Monday, January 30, 2017

Travel Packing Part II ... Three Seasons in a Bag

Finally, finally... I've finished planning what to pack for our South America trip. I think. At least I'm pretty sure that I'm finished. As I said in my last post, this will be a complex trip. Six weeks on the road. Several different modes of transport: planes, trains, buses, and automobiles. Lots of activities, a few tours, some hiking, and walking, walking, walking. Two countries, three different climates. And according to my way of thinking, outfits suitable for three seasons. 

Research is done, bookings are done... now for the packing
Let me explain that last remark. Hubby researched the climate and average temperatures for all of our destinations. But I just can't wrap my head around how cool or hot 17°C actually is.  And it's especially hard when it's winter here, and anything above freezing seems warm. I learned this lesson when we travelled to Australia in 2003. Because I was packing in -20°C typical 'Ottawa in January' weather, the idea of +15° in Australia seemed heavenly, balmy, sandal weather even. Ha. After two days of cool, rainy 15° in Sydney, I finally gave up on the sandals, and wore my hiking boots out for dinner because I was sick to death of having cold feet. 

So for this trip, I tried comparing the average temperatures of our destinations with seasonal averages here. And came to the conclusion that it will be "summer" in Buenos Aires, with temperatures comparable to our July and August, "spring" in Patagonia, where it will feel like early May, and "fall" in Peru, where the highs and lows read like our October temperatures. Ok-ay. Now, that I can understand. Outfit wise I mean. When I added up the days and nights over the course of the trip, it turns out that roughly 1/3 of our time I will need summer duds, 1/3 of the time I'll be dressing for spring, and 1/3 of the time I'll need fall-ish outfits. And luckily there shouldn't be much of a difference between spring and fall, save for an added layer or two. Easy peasy. Ha. I say that now... but last week... Wait, I'm getting ahead of myself. I'll explain that later. For now, back to the planning.

My planning... a work in progress
Here's what I've decided to pack. The tops you can see laid out on our spare room bed, below. On the left, summer. Three tank tops, two nice ones (one black and one grey striped), and my old yellow tank for active wear. One gingham sleeveless blouse. My blue Tory Burch tunic for wearing out to dinner. My cool weather items are in the middle: a blue fleece, and two light T-necks (one pink and one black.) Plus, two short-sleeved tee shirts (one black and one white), good for layering. And on the right. A striped cotton sweater, and three long-sleeved tee shirts. Black/white striped, black, and periwinkle blue/white striped. All the long-sleeved tee shirts look good with either jeans or leggings. And can be layered under the blue fleece, or my fleece vest which I will be wearing on the plane. I'll also pack two pairs of jeans and one pair of black pants (my Aritzia crepe joggers.) Plus a pair of cotton, cargo pants for hiking. My black leggings I'll wear on the plane. I'll pack a pair of sandals, my Stan Smith Adidas, and wear my hiking boots to travel. Add to that my Hot Chillys long underwear, my Gortex jacket, rain pants, a toque and gloves, and a sun hat, and two scarves. 

 tops that I will pack for our trip to Peru and Argentina
The tops that made the final cut. 
So with the list finished. I began to check outfit combinations today. This is what I will wear hiking.  A layering tee shirt, or one of my turtlenecks depending on the temperatures. A fleece for warmth. My Gortex jacket. These old black cargo pants and, if needed, my ski underwear bottoms. And my new Salomon hiking boots, bought in November. Well, I call them boots, but they're "hiking shoes", apparently. Recommended by Carol in a comment on a post last fall. Thanks, Carol. I've test driven them a few times and they are very comfortable, and so much lighter than my old boots. They feel like running shoes. I'll have my toque and a light pair of gloves stuffed into my pockets. And my rain pants in the back pack... which Hubby will carry... I should add. Ha. Like you ever doubted that.

Salomon hiking boots, Gap short sleeved tee, Eddie Bauer fleece, MEC Gortex jacket, black cotton cargo pants

For those days when we're not hiking, but may be driving, catching buses, taking boat rides, or just walking about town, I'll need comfy outfits that will take me through spring and fall-ish weather. Outfits like this one: jeans, my new periwinkle blue and white striped long-sleeved tee from Massimo Dutti (bought last week), my blue fleece, and my Stan Smith sneakers. Or this one: jeans, striped sweater (also from Massimo Dutti), my fleece vest, and my hiking boots.

Massimo Dutti tee shirt, Eddie Bauer fleece, Paige high rise jeans,Stan Smith Adidas     Massimo Dutti sweater, Paige high rise jeans, Salomon hiking boots, Columbia fleece vest

And for warmer temperatures, maybe this combination: jeans, sandals, and a light long-sleeved tee, again from Massimo Dutti. This black tee is much nicer that it looks here. It's really light and most importantly... not of the clingy, mid-riff adhering variety. I plan to wear jeans and one of my tee shirts most days. With or without a jacket. With sandals or my Stan Smith sneakers.

Massimo Dutti black tee, Citizens of Humanity jeans, Michael Kors sandals

For hot weather evenings, in Buenos Aires or Lima, I'll wear my Vince leggings and my black Aritzia tank, or my crepe joggers and my grey striped tank. I can always use a light scarf as a wrap if I feel chilly, or bring a light jacket. I'll also pack my blue Tory Burch tunic to wear with either the leggings or joggers. Obviously nothing I'm bringing is very dressy, but for even more casual evenings I'll just swap out the black pants for jeans. 

Aritzia black tank, Vince leggings, Michael Kors sandals          Aritzia grey striped tank, Aritzia black crepe joggers, Michael Kors sandals

Yep. It all seemed so simple when I finished making my lists last week. Three tanks, a few long-sleeved tee shirts, two short-sleeved tees. Throw in some jeans, my leggings, a pair of dressier pants. My hiking pants. Easy peasy. Right? 

All I needed were a couple of new long-sleeved tee shirts. Relatively inexpensive tee shirts that could be worn alone with jeans, if need be, or layered under jackets or a fleece. Tee shirts which were not skin tight. Which did not cling to my middle, but which fell away from the body much like the ALC tee that I bought to take to France in 2015. I tried Aritzia. I tried J Crew. I tried Gap. I tried everywhere. I finally found what I was looking for at Massimo Dutti, where I bought two long-sleeved tees, and a light sweater. Success, finally. 

Then I discovered that my hiking pants from our Costa Rica trip in 2013 were NOT destined to make it into the suitcase. They are, I'm sad to admit, too tight. Actually, they were a bit too tight when I bought them. And that was after looking, and looking. And freaking looking. The sales clerk at Mountain Equipment Co-op finally agreed with me that my body is not made for women's sporting clothes. I tried to tell her that from the first, but she was determined to prove me wrong. No chance. My legs are too long, my butt too flat, my waist too big, and I don't have hips to speak of. Every pair of pants that fit in the waist, looked like a tent on me, and were often too short in the legs at the same time. So, too big and too small in one go. I eventually bought a pair of men's trekking pants, that day. The only way I could get a long enough leg. And now they don't fit me anymore. But, I am not up for a repeat of that shopping adventure, folks. So, I dug out my old cotton cargo pants which will have to suffice. If it's warm they'll be great, and I can wear them over my long underwear if I need to, and they will wash and dry quickly. And I don't care what they look like. Really... I don't. 

Sigh. I don't know why it always has to be so hard to find decent, well-fitting, flattering clothing. Can't sporty clothing manufacturers make at least one style of pant that suits women with long legs and no butt? Must tee shirts be made so small, and so clingy? Sigh. I think I must be suffering from planning fatigue. Or outfit trying on fatigue. I'm not usually this cranky about shopping. Or so easily frustrated over trying on outfits.

Ahhhh... this is what I felt like earlier this afternoon. My version of Munch's "The Scream." Except I'm calling it... "I simply can not try on one more outfit!" 

Tory Burch tunic, black Vince leggings, Michael Kors sandals
No more trying on... no more! 
So that's pretty much it for my packing, folks. As you can see I ran out of steam before I could try on all the possible outfit combinations. But you get the idea. Three seasons, one suitcase. Now I just have to see how everything fits into that suitcase.

Later this week, I will lay out all of Hubby's clothes. All three things. Ha. Just kidding. I may have to go tee shirt shopping for him. Which will take all of five minutes. Gad. Men have it so easy! 

We've still lots of things to do before we leave. House-sitting arrangements. Finalizing all of our bookings. Trial packing. And repacking. Final hair appointment... for the "trip cut."  

I'm starting to get excited now. 

So how about you, my friends? What do you find most frustrating about planning and packing for a big trip? Ever suffer from outfit trying on fatigue?

Linking up this week with: Visible Monday#IwillwearwhatIlikeWhat I WoreStyle Me WednesdayThursday Favourite ThingsPassion 4 FashionFun Fashion FridayFabulous Friday and Saturday Share Link-Up.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Anger Management... Had a Good Rant Lately?

Seems we're all a little bit angry these days. At someone. Or something. And many of us are ranters. I never used to be much of a ranter. Sure I whined and complained sometimes. Vented even. But ranting, not so much.

We seem to think that expressing our anger, venting, or even ranting, is good. That it helps us to let off steam, avoid blowing our tops, so to speak. But psychologists would disagree. According to several articles I read in Psychology Today, venting or ranting can actually make you more angry. Especially if it's reinforced by your audience. If your rant doesn't change the situation that has made you angry, or prevent it happening again, then it's only minimally useful. We all want to be heard; that's just human nature. But Brad Waters says in this article that ranting can "feel intoxicating, when in fact it's usually toxic." For ourselves and those around us.

Cute donkey and me, near Verdun, France, 2015
Be careful that ranting doesn't make you look like an ass. 

Most of us have known co-workers who rant regularly, as if they're the only ones bothered by certain situations, as if it's their right to ruin your heretofore pretty darned good day with their negativity. I've worked with colleagues who were wonderful teachers, but who, when stress broke down their defenses, could trash everyone else's day with their constant venting. In my role as head, I sometimes had to take people aside and counsel them to stick a sock in it (of course I didn't use those exact words) because their release of stress was creating stress for everyone around them. That's one of the downsides of ranting. The collateral damage venting your anger can create for innocent bystanders.

I live with a ranter. Hubby has strong political opinions, which he expresses freely. Sometimes to me, or to friends, often to the television. And in his defense, they're not just empty rants; he does know what he's talking about. His degree in history, modern diplomatic history in particular, gives him a much better grounding than many to comment on political events. Better than me, anyway. I too have strong political opinions. But I usually save my ranting for those things I feel I know more about, like education, or books. 

When I was still teaching, sometimes I'd be frustrated by the educational bureaucracy, or by changes I didn't agree with, or angry at what I felt were unfair demands on my time and the time of the already hard-working teachers in my department... and I'd vent. And even occasionally rant. I tried to keep my emotion at school. I often used one trusted colleague, whom I had known for years, as my sounding board. She'd usually still be in the teacher workroom at the end of the day after everyone else had gone, and when I returned from a stressful meeting, I'd ask her if I could rant at her a little and get it out of my system before I went home. She'd always sit down, fold her hands and say, "Fire away." Sometimes that worked. Sometimes not. On the "not" days, I'd drive home, walk in the door, and Hubby would take one look at my face and say, "What's wrong? Out with it." Unfortunately, I'm one of those people who is absolutely unable to hide my feelings. I try, I really do, but my face always tattles on me. So I'd blab it all out again, despite my best efforts to NOT do so. And because he's a retired teacher and knew the frustrations I was feeling, Hubby would get worked up as well. The irony is, when I was done I always felt better, but then he'd be upset. I remember one night, he said, "I'll be glad when you retire, Suz. Your job is too stressful for me." I knew he meant that as a joke. But still, it was a signal to me that venting my frustrations could have negative effects on those around me. 

Sandra Shamus interviewed my Tom Power on CBC radio's "Q."
On "Q",  Sandra Shamus talks about being a fifty-something, Canadian-Lebanese, post-menopausal woman. 

Still, ranting can feel great sometimes. And sometimes listening to others rant, especially if it's funny, can be cathartic. Yesterday, I listened to Tom Power interview Canadian comedian Sandra Shamus on the CBC radio program "Q."  I've talked about Sandra on the blog before, and her jokes about menopause and nouns. (By the way, if you click on that link I should warn you the language is pretty spicy.) Sandra has a new one-woman show in Toronto these days called The Big 'What Now?' She'll be sixty soon, and in the interview yesterday she talked about what comes next for her... and indeed for all of us women of a certain age. About the expectations associated with being a girl, and then a woman, and then an aging woman. And about how menopause helped her "get her anger back." She said menopause was, for her, "like a shot of vitamin B12." She felt freed, energized, and as she says, "a bit rant-y." But, even as she explained her exhilaration at feeling and expressing anger, she qualified her statement by saying that we should "be judicious" in where and how we vent. 

That interview resonated with me because I found that aging, and most especially menopause, has made me feel freer to express my opinions. And vent my anger. Which can sometimes be good. And sometimes, not so good. Hot flashes always had the added effect of raising my temper, as well as my temperature. I mean, I didn't even know I had a temper until I turned fifty. Eventually, I started announcing at work, to my colleagues and members of my department, that I was having a very hot-flashy day and they should beware. I remember once saying, "Today would NOT be a good day to ask me any questions to which you already know the answer." Sometimes I made it jokier than that; I might have once or twice mentioned the prospect of someone losing an arm. I know. That's terrible, right? I'm cringing even as I write this. 

Thankfully the fraught days were not that frequent. And when rant-worthy changes or new demands came down the pipe, my department would vent, and then we'd meet and decide how to tackle the issue as a team. Thus making us all feel less isolated, and not so helpless in the face of the educational bureaucracy. Not that we could stop the changes, just that facing them together and developing "our" way of embracing them helped us cope. At least I think it did. I hope it did. 

Action should always follow venting, don't you think? Maybe that's why so many, many women felt exhilarated by the Women's March last weekend. Venting on Friday, marching on Saturday. I felt exhilarated, and I didn't even march. I cheered on friends who marched in Ottawa and elsewhere. And clapped at all the shots from around the world. And imagined how wonderful it must have felt to actually be there. And I noted that amidst all the exhilaration, speakers and organizers reminded protesters to be mindful of, as Sandra Shamus says, "The big 'what now'?" Sound advice, I think.

By the way, I clapped hardest at the shot below taken by Toronto photographer Christina Zaza. Two Canadian icons at the Women's March in Toronto. That's Adrienne Clarkson, on the left, one-time child refugee, longtime journalist and broadcaster, author, and Governor-General of Canada from 1999-2005. And of course, the pink-hatted woman is Margaret Atwood. Feminist, writer, and all-round brilliant woman. Sigh. I love her. 

Christine Zaza photo, Anne de Haas Photography

I didn't intend to get into feminist politics when I started writing this post. I was initially concerned over all the divisive ranting going on these days, all the abusive comments on social media. And the effect all that anger can have on those who read it, and even those who promulgate it. And I think that a couple of Brad Water's points in that article I mentioned from Psychology Today are relevant here. He says to wait before you rant. I guess that's the equivalent of NOT punching the "send" or "publish" button right away. And he also says to write about your anger, not just express it verbally. And by writing he doesn't mean in fewer than 140 characters. Ha. He means to practice "expressive writing" which this article from Harvard Medical School says can "ease stress and trauma," and which has even been proven in some studies to help chronic pain sufferers by giving them a vehicle to express and asses their anger. 

So, I guess, for us "blurters," menopausal or otherwise, expressive writing can help us to better understand the cause of, and possible solutions, for our anger. And maybe, just maybe, help us to figure out what we can do now, how we can channel all that fiery energy into positive action... once we're all vented and ranted out. 

So to speak. 

P.S. This morning, I contacted Christina Zaza on Facebook, where I first saw her photo, to ask if I could use it in this post. She said yes (thanks Christina) and would I mind including a link to the Toronto Planned Parenthood site. I don't mind at all. She also said that if perhaps her photo inspired a few people to support women's causes, that would be a good thing. Now, isn't that a great response? 

Now it's your turn, my friends. Any venting you want to get off your chest? Any expressive writing you want to... express? Like my friend Beth... I'm sitting down with my hands folded..."Fire away." 

Linking up with Thursday Favourite Things Blog Hop at Katherine's Corner, Fabulous Friday at Pocketful of Polkadots, and Saturday Share Link-up at Not Dressed As Lamb

Friday, January 20, 2017

Planning a Capsule Travel Wardrobe

I have kicked into full blown planning mode this week. Our trip to South America looms. And I am researching climate details and sketching out lists of activities with an eye to planning my trip wardrobe. We haven't been on an adventure this extensive for years. Three and a half weeks in Argentina, and two and a half weeks in Peru. We'll be in big cities some of the time, tiny villages some of the time, and everything in between the rest of the time. We'll visit bustling Buenos Aires. See Machu Picchu and Lake Titikaka. Hike in Patagonia, surrounded by mountains and glaciers. And drive a scenic, narrow, and often unpaved section of the famous Ruta 40, in northern Salta Province. So I will need a flexible and... ah... diverse wardrobe. Ha. You think?

My pile of trip journals and little books of lists.
Checking out my lists from previous trips, and perusing old photos to see what I actually wore.
I've been checking out packing lists from previous trips. Like the one below from our trip to Costa Rica in 2013. As you can see, I was just as concerned about planning a first aid kit as I was about what to wear. We always carry a travel first aid kit, especially when we go camping, particularly canoe camping when we'll be in the bush far from... well... far from anything at all, actually. For our Costa Rica first aid kit, I used a great resource on the Government of Canada website.

 Planning lists for Costa Rica trip, 2013
Planning lists for Costa Rica 2013
Costa Rica was a super easy trip to plan and pack. Only two weeks. One week we spent mostly around the pool, or on a beach or a boat. And one week on the road travelling into the interior for some hiking in the cloud forest. So... swimming attire, tanks and tees, shorts, jeans, a few pieces that could double as nice-ish dinner outfits, and one hot weather hiking outfit. Most items were things I didn't mind getting sweaty or wet. What did I learn from packing for that trip? Always take my ski underwear, and a light fleece. We had one very cool night in a cabin in Santa Elena when I was happy to layer my long underwear under my sleeping attire and my fleece on top. 

enroute from Quepos Costa Rica to Monteverde
On the road between Quepos and Monteverde, Costa Rica 2013
Three weeks in Florida in 2014 and four in France in 2015 were also relatively easy as far as planning and packing went. Well, except for my initial bout of worry about what to wear in Paris. But for the most part, I wore what I would wear at home. Jeans, tees, jackets, sneakers and sandals. Most of the walking on both these trips was in cities or towns, so I left my hiking boots at home and packed two pairs of sneakers. One pair that looked cool and one that was more fitness oriented. And even though we experienced a day of cold rain and sleet in Paris, and some hot days in Provence, I could just layer up or peel off layers, and change my sneakers for sandals as warranted. 

packing lists for Florida 2014, and France 2015
Planning lists for Florida 2014, and France 2015
I checked out my France packing list against our trip pictures to see what I actually wore and what I didn't. Clearly my cropped jeans, striped long-sleeved tee, and my Stan Smith Adidas were what I reached for most often. This black Helmut Lang jacket was a great item. I wore it with jeans and sneakers walking around Paris, and out for dinner everywhere with white jeans and loafers. Similarly my red Columbia windbreaker came in very handy. I wore it every day in the north when we were touring WWI memorials, and also in sunny Provence when, even though it was warm, it was verrry windy. Next time, I'll leave my denim jacket at home. I wore it, but only because I had packed it and felt I should. It's bulky to pack and, although it provided an extra layer on cool days, a fleece would have been a more comfortable and more flexible option. Two things I learned about packing for this trip. What looks good, I'll wear... and vice versa. And always pack a scarf.

on the bridge near Notre Dame in Paris  on the beach at Saintes Maries-de-la-Mer, Provence
 Paris near Notre Dame, and the beach at Saintes Maries-de-la-Mer, Provence 2015

Many of the trips we take regularly almost seem to pack themselves. Like our semi-annual trip to L'Anse-Saint-Jean in Quebec, or our summer camping trips. I have a check list in my head and certain items I always reach for: cycling shorts, hiking boots, jeans, one decent outfit for a dinner out. Plus old shorts and a "bug shirt" for fishing and canoeing. There is a certain ease about packing for trips you've done before.

That's exactly what Rosie, who reads this blog, told me in an e-mail recently. That her "Swiss wardrobe" as she calls it, Switzerland is a frequent destination for her family, "has evolved into an easy capsule wardrobe without any intentional planning." She says she originally based the colour scheme around the colours in her favourite hat, and now most things she packs, "ski trousers, fleece, jacket, a few tees and cashmere sweaters," are black, grey, or a shade of mauve or plum. Throw in a "pair of skinny jeans, smarter black jeans, a couple of scarves and I'm sorted," she says. I asked Rosie to send me a shot of herself in her Swiss togs. Looking good Rosie. You are clearly having an awesome hair day in this shot.

mauve and white striped tee and plum cashmere sweater
Rosie in Switzerland in her mauve and white tee, and plum cashmere sweater.
Our South America trip, at six weeks, is going to be longer and more complex than the trips we've taken in recent years. More along the lines of our New Zealand-Australia trips in 2003 and 2008. Both of these adventures lasted three months. Well, the second trip was cut short because of the unexpected death of my step-father, but let's not go there now. And both trips took us from hiking in the mountains of New Zealand's south island, to sweating on the beaches of northern Australia. From activities like hiking around Uluru and King's Canyon in Australia's "red centre", to walking on Fox Glacier in New Zealand. From fishing to shopping to dining out. And that wide variety of activity, not to mention weather and temperature, required a lot of wardrobe planning for me. 

Leaning against a gorgeous gum tree in Numurakah,
 Numurakah, in Victoria, Australia 2003
I learned some good lessons from the 2003 trip. The first is that Hubby needs far fewer clothes than I originally thought. The second is to stop arguing with him over why he never wears half of his stuff. And to pack less for him, which of course, leaves more room for my stuff. Win, win. Another lesson I learned is to always bring a light toque and gloves. For our day-long trek of the Tongariro Crossing, below, I could have used real gloves and a hat that didn't fly off in the wind. It was bloody cold up there. Another lesson I learned is that if I don't love an outfit leave it at home. I bought light-weight trekking trousers specifically for the 2003 trip, a tan pair and a black pair. They were good for hiking, but I hated them. Which leads me to my last lesson: if I don't take fashion advice from Hubby at home, why oh why, would I take it from him when we travel? I bought the pants at his suggestion. And, as you can see in the shot above, spent most of the trip trying to cover them up with a jacket or sweater tied around my waist.

Tongariro Crossing, New Zealand,
Overlooking Emerald Lakes while doing the "Tongariro Crossing" in New Zealand 2003
Besides relying on my own packing experiences, I trawled the web looking for sites which feature packing advice for travellers to South America. This one is good for trekking, especially if you're camping, which we're not, phew, wipes brow with relief. This one has lots of information, and packing lists for all kinds of destinations, albeit geared to travellers a bit younger than moi. Okay, much younger. And this one, geared specifically for Argentina, is pretty useful too. Still, I find "packing lists" and "what to pack" advice interesting to read, but not that helpful when it comes time to pack my own bag. I never find one list that fits my exact needs. They usually apply to a shorter trip, with more dressy outfits than I need, and with much less diversity of activities. But, they're useful as a guideline. Especially if written by someone who's actually been on the trip. The biggest problem about these generic lists is that they don't conform to my closet. I need to be able to parlay what I already own into a decent trip wardrobe, with a few new pieces bought specifically for my destination. 

So, let's recap. South America trip wardrobe planning so far. I've done my research. I've taken note of the lessons I've learned over the years on previous trips. I've made a list of activities for which I will need outfits. And the possible temperatures and weather we will encounter. I've reminded myself of previous trips and what I wore, what I packed but didn't wear, and why. I've surveyed my closet, and drawers, and made a list of possible items I might take.

Next... comes the trying on, the keeping or casting aside, and the making of an "I still need" shopping list. Then I'll draw up my final list of items to pack and possible outfits. Oooooh... such fun. I do love to plan. 

I know it's anal. I can't help myself. 

By the way, I hope you didn't find the title of the post misleading. I'm beginning to have second thoughts about using the term "capsule wardrobe" for a trip like this... hot weather, cool weather, active wear, urban wear. Maybe two capsules would be more accurate? Cross-over capsules? Hmmm. I'll think about that. 

I also hope that you weren't expecting to see my final packing list here. That's a couple of weeks down the road yet. 

Down the road... get it? Ha. Travel pun. 

So how about you my friends? How do you go about planning a travel wardrobe?

P.S. I know I said that I don't find prescriptive packing lists helpful. But that doesn't mean I don't love to read blog posts about travel and packing. Like this one on Sue's blog and this one on Mater's. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Anyone Need a Good Role Model?

One sunny morning a couple of months ago, I was driving down the highway headed to the mall. To start my Christmas shopping, I think. And I listened to an interview, on CBC radio, with Chrystia Freeland, then Minister of International Trade in the Canadian government. She was explaining, clearly and in a way I could perfectly understand, the Canada-European Union Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) which had taken years to negotiate and which had finally and very recently been signed. And I thought, what a well spoken, impressive, confident young woman she seemed. Especially when the interviewer asked her about the possibility that the trade deal might only serve to enrich the already rich, the infamous 1% in our society... "Well, as you know that has long been an area of interest of mine," she said. "In fact I wrote a book on it," she chuckled. Not a brash or snide chuckle of bravado, more of a rueful chuckle, as if she were embarrassed that she'd been called upon to toot her own horn. And of course she knows perfectly well what she's talking about in this area. She's written two well respected books, the latest one called Plutocrats: Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else. My intention is not to go into the trade deal specifics here, or even to discuss politics. I just want to say that right then, at that moment, I kind of wished that I was fifteen again. Because, if I were fifteen again, then I could say that when I grow up I want to be just like Chrystia Freeland.

Chrystia Freeland at her swearing in as Foreign Affairs Minister at Rideau Hall
Freeland, left, at the swearing in ceremony last week at Rideau Hall. source
And so I smiled to myself again when I heard last week that Prime Minister Trudeau, in his recent cabinet shuffle, had moved Chrystia Freeland to a different portfolio: Minister of Foreign Affairs, effectively making her Canada's top diplomat. I'm pleased that this smart, savvy, Harvard and Oxford educated, former high-flying journalist, author, grandchild of Ukrainian immigrants will be in many contexts the face Canada presents to the world. What a fabulous role model she is for girls and young women in Canada. For young women anywhere, actually.

Because I think the world needs positive role models right now. In particular positive female role models. Leaders in our society who present to the world a smart, caring, compassionate face. Leaders whom we all can look up to, but most importantly leaders our young people can look up to, and hope to emulate. I mean that's the really important part, don't you think? And they're out there, folks. It's just that we haven't been focusing on them lately.

Take Jody Wilson-Raybould, for example. She's Canada's Minister of Justice and Attorney General. And she's aboriginal. A lawyer and former regional Chief of the British Columbia Assembly of First Nations. How's that for a positive role model for Canadian girls, and most especially for Canadian girls of First Nations heritage? Pretty darned cool, I'd say. 

And ironically, sitting beside Wilson-Raybould in the photo below is one of my own former role models. Kim Campbell. Oh, how I admired her back in the day. I remember when I first heard her on the radio when she was Minister of Justice back in the nineties, so cool and smart and measured in her responses to the interviewer. The first woman in parliament who I thought had it all goin' on. I still think that actually. So what if she became Prime Minister in 1993 only because she won the Progressive Conservative party leadership when the hugely unpopular Brian Mulroney resigned a few months before an election? So what if she was only Prime Minister for a few months? I remember that she was pilloried in the press during the election campaign. In particular, I recall one evening becoming incensed on her behalf when a reporter commented on the unflattering (according to him) white pants she was wearing at a rally. So what that she lost the election when the Liberals won a landslide victory? According to one source I've read, one of the reasons she lost was that her "frank honesty," in direct contrast to Mulroney's "highly polished style," got her into hot water. And the fact that she admitted to a reporter that it was unlikely that the deficit or unemployment would be much reduced "before the end of the century." No matter that that's exactly what happened. Mustn't be honest during an election campaign, Kim. Sigh. I still think she's fabulous. 

Jody Wilson-Raybould and Kim Campbell at hearings held by the Committee on Justice and Human Rights
Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada with former Prime Minister Kim Campbell, herself a former Minister of Justice.
So maybe we should pause here to think about what makes someone a good role model. Certainly all these women are smart, very well educated, and highly successful in their careers even before they entered the political ring. And as far as Kim Campbell goes, successful when she exited the political fray. They all wield or have wielded considerable power. But it's how they wield this power and what they choose to do with it that matters most, I think. Being successful, or rich, or powerful alone doesn't make someone a good role model. In fact, I'm not even sure that I know what makes a good role model. I guess we all have our own definitions. For me it's always been someone who holds values and qualities to which I aspire. And who can wield power responsibly, sensibly, and with respect for others. As a young woman, I admired Kim Campbell's calm confidence and her obvious intelligence. And her ability to survive in a field dominated by men. And later I admired how she remade her life, and her career, after her crushing political defeat. 

I'm chuckling now. I can almost hear the internet trolls growling as I write this... what about when she did this, or said that, or spent this amount of taxpayers money on such and such? And I want to emulate Bugs Bunny, another one of my heroes, and say: "Aah, shaddup." Let's not split hairs. Stop talking partisan politics. And let's all agree that whether or not we like or dislike the political views of any of these women, we have to admit that they are impressive. 

But you know, you don't have to be powerful, rich, or even that successful... in the sense that these women have been successful... to be good role model.

Many years ago when I was a young teacher and was desperately trying to finagle a transfer from my job at an adult high school to what I really wanted to be doing which was teaching adolescents, I remember my principal encouraging me to keep trying. He said that I would be "a good role model for teenagers." I kind of laughed at that. Really, me? I know he probably meant that I was a lot younger than many of the high school teachers in our board at that time. Declining enrollment in our schools had slowed the hiring of young teachers to a trickle. I know he was thinking that I was lively, had a good sense of humour, loved sports, and reading, and such. But he didn't know what I knew, that I was anything but a good role model. 

I mean, hadn't I flailed about for years before I settled into teaching? Hadn't I tried numerous jobs, quit university, worked as a cosmetician, then returned to school to finish my degree, took a job I hated, then chucked it all and moved back home for a year, before I finally returned to Ottawa and settled down to the job I grew to love? Yes, I had. And who wants to emulate someone who has taken that convoluted pathway? 

Well, turns out it was all that flailing which helped me relate to kids in high school. Kids who were facing that huge question: What to do with their lives? Especially kids who were struggling with the answer. Turns out that opening up to kids, and to parents, about my own struggles was a good thing. As one friend who has sons who were flailing said to me, "Oh, Sue. I look at you and it always makes me feel better about the boys. If you turned out so well, maybe they will too." I never, never forgot that. I think that's one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me. Anyway, I guess my point here is that role models don't have to be perfect. Or have taken the direct route to success. Sometimes the scenic route can be more inspiring or comforting to kids who are plotting their own course.

I've digressed a bit from my earlier discussion about positive role models for young women. I guess the whole point of this post is that we all need to try to be positive role models for girls and young women. And not to underestimate the power of our ability to make a difference in someone's life. Whether we're parents, teachers, politicians, sales clerks, or snow plow drivers. 

I love the fact that the new snow plow operator who plows our road is a woman. Hubby says the "lady driver" is much better than the male drivers ever were. More considerate. We live at the end of a road, and after she turns the plow, as she passes by a second time, she makes a dip into our driveway to scoop out some of the pile she's just deposited there. Thus saving Hubby a heck of a lot of shoveling. Then Hubby gives her a cheery wave from the window, and she always waves back. So... considerate and friendly. 

Now, that's behaviour we all should emulate.

              Women giving women a boost.  Gif by Brooklyn illustrator Libby Vanderploeg

As I was writing this post, on one of my trips into the kitchen for a cup of tea, I asked Hubby who his role models had been when he was growing up. What an interesting discussion we had. About who each of us had admired and why. 

So now it's your turn. Want to weigh in on the power of positive role models? Who were your role models when you were growing up? 

Linking up with Thursday Favourite Things Blog Hop at Katherine's Corner, Fabulous Friday at Pocketful of Polkadots, and Saturday Share Link-up at Not Dressed As Lamb

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Of Underwear and Outerwear

 I've been shopping for underwear lately. No... not that kind of underwear. Sporty underwear. Base layers, bottoms and tops, to wear under pants and under a fleece. Light but warm layers suitable for skiing and cool weather hiking. And for travelling. I always bring ski underwear bottoms when we travel. No matter the season. Even when we're not hiking or skiing. They are perfect for wearing under jeans on a cool rainy day, and for lounging around overly air conditioned hotel rooms, even in summer. Even in France. But more on that later.

Since we are leaving for South America in two weeks and five days... but who's counting?... I've been making lists and stocking up on what I will need to pack. I bought hiking boots and a new light toque before Christmas.

Adrienne Vittadini sweater, scarf Norsdtrom, toque Bula, earrings from Magpie Jewellry
Wearing my new toque with this old Adrienne Vittadini sweater and my navy scarf
And this week, I shopped for ski underwear. Base layers, as they say. Warm light layers are winter staples for skiing here at home, and will hopefully be useful for hiking in Argentina. I specifically looked for silky, synthetic tops and bottoms. Easy to wash and dry when travelling. And easy to slide under a fleece or a pair of jeans or hiking pants. 

I found exactly what I was looking for at Bushtakah. I love that store. It's where I bought my hiking boots in December. Everything in the ski section was 30% off, and I was able to use the $20.00 coupon I received when I bought my hiking boots... so I saved big time. I went home with two "Hot Chillys" turtleneck tops and one pair of long underwear bottoms. All three are lovely and silky, without being clingy. And I promptly tucked them away for our trip.

But then I started thinking that maybe I needn't wait until the trip to wear them. Maybe I should test drive my new winter staples. Lovely, silky turtlenecks should not be languishing in a drawer in the middle of winter. 

raspberry fleece from MEC, black Hot Chillys base layer turtleneck from Bushtakah
My new black Hot Chillys turtleneck with a raspberry fleece hoodie from MEC
In keeping with a sporty-skiing theme, I pulled on my new black silky base layer, with this woolly fleece hoodie from Mountain Equipment Co-op. And I decided to see what would happen if I paired these sporty tops with a couple of my more dressy pieces. So I hauled on my black crepe Aritzia joggers. And added my Max Mara fuchsia tweed coat. Who says a hoodie can't be worn with a dressy pant and coat? 

raspberry fleece from MEC, black Hot Chillys base layer turtleneck from Bushtakah, black joggers from Aritzia, black boots from Stuart Weitzman     raspberry fleece from MEC, black Hot Chillys base layer turtleneck from Bushtakah, black joggers from Aritzia, black boots from Stuart Weitzman, fuchsia tweed coat from Max Mara

What with the cuffed pants, and hiking socks, and lace-up boots... I look a bit vintage. As if I should be sipping an après-ski kirsch at Schruns, Austria in the 1920's. And chatting with Ernest Hemingway, and Hadley. Maybe I was channeling Sonja Henie from that old film "Sun Valley Serenade." Or simply inspired by the ensemble below. I found this 1936 sweater pattern in a box of old knitting and sewing patterns at my mum's last winter. I may attempt to knit one of the sweaters from this book one day. Just not this winter.

vintage knitting pattern for ski ensemble from 1936 pattern book by Monarch Yarns
Ski ensemble from Monarch Yarn pattern book 1936
Now back to base layers... I also bought a lovely fuchsia turtleneck when I was at Bushtakah. I like it here with my black Lulu Lemon zippered jacket, and my tweed coat. You know... normally I would wear black socks with these joggers and my Stuart Weitzman boots. Bu-ut... these grey hiking socks, peeking out like that, are beginning to grow on me. Still, the outfit definitely needs some sort of scarf. It's a bit boring, and maybe a teensy bit too matchy-matchy. I'll work on that. 

black zippered jacket from Lulu Lemon, pink Hot Chillys base layer turtleneck from Bushtakah, black joggers from Aritzia, black boots from Stuart Weitzman,       black zippered jacket from Lulu Lemon, pink Hot Chillys base layer turtleneck from Bushtakah, black joggers from Aritzia, black boots from Stuart Weitzman, fuchsia tweed coat from Max Mara

And speaking of working. Phew. I took a ton of pictures this morning for the post. Moved most of the furniture in the sun room around to find a place where I wasn't standing in stripes of sunlight. Then after I had uploaded all the shots to my computer realized that they were overexposed. Ever single one. So after lunch, when the light was better, I redid all the shots. But by this time Hubby was home from skating, and talking to me from the kitchen the whole time I was trying to pose. Then he was in and out of the room. "Go away, " I barked. He did. But then he came back right away because he needed to "consult" on dinner. Gad. So I ended up with one bunch of shots where I was relaxed and smiling, but the picture quality was poor. And one bunch where I had pinched lips and an exasperated expression, and looked like I really wanted to be somewhere else. Or maybe I just wanted someone else to be somewhere else. Ha. You think?

I included this overexposed shot to prove I haven't totally lost my sense of humour. And to show my snazzy new long underwear bottoms. They are so silky and smooth that my pant leg just sliiiides down over them. 

 raspberry fleece from MEC, black Hot Chillys base layer turtleneck and long underwear bottoms from Bushtakah, black joggers from Aritzia, black boots from Stuart Weitzman
See my snazzy, silky base layer bottoms?
I laughed when the sales clerk at Bushtakah said these bottoms were so pretty that I could wear them as leggings. Ha. I don't think so. But it did remind me of when Hubby and I were in France and I accidentally wore my ski underwear bottoms as ...ah ... outerwear. 

It was when we first arrived in Provence and were staying in a little cottage outside Avignon. We'd been on the go for pretty much two weeks straight and I was looking forward to a slow-down day. A late breakfast that we prepared ourselves. Maybe a walk later. A bit of grocery shopping and some time to plan the rest of our week. And so when Hubby mentioned, after breakfast, that we should check out the area he had scouted out on the map, where we might leave our car and walk into old Avignon, I said "sure." And I slipped on my sandals and sunglasses, and climbed into the car. Let me paint a picture for you at this point. An hour before this, I had rolled out of bed, washed my face, combed my hair, and pulled on a long tee shirt and my light ski-underwear bottoms that looked like verrry thin leggings. I had no intention of getting out of the car. 

But somehow it had become lost in translation that Hubby meant this to BE the day we walked into Avignon. While I meant this to be the day that we planned how we would be walking into Avignon. You know... on another day when I had make-up on and had done something (anything) with my hair. 

A day when I wasn't wearing underwear bottoms. 

Sigh. Wearing underwear as outerwear, especially with bad hair and no make-up, is not how I prefer to represent myself to the world. I won't say anymore except that I was very glad that my tee shirt was long and my sunglasses big.

So, my friends, how do you feel about underwear as outerwear? Any tales of mixing very casual pieces with somewhat more dressy ones? Or any tales at all? 

You can find the Hot Chillys turtleneck base layer here and the underwear bottoms here.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Reality Bites... At 60

Have you ever noticed that the passage of time isn't smooth? That days, weeks, months... even years... can unfold but time seems to be standing still? We seem to be standing still? And then all of a sudden, we lurch forward. We're catapulted from one clearly discernible chunk of time into another. At least that's how it seems to me.

I love that word "chunk." I used to use it a lot in teaching, when planning courses with my department, "chunking" up the weeks of a semester, into units, and the units into lessons. It had to be done, no matter how arbitrary it seemed... how arbitrary it was, actually... because otherwise you might get to May and realize with a sinking feeling that you'd only covered one element of the course and the final exam was looming. Time, the days and the weeks, can get away on you when you're talking to kids, and exploring exciting new activities with them. I used to think there was no better lesson I could teach a student-teacher than how to "chunk up" a course.

I look at my life like that too. In chunks of time. There's that whole shadowy, unreal, almost fictional, time in the lives of my family before I was born. Then the chunk that was my early childhood before we moved to the apartment building owned by my grandfather, before my parents separated. To be truthful I don't remember much of that time. And what I do remember I'm pretty sure aren't my memories at all, just stories told by my mum and my older siblings. 

My first clear memory is of my mum and I flying to Newfoundland to visit my uncle and aunt who had just had a new baby. I remember that time vividly. The early rising and driving through the pre-dawn darkness to the airport. Mum reading to me on the plane from my "Little Golden Book" called The New Baby. I gather from her stories that Mum was not as excited as I was to be flying. That, to her chagrin, every time the pilot issued a warning that there would be turbulence, I kept repeating it. "Turbulence, Mumma. We're having turbulence." "Yeee-esss dear. I heard," I imagine her replying through gritted teeth. 

1956 version of "The New Baby."
The 1956 edition of The New Baby... the same one I owned.

I remember that trip in vivid colour. What we had for lunch one day when the wife of a family friend took Mum and me shopping and out for lunch... to an automat. You know, those places where you could see the dishes through the little windows? And you opened the window and put the plate on your tray. Lunch in a restaurant was a rare treat when I was almost six. Apparently I embarrassed Mum by wanting pretty much everything I saw. I mean, it was hard to know when you picked one dish that a few feet down the line there'd be a different one that you just that moment realized you wanted even more than the last one. Sigh. I remember Mrs.Tucker, our host, was very gracious, but I caught hell from Mum afterward. I also remember coming home to my uncle's house that afternoon with a new pink plastic umbrella, which I promptly hid from my two younger boy cousins. Boys were so trying in those days. 

The rest of that time before I started school and Mum went to work is all wrapped up with images of Christmas at my grandparents, books we read, and old movies.  When my older brother and sisters were in school, Mum and I would sometimes watch old movies on "Mid-day Matinee" on television. She'd do the ironing. And I'd ask endless questions about what was going to happen to whom in the film. It seemed to me that Mum knew everything. Took me years to break the habit of asking "What's going to happen now, Mumma?" 

And then I started school, and there were school bus rides, new kittens, playing tether ball at recess, report cards, teachers I loved, and those that scared the pants off me. And then that awkward chunk that was junior high, and the year Mum married my step-father and we moved to the farm. That was wonderful. And then the high school chunk. And onward. And, you see, the funny thing is, that even though I was aware that events might be months or years apart, within each of these chunks, I was unaware of the process that was happening. I was growing up, changing, learning, becoming an independent person. But it seemed to me as if I stayed the same for years until I lurched forward into a different chunk of my life and became an entirely new person. 

And with each lurch into a new phase of "me," I was sure that eventually I would lurch into a "finished" phase where I would be confident, successful, beautiful, and have everything under control. Where I would have all the answers, and life would be smooth sailing and easy peasy. Ha. I stopped waiting for that phase when I turned thirty. But I still experienced my life in chunks. Learning, changing, and inexorably growing older. I welcomed the advent of some of the changes. Like the day I realized that somehow without my realizing it, I had become an experienced teacher. Comfortable in my classroom, able to relax and enjoy myself and not stress so much about whether I was doing a good enough job. That felt great. Other changes, however, were not so welcome.

I remember one day in my late thirties, I was "turning my closet" as my friend Margaret says. And I tried on a lovely, royal blue corduroy, full-skirted dress from Laura Ashley, which I loved, and which was several years old. And like a dash of cold water, I knew that I had suddenly, in a moment, become too old to wear the dress. Of course it's not like my face morphed into wrinkles and frown lines that exact moment. Just that I suddenly realized the reality. I was almost forty. And the dress did NOT go with my face anymore. I looked silly in it. Like mutton dressed as lamb. It was a bit of a shock. Not a huge emotional moment or anything, just... surprising. "When did that happen?" I remember thinking.

But I was not so sanguine about another big shift in reality moment. My most traumatic lurch forward, into a new chunk of my life, happened when I was almost fifty-one. I had been going for physio for my back for two months. The young guy who was my physiotherapist was from Australia, a cross-country skier, working in Canada, and training for the World Championships the next year. We bonded over talk of Australia (Hubby and I had been there on an extended trip a couple of years before), and talk of skiing, and cycling. And his assistant, the kinesiologist, was an equally young, equally athletic extrovert. We had lots of laughs as I lay with a heat pack on my back, or tried in my motor-moron way to master the exercises I was supposed to do. Those two kibitzed and ribbed each other and I always chimed in. I want to make very clear that our chat was friendly banter, not flirting. More like the jokey way I interacted with students in the hallway; teasing, laughing, as people who like each other do. 

But one day after I left, I climbed into my car, and adjusted the mirror to fix my hair. Oh. My. God. I was old. Bright sunshine on my face illuminated every single line and furrow. Every single one. It was like a kick in my solar plexus. I was a pathetic, middle-aged, wrinkly old woman. How stupid I must look making jokes and joining in the banter with those two young guys! It seemed as if in that moment I saw who I really was. The reality of being fifty-one. And it literally hurt. It did. I remember I almost cried. Maybe I did cry. The next day I told one person, my friend Marina. "What an idiot, I am," I said. "Who do I think I am going around acting as if I'm still in my twenties, as if I'm the same age as those young guys?" I don't remember what she said. Something sympathetic, I know. But I walked around for days, in mourning for my youth. For the years when I was young, or even young-ish, and attractive and not some sad old git who was only pretending. How had I not noticed that I wasn't me anymore? Or at least the me I thought I was seeing in the mirror. Whew! Talk about an emotional over-reaction. But that's how I felt. And then, in a week or two, it subsided. 

It had been years since I thought about that day, the day I realized I was middle-aged, and the ensuing weeks of self-doubt. Until last May, when I turned sixty, I read in The New York Times an article called I'm Too Old For This by Dominique Browning, who was also sixty. Browning says that turning sixty was "profoundly liberating" for her. She says that she always felt insecure about her looks. Until one day she unearthed a trunk full of old photos, and as she looked at them she thought: "Even when I was in the depths of despair about my looks, I'd been beautiful." And it was a revelation to her. She says that when we get to be sixty, we should consider ourselves "too old" to worry anymore about all that insecurity nonsense. All that torturous, self defeating, I'm not good-looking enough, or smart enough crap. 

That's kind of how I felt when I turned sixty. Sort of liberated. I remember thinking: "Okay, so you're sixty. This is your life. This is your face. This is your body. This is you." And I felt pretty good. Good enough, anyway. I think maybe I've been catapulted into that "finished" chunk that I dreamed about when I was young. Except not in the way that I thought. Not beautiful, but wise enough to realize that beauty ain't everything. Successful, in that I've had a successful career. Certainly confident... most of the time, anyway. I don't have all the answers, but I now know that no one does. And while life is not all smooth sailing, easy peasy... I'm pretty lucky. I'm even beginning to take a more sanguine view of that day when I was almost fifty-one. To feel empathy for myself instead of exasperation. I know, I know... I seriously over-reacted. But I was only fifty-one. I was deep into menopause. I wasn't ready then for reality, not ready then to be the woman I saw in the mirror. 

But I am now. 

And I keep thinking of this bit from Browning's article: "I have no doubt that when I'm eighty I'll look at pictures of myself when I was sixty and think how young I was then, how filled with joy and beauty." 

Well, I don't know if that's what I'll think when I'm eighty. I'll have to get back to you on that. In twenty years.

Me at 3, 13, 38 and 59 years of age.
Visual evidence of  "the whirligig of time" Shakespeare says.

How about you my wise readers? How do you fare when reality bites... and you are faced with the evidence of time passing? 

Linking up with Thursday Favourite Things Blog Hop at Katherine's Corner, Fabulous Friday at Pocketful of Polkadots, and Saturday Share Link-up at Not Dressed As Lamb