Sunday, May 27, 2007

True colors

They're back!

I unexpectedly came across this news report and suddenly I was a kid again, glued to a black-and-white TV screen, watching the rough-and-tumble antics of the roller derby queens. It was the early 1950s and we were being bombarded by lots of variety and sport shows but the roller derby was in a league by itself, kind of the underbelly of respectable femininity. After all, moms wore dresses and hats and their daughters were taught to never hit or strike anyone and be good little girls.

All social norms went flying as I sat cross-legged on my living-room floor mesmerized by the speed and spunk of these ladies. Mom and dad seemed to enjoy the spectacle too, even rooting for their favorites. Still, it was not the real world. In the real world, women had no need to express themselves so forcefully. Father knew best. I can't help but wonder if my mom and aunts didn't get a certain vicarious pleasure out of seeing such scrappy women, bruised and on their knees but getting up again to give it their best shot.

Men had their ball games and camaraderie and plenty of heroes to emulate. My mom's generation had Rosie the Riveter (who was displaced as soon as the WWII vets came marching home again) and Betty Crocker. The men needed the jobs, so the working women were told "go home and cook". It was the beginning of the baby-boom generation and affordable tract housing and life was good, or as good as it got during those somewhat bland and monotone years in the 50s.

Color television had not yet arrived on the scene, so watching roller derby on black-and-white made it even more gritty and exciting. You couldn't see the colorful bruises though. Painful encounters of the anti-establishment culture. What did these women do when they weren't beating the hell out of each other? Mothers? Kindergarten teachers? They didn't seem like the type to just go home and cook.

Whoever they were, in the real world, was a mystery. Maybe their true identity was so stifled that they needed the roller derby to release all the pent-up emotions of being the good girl, the one who stayed home and cooked.

According to the above article, today's roller derby gals are, indeed, accountants and teachers and doctors and grad students - many out there for reasons other than just being a traditional homemaker. It's a new era with new rules and it seems that women are still looking to flex their muscles, let it rip, unleash that hidden goddess, Athena. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Why all this pontificating on a lazy Sunday morning? Probably because I never got the chance to let it rip as a kid. Only-child syndrome. I was the only kid on my block who learned to roller skate on one skate because I'd be less likely to fall and hurt myself. I guess it was a form of maternal protection. Maybe Mom didn't want me to get too good at the sport and then sign up for roller derby. In the real world, nice girls could only dream of being that scrappy.

That was then; this is now. Nice girls can do anything they damn well please.

Monday, May 21, 2007

By land and by sea Part Two

It’s been rainy and cool this past week and my thoughts drift back to the bright blue sky and sunny weather which graced our trip to Victoria. Even though we only spent one night in this lovely capital city, every minute was filled with rich experiences - from strolling to dinner with the little ones and settling them into bed to an impromptu Starbucks breakfast in our suite the next morning, then on to a morning of exploration at the Royal British Columbia Museum and, finally, sightseeing and shopping in the city itself.

I was a bit doubtful as to how two small children and a baby would handle a few hours in a world-class museum. Would there be meltdowns? Boredom beyond belief? My worries soon subsided as there were so many fascinating exhibits that all of us got caught up in different rooms and time periods.

We passed impressive dioramas of wooly mammoths and native wildlife, walked through a Victorian town peering into shop windows and living rooms, replicas of what life must have been like for the early settlers. Olivia was a bit leery of the darkened streets but was soon reassured that it was all just make-believe and no ghosts about.

There was a large totem collection along with many artifacts of the native tribes. The First Peoples Gallery was dimly lit and mystical. Its sense of serenity even put our little Iris to sleep as she clung to her momma, Katie, in a shoulder sling similar to how these native women may have carried their babes too.

Ben and I got to walk through a replica of the stern section of the HMS Discovery showing its captain’s quarters. He turned to me, quite excited, and said “This is where Captain Gruffy Face sleeps!” Ah, the power of a grandparent’s imagination on impressionable youngsters.

After a final stop at the museum gift shop (yes, I indulged the kiddies) we then walked into the heart of the city by way of the signature hotel in the harbor. Joseph obliged and took some photos of me and the munchkins in front of The Empress. This will probably be the closest I’ll ever get to crossing its portals as I cannot afford the royal prices.

Spring really was in the air and we enjoyed the beautiful flowers in bloom along the grand old hotel’s promenade. It seemed that everyone was out and about in shirt sleeves or light jackets. The locals confided that the sunny and balmy weather was long overdue. There was even a reggae band doing a bit of street entertaining to add to the upbeat mood. I wandered into a British department store to look at the tartans and tweeds but didn’t linger long as the warm temps and the street band lured me back outside.

Before heading back to the ferry, we stopped at an outdoor cafĂ© for lunch and, again, the cheerful crowds and clear skies were producing a carnival atmosphere. I half expected the street band to break into a rendition of “Let the Sunshine In” from Hair. I would have danced down the main street!

We walked back to the hotel to collect our luggage and returned to the ferry terminal. Ben and Olivia were tired and Katie entertained them by reading a chapter of Nancy Drew while we waited. I looked at their faces, both engaged in the story, and thought how lovely that they like books, the joy of books. Joe walked baby Iris up and down until the ferry arrived and we all trekked aboard. I went on deck as we moved slowly out of the inner harbor and just missed a whale sighting on the port side. Soon the excitement faded and the Olympic mountains gradually came into view.

To be surrounded by the sea and mountains and those I love was just the perfect ending to a perfect trip. We came home on Good Friday. It was a very good Friday indeed.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Be it ever so humble

This photo was taken in an English garden a couple years ago and just leaves the door open to so many possibilities. Excuse the metaphor, but I love this picture and the memories behind it and thought I'd share it here. It has nothing to do with the piece of real estate listed below. It's just my happy place for day dreaming.

Every once and awhile, I dream of larger spaces and a house of my own, exploring options for settling in the Berkshires. I find myself picking up realtor guides at the local market and borrowing back issues of Country Living from my daughter. I am not yet ready to make the move from apartment to house ownership but now I may have to think twice. How did I miss this one? Practically in my back yard. Princess Sophie and Princess Hannah could have their very own Pretty Pony and private turret …

I’ll have to play the lottery. Sometimes dreams do come true.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Haiku for Mother's Day

The fruit falls not far
From the tree which was its source
A delicious thought

Let the blossom fall
Ready or in disarray
It’s just gravity

Trees and mothers shed
Limbs grow tired and must let go
‘Tis the stuff of life

To lose is to gain
To release is to retrieve
The fruit falls not far


Saturday, May 12, 2007

By land and by sea Part One

One of the highlights of last month’s trip to visit the clan on
the Olympic Peninsula was a family excursion to the lovely harbor city of Victoria, the capital of British Columbia. My son, Joe, had asked what was on my wish list of tourist attractions and I requested a ferry boat ride across the Juan de Fuca strait to Canada.

He and his wife, Katie, find a wonderful harbor-side hotel, bundle up all three kids, tandem stroller, backpacks, and we’re off! We drive to Port Angeles, leave the van, and traipse onto the ferry with our overnight gear and kids in tow.

Seattle and the region in general are interconnected by
a great system of ferries. The boats are large and roomy, have snack bars, and offer a fantastic view of the beauty that is the Pacific Northwest, the many islands themselves, and the glorious mountains of Washington state: the Cascades on the mainland and the towering, snow-clad Olympics on the peninsula.

The ferry leaves the Port Angeles harbor and the kids settle down. It takes an hour and a half to make the crossing. Joe, Ben and I and go top side for a better view. The sky is cloud swept and blue and the Olympic mountains shimmer in the haze. Ben scans the horizon for pirates while I look for whales.

It’s so awesome to be standing on a ferry boat, crossing an international boundary line and stepping down in Canada. A sudden blast from the ferry announces our arrival and startles all of us as we line up to disembark. The baby recovers quickly and I am impressed by what good travelers the little ones are. We clear customs and enter a lively scene during one of the first truly spring like weekends of the season. The hotel is only a couple blocks away and we find it has some great views of the harbor and the city.

That evening we take a stroll with the kids past the parliament building and find an Italian restaurant where Ben becomes quite interested in a group of teenage girls who are sitting at the next table. For some reason, their giddy girly behavior annoys him and he announces that they are definitely too loud. I imagine, in another ten years, he will want to be sitting at the same table and making them laugh. For now, though, I feel sorry for the boy - saddled with two younger sisters and two girl cousins. As he told me ages ago while rolling his eyes, “too many girls!”

We return to the hotel quite late. After some jumping on the bed with Iris, Ben and Olivia fall asleep on the living-room sofa bed while I tell of the further adventures of Captain Gruffy Face. I then retire to my private bedroom and take one more photo of the city’s skyline from my balcony. The harbor is aglow with lights which are reflecting in the water. I pinch myself and smile. A Hallmark moment.

Everyone sleeps well, even Iris gives her mommy and daddy a few hours of rest before the morning dawns. Katie, hopefully, gets another reprieve while Joe and I take the baby for a walk in her stroller to find a local Starbucks which provides a takeout breakfast. It’s great walking leisurely, sipping a sugar-free vanilla latte, and catching up with a grown son whom I rarely see. I’m in my element. La dolce vita. It doesn’t take much to make me happy.

Kids eat, dress, and brush teeth with new super-hero toothbrushes (it doesn’t take much to make them happy either). Soon we are exploring the city streets, taking in the colorful sights and sounds of Victoria.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Boomerang friends

Life has been moving along nicely since I relocated here in the Berkshires last August. I found an apartment and then a job and manage to see the kids often. I haven’t gotten involved in the local community enough to have established a network of new friends my age though. So, this past weekend, when I had some personal and professional issues to wrangle with, I found myself phoning old friends to just touch base and have a sounding board.

After spending time with these friends, I realize just how wonderful it is to have people in your life who are good, caring listeners - people who let you understand yourself better just by giving you the space to hear yourself think.

One friend, a colleague from my former workplace, allowed me to talk and talk tonight. It was a pretty one-sided conversation but helped me gain new insight on things which seemed a bit undefined and unsettled. I laughed and called her my “boomerang friend”.

These are the friends we all need. They allow us to come full circle by their presence and receptivity rather than by their advice.

It’s a gift to be able to put your own agenda on hold and really allow your friend to speak freely.

How many boomerang friends are in your life? Can you return the favor?