaundiced view of publishing an un-doctored shot of me in my bathing suit. Ha. I know. Bad pun.


My new swimsuit from Brio

So here's what the well organized camper packs for a car camping trip, as opposed to a wilderness camping trip, when I would be taking much less. I'll add to this my loose, long-sleeved "bug shirt" to wear over a tank when we're canoeing or walking in the bush. My rain jacket. And a heavy sweatshirt for nights around the fire. A pair of flip flops and my sneakers. And a hat. C'est tout. 

What to pack for a camping trip

The other day when Frances from Materfamilias Writes and I had lunch we talked about blogging, naturally. And we laughed ruefully at that whole "how to title a blog post if you want to get noticed thing." You know..... the plethora of "Thirteen Ways to Do Whatever" kind of posts. 

So I toyed with the idea of naming this post "Five things You Can't Be Without on a Camping Trip." That list would look something like this:
1. Comfortable clothing you don't mind getting dirty, wet, or maybe even ruined.
2. Food and wine.
3. Books
4. Books
5. Books

Here's what I'm packing for reading material for both Hubby and me. Books, books, books... and a sketch pad... which I may or may not use. I know I should use it, but this is strictly a no "shoulds" trip.

Summer reading

And so we're off in a few days. I'm looking forward to lazing around the fire, reading my book, and riding my bike. Languidly paddling the canoe until I get the word that, even though we are on vacation, lily dipping is not appreciated by the guy in the stern. I'm looking forward to sipping wine while the man makes dinner... not that this will be much different from when we're at home. 

I'm also looking forward to not worrying about my hair; that's what hats are for. To not wearing make-up. To not giving a hoot about what I'm wearing. Because this week I'll be taking a break from fashion, and fashion posts. This week will most definitely be Not Fashion Week. And whatever I wear, it will be comfortable, casual, and capable of getting dirty, wet, or maybe even ruined. 

Well, except for my black Aritzia tank. I don't want to ruin that after all I went through to find it. Better go and un-pack that puppy. 






How about you guys? Any trips upcoming? Fashionable or otherwise?




P.S. Since we'll be camping and most certainly off-line for the next week... I've scheduled a couple of "reprise" posts from the early days of my blog. On the theme of summer, and canoeing, and such. If you haven't read them yet, hope you enjoy them. 




Linking with Thursday Favourite Things at Katherine's Corner

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Shame on Me

I love this photo; let's call it "Looking Out My Backdoor"... cue Creedence Clearwater Revival. I took the shot in early May as the new leaves were just beginning to unfurl. I was climbing the stairs from our basement after my workout, having pedalled my exercise bike, no doubt listening to a mystery novel on my i-pod. And even though the weather was cold and windy, the sky was blue, and the day promised to be gorgeous. It was Sunday. And I was anxious to have my lunch and then get stuck into the blog post I was writing. 

Sunny Sunday morning in early May
Looking out my back door
Sounds counter-intuitive doesn't it? Beautiful sunny, spring day, and I was excited to hunker down at my computer. If I had been facing a pile of essays that needed marking on a day like that I would have chaffed at the task. But blogging is something that I really enjoy. Researching posts or learning how to do something technical that I've never done. Writing the posts themselves. Finding an entry point into a subject, and making it link back to my own situation or experience. I love doing all of that. 

Blogging is like planning a new lesson for my classes when I was still teaching: finding a "gimmick" to introduce a topic, making it fun, and telling my own stories were all things I loved to do as a teacher. Especially the storytelling. And I'd always be rewarded by kids sharing their stories in return. I remember telling one class how honoured I was that they let me into their lives through their writing. I know that sounds cheesy, but it's true. We'd been working on the memoir writing unit, always my favorite. And kids entrusted me with details of their childhoods that weren't all trips to Disneyland: the death of grandparents, family break-ups, first loves, sometimes embarrassing and often sad stories. Reading their stuff was a privilege. And it was soooo difficult to evaluate. But let's not go there. My point is that once they had told their story and I had told them mine, we forged a connection that was wonderful. And that's kind of how I feel about blogging.

After the research and writing, after I've clicked "publish" on a post, I love sitting back and watching the comments come in. Finding out what readers have to say. And getting to know those who comment often, feeling as if I've developed a sense of who they are. And of course reading other blogs. Essentially learning how much I have in common with so many women out there. That is the coolest thing. 

Boaters on the Rideau River
The Rideau River from my back yard
Blogging has become an important part of my post-work life. But for months and months after I started writing my blog, I rarely talked about it with friends or family. Of course I called my mum, who has read every post I've written, when I was excited about a topic or reached a milestone with my stats..."Oh, Susie, that's wonderful." She's always been enthusiastic. And there's a few stalwart and supportive friends who were early readers, some of whom surprised me. But frequently if I mentioned my blog around people I know, an awkward silence followed. Like I had said something inappropriate. And so I usually followed up my comment with... "Well, it's just a bit of silliness I'm doing. It's not like it's anything deep or important. You know, just about fashion and books and stuff I'm interested in." I'd shrug and laugh. As if I were apologizing. Never mentioning the hours I spent reading up on a subject before I even started to write. Or how excited I was at the fact that my readership was growing. Or the comments on posts from really smart, interesting women from around the world. 

Shame on Me: The Rideau River at dawn.
Five-thirty AM on the river. It's a rare morning when I'm awake at this hour.
And you know, I didn't put a name to what I was feeling until I read the article Shame: An Explainer written by New York Magazine columnist Heather Havrilesky for the blog Man Repeller. I mean, I knew I was feeling embarrassed talking about my blog, but I didn't equate it with shame. Turns out that is exactly what I was feeling. For according to Oxford dictionary, shame is "humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior." Havrilesky says: "Shame isn't just a bad cognitive habit of the psyche-- your bad brain telling you that you're failing or fucking up or falling behind. Shame is an onboard navigational system, one that's intent on keeping you small and apologetic indefinitely." She goes on to say:"Suddenly I see how often I explain myself unnecessarily. How I apologize for everything I do." Oh yeah, that would be me. Have a look at the full article if you're interested; just be warned, the beginning has lots of profanity. 

So. Clap hands briskly here. No more explaining unnecessarily for me, folks. No more belittling, no more apologizing. I am done feeling foolish for how I choose to spend my time. Done like dinner.

Now back to the benefits of blogging. And the community of women of which I now feel a part. I've been reading and loving Frances' blog Materfamilias Writes for years. And I finally got to meet her in person. She's in town for the week, and yesterday we met for lunch at Play Food and Wine in Ottawa's Byward Market. We had a great lunch; the food at Play is always delicious. But the conversation. The conversation was better. I will admit I was a trifle giggly when I arrived, feeling a bit nervous. Like one of Frances' followers on Instagram said... it was a little like a blind date. Kind of strange meeting someone in person with whom I had had so many, many on-line conversations. About books, and fashion, and life. She looked fabulous in her black linen dress and two tone flats... very chic. And the hair. I must say, Frances has the best hair! We yakked up a storm. And then stood in the sun on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant... and then in the shade in the little square across the street... talking and talking. Here's the double selfie I took of us. I wonder, if there are two people in the shot does that make it a "selves-ie?"

Shame on Me: Frances of Materfamilias Writes and me
Two blogger buddies. 
And after we parted and I was driving home, I thought how ridiculous I've been to feel apologetic for writing a blog. If someone as smart and accomplished as Frances, someone with a PhD, who has raised four children, and travelled the world, and had a great career... writes a blog. Well, what the hell am I apologizing for? Shame on me for being so silly. 

So... no more of that, missy. "No more!" quoth the blogger... to misqouth Edgar Allen Poe. Ha. English teacher joke. 

Now, I must remember to find out from Frances what shade her Marc Jacobs lipstick is. I really like it. And mine is too pale, don't you think? 

Not that I'm apologizing for that






Linking up with Heather over at Forage Fashion.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

In Praise of Slow Fashion

Contrary to appearances, shopping is not my favourite activity in life. I know that many people, who think they know me better than they actually do, will gasp in shock when (and if) they read that sentence. I love clothes. I adore doing my preliminary research, the organizing of my wardrobe, the list-making. But then I should very much like to be able to conjure up, as if by magic, exactly the right item that I need and want for each identified niche in my closet. Ha. If only that were possible. 

For example, a couple of weeks ago I decided that I needed at least one more sleeveless top for summer. Either white or a neutral colour that would go with all my jeans and pants. Even black would do. I already have a gorgeous, gauzy, layered black tank from Rag and Bone that I bought last spring to take on our France trip. I wore it out for dinner a lot last summer, and even as part of a dressy outfit at Christmas. But I don't want to wear it for everyday dashing out to the library, or for lunch on a very hot day. Simply because I don't want to ruin it. 

I've never been much of a "fast fashion" shopper. I don't usually shop at "fast fashion" stores like Zara, H&M, or Forever Twenty-one. I hate shopping at Winners, even though most of my friends swear by it. I never find anything I like, which fits me properly. But when I retired I thought I should use some of my extra time, now that I'm not working, to expand my shopping horizons, look further afield and maybe save money. So, off I went two weeks ago. In search of a not too expensive, sleeveless top, that flattered my shape, and could be worn with a lot of things I already own. This is the knitted tank that I finally found at Aritzia. Finally. Found. But let me begin the story at the beginning. 

 Black Aritzia tank, black Artizia joggers, Michael Kors sandals

I started my search at Zara. They had a ton of sleeveless tops, many in white. I set aside the ones that were too short, too sheer, too girly, and the ones with makeup stains around the neck. Seriously, I counted five stained tops on the rack. Eventually, I drew this to the attention of the harassed-looking young clerk whose primary job, it seemed, was lugging tops out of the dressing rooms and putting them back on the rack. I gestured to one blouse, and said, "There's makeup on several of these." She sighed, and replied, "That's because people pull them over their heads and smear their foundation or lipstick on the shirt." "I realize that," I said, "but I'm not going to buy a top with makeup on it." I said this gently, even kind of apologetically. I wasn't complaining, but I was flummoxed that they would restock a stained item. She just sighed, and said they could probably find me another one in the back if I wanted one. As it happened all six tops I took to the dressing room looked terrible. Even at a fraction of the cost of my Rag and Bone tank, I knew they weren't worth the price. Not if I'd never wear them. I handed them to the clerk when I exited, glad that at least I hadn't smeared blush or lipstick on any of them, and moved on to the next store. I tried two more stores before I gave up, bought a packet of English Breakfast tea, and headed for home. I'd much rather be drinking tea and reading my book on the deck.

As I was driving home, I thought ruefully that "fast fashion" wasn't fast at all. Pretty slow in fact. What with having to trawl through racks and racks of cheap stuff I'd probably never wear, dragging five or six items into the dressing room, then when none of them fit, having to get dressed again and go in search of different styles or sizes myself because I couldn't find a salesperson to help. And in the end driving home empty handed anyway. So if "fast fashion" is slow and frustrating... and often futile... I guess you could say I'm all in favour of its antithesis. In fact, I think I've been an advocate of "slow fashion" all my life. I just didn't know it was a thing. 

Apparently "Slow Fashion" is a term coined in 2007 by Kate Fletcher of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion in the UK.  The supporters of "Slow Fashion" talk about quality and durability of products, conscious consumption, ethical production, and sustainability. Kate Fletcher says that fast fashion is "about greed, not speed." That fast fashion retailers make their money through sheer volume of sales, cheap prices, and the quick lead time from runway, through 'knock-off' design, to sales rack. And that quick turn-over and cheap prices are "only made possible by exploitation of labour and natural resources." Another article I read said that in 2013, fueled by the availability of cheap fashionable fashion, the average American purchased 70 items of clothing a year. Sheesh. Is it just me, or does that seem like a lot? 

But let's get back to my fast fashion adventure. I made two more trips before I finally found the black knit tank from Aritzia. It was more expensive than the ones I tried at Zara and at countless other stores the names of which I cannot recall. But I liked the split seams at the sides, the longer hem in the back, and the high neck. It looks good with all my jeans. And with these black crepe joggers which I bought at Aritzia last year. I like the tank and joggers with this grey cotton cardigan, bought last year from my favourite locally owned store Green Tree Eco Fashion, and my flat sandals.

Black Aritzia tank, black Artizia joggers, cardigan Green Tree Eco Fashion, Michael Kors sandals

The new tank is long enough to make me feel covered and comfortable in these green stretchy, skinny jeans, below, which I bought at TNT in Toronto in 2014. And I can pull on my trusty Helmet Lang jacket from last spring if I want. I'm throwing in the names of shops and dates to emphasize that, besides the black tank from Aritzia, nothing I have on is new this year.... except for the silver stud earrings in the first two photos which I bought to go with my new haircut. Not to get sidetracked, but I'm finding that I prefer small jewellry with my new curly hair, and so I've lately eschewed my big hoops which I used to live in. The small green dangling earrings that I have on below are vintage. From my mum's jewellry box. Thanks Mum. 

Black Aritzia tank, TNT skinny jeans, Helmet Lang jacket, Michael Kors sandals     Black Aritzia tank, TNT skinny jeans, Helmet Lang jacket, Michael Kors sandals

As has become my tendency when I write posts like this one, I've been chasing my tail for several days now. Reading way too many articles on slow fashion, fast fashion, ethical trade practices, exploitative labour practices, where to buy your clothes, where not to buy your clothes. It's all quite confusing. I just did a quick audit of my closet and found that out of the 36 items I checked, only 14 were made in Canada or the US. The rest were made for the most part in China, a couple in Vietnam, and one in India. All places where exploitative labour practices are legendary. Does that make me a bad shopper? A non-ethical shopper? According to some, it does. Then I read The Myth of the Ethical Shopper and felt a little better... but not much. 

So what does a basically ethical person, who loves clothes, do about this whole conundrum? Well, according to some sources we should pay attention to where our clothing is made, and if possible choose to buy brands which use "ethical manufacturing practices." Which is all well and good if you can figure out how to reliably identify those companies. Good luck with that. But slow fashion proponents also say you could buy less, buy local, or buy vintage. And learn how to take care of your clothes to make them last, and how to mend things. I'd add to that to buy quality pieces, if you can. Owning a good piece of clothing (no matter where it was made) is the best motivation for caring for it properly, in my books. 

It took me three trips to the mall, and several hours of effort to find that black tank at Aritzia. I don't know if Aritzia can be classified as a "fast fashion" store. They do carry some inexpensive items, but also others like brand name jeans that are quite pricey. I know that I have usually found their sales staff to be helpful and enthusiastic, and willing to do the running for more styles and sizes. Which I've never found at Zara. In my experience the poor girls at Zara are too busy restocking the racks. So I guess that my adventure in fast fashion has only gone to prove to me that I've been an advocate of slow fashion all along. I just didn't know it.

I also know that my frustrating fast fashion experience has made me value my buddy Liz, who works at Nordstrom, sooo much more. Because while I love clothes and fashion, I don't necessarily love shopping. Not all shopping. And especially not frustrating, futile shopping. But when I can swan into Nordstrom and find something like my new blue dress so easily that Liz and I even have time afterward to go for coffee. Well... what's not to love about that? 





Linking up this week with these great blogs: Visible Monday at Not Dead Yet Style, #IwillwearwhatIlike at Not Dressed as Lamb, Thursday Favourite Things at Katherine's Corner, Passion 4 Fashion at Rachel the Hat, Fun Fashion Friday at Fashion Should Be Fun, and Friday Finds at Forage Fashion.


Tuesday, June 7, 2016

That Humiliating Harbinger of Summer... Swim Suit Shopping


It's the end of June. A time of year that triggers so many memories for so many of us. School winding down, squirming in our seats in a hot classroom, trying hard to pay attention, and not stare out of the window. Remember those days? End of year ceremonies, wearing our best dresses to closing assemblies, prize giving and getting, cringing as we listened to the school band or a young vocalist hit a few wrong notes. And then the final day, report cards, waving to classmates as the bus pulled away.

And then the torture was over. And summer had begun.

Well, most of the torture was over. 

Except for one iconic activity that ushered in the season. The humiliating, exasperating, and often futile trip to town with my mum to buy a new bathing suit. I was always too tall, too skinny, too long in the legs and short in the body. And later around age 12 or 13 not developed enough to fill the top half... even a little. But I'd insist that I was too old to wear a child's suit which would be like announcing to all the world, heaven forbid, that I was still as flat as a pancake. Sigh. And so we would stand in the dressing room, with Mum pulling at the front to see if she could make some sort of alteration to the built-in, padded bra. And me whining..."Mu-um!" And then she'd try to pin it and I'd still whine, "Mu-um... it's too pointy." Gad. What an ordeal. For both of us. 

Summer Icon: Swim Suit Shopping
At the camp, age three. Grand Lake, New Brunswick.

I've never been a beach sort of person. That's me, in the shot above, in 1959, age three. We're at my aunt and uncle's camp at Grand Lake, in New Brunswick, where I grew up. My older sister is sitting beside me. She, at least, is in swimming attire. Me. I'm in overalls, socks, shoes, a coat, and a sun bonnet. That's because I frequently had a cold and a sore throat as a small child, until I had my tonsils out. And I guess my mum was worried I'd ... get a cold and a sore throat. According to my sister every time our family was close to being able to go somewhere, I'd get sick and we had to stay home. Maybe she exaggerated a bit... but my outfit here says maybe she was right.

Summer Icon: Swim Suit Shopping
On the beach or the next best thing to being there, we thought.

A few years later, tonsils looked after, I didn't get sick so often, and I did wear a bathing suit. But with my mum working full time by then, and raising four kids as a single parent, we didn't get to the beach much. As you can see in the shot above at age seven or so, I was still too young and too much of a tomboy to care what my bathing suit looked like. And with the garden hose to fill this old washtub, and our trusty bucket, my friend Marie and I enjoyed pretending we were at the beach. Or enjoyed getting wet, at least. 

I think I was around eleven when I began worrying that everyone else in the world (the world, mind you) was the epitome of Betty and Veronica in a swimsuit: curvaceous, chic, confident... well, everyone except moi. And if my grade eight class picture is anything to go by, I just needed to look around me to see that assumption was patently untrue. But it was all about perspective then, and of course being a teenager (or almost), I didn't have any. Perspective, I mean. Or curves.. or confidence. Hence the dressing room scene with my mum, me, and a baggy-arsed bathing suit, with an unfilled top half. So to speak. 

After a few years I didn't struggle so much with my confidence. Teaching helped there. My students used to goggle when I told them that I was so shy in high school that I never spoke willingly in class, and a kid gasped one day saying, "What happened to you?" They couldn't imagine me as that shy, self-conscious girl. Funny, eh?

Summer Icon: Swim Suit Shopping
On the beach in Saint Augustine Florida, 1987
This is me above, on a trip to Florida with my husband in 1987. Still not entirely confident having my picture taken in my swimsuit. Clearly, I was feeling a little silly as I posed. Finally found a bathing suit that fit, without Mum having to make alterations, though. 

My husband and I have been on lots of different beaches since then. From Florida, to Prince Edward Island, Algonquin Park, Tahiti, New Zealand, and Australia. We both love the ocean. Especially me. But we're neither of us beach people. Not exactly. At least not when it comes to lying on the beach. We're either in the water, or on our bikes riding to or away from the beach, or in the canoe. And mostly I don't worry about my bathing suit. You see it's not the swimming or the beach I dread. More the shopping for the attire to get me there.

For quite a few years in my twenties and thirties I didn't find bathing suit shopping quite as traumatic, as when I was a teenager. But now deep into my middle years, emphasis on the word 'middle,' I find I've come full circle. Or almost. I don't lack for confidence, at least not in my normal day-to-day life. But...gad! There's nothing like shopping for a bathing suit as a sixty year old to propel one back to one's pre-teen angst. 

As I said above, it's not exactly the beach experience that I dread. Just the shopping itself. Shopping for a swimsuit has become all over again... a special kind of hell. An ordeal that I face all on my own now because I certainly cannot subject my 89 year old mum to anymore of my whining. She did her bit. Now it's Hubby who hears the complaints. "How can one person be too skinny, and too fat all in the one day?" I asked last year when I came home from the mall empty handed. 

Swim suit shopping is most definitely not for the faint of heart. But it is, it seems, one iconic activity that heralds the beginning of summer. 

And this week, I'm girding my loins to begin the search once more. 

Sigh. 

Here we go again. 




Saturday, June 4, 2016

Best Dress-ed

Way back in March when I compiled my Spring Wish List, I longed for a new summer dress. An easy, simple, casual-ish dress that I could gussy up with heels, if I needed to, or wear with flats to lunch with friends. A dress suitable for my new, casual, post-work life. Definitely NOT a "wear to work" dress. I already had a couple of those that I was considering sending to the consignment store. 

And then in early May, I saw this little video on Matches Fashion.com. Designer Emilia Wickstead in conversation with Elizabeth Saltzman of Vanity Fair, about Wickstead's newest capsule collection. Of dresses. Have a listen. 



London-based, but New Zealand born and Milan raised, Wickstead has had the good fortune to dress Kate, The Duchess of Cambridge, in her designs. Remember that sweet green coat Kate wore on St. Patrick's Day a couple of years ago? No? Then, let this article bring you up to date on the lovely Ms. Wickstead. So nice to hear designers talking about well made clothes that cater to what women want to wear. After I watched the video, I went trolling for inspiration on the MatchesFashion.com website. And found these dresses. Easy. Casual-ish. Not too short. Not maxi length... which looks horrid on me. I'd wear any one of these dresses. You can find them all here, if you're interested.

 Emilia Wickstead dress found on Matchesfashion.com

Max Mara Studio dress found on Matchesfashion.com

Diane Von Furstenberg dress found on Matchesfashion.com

Dress by Self Portrait on Matchesfashion.com


And then suitably inspired, I started trolling the stores, for a summer dress that would suit me. I won't bore you with my frustrating experiences in some of Ottawa's "fast fashion" stores. I'm saving that for another post. Oh yea. I have quite a lot to say about that. 

For now, let's just say that I ended up at Nordstrom, where I should have headed straight away. And consulted with my buddy Liz. While I was twirling in front of the mirror in a lovely, lilac tunic dress from Vince, Liz disappeared, and reappeared in the door of the changing room with this navy, mesh "Luna" shift dress from Rag and Bone. "Sue. Try this one," she said. So I did. On the hanger it didn't look like much. But... oh my, I loved it the moment I slipped it on. It is, hands down, the best dress I've ever owned.

Rag and Bone Luna shift dress, Munro sandals.

Rag and Bone Luna shift dress, Munro sandals.

My new best dress is navy; I love navy. And it's comfy to wear. Loose without being too full. Short without being too short. It looks youthful... and since it hides all the bits that want hiding... totally age appropriate. And with the sportswear inspired, cotton mesh over the silk lining, it's just a teensy bit edgy. I love the black ribbon trim around the neck, sleeves, and hem, and the exposed zipper in back. And the length which allows me to wear a small heel, or flat sandals if I want. You can see some of the detail better in this shot below. 


My new best dress looks great with these Munro Nubuck sandals. I searched and searched for sandals with a small heel. And I almost didn't try these on because they looked so boring sitting on the shelf at the shoe store. But, like the dress, I loved them once I had them on. The sling-back strap fastens with velcro, which makes this hard-to-fit shopper very happy.  And in my new sandals and my new best dress, with my old Cole Haan bag which I have not been able to consign or toss because I love the shape and style, I feel like a million bucks. Maybe even a little bit lady-like. Just when I thought I'd abandoned my lady-like outfits forever. This will be perfect to wear to that retirement party I'm attending next week.

Rag and Bone Luna shift dress, Munro sandals, Cole Haan bag..

     

My new dress also looks good with flat sandals, and a more casual bag, for summer lunching on a patio somewhere. I may even try wearing white skinny jeans under it. And for travel, it will pack well, and won't wrinkle. It's the perfect dress for my post-work, retirement life. 

And speaking of retirement brings me to that new decade which I'm currently edging into... which brings me to that phrase I uttered a few paragraphs back. Age appropriate. Gasp. I know, I know... age appropriate is supposed to be a dirty word, or phrase, these days. Our age should not dictate what we wear or don't wear. I, too, hate all those articles which tell us what we're not supposed to wear after thirty, or forty... or sixty. But I must admit, my body and my face are changing, and most of that change is due to the passage of time... and gravity, of course. I can still look good in some things, and totally ridiculous in others. So while I won't be dictated to by some blog or magazine article as to what I cannot wear, I need to listen to my mirror and my gut. If something feels too young, it probably is. If an outfit, which still fits my body, feels as if it doesn't go with me, at age sixty, I won't feel comfortable in it. And I shouldn't wear it. 

But having said all that. This short dress, with the very trendy, sports inspired mesh... feels totally appropriate for me... at age sixty. As I said above... best dress I've ever owned. 

So. Tell me this... if I'm wearing a 'best dress' ... does that make me eligible for the "best dress-ed list?" Ha. 

It does in my house, folks!









So... any dress-y tales to tell, this week, dear readers? Age appropriate, or inappropriate, comments to make?     





Linking up this week with these great blogs: Visible Monday at Not Dead Yet Style, #IwillwearwhatIlike at Not Dressed as Lamb, Thursday Favourite Things at Katherine's Corner, Passion 4 Fashion at Rachel the Hat, Fun Fashion Friday at Fashion Should Be Fun, and Friday Finds at Forage Fashion.