November 6, 2017

Yes, #metoo



I would be remiss as a mother, an aunt, a sister, a daughter, and most of all a woman, if I did not somehow in this blog address a certain campaign recently on the minds of most people who roam the many halls of the internet. At first, I did not want to join my voice to the others. I have never been one for jumping on a bandwagon, and I honestly thought I owed no one my own stories, but that pesky issue of sexual harassment keeps on rearing its ugly head, even exposing the seedy underbelly of our beloved Hollywood movie mill. Harvey Weinstein, that other director I can't remember the name of, Bill Cosby, Kevin Spacey, even Dustin Hoffmann all have allegations of sexual harassment against them, with some of them accused of even worse. In an interview, actress Emma Thompson said the allegations against Weinstein were 'just the tip of the iceberg' and her words are becoming more painfully true all the time. These men have all created great art and entertainment which most of us have enjoyed some time or other. (If either Kevin Kline or Bill Pullman turns out to be a perpetrator I am going to need a steep hike up the nearest mountain followed by a very strong beverage. Not that there are any rumours at all, I just really like those guys.) The #metoo campaign hatched a few weeks ago was an emotional one for me as I am sure it was for so many others out there. Introduced by someone in response to the first allegations against Weinstein, #metoo was meant to show how widespread the problem of sexual harassment and assault is. Let's face it. It's a systemic problem and the remedy is long in coming.

Certain types of men abusing their power to use or control women is nothing new, but I suppose many of us had thought our stories were not worth mentioning up until the #metoo campaign picked up so much speed. Many of us were raised not to make a big deal out of minor sexual impositions. "Oh, that's just your uncle George being funny" when he pinched your bum, or "Oh, that's just Mick. He's harmless" when we were invited into a neighbour's tool shed and saw the walls plastered with hard core pornographic images of women. I did not have an Uncle George exactly, but I did have a neighbour like Mick. Mick also had a brother - let's call him Fred - who lived up the street. We kids were always looking to make a dollar or two. Fred asked for some help washing his windows and invited a posse of pre-teen neighbourhood girls up to his place. Five of us walked up the steep hill to Fred's one hot summer afternoon. He answered the door in a tube top, except it wasn't covering his top, it was covering his hips and was the only thing he was wearing. I just about turned around and walked out but the others went in the house so I thought I had better follow. Fred showed us the windows he wanted washed and gave us the cleaning supplies. Then he went back up to his roof to suntan in the nude. We washed the windows as quickly as possible. He invited us to stay for a drink of pop or something but I wanted out of there, so I left. I'm not sure who stayed. To this day I hope nothing worse happened to any of the other girls. Also, to this day, I wonder what possessed Fred to think it was okay to behave as he had, answering the door in such a way, leering at us and making us all so uncomfortable. What a jerk. He would be reported now.

Several years after the 'Fred' incident I was at my local club dancing the night away. I had just met a  nice guy who was visiting from the States and was enjoying myself with him and a large group of friends. Most of us danced in a group on the floor, so I was not paired with anyone when the next incident happened. I was really getting into the music and having a great time flailing about when a man, a much older man than I, came up to me and grabbed my crotch. I was so shocked I went into an immediate rage and shoved that man so hard he flew across the room and fell on the floor. I then turned, grabbed my coat (it was the Christmas holidays) and ran the seven blocks home so fast my feet barely touched the ground. The next day, the nice American boy called me. He said he and his friends had seen what had happened, followed me out of the club, jumped in their car and tried to find me, but I was long gone by then. I never reported what I would now call sexual assault, and I decided it was my liberal, energetic quality of dancing that encouraged that man to touch me. I toned down my dancing for a while after that incident so as not to lead men to think I was open for business, but fortunately I was too free-spirited to let the actions of that one complete jerk determine how I was to express myself on the dance floor. These days I tone it down merely to keep from putting my back out.

I have other, more complex stories, but I choose not to share them in this way at this time. Some things are too personal, too painful or weird to talk about, especially when I didn't feel like I 'won' the situations. Luckily, I learned from those experiences and went on to marry a true gentleman.

When I was reading all the reports of the actresses who came forward in the Weinstein case, I was relieved to know how many of them had been able to assert themselves and escape his greasy clutches. Still, their ability to escape does not somehow erase the attempts on their bodies and their dignity. Where did Weinstein and the others like him, get the idea their desires trumped the rights of their victims? Their attitude has to come from somewhere. Did it come from their own fathers? From other authority figures in their lives? From television or film? I remember watching a documentary when I was a teenager called Not a Love Story, about the world of pornography and its impact on society. The documentary was made by a woman with hidden cameras. She and her crew went inside the seediest sex shops and strip clubs to see what was going on. The filmmaker's conclusion, and it made a huge impact on me at the time, was no matter how small and innocent we think our participation is - maybe we've been to a strip club, bought a Playboy magazine - we have contributed to the incredibly lucrative machine that portrays women as objects and excuses men as users of those objects. Some may laugh it all off as 'just a little harmless fun' but I am not laughing anymore and neither are the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of women who have come forward in the #metoo campaign to share their stories and speak out against abuse, assault and harassment. And, now some young men are coming forward with stories of being used and abused by more powerful men, as in the Kevin Spacey case, and in some cases women as well.

Where will it stop?

It stops with each of us. It stops when we not make concessions for men simply because they do some great things in the world. It stops when we treat other people with less power than us with respect. It stops when we honour and completely respect each other's personal space and chosen boundaries. It stops when we not allow our own ambition to put us in potentially harmful situations. It stops when we truly listen to warnings from others with more experience than ourselves. It stops when we stand up to bullies, not counting the cost to our reputations. It stops when we dismantle the 'old boys network' and its ideas that make allowances for 'boys being boys'. It stops when we parents pay more attention to the true needs of our children, especially our daughters, and work diligently to form the attitudes of our sons. It stops when we are strong enough to see what needs stopping, and act on it.

And to rephrase that old song, "What the world needs now, is justice, sweet justice." We have all the tools to make the world safer for each other. Let's use them.

November 1, 2017

Sears: The End of an Era



Recently, my coworkers and I were discussing the impact of the demise of Sears Canada when one of them said, "That means no more Wish Book, I guess." A sudden rush of memories hit me. Sears was not only the place where I had, for the past several years, purchased my socks and underwear, it was the stuff of childhood dreams as well. How my brother and I pored over those Christmas Wish Book catalogues, marking the things we wanted and discussing them in detail! Kids all over the country did the same with their own treasured copies of that Wish Book every year. The Wish Book was tradition with a capital T. From the gaudy fruit cakes to the plush monogrammed bath robes, the annual Holiday Barbie to the wood burning kits, gift ideas pored forth from the pages and filled our young heads with 'visions of sugarplums' throughout the dark days of November and December.

If I remember correctly Sears came out with a new catalogue every season. Or maybe there were only two per year plus the Wish Book. Whatever the case, while the Spring and Summer catalogues were not nearly as fun as the Wish Book I still went through them page by page (We only had two television channels at our house). I longed for a white canopy bed with Holly Hobby bedspread and accessories until I was in my teens. Many nights I lay awake wishing hard for the sudden appearance in my closet of a certain black velveteen outfit complete with trousers, button up vest, jacket and skirt. How smart I would look at school, I thought. I replaced all my parents' mismatched living room furniture with turquoise French Provincial sofas and Lazy-boy recliners - in my imagination, at least. The Sears catalogue represented a lifestyle quite foreign to me, where parents bought their children huge Barbie houses and Bugs Bunny bedroom curtains. The minimal exposure I had to daytime soap operas convinced me their characters shopped at Sears. Their living rooms were always perfectly clean, serene and decorated like in the catalogues.

Sears, in my hometown, and many towns like it, was not a brick and mortar store. It was a small counter, if memory serves, at the local Greyhound bus depot, where mail orders were given and picked up after a long awaited phone call. The only other department-type store in our town at the time was Woolworth's, so Sears offered many things we could not shop for in person. My parents ordered their trusty Kenmore appliances with excellent extended warranties from Sears. My older sisters were always ordering new clothes from the latest Sears catalogue, and often, due to them not fitting properly, sending them back. I suppose one could say the Sears catalogue and other catalogues like them were the precursor to today's online shopping, which is ironic since online shopping is being blamed for the demise of Sears. The entire retail landscape is going through a major shift, and I do not think we can blame only one thing for that major shift. Sure, online shopping is often a great source for a better value - my daughter's Otter Box for her iphone purchased recently for half the price of the one available at our local Best Buy, for example. I think globalization, saturated retail markets (and their by-product - discount outlets such as Winners and HomeSense), and brand loyalty are also factors. Here's an example: I like Jockey underwear. They are 100% cotton, well made, and oh, so comfortable. With our city's brick and mortar Sears closing I know of no other place in my city that sells them. I will have a good look in the possible shops, but if I cannot find my Jockeys, I know I will look online. I know my size, my preferred style and price, so purchasing would be easy. Would I buy shoes or other clothing online? Rarely, if never. I have to try them on, and if possible I like to support my local businesses.

I am sad Sears Canada is closing. I shopped there often. They had great sales, good products, and friendly staff. Unfortunately, despite their monumental efforts at rebranding and revamping, they cannot carry on. Like Eatons they are going the way of the dinosaur, taking their beloved Wish Book with them.  I am sorry for their thousands of employees across the country. Where will they go? Sears hired many older people and now their pensions are evaporating along with everything else. The world does not feel like a very merciful place today. Progress, as usual, leaves many casualties in its wake.

For more information on the history of Sears Canada, have a look at this article, which, by the way, I read after I wrote this post.



The last Canadian Sears Wish Book - the end of an era





October 15, 2017

A Slow Burn(out)

Everywhere you look there are young people trying to change the world. They are starting their own businesses while raising young children, achieving advanced degrees, inventing new and improved stuff, working to save the environment, running for office, and renovating crumbling houses (at least on TV). While their energetic output is encouraging and inspiring, and their earnestness is heartwarming it also sets off some alarm bells, at least in me. I used to be one of those people. My goal was to make people in my former small community appreciate and value the role of the arts in their everyday lives, and I worked hard volunteering my time to help make that happen. I also worked from home to make some extra income and volunteered at my church.  I did all this while raising four active children, running to stay fit, and cooking like mad. My thirties were a whirlwind of gratifying, caffeine-fueled community involvement and motherly ambition. My early forties were a slow decline into burnout. Let this post serve as a gentle warning to my young friends.

Burnout is real and, in my experience, happens when you begin to be unable to separate your 'self' from your 'work'. We are so busy in this Western Hemisphere trying to become so many things. Much of this ambition is good. We should aspire to grow, to learn, to strive for a better world, but we also need to simply be ourselves sometimes. We need to protect our peace of mind from too much intrusion, which is difficult in this age of social media and subsequent addiction. Social media nags us continually to DO SOMETHING. Yes, the world has needs, but they are endless. We can all do our bit but none of us can do everything - the treadmill was once a form of punishment for a reason. Gone are the days when simply enjoying oneself was a worthwhile goal, and I am sad about that, for enjoying oneself with the simple pleasures of life can reap great rewards, fend off depression, and spread ripples of good feeling around us. I recently read (for probably the fifth time) Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence. My aunt loaned me the DVD of the televised version and I am making my way through the series now. A Year in Provence is a funny, delightful account of Peter and his wife retiring from successful, but high stress careers in London and moving to the South of France where they restore a two-hundred year old stone farmhouse and spend their days eating, drinking, walking their dogs and getting to know the local culture and characters in the Luberon Valley. Not everything is ideal at all times for the couple, but they embrace their new life and Peter continues to write popular books for the great enjoyment of others around the world. His books exude a sense of having time for others without agenda, of experiencing life with all the five senses, of not taking oneself too seriously, and of laughter being, in fact, the best medicine. The point I am trying to make is Peter Mayle is an educated man and a gifted writer but he doesn't produce his beloved stories by beating himself over the head for not 'doing enough' and being miserable. Quite the opposite.

We all have gifts and most of us must work to pay the bills. Fully recognizing how to use those gifts and figuring out what work to do is sometimes a long road. Many of us learn by trial and error. In my own case,  and living in a city with a large homeless population, I recognize my desire to help the less fortunate, especially the homeless. Some days I honestly feel like the homeless are my sole responsibility, but I am wrong and must guard against these feelings because I know they stem from personal guilt that I have a nice place to live and my fellow citizens pushing those laden shopping carts do not. The desire to help others should never come from guilt. It should come from a more positive feeling of wanting to share. Guilt may be the impetus but it should not be the reason. The amazing helpers such as the Union Gospel Mission, Covenant House and others in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver are not able to carry on doing what they do simply out of guilt. They do it out of love, and that is what keeps them going. They have a special kind of grace to do the work they do and I would hope their work makes them happy and fulfilled and energized most days, not drained and left feeling perpetually vulnerable and raw. At this stage in my life, guarded against burnout, and recovering from some heavy personal stuff, I give my homeless neighbours spare change, smiles, greetings and hopefully some dignity. For now, that is all the emotional energy I can spare, and recognizing this is no small thing.

I leave this post with one prevailing thought:




October 7, 2017

Not a Thanksgiving Post

A couple of years ago I took the required FoodSafe course for my job. It was offered twice a year at our local recreation facility and the session I took was taught by a former chef who was now semi-retired and touring around the region giving courses and teaching on call for a local university cooking program. The length of the course was, if I remember correctly, six hours long with breaks. With the aid of videos the instructor talked us through all the various chapters of the workbook. The course material was not all that challenging. Much of it was common sense, so between chapters we were treated to several tales from our Swiss-born chef-instructor's years cooking in various places around the world as well as a great deal of lecturing on healthy eating. (North America has it all wrong, did you know?) Many of us engaged in the discussions and at one point I brought up the fact that I make my own granola. Oh no! said he. You don't cook oats! That kills all the good nutrients in them! You soak oats and always eat them raw. He also lectured us on sugar consumption and how none of us needed any sugar not naturally found in fruits and other foods. I, feeling a little bit smaller with my ruined oats, carried on with the course work in between his mini-lectures, and before long, it was time for a break. Most of the students stood up and went outside. I was organizing my bag of snacks and lunch stuff when I happened to glance up and see our instructor cavalierly and within full view peeling the wrapper off none other than a Nature Valley granola bar, chock full of sugar and corn syrup, and yes, BAKED in an oven. Despite my 'shock and horror', we finished the last chapters and took our test. I passed with flying colours and achieved my certificate.

I have often wondered what kind of strange thought pattern allows a person to rage against some particular habit only to turn around (and in the chef's case blatantly) take part in it. Was it Mr. Chef's cheat day? Did he suffer from low blood sugar? Perhaps, but he knew I was staring at his granola bar and yet he offered no explanation. I was left thinking of him as a complete hypocrite.

When I was growing up one phrase I heard often was 'Do what I say, not what I do.' How I was baffled by it when I was young. Did certain people in positions of authority get a pass when it came to hypocritical actions? Perhaps we were only meant we should take the good from what people say and ignore the instances when they, themselves, go against their own direction. I suppose we are all hypocritical sometimes. Tired parents often yell at their kids to stop yelling. Most dental hygienists probably eat sugar at some point in their day (I know this to be true because my daughter worked at a dental office for three years and saw a lot of cake and hot chocolate consumed). Doctors probably don't take their own advice all of the time. Dads are famous for chastising their teenagers for being lazy while they, themselves, sit in front of the football game all afternoon and procrastinate on all the chores to be done around the house.

When celebrities and other famous people prove to be hypocrites we get angry, sometimes rightfully so. The comedian with the great family TV show ends up being a sex predator. The ultra survivor man ends up, against all appearances on his reality TV show, spending each night in a luxury hotel with heat and hot water. America's sweetheart is revealed as a drug addict. The politician campaigns on a promise and gets our votes only to backtrack once in power. And on, and on, and on.

The worst part about being on the receiving end of hypocrisy is the feeling of being robbed. We were led to believe something about a person and built up a level of trust and commitment to them and what they represented, only for that to be yanked away like a ripped off Bandaid leaving pain and even some scarring. I have reached the point where I hold new people I either meet or become interested in due to their work in the public eye with some emotional distance until they prove at least to be relatively constant. Sad, isn't it? But, perhaps safer on the heart. Maybe others do the same with me. I don't make friends as quickly as I used to.

But dammit, I still make granola every week. So there.

September 23, 2017

Let Me Tell You Something



Writing, for me, is an astoundingly personal thing. It is not only thoughts put into words, but my thoughts, my words, borrowed from my experiences and filtered through my fractured lens. "How do I know what I think until I see what I say?" or something like that. The fact is, I choose to post my thoughts on this blog for two reasons: 1) Writing for a potential audience is a good practice. I like talking to people and this way I can try to organize my thoughts into something cohesive with a beginning, middle and an end. So often, real conversations get interrupted or sidetracked, which is fine and fun most of the time, but can be unsatisfying for someone who likes to finish her stories. 2) I like feedback, even if most of the time it's only from family members and friends who support me as as person. I am not an introvert as so many writers tend to be, only a people person who needs some regular time and space to herself to sort out her thoughts.

As I sit at my desk this Saturday morning, later than I planned due to half an hour waiting for someone to answer my call at the Royal Bank of Canada VISA headquarters, I begin the plunge, yet again, into sharing my thoughts with 'the world'. Yet, I feel shy about sharing those thoughts sometimes, this morning included. Why should anyone care what I think? Really! The world is in constant turmoil and I tend to write about little, everyday matters which feel so inadequate in this current climate of fear and upheaval, not to mention flooding, fires and pestilence. My posts don't solve anything or help anyone in any concrete way - except perhaps, me. The act of typing words strung together as sentences and forming paragraphs is therapeutic and creative. Each time I blog I have built something, a sort of structure which I can add to the others of my building, and that process is, in itself, satisfying. Clicking the 'publish' button is like locking up my building once the windows are in. I know it isn't perfect and there is still much more work to do in my painfully slow progress as a writer, but my structure has at least reached a stage where I can look at it and say, 'There. I made that. I finished that."

I am a person who needs to contribute, but I am struggling to figure out how my contributions will be shaped in the future. For thirteen years I was on the board of the community arts council of my former town. Six of those years I spent as President. Then, I got a paying job. My job is not anything spectacular. It's a humble, three days per week position as kitchen staff at a cafe-bistro, but I enjoy the creative nature of my work making food for people (anyone who knows me should be aware of my passion for food), the tips are good, and it helps pay the bills. We also moved to the mid-sized city where my daughter's busy theater life happens. I had to let the arts council go and now I've stepped away I see what a huge role it played in my life. I maintained a sense of personal value and purpose in my volunteer role with the council, a role which also happened to be a huge amount of work. Stepping away allowed me the time to pick up my blog again after a two year hiatus, and I find some renewed sense of value and purpose in writing my posts. For now, my blog has to be my contribution to my community. I know in comparison to my other roles in life its impact is tiny. I know I am mostly just talking to myself and a few others, (thank you, family and those few friends), but sometimes the things we do for and from ourselves end up creating a positive, albeit diminutive, ripple.

Growing up when women were the product of the 1970's 'You've come a long way, baby' brand of Feminism, I entered motherhood with the sense I may be an anacronism. I had dropped out of university after deciding against becoming a teacher (yes, there is huge regret there) and had no visible career. I wanted to be at home with my beautiful kids and was lucky my husband was ambitious and career minded enough to earn a good living for the both of us. Yet, I craved more. I loved stories and reading, so I tried to write books as a way to glory and meaning within my family and friend circle of strong, capable, well educated women, but my books were failures. My books were failures mainly because they were deeply flawed in structure and I didn't know how to fix them. I survived those failures and learned the truth about myself. Writing is important to me, but it is not my ticket to another portal "outta here". It is the ticket to my inner life, my heart, my often wavering sense of self in this crazy world, and I will keep doing it even if people stop reading it. Honestly, though? I hope they don't stop reading it.

*The photo is a snowshoe hare changing its colours for a new season.

September 9, 2017

A Library Tale




I was on Facebook the other day when I came across yet another news post about the high cost of living in my province of British Columbia. Ever interested in the topic I began to read some of the comments below the article, something I don't often do because some people say such ignorant things on social media platforms. Reading those comments is one sure way to lower my hope for humanity. Anyway, a woman had posted about her family's struggles to make ends meet even with both she and her husband working. In fact, with the overwhelming costs of daycare, food and rent the family was going into debt. She asked for any suggestions on how to make do with less. I attempted to help her by sharing some of my own experiences from my days as a stay-at-home mom of four. Among other cost-saving measures I mentioned how I used the local library a lot, as a place to borrow videos, books and as an outing that did not cost a dime (unless our books were late, of course). I ended the comment by commiserating about the cost of groceries and wished her the very best of luck.

That night I slept poorly. The forest fire smoke hung over our city trapping in humidity and heat, and my back was bothering me. As I lay awake I thought about my comment on Facebook and hoped my suggestions had been friendly and helpful ones. One thought led to another and I began to think gratefully about all the times spent at libraries with my children. When my boys were very little we lived in a lovely little mountain town called Kimberley. I have always been a walker, and I went out with the boys every single day, no matter the weather. If the weather was decent I pushed them in the double stroller to the park down the road. We would play there to run off any potentially cranky energy (pushing the stroller down the hill had already eliminated mine) and then walk/ride back up the hill to the town center to make our usual rounds. The town of Kimberley is incredibly charming. The businesses border a central European-style plaza where a large cuckoo clock yodels the hours - at least it still did on our last visit there several years ago.  One of our stops, at least once a week, was the library. After choosing carefully and reading several, we could check out a large stack of books, which I would put in the undercarriage of the stroller along with everything else I had gathered on our travels that day - groceries for dinner, thrift store finds, interesting pine cones or rocks the boys found, etc. I believe I counted my lucky stars each time I left the library - I walked out of there with over a hundred dollars worth of books and I could keep them all for weeks, provided no one else had requested them. We were usually done with the books after a week and would take our stack back to the library along with any Mighty Machines or Little Bear videos we had borrowed in order to get an entirely new selection - for free! Oh, I know full well we all pay for libraries through our city taxes and such, but for a young family such as ours, I cannot thank The System enough.

When my husband was transferred to Vancouver Island we again sought out the local library. There we discovered more new books and authors to add to our growing list of favourites. I greatly appreciated the way in which the library staff would place a selection of books and videos on display. I have often found a new book or author for myself in these displays as well. With the kids in tow, I did not often have time to search for items for myself but if a cover called to me from the display racks I would throw it (gently) on the pile and take it home. On our annual trips to my hometown to visit family we would visit a favourite bookstore. Our kids would get to pick one book each as a present. The book would often be a shiny new copy of one they had come to love at the library.

When we moved to the Fraser Valley we lucked out completely. The small town, almost village in size, where we were to make our home for the next thirteen and a half years, was the proud owner of a brand new library. Not only was the library beautiful, open and brightly lit with natural light, it was, despite it being on the small side, part of a wonderful regional library system like our Island libraries. Any item in the vast and seemingly endless system was available to we small-towners at the touch of a keyboard. Our three older children were all school age, and our youngest was eighteen months when we moved to the Valley. Within three months of moving I found myself doing daycare for a couple of teachers from our elementary school. My method of child care involved much walking and playing at the park, but it also involved frequent visits to the library for outings, especially for Friday morning Storytime. Storytime at the library was looked forward to by many parents and caregivers in our town. The fifteen minute walk from our house was a good way to work out the ya-yas in my charges before they were to sit and listen to the head librarian entertain them with puppetry, fun stories, and activities. I personally loved our librarian because she spoke my language, so to speak. We both revelled in nonsense and word play, and mildly politically incorrect humour. She and her dry-witted Scottish workmate would also make delicious coffee for the adults and serve cookies for the kids. Those Friday morning cups of coffee, company and stories forever endeared me to those two amazing women.

I have not visited my new library branch much since moving to the city where we now make our home. I am too occupied by trying to make use of all the trading credit I amassed at a local second-hand bookstore when downsizing this past autumn. When I do make another visit to the library here I know I will smile at all the young families making use of the wonderful services there. I also know I will enjoy the immediate sense of community a library offers to all who enter its doors. A library is a rare place of equality. A wealthy person is treated the same as a low-income person, for they can each borrow the same amount regardless of income. Access to computers and internet, newspapers, magazines, audio-books, CD's and DVD's, reference books, not to mention author readings, seminars and workshops allow an extension to everyone's education. We only have to take advantage of them.

Long live the local library, truly one of the very best institutions in the world. I know full well my life as a young mother, and the lives of my children, would have suffered greatly without it.

August 30, 2017

French Women Don't Get Fat - or, I wish I were French



Recently, I was given the book French Women Don't Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano, a Franco- American. I was happy to get a copy of this book (even though it may have been a hint) after wanting to read it ever since I saw the author interviewed on Oprah way back in the mid-2000's. I was nearly finished reading a novel called My Brilliant Friend written by Italian author Elena Ferrante and thought perhaps a transition from one European sensibility to another might be natural. I am anything by willy-nilly in my choices of what to read and when. I did find Guiliano's 'non-diet' book easy to get into, but to stay with? That is another matter, and fitting don't you think?

After explaining the French woman's loving relationship with food and pleasure in a delightedly light-handed way Guiliano launches into a series of meal plans and recipes that further illustrate her philosophy. Light, varied but satisfying and delicious meals seem to fill her life, with a glass of wine at supper each and every night. She grew up in France fairly privileged (with a nanny and a gardener) and food preparation and mealtimes were  near-sacred ceremonies, especially lunch, which was the main meal of the day as it is in many countries. Her mother seems to have been a wonderful cook who got the family involved in the harvesting and preserving of the fruits of their orchards and gardens. The main bits of wisdom I take from the book so far are the following: if you are going to have dessert - and dessert is very important - skip the bread at dinner (although bread is also very important, so skip the dessert if that makes you happier), set the table beautifully and present small portions with panache, eat what is in season when it tastes its best, and enjoy a hearty, healthy breakfast containing yogurt because that will start your day off right and prevent over-eating later in the day. Try not to snack, but if you are stuck in the airport waiting for a delayed flight, keep a handful of nuts in your Hermes handbag. Moreover, enjoy every bite of your precious food, simply take fewer. In any case the pleasure of food is tasted only in the first few bites.

Guiliano's way of living and eating is admirable and enviable. There is something beautiful and classic about her approach. To our North American way of thinking the French woman's philosophy may seem elitist. We immediately shout at her, "I can't afford halibut and lamb chops and all that wine and fancy cheese!" In France, however, food and wine ARE the center of everything, and she explains how life works there. Markets exist in every town and shopping is done daily on foot, not by car, so you get some exercise, too. One purchases for ultimate freshness and quality. I think the anecdote which impressed me the most was when she writes about going to the melon seller and him asking when she wanted to eat the melon. When she replies "In two days when my husband arrives from America - these melons are his favourite," the seller carefully chooses a melon that will ripen perfectly by then. Her husband arrives in Paris, enters the apartment and his nostrils are filled with the perfectly ripened aroma from the melon. "Wow!" is all he can say. French people would rather eat an ounce of good, what we would call 'artisan', cheese than a pound of  American cheese from the 'hypermarche'. The difference between North America and France is defined by how the poor eat as well. In North America, she observes, the poor eat low quality carbs and junk food because that is what is immediately available to their budgets. In France, however, their culture has shown them how to buy food in season when it is at its most plentiful and cheapest, and since less is more they fare better than North Americans health-wise. Eating well seems to be written into the French person's DNA. How lucky they are! We seem to live a lifetime learning how and what to eat.

Living in New York half the time, Guiliano has access to year-round European style markets selling everything from asparagus to fresh caught fish and seafood. Most of us are lucky to live in a town with a farmer's market open once per week in the summer months only. The 'hypermarche' is the reality for most of us. We've all heard the advice, "Shop the outside aisles only" because that is where the fresh food is. Everything else in the center aisles is bottled, packaged, and processed. Well, I shop the center aisles, too. Where else can I find pasta, oats, jam, peanut butter, crackers, coffee, tea, those mint Oreos my kid loves, and the juice my husband needs to survive? In France, perhaps, all of this is available freshly produced at the market, apart from the Oreos (but then, who needs Oreos when you have macarons?). I know from experience that my area's local farmers produce oats and even jam, and I can access these by a bit of extra leg work, but I don't always have the time. I do stop at the pepper farm once a week for a bag of bell peppers in season, and visit farm stands often for berries, eggs, and fresh corn, for these are all on my way home from work. I have always made it a priority to feed myself and my family the way I need to for our health and my peace of mind. That being said, I could stand to lose a few pounds.

So, what can I learn from Guiliano's book? I think I can take her principles and apply them realistically to my own life. I do many of the things she suggests - eat a good breakfast, eat what's in season, make most of our food at home, drink a lot of water, move my body, etc. I do not refrain enough from snacking, especially at work where I am surrounded by food. I do not set the table every night with nice dishes and cloth napkins, sipping wine while I chew slowly and thoughtfully. Perhaps that is the ticket. When all my children lived at home and my husband came home every night we sat at the supper table most nights of the week.  Most nights now, I and my youngest kid, the only one still living at home, eat sitting in front of the TV watching an episode or two of our latest favourite show. Our supper hour is a routine for the two of us and we both enjoy it.

The other night I served myself smaller portions of supper, sat as usual in front of the TV for an episode of Father Ted, and took smaller bites, trying to savour them slowly in between hoots of laughter. Life is all about compromise. Oui, oui!