Monday, July 13, 2015

#MicroblogMondays: A room with a view

Thank you for your good wishes on our 30th anniversary last week. I published that post, turned off the computer, & headed out with dh for a two-and-a-half hour drive north to spend two nights at a well-known large resort (where a certain country-pop diva sang in the cabaret show in the late 1980s, before she hit the big time). This was the same resort where we spent our 10th anniversary, 20 years earlier, in 1995. In fact, we wound up staying in the same beachfront building, on the same ground floor, with the same beautiful view of the lake -- and when I later dug out my souvenirs of that earlier visit, I realized our room was right next door to the one we'd stayed in back then. (Thankfully, the rooms had been renovated, with updated d├ęcor, since then, lol.) 

20 years ago, I had just lost 35 pounds and bought myself a celebratory bikini to wear on the beach. I even submitted to my first-ever -- and only!! (lol) -- bikini wax in anticipation. Alas, the weekend turned out to be freezing cold -- and I don't think I ever did wear that bikini. The weather was warmer this time around, but unfortunately, it poured rain all the next day -- the one full day we were there (not that I had any plans to swim, let alone try wearing a bikini this time around, lol).

Happily, though, the deck of our unit was well sheltered from the rain, and we sat out there reading, dry & cozy & relaxed, for a good part of the afternoon. (The rain didn't deter some of the kids staying at the resort -- they were out in the lake in the middle of the downpour, having a blast.)  Before the rain hit, we were able to enjoy some walks around the vast resort (which includes not just one but two golf courses, and some pretty steep hills), drinks and snacks at the poolside patio bar, and an hour-long boat tour around the lake, where we got to gawk at some of the million-dollar mansions that pass for "cottages" among people with much bigger bank accounts than mine. ;)  We also had a very nice anniversary dinner at the resort's steakhouse, as well as some other lovely meals at other restaurants on the resort.

Probably our favourite thing, which we didn't get to do quite enough of, was to sit in the Muskoka chairs (I believe they are called "Adirondack chairs" in the States) on the stone patio jutting out from the beach, and just gaze out at the beauty around us. As you can imagine, this would be a spectacular sight in the fall, when the leaves have turned colour, and we are seriously considering a return visit then. :)  Wouldn't you??

You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here.       

I unthinkingly tagged the resort in my caption for this photo on Facebook...
and was amused to get this comment from them:
"Great shot! Couldn't you just sit there all day?!"  Well, yeah, I probably could. ;)

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Books: "Ross Poldark" and "Demelza" by Winston Graham

Back in the mid-1970s, a neighbour pressed a paperback book upon my mother. "You MUST read this," she said.

So Mom did -- and then I did. And then we read the next book in the series. And the next. And the next.

The book was "Ross Poldark" by Winston Graham -- the first book in what was to eventually become a 12-volume series about the Poldark family of Cornwall. The first book, published in 1945, begins in 1783;  the final volume (and the only one I have not yet read) was published in 2002, just before Graham's death in 2003, and ends in 1820. A few years after Mom & I began reading the Poldark novels, the CBC began showing a BBC TV adaptation of the first few books. This was in the late 1970s, when I was about 16-17 and in high school. (It was also shown on PBS in the U.S., and was later followed by a second series/season, based on later Poldark novels.)  The only problem was, it was shown after the CBC national news, which was then at 11 p.m. -- meaning it didn't end until almost 12:30. On a school night. Happily (this being pre-PVR or even VCR days), my mother let me stay up to watch with her. (She usually fell asleep part-way through.)  The series was a huge hit everywhere it was shown, with the charismatic Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees in the roles of Ross and Demelza, and a backdrop of stunning Cornish scenery.

And now, it's back!  The first two Poldark novels have again been adapted by the BBC for a new generation to discover and enjoy. The new TV series was a huge hit when it was shown in Britain earlier this year (thanks in no small part to handsome Aidan Turner (and his abs, lol) in the title role), and it's now being shown in North America on PBS's Masterpiece. As a big fan of the original, I was a bit wary of a new adaptation and whether it would do justice to the original. Happily, in its own way, it's every bit as captivating. (Robin Ellis, the original Ross, even has a cameo role in one episode as a stern courtroom judge.)

Before the new "Poldark" series hit PBS, I decided it would be timely to revisit the first two novels it's based on (even though I seldom re-read books these days). (The show has been renewed for a second season, which presumably will cover the next few novels.) I was happy to find that, even after almost (gulp) 40 years, my memory of the various plots and characters (even some of the lesser ones) was still pretty strong. I would really recommend reading the books in series order, because each one picks up more or less where the previous one left off and builds on the stories and characters established to date. Obviously, I had read the books before watching the TV series, and while I'm sure you'd enjoy the show without having read the books, I'm glad I read them first -- I think it helps to keep the characters straight & provides more background that helps you understand the story better.

"Ross Poldark" was written just after the Second World War, and supposedly based on a soldier Graham knew. Ross is a soldier returning home from war (i.e., the American Revolution). Ross may have fought for the British Army, but some of the rebellious Americans' attitudes seem to have rubbed off on him: although he's from a fine old family of gentry, he consistently sides with the underdog and chafes against authority. His wartime experiences have left both figurative and literal scars, including a prominent one running across his cheek.

But home is not as he left it:  his father has died; his estate (Nampara) is in ruins;  the mines which make up the backbone of the local economy are failing; the rich are getting richer (most notably the Warleggans, a nouveau riche family of blacksmiths turned bankers) and the poor getting poorer (hmmm, where I have heard this before?) and -- the biggest blow of all -- his true love, Elizabeth, thinking him dead, is engaged -- to his cousin and boyhood friend, Francis. This creates tension between the two neighbouring branches of the Poldark family -- which increases when he gets involved in his cousin Verity (Francis's sister)'s love life. Ross distracts himself by working to restore his estate, including restarting a long-dormant copper mine on his property that will provide employment for the impoverished villagers. He also rescues a teenaged miner's daughter, Demelza Carne, from a street brawl, hires her as a maid and brings her home to Nampara with him, which sets local tongues wagging. I don't think I'm giving too much away by saying that the pair eventually fall in love and get married, scandalizing the class-conscious locals. 

"Demelza" picks up where "Ross Poldark" left off, with the birth of Ross and Demelza's first child, Julia, and Demelza's efforts to gain acceptance within her husband's family and social circles.  She has a kind and impulsive heart, which gets her into trouble, and ultimately leads to tragedy.  I don't want to give too much away (and the TV series has only just started covering the material in this book, so I haven't seen the episode yet), but you'll want to have some Kleenex handy. 

I loved these books when I was a teenager (especially the first half-dozen or so) and I still love them now. Strong, well-developed characters and storylines, great writing, history, romance, multigenerational family drama (with touches of comedy), class consciousness -- it's all here.

Have you read the Poldark books or watched the TV series (the original, the new version or both)?

These were books #12 & #13 that I've read so far in 2015.

Monday, July 6, 2015

#MicroblogMondays: 30

Our wedding cake. It was actually made of Styrofoam and rented (!)
although I bought the topper as a keepsake (and still have it).
We did make, wrap & hand out pieces of traditional fruitcake to our guests.
This past Christmas, my dad found a bag full of pieces in the freezer!
We'd saved some for the christening of our first baby.
(You all know how THAT worked out...)
(I told Dad to throw it out -- but I did get a photo first, lol.)   
(This is probably too long to qualify as a true "microblog" post -- but hey, it's Monday!)  ;) 

Back in the 1960s, when the first wave of Baby Boomers were in their teens and 20s (and 30 seemed a LONG way off, lol), a popular catchphrase was "Never trust anyone over 30."  Back then, the generation gap was such that 30 seemed positively ancient.

Well, today my marriage officially turns 30 years old. And while part of me thinks that it seems like just yesterday, I have to admit that 30 years is a long, LONG time. Case in point: there was a feature on the news this week marking 30 years (on July 1st) since cellphone service was introduced to Canada -- complete with photos of politicians brandishing portable phones as big as bricks (although it was another 10 years or so before dh & I actually owned one).

Our wedding & honeymoon week coincided with both Wimbledon (we always know it's our anniversary when Wimbledon news starts to dominate the sports pages) and the LiveAid concerts in both London and Philadelphia that raised money for African famine relief.  (Some things, sadly, have not changed enough.) 

We had a lot of dreams and plans for our life together back then.  Some have worked out, some haven't (most notably, of course, our assumption that we would have a family -- someday, if not right away). And there have been some unexpected twists and turns along the way.

Heck, a lot has changed just since our 29th anniversary last July. Dh had already lost his job back in April 2013;  by mid/late July, I was out of work too, thrust into early retirement a few years earlier than either of us had ever imagined. (Nothing quite like retirement to make you realize your age and the passage of time...!) 

I'll admit this past year hasn't always been easy. We already spent a LOT of time together -- more than most couples we know -- but during the work day, we went our separate ways and did our own thing(s). These days, we are together almost 24-7.  No matter how much you love each other, having your own time and space is important, and we're still working on finding that balance. We're slowly getting the hang of this retirement thing and figuring out what we'd like the next few decades to look like.

A 30-year anniversary may not have quite the Hallmark cachet of 25, 40 or 50, but it's definitely a milestone worth celebrating!  Since it's prime tourist season ( = $$$ -- not to mention hordes of people everywhere)(as I've said before to friends, whose idea was it to get married the first week of July, with both Canadian & American tourists marking national holidays -- not to mention the end of school -- and running amok across the continent??), we decided to forego a big trip for now, but might still do something special later this year, or perhaps next winter, when we'll probably be in dire need of a getaway. ;) 

That said, we're not letting the occasion go by completely unmarked. ;)  I'll let you know how we celebrated later.

Many years ago, journalists would write " --30-- " at the end of their stories to signal, well, the end -- that the story was over -- and the copy boys watching the teletype machines would know to rip off the story at that point & deliver it to the editor's desk. This is what I was taught in journalism school, 30+ years ago.  I am not sure whether the practice survived many years after that.

In this case, though, it feels like 30 is only the beginning -- the beginning of a new phase of our life together, and just the preamble to at least 30 more. :)

Happy anniversary, dh.  :)

29 (2014) -- no post (??)
28 (2013)
27 (2012)
26 (2011)
My wedding
25 years (2010)
24 years (2009)
23 years (2008)

You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here         

Thursday, July 2, 2015

"Grief," observed

Dh & I spent this morning at the Art Gallery of Ontario. I hadn't been there in at least five years, maybe 10 -- before the latest renovation/expansion -- and I don't know a whole lot about art -- but I enjoyed seeing old favourites (hello, Tom Thomson and Group of Seven!), special exhibits (Emily Carr, you were amazing) and new discoveries.

In the centre of one of the gallery rooms, with paintings crowding the walls, was a small bronze sculpture. I gave it a glance, and the title caught my eye. It was called "Grief" and I moved in for a closer look. "Look!" I hissed at dh. "It's called 'Grief.'

We both stared at it for a few moments.

It was a woman. Looking down at her (flat, non-pregnant) belly.

This link says it's from the National Gallery of Canada (which is in Ottawa), but we saw it at the AGO -- on loan, perhaps? The artist's name is Frances Loring.

I was taken aback to see it. 

But it was beautiful.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Book: "Going Gray" by Anne Kreamer

"Going Gray" by Anne Kreamer has been in my to-read pile for some time now -- and after I wrote about my last visit to the hair salon (and after pointing others struggling with this question to this book), I decided it was time to actually get the thing read myself, lol.

Anne Kreamer was 49 years old and had regularly coloured her hair for years (at an estimated cumulative cost of $65,000)(!!! -- she DOES live in New York City...!) -- until she saw a photo of herself that led her to question that decision and contemplate the consequences of "going gray." (Hint: It's not just about the hair.)

The book had its beginnings in an article Kreamer wrote for More magazine -- and it does feel a bit padded at times. Kreamer seems determined to explore every angle she can find related to the decision to "go gray" -- to the point that I sometimes I had to scratch my head and say, "Seriously??" At any rate, she does do a thorough job.

She explores the history of hair colouring, how hair colouring products have been marketed through the years, and the pressures women face to maintain a youthful appearance. She looks at gray hair in Hollywood, in politics, in business and in other countries/cultures (particularly that bastion of fashion, France). Beyond interviewing women AND men (both famous and not) on their opinions about gray hair (can gray hair be sexy?) and their own decisions on the matter, she devised a survey to probe attitudes about age, beauty and gray hair, including photos of people with and without gray hair. With her husband's blessing (!), she ventured onto online dating sites, using photos of herself with and without gray hair, to see which profile generated the most interest. She even went barhopping, first in a wig and then in her gray hair, to see which version of herself attracted the most interest from men. (Sometimes, the results of these experiments were surprising.) She also visits an image consultant, and looks at how colouring your hair can be a slippery slope that leads to other anti-aging measures, such as botox and cosmetic surgery.

If you're wondering whether to "go gray" yourself, this book might give you some food for thought.

An update: I'll be heading home to see my parents shortly, but before I do, I'll be making my traditional pre-trip visit to the salon. ;)  I haven't made up my mind yet as to whether I'll be asking my hairdresser for a cut & colour/highlights, or just a trim -- but I'm leaning towards just the trim. And bracing myself for my mother's reaction, lol.

This was book #11 that I've read so far in 2015.

Monday, June 29, 2015

#MicroblogMondays: Graduation blues

It's that time of year. School is out for the summer, pretty much everywhere now. Over the past few weeks, I've been seeing a steady stream of "last day" photos (when I was a kid, we had first day photos & that was it, but nevermind...), prom photos, year-end recital and sports banquet photos, junior kindergarten graduation photos, kindergarten graduation photos, sixth grade graduation photos, junior high graduation photos, high school graduation photos, university graduation photos (including my own nephew's).  Parents posting on Facebook with hashtags that say "soproud" and "growinguptoofast" with sad face emoticons.

Watching from the sidelines, those of us who have lost children, those of us who wanted to be parents but aren't, are watching with a mixture of pride (for the achievements of those kids we know & love), bemusement ("get a grip, mom & dad"), sadness, and yes, a little envy.

I understand that sensation of time passing by way too quickly, a little. It doesn't seem that long ago that our nephew was an adorable, chubby, curly-headed toddler with a soother that seemed permanently stuck in his mouth. And now he's a towering six-feet-something tall, embarking on a new job and saving up to buy his girlfriend an engagement ring. Yikes!  (We weren't able to attend his convocation -- not enough tickets -- but we were still able to watch him cross the stage and receive his diploma via webcast. Three cheers for technology!!) 

But as another babyloss mom has said (in words to this effect), "I really wish people wouldn't say stuff like 'I wish they could just stay little forever.' Believe me, you really don't wish that. I will never see my son's first day of school, or last day or school, or graduation, or wedding.  I will never get to see him grow up. At all." 

This September, my daughter would have been entering her last year of high school. Turning 17 in November.

This time next year, I will be looking at my friends' & relatives' photos of their sons & daughters (at least five or six kids that I can think of, offhand, whose moms' pregnancies overlapped mine with Katie) attending prom, attending graduation, receiving awards, posing with proud parents & grandparents, discussing their plans for the future, talking about university and community college in the fall. 

There are many things about the bereaved parent experience that I've learned to grin & bear, to shrug off, that I've gotten used to, developed coping strategies to handle. Showers, birthday parties, first communions, weddings, Halloween, Christmas -- occasionally, I will have a difficult moment, but these things generally sting far less than they once did.

I don't think this is going to be one of those things.  

I am not looking forward to it.

You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here.         

Sunday, June 28, 2015

"Inside Out," and learning to live with Sadness

Dh & I went to see the new Pixar movie, "Inside Out," this afternoon. (I ventured in to buy the tickets while dh parked the car. "Two tickets, please," I said to the young girl at the box office. "Is that two adults?" she said. "Ummm, yes," I muttered, extremely conscious that every other adult in line had at least one kid in tow.) 

Of course, as it turned out, this is one of those kids' movies that's really not for kids at all. (Bring Kleenex!)

As you may have heard by now, the movie is all about 11-year-old Riley, whose happy life with her parents is turned upside down when they move from Minnesota to San Francisco.  Most of the activity takes place inside of Riley's brain, where the control board is presided over by her emotions: Fear, Disgust, Anger, Sadness, and (especially) Joy (all brilliantly voiced).

This was a good movie (definitely a thumbs up -- dh loved it too) -- but it was also a tough movie for me personally to watch, for several reasons.

First, the scenes of little Riley frolicking with her parents were a painful reminder of everything I've missed out on over the past 17 years with our daughter.

Second, Riley's emotions as a little girl uprooted from her home and friends by her father's career move were all too familiar to me. My sister & I lived in 9 different houses in 5 towns in two provinces before we graduated from high school, moving around every 3-4 years because of our dad's job. The longest I ever lived anywhere, prior to marrying dh, was 6 years. The movie brought back a lot of memories, not all of them good.

Third, the movie was sometimes hard to watch because of the lessons it imparts about our emotions -- in particular, Joy and Sadness -- and the roles they play in our lives. Instead of asking Riley about how she's feeling about the move, Riley's mom reminds her daughter about the stress dad is under with his new job, and says "it would be a big help" if she could just keep smiling. Hmmm, why does this sound familiar? Joy (voice by Amy Poehler) frantically tries to keep Riley happy -- and keep Sadness away from the control board. Yet by the end of the movie (SPOILER ALERT!), it's Sadness who saves the day for Riley. Joy realizes that Sadness does have an important role to play in Riley's life, that sometimes we need Sadness, before Joy can return to our lives again. 

Dan Kois of Slate finds this message "revolutionary." Reading the Slate article (and I would recommend it), I was reminded of Barbara Ehrenreich's book "Bright-Sided," (which I reviewed here), and the constant pressure we feel in this society to remain relentlessly positive and upbeat in the face of all kinds of truly crappy situations -- cancer, death, stillbirth, infertility. Our grief and sadness make others uncomfortable. Like the character Joy, they whirl around, trying to distract us with upbeat chatter -- when often, what would really help us feel better is for someone to sit down beside us, put an arm around us and say, "hey, that's sad" while we cry -- as Sadness does in the movie.

Lori Lavender Luz saw the movie recently with her kids, and had a similar observation about this key lesson:   
We in the ALI (adoption/loss/infertility) community have a tradition of abiding with someone who is enduring a loss or facing a fear. We don’t dismiss the emotions (“it’ll all be OK”) or tell someone to “get over it.” We don’t avoid tough emotions. We sit with a person while she feeeeeeels it. We walk alongside.

Have you seen the movie yet? (Don't forget the Kleenex!  lol)