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My mother has discovered Skype. She called last month and asked if we could try it, because her friend Fran uses it to talk to her daughter. She and Fran are fast friends, but my mother doesn’t like Fran to get ahead of her on anything, especially when it comes to connecting with daughters.

It took us three weeks and several false starts to start talking via video, while we tried to figure out why a) I could neither see nor hear her (turn camera on) b) I could see but not hear her (purchase and install microphone) c) I could hear but not see her (enable camera on Skype).  The first time it all came together I had to work to convince her to put the phone down. She didn’t believe we were talking through the computer until she actually saw me through her computer without a phone in my hand.

My mother lives in Halifax, which is about five hours away. We talk weekly on the phone and are now strangely even more connected through this magical digital phenomenon. I now risk that little phone ringing everytime I go online, but I admit it is reassuring to see her smiling brightly on the other end of the video link, having just applied lipstick and fixed up her hair for the occasion. She wants to “see” me, she says. And more to the point – she wants to “see” her grandchild. It’s lovely to see the look of glee on my mother’s face when Lucy climbs on my lap and appears onscreen. Fran doesn’t have any grandchildren yet. At least Mom’s ahead of her on that one.


VCA010-DISNEY-PRINCESS-follI apologize for being absent the last week or so, having been caught in a storm of work, home and school assignments. I am now, however, caught in the act of procrastinating so I might as well make the best of it and share some observations on the subject of Princesses. 

I am being swarmed by Princesses. We have princesses on light switches, backpacks, socks and toothbrushes. Princess notepads, colouring books, coloured pencils, cut-out dolls and markers. I found Sleeping Beauty staring at me from the bathroom doorframe the other day, where a small hand stuck her, having peeled her away from friends Snow White, Belle, Jasmine and Cinderella who linger, until the next time, on the Disney Princess sticker sheet. 

Anyone who knows a five-year-old girl, or has been one recently understands that Princess is a real, actual profession. If you ask, you will find out that Princesses live with their friend Hannah Montana in Disneyland and you have to ride a plane to see them. They wear beautiful dresses of pink, yellow and baby blue, favouring bows, ribbons, roses and crowns as accessories. They do not have body hair, toenails or bad teeth. In fact, if you look closely, you will find that their teeth are actually one solid mass of grinning white, beneath perfectly shaped Princess lips.

The downside to all this is the fact that there is only one Prince. When Cinderella and her girlfriends go to the Ball, they have to wait for the Prince to choose which one he will dance with and then marry, and then spend the rest of his life with. Happily Ever After. 

As my mother’s daughter, raised in the empowerment age of the 1970s and 1980s, it is mildly horrifying to me that my own child thinks these things and more – doesn’t believe that Princesses have armpits.

Just yesterday, Lucy and I were playing with cut-out dolls (Cinderella and Belle) on our sunny garden deck, putting stickers shaped like jewels, bows and flowers on their massive magnetic ball gowns when talk turned to armpits. 

Me: Lucy, that dress goes just under Belle’s armpits, you might need to stick her fur stole on her shoulders in case it’s cold at the Ball.

Lucy: Mommy, Princesses don’t have armpits.

Me: Of course they do, sweetie. And I bet they have to shave them too.

Lucy: No Mommy, they don’t. They are Princesses.

Me: (Masking growing hysteria, attempting ‘teachable moment’) Lucy, Princesses are grown-up girls. They have armpits and vaginas and belly buttons and all the things that real women have. Just because they….

Lucy: (Closing eyes, covering ears with hands) NO NO NO NO NO NO NOOOOO!!

I played with Barbies. I loved their long hair and strange bodies and the fact that their feet never rested flat on the ground. I don’t think this scarred me. I read all about Princess too, and never thought it meant I needed a Prince to complete my own story. I have a busy full-time job and a husband who bakes bread and does the laundry, in addition to his busy life teaching university students how to think and write. Don’t get me wrong, my husband is definitely a prince, but not the kind who rides in on the white horse to rescue me from some evil fate. 

Lucy is surrounded by strong, capable women who have jobs, body hair and brush their teeth. Her teachers, her sisters and my friends and I are all as real as they come. I hope we are modeling a reality check to that Princess fantasy so brilliantly commercialized by the Disney Corporation. I think this will all turn out okay in the end. 

After all, while I couldn’t convince Lucy of the proper anatomy of a Princess, she was the one who took off their ball gowns and sent them off to their pretend jobs with packed lunches and pretend cellphones. For the record, Belle works full-time in a candy store and Cinderella is a unionized bus driver who carries her job manual in a sparkly pink purse.

AAAAAvl8s2oAAAAAABzlDALovely Husband weighed in on the subject of parenting on his blog, The Mysterious East today, suggesting the tide is shifting in many families toward a more equitable sharing of domestic duties.

Now I know lots of men who say they do an equal share of the grubby work of parenting (bum and nose wiping, laundry folding-and-putting-away, everyday cooking – and not just on the grill – bathroom scrubbing and grocery buying) and even more women who say they just do a better job of those things than their husbands ever could.  

I am grateful for our own, let’s call it “flexible” arrangement, where everything seems to gets done eventually and we don’t worry too much about who does it on what day. Oh yes, and we have a cleaning service every two weeks, which helps smooth things beautifully.


Lucy's panties on our line, backed by apple blossoms.

I received a lovely comment this morning from Mrs. Mutton, a fellow clothesline devotee (and craft blogger) who appears to live in New Hampshire and who passed on another set of rules for hanging out clothes. One of them involves walking the length of the line with a damp washcloth to make sure the line is clean enough to hang clothes on. My line hangs about five metres off the ground, making this impossible without a ladder, but I do respect the effort.

My laundry line hangs under our crabapple tree in downtown Fredericton.

My backyard line hangs beneath a crabapple tree.

I have a confession to make. I love clotheslines. I hang mine with pride and look for them everywhere. The Ottawa Citizen recently ran an essay I wrote about the art of hanging laundry. I am not sure how long the piece will stay on their site, so I am posting it here.

The family line

A clothesline was once about drying clothes. Everyone’s mother knows that sunshine and a stiff breeze are all anyone needs to get all the sheets and Dad’s shirts dry.

But in this age of hipster-cool fixed-gear bikes, slow-cooked organic food and urban car co-operatives, pinning your fair-trade cotton undies across the yard is almost a political statement.

New suburbanites, forced to retreat to more affordable neighbourhoods where they can raise their toddlers on pesticide-free lawns, are fighting subdivision covenants that forbid the display of damp sheets. It’s about the planet, they argue.

Here in the Maritimes, that sort of self-righteousness makes us smirk. We’ve always known the value of a good laundry line. It’s less about the planet and more about being sensible. And there’s the satisfaction of building something beautiful and revealing from the daily fragments of your life.

I often wonder what people think as they walk past my backyard line, pinned daily with a flashy mix of little-girl skirts and nightgowns, towels, pants, mismatched socks and the occasional black, metal band T-shirt owned by my teenage stepson.

When my father built our childhood home in Dartmouth, N.S., in 1976, my mother asked for two things — a canary yellow double sink for the kitchen and a clothesline. My mother, a Montrealer, was ahead of her time in many ways, teaching my brother and me to step lightly on the planet and to avoid chemical foods and hydrogenated fats. She is also a domestic esthete, and appreciated the je ne sais quoi that a laundry line added to our new street.

Mom got the yellow sink and the laundry line. I spent a lot of time in service to both and learned valuable lessons about beauty in the everyday. Laundry, like art, is all about choice and expressing your own idea of what’s acceptable and beautiful.

There are no real rules about what goes on a clothesline, only a generally accepted set of principles, some practical and some not, usually handed down within families. Some people hang their underwear, some don’t . Some hang only sheets, tablecloths and towels; I hang everything.

My mother taught me that large or heavy items go first, because they take longest to dry and can be left out while the line is refilled. Items of similar shape should go together. Underwear and socks go last.

Similar colours should go together. Red things go next to pink things, and if you want to hang an orange thing next, find something with pink and orange in it to separate the two.

Colour order is less important than hanging a taut and tidy line using just the right number of spring-loaded wooden pins. Towels must be hung level with the line, sheets folded over and pegged three times. Speaking of pins, they must do double-duty, connecting each item so nothing bunches in the middle.

My mother is a wise woman who taught me many things and encouraged my independent spirit. I have absorbed her lesson and incorporated my own, admittedly more random clothesline esthetic.

Years ago, an artist friend introduced me to the idea of wabi-sabi, a Japanese concept that finds beauty in asymmetry, impermanence and natural transience.

Wabi-sabi celebrates imperfections, simplicity, modesty, intimacy and fleeting beauty. No concept more fully expresses my own approach to hanging laundry.

To wit, the sum total of this morning’s effort is as follows; a large, lettuce-green bath towel, two tablecloths (one green, one yellow), a women’s knit top hung upside down, two pairs of women’s shorts (forest green, beige), a set of green-patterned, kids’ one-piece pyjamas, three green napkins, three pairs of panties (one large and two very small with Curious George on the front), a pair of white ankle socks, and a bright blue bra.

The items are arranged more or less by their membership in the greenish-blue colour family, except for the large, yellow tablecloth in the middle. I am not sure why I put it there, except that it seemed right to put the two tablecloths together and because it looks pretty there, with the breeze lifting it up

But everyone has different ways of doing things, and family traditions are displayed in backyards and front porches all over the world.

Big families, or people with a lot of laundry, tend to try to fit as much as they can on the line using as few pins as possible. Couples, including the pair of scientists who live next door, hang their small loads in the centre of the line, sometimes with large gaps between items, with two pins per item — an unheard of luxury in most families.

In countries where personal space is limited, people get creative. There again, it’s less about the planet and the perception of cool and more about simple necessity.

At dusk on one January night in Shanghai, I watched a small girl in pigtails stand on a wheelbarrow and lift hangers filled with clothing from the branches of a tree on a busy commercial street. She gathered the dry items into her arms before walking alone into the crowd.

My own daughter is just five and cannot yet reach our laundry line. She often stands with me on the lobster box we use as a step, handing up pins and helping to fold smaller things as they come off. She helps mostly to fill the time while she waits for me to finish, so I can watch her practice bike riding.

I am not sure what she’ll remember from these long summer days , but I hope she’ll embrace the impermanent beauty of all this. The time we share stringing memories across the backyard and the beautiful, moving sculpture we build together, waving gently in the breeze.

And OK, I don’t really mind that it saves on my power bill.

© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen

July 2018
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  • throwing my grammaaa a party today cant wait to dee the surprisment in her little face :) it makes me excitied evertime i see shes 99 now 5 years ago
  • genuine people dont come around often.If you find somebody real,enough to stay true,keep them close. 5 years ago