Friday, May 29, 2015

Letting go, part 2

Having passed along my vinyl music collection to Oldest Nephew, I've started tackling my next (and possibly most difficult) retirement downsizing project: our gargantuan book collection.

I may not have children -- but in some ways, my books have always been my babies. Once a book enters this house, it very rarely leaves. Occasionally,  I have made a half-hearted attempt to get rid of some of them -- but only with great reluctance, and not with much success. (The one exception being the majority of my collection of pregnancy and infertility books, which I donated long ago to our pg loss support group.)(I did keep my copy of "What to Expect" as a "souvenir" of my pregnancy.)  I think I've always had the fantasy that someday, I would have a big house with its own library, with built-in bookshelves lining all the walls.

Our collection has mushroomed over the past 15-20 years. I can point to a few reasons why. First: after a few years in our jobs, we started making more money = more disposable income. (As I've often said: some people spend their money on booze & cigarettes, or maybe shoes;  we spend our money on books, newspapers & magazines.)  Second, we moved from a small one-bedroom apartment into our house in 1990 ( = more room for more books).  Third, our national mega-bookstore chain opened a local store about 20 years ago, and we've spent just about every Saturday night there since then. Fourth, for a long time, I harboured a secret fantasy that I was going to get pregnant again, be put on bedrest, and have hours of time to read -- so why not stockpile some reading material??  Of course, I never got pregnant again, and (reason #5) many of the hours that I once spent reading books are now spent on the computer (cough cough).

I don't even want to think about how many books we have. Enough that I got concerned about the weight on the floors, when we had our bookshelves in a second-floor bedroom, and moved all but one of them into the basement, about 10-15 years ago. We have two full-sized IKEA Billy bookshelves down there, one smaller (more narrow) one, and a metal shelving unit that we had in our apartment.

There's one more IKEA bookcase upstairs, mostly full of photo albums. I did not want to put those in the basement. There are a couple of Rubbermaid bins full of books, too, both in the basement and upstairs. And there are a few book stacks in our bedroom too.

Over the years, the shelves filled up, and I started to stack books in front of the ones that were already shelved. Then there wasn't any more room on the shelves -- so I started just stacking books on the floor in front of the shelves. To put it mildly, it was a mess down there. I was finding it hard to vacuum the floor around the piles. The stacks are random, too -- a few fiction volumes here, a memoir there, which makes it hard to find a specific book at times. (I'm not just paring down my collection, I'm hoping to get it reorganized too.) 

Just as I have had to come to terms with the fact that I am never going to be pregnant again and am not going to have children, I've had to face the reality that if/when we move from here, it is likely going to be into a condo, where my storage space for books will be limited. And I am never going to have time to read all the unread books I have collected over the years (or re-read all the ones I've already read). 

We probably could have made some money if we held a garage sale, or put them on eBay or Kijiji, etc., but we decided we didn't want the hassle. (Of course, there are a ton of other baby boomers out there looking to downsize their stuff as well, for competition.)  There aren't very many used bookstores in the vicinity where we could sell the books on consignment, either. 

So we agreed to donate. The problem was, where? My immediate instinct was the library. I called, and yes, they do accept book donations. BUT.  They wanted the books to be in pristine condition. No textbooks. And no books with a publication date further back than five years ago. (!!! That last one really got me. There are TONS of good books that were published more than five years ago!)(Particularly when the library shelves are full of ancient books themselves...!) 

Thank goodness for the Salvation Army. Their local thrift stores accept book donations.

So, over the past week, I've spent a couple of afternoons in the chilly, dusty basement, going through our books and sorting them into piles, including one section designated "donate."  Dh & I made a few trips to the liquor store and filled the trunk of the car with empty cartons -- they're ideal for packing books, because they're small enough that you can't overload them to the point where they become too heavy to lift. (Although, come to think of it, I could have used some alcohol before tackling this project, lol.)  ;)

I didn't take any "before" photos before I started -- too embarrassing. :p  But, over the past week, we've taken 11 cartons full of books to the Salvation Army. (!!) I haven't counted, but dh estimates that's easily a couple hundred books already. Most of these were the "easy" choices -- books that no longer interest me (yellowing tomes about Canadian politics back in the 1970s and '80s,  souvenirs of my Ayn Rand phase from college...), books that my sister gave me in e-book format ( = the paper copy can go), books that, despite my noble intentions, I know I will never read in a million years (goodbye, "War & Peace," lol). 

There is scope for plenty more to go. But I'm already starting to see spaces open up on the floor and on the shelves, and that's a good feeling. :)

I know it's going to get harder before I'm done. My goal is to reduce the number of books to the point where there aren't any piles sitting on the floor (and I still have some way to go before I reach that goal).  If/when we move, and need to further reduce the collection, I'll cross that bridge when I get there.

But right now, I'm feeling kind of proud of myself for what I've been able to accomplish so far. :)

Monday, May 25, 2015

#MicroblogMondays: They paved Paradise...

I was trying to think of something I could write about for this week's post, when I read Mali's post at A Separate Life, about her love of nature. One person commented, "Perhaps in order to appreciate nature we need the contrast of urban life?"

I can relate. I grew up in small, rural communities -- and like many kids from similar backgrounds, couldn't wait to leave. :)  Over time, though, I've learned to appreciate the merits of the country too. In a lifetime of moving around, I've come to realize that there is good & bad to be found everywhere, advantages and disadvantages in every situation. It's up to us to make the most of things, wherever we wind up.

Right now, we're living in a small town turned bedroom community -- part of what's known as the "Greater Toronto Area" or "Golden Horseshoe" -- an almost continuous string of towns & cities along the shores of Lake Ontario, stretching from St. Catharines/Niagara Falls in the southwest to Oshawa and beyond in the east. While I enjoy living where we do, and having so many amenities at our disposal -- downtown Toronto is a half-hour's train trip away -- I also love that by driving north about 10 minutes, we're out in the country, amid farmers' fields, riding academies and forests.

But urban sprawl is slowly creeping in. Over the weekend, we drove to visit a cousin who lives on an acreage "out in the country" -- and marvelled at how less & less far away it seems these days, as shopping plazas, housing developments and condo towers have started to line the route we drive.

Closer to home, one of the routes we take to the cemetery to visit Katie has been mostly farms and forests for the past 17 years. However, there have been rumblings about development for more than 40 years -- specifically, plans for both residential and commercial development that will expand our local population by 70,000 people. 70,000!! That's basically adding a whole new town to the area.  Eventually, there may even be a major airport built in the vicinity.

We've been hearing about it for so long, it seemed like something distant and far off -- perhaps a bit of a pipe dream.

But last winter, development signs went up along the road -- and over the last few weeks, heavy equipment has started to bulldoze trees and level farmers' fields. 

I suppose you can't stop progress. But it does make me feel a little sad. (And gave me this earworm for today, lol.) 

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

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Letting go

Did you ever see the movie "Almost Famous"?  It's based on the real-life adventures of writer and movie director Cameron Crowe, who was touring with rock bands and writing for magazines like Creem and Rolling Stone when he was still a teenager. There's a scene near the beginning, when William (the Cameron character)'s sister leaves home and leaves her record player and collection to her little brother. There's a close-up of the needle dropping onto the vinyl disc, and that wonderful anticipatory hiss before the music  (The Who's "Tommy") kicks in.

I love that movie. I started crying when I first saw that scene. It made me homesick.

Once upon a time, music was at the centre of my life. It was at the centre of most teenagers' lives, when I was growing up in the 1970s.  I'm not sure kids today feel quite the same way, as viscerally, about music as we did back then. The music itself and the musicians who created it meant so much. It was the soundtrack of our lives.

Of course, we had far fewer distractions back then -- only a few channels on TV, no video games (at least until I was almost out of high school -- i.e., Pong, and a bit later, at university, Galaga, Donkey Kong and Pac-Man), no Internet. We would listen to the radio late at night, dialling around to hear our favourite songs, calling in requests to the DJs -- and we'd buy albums. My sister & I used to pool our allowance to buy ones from our favourite bands. Most of those shared albums are still in my parents' basement (!), but over the years, I accumulated a fair collection of my own. My parents had one of those huge cabinet stereos that took up half a wall in the living room, and we'd lay in front of the speakers or (if our parents were around), plug in gigantic headphones.

I missed the stereo desperately when I went to university. I listened to the radio, but it wasn't quite the same. I envied some of my dorm friends -- mostly guys -- who had huge, towering stereo systems with gigantic speakers -- the bigger and louder, the better!  (Pioneer was a coveted label.)  I begged and pleaded and hinted for a stereo -- knowing it was a hugely expensive item and I might as well be wishing for the moon.

While I was at university, my parents moved to another town, and my dad had a good year in his business. That year at Christmas (1982, when I was 21, on the verge of 22), I got sent on a scavenger hunt. Hidden behind a roll of carpet in an unfinished shower stall in the basement sat a stereo. A Zenith all-in-one -- turntable, cassette player and AM/FM radio -- with two big speakers. I cried.  It was the best and most memorable gift I had ever received. (Maybe even still!)

I had to leave the stereo at home when I went away to grad school, and then when I got married (in 1985), but my parents brought it & my record collection with them when they drove out to visit us a year later. After we moved into our house a few years after that (1990), the stereo sat in what was supposed to be the dining room. The records themselves were upstairs on a bookshelf. Not particularly convenient, so they got played less and less. Of course, by then, vinyl was well on its way out, replaced first by cassette tapes and then by compact discs (and, much later, by digital audio files).

Then I had my piano shipped out from my parents' house, and there was no room for it upstairs anymore. We had (finally) recently gotten a CD player anyway, and were now playing most of our music on CDs. (In some cases, we had LP, cassette and CD versions of the exact same albums...!) So into the basement it went. I would occasionally turn on the radio or put on an album when I was down there cleaning or doing laundry, but both stereo & records have been (sadly) mostly untouched for quite a long time.

Fast-forward to the recent present.  Oldest Nephew (age 26) was telling us about his newfound passion for classic rock music. On vinyl. (Who'da thought, right??) He has a tiny little record player that closes up like a suitcase -- like the first record player I had when I was 6. 

He was going to pay $70 -- SEVENTY DOLLARS!!! -- for a vinyl LP by Pink Floyd!!! 

"For Pete's sake," we told him, "do NOT buy any more vinyl!! Call us first!! Because the record you want is probably in our basement!" 

For the record (no pun intended), I looked, and unfortunately we didn't have any Pink Floyd in the basement (although I know my sister had "The Wall.")  But we did have the Eagles, Bruce Springsteen, Peter Gabriel, The Police, The Cars, The Clash, Cheap Trick, Boston, Bob Seger...  (and albums by umpteen Canadian bands that most Americans have probably never heard of, like April Wine, Trooper, Prism, Triumph, Queen City Kids and Harlequin, who used to play at my high school dances).  Over 180 albums, mostly from the 1970s and early 1980s -- some of them dh's, but most of them mine -- gathering dust, along with my old stereo, down in the basement.

Now, I am a packrat. I don't give up my things easily -- especially stuff like records & books.

But I could NOT watch our nephew spending $70 on an album that we probably had in our basement (and paid maybe $7 for).

Besides which, we are talking (again) about condos. If/when we ever move, we will not have room for bulky stereos & album collections. And I would much rather hand my records over to the nephews than to Goodwill. (In a perfect world, I would have been passing this stuff along to my kids... but... well, you know... So this is the next-best thing.) 

So we packed up (almost) all of our vinyl collection, along with the cassettes and my stereo, & and this afternoon, we're taking them to a gathering of the extended family. Nephew will likely not be there, but we'll hand them over to his parents to pass along. 

He was THRILLED when we offered him the records, and the stereo to boot. (And dh -- who is NOT a packrat -- was thrilled to get a few more things out of the house, lol.) I know not everything in the collection will be to his tastes. He may wind up trading some albums with his friends, or selling them.

But maybe he'll listen to a few bands he hasn't heard of before, make some new discoveries, broaden his musical tastes a little. An old auntie can only hope. ;)

I did set aside a couple of special LPs to keep, for now -- including "The Best of Herman's Hermits, Vol. 2," which was one of the very first records I ever got, for my 6th birthday. (I've scoffed at the idea of bucket lists in the past, but if I had one, one of the items on it would definitely be to attend a Peter Noone concert & try to get him to autograph it for me.  ;) )

I feel a bit wistful letting it all go -- the stuff itself, the visceral reminders of my youth, my dreams of handing everything over to my own kids some day.  But I know it's the right thing to do.

(Next: to pare down some of my gargantuan book collection....!)

Monday, May 18, 2015

#MicroblogMondays: Victoria Day

It's the Victoria Day long weekend here in Canada.  Apparently we are the only country in the world which still celebrates Queen Victoria's birthday -- a hat tip to her role in our country's history. It's also known as "May Two-Four" -- not only a nod to the traditional celebration date of May 24th (Victoria's actual birthday -- these days, the holiday is celebrated on the Monday before May 24th to give us a long weekend, if May 24th itself is not a Monday) but also to the copious amounts of beer traditionally consumed on this weekend. It's considered the kickoff to summer, the weekend when cottage owners head north to open up their cottages for the season.

Growing up on the Prairies, I don't think I'd ever heard the term "May Two-Four" -- possibly because beer only came in cases of 6 and 12 bottles (that may have changed since then -- or maybe we were just too broke as kids/university students to buy more than a case of 12?? lol). I also don't remember much in the way of backyard fireworks, another staple of the May long weekend in Ontario.  I don't think they were legal in Manitoba in the 1970s. That may have changed too. Here, anyone can & does buy them from the back of a truck in shopping mall parking lots in the days leading up to the holiday. We watch from inside the house, delaying our bedtime until after the explosions have died down, nervously eyeing the trajectory of the light flashes and praying that a glowing ember doesn't land on our roof....! :p

Growing up on the Prairies, the "summer kickoff" connection was also a bit tenuous, because the weather could still be pretty cold. My parents would rarely, if ever, plant their garden (another Victoria Day weekend staple activity here in Ontario) until late May, because the risk of frost was still very real.

Of course, it's been pretty cold here in southern Ontario some years too. I can remember attending a first birthday party some years ago on the May long weekend for one of dh's cousins' kids. There were far too many people to hold the party indoors, but it was so cold (there were snowflakes in the air) we wound up huddled around the barbecue to keep warm.

And tomorrow will mark 25 years (!!!) since we moved into this house on the May long weekend. It was sunny but got quite cold overnight.  And we couldn't turn on the furnace even if we wanted to, because dh's uncle (our real estate agent) discovered that the previous owners had (for some unexplicable reason) removed the filter. By the time we figured this out, it was late on Saturday -- this was before the advent of Sunday shopping in Ontario, a few years later (!) and stores were also closed Monday for the Victoria Day holiday. So we just threw another quilt on our bed that night. :)

At any rate, even if summer is not quite here, this weekend is a sign that it's on its way. Finally.  Thank goodness!!

I'm not a huge Rush fan... but I love their song "Lakeside Park" -- especially the very end verse & musical coda (starting around the 2:30 mark), which references Victoria Day. It brings back great memories of teenaged summer evenings spent around a bonfire on the beach (on Lake Manitoba) with my friends. (I always thought they were singing about the Exhibition Place in Toronto, home of the annual Canadian National Exhibition -- but apparently Neil Peart wrote it about a lakeside park near his childhood home in Port Dalhousie, St. Catharines, Ontario.)

Everyone would gather
On the twenty-fourth of May
Sitting in the sand
To watch the fireworks display
Dancing fires on the beach
Singing songs together...
Though it's just a memory
Some memories last forever

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

Friday, May 15, 2015

Book: "Not My Father's Son" by Alan Cumming

As an avid genealogist, I am a sucker for TV shows like Henry Louis Gates's "Finding Your Roots" on PBS and "Who Do You Think You Are?" on TLC. The shows follow a predictable format -- celebrities in search of their ancestors, with some jaw-dropping revelations along the way. There is much grumbling among us amateur genealogists about how much WE'd like to sail into an archive & have someone waiting for us with a ready-made family tree going back umpteen generations, and a pile of intriguing documents that answer our questions and shed new light on our ancestors' lives. ;) 

Scottish-born actor Alan Cumming -- who has stolen just about every movie and TV show I've ever seen him in -- was invited to appear on the British version of "Who Do You Think You Are?" in 2010. He was curious to find out more about his grandfather, Tommy Darling -- barely remembered by his daughter, Alan's mother, Mary Darling -- who never returned to England after the Second World War and died in a mysterious "gun accident" in Malaysia in 1951.

But just as Alan embarked on this emotion-packed journey into the past, he received some shocking news about another figure from his past:  his long-estranged and now dying father, who brutally abused Alan and his older brother, Tom, as they were growing up.

"Not My Father's Son" goes back & forth between "then" -- Alan's memories of growing up on an isolated Scottish estate -- "now" -- and 2010, where two stories rapidly unfold at the same time:  the filming of WDYTYA, with some stunning  revelations about Tommy Darling's life and death, and Alan's reassessment of his troubled relationship with his father.

It sounds complicated (and it is) -- and the abuse that he describes is hard to read about.  As several Goodreads reviewers put it, there were several points in the book where I just wanted to give the guy a hug.

But I'm very glad I picked this up.  It was riveting reading -- an amazing story, and very well told. I read it in three days & probably could have finished it sooner if life hadn't intervened. ;)  Cumming can definitely add "writer" to his long list of distinguished credits. 

There are many episodes of "Who Do You Think You Are?" available on YouTube;  alas, Alan's doesn't seem to be one of them. If anyone finds a working link that's viewable in Canada, let me know. ;) 

This was book #10 that I've read in 2015.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

E-book: "Finally Heard: A Silent Sorority Finds Its Voice" by Pamela Mahoney Tsigdinos

When I first started reading blogs some 7-8 (!!) years ago (and eventually screwed up the courage to start my own), the childless/free corner of the ALI community was a pretty small and lonely place. 

That's why I was so thrilled, early on, to find another blogger whose situation so closely matched my own -- and not only that, wrote about it so very well.  As I once described it, finding Coming2Terms by Pamela Jeanne (as she was then known) "was like stumbling into an oasis in the middle of a desert."

In the years since then, Pamela has continued to write about, inspire and advocate for "infertility survivors."  In 2009, she published her award-winning memoir, "Silent Sorority." And now, we have "Finally Heard: A Silent Sorority Finds Its Voice." It's a short read, an inexpensive e-book available through Amazon, and readable on a Kindle e-reader, or on your computer or other device using Amazon's free Kindle software.

Much of the material covered in "Finally Heard" will be familiar to regular readers of Pamela's blog and other writing, but presented here in one cohesive document, it gains new impact. The topics she discusses in this e-book include:
  • the transformative impact of infertility (one that most of us are completely unprepared for), including the effect it has on our relationships with friends and family members;
  • the "blind spots" and hidden biases we all subscribe to, often unconsciously, which set us up for the culture wars that pit parents against non-parents;
  • the pitfalls of the fertility industry, which remains highly unregulated in many countries while raking in money from desperate couples, despite ART failure rates in the range of 70 to 77 per cent;
  • the social stigma faced by those who leave fertility treatments without a baby; 
  • the "indescribably delicious" feeling of connecting with others in the same situation (often through the Internet) -- "kindred spirits" who help create a healing environment that allows many to move forward; and 
  • the weirdness of being a childless woman in a culture where, "if you're not a mother, you don’t rate... For the benefit of all in our society, we need to rethink how we value and characterize the contributions of those who are not parents."
There are also some questions at the very end of the book to prompt classroom or book club discussions. (They would also make great journaling or blogging prompts.)

During her post-IVF "coming to terms" journey, "I craved a mentor or role model who could show me that my life wouldn’t be ‘less than’ or empty for never having walked the well-worn parenthood path – for releasing a cherished dream," Pamela confesses.  But over time, as she encountered other women struggling to answer the question "what's next?" after unsuccessful infertility treatments, she realized, "When no obvious role model exists why spend all my time looking for one? Why not, instead, try to become one?"

Thank you, Pamela, for being such a great role model and mentor, for me and for so many others!

This was book #9 that I've read so far in 2015.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

"Make Your Own Kind of Music"

I was reading & writing online tonight while "The Middle" (starring Patricia Heaton of "Everybody Loves Raymond") played on the TV in the background. I can't say I'm a huge fan of the show, but we often have it on in lieu of anything else more interesting. To be truthful, I find most of the characters annoying -- and the character of Sue, the awkward but eternally enthusiastic middle child/only daughter, downright cringeworthy at times. (Perhaps because she reminds me just a wee bit too much of another awkward teenaged girl I knew a few decades ago? ;) )

Well, in tonight's season finale, Sue graduated from high school. And while disaster loomed (as usual), everything turned out all right in the end, and we were treated to a Sue montage -- set to a very familiar (to me) song.

I remember it as the theme song (& title) of The Carpenters' summer replacement TV series back in the early 1970s... but this wasn't Karen Carpenter singing. A quick search (what on earth did we do before Google??) revealed that it was written by Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil, first recorded in 1968 and popularized a year later by Mama Cass Elliott (of the Mamas & the Papas -- the singer I was trying to identify). 

Next, I Googled the full lyrics. And I smiled. (Remember, this was the late '60s/early '70s...!)

Make Your Own Kind of Music

Nobody can tell ya
There's only one song worth singing
They may try and sell ya
Cause it hangs them up
To see someone like you
But you gotta make your own kind of music
Sing your own special song
Make your own kind of music
Even if nobody else sings along
You're gonna be nowhere
The loneliest kind of lonely
It may be rough going
Just to do your thing's the hardest thing to do
But you've gotta make your own kind of music
Sing your own special song
Make your own kind of music
Even if nobody else sings along
So if you cannot take my hand
And if you must be going, I will understand
You gotta make your own kind of music
Sing your own special song
Make your own kind of music
Even if nobody else sings along
You gotta make your own kind of music
Sing your own special song
Make your own kind music
Even if nobody else sings along
For the record -- I was singing along, lol.  And it struck me that, while the lyrics were certainly appropriate for the character of Sue -- a one-of-a-kind character if there ever was one -- they also fit the situation of those of us who are on this "road less travelled:" "They" may try to tell us that there's only one song worth singing (i.e., parenthood) -- and seeing people like us who flout convention certainly seems to "hang up"/bother some people, doesn't it?

It's lonely, it's rough, doing our own thing, being different from the majority (especially when it's not what we wanted in the first place). But we have to do what we know is right for us. (And it's so nice that more & more people like us are finding their voices and singing along, isn't it?) 

Here's the late, great Mama Cass: