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. 

BUT.  

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.) 

"As a father..."

In her Coming2Terms blog, Pamela used to play a game where she'd take the phrase "as a mom" or "as a parent" from articles she'd read (and there was no lack of examples to be found...!), and then change them to read "as an infertile" -- often with hilarious results. Of course, once you start playing the game, you quickly realize how often the reference to parenthood pops up -- and how ridiculous it often sounds, when you really stop to think about it.  

I was reminded of this today when I found this article by Emily Peck in Huffington Post about the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault scandal, and specifically the number of men who have rushed to denounce him and his behaviour -- often prefacing their remarks with the qualifier phrase "as a father/grandfather/husband..."  

"The implication behind these kinds of statements is that women are only worthy of basic respect in relation to men,"  Peck points out.

Surely we don't have to be parents (or grandparents, or spouses) to find this sort of behaviour abhorrent. Surely we should be able to empathize and relate to others simply because they're fellow human beings who deserve to be treated with kindness and respect -- not because of their personal relationship to us.  

Says Peck: 
Of course, having children is extremely meaningful. And, yes, some parents feel a heightened urge to guard their offspring that also leads them to feel heightened empathy for other kids. At least, that’s been the case for me personally. And the truth is, for men, having a daughter can be somewhat transformative. 
But that’s simply not a prerequisite for feeling empathy for victims of sexual assault.
(Or just feeling empathy for others, period.)  

Monday, October 9, 2017

#MicroblogMondays: Diaper daze

Today is our Thanksgiving holiday in Canada -- although many people celebrate on Saturday or Sunday. (In general, Canadian Thanksgiving is a much lower-key affair than its American counterpart.) As I've often grumbled here through the years, dh & I are often at loose ends on holidays like this, but this year, we were invited for dinner at BIL's on Sunday/yesterday -- well in advance & not as a last-minute afterthought, which was nice. ;)

Among the other guests was SIL's niece (our nephews' only (living) cousin, whom we've known since she was born) and her three-month-old baby boy.  SIL's brother/the baby's grandfather has advised SIL that if she really wants to buy something for the baby, diapers &/or formula would be far more practical than yet another cute outfit (that the baby will promptly outgrow in two weeks) or toy.

So besides stopping at the supermarket on Saturday to pick up an apple pie to bring for for dessert, dh & I took a swing by Walmart to pick up a box of Pampers (after texting SIL first to find out what brand the new mom/baby prefers and what size would be appropriate). I assumed they would be in the pharmacy section -- they weren't -- so we went wandering around the store until eventually we found them -- in the Babies & Toddlers section (right by the toy section, of course). Foreign territory!!

I felt like an idiot -- like I might as well have had a scarlet C for "Childless" stamped on my forehead. Only someone without kids would have to ask a clerk where to find the diapers, right?

Dh, on the other hand, said that walking out of the store with a package of diapers under his arm made him feel "like a Grandpa."  Different strokes...!

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

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Ron MacLean is "one of us"

If you're Canadian, you almost certainly know who Ron MacLean is (although he is a notch less famous than his regular Saturday night sidekick, Don Cherry).  In a nutshell, for the uninitiated/non-Canadian, he is one of Canada's most famous sportscasters, most commonly associated with the sport of hockey and the program Hockey Night in Canada, which has been broadcast on radio since the 1930s and on national television (first on CBC & now on Sportsnet) since 1952. 

I've always had a bit of a soft spot for the guy (I forgive him for his penchant for incredibly corny puns), because (a) he's only a year older than I am, (b) like me, he grew up on the Canadian Prairies (in Red Deer, Alberta), (c) he's played straight man to Don Cherry & put up with his rantings for so many years ;)  and (d) he was almost completely elbowed out of the job he loved by the younger, "hipper" George Stroumboulopoulos a couple of years ago -- only to be reinstated by popular demand (Go, Grey Power!! lol). 

Tonight was the Toronto Maple Leafs home opener. I'm not paying much attention, but I did look up when, early in the broadcast before the game began, he showed a brief bit of footage of himself with an adorable group of excited peewee hockey players in Niagara Falls. "I look at these kids and I see myself... You know, my wife Cari & I don't have kids... but wherever there's hockey, we're home," he said.

In the back of my memory, I knew the MacLeans did not have children -- that they had been high school sweethearts, married for about as long as me & dh, and did a lot of charity work, both separately & together. I idly Googled "Ron MacLean kids" -- and up popped a (rather scary) story from Readers Digest about how Cari MacLean nearly died from a pulmonary embolism in October 2012. A few paragraphs in, I read this:
He had rushed to Oakville-Trafalgar once before. In 1990, just before the first game of the Leafs-Blues playoff series, his three-months pregnant wife called him in St. Louis to say she was having serious abdominal pain. Ron jumped on a plane but got stuck overnight in Pittsburgh. When he finally arrived, Cari had lost the child. The couple was devastated. They tried again, and then again, but at a certain point, it became clear they weren't meant to be parents. For 28 years, they'd only had each other. Now he feared the worst. 
I always wince a bit when people say that they (or others) "weren't meant to be parents." But yes, at a certain point, you have to decide whether to keep beating your head against a brick wall or move on with your life.  Anyway, just one more thing I have in common with Ron MacLean.  Who knew?

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Road trip: Ottawa

My first visit to Ottawa, the capital city of Canada, was in May 1979 -- 38 (!!) years ago now. I was 18 years old, in Grade 12 (senior year of high school), and I had been selected by the local Rotary Club to go to Ottawa for Adventure in Citizenship, a four-day program sponsored by the Rotary Club of Ottawa. It began in 1951 and is still running today.   

It was the first time I had ever flown (aside from a couple of rides in a small private plane), so I was a little nervous -- but when I got on board, I found the plane was crammed with other Adventurers who had boarded in points further west -- including my seatmate, who was from British Columbia, Canada's westernmost province. We talked all the way to Ottawa, wrote long, fat, detailed letters to each other after we returned home, and we are still in touch today, nearly 40 years later. 

The winter of 1978-79 had been particularly cold & snowy. My mother & I even ran into a blizzard on our way home from shopping in the city for clothes for my trip -- it was the first week of May, for crying out loud...!  By the time I left for Ottawa, floods were beginning to threaten the small towns along the river.  

And then I stepped off the plane in Ottawa:  it was just a little too soon for the city's famous tulips to be in bloom, but the sky was blue, the grass was green, and it was warm enough that I hardly needed a coat. No wonder I fell in love with the place instantly.  :) 

(Perhaps there was one other reason why I felt so drawn to Ottawa.  Around the same time or a few years after my trip, one of my great-aunts made contact with a distant relative on her mother's (my great-grandmother's) side, and we learned the family had originally come west from the Ottawa area in the early 1880s. Upon further research, I learned that my roots in the Ottawa Valley date back to at least the 1820s, when my great-great-great-great grandfather, a sergeant in the British army who was born in Ireland, settled there.)   

Adventurers were billeted with local Rotary Club members and anyone else they could enlist to host us. My hosts were a prominent family in local politics;  their home was full of prints and sculptures by indigenous artists and photos of the father/husband with recognizable figures such as Prince Charles and Pierre Trudeau.  He had a local park named after him, for crying out loud. I was picked up every morning by his chauffeured car (!). The chauffeur used to drive for the U.S. Embassy, and he was the best tour guide I had on my trip, drawing my attention to various points of interest along the way. (I specifically remember him pointing and saying "That's the spot where they shot D'Arcy McGee."  I had only a hazy idea of who D'Arcy McGee was, but it sounded intriguing and prompted me to look him up when I returned home.) 

Our time in Ottawa was jam packed with activities. Normally, we would have done & seen even more -- toured the Parliament buildings, met our local members of Parliament and some of the top political leaders of the day. Unfortunately, it was just a few weeks before a federal election (the first one I ever voted in) -- just about everyone we normally would have met was out of town campaigning, and the House of Commons was taking advantage of the break to do some renovations, and was closed to visitors.  

Even so, we saw and did a lot: we had photos taken in front of the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill;  we debated each other at the University of Ottawa;  we split into small groups and each toured an embassy.  (My group visited the embassy of the Soviet Union. Remember, this was 1979 -- almost the peak of the Cold War. Pretty amazing.)(And a wee bit scary.)  We dined at the Chateau Laurier several times (& I represented my province by delivering a speech at the closing banquet), we toured the RCMP stables, we posed for photos among the ruins scattered around the grounds of Kingsmere, the country home across the river in Quebec that had belonged to former prime minister Mackenzie King.  We wandered around the grounds of Rideau Hall (the Governor-General's residence -- the grounds are open to the public, and there are scheduled tours inside) and while we didn't meet the GG himself (a recent premier of my home province), we did meet his homesick wife and kids, who came out to greet us and asked specifically to be introduced to the Adventurers from "home." Before we left, we formed a huge circle on the lawn, linked arms and sang "O Canada" together. I had never felt more patriotic. On our last morning before we returned home, we gathered in the West Block of the Parliament buildings before a citizenship judge who administered the oath of citizenship to all of us (even though all of us were already Canadian citizens) and presented us with citizenship certificates.  

On a personal note, I fell madly in love with the charismatic guy who sat on the plane behind me on our way to Ottawa. (We wrote to each other for a little while after we returned home, but the correspondence eventually petered out.)  I also flirted shamelessly at one of the other dances that was held for us with a guy from Toronto, whose byline I recognized in one of the city's newspapers a few years later.  

It was a magical experience that changed the way I thought about myself and my future. I became enthralled with politics, and for a while I entertained notions of working on Parliament Hill someday (in a behind-the-scenes role -- I never had any desire to run for political office myself).  My mother had always promised me that there was life after high school, that better days were ahead -- and I caught a glimpse of the life that waited for me during my stay in Ottawa.  

I returned to Ottawa in August 1986 with dh & my parents.  I don't remember a lot about that trip, except that we strolled through the Sparks Street pedestrian mall, watched the changing of the guard on Parliament Hill and toured the Centre Block. "No wonder they all get swelled heads when they come here,"  my dad observed as we gazed up at the amazing arched ceilings. 

I returned one more time, for just one day in February in the early 1990s, on business. The bank I worked for was testing newfangled debit card technology in the Ottawa area; I met with the project manager and his team, visited one of the branches involved in the initiative, and one of its commercial clients, a supermarket that was using the new debit card terminals. It was like an ordinary work day, except that instead of travelling to & from work on a commuter train, I flew from Toronto to Ottawa in the morning, and made the return trip in the afternoon. I felt very cosmopolitan.  

I don't know why it took me/us so long to return, but BIL & SIL had never been to Ottawa, recently expressed an interest in visiting there, and suggested we go together. 

*** *** *** 

After all the planning & anticipation, there was a last-minute issue that almost derailed the trip:  the death of stepMIL's 96-year-old father. No direct relation to us, of course, but still... Our trip was planning for Wednesday, Thursday, Friday;  visitation was scheduled for Thursday, Friday & the funeral mass on Saturday. Whew!  We were able to get to the evening visitation after we returned home on Friday night, and to the mass on Saturday morning -- very tiring, but do-able. So we were able to head out on Wednesday morning, just before 9 a.m., with a clear conscience. 

There are two main routes to take from here to Ottawa, which take almost exactly the same amount of time (about 4.5 hours, not including stops).  One route is shorter/more direct in terms of mileage, but just two lanes most of the way (one lane in either direction), going directly through some small towns along the way. The other is longer in terms of mileage -- pulls you further south, but double-laned most of the way and bypassing the communities en route. We chose the more direct/northerly route -- more isolated, but also more scenic, although the fall colours were not really showing yet. We stopped at a McDonalds for lunch along the way, the trip took us about five hours total.  

Once we got to Ottawa, we found our hotel -- only drove past it and had to circle back once, lol. It was around 1:30-2, and even though the official check-in time is not until 3, our rooms were ready & they let us check in early.  I had been nervous, trying to pick a hotel based on online reviews and location -- and there wasn't a lot available, nevermind at a decent price.  Fortunately, it turned out to be a good place to stay -- quite new & clean, and quite reasonably priced. The decor was very modernist/minimalist, and the design of the rooms (how they made use of the space) was really quite interesting. The area is a bit run down -- lots of construction & roadwork all round -- but it's just a few blocks away from Sparks Street pedestrian mall (shops & restaurants), Parliament Hill & lots of other attractions. (And a Tim Hortons doughnut/coffee shop, just a few yards away at the end of the block, lol.  ;)  )  We left the car in the parking garage across the street the whole time we were there, & just walked almost everywhere. 

After we got settled in, we headed for Parliament Hill -- and almost ran right into Joe Clark, who was briefly prime minister (1979-80) & a cabinet minister for several years after that. An auspicious beginning to our visit! :)  I suppose if you live in Ottawa, you get eventually get blase after awhile, but I got goose bumps every time we walked by Parliament & saw the Peace Tower & the flag.  When I was growing up, I'd see Parliament Hill on TV, & think the buildings were on a hill high away & apart from the city.  They ARE on a bit of a hill, overlooking the river, but they're right there on a busy street downtown, lol.  


An iconic sight: Centre Block of the Parliament Buildings, Ottawa. 

Me, 38 years after the first time  I had a similar photo taken. Thrilled to be back! :)  
There's a building directly across from Parliament Hill on Wellington Street where you can get tickets to tour the Centre Block of the Parliament buildings. We weren't able to get any for a tour that day -- & there was only one English tour scheduled for the next day, for which we'd have to line up for tickets well before 9 a.m. -- so we decided to pass.  However, the girl at the desk told us that we could just go to the doors to the right of the Peace Tower and ask to be admitted to the visitors' gallery to watch Question Period in the House of Commons. I knew that we could do that from my initial trip research, but I didn't think the others (especially BIL) would be interested -- and they were!! -- so we did! :)  Had to go through three security checkpoints (metal detectors, bag X-rays & searches -- had my little pair of folding scissors confiscated -- oops! -- but returned to me on my way out -- and we had to leave our purses at the security desk) -- but it was a surprisingly easy process and took us less than half an hour from the time we walked up to the front door until we were seated. I can't imagine most Americans can just waltz up to the Capitol doors & get seated in the gallery within about 30 minutes flat. ;)  

There were still quite a few seats available in the visitors' gallery. Question Period was almost over, but we got to watch the last 20-30 minutes of it. The house was pretty full, and the Prime Minister  was there, answering questions, and we recognized a few of the other politicians -- the Leader of the Opposition, the outgoing leader of the New Democratic Party, and a couple of cabinet ministers. It was a bit noisy, because they tend to heckle each other :p  and we couldn't always hear clearly -- but it was still interesting, and we got to see a bit of the inside of the Centre Block, including some of the portraits of the past prime ministers on the walls, as we walked by. 


To quote my dad:  "No wonder they all get swelled heads when they come here..."  ;)  
When we got outside again, the ground was wet. It was a really hot, humid day, and we later found out there had been a HUGE storm -- trees down, power out in some parts of the city, a roof peeled off, etc.  We had no idea until we watched the news on TV later!   I guess if it's storming, inside a large stone building (with a lot of security guards all around) is a pretty safe place to be, lol. 


A rainbow after the storm... which we didn't know about until after the fact, lol. 
Taken from behind the Parliament Buildings. 
We wandered around the grounds for a while, looking at some of the statues, and the view of the Rideau Canal & Ottawa River (& Quebec across the river). Then we walked over to the National War Memorial, where the Remembrance Day services are broadcast from every year on TV.  It is just beautiful.  The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is there too and there are two honour guards on vigil there all the time.  You might remember a few years back, the two guards there were shot (one died) by a man who then drove over to Parliament Hill, ran up to the Centre Block, past security & inside (!!), and died in a shootout with the guards there.  There is a plaque near the memorial in memory of the soldier who died.  


The beautiful National War Memorial. 
After watching the changing of the guard ceremony at the memorial, we walked up & down the Sparks Street Mall for a while, and eventually picked one of the restaurants for dinner -- one of an Irish pub chain that we've eaten at before. It was OK, nothing special. The old building it was in was kind of cool, though. 


Looking up (down?) the Sparks Street Pedestrian Mall,
from the restaurant where we had dinner. 
By the time we finished eating, we were pretty tired, so we went back to the hotel -- took showers -- between the heat & humidity, the on & off drizzle and the exercise, we were feeling pretty grubby by then -- watched some TV & then went to bed.  

Thursday: Our one full day in the city. Got up early & headed back to Sparks Street for a little cafe that advertised a $5.99 breakfast special. The weather had changed:  it was a lot cooler/chillier.  I was still in capris & sandals but wearing my denim jacket (and very glad I ha it!).  

We all agreed we wanted to see the Canadian War Museum, which opened at 9:30, so we decided to head over there. We walked, and I have to admit, it was further than it looked on the map. Poor SIL was wearing ankle boots, and developed a blister on her ankle on the way over. She did have a bandaid in her purse, and we decided to take a cab back to the hotel after we were done so she could put her sandals back on & stop the chafing. The museum is excellent (albeit perhaps a bit overwhelming...!) -- we spent almost 3 hours there, the whole morning, and I feel like there was still stuff we missed. It covers all the wars Canada has ever been involved in -- including the Indian Wars, the Seven Years War, the War of 1812, the Fenian raids, both world wars, Korea, the Cold War, Afghanistan, peacekeeping missions, etc. etc. Very, very well done. 


The Canadian War Museum. 
Once SIL got her sandals & put a fresh bandaid on her blister, we headed in the other direction, over to the area known as the ByWard Market. There is a farmer's market & building, but there are tons of little shops & restaurants for blocks all around. Lots of old buildings that have been fixed up. Just a really cool area to explore.  


ByWard Market building.
We weren't quite sure where we were going, but I'd gotten a brochure with a map of the market, with the BeaverTails booth clearly marked (lol)  so we headed there first. If you don't know what a BeaverTail is, it's basically a slab of hot fried pastry with toppings spread on it. I think it started in Ottawa, and it seemed appropriate to have our first taste here, although you can find other locations across Canada these days. I liked mine, although I think the others were underwhelmed. BIL had one with chocolate & banana, & the rest of us had the sugar & cinnamon. We also stopped at a gelato place later. 

BeaverTails!  A must-try when you're in Ottawa. :) 
Walked by the U.S. embassy on Sussex Drive, nearby (didn't realize it WAS the embassy until we got to the front door) & then kittycorner from that over to Notre Dame Cathedral. They were either just getting ready for or cleaning up after a funeral & had a sign out front asking for no visitors -- but we sneaked in for a peek anyway. Stunning interior!! We didn't take any photos, though. The National Gallery is just across the street -- I would have loved to go there, & I think SIL would have too -- but art galleries are not BIL's thing so we skipped it. 


Embassy of the United States on Sussex Drive, Ottawa. 

Notre Dame Cathedral, as viewed from Major's Hill Park. 

National Gallery of Canada. 
Went back to the hotel for a while to rest -- & then walked all the way BACK to ByWard Market to a pizza restaurant recommended by an online friend from Ottawa. It makes thin-crust pizzas in a wood-fired oven -- and it WAS really good!  You could basically order whatever you wanted on it (they did have a suggested menu) so (being allergic to tomatos) I had one without tomato sauce, just cheese & garlic & roasted broccoli on top. Yum!  


Where we had dinner on Thursday night. Delicious pizza!  

What I ate. Yum!  
After dinner, we walked over to the park across from the National Gallery/behind the U.S. embassy & the Chateau Laurier hotel, which I later learned is called Major's Hill Park. Some gorgeous views of Parliament Hill & the Rideau Canal/Ottawa River. We walked through the park, along the canal to the Chateau Laurier hotel, & over to Parliament Hill again, to admire the Canada 150 sign, all lit up and changing colours. And then back to the hotel via the Sparks Street Mall (stopped at a souvenir shop along the way). We did a LOT of walking while we were there!! which left us all stiff, sore and dead tired.  But... we had fun!  ;)   


Sunset view of the Parliamentary Library and where the Rideau Canal meets the Ottawa River, from Major's Hill Park.
That's Quebec across the river, on the right. 

The iconic Chateau Laurier hotel. 

Parliament Hill at night, with the Canada 150 sign lit up. (It changes colours!) 
Got up early again Friday morning & headed back to the same little cafe for breakfast. Being Friday, I suppose, it was much busier and more crowded. We checked out of our hotel & were on our way home by around 9. We had passed an outlet mall on our way into the city -- right across the highway from the arena where the Ottawa Senators play -- and wound up spending about two hours there. Finally got on our way again around 11:30, stopped at the same McDonalds for lunch that we visited on our way there, and arrived home around 4:30. 

Three days/two nights/one full day is nowhere near enough time to cover everything there is to see & do in Ottawa... not to mention ancestor hunting.  Guess that just means that I will have to go back again. ;)  

*** *** *** 

A sidenote:  The one thing I struggled with on the trip: I found myself biting my tongue several times, trying to shut myself up and not be too obnoxious. ;)  I told dh how I was feeling, & he said I was being silly, but I couldn't help but feeling self-conscious. There were so many memories of my first trip to Ottawa as we walked around -- and as a lover of history, with family ties to the area, I knew a fair bit about the different places we visited, the statues we saw, etc.  It was hard not to talk about what I knew and what I found fascinating.  

Now, if we had kids and were bringing them with us, I would have had absolutely NO qualms about babbling on to them with... well, some of the stories I told you here at the beginning of this post, lol.  ;)  (At least on paper/screen, you can skim or skip!)  That's what parents do, right??  ;)  -- pass along family stories, try to impart knowledge and an appreciation for things like history & architecture. Plus, it's a parental prerogative to be boring & make your kids' eyes roll, lol.  ;)  

But as I talked, I heard the long-ago echoes of my grade-school classmates, mocking me, and felt the sting of their words: "She thinks she's so smart."  I was bursting with knowledge I wanted to share, but at the same time, I didn't want to look like a know-it-all or make it all about me and my memories.  I realized that while BIL & SIL would listen out of politeness, they probably weren't REALLY interested in my reminiscences, and that if they wanted an official guided tour, we would have hopped on one of the tour buses. ;)  

Do you know what I mean?  Do you ever feel this way? (I'm especially interested in hearing from the other childless/free folks out there on this point.)  

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Right now

Right now... (an occasional meme, alternating from time to time with "The Current"):

Reading:  Finishing up D.E. Stevenson's  "Five Windows" for my online Stevenson book club. Next up, I think: Margaret Atwood's "Alias Grace" (before I watch the new television miniseries (adapted by Sarah Polley)(although it's a toss-up whether I'll watch it on PVR from the episodes broadcast on CBC, or on Netflix in November...!).  


Recent purchases:  "The Best of Us" by Joyce Maynard, "Thanks Obama: My Hopey, Changey White House Years" by David Litt, and "What Happened" by Hillary Rodham Clinton.  

Watching:  We were recently enthralled by 
Ken Burns's 18-hour documentary "The Vietnam War" on PBS (we even watched the last two episodes from our hotel room on our trip).  I'm Canadian, but my mother is American, and I grew up with the Vietnam War in the newspapers every day and on the TV news every night;  I was 12 when it ended. The little county in rural Minnesota where my mother grew up lost four young men over there, all between the ages of 21 & 23. Their names are inscribed on the memorial wall in Washington, and if/when I ever get there, I am going to look for them. One of my mother's cousins' daughters wore a MIA (missing in action) bracelet for one of them. He was a helicopter pilot, shot down in 1973. His body was finally recovered and returned to his family in 1995, more than 22 (!) years later.  

I PVRd the first episode of season 2 of Designated Survivor while we were away,  and watched it last night. Not as compelling as some of last year's episodes, but I do like Kiefer Sutherland in the role (channeling his grandfather, perhaps??), and it's mildly entertaining.    

I am revelling in the new season of Poldark to watch on PBS. :)

And I am looking forward to the return of Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates on PBS tonight. :)

Eating:  Got out the crockpot/slow cooker this weekend, for the first time in months, and made a great roast beef with potatos & carrots. Lots of leftovers for lunches this week. Yum!! 

Drinking: Lots of tea. The cooler weather calls for it. :) 


Listening:   Current earworms:  Tom Petty songs, especially this one. Rest in peace, Tom. :(  He was one of my favourites (& definitely one of dh's).  Too damned many of the musicians who provided the soundtrack of my youth have been dropping like flies lately. Seriously depressing. :(  

Wearing:  Still wearing sandals & capris on nicer days -- but they are becoming fewer and further apart. :(  I had to put on long jeans, socks & shoes for the first time on our recent road trip. SIL did too -- and got a blister and had to change back into sandals.   


Buying (besides books, lol):  
I'm actually trying not to accumulate a lot of stuff that we don't have room for -- although somehow, I still can't resist buying cheap new T-shirts, especially with the change of seasons and all the new fall stuff in the stores. I recently bought a couple of new throw pillows for the couch that I liked better than the previous ones (I LOATHED the ones that actually came with the couch -- colours did not match my decor at all), and a new fall-themed tablecloth, although I haven't used it yet. 

It's still a bit early, but I've been doing some preliminary browsing for a dress for Younger Nephew's wedding in the spring!  

Wondering:  If/when Aunt Flo will make her next appearance. It's day 59 & my last cycle was 69 days, so things are (finally!!) starting to slow down. About time, no??  

Recovering: From our recent road trip. Did a LOT of walking, and I've only just started to lose my stiffness and feel somewhat rested again. 

Wishing: That I was attending the NotMom conference in Cleveland this weekend. (One of these years...!)  Why does everything always have to happen all at once??  We were invited to a family wedding in Minneapolis;  not going to that either -- but I didn't feel like I could brush off my family and then jet off to Cleveland, right? (Some people probably could & would do it;  I'm not that brave. ;)  )  Plus we just got back from a road trip with BIL & SIL, not quite as far away as Cleveland, but still time & energy & money spent.  Plus (note to the organizers) it is the Thanksgiving long weekend here in Canada... and we've actually been invited to join BIL & family for dinner on Sunday. (And not at the last minute as an afterthought, either, which is even nicer...!).

Remembering:  The fun and excitement of Older Nephew's wedding, which was one year ago this past weekend. 

Anticipating: Younger Nephew's wedding, coming up this spring! :)  

Reeling:  After finding an obituary online this morning for our hairdresser of the past 15 years. :(  Even after we moved last year, we kept going to see her -- not only are good stylists hard to find and we had a long history with her, she was married to one of dh's childhood buddies -- he was an usher at their wedding (something they realized only after he was sitting in her chair for the first time -- one of those "small world" coincidences!).  She was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year (hasn't worked since then, referred us to one of the other stylists there), and died last month, just two weeks after we last visited the salon. Leaves her husband & two sons, about the same ages as our nephews.  I hate to admit this, but I have been Googling her name the last several times before I called the salon, just in case... we all knew it was coming, but it's still just so damned sad. :(   She was always so full of fun & laughter, and she was a damned good hairdresser to boot. The coworker she referred us to is very nice & does a good job. But I miss her. :(   

Feeling:  A little tired from our trip, a little melancholy over all the recent bad news (personal & public), a little sad that summer is (for the most part) done, but looking forward to the rest of October, which is one of my favourite months. 

Realizing: That it's not THAT long until Christmas (eeekkk!!) &time to start thinking about booking flights to Mom & Dad's. 

Monday, October 2, 2017

#MicroblogMondays: The odds (& ends) of early October

  • I realize I've been silent for the past two weeks or so -- haven't even gotten in much reading or commenting -- but it's been very busy.  
  • Dh, BIL & SIL & I took a little road trip last week (three days/two nights = one full day). Had a great time, and have been trying to catch up on sleep & laundry since we got back. (Specific trip post with some photos to come, eventually...)  
  • The weather there went from very hot & humid to pretty darned chilly overnight. I packed capris & sandals, long jeans, a denim jacket, shoes & socks. They all came in handy. 
  • (Perhaps partly because of the dramatic shift in the weather?) Upon our return, poor dh came down with a bad cold. I've been playing nurse (& trying not to catch it myself...!).  
  • I did all the research for the trip and chose the hotel -- which, thankfully, everyone thought was great, as well as the place an online friend had recommended for dinner. Huge relief for me!
  • We also had a visitation & funeral to attend immediately upon our return. I think it was Mali who noted in a recent comment that we seem to have been attending more than a few funerals lately. I recently counted up the funeral cards I've collected over the past six months or so:  6.  They include dh's cousin's FIL, another cousin's MIL, another cousin's aunt (whom dh knew well as a child), a good friend of dh's father, Oldest Nephew's MIL's boyfriend's father (got that??), and (most recently) FIL's FIL (stepMIL's father, who was 96 -- just 8 years older than FIL, who is 88!). (My parents also attended a celebration of life last week for a good friend of almost 50 years, who died suddenly at age 81.)  We only attended the funeral mass for FIL's FIL;  the others were just funeral home visitations, and I didn't really know most of them, or know them very well... but still. I guess it's the age we & our peers -- or, more specifically, their parents -- are at now. :(  
  • The weather is still pretty nice, and the leaves have only just barely begun changing colour, but it's definitely fall now! 
You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here

Monday, September 18, 2017

#MicroblogMondays: Childless/free living odds & ends

  • Last week was the first World Childless Week, which was created to raise awareness and support for/about people who are childless not by choice. I didn't write anything about it here before, partly because I didn't learn about it the week was underway, and partly because I am still wading my way through the abundance of great related reading I found online. 
  • Through my reading and by following links, I discovered a few new childless/free blogs & sites, which I've added to the blogroll & resources links on the right-hand side of this page. Check them out! 
  • While in general, the ALI blogosphere seems a lot quieter than it used to be, I have noticed an absolute explosion of blogs & other writing (news articles, etc.) related to childless/free living over the past few months/year or so. When I started blogging almost 10 (!!) years ago, I could count the number of childless-not-by-choice bloggers (who blogged with any regularity) on the fingers of one hand, and only one of them (Pamela) still blogs with any regularity -- so this is incredibly heartening to witness.  In fact, all the blogs featured in the Stirrup Queen's most recent Friday roundup came from this corner of the ALI community (as Mali noted in the comments there). 
  • One good piece that I found this past weekend, from the Guardian: "What's it to you if some people don't have kids?"  
You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here