Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 Year in review

Happy new year!  I realize it's been awhile since my last post. What can I say... year end at work, holidays, Christmas, freezing rain/ice storm, travelling DURING the ice storm, etc. etc. etc. I am actually hoping for a slightly less exciting 2014. :p

Anyway...!  I started doing this year-end meme three years ago... although some of the answers don't seem to change much from year to year, it's a great way to look back and keep track. Feel free to use on your own blog (& let me know if you do!).

1. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

As I have said in previous years' posts, I generally don't make new year's resolutions anymore -- they tend to be pretty much the same, year after year. So here are the perennials, and the progress I made (or didn't) in 2013:
  • Lose weight. (Nope -- my weight seems permanently stuck in the same five-pound range. :p)
  • Exercise more. (And hopefully lose more weight...!)  -- Nope.  Probably got a little LESS exercise, since dh now drops me off directly in front of the commuter train station. Since he lost his job, we no longer have to make the daily trek from the parking garage over the bridge across the highway, up & down stairs. On the other hand, I am now carrying my own briefcase for the first time in 23 years -- weight training??)  
  • Write more in my journal (blog??). Haven't written in my paper journal in years. Blogging: not quite as many posts as I wrote in 2012, but almost.  
  • Read more of the books that have piled up around the house. (Need to do better at this... the faster I read, the more I buy, it seems... yikes!) I did a better job on this resolution this year. I read 25books (and am on #26) -- just about one every two weeks -- which is much better than the less than 10 I read last year. I've been bringing my e-reader on the commute, just in case I finish my newspapers and have nothing else to read, and I think that's helped.
  • Tackle some of the clutter that never seems to go away. ("Some" being the operative word...) Took several more boxes of stuff to Goodwill... and shuffled some stuff around (= into the basement) -- but there is still scope to do much more...!
  • Finally do something with the spare bedroom that was to have been the nursery (get new furniture & linens to replace the old castoffs). Still on the to-do list... 
  • Set aside the nephews' scrapbooks for awhile, & start a scrapbook for dh & me (that will hopefully be finished in time for our 25th anniversary in 2010). And maybe (finally) start Katie's, too. Sadly, have not done any scrapbooking since fall 2009. However, a new Michaels recently opened in town, and dh gave me a giftcard for Christmas, so we'll see...!  
2. What did you do in 2013 that you’d never done before?

Went to New York City!

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

Nobody close-close. But several of my friends & cousins became GRANDPARENTS.  (!!)

4. Did anyone close to you die?

Thankfully (& knocking wood), nobody close. I did attend at least one funeral home visitation that I can think of (for the father of dh's cousin's wife).

5. What countries did you visit?

 The U.S. -- New York City specifically. ; )

6. What would you like to have in 2014 that you lacked in 2013?

More calm, less drama. :p 

7. What date(s) from 2013 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

April 30th -- the day dh joined the ranks of the unemployed/early retired.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Surviving all the upheaval, both personally & professionally. Really, to quote Danny Glover in the Lethal Weapon movies, "I'm getting too old for this sh**..."  ;)

9. What was your biggest failure?

As I've written in past years, so many things that needed to be done around the house -- projects both large & small -- remain untouched. I did get a few crossed off the list, but it's a LONG list. :p 

I failed too often to be assertive and to express my own opinions & wishes -- in both my personal and professional lives.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

A few colds & crampy days (no thank you, Aunt Flo... :p ) but nothing serious, thankfully.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

Nothing major or hugely outstanding that springs to mind -- but I bought a couple of Lucky Brand long-sleeved T-shirts at Macy's in New York that I LOVE (wish I had bought more!). Also bought a lot of jewelry -- all cheap stuff, but fun. :) 

12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?

Malala Yousafzai. What an inspiration she is! I do wish she had won the Nobel Peace Prize. (Take that, Taliban...)

13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?

As usual, politicians continue to top my list... Toronto Mayor Rob Ford (and his brother Doug) in particular...!! :p 

14. Where did most of your money go?

Beyond the essentials of daily living, and savings, our biggest indulgence is probably reading materials -- books & magazines.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

My trip to New York. :)

16. What song will always remind you of 2013?

I don't pay a lot of attention to new music these days... and I can't say that I LIKE it... but Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" was certainly ubiquitous. :p 

17. Compared to this time last year, are you: (a) happier or sadder? (b) thinner or fatter? (c) richer or poorer?

(a) slightly less happy :p (b) probably more or less the same :p (c) slightly richer -- gotta keep saving for retirement...!

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Last year, I said I wished I had used all of my personal days at work and more of my vacation time.  I lost my two unused personal days (which fall under a "use it or lose it" policy -- although they can also be used a sick days, which is why I tend to save them, just in case...).

Spent more time with girlfriends. The chicks weekend in New York reminded me of  how much I miss female companionship and how much fun it can be.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Worrying. It never does much good anyway...

20. How did you spend Christmas?

In the usual way:  with my family (my parents, sister & her boyfriend). Entertained by near-daily visits from The Princess.  ; ) With the added twist this year of flying out in the aftermath of a major ice storm. :p  Our original flight was actually cancelled, but VERY fortunately, I was able to book us two seats on the next flight out (probably the last two available, since they were right at the very back of the plane...!).  Once we got to Mom & Dad's, there was no freezing rain, but the temperatures rarely got above -20C & often hovered closer to -30C (with windchill values reaching -40C). So we spent a lot of time INSIDE, lol.

When we got back home, more than a week after the ice storm hit, there was still 1/4" to 1/2" of ice coating our driveway, sidewalk, front deck & car, and tree branches down all over our yard.

21. Did you fall in love in 2013?

Never fell out. ; )

22. What was your favorite TV program?

My favourite continues to be The Big Bang Theory. : ) But also:  Sherlock, The Republic of Doyle, and the rebooted Dallas. : )

23. Do you hate anyone now that you did not hate this time last year?

I don't think so. Hate is a pretty strong word. There are certainly some people I think of less than others.  

24. What was the best book you read?

I read a lot of great books this year (& I reviewed all of them at least briefly on this blog). If I was forced to pick out the one that really stood out for me & stayed with me, I think it would be "Into the Silence" by Wade Davis (reviewed here).  Long, multilayered and complex, but tremendously fascinating.

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?

I must admit, I don't listen to a lot of new music. I loved rediscovering The Rascals, whose album was one of the first I ever owned. Seeing them in concert this summer and reconnecting with the music of the 60s was a definite 2013 highlight.

26. What did you want and get?

Reassurance from a financial planner that early retirement is still do-able for both of us, despite dh's arriving sooner than we had planned or anticipated. (Two more years... two more years...)

27. What did you want and not get?

Still waiting on the sunspot vacation and new everyday dishes I mentioned in previous years, and did not get some of the things on my to-do list done that I had hoped to accomplish before we hosted dh's cousins' annual get-together last summer.

28. What was your favourite film of this year?

LOVED "Despicable Me 2." lol. "Silver Linings Playbook' was excellent.  Lots of new movies out over the last few weeks that we're hoping to see too. :) 

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I was 52. As I wrote here, my actual birthday was on a Saturday -- so I took the Friday off work, went to the spa and went shopping. On my birthday, I had a nice dinner out with dh later. 53 coming up shortly...!

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

I had hoped that dh losing his job would remove some of the stress on him... and while it did to some extent, it didn't as much as I had hoped. :(

A little more certainty & continuity at work would have helped too. :p

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2013?

As I said in 2010, not sure I have one, let alone a new one every year?? 

32. What kept you sane?

As I have said in previous years: dh, weekends, & being able to vent to my online friends. : ) And knowing that, if all goes well, retirement could be as little as TWO (!!) more years away. ; )

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

Besides Malala, mentioned earlier, I became a Facebook follower of Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield while he was on his space station mission. Since returning to Earth, he's remained funny, classy and... well... down to earth. A great role model for our young people, and a great representative for Canada in the world.

Also, I, like many other people, was captivated by the new Pope Francis. I'm not Catholic, and I know the policies I disagree with have not changed. But how can you not like the guy? He's making a real effort to walk the talk and put the emphasis where it should be, on charity and forgiveness instead of doctrine & judgment. That's heartening.

34. What political issue stirred you the most?

It was sad and depressing to realize that the slaughter of more than 20 six-year-old schoolchildren in December 2012 was not enough incentive for the United States to rethink its policies on gun control (or the lack thereof). 

On the other hand, the Supreme Court rulings on gay marriage were heartening and moving. (Justice Antonin Scalia's attempts at "humour" notwithstanding.) I blogged about that here.

35. Who did you miss?

As always, my daughter, and my grandparents.

The Princess -- only getting to see her twice a year, and occasionally on Skype, sucks. :p

My childhood best friends. Don't get to see enough of them. :(

36. Who was the best new person you met?

(I will have to think about this one.)

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2013.

If the food and the conversation are good enough, people won't notice the peeling paint on your backyard shed at your outdoor party. ;)

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

"I don't want to work, I just want to bang on the drum all day..." ;)

New Year's Eve 2007
New Year's Eve 2008
New Year's resolutions for 2009
New Year's resolutions for bereaved parents
New Year's Eve 2009
New Year's Eve 2010

Thursday, December 12, 2013

GRAB(ook) Club: "Catching Fire" by Suzanne Collins

(Warning: This post contains spoilers!) 

Having plowed through "The Hunger Games" earlier this fall, I was compelled to keep going through the next two books in the series.

So, since I had already read "Catching Fire," the second book in the trilogy, I figured I might as well take part in this latest edition of the GRAB(ook) Club -- even though I had to Google a plot summary to refresh my memory a bit (hard to flip back through the book again when you read it on an e-reader...!).  ;)  I have to admit, books 2 & 3 kind of run together for me;  I had a bit of a hard time remembering exactly what happened in what book. (I already provided a mini-review of sorts of both books in early October.)

While Katniss & Peeta emerged triumphant from the Hunger Games, they quickly find out that winning isn't all it's cracked up to be. The people have taken courage from Katniss's bravery and defiant attitude in the Games;  rebellion is in the air, which lands Katniss in hot water with the evil President Snow. The President cooks up something special for the 75th Hunger Games:  imagine an all-star Survivor competition, featuring past winners of the Hunger Games -- including, of course, Katniss & Peeta -- in yet another fight to the finish. Who will emerge victorious this time around? The book ends... with a cliffhanger!

My question: 
I haven't seen "The Hunger Games" movie and am not sure I will see "Catching Fire." Whether or not you have seen or think you want to see the movie, is there a particular scene you would love to see come to life from the book, or wonder how they will pull off?


My answer:

I asked this because while overall, I'm lukewarm as to whether I see the movie or not, I AM curious as to what Katniss's dress-turned-Mockingjay costume would look like and how they would pull off the transformation scene, cinematically. :)  (Unfortunately, the book shows that fashion truly can be a matter of life or death...)

I also keep trying to picture the setup of the arena in my head, particularly the opening setup. I think I have it figured out, but I'd like to see how the filmmakers interpreted it.

You?

After you answer my question, please click over to read the rest of the book club questions for Catching Fire.  You can get your own copy of Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins at bookstores including Amazon.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Elf yourself :p

In the category of “reasons why I’m sometimes actually glad I’m not a parent,” you can file The Elf on the Shelf. ; ) I first heard of the Elf about two Christmases ago and, since then, he’s been popping up with growing (alarming??) frequency in my Facebook feed every December, as increasing numbers of my mommy friends with young children join the crowd, buy an Elf for their family and begin posting photos of his (are there any female Elfs??) daily antics.  
 
Mary Elizabeth Williams posted a great article on Salon last year – recently revived in my Facebook feed – about her loathing for the Elf (headline: "Santa's evil Orwellian spy"). Creepy surveillance aspects totally aside, the very idea of having to constantly come up with new & ever-more creative ideas on where to put the damned thing every single day during December (and then every December to come) stresses me out. (The Salon article mentions how one Elf apparently covered the family toilet in giftwrap;  I had a friend who actually did that last year -- maybe she got the idea from the same place?)
 
My hat is off to those moms who have the time, energy & creativity to do this kind of thing (and keep it up...) for their kids. But even if I WAS a mom, I don't think I'd be one of them. Between year end at work and doing what I can to get ready for a reasonably merry Christmas – albeit one without children -- December is already stressful enough for me as it is. ( I'm sure I'd forget at least one night.)  
 
There was a great blog post circulating earlier this year by Rage Against the Minivan, pleading “Let’s bring the holidays down a notch.” Reading it confirmed for me that it's probably a good thing I never got to be a mom -- because if this is what it takes to be a parent these days, I’d never make the cut.
 
The post was triggered by St. Patrick’s Day (anyone ever heard of a visiting leprechaun leaving gold-wrapped chocolate coins for kids?? -- me either...) and includes mention of the Elf as one example among many of Holidays (or perhaps that should be Parenting??) Gone Wild.
 
Now, I’m all for having fun & making the holidays special – even on what my husband likes to refer to as “Hallmark Holidays” (with accompanying eye roll). My mom has always made holidays like Christmas & Easter special for our family. I fondly remember coming downstairs for breakfast on Valentine's Day to find a little heart-shaped box of chocolates from her, sitting beside my cereal bowl -- I planned to do something similar for my kids.
 
But these days, it seems the pressure to do more, buy more, give more gifts -- on top of all the other pressures of modern life and parenting -- just keep ratcheting upward.  And who is benefiting here? The kids, maybe... but I daresay there are commercial interests at work here that have a vested interest in keeping us all celebrating more and more holidays (that you may never have heard of or barely noticed 20 years ago...), buying their products, doing their marketing for them by spreading the word (I.e., Facebook photos) -- and molding the next generation of parents & consumers to follow likewise. (And yes, I realize the irony that, by writing this post, I am spreading the word too.)  
 
What do you think of the Elf on a Shelf phenomenon and the whole trend to more and more elaborate holidays? If you're a parent, do you have an Elf for your kids? 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

TGNO*

* Thank God November's Over

It's over. It's done. (Thank goodness!!) 

I still have at least a week of hard slogging ahead of me at work.... plus I need to get ready for Christmas. Christmas cards are bought, but not done or sent;  the tree IS up (see photo proof, left -- we did it yesterday) but no presents bought yet to put underneath. December is going to be a rush, stressful in its own way -- but there will be some fun & joy to be had along the way too. :)

Someone asked me awhile back at work, "How many of these (year ends) have you worked on?" I paused for a moment and then the reality of it dawned on me: "Ummm... all of them??!"  This is my 28th year end at work, people -- 27.5 years in the same area of the same department, working on some of the same projects, including 28 year ends. (Some projects have changed -- some have been added, others dropped -- but year end will always come & go, and has probably become more complicated over the years.) 

Yikes.

I've never really felt bored staying in the same place doing the same projects, year after year (which I guess is one reason why I've stayed)... but as I said those words, it occurred to me how very, very wearing it can be, and has been. 28 years of November/December busy-ness, of never being able to fully enjoy Christmas preparations (or take time to fully mourn my daughter, if I felt like it) -- of always being in a rush. Exacerbated, these past 15 years, by the gloom of grief that has always seemed to settle upon me for the month of November, when I should have been celebrating the birth of my daughter.

While my Facebook feed on Thursday filled with words & images of my American friends & families celebrating & feasting together (and then going out to take advantage of some great bargains in the stores -- Black Friday spread to Canada this year too, by the way), I was tied to my desk, working late -- then literally sprinting to hop the 7:15 train home, where I nuked some leftover pasta in the oven. Some of the cousins I went to New York with in October were musing over returning to NYC next year to see the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade live. "Can we wait until after I'm retired??" I pleaded. "I will never be able to take American Thanksgiving or Black Friday off as long as I'm in this job."  :p 

I have yet to visit Toronto's Distillery District -- shops and cafes carved out of what was once a Seagram's distillery and warehouses near downtown Toronto -- although I go by there on the train twice a day to & from the city. Over the next few weeks, it's home to a European-style Christmas market -- lights, music, food, shopping. Friends have been there & raved. But for me to try to get there after work (& then to the train -- and then get up again the next morning & go off to work again) does not appeal -- and I'm sure it would be nuts there on the weekend (and of course, we have lots to do over the next several weekends anyway).

My aunt was in the area this past week, and I'm glad we were able to see her at least once, at her granddaughter's birthday party last weekend. "We really should invite them over," dh sighed as we drove home. We should have -- I know. But I find it challenging enough to get to get through this time of year and get to all the social events we've been invited to -- let alone entertain the notion of entertaining others right now.

In my vision of the Perfect Christmas, I am the Perfect Hostess, holding a holiday open house for all of our friends & relatives in a beautifully decorated house (which has miraculously doubled or tripled in size to accommodate them all, lol), carols playing softly in the background, dazzling them with my Christmas baking. I gave up trying to do Christmas baking (or any baking, for that matter) some years ago, when it occurred to me that (a)  trying to get it done at an already-busy & stressful time of year was just stressing me out further and (b) I really didn't need all those calories hanging around the house (& then around my hips), anyway.

How have I done it, for 28 years?? I don't know -- but I'm tired. And it makes me tired just to think about it. ;)

Two more years... two more years... (I hope).

I have opened this blog every day, and noticed the increasing length of time between postings... but even if I had time to post, I just haven't felt the muse lately. :p  Just wanted to say I'm here, I am way behind on my blog reading & commenting (as well as writing), but hoping to catch up later this month when I'm finally off for a few days.