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All In Hand

Here you'll find the sum total of Miss Vicky's Remarks thus far.

What??? No plague of locust?

The Webgeek Wed Mar 30, 2005

Ok, so one of our readers doesn't seem to like us. They've been viewing our page via NetDisaster.com and raining hot death on our little web presence (personally, I found the coffee spill disaster quite amusing). Well, so be it. I guess there are less interesting ways of logging your disapproval. To be honest, I wasn't sure if I should post this as a ringing endorsement -- It is kind of cool -- but then I noticed this little tank top of theirs for sale, and figured flipping them the bird was (partially) in order.

Book meme

Miss Vicky Tue Mar 29, 2005

That blork character has passed along a challenge to me and 2 other bloggers. More about this meme business later (although a visit to Wikipedia may be in order, if you're curious).

Here we go:

How many books do you read a year?

I have two different reading patterns: stuff I read on work road trips and stuff I read for my own pleasure/edification/need to connect with my past life as a literary scholar.

When I'm on the road for work, I tend to pick up cheesy suspense or mystery fiction in the airport and plow through it on the plane or train. It's mind candy - I can easily plow through a novel during a flight between Calgary, say, and Ottawa. I gets me out of the work headspace and helps the time pass more quickly. I travel a lot, and I read a lot of that stuff up at the cottage as well, so I'm guessing I probably average about 40-50 a year.

As for the other stuff, since I left academia I haven't been keeping up as much as I would like. Especially on Irish fiction, which is hard to get over here (at least, the new, lesser-known authors). I do try and alternate "good" books with the cheesy stuff, so I'll pick up two in an airport bookstore - one for the road and one for me. As far as good fiction goes, probably 20-25 a year.

What is the last book you bought?

Tears of the Giraffe, by Alexander McCall Smith. One of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series. Not sure how I feel about these, yet. They're enjoyable in their way, but I can't help feeling a little... colonial.

What is the last book you read?

Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. Not my usual fare, really, but it was pretty interesting. Brutal, at times - the narrator is a young girl who has been horribly raped and murdered by a neighbour. She tells the story about the impact of her disappearance/death on her family in the years after the murder. I found it quite engaging.

Other interesting recent read: Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem.

List 5 books that mean a lot to you or that you particularly enjoyed.

At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O'Brien
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Revenge of the Cootie Girls by Sparkle Hayter
If on a winter's night a traveller by Italo Calvino
The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry

You're probably asking: where are the political books in this mix? I know, I know. What can I say - I keep my politics to action and leave the printed page to art. And escape.

Who will you pass this on to? (3 bloggers)

I hereby pass this meme on to Anthromancy, pamusment and hegemo.


Kid-friendly activities

Miss Vicky Mon Mar 28, 2005

It's a long holiday weekend... and with it comes Visiting Relatives. Miss Vicky is lucky enough to live within short driving distance of her two siblings and their respective families, and once in a while they decide to haul the kids to Ottawa to enjoy the many activities we have to offer.

Ottawa is a really family-oriented city. Really family-oriented. This used to frustrate Miss Vicky to no end, but since her siblings began producing Nieces and Nephew, she doesn't mind so much any more. Because when they visit, she transforms into Auntie Boom Boom (don't ask) and gets to be much, much sillier than she does in her ever-so-adult working life.

There is a lot of stuff to do here in the Nation's Capital. I mean a lot. No shortage of green space for kids to run around, play structures aplenty (2 within a block of Miss Vicky's Hintonburg abode). More festivals than you can shake a stick at (or shake your booty at, more accurately). Our last few visits have been spent museum-surfing. We have no shortage of museums here, and most of them have devoted considerable resources to ensuring their exhibits are accessible and enjoyable for a range of age groups. At 5, 2.5 and 3.5, Auntie Boom Boom's nieces and nephew aren't too wild about trooping through small rooms looking at items encased in cabinets. They want to DO things. And they want to decide for themselves the things they'd like to do.

The Canadian Children's Museum at the Museum of Civilization is a fantastic place - activities for all ages, plenty of space to run around, a great stimulus for the imagination. Highlights are usually the big shiny bus near the entrance, the market (you will find yourself holding a mesh basket of plastic goodies, trust me), and of course the Port of Entry.

Another hot spot for toddlers is the Museum of Nature. Dinosaurs. Creepy Crawlies. Need I say more?

This weekend we joined Every Other Family In Ottawa at the Ag Farm. Easter+baby lambs+egg hunt in the cattle barn = a need for a nap later on. Whew! There's a great Tractor exhibit on right now, for those with kids who are into that sort of thing. Like Miss Vicky's nephew. Even better: Miss Vicky can walk to the Agriculture Museum any time she wants.

The second stop in this weekend's adventure was the Museum of Science and Technology. I dare you to get a 2 year old away from the trains. Crazy Kitchen was also a big hit, as was the Digital Networks exhibit (a big ad for Nortel, but the tunnel was cool). A highlight for Miss Vicky was, of course, the "Love, Leisure and Laundry" exhibit (a must for any domestic goddess obsessed with fifties' design). I'm thinking about donating my built-in blender.....


Hub and Spokes

Miss Vicky Wed Mar 23, 2005

I admit it. I love public transit. When it works, of course. And Ottawa's transit system is pretty good.... for some people. Unfortunately, it's based on the assumption that everyone lives in the suburbs and commutes downtown to work, that everyone works full time and that work hours are 8:30-4:30 or 9-5. Increasingly, this is not the case.

I have never really understood the logic of Ottawa's transit system. Maybe because I've lived in too many grid-structured cities where you hop on and off buses or trams or trains as needed to get to where you want to go. In Ottawa, this is more difficult to do, since buses crawl from one end of the city to the other, winding their way through neighbourhoods or speeding through the transit way but never really connecting in a way that is predictable or logical. To me, at least. I even sat on the city's volunteer advisory board on transit issues for a couple of years and it still didn't make sense, at least from a rider's perspective.

Now, when I was on this committee I used to raise my concerns about the structure of the system. I was told that riders don't like to transfer. They want a "door to door" system. Say what? Riders don't mind transferring if a system is predictable and fast. That of course, would require more buses and shorter routes, and a structure that takes into consideration the many reasons people in the city need to travel, the fact that work life is shifting and that people don't just move from the suburbs to downtown - they need to move within neighbourhoods and communities as well as get from one end of the city to the other. If we want the transit system to be a real alternative to the car, then let's start thinking about why it is that people drive in the first place.

Now it seems the powers-that-be are reconsidering the system's structure, looking at a hub-and-spoke approach to the system, rather than the current door-to-door approach. The question is: is there the political will to turn intention into reality?

Breaking the bad news to the Schlumpy

Miss Vicky Mon Mar 21, 2005

Dear Miss Vicky,
Today, during my morning commute, I once again noticed, and had to avoid staring at, this one man with the worst tupee I've ever seen. It literally looks like road kill. It made me think. Why doesn't someone tell him that not only does it look horrible, but he'd probably look better without a hairpiece in general? I also thought of all the middle aged men who normally use methods to "hide" baldness that invariably look more horrible than a shiny scalp.

I also thought about myself. I've recently gone through a bit of an image over-haul, mostly due to subtle (and not-so-subtle) hints of those around me. Once I did, I was amazed at how many other people came out and mentioned that "I look so much better now" some people I've known for years. I kept wondering "why didn't you say so earlier?".

Since you were one of those not-so-subtle hinters that helped me out, Miss Vicky, I was hoping that you could give myself, and other readers, a hand on how to politely point out to those around us that their personal style choices may need work.

When you care about someone, it's hard to let them know they may be letting themselves slip a bit. To be fair, though, friends and loved ones might not even notice or care about appearance enough to nudge someone into action. Perhaps they don't notice or care about appearance at all. But drastic changes do evoke responses, so why not enjoy the positive reinforcement?

Of course, Miss Vicky is not exactly known for her subtlety. It's not that she's preoccupied with appearance (after all, Miss Vicky has her schlumpy moments as well. Like the last, oh, decade or so). But some things are just too tempting. Like one's roomie's canary yellow sweatpants, worn while jogging, accompanied by terrytowel sweatband and huge headphones (picture Ben Stiller in Starsky and Hutch). I mean, come on!

Really, though, if the schlumpy person in question is happy being schlumpy and their friends and loved ones accept and love them as they are, who cares? If, on the other hand, said schlump persists in complaining about their inability to attract a mate or get a job, then perhaps some gentle suggestions might be in order. "Have you thought about shaving your beard?" "Maybe you should wear the trousers without the holes for this interview". "Perhaps this will make a better impression on her than the t-shirt with the beer logo".

Often a person's appearance is a reflection of how they feel about themselves. So addressing the symptom is not the best way to help. It may actually reinforce their poor self-image and drive them further down. (Example of internal dialogue: "See? Even so-and-so thinks I look like crap. I must really be a bad person. I don't deserve happiness"). Or it could be a sign of something something more serious. A better approach might be to support positive changes in other aspects of their life. If people are feeling good about themselves, their approach to every aspect of their life will likely reflect that.

Padraig's Day

Miss Vicky Thu Mar 17, 2005

Flann's take
The Rune of St Patrick.
"The Faedh Fiada"; or, "The Cry of the Deer."
translated from Old Irish by Charles Mangan
published online here
At Tara to-day in this fateful hour
I place all Heaven with its power,
And the sun with its brightness,
And the snow with its whiteness,
And the fire with all the strength it hath,
And the lightning with its rapid wrath,
And the winds with their swiftness along their path,
And the sea with its deepness,
And the rocks with their steepness,
And the earth with its starkness
All these I place,
By God's almighty help and grace,
Between myself and the powers of darkness

Well, Happy feast of St. Patrick, everyone. Or Padraig, as he's known across the pond. I know this day is usually associated with obnoxious folks with dubious connections to the Emerald Isle consuming massive amounts of green lager and talking loudly in a brogue more akin to the Lucky Charms cartoon mascot than what you might hear in County Kerry. I know one or two folks who'd rather hide under the covers on this day, for incredibly valid reasons.

Some of you might know that I spent a year in Dublin, working on my Master's degree. St. Patrick's Day there involves a deluge of American tourists importing the vilest aspects of what the holiday has become over here - parades, vulgar shades of green, garish plastic leprechaun hats and way too much alcohol. Most folks over there avoid the festivities. I managed to arrange for a conference trip back home, and missed it entirely.

I use this occasion to reminisce about my time in Ireland, and to reconnect with the academic life I left behind. That is, I make an effort to remind myself why I was attracted to studying Irish literature and culture in the first place.

I'm not talking the usual suspects here: Joyce, Beckett, Shaw, Wilde, Yeats and the other boys. There is tremendous diversity in Irish literature and culture and some wonderful stuff we don't hear about much over here. And what I loved best about Ireland was that most ordinary folks know a lot about their cultural history. You can sit down in almost any pub and have an intelligent conversation about poetry or drama or fiction or history. I could talk about Flann O'Brien, my favourite Irish writer, with cab drivers. I'm not sure what it is - the education system, the efforts the government makes to support culture, the continuation of a longstanding oral tradition, something in the water...? But I envy it, I really do.

Here are some links to get you started:

a fairly comprehensive site with links on literature, mythology, folklore, drama - even food!

Irish writers online (bio-bibliography - here's where you'll find some of the not-so-usual suspects. Not too many links, though.

it's not just a boy's club

My favourite Irish Language poet is Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill

but I also enjoy Cathal O Searcaigh (a gay irish language poet - what's not to like?)

Here's a little something to toast with tonight:

The Workman's Friend
from Flann O'Brien's At Swim-Two-Birds

When things go wrong and will not come right,
Though you do the best you can,
When life looks black as the hour of night-

When Money's tight and is hard to get
And your horse has also ran,
When all you have is a heap of debt--

When health is bad and your heart feels strange,
And your face is pale and wan,
When doctors say that you need a change,

When food is scarce and your larder bare
And no rashers grease your pan,
When hunger grows as your meals are rare--

In time of trouble and lousy strife,
You have still got a darlint plan,
You still can turn to a brighter life-


Car-free Paree

Miss Vicky Tue Mar 15, 2005

Apparently the mayor of Paris wants to make its city centre car-free.

This would be a step up from London, where the city charges a congestion fee for drivers wishing to take their vehicles into the city centre.

What a contrast from this place, where our city pays lip service to getting people out of cars and on to transit in the Official Plan, while passing policy and budgets that do nothing toward making this happen. Even now the future of the O-Train seems to be in doubt. Should we be looking to Europe for ideas? Or is it just a lack of political will and financial resources? How do we shift away from our car-oriented culture?


I feel lighter already

Miss Vicky Mon Mar 14, 2005

I know Spring's not here officially.... but for some strange reason I have begun my spring cleaning early. Perhaps I'm making up for the last few ... um... decades I haven't done any spring cleaning. I don't know.

So I spent the better part of this weekend sifting through boxes and bags in my basement. I must explain that since Miss Vicky started up her Finishing School, the basement has become a repository/storage area/laundry facility/pantry/craft project limbo/all round catch-all for not just the Headmistress but several of Miss Vicky's alumni as well. And though there has been a lot of movement in and out of the Finishing School over the last five years, the mass of stuff in the basement seems to be multiplying like coat hangers in the hall closet (well Miss Vicky's hall closet, at least).

But with home improvements in mind, I rolled up my shirtsleeves and started sorting through the mass this weekend. First to go: boxes of leftover pamphlets and paper material from various tables for various political events over the last few years. Those of you with basements know what I'm talking about: you're at the end of an event, and most of the volunteers have scattered. You've got to do something with the leftover buttons, petitions, pamphlets and newsletters. Reluctantly, you offer space in your basement... there is a faint glimmer of hope in a near-future event and the possiblity of unloading the still-relevant material. Indeed, the event comes but by that time the box is long-forgotten and you're stuck with a fresh batch of paper.

I'm happy to report those boxes are off to recycling!

Also in the pile this weekend: broken futon frame left behind by alumna; ceiling tiles removed by contractors; bits of styrofoam insulating material left by same; luggage destroyed from overuse during previous employment stint; large quantity of dead markers; assorted posters and memorabilia from various community campaigns.

And the basement's only partially purged. There's still a lot to go, so spring had better a while.

Expressions of Grief

Miss Vicky Fri Mar 11, 2005

It's amazing, the impact that the death of police officers (or soldiers, for that matter) can have on our population. The tragic deaths of the 4 Mounties have generated an incredible amount of media coverage, spin-off stories, and public expressions of grief by politicians, RCMP personnel and the general public. It's stunning, really. And I'm not going to suggest that it's inappropriate to mourn when someone falls in the course of trying to keep our communities safe. These four deaths were tragic, no doubt about it. It is appropriate to mourn and reflect.

But there is a huge disparity between the deaths of police officers on the job and those of other kinds of workers. Some deaths - the Westray Mine disaster, for example - have had lasting impacts. But so many more die on the job each year (943 in Canada in 2002).... and many more die prematurely from cancers and other illnesses developed by repeated exposure to toxic substances in the workplace. Some of these deaths are quite surprising - like the University of Manitoba professors who died as a result of exposure to asbestos in their lab, which was located in an aging building.

Now, the labour movement does hold a National Day of Mourning every year on April 28. The ceremonies are quite moving, but sparsely attended. And certainly not played live on national news networks and radio stations.

No one should have to die for a living. Police officers and, say, armed forces personnel put themselves at risk, but they do so knowingly. That's what makes them heroes when they fall on the job. But are the construction worker who falls or the nurse who becomes infected with HIV when the needle slips or the auto plant worker who develops cancer any less heroic?

Uppity Women Unite!

Miss Vicky Tue Mar 8, 2005

Well, it's International Women's Day. Normally, I'd be all up for celebrating the achievements of women in our society. Break out the lavender balloons, fashion maraca noisemakers from BCP packages, and so on. But I just can't help feeling a bit... well... frustrated by the lack of progress we've made. A tad uppity.

We had our Equal Voice luncheon yesterday and it went well - 80-90 great women, many professionals, elected folks, senators, public servants, researchers, NGO types. It was a diverse group of women and men representing several different political stripes. All very anxious to see how we can work together to get more women elected.

You'd think I'd be buoyed (pardon the pun) by such an success. But I'm not. I'm annoyed that we have to have such an organization in the first place. I keep hearing about great women losing nominations, even in progressive parties (you know who you are). I hear the Liberal's Women's commission brought a resolution proposing that at least 50% of candidates in the next election be women to their convention last weekend....but it was defeated. By the youth, no less! These must be the same youth I used to teach back in the day.... the ones who didn't think they were feminists until we started relating tales of discrimination on the job, talking about the fashion industry, advertising and body image, etc.

I also heard that the annual Women's day event held by local groups over at City Hall was a bit of a bust. I was working, so I couldn't go, but it disappoints me that we can't even get our act together to have our voices heard once a year.

But maybe we're all working. Is that it? We've turned our gazes inward, become preoccupied by our own issues, priorities, relationships and struggles and forgotten there's a whole sisterhood out there? With common struggles, problems, anxieties and shared experiences? And maybe a few ideas for solutions?

I have to wonder whether this inward turn is a response to the subtle backlash we feel on a daily basis. Or just a sense of being overwhelmed at the scope of the problem. Or maybe we're just pissed off. Either way, it's time we started talking to and supporting one another.

So. What are you going to do for the women's movement this year?

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