Wednesday, October 18, 2017

No dress rehearsal (thanks, Gord)

Just yesterday afternoon, dh & I were driving and "Bobcaygeon" by The Tragically Hip came on the radio. I remarked to dh how much I loved the line:  "It was in Bobcaygeon/I saw the constellations/Reveal themselves one star at a time."  Just a lovely image -- plus, you've gotta give him (lead singer & songwriter Gord Downie) credit for finding a rhyme for Bobcaygeon, right?

And then I woke up this morning, and he was gone. Dead at the way-too-young age of 53.

As I wrote last year just before the Hip's final concert -- and as pretty much any Canadian of a certain age could tell you -- the Tragically Hip are Canadian icons, and Gord Downie the closest thing we have to a poet laureate.  When the band announced last spring (2016) that he had been diagnosed with incurable brain cancer, it was huge news.  The entire country basically shut down to watch the Hip's nationally televised final concert in their hometown of Kingston, Ontario, in August 2016. It was one of those rare "where were you when..." kind of events where everyone came together, united in love and pride and grief, utterly transfixed. 

Coming on the heels of the deaths of way too many other musicians I've loved lately -- most recently, Tom Petty and Kenny Shields -- and just days after we attended the memorial service for our friend & hairdresser (who also died in her 50s from cancer), I am feeling sad and tired tonight. Reflecting on how much cancer sucks, how short and fleeting and precious life is.

As everyone has been saying, as his family said in their statement, "We all knew this day was coming."  But that doesn't make it any easier when the time comes to say goodbye.  The news channels have been covering the story almost exclusively; radio stations are playing nothing but Hip music;  my social media feeds have been flooded with Hip videos and photos and expressions of grief.  Our prime minister, a Hip fan and friend of Gord's, who attended the Hip's final concert, gave a live statement in the halls of Parliament this morning, choking up and wiping tears.

A friend posted the image above on Facebook today -- a line from a well-known Hip song, "Ahead by a Century." 

Sometimes it seems like time is just zooming by relentlessly. How the heck did I get to be 56 years old?? Married 32 years?  Retired two years already, after working for almost 30? 

Next year will be 20 years -- 20 years!! -- since Katie's stillbirth.  Our nephews -- just little boys when we lost her -- are now grown up and getting married and starting families of their own.

My parents have seemed older and a little slower and more frail the last few times I've visited.  I know I am lucky to still have them. I have been attending far too many funerals for the parents of my peers lately. 

I think about all the things on my to-do list -- the unread books sitting on my shelves, the places I want to travel to, the things I want to see and do. The friends I haven't seen in way too long. Realistically, my life is already more than halfway over. Time to start crossing some of those things off those lists.

What am I waiting for?

"No dress rehearsal/This is our life." 

A lesson for all of us.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Free trade increases infertility -- who knew??

The headline from the Washington Post that popped up on my cellphone tonight stopped me in my tracks: 
"Internal White House documents allege manufacturing decline increases abortions, infertility, and spousal abuse"
I mean, seriously??!!??  Can someone explain the link to me??

The opening paragraphs of the story read:
White House officials working on trade policy were alarmed last month when a top adviser to President Trump circulated a two-page document that alleged a weakened manufacturing sector leads to an increase in abortion, spousal abuse, divorce and infertility, two people familiar with the matter said. 
The documents, which were obtained by The Washington Post... were presented without any data or information to back up the assertions... 
(Are we surprised?) 

So let me get this straight -- Brian Mulroney, George H.W. Bush and Carlos Salinas (the leaders of Canada, the United States and Mexico who signed the original deal in December 1992) are to blame for my lack of children (and possibly yours as well)? Not my bicornuate uterus, wonky hormones, aging ovaries or dh's low sperm count, among other known and unknown factors?

Gee, I wish I'd known this years ago... it would have saved me a lot of angst...

Monday, October 16, 2017

#MicroblogMondays: Tis the season (already??!)

Canadian Thanksgiving wasn't even over yet before Christmas stuff started taking over the stores. Generally, I think the Christmas hoopla could wait until after Remembrance Day, or at least Halloween... but there's one Christmas item I do like to start at least thinking about well in advance: my annual Christmas card.

The stores are already well stocked with a variety of cards, but nothing I've seen has grabbed me so far.  (For many years, I tried to find a card with a Katie-related theme, although they have been harder to find the last few years.)  Quite often, I see something right away that grabs me and says "This one! Buy me!"  But not this year;  at least, not so far.

On the other hand, I was browsing online and saw several photo card designs that I liked -- and one site had an offer for 60% off (which ends tomorrow) -- and I had a nice photo of dh & me in mind that I could use.

I hesitated. I've generally only done photo cards once every five years or so, and I already did one last year (using the photo of me & dh all dressed up at Older Nephew's wedding). I'll likely do another photo card next year with a photo from Younger Nephew's wedding (if I can get a good one of us together).  Would three years in a row of photo cards of us -- a middle-aged couple, no adorable children in the picture -- seem a little self-indulgent, even to the people who (supposedly??) love us?

Then I thought -- why the heck not?  (Dh concurred.)  I have friends who send me a photo card of their kids (or photos of their kids tucked inside their card) every year, without fail. (Unlike some of my childless/bereaved mom friends, I don't mind getting photo cards... although I do wish sometimes I could see a photo of the entire family, and not just the kids. I have friends I haven't seen in 30 years -- they don't do social media & if they send me a photo, it's only ever of their kids.) 

I ordered the photo cards. They'll be here by Halloween. I can cross that item off my holiday to-do list, and I should be able to get them into the mail in plenty of time for Christmas. Yay me. ;)

What do you think about getting photo cards of adults &/or pets (I've had some of those from my childless/free friends too :)  ), but not kids? 

I've tagged past posts I've written about Christmas cards with the label "Christmas card."  :)  

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

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Odds & ends

  • In addition to being bummed out about missing out on the NotMom conference in Cleveland over the (Canadian) Thanksgiving long weekend, I was doubly-bummed out when I found out (via social media) that Jody Day was HERE, in my city, en route to the conference!! (where she was a keynote speaker) & was getting together with local Gateway Women for drinks that night.  Getting my act together, reorganizing my day (& organizing transportation downtown -- I don't drive, and I live in a corner of suburbia where the public transit completely sucks) within the space of a few short hours was just not in the cards. :(   I had checked out the local GW group a couple of years ago, but their meeting times & places were not that convenient for me to get to (even before I moved to my present location in a different part of the region).  I have since signed up for the local group's emails, in the hopes that next time Jody or some other cool GW drops into town for a meetup (and I certainly hope there will be a next time!), I will have advance notification and be better prepared!! 
  • Tom Petty's recent death depressed me more than I thought it would. He wasn't someone I'd instantly name as a favourite -- but he was certainly right up there, and definitely part of the soundtrack of my youth. And we've been losing WAY too many of those artists lately. :(   He was only 66, for crying out loud.  :(  He was here in mid-July on his 40th anniversary tour;  I remember asking dh if he was interested in going (he's an even bigger fan than I am), & it never went further than that -- concert tickets being expensive and hard to get, and we were leaving on vacation a day or two later... "Next time," we said.  The lesson being that there isn't always a next time, so take those opportunities when you can...!  (See also above...!) 
    • (Anyone see the video of an entire stadium -- 90,000 people!! -- singing along to "I Won't Back Down" at a college football game? So. Cool!! :)  )   
  • I got ANOTHER mandatory questionnaire from the attorney-general's office to determine whether I'm eligible for jury duty.  You may or may not remember that I received the same form three years ago, just after I lost my job... and was summoned for jury duty about 10 months later, in July 2015. Dh & I went so far as to scout out the location of the court house & figure out how long it would take him to drive me there ever day... and then, just a few days before I was to report for duty, I received a phone message that the pool had been cancelled.  The courthouse here is in an equally inconvenient location, and he would have to drive me.  So here's hoping for a similar outcome this time. (Where were these summonses in the 28 years I was at work & would have loved to escape the office for a few days??)(Plus my company still paid your full salary if you were called for jury duty.)  
  • SIL & I went shopping on Saturday for (another) mother of the groom dress (hers, obviously), for Younger Nephew's wedding in April. This is something I will never get to do myself -- and, as when we went shopping for her dress for Older Nephew's wedding, I was & am grateful to be included.  
    • After finding a dress for her (she tried on just three, and opted for the very first one, which she loved from the moment she put it on), we went looking for a dress for me. I was afraid it would be hard to equal the kick-ass dress I found for Older Nephew's wedding (see photo), but I think we might have done it.  ;) 
  • Earlier today, we attended a memorial mass for our hairdresser of the past 15+ years, who passed away in September after being diagnosed with cancer just seven months earlier. :(  She was 55 years old and the mother of two grown sons, around the same ages as our nephews. Moreover, she had been married 34 years -- to one of dh's childhood buddies. (He was an usher at their wedding. We didn't realize who she was the first time we went to see her, until she & dh got talking as she cut his hair -- one of those "small world" coincidences/stories that we've delighted in retelling ever since then.)  I haven't seen her since the last time she cut our hair, just before her diagnosis, and I still can't believe she's gone. :(  She was one of those people who was always full of fun and laughter (not to mention she was a great hairdresser), and I am going to miss her. Life is short, people... enjoy it while you're here.  :(  
    • The church was crowded, incredibly warm & stuffy, and the service was long, so I slipped outside for a while to cool off & get some fresh air. While I was standing on the steps, I saw something fluttering through the air. It crossed in front of me, going from one side of the church to the other and then flew out of sight. It was a monarch butterfly, which we always used to release at our pregnancy loss support group picnics in memory of our babies. Coincidentally (or not??), it's also Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day. So, little butterfly, I'm not sure whether our friend N. sent you, or Katie, or maybe both, but thank you for visiting, you totally made my day. 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

"Five Windows" by D.E. Stevenson

The latest selection under discussion by my Yahoo book club devoted to fans of Scottish author D.E. Stevenson is "Five Windows," first published in 1953.  I managed to snag a copy of a recent reprint at a somewhat reasonable price, even with US/Canadian dollar exchange rates & shipping factored in. (More & more of Stevenson's books are being reprinted or made available in e-reader versions, but there are still many that are out of print -- and they can be hot -- and expensive -- commodities on the resale market.)

Like Stevenson's other books, "Five Windows" is the literary equivalent of comfort food, a hot cup of tea on a cozy couch on a chilly autumn/winter day.  Unlike some of her other books that I've read, this one is written in the first person, and in a male voice, no less. We follow our hero, minister's son David Kirke, from his 9th birthday in pre-WWII Scotland to school in Edinburgh and on to young adulthood in early 1950s London.  The "Five Windows" of the title are a framing device that mark the passage of time, representing the windows of David's rooms in the different places he lives as he grows up. The novel touches on themes of home, family, friendship, writing & publishing, and learning to assert yourself.

I wouldn't say this is my favourite of Stevenson's novels that I've read to date -- but like her other books, it's a pleasant way to spend a few hours.

This was book #15 that I've read so far in 2017, bringing me to 63% of my 2017 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books.  I am currently 3 books behind schedule to meet my goal. :p  ;)

Friday, October 13, 2017

Never a dull moment...

Several times over the past couple of months, we've been rudely awakened (always late at night or very early in the morning, of course -- never in the afternoon...!) by the ear-piercing, heartstopping shrieks of the condo building's fire alarm -- both out in the hallway as well as within each unit (including ours).

Each time it's happened, we've had to hastily throw on our clothes, jacket & shoes, grab purse/wallet & cellphones & hustle down the stairs (conveniently located directly across the hall from our unit) to wait for the arrival of the fire department. (The elevators return to ground level and will not operate until the alarm is reset.) 

(Each time this happens, it takes a while to get the elevators back into service again... and so, each time, we've wound up climbing back UP the stairs to return to our unit once the all-clear was given. Thank goodness we only live on the 4th floor!!)   

Each time, the fire department investigates, but (so far, at least so far as dh & I know) has not been able to find any obvious reason why the alarm was triggered. (One theory: dirt particles/debris in the ductwork being blown from hallway vents located close to a smoke detector.) It's comforting to know that there was no fire -- but NOT comforting not to have any answers as to why these alarms keep happening. In most cases, the system indicated the problem was on our floor (!). A little too close to home...   

After the first two alarms, the fire department advised us that hereafter, we would be charged $500 per truck per false alarm visit (and they usually bring two trucks for a building this size). (Fee increases coming up, no doubt...!) We noticed there were a lot fewer people who evacuated than there were units in the building -- and fewer coming outside with every alarm.  The danger of too many false alarms, of course, is that people start ignoring them, and that can be dangerous when an emergency really does happen.

(Sidenote: I guess it's one way to meet your neighbours, albeit perhaps not under the best circumstances...!  There's one young mother who has evacuated with her adorable baby girl every time. The kid seems totally unfazed by it all, hasn't cried or seemed startled at all -- and totally charmed dh by smiling broadly at him.)  

Tuesday morning, just after 7 a.m., we were woken with a start by the fire alarm, AGAIN.

Except this time, it wasn't entirely a false alarm.

Once again, there was no smoke and no fire.  Thankfully. 


Something -- we're not sure what -- set off the sprinklers in a unit on our floor -- directly outside the area where several of the earlier alarms had been pinpointed. One of our neighbours went down the hall to check and said the water in that unit was at least ankle deep. We stood in the parking lot outside and watched in disbelief as a stream of water cascaded off the balcony and down the side of the building. As soon as it seemed safe, we hustled back upstairs to check on our own unit. 

Fortunately for us, we are at the opposite end of the hall from where the sprinklers went off -- far enough away that no water came close to our unit.  Unfortunately, a number of units in that wing were damaged by the water, as well as units below them, and also the small lounge area beside the main entrance to the building. 

Within a couple of hours, cleanup and restoration crews were hard at work;  huge fans have been running in the hallway (and presumably inside some of the units) 24/7 to help dry out the soaked drywall and carpeting (and, hopefully, ward off mould).  (Thankfully, we're far enough down the hall that the noise is barely noticeable.)  During the day, there's hammering and workers' voices as they tear out damaged drywall and flooring.  I couldn't help but remember how we spent FIVE WEEKS this past winter chasing down the property manager (who has since been fired & replaced) to repair the small section of damaged ceiling in our entryway closet after the sprinkler system pipe sprang a leak. I reminded one of the board members we know about this incident, because I can't help but wonder whether there's some sort of connection to be made? It's hard to believe it's merely a coincidence that there were two problems with the sprinkler system on the same floor less than nine months apart.

So yes, you don't have to worry about shovelling snow or mowing the lawn or squirrels in the attic in a condo -- but there is the possibility of stuff like this happening. Never a dull moment...! 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

"As a father" ? (same song, second verse...)

After hitting "publish" on my last post, I was looking through my "drafts" folder and found a post with almost exactly the same title. 

I wrote it in the heat of the moment back in September 2015, after the body of a little Syrian boy named Alan Kurdi (among the bodies of other Syrian refugees) was discovered on a beach in Turkey.  I'm not quite sure why I never published it -- there was an election campaign on here in Canada, emotions were running high (mine and everyone else's) and I guess I thought I should sit back & take a deep breath first. 

Even though the specific incident that triggered the post is long in the past, the points I was trying to make are still topical & valid. And so, even though it's not as current as it once was, I've decided better late than never... here's the post:

*** *** ***

Please, please don't get me wrong. The tragic death of a little Syrian boy on a Turkish beach this week -- depicted in a now-famous photo -- was an awful, awful thing.

But I don't want to write about why that little boy was laying dead on a beach, or Middle East politics or immigration policy. Others are doing that much better than I can.  

Yet at the same time that this event pointed up our collective tendency to bury our head in the sand to others' pain & suffering (until a stunning photo compels us to look, and learn) -- the subsequent media coverage hammered home to me (not for the first time) the parent-centricity of our society, the tendency to view everything that happens through the lens of parenthood -- and the assumption that everyone else shares this lens, too.

We don't. And as a non-parent (of a living child, anyway), I began to sense a pattern among the commentary:    

From Thomas Mulcair, the leader of the New Democratic Party here in Canada (currently in the midst of an election):  "As a dad and a grandfather, it is just unbearable that we are doing nothing." 

From our usually unsentimental Prime Minister: "The first thing that crossed our minds was remembering our own son Ben at that age running around... It brings tears to your eye.”

From the Ottawa Citizen:
The limp, lifeless image of a little boy whose family hoped to escape tyranny has seized the attention of people around the world — a haunting snapshot that shreds the gut of any parent. As the father of four boys, I admit to succumbing to emotion on the matter.
(I am sure that photo shredded the gut of many non-parents, too, who also found themselves succumbing to emotion on the matter. Me, for one.)

From a New York Times opinion piece,
Is it wrong to be more jarred, more ravaged by this image simply because the child looks as if he could have wandered off your neighborhood playground, because in one photograph the policeman tasked with recovering the body — from the look on his face, it’s hard to imagine that he isn’t himself a father — is cradling him the same way you’ve cradled your own sleeping son, one Velcro strap flapping loose on his left shoe?
(Why is it so hard to imagine that he's not a father? Would he be any less capable of feeling shocked, horrified, overwhelmingly sad, if he wasn't a father?)

This Toronto Star columnist, at least, gave a slight nod of recognition to the non-parents out there: 
Alan, we can see, was wearing little Velcro sneakers with yellow trim. Somehow it’s these little details that make those now-famous images of him drowned on that beach hit so hard. Those shoes feel so familiar to those of us who have a toddler at home, or who have had one, or know one. The way the boy’s skinny legs emerge from baggy blue shorts, dangling from the arms of the officer who has found him and cradled his body in his arms. His tiny fingers. We recognize these forms, these details, from our own lives, our own families.
One of the toughest, most scathing columns I've read on the subject was by a veteran female columnist at the Toronto Star, who does not have children.

Does the death of someone else's child become more awful or shocking or painful, simply because you're a mom or dad?  Not being a mom (of a living child, anyway), I don't know. I suppose that it makes parents more aware of the fragility of life and (hopefully) more grateful for their families. I admit that, as a bereaved parent, my heart always goes to to anyone who experiences the loss of a child, at any age, because I understand, just a little, what they are going through.

But really, the death of an innocent child is just an awful thing, period. I don't think you don't have to be a mom or a dad to feel pain and outrage and anger when it happens to someone else's kid.

You just have to be a human being with a heart.

*** *** ***

(Thomas Mulcair recently stepped down as the NDP leader. "Our usually unsentimental Prime Minister" referred to the prime minister of the time, Stephen Harper, whose party was defeated in the election.)