Category Archives: Big Sisters

And I Heard the Door Open From Below….

This is part 2 of the blog post:  “Staying Alive and Following Your Dreams”


The other day I posted about Janice Butler and her “It’s a success” strategy for, you guessed it, success.  Today, I’ll recount the rest of the afternoon….

Location:  The Lakeview, Hamilton, Ontario

Purpose:  Professional development day.

Just before we broke for lunch we had a visit from Dr. Cooper who works in the Centre for Student Development.  He’s a psychologist specializing in addiction and gambling.  He’s your typical college psychologist, Birkenstocks, cords, untucked shirt, long hair, funny.  He took us through a relaxation exercise that I just wasn’t into.  He was really good at it; I peeped through my eyes and looked around the room, everyone seemed right relaxed.  I was, at first, for about 10 minutes, then I started getting antsy and fidgety in my seat.  He was going just too slow.  I needed to be relaxed faster.  When I heard the door open downstairs and footfalls echoing up through the stairway I thought, that must be her, and then for sure the session was over for me.  But I sat there and waited before I jumped up and went over to introduce and impress myself in her future only to get her name wrong in the process.  Can you imagine, I called her Mona Raynard?  Of course that would happen to me, the opportunity to be memorable for the tarnish rather than the polish.

She sat with us at our table during lunch.  And good thing there were other people or I would have totally monopolized her time with questions, questions, questions.  Mostly about writing, getting published, women’s issues and, of course, the perks of editing a women’s lifestyle magazine.  But my mother taught me to share and I refrained from taking over the talk.  It was more an opportunity to talk a bit about us, who we are and what we do.

After lunch Rona stepped up to the front of room to talk.  Slim and petite, she used an ipad for her presentation so she could free herself from the podium.  She was dressed in black pants with a black, white and grey flecked wool jacket, cropped at the waist. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.  But I was interested in what she was wearing.  Are you kidding?).  I was going to ask her the label and engage her in fashion talk, but that’s another blog.

She  stated right off the top that self-care is not selfish.  That’s a message that the women in the room know well and that we tell to those around us, but we often fail to take our own good advice.  It was good to be reminded.

As I listened to her recount her life and work  experiences, questions formed in my mind.  How do you adjust after life in the fast lane to not driving at all?  How do we relax enough to allow renewal when we’re so busy running from one aspect of our lives to another?  We are so caught up in our professional identities that provide us with real-world value in terms of jobs and occupations and life and death decision-making, that when we no longer are in those positions, we have no idea who we are or what makes us happy.  Couple that with the reality that retirement in the traditional sense is now considered a career transition as we prepare for longer periods in the workforce than our parents did.

It’s a brave new world for women in the workforce, with retirement plans contingent on lifetime earnings which run 60% of what men make. Older single women, living in poverty, longer and with more morbid health conditions than men, or serving as their partners caregiver, the future for the elderly woman can be a bleak one.  Best to keep opportunities, techniques and tactics that encourage renewal, of mind, soul and body.

Using her personal experience with change and depression, Rona mapped out the highs awarded by career success as well as the lows of being away from it that swung her into a debilitating depression and her subsequent success at the helm of Chatelaine.

Her description of the Chatelaine work-world was captivating. The excitement, the challenges, the problems to solve, the importance to experience.  When she spoke about the connection she made to the women who wrote in to comment about stories in the magazine, especially her appeasement of Mrs. Outrage, I felt a similar connection.  I can do that.  But I think I can do anything.  Don’t you know I’m Wonder Woman?  The truth is, I can barely maintain my blog empire never mind create a national women’s magazine every month.

I took notes.

As I said, Rona’s talk focused on renewal, how does it happen, why is it necessary, how do we benefit from it, where to find it.  She noted that for her, as for many of us, “the ultimate act of renewal is to move on”, from a job, a relationship, a friendship etc.  I know a few women who are in that process right now.  Scary, but exhilarating at the same time.  It’s in those times of renewal that we surprise ourselves by discovering new interests, new skills, new people, new ways of being.

Rona’s advice on managing renewal:

  • Stay fit
  • Remember to be grateful
  • Stay inspired

In response to a question about how to support someone who is depressed and suicidal, she offered the following words of wisdom:

  • be there
  • ask how they are
  • bring food
  • help with the kids
  • understand at work
  • listen
  • do unto others

I particularly like the last one.

After she left Chatelaine, Rona wrote a book, a memoir about her relationship with her mother, Fredelle Maynard, a Radcliffe-trained academic.

A quotation from the book’s dust jacket sums up nicely the significance of mothers:

A woman’s identity is forged in her relationship with her mother, whether close and tender or fraught with conflict.

I’d say I agree with that, speaking from my experience with my own mother, who taught me the important life lessons like sharing, the value of relationships, trust, and reciprocity, love, understanding and acceptance.

Her mother, Fredelle Maynard, authored the book Raisins and Almonds, which I was first introduced to in grad school studying immigration history.  Her book is a collection of finely crafted stories drawn from her experiences growing up on the Canadian prairies, the daughter of a devoted father, a Jewish girl in a land of often unkind gentiles, a 20th-century, educated, modern woman.  I checked it out of the library on the way home from work yesterday.  I’m looking forward to reading it again, as a prelude to reading Rona’s memoir of her relationship with her mother.

Rona gives workshops on memoir writing.  She brought copies of her book, one of which I walked away with.  I paid for it first, of course.  That’s 2 books in one week, directly from the hands of the authors (dedicated and signed!).

Do I sound like a groupie?


Staying Alive and Following Dreams

This is part one of a two-part post.  It was getting too long so I cut it in half.  Part two will come tomorrow.


I work at the best place.

The director of our department hosted a professional development day earlier this week.  Our director believes that it’s important to provide opportunities for staff to gather outside of the workplace, to engage their minds in thinking of the many possibilities in life rather than of the restrictions that often guide us in our daily dealings.  Our director rocks, to be truthful.  She’s got a reputation of pure gold all across the organization and it’s richly deserved and worn well.  This year the event was held at The Lakeview on the shores of beautiful Lake Ontario in Hamilton.

I was excited because I found out a couple of days earlier that Rona Maynard, ex-editor at Chatelaine magazine would be our afternoon speaker.  She left the masthead of the magazine back in 2004 when, as she said to us, she lost the desire for the problems at Chatelaine.  Now, as an aspiring writer and a avid reader of Chatelaine – I even wrote a paper on the magazine for one of my university courses – I looked up to Rona Maynard.  She sat in the top job in Canada for women’s magazines, a job I used to dream of having when I had those dreams.  Her departure left the magazine in a turmoil in terms of editorial leadership.

Chatelaine sent me my first rejection letter from a woman’s magazine and I’ve never been published there.  I went for the best when I pitched:  The Atlantic, Walrus, New Yorker, Chatelaine.  Only the best rejection letters for me.  I met once with their health editor when I worked at a women’s health resource office years and years ago.  I was all eager and looking for a mentor; she was looking for story ideas.   I gave her one and we never talked again.  She didn’t seem too interested in it at the time but I later found evidence she pursued it.  I think my take would have been a bit different, but I’m glad she picked it up. Welcome to the sisterhood.

Nevertheless, needless to say, I was excited about the day.

We began at 9:00 with a short warm-up activity, to get us energized.  It was a game of “who’s got …. in her purse”.  Now, we number almost 100 and the men are in the <5% range and I don’t think any of them brought their purse, but they did have backpacks and briefcases so no one was left out.  I carry almost nothing with me but the barest I need: wallet, notebook, change purse, electronics (phone, ipod, Livescribe, camera, ear buds, memory stick) and keys.  Oh – and lipstick (Deep Violet).  Brand new.  Bought it the other day.  The only thing I could get my hands on quick was my memory stick – which to me seemed too common to call out so I was content to watch the others.  Until I heard the words “memory stick” and my hand shot straight up into the air “ME” I yelled out while my other hand furiously sought it out of the pocket in the bag.  Woo hoo, I won – second comer – but I won. Lipgloss. I guess that’s my measure of this week’s luck gone – best save the lottery money for next week.

The morning speaker was Janice Butler, who runs Creative Breeze Training in New Brunswick.  She was perfect for the morning, a bundle of energy dancing to the music and spreading positive messages:  we are born to be alive, the importance of dreams and the necessity to act on them.

She asked us to think back to a time when we were kids and what it was that we spent hours doing, when time flew by we were so engaged in the moment.  For me it was making newspapers, cutting up other pictures, creating headlines.  I only wrote the front page, but I remember it so vividly.  That and reading.  The reading was constant, unstoppable, like breathing.  Still is.  She said to reconnect with it, somehow find a way to incorporate it into your life; you will be surprised at how it can carry you to new, dream-realizing experiences.

Janice uses a visual board to keep her dreams before her eyes and suggested that we do too.  A visual board is a large poster board containing images of aspects of your dream and you in them.  She used her example of her dream to go on the Ellen Degeneres show and she showed us a picture she used of Ellen interviewing a guest only Janice put her head on the guest’s body.  Keeping your dream at the forefront of your mind will inspire you to act on it in many tiny ways and it will inform your thinking about future opportunities.  Well, Janice hasn’t yet made it to the Ellen Degeneres Show, but she was invited as a guest on a local New Brunswick talk show similar to Ellen’s.  One step closer every day.

Janice also shared with us the example of her sister and brother-in-law who had a dream to visit Tuscany.  Teamwork brought them to a Quebec television show that offered people the chance to win their dreams if they satisfactorily met the challenge presented.  Their challenge was to correctly identify, by tune, the 104 symphonies of Hayden.  None of them were familiar with Hayden, never mind his symphonies.  But positive messaging (It’s a success!) and teamwork served them well.  They attacked the problem together and when the challenge came, and Janice had to answer for her team, don’t you know she won!

Isn’t that amazing, how something they thought was impossible became possible through teamwork and positive thinking.

I’ll leave it here and relate my meeting with Rona tomorrow.

Until then – remember:  it’s a success – whatever it is….

Before the Fall….

New page added!

I’ve added a new page to Women’s Story – Before the Fall.

This page will explore women in archeology and prehistory, so the work of Marija Gimbutas is a good place to start, although her assertion of an early matriarchal society has come under criticism since her death from archeologists who, well, don’t agree.

Sisters at Work…

I haven’t been doing much else this week except working.  The project that I’m working on is something that I haven’t done before.  I was asked to write the text and compile the evidence for an accreditation document; a job above my pay grade, for sure, but I’ve enjoyed reaching for the understanding that I’ve needed to put it all together.  It’s almost done; will be by the end of next week.

When I left work on Friday, I left a completed draft on the desk of the dean.  It was just under 400 pages, and I know there are some missing pieces.  I expect the finished document will run in the 500s.  I’ve never made anything so big.  It was an organizational feat in which I am still slightly in awe.

What else I am in awe about is the help that I received from the staff in the program in which I was working.  I don’t work in this program, I work in another area of the Faculty, but they were awesome in maintaining a cheerful, helpful and humourous atmosphere while I asked for documents and gave them more work to do than the day rightfully allows.  I could not have done it without their help.

The program administrator demonstrated a commitment to her work that was truly inspiring; students can reach her 24/7 with concerns.  She can take care of anything with a smile and a good word.  She did a huge amount of work getting together everything I asked her for.  Some things she had to create.  Her two assistants made time for my requests.  I overhead one of them say: “I’ll do anything Margaret asks me to.”  I don’t think anyone has ever said that before.  I’m going to hang onto that phrase for a long time coming; it gives me a warm feeling.

What a difference it makes, working in a pleasant environment. 

The first job I had, when I was 18, was an eye-opener, let me tell you.  I was working in the automotive sector (we won’t name names, but if you think I’ve forgotten any of them you’re mistaken) in a parts department with another woman and the manager, a guy.  This woman was about 35 and had been there for three years when I came on board as the computer operator.  I worked in a little cubicle with the mainframe (it was in the olden days) and she worked with the manager just outside my cubicle.  We were separated by a big glass window and a wooden door.

The manager decided he wanted to us to learn each other’s jobs.  That was cool with me, I thought it made sense.  She didn’t.  In her eyes I was this perky 18 year old chickie, who’s hanging out with the guys in the parts room trying to take her job, and more, as we will see.  As for what I thought of her, well, she talked about everybody in the place; I knew she was talking about me too.  It made me really self-conscious with the other women because they seemed to love her

One day, I came into work, said hi with a big smile (because I really tried to get along with her) and offered to bring her a coffee down when I went upstairs.  She said sure.  I could tell she was in one of those moods she got in, the kind that led to a full verbal assault on someone not in the room.

I was in my cubicle, playing Star Trek.  It was an early video game that I indulged in when waiting for work.  I saw her get up, walk around her desk and come toward my door.  Shit, I remember thinking….

When she came in through the door, she shut it carefully, turned to me and with her finger pointing in my face she proceeded to run up one side of me and down the other with her tongue lashing out all kinds of verbal nastiness.  I was stunned, to say the least.

It went on for some time.  I was trapped, sitting at my terminal while she stood in front of the wood door.  And she didn’t let up.  She accused me of trying to steal her boyfriend (who worked in the next shop).  What a joke I thought, as his form flashed through my mind – yuk –  did I say I was 18 and he was ancient – like 40.  Are you f—- crazy? I thought to myself.  But I just let her go on.  She was on some kind of rant.  What she didn’t know, though, was that the manager had walked into the outside office and could hear everything she was saying.  I tried not to look at him while he stood looking over at the window.  He waited for a few minutes then left.

She eventually stopped.  She told me if I ever told anybody she would punch me in the face.  Yeah, right, I thought, as I had this vision of her hauling back and hitting me.  I made noises that were non-confrontational.  I tried to defend myself, but how can you tell someone that you I think their boyfriend’s gross?  I simply said she was mistaken and I was sorry that I must have overstepped my place.  I had only the greatest respect for her relationship. 

At the end of the day, the manager came into my office.  Sly and crafty guy that he was, he began by talking nonchalantly of a project I was doing.  He then told me I had to tell him everything that happened. I tried to defer; no, I said, she’s over her mood, and in fact, she could not have been nicer to me for the rest of the day.  But he wasn’t having any of it.  I heard what she said, he told me.  Tell me everything.

So I did. And while I did, I laughed and laughed as a huge burden lifted off my shoulders. 

My mother had been trying to get me to quit this job.  She could tell that the way I was being treated by my co-worker was having an effect on me.  She heard me in the night.  And she was right.  The only thing I hated about work was having to walk on shells and compensate for this crazy lady.  I thought I was taking the higher road by trying to understand why she was such a bitch to everyone, who apparently loved her.  Loved her because they were scared of what she’d say about them.

The next day when I came into work, she asked me if I said anything to the manager as she glared me in the face.  I told her that I didn’t have to say anything and that he heard her but he asked so I told him.  And right then, the manager and his boss, the controller walked into the room, told her to pack up her things and escorted her off the property.  That stunned me even more.

Well, it turns out I wasn’t the first person she freaked out on, more like the third.  The difference this time was that it was under a different manager and he actually heard her.  He told me that she had been making mistakes for weeks and blaming them on me.  On purpose.  Can you believe that?

Welcome to the working world. 

She was one twisted sister.  I hope she found some peace with herself and security with her boyfriend.  She must be about 65 by now.  I wonder if they’re still together?

Christine de Pizan – Early Feminist Historian

Evidence of early female Masons?

Evidence of early female Masons?

In 1365, a baby girl, Christine, was born to Tommaso de Benvenuto da Pizzana, a municipal councilor in Venice.  Christine was a fortunate young girl for her father believed in educating her.  This was extraordinary for the time.

Christine was married at 15, but found herself widowed at 25 and with 3 children after her husband died from the plague.  With no other means of support and no inheritance (her father died impoverished five years earlier) Christine turned to the pen and pursued a career in writing.

Her literary accomplishments were prolific; she served as the official biographer of Charles V, had a number of aristocratic patrons, and was one of the first authors to supervise the copying and illustrating of their works.

Christine wrote on a variety of topics, but the majority of her works can be set within two broad themes:  peace and the recognition of women’s contribution to culture.  Writing about peace isn’t that much of a surprise, Christine was a God-fearing woman of her time and her time was rife with civil strife.  It’s her writing on the recognition of women, part of what was termed the querelle des femmes that carries Christine down the centuries and before us today.

The querelle des femmes, quarrel of the women, swirled around the court culture of Europe in the 14th century (1300 – 1400).  At its centre was the most popular work of medieval France, The Romance of the Rose. Christine took exception to what she, and others, considered misogynist statements concerning women’s character.  The Book of the City of Ladies is Christine’s commentary on the querelle.  In it, she argues that if women had a hand in writing the stories of the past, those stories would be told different.

Christine employs allegory to tell her tale.  The story opens with Christine in her library searching for a book of poetry when she comes across a small volume given to her with a number of other books.  After browsing through its pages she is left wondering:

… how it happened that so many different men – and learned men among them – have been and are so inclined to express …. So many wicked insults about women and their behaviour …. They all concur in one conclusion:  that the behaviour of women is inclined to and full of every vice (pgs. 3-4).

Well, Christine doesn’t quite buy it.  She tells her reader that she knows the “natural behaviours and character of women” (pg 4) from all social strata:  high-born ladies, middle and lower class women who tell her things and share their lives.  Yet, despite what she believes in her heart, she concludes after investigating learned author after learned author:  “…that God formed a vile creature when he made woman” (p. 5).  Christine falls into deep despondency.

While sitting in her library preoccupied with her thoughts she is visited by a ray of light which raises her eyes to the vision of three beautiful crowned ladies standing before her.  They identify themselves as:  Reason, Rectitude and Justice.

Reason responds to Christine’s sorrow:

Dear daughter… have you lost all sense?  Have you forgotten that when fine gold is tested in the furnace, it does not change or vary in strength but becomes purer the more it is hammered and handled in different ways?  Do you not know that the best things are the most debated and the most discussed?

Reason concludes, “For you know that any evil spoken of women so generally only hurts those who say it, not women themselves”. (1.2.2)

Guided by their wisdom, Christine sets about laying the foundation and building the City of Ladies through revisiting the classic stories of women of the past.  She groups the stories according to accomplishment or claim to fame: military and political leaders, ladies of learning and skill, vision and prophecy, faithful and steadfast wives, chaste and pious daughters.

I’m not going to go into all the women Christine rescues from obscurity.  There’s too many; way too many.  But I will share with you one of my favourites; the story of Dido.

Dido was the founding ruler of Carthage.  She gave refuge to Aeneas and the fleeing Trojans after their defeat in the Trojan War.  Under the influence of Eros, the god of love, Dido falls in love with Aeneas.  She considers herself his wife and she offers him a share in her kingdom.  After some time, Zeus visits Aeneas to remind him of his destiny – the founding of Italy – and to put an end to his dalliance with Dido.  Aeneas prepares his ships for departure.   When Dido realizes his plans, she reproaches him, “unfaithful man, did you think you could…..skulk from my land without one word” (Virgil, Aeneid, 4.305).  Aeneas hid behind his son Ascanius, putting Ascanius and his future forward as the reason for his departure.

Dido, the woman who saved a defeated Aeneas and his men, who allowed them the space and the resources to rebuild their fleet, and who offered him a share in her kingdom as well as undying love, was cast aside.  She implored him to wait for favourable winds, to give her time settle into her grief.  But he said no; I must go now.  As he sailed away, she instructed her sister to build a funeral pyre on which to burn Aeneas’ sword.  However, Dido climbed up onto the pyre, fell onto his sword and died, suffering an agonizing death.  She is often depicted as a woman lost in her emotion and senseless to rational thought; pulling her hair and crying to the wind as Aeneas sails off.  That’s Virgil’s story.  Christine has a different take.

It is Reason who introduces the story of Dido, the Phoenician royal princess who escaped the violent machinations of her evil brother Pygmalion (he murdered her husband, Sychaeus).  Reason points out that Dido, then known as Elissa, settled the land that came to be Carthage by charming the people who lived there with her grace and generosity. They, in return, offered her as much land as she could gather up in a cowhide.  Dido took the cowhide and cut it into a long, thin, continuous strip that she used to map out the circumference of her new kingdom.  Reason concludes with the statement that Dido was a constant and just ruler.  It is in the next book, when Christine asks if it is as men say, that women are unfaithful lovers, deceptive and malicious in love that Rectitude reminds Christine of the story of Dido and Aeneas:

…even though he had given her his pledge never to take any other woman and to be hers forever, he left after she had restored and enriched him with property and ease, his ships refreshed … filled with treasure and wealth, like a woman who had spared no expense where her heart was involved.  He departed at night, secretly and treacherously, without any farewells and without her knowledge (p 109)


The Book of the City of Ladies. Christine de Pizan, Translated by Earl Jeffrey Richards, (New York: Persea Books, 1982)

Suggested Reading:

A Medieval Woman’s Mirror of Honor: The Treasury of the City of Ladies.  Christine de Pizan, Translated by Charity Cannon Willard, ed. Madeleine Pelner Cosman. (New York:  Persea Books, 1989.

Susan Groag Bell, “Christine de Pizan in her Study” Cahiers de recherché médiévales/ Journal of medieval studies,

Trailblazers: The early women aviators | Life and style | The Guardian

Hi everyone,

A woman I met in graduate school did her thesis on female aviators of the 20th century.  TShe would talk to me about the field of flying women and the challenges they faced to see their dreams soar.  I found it fascinating.

Most people are aware of Amelia Earhart but it’s her mysterious disappearance rather than aviation accomplishments that draws our attention.  This book details the experiences of her sisters in the sky.

For more information about our sisters in the sky have a look at these resources:


Women in Aviation

Women in Aviation and Space History

Women Pilots at War


Joyce Spring, The sky’s the limit : Canadian women bush pilots (2006)

Daring lady flyers : Canadian women in the early years of aviation (1994)

Shirley Render, No place for a lady : the story of Canadian women pilots, 1928-1992 (1992)

Take care,