Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Book: "A Fine Romance" by Candice Bergen

When the paperback version finally came out in the late 1980s (early on in my marriage), I eagerly pounced on Candice Bergen's well-reviewed 1984 memoir, "Knock Wood." Back then, Bergen was best known -- to people of my generation, anyway -- as a stunning, cool blonde model and actress in movies such as "Starting Over" and "The Wind and the Lion."

But to my mother's generation, she was better known as the daughter of ventriloquist Edgar Bergen who, with his wisecracking dummy, Charlie McCarthy, was a major radio star (!). "Knock Wood" describes Bergen's somewhat bizarre Hollywood childhood, where she appeared on her dad's radio show and was known as "Charlie's little sister" (!).  Not surprisingly, she resented the dummy, who had a bigger bedroom and closer relationship with her emotionally distant dad than she did.  I thoroughly enjoyed "Knock Wood" -- Bergen can write as well as (perhaps even better) than she can act -- and I still think of it as one of the best celebrity memoirs I've ever read (and I've read a lot of them, lol).

Now, some 30 years later, Bergen has finally returned with a sequel.  "A Fine Romance" picks up where "Knock Wood" left off in the late 1970s/early 1980s, when Bergen meets and marries French film director Louis Malle.  They spent five mostly blissful years splitting their time between her Central Park apartment in New York and his country house in southern France before their relationship was interrupted by the arrival of two different women:  their daughter Chloe, and Murphy Brown.

Ambivalent about pregnancy right up until Chloe's arrival in 1985 (by C-section, three weeks overdue!), when she was 39, Bergen threw herself wholeheartedly into motherhood. (I'll admit there were parts of the book where she's in full-throttle mommy mode that I found difficult to read, even now, many years post-loss. Caveat emptor.)  The title of the book actually comes from the classic Jerome Kern song, which Bergen used to sing to Chloe -- who is now an editor at Vogue and getting married in France this summer.  

Much as Bergen loved being a mom, she recognized the role of Murphy Brown was just too great an opportunity to turn down. (Amazingly, the network wanted someone younger -- specifically, Heather Locklear (!!). Writer/producer Diane English insisted on Bergen for the part.)  As Murphy -- an abrasive investigative reporter on a "60 Minutes"-style news show, who belts out Motown anthems off key and can't keep a secretary (one of the series' best running gags, with some great guest stars filling in as Murphy's secretary of the week) -- Bergen became one of television's biggest stars between 1988 and 1998.  A journalism school graduate myself, I absolutely loved the show and Bergen's portrayal of such a strong female character, and I loved reading her behind-the-scenes stories about the show and the people who made it. (Curiously, I learned in an Entertainment Weekly interview Bergen did recently that "Murphy Brown" is very difficult to find these days -- it's not available on any streaming service, and only the first season is available on DVD. What a pity!!)   

If Bergen waxes on a little too much about motherhood for my liking, I forgive her, not only because she really has led an interesting life and writes about it so well, but also because she knows a little something about grief and loss and tragedy. Malle died in November 1995 at age 63, after being diagnosed earlier in the year with an incurable inflammation of the brain. It's hard to read about how this brilliant, cultured man, who sent Bergen such exquisite love letters throughout their relationship (some excerpted in the book), loses his ability to walk, speak and feed himself, and Bergen is frank about the toll his illness took on her and their daughter, who was just 9 when her father died. 

Bergen also admits that she has been extremely fortunate in her life. In 1998, she met Marshall Rose, a widowed, wealthy New York real estate developer, and married him in June 2000. I enjoyed reading about how she navigated midlife romance and remarriage to someone so completely different from her first husband:  she & Malle spent a lot of time apart during their 15-year marriage;  her new husband wanted to spend every waking moment together, which she found excessive and claustrophobic. Eventually, they both adapted.  

She's also charmingly frank about aging (she will be 70 next year!), cosmetic surgery (she admits to having had some in the past, as well as botox & fillers) and the 30 extra pounds she's carrying these days. "Let me just come right out and say it: I am fat," is how Chapter 30 begins, probably the most-quoted line in the whole book.  

As you can probably tell, I hugely enjoyed this book. :)  It's a worthy successor to "Knock Wood."

It was book #8 that I've read so far in 2015.

Monday, April 27, 2015

#MicroblogMondays: Good to the last drop :)

I'm not exactly sure how or when I became a tea drinker, vs a coffee drinker. Perhaps it was the influence of my mom.  Although she came from a long line of Scandinavian coffee aficionados in one of the most Scandinavian communities in Minnesota (there was always, always a pot of Folgers percolating on the stove in my grandmother's kitchen -- I actually like the smell of coffee brewing, because it takes me right back there), she preferred tea (perhaps her Irish/Scottish genes?), and still does. She claims she lost her taste for coffee after her second pregnancy with my sister. (Back then, of course, caffeine was not verboten for pregnant women, along with cigarettes, wine...!)  She would sometimes make me weak tea when I was a kid and feeling sick.

I can remember going out for "coffee" with some of my friends in high school, but it wasn't like it is today, with a Starbucks or Tim Horton's on every street corner. We'd drive to the restaurant adjoining the local Co-op store or the gas station out on the highway, but we'd be just as likely to order a Coke as a cup of joe. 

Perhaps it was the influence of my first year university roommate. who would brew different flavours of loose-leaf tea for us in a teapot. For years and years, we gave each other tea-related gifts for birthdays and Christmas -- teapots, teacups, trivets, Christmas tree ornaments, books, boxes of tea... 

When I first met dh's Italian family and had dinner with them, I was offered a tiny cup of espresso coffee along with my dessert -- something totally foreign to this Irish-Swedish-American/Ukrainian-Canadian girl from the Prairies. I accepted to be polite, took a sip -- and then almost choked -- it was so strong.  Most of his relatives didn't even have tea in the house;  if they did, it was often chamomile, used only in the event of a stomach ache. Some of them started buying a small box of teabags, specifically for when I visited. :) 

Eventually, a few cousins on his dad's side married "English" (i.e., non-Italian) girls who also preferred tea. We'd sit together at wedding & baby showers and have fun watching the waiters' reactions when we asked for tea instead of coffee, then took bets on how it would be served and whether the water would be hot. (I give points to any restaurant that serves tea in china pots versus those awful metal things that inevitably leak all over the place as you're trying to pour.)

(I finally tried a latte at a coffee house in Seattle that my cousin took us to when we visited there in 1993 -- appropriately -- when in Rome, etc. etc. -- and that was more to my taste.  I will have one of those now & then at Starbucks.)

(I find that I have to remember to specify "hot tea" when I'm in the States;  otherwise, I'm liable to be handed a glass of iced tea, and it will be anyone's guess as to whether it will be sweetened...)

When I started working as a small-town newspaper reporter, I found a kindred spirit in a fellow reporter at the local radio station who also preferred tea. Invariably, most of the town council and school board meetings and other events we covered only offered coffee as refreshment -- with Coffeemate instead of milk or cream on the side. Yuck. I'd sometimes drink it if I was desperate (or trying to stay awake, lol), but I disliked the lingering taste.  We joked about starting a "Tea drinkers have rights too" movement.

When I started working in downtown Toronto, I got into the habit of stopping to buy a tea as I headed into the office (usually at the Second Cup) -- and then heading down to the food court in the concourse on my breaks to refuel.  Some days I felt like I was living from one coffee break to the next (I had two 15-minute breaks per day, morning and afternoon, as well as a lunch hour). Yes, I could have made my own tea in the office kitchenette for much less money, but getting away from the office, if only briefly, was probably as important as the tea itself, if not more so. 

My coworker/office best friend & I would usually take our breaks together, especially in the morning. It got so that I would turn up at her cubicle, wallet in hand, just as she was reaching into her drawer for hers (or vice-versa). "Cuppa?" I remember asking her once. "Yuppa!" she responded, and both had a good laugh. We always talked about skipping out of work early someday and going to the nearby King Edward or Royal York hotels for their formal afternoon tea (with scones, little sandwiches and other goodies), but of course, time flew by and we never did... until the week before she retired. As my retirement present to her, I got permission from our boss for both of us to leave work early, and we headed over to the Royal York for the royal treatment, which we both enjoyed thoroughly. :)  (I've also enjoyed afternoon tea in some other lovely settings -- including the Chateau Lake Louise in Alberta with dh on our honeymoon, the Empress in Victoria, B.C., with a high school girlfriend, and the King Edward in Toronto with my mother. Pricey, but a wonderful occasional treat.) 

Now that I'm retired/unemployed, I enjoy starting my day with a leisurely cuppa after breakfast, as I peruse the morning paper and e-mails. I'll usually have another cup mid-afternoon. Sometimes dh & I will head to the local Tim Hortons just to get out of the house, and no visit to our local mega-bookstore would be complete with a stop at the adjacent Starbucks first (where my standard order is a tall non-fat English breakfast tea latte).  When I was younger, I enjoyed trying different flavours of tea;  these days, I prefer to stick to plain old black tea -- orange pekoe, English breakfast or perhaps Darjeeling. Served with sugar and lots of milk, please and thank you.

Are you a tea or coffee person? What's your usual order?

(I guess this wasn't quite a "micro" post -- but at least it's a post...!)

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

Sunday, April 26, 2015

A stroll down Memory Lane

Last week, a terrible tragedy occurred in a small town in northern Saskatchewan: a woman and three of her small children were murdered by her estranged boyfriend, who then took a fourth child (his own child with the woman, an infant) to his parents' home in another town about an hour away, where he committed suicide. 

My family & I lived in that town between 1966 and 1969 -- from the time I was 5 until I was 8, kindergarten through Grade 2. Kindergarten back then was private & optional;  my mother paid for me to attend. Although the small school where I went for Grades 1 & 2 was directly across the street from where we lived (both houses where we lived, in fact), kindergarten was held in the basement of the Catholic church. (On days when there was a funeral being held in the church above us, the teacher would admonish us that we must be quiet, and we would talk in whispers and walk around on tiptoe all morning long.)  It was a six-block walk from our house, across a highway, and most days, I walked there by myself (as did most of my classmates)(which is why I find it so bemusing when parents today agonize over letting their 10-year-olds walk much shorter distances to school solo).

I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I've been back since we moved away. The last time was the summer of 1976, when I was 15 and heading into high school (although my parents have returned at least two or three times since then).  And yet I still think about it often, particularly with all the discussions lately about free-range kids. It was a much more innocent time, and my sister and I and our friends had so much freedom. We'd pack a picnic lunch and, with our best friend A., we'd head to a nearby park to play for a few hours. We'd play hide and seek in the bush that separated our house from the one next door, and explore the outbuildings on our rental property (a large piece of land with a huge garden, which was near the edge of town and was likely a farm 20 years earlier).  On Saturdays, we'd get our allowance (originally 35 cents, then raised to 50 cents), which was enough to cover the cost of a matinee movie ticket and a small bag of popcorn. (We'd walk there, of course, by ourselves.) This is where my love of cheesy Beach Party and Elvis movies was born :) although we saw plenty of Disney too. I could still picture the streets and the houses and the buildings and the school so clearly.

With the town so much in the news this past week, memories came flooding back. And then I had an idea:  I went onto Google Maps in Street View. I found the neighbourhood where we had lived almost immediately. The first house we lived in is still there (and it looks so tiny!!); the second one was torn down long ago and there are now at least three houses where our house and garden once stood. The school I attended is now a regional health office. I scrolled up & down the street, and then down the main street to the downtown area, as if I was walking there the same way I did when I was 7. My friend S's father's general store, where we'd sometimes stop on our way home after kindergarten, does not seem to exist any more -- but the movie theatre, incredibly, has survived, and is still there and still showing movies. The bank building where my father worked is gone, but the bank is still there, in new premises. The drug store seems to be in a different location than I remember, but it's still there under the same family name. The "civic centre" is still there (and looks incredibly tiny) but it's unclear whether the library where I got my first card is still housed in the building. The church with the prominent "Jesus Saves" sign is still there (and so, incredibly, is the sign -- I think it's actually new sign, but it still says "Jesus Saves" and is still visible from at least a block away). 

Google Maps is really cool this way. I have looked up other towns and houses where I've lived on it, and the houses of distant friends. I've even looked up the street addresses of places in Scotland where my ancestors lived, more than 150 years ago, and while I don't have an exact address, I've zoomed up & down the streets of the small town in Ireland where my great-great grandfather was born.

Am I the only one? Do you ever use Google Maps to look up your old haunts, or places you've never been?

Friday, April 24, 2015

Around my house

 

(as inspired by Brooke)

In my fridge you'll always find:
Milk (1%), yogurt (various fruit flavours), baby carrots, and a Brita pitcher with water chilling  
 
Favorite family recipe:
My mother makes a snack that involves a butter & brown sugar, melted together & poured over a cookie sheet lined with graham crackers, topped with nuts (chopped walnuts or slivered almonds) and baked for a few minutes. It's so simple but people just go ga-ga over it;  they disappear very quickly. The recipe came from my grandmother's neighbour and has been around almost as long as I have. I've seen a variation on this recipe that includes a layer of chocolate too. :)
 
Favorite junk food:
Popcorn or potato chips  
 
I'll do anything to avoid:
Mopping the floors. I even bought one of those electric steam mops after a friend raved about hers, thinking it might be incentive to do the floors more often. Ummm, nope. :p  
 
My secret cleaning weapon is:
Vinegar and baking soda -- one or the other works on just about everything. Also, I love my Swiffer duster. :)
 
Before company arrives, I hide:
The pile of books and magazines sitting beside the loveseat where I sit. And close the door to the front room/office, where I have piles of scrapbooking supplies (sadly unused for some time now...).
 
I love to shop for:
Jewelry, makeup & skincare products (although I don't wear much makeup these days!). The day I walked into my first Sephora, I thought I'd died & gone to heaven. ;) And, while there was a time I never thought I'd write this, I love shopping for cute outfits for the two little Princesses.
 
I hate to shop for:
Bras (which is why I put off doing it for so long... I finally got some new ones last summer. I won't tell you how old the old ones were...!).
 
Bad habit:
Procrastination
 
I just learned:
I have a fourth cousin who is married to a famous Canadian author, and another fourth cousin who is a Canadian country singer. :)  Never knew they existed until this week and they wouldn't know me either, but it's stuff like this that makes genealogy fun. :)
 
Stuff I can't live without:
Chocolate, a supply of mints in my purse, my Filofax, yoga pants (and did I mention chocolate?).
 
Weird housekeeping compulsion:
I finish off each housecleaning session by taking a Lysol wipe & using it on all the light switches, door knobs, computer mice & keyboards, and remote controls in the house. I've been doing this for a couple of years now, I think since the big avian flu scare about five years ago, and I've noticed that both of us have been sick a lot less. 
 
On bed making:
I remember Mel polled her readers awhile back about whether they make the bed every day. I have to admit I was SHOCKED by how many people said they do not make their beds daily. I mean, I know some people don't (my sister, for one, probably hasn't made a bed since she left home, lol), but I was honestly surprised just how many people admitted to it. Dh & I always made our bed in the morning right after breakfast, before we got dressed & headed out for work -- and while we're not heading out to work anymore, we still make the bed in the morning. The house just looks neater, and as Brooke noted, it's just so nice to pull back the sheets and climb into a neatly made bed at night.
 
Personal motto/mantra:
Life is what happens while you're making other plans. (John Lennon)
 
I wish I could tell my younger self:
Lighten up a little.  :)
 
What's always in your fridge? What advice would you give your younger self? Spill it.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

E-book: "The Mother Within" by Christine Erickson

I heard about "The Mother Within: A Guide To Accepting Your Childless Journey," a new e-book by Christine Erickson, via the Gateway Women page on Facebook earlier this month. A Kindle version of the book was being offered for a limited time, free of charge, via Amazon UK. 

As a Canadian, I was unable to download the book from Amazon UK -- but happily, I soon figured out that it was also on Amazon.com and I was able to download it from there -- and while I don't have a Kindle (my e-reader is a Kobo), I was still able to read the book on my laptop after downloading Amazon's free Kindle software. Unfortunately, the free deal is over, but the price is a very reasonable $2.97 US.

It's a fast read, just 91 pages, but packs a lot of wisdom, some astute observations, and questions at the end of each chapter that will get you thinking. The book is structured in three parts, focusing on Self (acknowledging your childlessness and moving toward acceptance), Other (coping with external perceptions of childlessness in a baby-mad world), and World (how to express yourself and begin a new conversation that influences the environment around you).

"We are part of a new history for women and we must not wait for our roles to be defined, but rather participate in creating spaces for our greatest impact," Erickson says, near the end of the book. "...We have the power to define our needs and to shift what is not working. To do this, we need to be visible, and we need to be able to recognize one another. It is time to take our power back."

Says Jody Day of Gateway Women in an Amazon.com review:  "As Erikson exhorts us... we can 'come out' together as a 'tribe' and change the conversations and assumptions by learning to live our lives and truths fearlessly, shamelessly and unapologetically. We have done nothing wrong; we are nothing wrong because we are not mothers."

Worth a read, and would be a great introduction to some of the basic issues and questions related to childless/free living if you're considering or new to this road less travelled.

You can find out more about the author and the book on her website.

This is book #7 that I've read so far in 2015.

Monday, April 20, 2015

#MicroblogMondays: Waiting for a shopping spree

Dh & I are in semi-desperate need of a new mattress, and some new bedding to go along with it -- a comforter set, sheets & pillowcases, bedskirt & window valance.  I'm afraid to admit just how old our current stuff is. Let's just say that we bought everything at Eatons (which, if you are Canadian, you might remember went out of business in (gulp) 1999). It was a Springmaid pattern called "Bridal Bouquet" (I actually found a photo via Google!) -- creamy white background with pink, blue, green & rust flowers & ribbons. Very Laura Ashley (which was very popular at the time).

Needless to say, the mattress is starting to sag a bit in the middle, the comforter is getting a bit yellowed and the sheets are starting to wear a little thin (even though I bought three sets that I rotate). Plus (much as I tend to cling to the familiar), I just feel like it's time for a change.

So I've been keeping my eyes open for something I like. I tend to be a bit picky... but (as you can tell) I usually hang onto things for quite awhile;  I might as well make sure I like it, right?  And I've found a few potential candidates recently. 

So what's holding me back? Blame Aunt Flo. A few years ago, when I started thinking some new stuff might be in order, I decided I should wait until she had made her final exit from my home and my life, and I was officially in menopause ( = one year from the date of my last period). Why ruin perfectly good new stuff, right? (especially if the stuff I wanted was white or light coloured...!)  And buying a whole new bedding set seemed like the perfect way to celebrate Aunt Flo's departure.  I figured it couldn't be that much longer. (Could it??)

Yet here I am, 54 years old and counting, the mattress keeps sagging further, and Aunt Flo still sashays in every month or so, almost like clockwork. :p   Wouldn't you know she's the one part of my reproductive system that has never failed me?? 

How often do you change your bedroom décor? 

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

Friday, April 17, 2015

900??!

Would you believe this is my 900th published post??!

(OK, it's not much of a post, but I had to mark this milestone, lol.)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Filling in the blanks

Katie's niche at Eastertime.
There's now a plaque at the right.
The bunny was a gift from her uncle, aunt & cousins.
We knew this day was coming, eventually.

Who knew it would be today?

When we lost Katie, and suddenly found ourselves with a funeral to plan, we decided to have her tiny body cremated, and the ashes (such as there were) interred at a local cemetery. We checked out the various options available -- cremation burial plot? Garden of Angels (section specifically for babies) burial plot? Columbarium niche? 

We settled on the niche -- a hole at eye level in a low marble wall (big enough to hold up to two urns), marked by a bronze plaque with a small bud vase attached. It was less expensive than a burial plot, but still a pretty big chunk of change to hand over, especially coming so unexpectedly and on top of the other funeral expenses (followed shortly thereafter by the sudden urgent need for a new furnace). The salesman made some noises about how we should buy the niche beside hers for ourselves -- but that was something we simply couldn't afford at the time. "Someday," we said, putting it at the back of our minds.

Nobody likes to think about their own demise (let alone their baby's), and so the weeks and months stretched into years. Eventually, we cleared our debts and started accumulating some savings, but still we did nothing. "One of these days, we're going to drive up here and there will be a plaque on that niche beside Katie's, and we're going to regret it," I remember saying to dh.

Finally, with the 10-year mark rapidly approaching, I put my foot down. "It's time," I said to dh. So 10 years to the day after I went for that fateful ultrasound and learned that my daughter's heart had stopped beating, we drove to the cemetery office and asked about purchasing the niche next to hers for ourselves.

We didn't expect to hear that it had already been purchased, by someone else. I guess since there wasn't a marker up, we thought it was still available. Live and learn.

The salesman showed us what else was available. In the columbarium block where Katie was, exactly two spots were still unspoken for, neither of them particularly close to her or otherwise "desirable." But there was a newly built columbarium just a few yards away, and that's where we picked out a spot for ourselves. The salesman suggested we could move Katie over there beside us, and I suppose we could have done that -- but I didn't want to move her. I figured that if we couldn't be right beside her where she was, this would have to be close enough. (I was already blogging by then, and wrote about this experience at the time, here.)

(We were amused awhile later to find a marker on the niche above ours, with an inscription that included a few lines from Pink Floyd's "Time":  "The time is gone, the song is over/Thought I'd something more to say."  I suppose there are worse ways for a couple of baby boomers to spend eternity than in close proximity to Pink Floyd, lol.) 

More than six years has passed since then -- we're coming up to 17 years this summer, since we lost Katie.

And today, we went to visit the cemetery.

I was the first to notice it. "Look!"  I said. A bronze plaque marker had materialized on the once-empty spot next to Katie's. It hadn't been there the last time we visited, last week. No end dates filled in (yet?), so we don't know whether someone's ashes were recently interred there, or if they just decided to order the plaque now, or what.

It was weird to see it there. But we knew it was going to happen, someday. And now it has.

The blank spots on the marble walls have slowly been filling up over the years;  only a handful of vacancies remain. The babies of 1998 are turning 17 this year, and will be starting their final year of high school this fall. Their parents -- including dh & me -- are 17 years older, and greyer, and closer to filling those empty niches ourselves.

Time marches on, relentlessly.

Monday, April 13, 2015

#MicroblogMondays: Odds & ends

*  I was grasping at straws for something to write about today. Thank goodness for bullets. ;) 
*  It is finally, FINALLY feeling like spring around here. Today was supposed to reach 20C/68F. I don't think it's quite there -- but we've been out walking, and everyone has been out raking their yards & washing their cars. About time!!!
*  It was dh's birthday this past weekend. BIL invited us over for a barbecue, and we got to spend some quality time with our nephews and their girlfriends. Made dh's day. :) 
*  On a sad note, there was a death in my extended family this past week -- my mother's cousin's wife, 62 years old. Way too young, and totally unexpected.
*  When I hear stories like this, it makes me feel less guilty about my earlier-than-planned retirement. Sometimes, life is just too damned short.

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

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Book: "The Four Graces" by D.E. Stevenson

In my last book-related post, I reviewed two books by D.E. Stevenson, and said I was tackling "The Four Graces" next -- hopefully in time to participate in my upcoming Yahoo group discussions.

Not only did I get the first few chapters read before the questions about them were posted, I actually finished the entire book the same day the first questions for the group started appearing. :)  The discussion will continue for the next few weeks, and it's fun to be able to (finally) take part.

I enjoyed this volume as much, if not more, than the three Miss Buncle books that preceded it. It is tangentially related to that trilogy -- it takes place in a nearby village, shortly after the last Miss Buncle book ended (in the middle of the Second World War) and some of the same characters make appearances, including (very briefly at the beginning) Miss Buncle/Mrs. Abbott herself.  But I don't think you would have had to have read those books in order to read or enjoy or understand this one.

The title refers to the four Grace sisters, daughters of the widowed vicar of the church at Chevis Green:  Elizabeth (Liz), the oldest, who is doing farm work on the nearby estate;  Sarah (Sal), the main housekeeper;  Tilly (Matilda), who plays the organ and views outsiders with suspicions;  & Adeline (Addie), the youngest, who has enlisted in the women's auxiliary service.  The title may be just slightly misleading, as we don't actually see a lot of Addie in the book; most of the adventures that unfold revolve around the three older sisters, Sal and Liz in particular. (One reader review that I've read suggests that perhaps Stevenson intended to write a longer book, or a sequel that focused more on the younger sisters, but that obviously did not happen.) At first, I found it a little difficult to keep the sisters straight and who had said and done what -- but the more I read, the clearer their individual personalities became.  

The Graces' comfortable, cozy, insular home life is disrupted, first by the arrival of a boarder, then by a local soldier who appears to be interested in one of the sisters (but which one??) -- and then by the arrival of Aunt Rona (the wife of their late mother's late brother), whose home in London has been badly damaged by bombs. It soon becomes apparent she is looking for a new husband as well as a new home. ;) 

Although the book is not at all an ALI-related read, there were a few passages that appealed to my inner ALI-er.  First, in Chapter Ten, the Graces' maid Joan is relating some gossip to Sal about a falling out between Mrs. Toop and Miss Bodkin: 
"It was at Elsie Trod's," said Joan with a relish. "Maria Toop was there, and in comes Miss Bodkin. They were 'aving a cup of tea and Elsie was giving a drop to 'ar baby. 'You didn't ought to do that,' says Miss Bodkin. 'Tea's bad for 'is stummick.' With that Maria goes off the deep end and says, 'What do you know about babies any'ow?' And that was 'ow it began."   
"Miss Bodkin was right," said Sal. "I'll stir for a bit, shall I?"


Ouch. "What do you know about babies??"  I think more than a few of us have probably heard that line (or kept our mouths shut for fear of someone saying it to us).  :p  And of course Miss Bodkin is right, even if she doesn't have her own children to inform her advice.  (She's a bit of a comical character, a minor player, but a subject of pity and amusement throughout the book -- albeit her childlessness is not alluded to again, thankfully.)

There is also a small subplot, beginning in Chapter Eleven, involving Sal's efforts to help Mr. & Mrs. Element, a childless couple who have taken in Bertie, one of thousands of children who were evacuated from the cities during the war (away from the Luftwaffe air raids and bombs) to the relative safety of the country:
"It's about Bertie [said Mrs. Element]. Bertie Pike -- you know. I've 'ad him all the war."  
"I know," nodded Sal. "You've been most awfully good to him."  
"Yes," agreed Mrs. Element. "Yes, that's right. Jim and me, not 'aving children of our own (through no fault of ours, Miss Sal, though there's people who throw it in our faces), we took a fancy to the little chap. Just like one of our own, 'e is."  
"Yes, I know."  
"Well, Miss Sal, 'is mother wrote to Jim saying as 'ow the bombs are over and she wants 'im back...."  
"Oh, Mrs. Element!"  
..."Bertie don't want to go back and we don't want 'im to go back. There it is."


Well, what can I say? My heart went out to this poor woman whose childlessness "through no fault of ours" was so thoughtlessly thrown in her face, whose heart had been stolen by this child, whom she treated like her own, and who now faced the prospect of losing him. I've read other stories about wartime Britain and boarders and child evacuees, but never really thought about it from this perspective. Of course it would be hard to send a child back to his biological family after they've lived with you for a few years and become part of your own family. :(

And caveat emptor/spoiler alert: as you might expect, when there's a wedding near the end of a story, it's followed shortly afterward by the obligatory announcement.  :p  However, this WAS written in the 1940s, when such endings were practically mandatory. ;) I have decided to forgive Stevenson for this reason, lol.

There was one other passage near the very end (in Chapter 27) that I marked with a sticky note, because it seemed so very true about my own life (long before, during and since pregnancy): 
There was a great deal to think about. What a lot had happened to the Grace family in a few short months, what changes had taken place! Life was like that, thought Liz. You drifted on for years and years -- then, suddenly, everything happened at once and all the things that had seemed so stable dissolved and disintegrated before your eyes... and life was new.


Like other D.E. Stevenson books, this is a light, gentle, charming book about a bygone time and way of life. Best read with a cup of tea in your other hand. :)

This was book #6 that I've read so far in 2015. :)  (Now -- what to read next??)

Monday, April 6, 2015

#MicroblogMondays: Easter

Easter was about the same as usual around here -- which is to say, I am glad it's over.

As per usual, dh didn't want to make any plans in case his dad wanted us to join him, stepMIL & some of stepMIL's kids for dinner. I understand. He's in his 80s;  he's not going to be around forever, and he wants to have his own family around him (BIL often has commitments to SIL's family). The problem being we generally don't get "the call" until the last minute. (This year, it arrived at 9 a.m. on Easter morning.) I know it's just FIL being forgetful, but I can't help but feel like a bit of an afterthought sometimes. 

Then we came home -- and when I scrolled through my Facebook feed, there was an endless stream of photos of happy families with adorably dressed children with Easter baskets and chocolate and coloured eggs.

To add further insult to injury, Aunt Flo decided to show up. AND it snowed overnight. Just enough to coat the ground and rooftops, and it disappeared pretty quickly, but still... :p  I am so DONE with this winter. :p (It didn't help that Facebook showed people in some of the southern States wearing shorts, lol.) 

And even before this weekend, I started seeing Voldemort Day displays in the stores. (Voldemort Day = my pet name for That Day in May That Shall Not Be Named.) 

Bah humbug. :p

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

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Childfree living in the news

  • This article about the Meaghan Daum book I recently posted about was in Friday's Globe & Mail. I particularly loved this sentence (which I think holds true for anyone who doesn't have children, whatever the reason):  "Although we pat ourselves on the backs for tolerating all kinds of familial configurations in this country, we continue to reserve puzzlement, pity and judgment for adults who really don’t want to have children, ever." 
  • There was also this article in this weekend's New York Times about the book (thank you to Bent Not Broken for the link!), which ignited quite the conversation in the comments section. Caveat emptor. 
  • I'm finding it kind of amusing that so many commenters were complaining, along the lines of, "Why are there so many articles on this topic lately? Who cares?? Have kids or don't have kids, just quit whining!"  lol  Obviously, a nerve has been struck somewhere. (If they think they're hearing too much lately about not having kids, I wish they'd try walking in our shoes in this parent-and-kid-centric culture for a day...). 
  • Meaghan Daum was also a guest on a New York radio show this past week -- followed the next day by Lisa Manterfield at Life Without Baby, explaining that not all people without children deliberately chose this path in life. I have not listened to the show featuring Meaghan (yet), but I thought Lisa did a great job of broadening the discussion and responding to several callers in the allotted half hour. There's a link to the podcast on her blog, here
  • Has anyone seen the movie mentioned in the NYT article ("While We're Young")? (It did just open this weekend, and I don't think it's in wide release yet, so I'm not sure too many people have had the opportunity.) Apparently Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts play a childless-not-entirely-by-choice couple in their 40s. And while I like them both as actors, and there is some interesting casting in some of the supporting roles, and it's getting some good reviews, I am not entirely sure this is a movie I want to see, depending on how the plot turns out (i.e., do they wind up with a "miracle" pregnancy &/or baby at the end?? :p ). 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Recent reading: More Miss Buncle from D.E. Stevenson

Over the Christmas holidays, I took pleasure in rediscovering the novels of D.E. Stevenson, which I first enjoyed as a teenager and which, happily, are now starting to be reissued in new editions. I wrote about Stevenson, the chance encounter that got me looking for and reading her books again, and a review of her 1934 novel, "Miss Buncle's Book" -- the first Stevenson novel I've read in many years -- here.

"Miss Buncle's Book" was the novel being read at the time by the Yahoo group I joined. I never did catch up in time to participate in the online discussion, but had hopes of catching up when they moved on to Book #2 in the Miss Buncle trilogy, "Miss Buncle Married."  That didn't happen;  nor did I get to the third book in the trilogy, "The Two Mrs. Abbotts," which the group just wrapped up discussing.  I'm hoping to have better luck with "The Four Graces," the next pick for April. ;)

Despite not getting the benefits of participating in a good group discussion, I enjoyed both books.  As I said about "Miss Buncle's Book," Stevenson's books are perhaps a little old-fashioned -- definitely products of the place & time in which they were written -- but they are still well-crafted, funny and charming tales about realistic characters.

In the case of "Miss Buncle Married," the time is about 1935 (it can be definitively pegged because the book ends with celebrations for the Royal Jubilee of King George V). The former Miss Barbara Buncle and her new husband/publisher, Arthur Abbott, decide to leave the city and its tiresome social obligations and move to (what they hope will be) a quieter life in the country.  Barbara finds what she thinks is the perfect house -- a fixer-upper in a quaint village called Wandlebury, full of quirky characters to rival those found in her hometown of Silverstream. She soon finds herself meddling in a budding relationship between Arthur's visiting nephew Sam and neighbouring riding instructor Miss Jeronina Cobbe, AKA Jerry, niece of Lady Chevis-Cobbe, one of the town's wealthiest citizens.  Love triumphs in the end (as it always does), but not without a few twists & turns along the way.

"The Two Mrs. Abbotts" takes place about seven years later, in the middle of the Second World War. It's a "home front" kind of book, as Barbara and Jerry and their friends juggle Red Cross speakers and bazaars, evacuees from the city, German spies lurking in the nearby woods, blackout curtains and rationing (which leads to some interesting culinary experiments) -- a fascinating glimpse into home life in wartime Britain. 

These were books #4 and #5 that I've read so far in 2015.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

It's OK

Another recent Facebook find, coming from the page of Jason Ellis of Sirius XM Radio.
Not everyone may understand why we are living without children, but it's not their life to live, it's ours.
We need to do what's right for us.