Wondering Where the Lions are…

Condoleezza Rice, former United States Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice, former United States Secretary of State

Condoleezza Rice once said: ” My father was a feminist from the day I was born. There was nothing his little girl couldn’t do.”

I think perhaps we had the same father. Well, not really, but my Dad certainly felt the same about me. I remember once saying to him ‘I can’t’. It wasn’t over anything stellar or life altering…in fact, I don’t remember what my proclamation ‘I can’t ‘  was about. I just remember his response. “Yes. You can. You just don’t want to. There’s a difference.”

I don’t think it ever dawned on my father that perhaps I really couldn’t, or wouldn’t be able, to do something. He just assumed….and believed….I could do anything. Whether it was optimism, his naivety, or  just a simple belief in his daughter, I’ll never know, but  thankfully, I took it to heart.

There was a time in my twenties where I had the ridiculous, and limiting, thought that I didn’t want to be anyone’s ‘token’ anything. I was asked to be the first woman to sit on a certain provincial board, and I knew it was because there was pressure for the government at the time to be more inclusive of women. My pride almost got the most of me, until I realized that the only way I could have any influence  was from the inside out. After giving my head the proverbial shake, I accepted the position and the challenge.

There have been many, many challenges since. Listing to inappropriate jokes at many a boardroom table (told, in some cases, I am sure to see me squirm), being called dear; sweetheart; toots; and babe as if I hadn’t clearly introduced myself, or enunciated my name.

Having cuss words, that would have embarrassed my Dad, thrown at me during contract negotiations with multi-national companies; hugs where handshakes would have been far more professional and appropriate; and propositions that would make a ‘working gal’ blush. Hell, I remember when I ran for City Council, hearing a now sitting Senator discussing the candidates attributes, and when my name came up he said, “Now there’s an attractive woman”. WHAT????

I’d be lying if I said there weren’t times I wanted to burst into tears and run from the room. More often than not though, I wanted to grab some hulking misogynistic idiot and spit in his eye. Instead of doing either, I developed a few quick,  sharp ‘put ’em in their place’ quips that usually garnered a better reaction that either of the first two would have. This resulted in a definitive shift. All of a sudden I was no longer ‘babe’, but rather, that cold, calculating bitch. That butch feminist nazi…oh yes, I heard it all…mostly second hand, as none of them had the courage to say it to my face.

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Let me set the record straight. I ‘get’ that men, especially in some workplaces, are terrified to say a simple thing like ‘You look nice today’ for fear of having a sexual harassment charge slapped against them.  Women have to get over ourselves and determine when a man is just being pleasant and when he’s being an ass. And men need to learn that when a woman says thank you and smiles at a pleasantry, it doesn’t mean she’s ready to be groped.

Things, for me ,did improve over the years and eventually I think I gained a lot of respect from a lot of people. I never backed down and I never quit. The plight of women my age was nothing compared with a generation before us, but we still have a long way to go. Unfortunately, we women can be our own worst enemies sometimes. Belittling and judging one another for the most asinine reasons.

It’s easy to dismiss issues facing women in Canada as ‘whining’ and ‘bitching’ when it isn’t you facing the challenges. Yes, we have laws that demand pay equality, but they don’t cover the private sector. Yes, we are far better off than many countries in our treatment of women, generally speaking. However, there are still sectors in Canada where women are marginalized.

Being a feminist isn’t about hating men. It isn’t about thinking that women who chose to stay home and raise children are ‘less than’. It isn’t about looking up to the female doctor while looking down at the female store clerk.

Being a feminist is about equality in all facets of our lives. It is about challenging the status quo. It’s about speaking up for those that can’t….or won’t. It’s about eradicating fear. It’s about establishing, and then protecting , the economic, social and political rights of women from all walks of life. It means defending the right of one woman to be a stay at home mother without judgement as surely as defending the right of the young Aboriginal woman to become a lawyer, also without judgement.

We don’t have to agree with someone else’s choice. We just need to guarantee their right to make that choice and be respectful of it.

So go ahead, call me what you will….but I’d be most flattered if you called me a feminist. In my life, that’s a compliment. And my Dad would be approve too.

Oh, for the Love of Dog

Bailey at the place she loved most
Bailey at the place she loved most

Her head in my lap, I sat on the floor sobbing, trying make sure she understood how much I had grown to love her.

It hadn’t always been so.

Bailey Conta Near. She was a gift for my husband almost four years after we had to say good bye to our handsome Golden Retriever Chevy.  Our granddaughter named her…”She looks like a Bailey” she said, and that was it. Conta was an invisible playmate and, we thought, a fitting middle name for the newest member of our family.

From the get go, Bailey was, what some would say, full of ‘piss and vinegar’.  She never stopped…..inside or outside, it didn’t matter, she went full tilt until she collapsed.  Knocking things over; challenging everyone, whether of the canine or human species, she didn’t seem to understand her role in the pack that was our family.

The only retriever we’d ever had, and she was number four, that chewed anything. She chewed shoes, toys, furniture, railings, steps, carpets…it didn’t seem to matter. We tried everything from hot sauce painted on things, cayenne pepper sprinkled on rugs, scolding, water spritz….you name it, we tried it….all unsuccessfully.

Nipping and snapping were also unfamiliar territory for us with Retrievers. That ended the day she snapped at out granddaughter and the Mama, faster than the speed of light, had the cheeky, snappy pup by the throat and flipped upside down on the floor. Admonishing Bailey to NEVER do that again, the pup came to understand forced submission.

We needed to get this pup under control…and fast. Using a choke collar, she was leashed each evening and had toys and treats given and taken away until she finally understood that she had to defer to even the tiniest of fingers taking that milk bone from her.

Throughout this time, I had gone beyond indifference to outright dislike of the dog. This was very unlike me as I am a dog lover. I have had dogs as long as I can remember and trained them all successfully. She knew how I felt as every time she tried to come near me I shooed her away. She had, after all, chewed up MY shoes.

I was working 12 hours a day at our new business, seven days  most weeks, and was on City Council at the time, and from that, on several committees. To say I was busy is an understatement.

Time passed, and one day…truthfully, one day out of the blue….I suddenly noticed that Bailey had calmed down and in fact, had turned into a beautiful, mature, obedient dog. She was nearly four, and in spite of me, had become the dog I wanted when I first picked that puppy up from the plane all those years ago.

That evening, I put her collar on her, clipped her leash on and we went for a very long walk. She was excellent on lead, obeying each command, heeling when told, matching her pace to mine. We stopped at the ball field and I lead her over to the bleachers where we sat quietly for a few moments.

Suddenly, and without any suggestion or words from me, she reached her head up and laid it in my lap. This dog, that I had basically ignored for all these years was forgiving me. I knew it as surely as I write this. She was offering us both a fresh start with that simple small, yet powerful, gesture. Perhaps she sensed that this was the first walk I had taken her on because I wanted to, not out a a sense of duty or necessity. Or, perhaps, she knew that I was ready to once again open my heart to love a dog. Whatever the reason, that was a turning point in both our lives.

Maybe I hadn’t really gotten over the loss of Chevy. Maybe I was just so consumed with making a business successful that  I hadn’t given her the time I should. All I know for sure is that I had never given up on a dog before, but this was the first time I ever felt that a dog hadn’t given up on me.

We had five more years together…wonderful, fun years. We walked, we swam, we snowshoed, and we just hung out.

Me and Bailey playing in the snow during her last winter.
Me and Bailey playing in the snow during her last winter.

Then Bailey got sick. We still don’t know what it was. We did every test available, sent her blood work to the veterinary college in Prince Edward Island, and still got no answers.  We spent thousands of dollars trying to find out what was wrong. Everyday I took her to the vets where for an hour she lay hooked up to an IV drip. This went on for weeks. She wasn’t in pain that the vet could tell. She just seemed tired. She was only nine.

Ron was away working and I called and told him he had to come home. The day he arrived was the first time she had wagged her tail in almost two months. She ran to meet him. Then she laid down beside the couch and didn’t move again. He stayed on the couch that night with his hand touching her, but with more tears than sleep. The next day we took her back to the vet knowing what we had to do. The pain  of that decision is still palpable.

Her ashes are spread on the bluff at our cabin which was named for her….the place, that like me, she loved more than anywhere on earth. A cross with her name, and her family’s  memories of her, mark her final resting place.

Today, a young male Golden Retriever named Huddy, keeps watch over Bailey’s Bluff. In one short year, he has come to love it like she did.  Often, I will look and find him standing beside her cross, looking down over the cabin and our little cove…..and often,  the soft melodic sound of the small wind chimes hung in the tree above that cross can be heard, and I know that Bailey approves.

Huddy watching intently as we near Bailey's Bluff
Huddy watching intently as we near Bailey’s Bluff

 

Digging my Way to China

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Confession time.

I love ‘things’: material things. Possessions. And…..here’s the thing. I make no apologies for it.

I know, I know. Not very politically correct to admit that, but then, I’m seldom know for being politically correct. I am known for being honest, so there you go…a trade off.

Shoes, oh lordy….a gal can do anything with a kick ass pair of shoes on her feet. Look at history…Dorothy saved a few homeless people; defeated the bad witch;  conquered Oz, and made it home all wearing a pair of red pumps. Sparkly red pumps!

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Those Elves helped save a poor working man’s business by making countless pairs of spectacular shoes (I can’t help but think Jimmy Choo has them on staff now).

And who can forget Imelda, all of the Popes, and many a finance minister in Canadian history since Donald Fleming…and the role that shoes played in their stories.

Other than books and shoes, I especially love home decor, and my greatest two weaknesses have to be bedding and tableware….linens, flatware, serving dishes, wine glasses, and dishes.

During my working life, we entertained …a lot. Dinner parties were the norm and we hosted them often. Other than holidays, we rarely entertain any more, but I still hang on to all of my tableware….just in case. Ridiculous.

Our Christmas dinner table one year
Our Christmas dinner table one year

I have table linens for every holiday (several for Christmas), every season, in every colour and a variety of fabrics. I just tabulated and I have nine sets of dishes. Even to me, a self confessed ‘material girl’…. that sounds obscene. Who needs NINE sets of dishes?! And that doesn’t include the ones I have for our brick patio (no glass allowed by the pool) or our camper. It also doesn’t count the sets I have given away or sold in yard sales over the years. This whole exercise has sort of put a target on my back for an episode of the show “Hoarders”…except I am very organized.

So, I have decided it’s time to get rid of some of the things that I love…but never use. I think that I will keep just my three sets of white dishes….one plain, one with gold trim and one with silver…mix and match capability. The rest need to go. I need to downsize, purge, get a grip on my ‘addictions’.

I have a beautiful set of expensive china that I treasure and has special meaning, as it was a wedding gift for my first marriage and given to us by my mother in law whom I adored. Does letting it go mean that I am somehow letting her go? Absolutely not.

What it means is that it is sad that no one is enjoying those beautiful dishes. It means that it is crazy to have something you say means so much to you packed away where you never see it…let alone enjoy it. It means you have too much stuff. It means it’s time to lighten up.

Most of all, it means that it doesn’t matter what you eat from, or off of…as long as you have food to eat.

It means that the people that value you the most don’t care what your dishes look like.

What it means is that it’s the people at your table that make it interesting, fun, alive.

It means that it’s  the people that sit at your table that make your table beautiful, not the dishes on it.

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So one day soon I will dig through all that stuff and find that china. I will sell it,  BUT, I will not buy more dishes with the money.  Instead I will gather all the people I love and that live near and we will once again sit at my table….with plain white dishes.