Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Eight years of childless/free living

This weekend marks a very special "anniversary" in my personal history -- the day I consider to be the true beginning of my childless/free life. Of course, I've lived without children my entire life (aside from the six months I was pregnant in 1998) -- but July 18th was a special day, an initial milestone marking the beginning, or at least the earliest stage, of my journey down the road less travelled. (I'll be otherwise occupied on July 18th, so I thought I'd blog about it early!)

It was the summer of 2001. Our third & final injectable/IUI cycle had failed in late May: we had reached the previously agreed-upon end of the fertility treatment road, & were embarking on the new & scary path of permanent childless/free living. In mid-June, I began having a series of frightening, debilitating anxiety attacks. I went to my family dr, was prescribed some Ativan, and endured a battery of tests (at my insistence) to satisfy myself that I hadn't had a heart attack, as I had initially feared. We went back to see the infertility counsellor we'd seen earlier for some guidance on this new path we were taking, & started getting ready for a much-needed family holiday on the Pacific Coast.

As I had when our daughter was stillborn in 1998, I began searching the Internet for resources -- something, ANYTHING, that would tell me I wasn't alone in facing this scary situation.

And I wasn't. Blogs hadn't been invented yet (or if they were, they weren't very well known), but I found a recently created message board that seemed custom-made for women like me. Women who had hoped to have children but, for a variety of reasons, hadn't. Some were like me, with a history of lost pregnancies and failed infertility treatments. Some were married to men who had families with previous partners & didn't want more children. Some were still hoping for a miracle, but trying on childfree living for size.

I made my first post on the board on June 18, 2001. I immediately felt accepted and understood. I began to look forward to logging on every day & finding out what everyone was doing and how everyone was feeling. It was a virtual support group. We got to know each other by posting "Two for Tuesday," "Wednesday woes & woohoos" and a "Friday Five." I found a few (very few) other boards for women in my situation (some listed in the sidebar of this blog), but most of them were not very active, and the bonds among the members not as strong as the ones I had formed with these women.

In the spring of 2003, the site underwent an "upgrade." Suddenly, I couldn't access the board anymore. PANIC!!! I had e-mail addresses for a few of the girls, & one day, I received an invitation: one of the members had created a private Yahoo group where we could reconnect. Eight of us eventually gathered over there and picked up the conversation where we had left off before we had been so rudely interrupted. : )

Eventually, I was able to access the old board again. But things were never quite the same there after that. There were many people we just never heard from again. A few of us "oldtimers" hung around to answer questions from newcomers. While the number of active posters slowed considerably, our threads continued to receive lots of views, indicating we had a lot of lurkers.

Last year in June, the hosting site shut the board down because of a lack of activity. The archived board is still there (although not, sadly, the posts from its earliest days -- so I can't link to my original post from 2001), but you can no longer post or respond to posts there, & it is not listed on the main site index of message boards. I blogged about the board closing here.

Only four or five of us still post on the Yahoo group now, not quite as often as we used to in the early days, when childless living was still a new & scary thing. But there is a bond and a common history we share that I treasure enormously. I've met two of these women in real life & it was simultaneously a weird & wonderful thing, to have someone step off the computer screen and into your arms for a hug. We've joked that that when we grow old & grey & widowed, without kids to "take care" of us, we'll move into a house together like the Golden Girls and take care of each other. (Or maybe we're not joking.)

Girls (I know some of you read this blog), I've never met most of you, but I can't imagine what the last eight years would have been like without all of you to vent to, cry with, laugh with and celebrate with. Thank you, thank you, thank you. To the extent that I have "accepted" my childless/free life, you all deserve much of the credit. I couldn't have done it without you. : )

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Show & Tell: Our anniversary weekend in Stratford

(Apologies in advance for the wonky formatting -- trying to get the photos & text in the right places has been an exercise in frustration...!)

Thank you for all your good wishes on our wedding anniversary. Most years, we've fallen into the pattern of just going out for dinner, & then doing something special on the anniversaries that are divisible by 5. Even though this wasn't one of those years, we decided we wanted to do something a little more.

We've realized that we've fallen into a bit of a rut these past few years. Because we don't have any kids, we're obviously free to take off whenever we want -- and yet, we rarely do, especially the past 10 years. When you factor in commuting, we're out of the house for 11-12 hours every day, & we're pretty tired when we get home (how on earth do working parents do it???). It's very easy to fall into a rut & wind up laying on the couch watching TV (or mesmerized by a computer screen…!).

We decided that really needs to change! I recently started working on a scrapbook that will include at least one two-page layout for each year we've been married, with a selection of photos & highlights from that year, including vacations we took, shows we saw and what we did on our anniversary that year. (Hopefully, it will be finished in time for our 25th anniversary next year.) Anyway, going through my old datebooks, I realized, "Boy, we used to get out & about a LOT more!" Yes, I know we're 24 years older than when we were first married… but we're not THAT old, not yet…!!

We tossed around a few ideas. We considered going to Niagara on the Lake, one of our favourite getaway spots -- home to the Shaw Festival, as well as some fabulous wineries, & only a half-hour drive from Niagara Falls. We've been to NOTL many times before, though, most recently for our 20th anniversary. (I must blog about NOTL some other time.)

And so, we decided to head to Stratford -- home of Canada's Stratford Shakespeare Festival. (How lucky are we to have two such fabulous summer theatre festivals so close to us?) We've only been to Stratford three times (twice for the theatre, once just to look around) -- never overnight, & the last time was 20 years ago -- so we decided it was about time for a return visit.

And we are so glad we did. All weekend long, we kept looking at each other & saying, "WHY don't we do stuff like this more often??" lol

Stratford is about a two-hour drive west from Toronto, population around 30,000. It's a very pretty town, first settled in the 1830s, with some very well preserved Victorian-era houses & buildings, lots of gorgeous trees and parks, etc. The only thing I really didn't like is that almost ALL the parking downtown is metered -- 2 hours max -- & the parking lots are expensive (captive audience, I guess). Most plays run well over two hours, so dh had to leave the Sunday matinee at intermission to put more money in the meter. Be forewarned & bring lots of quarters, loonies & toonies!

(At left: Stratford City Hall.)

Ontario Street (Main Street)

Downie Street (I think?)

The world-famous Shakespeare Festival began in 1953, with performances in a tent. Over the years, it has expanded to four theatres and broadened its repertoire beyond just Shakespearean plays, with performances by renowned actors such as Alec Guinness, Christopher Plummer, Peter Ustinov, Dame Maggie Smith and William Shatner.

Both the Shaw & Stratford Festivals are heavily dependent on tourists (from both sides of the border) -- and both are hurting this year, because of the economy as well as the new rules requiring passports to cross the U.S.-Canada border. The Saturday night play we attended was fairly full, but not a sellout, as you might expect on a holiday weekend for both Canada and the U.S. We heard one hotel employee saying that when the Canadian dollar was at around 60 cents U.S., they used to get retired Americans coming & staying for two or three WEEKS, because it was such a cheap vacation for them. Not these days, unfortunately.

Nobody we talked to had been to Stratford recently & could recommend accommodations for us, so we scoured the Internet looking at hotel reviews. (Stratford has tons of B&Bs, but dh is more comfortable in a hotel setting -- preferably something fairly modern, lol.) We settled on the Arden Park Hotel -- a nice, clean, relatively modern, 5-storey hotel that had been recently renovated -- big room with a king-sized bed, flat screen TV, etc. -- new(er) carpeting, new tiles & fixtures in the bathroom, etc., located directly across the street from a Williams Coffee Pub and a Dairy Queen. It is a 20-30 minute hike downtown, but just a 5-10 minute walk down the side street & through a beautiful park to the Festival Theatre, the festival's largest venue.

We had better luck asking for recommendations on where to eat. Dovetailing nicely with its status as a tourist mecca, Stratford is home to a chef's school. There's a wide variety of very good restaurants to suit every taste & budget.

While visiting friends recently in nearby Waterloo, we asked whether they knew of any good places to eat. The husband works with a woman who has lived in Stratford all her life, & she had given him the names of two good restaurants to try. So we made reservations for one, Foster's Inn, on Saturday night. It's known for its steaks, so we both had steak & it was very good.

The restaurant is actually just a few doors down from the Avon Theatre -- however, the play we were seeing Saturday night was at the Festival Theatre, so we decided to return to our hotel, park the car & walk. The play was "Cyrano de Bergerac" which was wonderful. I saw it at Manitoba Theatre Centre years & years ago, when I was about 14 -- Len Cariou, a Winnipeg-born actor who has won Tonys on Broadway, played Cyrano then.

This time, Cyrano was played by Colm Feore, who is probably one of the better known stage actors in Canada (his wife directed the production & their son had a minor part in it too). I don't watch "24" but the program said he's on it! -- so you might recognize him. Some reviews I've read say he was a better Cyrano in a 1996 Stratford production. I don't know about that, but I thought he was wonderful, as was the young actor who played the tongue-tied Christian.

The next day we had brunch at the hotel, which was OK. It was served buffet style -- however, you had to go to one of the ballrooms to load up your plate at the buffet & then walk with it back down the hallway to the restaurant!! Kind of strange. Also, the hotel had hosted a wedding the night before & many of the guests were staying at the hotel, so it was very busy.

After brunch, we took a walk back to the park to look around (since we'd been in a hurry the night before), crossed the street from the theatre & took a walk along the beautiful Avon River (got some great photos of people feeding the swans).

Waterfall in the park -- when we were walking through on Saturday night, there was a whole family here having their portrait taken. Very cool setting!

Garden with a sundial & statue of Shakespeare on the grounds of the Festival Theatre.

Swans on the Avon River.

Another view of the river.

Returned to the hotel, got the car & headed back downtown for a Sunday matinee performance of "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" at the Avon Theatre. OH MY GOSH -- it was hysterical!!! I was honestly getting weak from laughing so hard. Really, really funny & very well done! It's gotten great reviews. Dh saw the movie years ago (with Zero Mostel & Phil Silvers) but it was all new to me (except for the opening number, "Comedy Tonight"). I understand Nathan Lane starred in a revival on Broadway about 10 years ago (I could definitely see him in the role!).

We had hoped to go to dinner at the other restaurant our friends had recommended -- but when we went to call for reservations, we realized it was closed on Sundays. A lot of the restaurants in Stratford are, it seems. Very long story short -- after some wrangling with dh over what to do, we wound up at the hotel dining room. We looked at the menu in our room upstairs, picked out what wanted & headed downstairs & were seated. Only to find out that they didn't serve the regular menu on Sunday nights. We had a choice of three main courses, plus the salad bar & dessert bar (leftovers from brunch! -- which didn't appeal to me, so we didn't have any of that).

I had the prime rib & dh had broiled whitefish (the other choice was pineapple chicken). It was OK, but nothing special. Lesson learned for next time! Later, we walked across the street to the Dairy Queen & I had a Skor Bar Blizzard. : )

We got up the next morning (Monday, which was our actual anniversary), had breakfast, checked out before 10, & were back home again by noon. Went out for dinner again later that night.

We will definitely be doing this more often in the future. : )

To see what others are showing & telling, hop over to this week's Show & Tell post at Stirrup Queens.

Monday, July 6, 2009

And they lived happily ever after...

I know, I know -- happily ever after??

Well, actually... yeah. Despite the infertility, stillbirth, involuntary childlessness, health worries, anxiety (both of us) & other stresses that come with being human in the 21st century -- I am so glad I married this man 24 years ago today. : ) Happy anniversary to us!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Happy Canada Day!

Yesterday I got a tattoo. At work. On my right ankle.

OK, it's only one of those dollar store rub-on things that washes off. (At least I THINK it washes off... it's one day later &, as you can see, it's still strong & clear.)

(I've never really had the urge to get a real tattoo -- I feel like I'm a little "old" for it (although my aunt got one when she was in her late 50s -- much to my other, older aunt's chagrin...!) but if I ever did, I always thought I would get a butterfly on my ankle, for Katie.)

We had a little pre-Canada Day celebration at the office -- everyone wore red & white, we had cake & an all-Canadian trivia challenge quiz. My team was narrowly beaten, but as consolation, I won one of the prizes -- two new stainless steel water bottles decorated with Canadian flags, and a red chef's apron with paper napkins to match -- both bright red with "Eh?" in white type, lol.

Dh & I have never really done much on Canada Day. If we had kids, I'm sure we'd feel compelled to take them to a parade or fireworks or have a backyard barbecue. Or even to turn on the TV to watch the celebrations on Parliament Hill in Ottawa (something I would love to take in personally some day). Or something.

Instead, we went to a movie & lazed around the house. It feels oddly like Sunday. (I'll take any holiday I can get, but these four-day weeks do screw up my whole sense of timing.)

Even when I was a kid, though, I don't have too many memories of Canada Day celebrations (it was called "Dominion Day" back then). My most vivid Canada Day memory is from one year when I was a teenager in the late 1970s. We walked a few blocks down to the shores of the local man-made lake to watch the fireworks display, which was being set off on a bridge over the lake to the city park. All of a sudden we saw someone diving over the side of the bridge & into the algae-filled water (yuck). And then a barrage of fireworks the likes of which we'd never seen before, all over in a hurry. Seems something caught fire & set everything off just a tad prematurely. Fortunately, no one was hurt & no damage was done.

But then, low-key celebrations seems to be the Canadian way -- not too much fuss or patriotic hoopla, especially when compared to our cousins across the border. But yet there's still a quiet sense of pride and good fortune that we live in a country that remains one of the most beautiful, diverse, blessed nations on the face of the Earth.

Happy Canada Day!