Monday, October 27, 2014

#MicroblogMondays: Dishing about my new dishes :)

Thirty years ago (!), pre-wedding, along with a "good" china pattern (Stephanie by Royal Doulton -- sadly, seldom used), I registered for a set of everyday dishes from Eatons department store (long gone from the retail scene). The dishes were made by International China, a pattern called Aurora Twilight Blue, mostly white with a light blue border around the rim.  The entire set of 8 place settings plus several serving pieces cost $99.99.  My mother ordered them for me as a wedding gift and had Eatons ship them to my future father-in-law's house in Toronto.  They were waiting for us in our midtown apartment when we returned from our honeymoon.

Those dishes have served dh & me well over the past 30 years -- but along the way, some of them have been broken, and others have been chipped and scratched -- so I've been looking for a potential replacement set for a while now. I originally had my eye on some Denby stoneware, but even on sale, it's a little pricey, particularly for two recently unemployed/early retired 50-somethings.

Then a couple of weekends ago, I noticed a sale at the mall on a pretty (and reasonably priced) set of dishes -- plain creamy white with subtle ridges on the rims. They're branded with the name of the infamous TV chef Gordon Ramsay, but they're actually made by Royal Doulton (I guess I have a "thing" for Royal Doulton, lol). 

They didn't have white in stock :(  but offered to order some for me, and they arrived on my doorstep a few days ago. I also got the matching serving pieces (bowl & platter, teapot, creamer & sugar bowl with lid), which were also reasonably priced.

I love them. :) 

What do you think?  What kind of dinnerware do you have, and how long have you had it?

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

Monday, October 20, 2014

#MicroblogMondays: And the best place to see fall colours is...

Maybe I'm a bit weird, but I've always liked cemeteries. The only one that has ever remotely spooked me out was the Old Burying Grounds in Halifax, which was directly behind the hotel where we stayed five years ago and engulfed in damp shadows, thanks to the huge old trees overhead. It first opened in 1749 (!) & closed in 1844.  That's pretty old! 

When I was about 10, I would ride my bike to the local cemetery & wander around by myself, reading the inscriptions on the markers. (I can't imagine any child being allowed to bicycle off by themselves today, let alone to a cemetery, but I digress...) My best friend had a baby sister buried there, and I would often stand beside her grave and wonder what she would have been like. (Her mother was one of the first people to call me when we lost Katie.)

When dh & I were first married, our apartment backed onto Mount Pleasant, a huge cemetery in midtown Toronto. We would take long walks on its winding paths, marvelling over the elaborate crypts -- some of them as big as houses -- where some of Canada's leading families rest (the Masseys, the Eatons, the Westons...).

Being interested in genealogy, I'm always up for a cemetery ramble, particularly when an ancestor is involved.

And since Katie's stillbirth, there has rarely been a week where we haven't paid at least a brief visit to the cemetery where her ashes are interred.

Some of the best places I know to enjoy the fall colours at their prettiest are cemeteries -- especially  the older ones with big old trees. Case in point: here's a picture from a ramble dh & I took yesterday through an older local cemetery (not the one where Katie is).  Nice, huh?

That's dh on the left. :)
(OK, this post wasn't quite micro... I'll get the hang of it eventually, lol.) 

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

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Recent reading

After reading "The Gift of Wings" by Mary Henley Rubio earlier this fall -- probably the definitive biography of L.M. Montgomery (which I reviewed here)  -- I dove into two other Montgomery-related books that had also been languishing in my gargantuan to-read pile.

The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery, Volume V: 1935-1942 as edited by Mary Rubio & Elizabeth Waterston, is the final volume of Montgomery's journals written before her death in April 1942, and the one volume that I hadn't read previously.

In some ways, I wish I had read this before tackling "The Gift of Wings," just to round things out  (also, that's the order in which the books were published).  On the other hand, Montgomery self-edited her journals, and barely wrote a thing during the last two years of her life. She is not always specific about what is happening, making sometimes cryptic references to certain people and events. In that respect, it was helpful to have read Rubio's book first, as she fills in some of the critical blanks and sheds new light on Montgomery's journal entries. (I did have to go back to "The Gift of Wings" at certain points while reading the journals to remind myself what the heck she meant.) 

As much as I love Montgomery, and as fascinating as it is to get a glimpse into her personal thoughts and feelings (however guarded), I have to admit, this is not a happy or cheerful book, and in some respects it was probably the hardest volume of the journals to get through. As it begins, Montgomery and her family had just moved from Norval, where her husband had lost his job as Presbyterian minister, to retire in Toronto. While Montgomery mourned the loss of her home in Norval, where she had led a mostly happy life, she begins on a hopeful note: her lovely new Tudor-style home in the suburb of Swansea was the first she had ever owned, and she was now closer to the intellectual and social circles of Toronto she desperately wanted to be part of.

But her husband's mental and physical health continued to deteriorate;  and she obsessed over her two sons -- their educations and love lives in particular. (Who said helicopter parenting is a 21st century phenomenon??)  Her oldest son, Chester, proved to be a huge disappointment to her, getting kicked out of engineering school, barely squeaking through law school, knocking up a girl from Norval, secretly marrying her -- and then running around with other women (and that's just for starters...!).  Her younger son, Stuart, was in many respects the "golden boy" of the family, but Montgomery frets over his studies as well, and especially over his ongoing friendship with a Norval girl she deems highly unsuitable.

It is difficult -- and, yes, sometimes a bit monotonous -- to follow as Montgomery tries desperately to keep up appearances and hold everything together, spirals into depression, ceases writing her journal all together -- and then dies at the far too young age of 67. The final entry is heartbreaking in its brevity and despair.  If you are a big Montgomery fan, though, and have read the other journals, you will need to read this to complete the full picture of this amazing author's life.

*** *** ***

About five years ago, Penguin Canada began publishing a series of 200-page books, written by notable Canadian authors, about "Extraordinary Canadians." Emily Carr, Lord Beaverbrook, Lester B. Pearson, Big Bear and Nellie McClung were among the first subjects, followed by Norman Bethune, Stephen Leacock, Mordecai Richler, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Glenn Gould, Rene Levesque, Louis Hippolyte Lafontaine and Robert Baldwin,  Marshall McLuhan, Tommy Douglas, Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont, Wilfrid Laurier and (yes) Lucy Maud Montgomery.

Extraordinary Canadians:  L.M. Montgomery was written by the novelist Jane Urquhart. While not as thorough or detailed a biography as Rubio's "The Gift of Wings," this is a great basic introduction to and appreciation of this beloved Canadian author, set in the context of her times. It also details her ongoing impact on Canada and on writers, both Canadian and generally -- including a lovely personal story about Urquhart's mother.

(These were books #13 & #14 that I've read to date in 2014.) 

*** *** ***

Some other recent reading of note:
  • As I commented to a few childless-not-by-choicers online, when people ask me why we didn't "just adopt," I think I'm going to start handing them a copy of this Toronto Star column. The blog it refers to/links to is also interesting reading for anyone thinking of adopting through the public system in Ontario.
  • A recent New York Times article noted the rising number of books & blogs designed to help parents "[navigate and transition] through the emotionally rocky waters of becoming an empty nester.”  (!)  The amusing part for me was seeing how many of the suggestions could just as easily serve as advice to couples navigating and transitioning through the emotionally rocky waters of accepting a childless life after infertility and loss -- such as transforming the child's bedroom (intended nursery) into a crafts room and finding a new community through social media.
  •  Loved this piece from Huffington Post, "The Other Quiet Mom," which (appropriately) popped into my feed on Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Day. So familiar, and it describes me to a T:   "Few ever realize how frequently and repetitively other mothers tell their "stories from the front" -- of pregnancy, labor and delivery, newborn gazing, breastfeeding -- unless they are one of the mothers who must master how to avoid tears just to be able to stay in the room...  stories that end with "and then they couldn't find the baby's heartbeat" generally stop a conversation. So these recollections tend to be kept inside, ratcheting up the aloneness that feels like it can smother a mother who has lost a child."  
  • Much has been written over the past week about the move by Facebook & Apple to offer egg freezing to its female employees as part of their benefits. There was a lot of good reading on the subject to be had, but I wanted to point out one article that appeared in today's Globe & Mail.  While I have my doubts that today is the "golden age for working mothers" that careers columnist Leah Eichler describes, I was intrigued by her theory that "Infertility treatment might be the new maternity leave." (Caveat: this was written from a Canadian perspective, where -- compared to the United States -- most working women are guaranteed a fairly decent maternity leave.).  
While pushing egg freezing is rife with ethical complications, this move suggests that the physical act of bearing children will be more discussed at work. This change couldn’t come soon enough. While many companies laud their generous maternity benefits, we almost never discuss the no-man’s land before the baby, when many women yearn for that little miracle but their bodies have other intentions. Undergoing fertility treatment has none of the glamour of pregnancy, yet it can take up much more time and energy, not to mention have a huge impact on your wallet. Many of us, myself included, keep these painful episodes to ourselves but they can affect our professional lives in a major way. So it’s time to bring infertility out of the closet at work...  
Despite the prevalence of infertility, few companies or workplaces appreciate the impact it has on their employees, [author Reva] Seth said. 
“IVF and infertility are what maternity leave was two decades ago … and just like we needed to have discussions and best practices on pregnancy and maternity – we now need to do the same with IVF and infertility,” Ms. Seth said.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Not on your road

Found this on Facebook & it seemed highly appropriate for those of us living without children. ;) 

Monday, October 13, 2014

#MicroblogMondays: Happy Thanksgiving!

It's Thanksgiving Day here in Canada -- a day for gratitude.  Here are a few of the things I'm thankful for in my life right now:

*  A wonderful extended family who love and support us (including a great BIL & SIL, who had us over for turkey yesterday :)  ).
*  The safe arrival of a new little Princess to spoil!! (Yes!! The Princess has a new baby sister!!) (Henceforth to be referred to as Princess #1 & Princess #2??).
*  Early retirement in relative comfort (despite the involuntary/earlier than expected way in which it came about). 
*  No work to fret about or stress over (this was our busiest time of year).
* Being able to spend extra time enjoying the beautiful fall colours, just coming into peak season right now.
*  A supportive online community that's helped me through some of the roughest times of my life.
*  The gift of words and being able to write out my thoughts & feelings.
* An abundance of great reading material. :) 

What are you thankful for right now?

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

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Guest blogging

I was honoured when U.K. therapist Lesley Pyne, who has focused her practice on helping childless women, recently asked to profile me and my blog on her own blog.

She's previously profiled other childless/free writers & bloggers, including Pamela Tsigdinos (Silent Sorority), Karen Malone Wright (The Not Mom), Tracey Cleantis (La Belette Rouge), Enza Gandolfo, and Lisa Manterfield (Life Without Baby) -- so I feel like I am in excellent company. :) 

You can read more about my story, as well as more about Lesley, here.

Monday, October 6, 2014

"So, what do you do all day?"

Laura LaVoie at The Not Mom recently flagged a Washington Post article by Lauren Knight, a stay-at-home mom who recently saw her last child off to school -- and now finds herself being asked "So, what do you do all day?" She found herself trying to come up with an answer that was "good enough," justifying how she spent her newfound time.
And then a good friend, who happened to overhear my 700th answer to the same question, approached me. She looked me in the eyes, smiled, and said, I know everyone is asking you what you are doing all day. And you feel like you have to say something profound. But I think they’re just asking because you are the light at the end of the tunnel. You are entering the place we [with young children] are only dreaming about. I think people want to know what it’s like because you give them hope.
Laura notes that it's not just moms who are asked (or feel the need) to justify what they do with their time:
Shortly after I quit my full time job to write, I had multiple people ask me the same question: “What do you do with all your free time?” 
Well, yes, it was true that working for myself offered me a newly discovered freedom with my own schedule, but that didn’t mean I was sitting around all day pondering my belly button. I was resentful at first. I was frustrated that they thought that I just sat around eating candy and watching TV. 
All of those stereotypes apply to anyone who doesn’t have a traditional job. Stay-at-home Moms for generations have heard them. And is it really a judgment on what we are doing, or is it jealousy on the part of those asking the question?...  
Why are we so fixated as a culture on what everyone else is doing with their time?

Good question. I think it's because time (and leisure time in particular) has become such a precious commodity in our chaotic world these days, we are curious & perhaps envious of anyone who appears to have more of it than we do, or at least a better controlled schedule.  This is something that Brigid Schulte writes about in her recent book "Overwhelmed," which I reviewed here

I could relate to both Lauren & Laura's posts.

The first time I had to deal with the "what do you do all day?" question was when I was 24, newly married and unemployed -- looking for a job, but mostly just setting up housekeeping in a small midtown Toronto apartment and getting used to my new life and new surroundings. I was a bit lonely at times -- the few friends I had in Toronto worked, of course, so I could go for days on end without talking to another adult besides my husband, when he got home at night -- but I was never bored. I did the housework, I had dinner on the table when my husband got home, I went to the library, I read, I went shopping, I went to the occasional afternoon movie matinee by myself.  I took long walks, I learned to navigate the subway system, I went to museums and art galleries and explored what my new city had to offer.  I am glad I had that time and was able to start my marriage in that way.

Then I went to work, at a high-stress corporate job with long hours (that got longer once we moved and I had to add up to three hours of daily commuting into the equation). But as a childless woman, I felt like I had to shut my mouth while the moms around me vented about how busy they were. (Even the ones who had also lost babies.)  No matter how exhausted I was, I felt like I didn't have the right to complain. As moms, they held the trump cards (i.e., kids). How could I possibly be as busy as they were? 

Now, almost 30 years later, at age 53, I am unemployed again -- retired (albeit involuntarily). I may not have been raising children, but I came to realize that I was busy -- not in the same way that a mom is, but "legitimately" busy enough in my own right.  And I feel like any leisure time that I now enjoy, I've more than earned.

Lauren Knight acknowledges that some of the pressure she feels to justify how she spends her time is self-inflicted, "with the clear knowledge that staying at home is a luxury to many, and something I feel humbled and grateful for on a daily basis. It is a beautiful gift."

I too am grateful, that I don't have to work anymore, unless I want to (even if the decision to leave work was made for me). I realize that not many people get to retire in their 50s these days.  But I don't really think of this time in my life as a "gift." It's something that I worked hard and saved diligently for. As I said a few paragraphs earlier, it's something that I earned.  For me & dh, early retirement is something that only really became a possibility once we realized that having children was not in the cards for us. It became the new life goal we set for ourselves, the silver lining in the dark clouds of infertility and loss -- something we could look forward to in the future. 

And now our future is here.  Perhaps some people look at our early retirement as the light at the end of the tunnel, a ray of hope for the future, as Lauren put it -- but the cynic in me is more inclined, like Laura, to wonder whether there's a bit of jealousy there. As Schulte points out in her book, we’ve developed this culture where we feel we have to be busy (or at least appear to be busy) all the time -- and I sometimes think people are just envious when they see others enjoying some downtime, no matter how hard-earned or well deserved it might be. They don't realize, or forget, the price (the heartbreak of stillbirth and involuntary childlessness) we paid. They don't really consider that the life we have today, however appealing, was not our first choice -- that we might have wanted a life that looks more like theirs, even if we did wind up working until we were both 65 to pay for it. 

So I try not to let those questions about how I'm spending my time now bother me (too much), or worry about giving the "right" answer. As Lauren Knight put it:
What kind of value do we place on a day with nothing planned? On a day not filled with lists of accomplishments, but with peace and quiet: a long walk to a coffee shop to enjoy a book, a phone conversation with a family member with whom we’ve lost touch. Will we tell those stories, or leave them out?  There is value in both the busy days and the slow, reflective ones. There is value in finding time for oneself.   
When the next person asks me what I do all day, maybe I will simply say, “Enough.”