Monday, October 24, 2016

#MicroblogMondays: Rude awakenings

I was in the middle of a nice sound sleep when I -- we -- were rudely awakened at 5 a.m. by the sound of music. LOUD music.

"What the hell..." dh grumbled. "It's either next door or outside," I muttered. He went into the living room & opened the balcony door, and as he did, the music got louder. "Some $%^&*$! sitting in his car by the gate (to the construction site behind our building) with his car stereo blasting," dh reported as he returned to bed.

As I may have written before, they are building townhouses on the vacant lot behind our condo building. Work isn't supposed to start until 7 a.m. (and THAT frequently wakes us up too -- the rattle, hum and squeak of loud machinery, etc.) so this guy was arriving extra-early for whatever reason. He did turn it down after a few minutes, but we were NOT impressed.

Of course, after that, we couldn't get back to sleep, so we both got up and had our breakfast. Dh is now snoozing on the couch, but I'm wide awake (albeit tired), reading Facebook, sipping my tea and watching CNN.

I'd also woken up at 3 a.m. but was able to go back to sleep after a trip to the bathroom. It's hit & miss for me. I probably wake up at least once during the night -- sometimes I manage to settle back down and fall asleep again, sometimes (more frequently) not. I didn't get to bed until after 11, and probably didn't fall asleep until some time after midnight.

Thank goodness for retirement. I used to hate when this happened & I still had to get up at 5 (so I could get on the train at 6:40 to get to work by 8).

How about you? Do you find you can go back to sleep easily after being woken up in the middle of the night?  

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

Sunday, October 23, 2016

"Music in the Hills" by D.E. Stevenson

"Music in the Hills" is the latest book under discussion by my D.E. Stevenson Yahoo group, and a sequel to our previous selection, "Vittoria Cottage," featuring some of the same characters.

James, the son of "Vittoria Cottage"'s main protagonist, Caroline, arrives at Mureth, the Scottish border country farm owned & run by his mother's sister, Mamie, and her husband, Jock, with the intention of taking up farming as a career and learning the ropes from his uncle before he buys a place of his own. He's also nursing a broken heart:  in "Vittoria Cottage," we met Rhoda Ware, his childhood friend turned love interest, who is determined to pursue a career as an artist. This being early 1950s England, she turns down James's proposal, adamant that art and marriage (and most especially a family) do not mix. In Mureth, he meets Holly Douglas, the pretty niece of the local lord, as well as other new friends, including Daniel Reid, a newly hired shepherd who recently returned to the area where he grew up after years of travelling the world.

I loved this book for all the usual reasons I love Stevenson's work: the wonderful characters, the vivid descriptions, and the strong sense of morality, compassion and common sense. It's the literary equivalent of comfort food. 

But this book especially touched my heart for another reason: Mamie & Jock are childless (not by choice), and there are several passages where it's clear how this has affected their lives -- most especially in Chapter Three, where Mamie is telling James stories about her parents and sisters, and how her parents were lonely in their old age:
"It seemed rather bad luck to have had four daughters and not to have one left at home -- and none of their daughters was much good to them. Caroline never could leave Arnold -- he was so awfully selfish -- and Jean was in America and Harriet was simply wrapped up in her theatrical career."  
"But you were here, quite near them!"  
"Yes," agreed Mamie tepidly. "Yes, but they weren't -- they're weren't very..." She paused. She was busy trying to find the exact shade of brown for the sock she was darning. 
"They weren't very what?" asked James.  
"Very proud of me," said Mamie. "There was nothing to be proud of was there? They had nothing in common with Jock. I don't mean there was a feud, but they just weren't interested in Jock's kind of things, and of course I had no children."  
James was silent for a moment...
I got tears in my eyes reading this. While I know how much my parents wanted to be grandparents, and while I've felt a great deal of guilt about that, I have never felt they weren't proud of me. But I know this has been an issue for some of you, and I felt so badly for Mamie that her parents made her feel this way about herself.

What James doesn't know is that (provided he decides the farming life is what he wants) Jock and Mamie intend to make him their heir and bequeath Mureth to him when they are gone. Their love for their nephew is clear, and "Music in the Hills" reminds me (in several places) about the important, nurturing role that childless adults can play in the lives of the children and young people around them.

The other thing I like about "Music in the Hills" from a childless perspective is that, while it's clear both Jock & Mamie wanted children and feel their absence keenly, they also have a wonderful marriage and enjoy their life together at Mureth tremendously. In our introduction to Jock in Chapter One, we learn that he
"...had been born in Mureth House -- so had his father and grandfather -- it was a pity he had no children to carry on the tradition, to run about the old place and waken it to life with noise and laughter, but in other ways he was fortunate and knew it."  
There is one more book in this series, which will be our group's next selection for discussion in early 2017: "Shoulder the Sky." I'm looking forward to it!

This was book #19 that I've read to date in 2016.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

"Born to Run" by Bruce Springsteen

When dh & I heard that Bruce Springsteen was publishing a memoir this fall, there was absolutely no question that we would be heading to the local bookstore the day it went on sale -- waiting for the paperback be damned. ;) 

I've written before about the role Bruce played in dh's & my early relationship, but a brief recap:  I was only dimly aware of who Springsteen was (although I'd heard & loved "Prove it all Night" in high school) when I met dh in October 1981 at a dorm party. His residence nickname was "Bruuuuuce," emblazoned on the back of his official floor T-shirt. I remember visiting friends on his floor & poking my head in the open door of his room to say hello (we all did that in those days).

"Who's the hunk on your wall?" I asked, indicating the poster of a good-looking guy, onstage in a dynamic guitar hero pose, tacked up over his bed. "That's Bruce Springsteen," he explained patiently. Thankfully, he didn't hold my ignorance against me ;) and before long, he was playing me all of Bruce's albums (on cassettes on his boombox)(and before long, I was buying copies for myself). (The poster is somewhere in a box in the depths of my parents' basement... if I ever retrieve it, I'm going to frame it & hang it on the wall of our office. ;)  ) We've seen him twice together (although dh saw him several times in the late 1970s/early 1980s before he met me), once in August 1985 at Exhibition Stadium in Toronto during, shortly after we returned from our honeymoon, and once in 1992 at the SkyDome, sans the E Street Band -- a last-minute bit of luck, when a work friend of dh's couldn't attend and sold his tickets to us at face value. I seriously considered Bruce as a middle name for a boy, should we have had a son.

Anyway -- Sept. 27 rolled around (finally!!) and off to the bookstore we went. (Fortunately for our budget, the book was instantly on sale for 40% off, lol.)

The guy can write. We all knew he could write music, of course, but "Born to Run" is a wonderful book, written in a distinctive voice, chock full of glorious details, personal reflections and a wonderful, wry sense of humour.  I especially loved the early parts of the book where he writes about growing up in a tight-knit but troubled family in Freehold, New Jersey, and his early days as a musician (like many others of his generation, inspired first by Elvis & then by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones).  He delves into his troubled relationship with his father, famously expressed in songs like "Factory," "Adam Raised a Cain" and "Independence Day." He writes about his marriages, including his first marriage to actress Julianne Phillips (he admits he was not a good husband and regrets the way he handled things). As publicized, he writes with brutal honesty about the mental illness that plagued his father and the anxiety and depression that haunt him personally to this day. And yes, there are glimpses of Bruce the proud dad of three children, now in their 20s. (Encouraged by his wife Patti, he started getting up early -- anathema to a rock star! -- to make them breakfast, and concludes that if the rock and roll thing doesn't work out, he could find work as a breakfast chef in a diner somewhere. ;) )  

If you are a Springsteen fan, this is an absolute must-read. Even if you're not, it would probably still be a worthwhile read, because it's such great writing and storytelling.

*** *** ***

ALI notes:

Having read Peter Ames Carlin's "Bruce" some time ago (reviewed here), I already knew the story of Bruce's aunt Virginia (his father's older sister), who was run over while riding her tricycle as a toddler, and the lingering effect her tragic death had on the family for generations to come. 

But Bruce's book did shed new light on some characters I remembered reading about (in Dave Marsh's first book about Springsteen from the early 1980s, also called "Born to Run"):  Tex Vinyard and his wife Marion, who mentored and managed Bruce's teenaged band, the Castiles, in the mid-1960s.

What I didn't realize or remember: Tex and Marion were childless. Bruce and his friends were their "kids."  Writes Bruce:
They were friends of George [Theiss, also a member of the Castiles] who had decided to surrender the fifteen square feet of what was called their dining room to local teenage noisemakers. It was a very informal neighbourhood, black and white separated somewhat by the rug mill but generally hanging around the streets together, with Tex and Marion's tiny apartment seeming to be the hub on some sort of neighborhood teen club. They were in their thirties and childless, so they took in "strays," kids who either didn't have much of a home life or were just looking to get out of the house to someplace less confining and a little more welcoming. Tex was a temperamental, redheaded, comb-overed, loudmouthed, lascivious, pussy-joke-telling factory worker... He was also generous, loving, sweethearted and one of the most giving adults I'd met up to that time. 
Tex and Marion seemed stranded between the teen world and adulthood, so they made a home for themselves and a surrogate parental life somewhere in the middle. They weren't your parents but they weren't your peers either. As we howled away, pushing out the walls of their little home with banging guitars and crashing drums, with the neighbours a mere two inches of drywall away (what tolerance!), they made the rules and set the agenda for what would fly and what would not.... Tex became our manager and Marion the house mother and seamstress to a team of misfit townie rock-'n-rollers.  
Tex was my first surrogate father figure. He was loving in his own twisted way. More important, he was accepting. He cherished and encouraged your talents, took you for who you were and put his time, muscle, money and big black Cadillac, hauling equipment, all in the service of your dreams...   
There were adults like Tex and Marion all across the United States, real unsung heroes of rock-'n-roll who made room in their homes and in their lives to cart the equipment; to buy the guitars; to let out their basements, their garages, for practice sessions;  who'd found a place of understanding between the two combative worlds of teen life and adulthood. They would support and partake in the lives of their children. Without folks like these, the basements, the garages, the Elks clubs, the VFW halls would've been empty, and skinny, dreaming misfits would've had no place to go to learn how to turn into rock-'n-roll heroes. (from Chapter 13, "The Castiles," pp. 68-71)
Just think -- without the support, encouragement, mentorship and management provided by this  childless couple, would young Bruce Springsteen have become Bruce Springsteen, international rock superstar? Something to ponder...

(OK, the "stranded between the teen world and adulthood" line made me wince a little, but I'll forgive him... ;)  )

This was book #18 that I've read so far in 2016.

Monday, October 17, 2016

#MicroblogMondays: Filling the gap

Last Friday, dh & I took one of his widowed aunts to a medical appointment with a specialist at one of the city's largest hospitals. She'd waited two months to get the appointment and then had to reschedule it twice, and in the meantime, fretted herself into a frenzy over the issue she wanted to check out. Her daughter had already scheduled a day off work to take her, but at the last minute, a funeral in her husband's family took precedence. Her other daughter is in the middle of renovations and was supervising contractors and workers. Aunt drives, but does not like navigating through unfamiliar territory, nevermind on the busy highways that run through the city (and who can blame her??). And since English is her second language (although she speaks it very well), she wanted someone with her to ensure she and the doctor understood each other. 

So on Wednesday night, we got the call: could we take her?

Of course we could. :)  Happily, the problem turned out to be something common and treatable. We took Aunt to get her prescription filled and then she took us out for brunch as a thank you, and we had a nice visit. She thanked us repeatedly, as did both her daughters.

Two thoughts: (1) This is one of the nice things about moving here (and being retired ;) ) -- being closer not only to BIL & his family, but to more of dh's aunts & cousins, and being able to help out at times like these. And (2) even people with kids sometimes need other people (nieces and nephews, friends & neighbours) to step in and fill the gap when they need assistance. I sometimes wonder whether our nephews will be able & willing to help out dh & me down the road -- you HOPE they will, but you never know, right?

But knowing how happy it made dh to be able to help his aunt gives me hope that our nephews might feel the same way about us someday, too. :) 

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

Sunday, October 16, 2016

"The Girl on the Train" movie

Hmmm.... maybe "The Girl on the Train" wasn't the wisest pick for a movie to see on Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Day??  :p   I'd read the book, and the movie version looked good, and came out about a week ago. Dh (having sat with me through "Gone Girl," lol) was not interested but SIL was, so we went together on Saturday night and then to dinner together afterwards, just the two of us. It's been a long time since I had a chicks outing like that. Much as I love spending time with dh, sometimes it's nice to get out & do things with your girlfriends, you know?

Anyway, I had read the book a while back (reviewed here) -- and while I did remember that the central figure, Rachel, was unhappily childless, I didn't remember just how central infertility, loss and motherhood (and the conflict between mothers and childless women) were to the plot. I had to struggle to keep my emotions (& my tears) in check in several scenes. I still enjoyed the movie overall -- aside from moving the location from London to New York, it was quite faithful to the book, beautifully filmed -- and I thought Emily Blunt was brilliant as Rachel -- but it still does bother me that she's such a pathetic figure -- one that's (sadly)(still!!) entirely too common in pop culture/media portrayals of childless women. Apparently infertility & childlessness can drive you to drink, divorce, unemployment, homelessness, stalking, and maybe even murder -- who knew, right?? :p  (Although (spoiler alert!) Rachel is sort of vindicated in the end.)

I think we childless women deserve a whole lot better.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Right now...

Right now... (an occasional meme): 

Recuperating: From Oldest Nephew's wedding. I didn't feel back to anything approaching normal or caught up on sleep until the middle of the week afterward. Between that (two weekends past now), and the Thanksgiving long weekend this past weekend, I seriously am having trouble keeping track of what day it is.

Reading:  Bruce Springsteen's new memoir, "Born to Run." And trying to find time to start "Music in the Hills" by D.E. Stevenson (my Yahoo group's current novel under discussion -- will need to catch up...!), and to read Dan Brown's "Inferno" before the movie version starts on Oct. 28th...!

Watching:  The new season of "Poldark" on PBS. The only new show we've really been watching so far is "Designated Survivor" with Kiefer Sutherland. I must admit I find it kind of amusing that the son of a former Black Panther supporter (Shirley Douglas) and grandson of the socialist premier of Saskatchewan (Tommy Douglas) who is considered the father of Canada's universal health care system would be playing the President of the United States. ;)   Not sure how many Americans realize this...!  ;)

Listening:  To the sounds of the construction machinery & workers on the townhouse site behind us. It is loud (often wakes us up before 7 a.m....!), but it's not going to last forever, and it's actually kind of fascinating to watch the process unfold.

Also listening to the Bob Dylan soundtrack in my head since the announcement this morning that he's won the Nobel Prize (!).  For some reason "It Ain't Me Babe" (as sung by the Turtles) is predominant. I knew lots of Dylan songs, growing up, before I ever actually heard one sung BY Dylan, lol. "Mr. Tambourine Man" (The Byrds), "The Mighty Quinn" (Manfred Mann), "If Not for You" (Olivia Newton-John), "All Along the Watchtower" (Jimi Hendrix), "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight" (Linda Ronstadt).  We sang "Blowing in the Wind" ad nauseum in grade school... I got thoroughly sick of it & still find myself rolling my eyes when I hear it.  (Sorry, Bob.) I don't know if I have a favourite Dylan song, but the first one I remember hearing on the radio that made an impression on me, I think, was "Knocking on Heaven's Door." I still like that one. :)

(Dylan, of course, was born in Minnesota, where my family has roots... he is the same age as my mother, and I have read that he got his start playing coffeehouses around the University of Minnesota campus around 1959-60.  My mother was going to nursing school in the same area at the same time... I find it amusing to think they may have crossed paths at some point!) 

Drinking:  Tea -- my preferred caffeine fix. :)   

Eating: Supper tonight: dh's favourite chickpeas with tubetti pasta.

Wearing:  Sadly, I have had to trade in my capris & sandals for long jeans/yoga pants, socks & shoes, and sweaters or jackets outside. The weather here is still pretty nice, but there is a definitely chill in the air that says autumn is really here (and winter will soon be on its way...).  

Following: The U.S. election. (Against my better judgment, perhaps?? lol) I can't wait for it to be over, and I'm Canadian -- I can't imagine the election fatigue Americans must be feeling...!

Loving:  The autumn colours, approaching their peak. Some have said they are not as vibrant this year because of the hot, dry summer we had, but they still look pretty good to me... ;)

Investigating: Flights for Christmas (already!)(and there's already a dwindling selection of times & prices for certain dates...!).

Contemplating:  Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Week & Day (this Saturday the 15th). I've seen some great articles online on the topic. The day was officially proclaimed by the province of Ontario this year, and in a growing number of Ontario cities. Slowly but surely, we are making progress and making our voices heard on these important issues!

Trying:  To motivate myself to get some of the longstanding items on my to-do list crossed off.  Procrastination, thy name is Loribeth. :p

Monday, October 10, 2016

#MicroblogMondays: Thanksgiving

It's Thanksgiving here in Canada -- and I guess it's no secret to regular readers here that (like many other childless/free women) I have mixed feelings about this and other such holidays that are heavily family-oriented. Christmas is generally not an issue (or as much of an issue) for me, as we have always travelled to be with my family (and get thoroughly stuffed with traditional goodies, lol :) ).   Thanksgiving and Easter, however, we often find ourselves at loose ends -- adding to my/our feelings of "otherness" as the lone childless couple on both sides of dh's extended family.

BIL often winds up with his inlaws, and although we are often invited to join them (and have done so on a few occasions), it always feels a bit like we are crashing the party. Depending on his & stepMIL's own plans, FIL might call us to join them -- or not. Such invitations often come at the last minute, leaving me feeling resentful and like a bit of an afterthought. Personally, I would much prefer us to simply make our own plans, perhaps spend the weekend at a resort up north, admiring the fall colours, or treat ourselves to a swanky Thanksgiving buffet at one of the downtown hotels -- but dh feels like as long as his father is still with us, he should be there for him. I respect that, although the lack of clarity around these holidays always leaves me feeling frustrated. This year, however, we're a 45-minute drive away from FIL, versus the previous 15, and dh might not be as inclined to accept a last-minute invitation. Holidays are supposed to be happy times, but I'll admit I am usually relieved when they are over and we can get back to our normal routines.

Nevertheless, this IS THANKSgiving, and despite my whining (sorry!) there is much I can be thankful for:
  • My wonderful dh. I'll admit that his determination to sell our house & move into a condo put some strain on our relationship earlier this year -- but we both survived. He is much happier these days -- and, as a result, so am I. ;) 
  • Our lovely new home. I wasn't sure about condo living (and I'm still not enthralled by the town itself where we're living), but we definitely found the right condo. :)
  • Our wonderful families, who have always loved and supported us (even if they haven't always understood our decisions).  
  • Our two nephews. Being an aunt is not a substitute for being a parent -- but it's pretty damned special in its own right. ;)  I still can't believe they are all grown up and getting married (the years went by waaaayyyyy too fast...!). Getting to be part of Older Nephew's big day earlier this month was an experience I will always treasure.
  • Early retirement, with its freedom from the daily stresses of working and commuting.
  • The great weather we've been having lately (nephew's wedding day notwithstanding...!).  I only JUST (reluctantly!) relinquished my capris & sandals. It's chillier these days (long pants, socks and sweaters or jackets required), but still sunny and pleasant outside.
  • The beautiful autumn colours, just now revealing themselves.
  • Being Canadian. :) I live in an amazing country. :)  
  • Social media. It's not always a good thing -- but I've been able to reconnect with friends & relatives I haven't heard from in years (including one just yesterday), and I so enjoy being able to stay in touch this way. And I've made some great new friends online over the past 20 years too -- present company included! ;)
Whether you celebrate Thanksgiving now, in November, some other time, or not at all, what are you thankful for?

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