New Year’s Greetings to All!

january

image by hometownzero, from Flickr

How are you feeling?  Today seems like the day we can finally resume our routines and complete the post-holiday-recovery phase.  Over the holidays I seemed to communicate mostly in single words, such as “Tape?” and “Dinner!”, with occasional indulgences in multiple words like “When will you be back?” and “Could you get up now and help me lift this?”, not to mention “Is your hedgehog warm enough?”  My holiday coping strategy seems to require me to focus my thoughts on the present crisis, and potential crises in the immediate future, leaving no room for eloquence or reflection.

So I’m glad to get back to thinking and writing in complete sentences, and to taking a slightly longer view.  Hence, a blog post!

I came upon an article in the Toronto Star last week which might interest you.  It tells the story of a woman whose mother has early onset Alzheimer’s.  Although she can no longer talk with her mother, she is keeping their connection strong by exploring her mom’s collection of recipes and documenting the cooking and memories in a blog.  This idea reminded me of Angela’s blog post about her mother’s letters.  It seems to pull together the nurturing aspect of food, the way that smell and taste becomes embedded in our memories, and the informal diaries that can be created on our recipe pages.  Do you make notes on your recipes?  (And do you want your offspring to read those notes in the distant future?)

Speaking of offspring, it was life-changing for me a few years ago when I read about brain research that revealed that the brains of children continue to grow and develop until they are around 25 years old.  This information has helped me to have more reasonable expectations for the young people in my life.  Even if they are as tall as adults, they are still kids (until they pass the age of 25, when my expectations for responsible and considerate humans will kick back in).  So how can we tell when they’ve crossed over into adulthood, if not by appearance?

Here’s something I read this weekend, from the novelist Lynn Coady, who has a crowd-sourced advice column in the Globe.  She says, “True adulthood occurs the moment we grasp that the people who raised us do not exist solely for our comfort and reassurance. From that point on, the steady stream of unconditional love and support we’ve expected from them all our lives has to flow both ways.”  What do you think?

Bye for now,

Elizabeth

The hardest job

Hi, All.

I am writing today to recommend to you a book that I read recently:  Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, by Amy Chua.  Back in May, I mentioned this book as one of a list of motherhood-themed books suggested by the Globe & Mail around Mother’s Day.  I read it in ebook form, and really enjoyed it.  Here’s the scoop.

20th Best Book about China - Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

Photo by China Books, from Flickr

Chua is the daughter of two Chinese immigrants who came to the USA as graduate students.  They lived hand-to-mouth for awhile, but through discipline and hard work became successful.  They raised their American-born children with the expectation that their kids would learn and achieve great things through a similar sort of discipline and effort.  The book tells the story of Chua’s own experience raising her two daughters with those same high expectations.

Much controversy has surrounded Chua’s list of expectations, which are detailed at the beginning of the book, and in many reviews (here’s an excerpt which should get your blood boiling).  She describes her parenting style as Chinese, and contrasts it with Western-style parenting, characterized as laissez-faire, with little pressure on children to live up to their potential.  Chua is a provocative writer, and many readers (and probably lots of non-readers) have taken offence at her forthright statements about the superiority of Chinese-style parenting.  She even received death threats.

I think this may have been an unfortunate result of Chua’s excellent storytelling ability, and would urge any reader to be undeterred by the trash talk.  As she states on her web site,  the book is a memoir, not a parenting manual, and Amy is a compelling character in her own story.

Chua is funny, and self-deprecating, and the book is a fast and pleasant read (excellent for the ebook format).  It could also serve as a fertile discussion-starter in a variety of directions.

Nadine et Elisabeth

Photo by ParaScubaSailor, from Flickr

For instance, here’s the part that lingers with me.  Music was one area in which Chua chose to develop her daughters’ potential.  They began studying piano at an early age, and younger daughter Lulu eventually moved on to violin.

Chua actively participated in their musical education.  She accompanied them to every lesson, and made meticulous notes; she sat with them during their daily hours of practice, keeping them focused on their task; she found them new teachers as they gained in ability, and chauffered them to their lessons; and she arranged for prestigious opportunities for performance for both girls, even travelling to Europe in order for them to perform.

Chua, who studied music as a youngster, invested heavily of herself in her daughters’ musical accomplishments, and her determination drove the family.  And I wonder if Chua was able to maintain her determination to push her daughters musically because she herself valued musicianship so highly.  In other words, was it more about her own frustrated desires to achieve great things as a musician, than about helping her kids pursue their interests?  I found myself wishing that she would spend some of her energy playing music herself, instead of putting all her creative drive into her kids. (Does that seem harsh on motherhood?  Or just a sneaky way to bring creativity into the discussion…)

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Bye for now,

Elizabeth

Violin lesson

Photo by angus mcdiarmid, from Flickr

The Aging of Beauties

.

A Quebec City flower shop.

I was riding my bike on the rail trail recently, and catching up on my podcast listening, when my ear was caught by an edition of Slate’s Double X Gabfest.  “Hey,” I said loudly (as one does when wearing headphones).  “That’s exactly what Angela was just talking about on the blog!”

A few weeks ago, Angela posted about The Beauty of Aging, asking the question “How do we embrace the beauty of our age?”

The ladies on the Gabfest (DoubleX writers/editors Jessica Grose, Nina Shen Rastogi, and Hanna Rosin) were discussing two articles in major American newspapers which also dealt with this topic:  Dominique Browning’s ‘The Case for Laugh Lines’ from The New York Times, and Naomi Wolf’s ‘A wrinkle in time: Twenty years after ‘The Beauty Myth,’ Naomi Wolf addresses The Aging Myth’ in The Washington Post.

If you have the time, you might like to read these articles and their comments for yourself.  I think they are both fairly light pieces, each with some nice writing and interesting aspects.  Here’s my take (and feel free to correct me).

Naomi Wolf, now 48, revisits some of the points she made in her book The Beauty Myth and especially her observation that back then, women hated and feared the idea of aging, and this fear was reinforced by the media.  But now, she says, there is much less to fear about aging.  Beauty is tied more to fitness, and there are many more ways to be beautiful than there were in the ‘90’s.  She says,

Fashion arbiters such as Vogue editor Anna Wintour used to set a bar for style; today, there is a far greater sense that what you see on the street, in surfing the Web, in a friend’s delightful outfit, is just as powerful. A co-worker who has let her hair go fabulously gray in a flattering cut, or wears enchantingly offbeat glasses, can be as great an influence as the September issue of Vogue.

Wolf herself has not experienced the sense of “loss of self when [her] appearance began to change” which she expected to feel as she got older.

Wolf says things have changed in the past 20 years.  Younger women now admire and envy older (that is, midlife) women for their “status, sense of self-esteem and sexual cachet.”  Older women are no longer threatened by younger women, and like themselves more in midlife than they did when they were younger.

The article is based almost entirely on people of Wolf’s acquaintance (and the journalists from Slate are appalled by the lack of research in the article), and it seems to me to have a ‘whistling past the graveyard” kind of feel.  But that’s essentially what we do to survive in the face of aging, isn’t it?  Here’s something rather neat that Wolf writes near the end of the article:

Certainly, it takes more effort at the gym to maintain a certain level of fitness. But at midlife, you also know what an incredible gift a healthy body is. And while I don’t love working harder for an outcome, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for a body that can move and hike and swim, seduce and be seduced, be exhilarated and overjoyed, and all of this in the blessing of being free of serious illness.

Dominique Browning is an author, blogger and the final editor of the defunct House & Garden magazine.  Her article is a humourous piece arguing for sanity in the race to disguise the signs of aging.  She’s not opposed to simple cosmetic procedures if they make you happier, and says, “I’m not categorically against a helping hand, as long as it has finesse.”

But Browning draws the line at Botox.  She objects because it makes it difficult to read people’s facial expressions when they’ve had the treatment.  This limitation came home to Browning when she was doing her book tour, and looking out on audiences who appeared unimpressed by what she was saying, yet would approach her individually afterward to tell her how much they’d enjoyed her reading.  Browning concluded that Botox was creating a disconnection between the emotions of her audience, and their abilities to show what they were feeling on their faces.  (Probably be ideal for poker, then.  Or car buying.)

Browning suggests that the solution to all the angst about aging is to deny it is happening.  She says, “In this, as in so many matters, we could just keep calm and carry on.”  Her true opinion may be expressed in this (somewhat throwaway) statement toward the end of the article:

I get it: some people simply don’t want to go quietly into the years. It is too much to ask that we embrace our changing faces — that we celebrate our mother’s beauty in our own graying hair, that we remember the joy that created those laugh lines, that we recognize our father’s forehead in the way ours wrinkles when we are perplexed, or we catch a glimpse of our aunt’s eyes when our own crinkle with delight.

Ok, so these were two fairly harmless and mildly diverting articles.  Midlife viewpoints based on personal experience, amusingly expressed, but not investigative journalism.  What I find most interesting is the way that the DoubleX Gabfest ladies respond to them.  I would describe their response as completely without empathy.  The eldest of the three is Rosin, who has just turned forty.  She calls BS on Wolf’s assertion that she has it all, especially sexual allure.  She and her colleagues figure that these articles spring from the aging of the boomer population, and we should be prepared for lots more of this sort of writing.  I find it telling that they seem to be unaware of how much of this sort of writing is already out there, in magazines and blogs (see the list at the end of this post for a small sample).

The DoubleX’ers suggest we should look to French culture for inspiration on graceful acceptance of aging.  Does anyone know what they might mean by this?

007

Same shop, different view.

It seems to me that we each have to come to terms with our aging on an individual basis.  We may become obsessed with the loss of bounce in our knees, or the inability to focus on fine print, or touching up our hair, or the latest miracle moisturizer formulations.  The woman in the mirror may suddenly be a sad stranger to us (What happened to her cheekbones, and why does she look so grumpy?).  But we have to live with that woman for a long time still.  Why not acknowledge that we are changing throughout our lives, and honour that process?  So long as we believe beauty is only the province of the young, we’re bound to be upset at outward signs of loss of youth.

We each have to work through this on our own.  What helps is to hear how others are dealing with the same thing, and to laugh (and moan a little) about it together.  In reality, we’re all of us aging at the same rate (unless some of us leave the planet and travel faster than the speed of light for a while).

Elizabeth

Some blogs which acknowledge and embrace the realities of aging (among other realities):

Advanced Style  Fashion mavens from the streets of NYC.

Rock the Silver  Grey hair is beautiful.

A Femme d’Un Certain Age  May illuminate the French culture connection referred to above.

Slow Life Love  Dominique Browning’s blog.

Materfamilias

Privilege

Let me know if you have any blog recommendations.

News from abroad

Hi All,

Just some unconnected short thoughts and links here.

Yogurt is the secret

Yogurt

image by Lynda Giddens, from flickr

Do you remember that old, old commercial that showed some very fit Scandinavian octogenarians who were asked the secret to their long life? One of them gave a toothless smile and credited his daily consumption of yogurt. This has stayed with me for a long time and today, the Globe and Mail has an article suggesting that eating around half a cup of yogurt each day can be beneficial for a woman’s heart. Take a look (don’t miss the comments for alternative viewpoints).

A book recommendation

.
I recently read Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffeneger, and really enjoyed it.  It’s a love/hate story, with an unusual take on the paranormal. There is a character with OCD who is very sympathetically portrayed. I was not keen on her previous book, The Time Traveler’s Wife, but found this one to be quite intriguing and multi-layered. It takes place in and near London’s Highgate Cemetery, a large tract of land within the city which was used for burials for a long time, then fell into financial trouble and was allowed to revert to near-wilderness, before being taken over by a charitable foundation run by a group of volunteers. It sounds as though some of the cemetery is still very overgrown and untamed, while other parts of it are maintained and of historical and architectural interest. If you’ve read the book, please let me know how you liked it.

A quick video

Here’s a link to a lovely video. (If you are receiving this post in an email, you might have to click on the post title at the top of the email to go to our blog in order to connect with the video.)

The postal disruption

Fingers Are Not Mail

image by panavatar, from flickr

Most of the press I’ve seen about the mail strike suggests that for many of us, Canada Post is largely unnecessary, due to our use of online communications and bill payment. Some articles suggest that small businesses are suffering the most. Julie pointed out the other day that the pundits aren’t considering how hard lack of mail delivery would be on those who don’t have, or don’t use the internet. I’d like to speak up for those of us who subscribe to magazines. It’s true that I’m temporarily enjoying the relief from the constant barrage of new reading material dropping through the mail slot.  But how will I ever catch up when the strike ends and they all arrive at once? (I suspect that the volume of mail to be delivered then will be so great that some of my mags will never make it to my door. And that bugs me, too.) How are you holding up?

One more thing, then I’ll stop talking

Here’s a blog post that opens a conversation about what women over 50 want to wear. The post is brief, the comments many. You might not be over 50, but that arbitrary age is not really the point of the conversation. It’s more about the development of personal style, and sense of self, as we age. Check it out, and then please come back and tell me what you think.

Have a wonderful weekend,

Elizabeth

Happiness Your Way

Let The Pinky Delight of Happiness Spread  and Take Root in Our Minds....image by RejiK from flickr

One of the most sought after goals in life is to be happy.   Happiness means different things to different people.  In a recent study “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness” published in Economic Policy (orange link is to a summary of the study), it was discovered that “although lives have improved for women in the last 35 years, women’s happiness has declined both absolutely and relative to men.”  The authors note that this shift in happiness is present in much of the industrialized world. So, I guess the question becomes why is it that we as women are less happy when on the surface, it appears that we have gained so much on so many levels in the last number of years?

Have you ever met a woman who was happy with her current state of affairs?  Many women live very hectic lives trying to juggle career and family.  Many of these women would say that they would love the option to stay home and spend more time with their family, put healthier meals on the table and take better care of themselves.  Conversely, many of us who had the opportunity to spend some time at home are looking for career or intellectual stimulation.

I think it comes down to truly defining what happiness means to you.  I recently came across a book by Sarah Brokaw.  Sarah is the daughter of NBC newscaster Tom Brokaw and is the author of the book Fortytude.  Although I haven’t read the book or many reviews of it, I did see a list of Sarah’s five values in a recent issue of Chatelaine magazine (click on the orange link to go to the article).   Sarah suggests that you use these values to explore who you are and what you could become.   They are as follows:

SARAH’S FIVE CORE VALUES

GRACE

Being generous and forgiving (toward yourself and others), equanimity

CONNECTEDNESS

Building a support network of friends, family, mentors

ACCOMPLISHMENT

Knowing and appreciating what you’re capable of

ADVENTURE

Taking on new challenges outside your comfort zone

SPIRITUALITY

Crafting your approach to any belief system to help  you to find a sense of purpose and inner peace

Personally, I think happiness is about defining what core values are important to you and how you live your life in accordance with these values.

So, I leave you with two questions.  What would you consider your core values?  Do you think your happiness is related to how well you live your life according to these values?

Would love to hear from you…..

Laurie

Rainy forecast: You could build an ark, or just have fun surfing

We know some amazing people. Over the next while, we’re going to tell you about some different ways our friends have followed their passions. First up is Andrea, a friend of Laurie and Angela’s. Here’s Angela to tell you a bit about the inspirational Andrea:

Fellow blogger Andrea is a chef extraordinaire and co-author of the best darn barbeque cook book on the shelves, Gathering Around the Grill (click this link to LibraryThing, to see the book cover)Andrea and her long time friend Kris brought their ideas and talents together to create a book of inspirational menus and grilling ideas for family and friends.  Check out Andrea and Kris’ blog for great recipes and entertaining ideas. Here’s the link to their blog. 

We’re proud of you, Andrea and Kris!!!!

Sunday morning linkfest

Hi All,

After a week, I have finally finished up reading last Saturday’s Globe & Mail, and found a couple of things that might be interesting to you. As you may remember, last week was Mother’s Day, and there was lots of maternally-related content. I’m thinking about motherhood, in some form, most of the time, so I thought we could look at this subject today, without feeling like it was old news.

A booklist of recent books on the subject of Motherhood, from the Life section

Here’s a link to the list online (if you follow the link, also check out the single comment, for a different perspective on motherhood). I’ll list the books and give you a link to LibraryThing for some non-professional reader ratings for each book. I haven’t read any of these books, so I’d love to hear from you if you have (and, of course, even if you haven’t). I’ve heard a lot about the controversial Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.

Balance Is a Crock, Sleep is for the Weak:  An Indispensible Guide to Surviving Working Motherhood by Amy Eschliman and Leigh Osirak (Sorry, no LibraryThing listing for this one.)

The War on Moms:  On Life in a Family-Unfriendly Nation by Shannon Lerner

Bad Mother:  A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace by Ayelet Waldman

The 7 Stages of Motherhood:  Loving Your Life Without Losing Your Mind by Ann Pleshette Murphy

The Monster Within:  The Hidden Side of Motherhood by Barbara Almond

The Price of Motherhood:  Why the Most Important Job in the World is Still the Least Valued (10th Anniversity edition) by Ann Crittenden

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua  (I like this one already, simply because it has no explanatory subtitle. Eliz.)

Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids:  Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think by Bryan Caplan  (This is the philosophy that got me in trouble when I acquired that third cat.  Eliz.)

Good Enough is the New Perfect:  Finding Happiness and Success in Modern Motherhood by Becky Beaupre Gillespie and Holly Schwartz Temple

Interestingly, most of these books are not widely owned or read by the LibraryThing population. Who’s reading them? My goodness, there are a lot of books about motherhood. Is everybody an expert? Here’s a crazy idea:  form a book club and read and discuss these books.

Blogging about our stylish parents, from the Style Section

A couple of blogs to check out from this article by Hannah Sung.  The article is about the book developed from this blog by Piper Weiss, called My Mom, the Style Icon, which collects and celebrates photos of peoples’ parents, taken when they were young adults.  The article mentions other blogs which are also devoted to reexamining the coolness factor of one’s parents, such as My Parents Were Awesome and Dads:  The Original Hipsters  

A little sentimentality never hurt anyone, much, but, if you need a dose of reality after the slightly faded photos on these blogs, I recommend the blog Advanced Style which triumphs the current styles of people who have probably been dressing sharply since the days when our parents were young.  This blog is a nice antidote to the youth-oriented focus of most celebrity worship sites.

Wishing you happy clicking, and let us know what you think,

Elizabeth