Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Out of the closet: Postscript

Scrolling back through some recent posts, I came across my review of "All the President's Men," where I noted:
It all climaxed on the night of August 8, 1974, when President Richard "I am not a crook" Nixon announced his resignation, in the face of almost certain impeachment... The next day, we left on a road trip to visit my uncle in Minneapolis, and everywhere we stopped along the way, the newspapers had huge headlines, the likes of which I had maybe only ever seen once before (when the astronauts landed on the moon), "President resigns."  I still have a copy, somewhere in the depths of my parents' basement.
It wasn't in the basement... it was in the closet of my old bedroom. ;)



(And now it's in a recycling bin.)  ;)

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Out of the closet

During my recent visit with my parents, I helped my mother clean out a closet. Not just any closet, though -- MY closet, in the room that was once, briefly, my room, in the year between when my parents moved to this town & house and I finished graduate/journalism school, and when I got married, some 33 years ago now. (My sister usually stays there now, when all of us are home.)  It wasn't ALL my stuff in there, of course -- my mother had added & subtracted items in the years since then, and I hadn't really looked at anything in it in a good 30 years -- but I knew what was there.

Sort of. I thought.

What I thought would be there: a brown cardboard carton, containing my childhood/teenaged journals, which I was really hoping to find and take home with me. For whatever reason, it wasn't there. (Perhaps it's been moved to some dark corner of the basement crawl space...??).

But I did find lots of other stuff -- some I remembered, some I didn't.

Among the items I found:
  • all my old childhood/teenaged scrapbooks, from which I plucked a few special theatre programs and newspaper clippings to save for posterity. 
  • a box full of complete issues and clippings from the weekly newspaper I worked on as a reporter, in the year before I got married. I tossed the full issues and kept the clippings for my portfolio. I don't think I'll be returning to work anytime soon, if ever, but just in case... 
  • cards -- Christmas, birthday, Valentine -- mostly from my university years, from friends, dorm floormates, aunts & uncles, grandparents, even my sister (!!). 
  • a huge box stuffed full of letters from friends and penpals. I think I kept every one I ever got. Oh my gosh, people, we used to WRITE LETTERS. Long, fat, letters, written BY HAND... my ones to my penpal in New Zealand (who sometimes comments here) sometimes ran as long as 100 pages or more, as were hers to me. I shredded some and threw out most of the rest, but kept a few.   
    • Among the letters were a surprising number (more than I remembered) from boys: old boy friends and boyfriends/love interests, including friends/band buddies I hung out with at school (lost touch with most of them; miss them & wonder what they're up to now??);  the first boy who kissed me, when I was 15 (I Googled him and he now has a fairly high-ranking job with the United Nations...!), my Grade 12 Ottawa trip crush from British Columbia (who wrote to me through my first year of university before our correspondence fizzled out), and my pre-dh boyfriend (who wound up marrying my next-door residence neighbour from that time :p and, I think, now resides in B.C. ).  
Most of the paper stuff (and there was a LOT of paper...) went into the recycling bin. Well, pile. (Well, pileS, plural.)  There was way too much to fit into the bin for the weekly recycling pickup, so we had to load everything into my dad's car, drive it to the local recycling depot and unload it there. It was hard to get rid of so much of my past -- especially all the letters -- but (as with our move to the condo last year) I knew it had to be done. My parents may be downsizing themselves, sooner than later, and won't have room to keep all this stuff for us anymore. Heck, *I* don't have the room to keep all this stuff anymore either. And I don't have any kids of my own to eventually unload it on either. Not that they would have been interested in it...

So I took a fond last look through things (yes, I hadn't looked at it in 30 years, but I still knew it was there, you know??), took a few photos of some of the more amusing/special items, gritted my teeth -- and then out it went. I whittled everything down to two smallish boxes (think the size of a large Christmas gift box from the Gap) & a bag of letters. It was too much/too heavy to take everything home on the plane with us this time (besides, my minimalist dh would have had a fit...!) so I took a few things home with me now and will bring a few more home with me at Christmastime.  Beyond my own things, I helped my mother go through the stuff that was hers (toss/donate/garage sale). The stuff we went through was previous crammed onto two shelves above the clothes on the rod;  we cleared out the top shelf entirely and you can actually see bare space on the bottom shelf now. ;)

Box of old letters, sitting on top of carton of old newspapers & clippings.
It's partly empty in this photo, but was packed full when I opened it.
These all got sent to the recycling depot. 

All this paper -- newspapers, scrapbooks, old cards & letters
(plus the empty boxes they were stored in)-- went to the recycling depot. 

The stuff on the left is all that remained after the purge.
(The stuff on the right either got put inside one of these boxes, or thrown out too.)
I took the pile of letters and some items from the two boxes home with me.
The rest went back into the closet to be retrieved at a future date (when I have more luggage capacity).
*** *** ***

There was one particular box I held off opening until near the end, because I knew (more or less) what it contained. First of all, if you have no idea who the Bay City Rollers were...don't tell me, I don't want to know, lol. (I feel old enough already!!)  They were not the "new Beatles" (as some optimistically proclaimed them -- although they inspired similar hysteria to the early Fab Four) -- but I would certainly say they were the Backstreet Boys/New Kids on the Block/'NSync/One Direction/(you get the idea) of their day -- which was MY day, when I was in my mid-teens in the mid/late-1970s.

I distinctly remember packing my "Roller gear"/paraphernalia away in that box, & thinking that someday, I would have a teenaged daughter who was equally crazy about some boy band and who would tearfully accuse me (as I once accused my own mother) that I JUST DIDN'T UNDERSTAND how she felt. And voila!!  I would produce The Box, and show her that, oh yes, I most certainly did. :)

It was a fun fantasy while it lasted...

Although I tossed the majority of the box's contents, I still wound up keeping:
  • a fan fiction story (although the term didn't exist back then) that I wrote (in longhand, having not yet learned to type and word processors not invented yet). (I haven't re-read it -- yet?? -- and I'm sure it's embarrassing as hell -- but I can't bear the idea of shredding it yet either...)
  • a huge, rather risque (especially for a teenaged girl in 1978!) fold-out poster that once hung over my bed, sent to me by a British penpal (believe me, we didn't see this kind of stuff in the pages of Tiger Beat or 16 Magazine back then, lol), of my favourite Roller (Woody, the bass player, who usually wore yellow Macleod tartan and was barely out of his teens himself), wearing nothing but a smile and a very long, strategically placed tartan scarf. ;)  (Similar to this one -- but mine was b&w.) 
  • the stub of my BCR concert ticket -- the very first concert I ever attended, at the Winnipeg Arena on August 15, 1976 -- exactly 41 years ago today!! (15th row on the floor, $6.50) -- framed on a tartan background, along with a half-inch snippet of Woody's shoelace, which a Roller friend had clawed from his running shoe while he stood onstage. :)  The frame sat on my dresser beside my bed, along with a favourite framed photo of Woody, during the years of my Rollermania.   
  • two favourite buttons -- one bought and one homemade (scotch-tape a favourite photo over an existing button & then cover it with tightly stretched plastic wrap for that glossy finish, & scotch tape THAT on the back...). (I had an entire container full of buttons, a small tartan-patterned cookie tin that had once contained shortbread... I think it came from Marks & Spencer, when we had M&S stores in Canada...)
  • and my Roller jeans (which I wore to the concert) -- a pair of jeans with the cuffs rolled up, mid-calf, trimmed down the sides and on the cuffs with Woody's favourite yellow Macleod tartan. I actually tossed them into the garbage bag at first -- but then I talked to my usually unsentimental sister who said, "Oh, I saved mine. No way I was throwing them out -- I HANDSEWED that stuff on!!"  I promptly went out to the garage, opened the garbage bag, & fished mine out, lol.  Not only did I also handsew on all that trim too, I made a pocket patch out of a scrap of material that I embroidered with a heart & Woody's name.)  
"The Box," opened for the first time in 30+ years! 

View of the side trim & personalized pocket patch,
all hand stitched by yours truly. 

Framed concert ticket stub & treasured snippet of shoelace. ;)   
Writing this post has made me nostalgic. So now, for your viewing/listening pleasure/amusement ;) here they are, direct from the Seventies, a couple of songs (not necessarily their biggest hits or best-known, but the ones I thought were most apropos for this post) from... (you guessed it)...





(Previous posts about cleaning out my parents' crawl space in the summer of 2009, here and here.)

Monday, August 14, 2017

#MicroblogMondays: "You really need a daughter..."

Yesterday, SIL & I joined the female cousins/cousins' wives on his mom's side of the family (our travel companions to New York City four years ago)(FOUR YEARS AGO??!!) for brunch at a (relatively) new bakery cafe, about a 20-minute drive from where we live. It's located in an old house that has been completely overhauled by some wealthy investors into an exquisitely, elegantly decorated little gem that would not be out of place in New York City or perhaps even Paris. No detail has been overlooked. More importantly, perhaps (especially for some), the food is entirely gluten/nut/dairy/preservative free, etc., a welcome treat for several members of our family who have celiac issues and other allergies. Aside from my weird allergy to tomatos, I am fortunately not affected by these issues, but the food was nevertheless pretty good too. We started with something savoury, followed by a sweet treat, along with coffee & tea, and many of our group left with boxes of goodies to take home to their families.

The cousin who organized the gathering brought along her 14-year-old daughter and a friend, who declined to join us in the private room we'd booked, preferring to sit by themselves in the general dining room (although not opposed, of course, to having Mom foot their bill, lol).  I was the only childless adult woman there (as I almost always am in these situations). Several of the women with daughters commented that this would be the perfect place for a mother-daughter outing, and the women with only sons nodded, agreeing that "You really need a daughter to bring to places like this." Or maybe, eventually, a daughter-in-law.

19 years ago, a comment like that would have sent me running for the privacy of the washroom, fighting back tears. I guess I've developed the hide of a rhinoceros when it comes to these things. because I barely flinched. Internally, I still winced, of course.  I was relieved when the conversation moved on to a different subject.

But yes. It would have been nice.






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

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Current

(An occasional meme, alternating from time to time with "Right Now.") 

Current Book(s) -- On the last 100 pages of "Dark Money" by Jane Mayer (review to come), and trying to decide what to read next. I have a lot of similar political-related books in my To Be Read pile -- but I think maybe something lighter and less depressing would be a good idea, lol.  ;)  

Current Playlist -- While I was visiting my parents, my sister gave me a memory stick/thumb drive/whatever you want to call it, containing part of her vast mp3 collection, acquired during the days of Napster. The files included songs from all the big Canadian rock bands of our day, as well as other bands that were in our childhood/teenaged vinyl collection. I've owned music on vinyl, cassette and, most recently, CDs, but this was my first foray into digital music (yes, I'm a dinosaur...!).  Her techno-wizard boyfriend showed me how to load the files from my laptop to my cellphone for my portable listening pleasure. I have a lot of apps and (especially) photos on my phone, so there's not a lot of room for music -- I can only load a certain number of files at a time, and will have to rotate files in & out. I've never really been in the habit of carrying my music with me anyway -- Walkmans didn't come into being until I was in university. (I;m really dating myself here, aren't I??)  But it's nice to have some of these songs back again. :)  I gave my vinyl collection to Oldest Nephew before we moved, and I don't own all of the same titles on CD, so this will help to fill some of those gaps. 

Current Shame-Inducing Guilty Pleasure -- Cheap T-shirts at Old Navy. I already have a closet full of T-shirts, but I can't seem to leave the store without a bag. (I wear holes into them almost as fast as I buy them... :p ) 

Current Color -- Aqua/turquoise, and coral red/pink -- it's summer! (And I usually do well with jewel tones.)  ;) 

Current Drink -- Surprisingly fewer iced beverages than usual this summer -- but then, it's been cooler & rain-ier outside, too. So, I continue to order my favourite tea lattes (tall non-fat Royal English Breakfast) at Starbucks. :) 

Current Food -- We're back at home, so we're back eating lots of dh's favourite beans & lentils. Missing the new potatos and yellow wax beans, fresh from my dad's garden! (There is a farmer's market nearby, but it's on Saturday mornings, and we usually don't get out of the house that early on weekends.)  

Current Favorite Show -- I don't really have one at the moment. Waiting for the new fall shows to start, or old favourites to return! (Obviously, I need to get back to Netflix, lol.) 

Current Wishlist -- Still haven't put up the rest of our artwork/framed photos -- erk!  (Although I did find a couple of collage frames on sale at Michaels a few weeks ago.)  I am thinking of asking Santa to bring me a new Kobo e-reader for Christmas -- the one is have is not one of the originals, but close to it...! (probably about 7 years old).  Still works fine, but it would be nice to have something with a few more bells & whistles. Plus -- tickets to "Springsteen on Broadway" would be nice. ;) Would love to see Bruce again, and it would be a great excuse to see NYC again, this time with dh, who has never been there... 

Current Needs -- Still need to get new window coverings for the living room/main living area windows. And I need a new cutting board for the kitchen. In the grand scheme of things, that's pretty good "needs." huh? (First world problems, etc...)  

Current Triumphs -- Getting rid of a ton of stuff that had been sitting in a closet at my parents' house for 30+ years... no small victory for a self-confessed packrat!  

Current Bane of my Existence -- The endless construction on the highway/main road that runs directly in front of our condo building. :p They are widening the road to accommodate a new dedicated rapid bus transit lane, which (when built) will hook up with the new subway line that's due to open at the end of this year. I'm sure it will be great when it's all done, but for now...!  Traffic here is already a nightmare, and this doesn't help. :p  

Current Celebrity Crush -- Mourning the loss of one of my favourites, Sam Shepard. :(  Adored him in movies like "The Right Stuff" and "Baby Boom" (although the plot of that movie WAS ridiculous...). 

Current Indulgence -- Besides Old Navy T-shirts?  ;)  Sleeping in. Because I can!  lol  ;)  

Current #1 Blessing -- Air conditioning!!  (It's generally been a cooler & rain-ier summer -- but when it's hot, it's hot, lol!).   

Current Slang or Saying -- Hmmm, not sure I have one. 

Current Outfit -- Around the hoiuse: denim shorts from Reitmans and Old Navy T-shirt or tank top. When we go out: denim capris (also from Reitmans) and a dressier T-shirt -- probably from the Gap or Lucky Brand. 

Current Excitement -- Busy weekend ahead! -- barbecue on Saturday;  get-together with dh's girl cousins (the ones I went to New York with a few years ago) for Sunday brunch. And I'm planning a little road trip for dh & me, BIL & SIL for the early fall. :)  

Current Mood -- Disbelief that it is already mid-August. Some of my friends & relatives in the States are ALREADY posting back-to-school photos of their kids!!  Where has the summer gone?? 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

"Samantha's Secret Room" by Lyn Cook

When I was about 10 or 11 years old, in the early 1970s, I read a book (first published in 1963) called "Samantha's Secret Room" by Lyn Cook.  It was a favourite of mine, for many reasons:  the heroine was about the same age I was, she feels lonely and misunderstood (as I often did). And it was set in Canada.

The plot: Samantha lives with her parents, brothers & great-grandmother in a big old house near Penetanguishine, Ontario, on Lake Huron's Georgian Bay.  There's a secret cellar where Samantha goes to write in her diary and vent her frustrations. But changes are coming for Samantha & her family: first, there's Samantha's new friend Kim, who answers a note that Sam ties to a shipment of Christmas trees bound for the cities further south.  Then there's older cousin Josh, an archaeology student who forms a bond with Samantha during a visit, and connects her to the history that's all around her -- including within her own family. The story culminates with a family reunion to celebrate Great-Gran's 90th birthday, and some important revelations that bring Samantha & her family closer together.

I loved this book & have thought about it on & off over the years. Samantha was one of the names we seriously considered for a baby girl -- Daughter #2 (or #3), of course, because Katie was our #1 choice for a girl's name right from the start...!

And then one of dh's cousins' wives had a little girl (in her 40s, after more than 10 years of marriage and much speculation in the family... hmmm...) -- and named her Samantha.

I knew EXACTLY what I wanted to give this little Samantha for her first birthday. :) (Believe me, I always wished there was a book with "Lori" in the title,  lol.)  I did an online search, and (yay!) a paperback version of "Samantha's Secret Room" was available on good old Amazon. :)  I knew she wouldn't be old enough to read it for many years, but that was OK.  I ordered two copies (one for her, one for me ;)  )  wrote an inscription on the inside front cover, wrapped it up and gave it to her for her first birthday.

We don't see a lot of Samantha & her brother -- she's about 10 now herself -- and I'd kind of forgotten about the book. And then, out of the blue last week, I got an email from her mom. (She & I have always gotten along well -- perhaps because of the unspoken bond we know we share...!) (Even though she was ultimately successful in having a family, and I was not.)  She wrote:
I just wanted to tell you.  When I picked up the kids from camp today - Samantha mentioned that she started a new book and she held up "Samantha's Secret Room"  - I just smiled because I knew it was from you.  We then read the inscription you had made. 
She does love to read!
Needless to say, that put a huge smile on my face for the rest of the day...!  :)  Being able to share a book that was special to me as a little girl with another little girl -- passing on a little piece of myself into the future -- was so gratifying -- even if it wasn't (as I had once hoped) my own daughter.  Small victories...! :)  

Monday, August 7, 2017

#MicroblogMondays: Hey 19...

I was never a huge Steely Dan fan, but one of their old songs ("Hey Nineteen") has been going through my head today -- because it was 19 years ago that I delivered my sweet silent baby girl. :(   The lyrics aren't exactly appropriate to the occasion -- they're about an older man trying to resist the charms of a much younger girl (!) -- but there's one line that keeps echoing in my head:  "I'm just growing old...."  (The fact that I know who Steely Dan is would attest to that, I suppose -- nevermind that my daughter could be 19 years old...!)

We just got back from visiting my parents last night, and I am still in that post-vacation fog. Plus Aunt Flo showed up after a 69-day respite (progress??!) -- so I was already tired and crabby, nevermind having to deal with today and its significance.

Then BIL picked us up at the airport last night &, en route home, suggested to dh that we (he, SIL, dh & I) should go visit FIL today (it's a long weekend here, so he & SIL were off work today).  And instead of saying, "Sorry, we already have other plans," dh said, "OK, we'll pick you up at 11 -- but before we go to Dad's, we have to go to the cemetery."

(!!!)

Now, this has always been a day for just the three of us -- him, me & Katie -- and I was simply not in the mood to share the day with others. I didn't feel like I could give in & have a good cry at the cemetery with other people around, if that's what I felt like doing. And I didn't appreciate being put on a schedule, on a day when I wanted to sleep in & take my time (since I am not moving too fast -- thank you (not), Aunt Flo...!).

I kept my mouth shut in the car but made my feelings known later when we were alone. Dh offered to go visit his dad with BIL by themselves today, and then take me to see Katie tomorrow. Ummmm, no. Today of all days, our daughter comes first. Then us second. Our families place a distant third. (Men, right??)

Pleading for forgiveness, he pointed out, "They ARE her aunt & uncle!"

And then he said, "Isn't it nice to know that someone else has been to the cemetery to visit her besides us?"

Well, he had me there.

So no, it wasn't the day I had planned or imagined. But we did have fun catching up with BIL & SIL, en route to the cemetery in the car. Afterwards, we had a nice lunch at a cozy little cafe nearby, and made some preliminary plans for a little autumn road trip for the four of us. And we made FIL very happy simply by showing up.

It turned out to be an OK day, on its own merits.

Kind of like the rest of my life, hmmmm??

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

Monday, July 31, 2017

#MicroblogMondays: Vacation odds & ends

  • Writing to you this week from my parents' home, where we're spending some time (as we usually do during the summer).  
  • It's been horribly hot & humid all week here. (Yesterday was 32C, 40C humidex -- that's about 90F & 104F, for those of you south of the border. :p )  I'm trying not to complain too much, especially since it's been raining constantly back home. But thank goddess for air conditioning...! (Although my parents can never agree on when/whether it should be turned on, and to what temperature...!)  
  • My sister was here on her vacation this past week. I've often said we don't have a "Hallmark" sort of relationship. But she's mellowed a lot in recent years -- and damn, she can make me laugh sometimes... 
  • My mother has not driven me nuts. (Yet.) (I'll just bite my cybertongue and leave that one at that...!) 
  • (Okay, just one...!)  My mother is prone to moaning that "we have no little kids in this family!" Usually more at Christmastime than summertime -- and she did mean the entire extended family, including my cousins & their kids, who are mostly grown up now -- but she said that more than once this past week. :p  I try to ignore her and not feel too guilty. Even if Katie were here, she would hardly qualify as "little" any more...!  
  • We do have (most fortunately!) the Little Princesses (Parents' Neighbours Granddaughters, ages 5 & 2), who are back from "Summer Paradise" (their grandparents' cottage) & popping by every other day or so to enchant (& exhaust) us. They are both growing up very quickly! 
  • Finished one book & about halfway through another -- "Dark Money" by Jane Mayer. Full review to come when I'm done -- but let me say right now that it is extremely well-researched and well-written. It's also infuriating, terrifying and downright depressing. But don't let that deter you from reading it. This is a book that NEEDS to be read. RIGHT NOW.   
You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here.  

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

"All the President's Men" by Bob Woodward & Carl Bernstein

I was 11 years old in the summer of 1972 (45 years ago -- yikes!!), when five men wearing suits and carrying photographic and surveillance equipment were arrested after breaking into the Democratic Party National Headquarters in the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. Gradually, over the next two years, the name "Watergate" became a household word, as the story of the break-in, who had authorized it and why unravelled on the nightly news and in Congressional hearings.

Being just 11-13 years old, I didn't pay a lot of attention -- I was mostly annoyed by the whole thing, because the hearings invariably cancelled out my favourite daytime television shows during the summers of 1973 & 1974. (Before Watergate, it was the Apollo space missions to the moon that took over the TV screens -- ho hum. If I'd known then that the Apollo 17 mission of December 1972 was going to be the last one, I might have paid more attention.)

It all climaxed on the night of August 8, 1974, when President Richard "I am not a crook" Nixon announced his resignation, in the face of almost certain impeachment. I was 13 years old by then, and we were all at my grandmother's tiny house in northern Minnesota, gathered in the living room around the TV set (which I think was still a black & white set, and pulled in about 5 or 6 channels with the help of a rotary antenna -- NBC, ABC & PBS, sometimes CBS (depending on the weather, lol), and CBC & CTV from across the Canadian border.)(And the French-language CBC channel, which we never counted.)  I remember being glad to be rid of Nixon (and of Watergate) -- I never liked him -- but the sober faces of the adults in the room brought home the seriousness of the situation, and even then, I realized that I was witnessing history in the making. The next day, we left on a road trip to visit my uncle in Minneapolis, and everywhere we stopped along the way, the newspapers had huge headlines, the likes of which I had maybe only ever seen once before (when the astronauts landed on the moon), "President resigns."  I still have a copy, somewhere in the depths of my parents' basement.

Despite all the media coverage, I didn't really know or understand much about the details of Watergate or how it had led to the president's resignation until a few years later, the spring/summer of 1976. I was now 15, my sister & I went to see a new movie, "All the President's Men," starring Dustin Hoffman & our favourite movie idol of the day, Robert Redford, as Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, the two Washington Post reporters whose stories helped crack the case and won a Pulitzer Prize.

(My sister & I had first seen Redford in "The Sting" with our cousins in Minneapolis a few summers earlier, and fallen madly in love with him -- even though he's older than our father...! (ALI note: in recent years, I learned that Redford's first child, a son named Scott, died of SIDS when he was 10 weeks old in 1959.)  A year or so later, our mother took us to see him in "The Way We Were" with Barbra Streisand, and to the drive-in, ON A SCHOOL NIGHT, so that we could see "The Great Gatsby." (Although we had to suffer through "The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad," the first of a double-header bill, before we got to Gatsby.)  Such was the power of Robert Redford in his prime...!)  

We both LOVED the movie -- NOW all that Watergate stuff we'd lived with for so long was starting to make sense!  (Plus -- Robert Redford.)  There was still a lot we didn't quite "get," though -- because one of our school friends came over & sat with us and talked incessantly throughout the entire movie. :p  So we went back to see it again the next night, to catch the parts we'd missed. ;) Shortly after that, I bought and devoured the paperback version of the 1974 book by Woodward & Bernstein that the movie had been based on (with a photo of Redford & Hoffman on the cover).  I found it just as riveting as the movie had been, and a lot easier to follow, since I could digest the information at my own pace and flip back to the "Cast of Characters" at the front of the book to keep all the names & titles straight. There was a lot of information that hadn't been in the movie, too.

*** *** ***

I've read "All the President's Men" at least once or twice in the years since I first picked it up (as well as other books written by the two, together and separately, including "The Final Days" and "The Bretheren")(and seen the movie many times too) -- but not in many years.  And with the recent events unfolding in Washington, and frequent appearances by Woodward & Bernstein on TV news shows, I decided it was timely to re-read the book again.

Even though I've read the book before -- even though the story is a lot more familiar to me than the first time around -- I still found myself hooked, right from the opening pages. (It took me more than a week to get through "Tribe," which was only 130 or so pages long... I devoured "All the President's Men," a much longer book, in just under a week.)  It's still a gripping read -- and entirely relevant to the present day.

Personal disclaimer: I wanted to be a writer from a young age.  I was thinking "books,"  but it wasn't until around the time I was in junior high that I realized most authors of books didn't make very much money at it. That's when I started thinking of journalism as a career. My family always received a daily newspaper, and I read it (or at least parts of it) almost from the time I learned to read. (The idea of a career in "corporate communications" wasn't even on my radar until I was in journalism school, and I don't think we even called it that back then. "Public relations," maybe.)

So I don't think it was Woodward & Bernstein who inspired me to go to journalism school -- I'm pretty sure I was already thinking along those lines -- but just about anyone who entered the field in the late 1970s & 80s was certainly inspired by their example and looked to them as the gold standard. They were and still are rock stars to me, and I still get a huge kick out of seeing them on TV, individually or (especially) together. When Woodward &/or Bernstein talk about current events, how they compare to Watergate (or not), and why we should pay attention -- I think we should pay attention. These guys know whereof they speak.

Reading the book again, now, reminded me that a lot has changed since 1972. For example:
  • the reporters' calls were sometimes made at payphones and routed through switchboard operators -- no cellphones back then...!, 
  • they wrote their stories on typewriters and made edits with pencils vs on screens with word processing software,
  • their stories were published (& read) in a physical newspaper, not online,
  • television news consisted mostly of a half-hour evening newscast on one of the three networks -- no Internet, no cable TV, no multichannel universe, no CNN, 
  • Woodward & Bernstein spent spending an entire afternoon sorting through box after box of request slips at the Library of Congress (which made for a memorable scene when translated to the movie screen) -- something that no doubt could be done in about five seconds on a computer today
(to name a few things).

Some of the language has changed (one of the Watergate burglars is said to have a "retarded" daughter). And although the Post's publisher was a woman (Katharine Graham -- her memoir, Personal History, is also an excellent read, by the way),  and a female bookkeeper at the Committee to Re-elect the President proves to be a critical source, the vast majority of the main players in the story are (as the title of the book would suggest) MEN -- there were certainly nowhere near as many women in the newsroom or in government and political jobs, 45 years ago.

But while technology has made reporters' jobs easier in many respects, the basics of journalism -- cultivating sources, calling and talking to people (many, many people), asking questions and more questions (and asking them again), taking careful notes & keeping files, researching through piles of dusty books and press clippings (not everything you need is available on the Internet), checking your facts and checking them again, confirming what one person tells you with multiple other sources before publishing your story -- that remains the same. (Another great movie in a more modern setting about reporters unravelling an important story about the abuse of power (by the Catholic church) is "Spotlight,"  which deservedly won the Oscar for Best Picture a couple of years ago.)

And human nature, certainly, remains the same too.

While Woodward & Bernstein were eventually recognized as heroes and inspired an entire generation of journalists, their tactics were sometimes questionable, they didn't always get it right (at one point, they thought they were headed for jail), and they encountered formidable obstacles and opposition along the way.  Early on, they write about how the story was barely mentioned outside of the Washington & New York papers, half the country had (at that point) never heard of or cared about Watergate, and government spokespeople derided the Post for chasing a story that just wasn't there....  I found myself thinking, hmmm, why does this sound familiar...?? (This happened more than once as I read. The White House's disdain for the press, the obsession with leaks -- all familiar territory...!)

Nevertheless -- aided by anonymous sources such as the now-infamous "Deep Throat" -- they continued to ask questions and pursue the story, gradually putting the pieces together into a coherent picture of what went on behind the scenes at the White House and the Committee to Re-elect the President, ultimately leading to the downfall of the president and his men.

If you ever wanted to learn more about Watergate and/or about how journalists really do their jobs, this book is an excellent choice -- a classic.  And if you wanted to understand why so many people are talking about Watergate again lately in the context of current events, read the book. The parallels are eerie and unmistakeable.

This was book #11 that I've read so far in 2017, bringing me to 46% of my 2017 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books.  I am currently 2 books behind schedule to meet my goal. :p  ;)  

Monday, July 24, 2017

#MicroblogMondays: "I need something to make me feel better" *

Another musical icon from my youth, gone. :(

If you're not Canadian (or even a Canadian of a certain vintage), the names Kenny Shields & Streetheart might not mean anything to you.  But Streetheart was huge when I was in high school & university in the late 1970s/early 1980s Prairies, starting with their first album "Meanwhile Back in Paris," and they remain a staple of classic rock radio in Canada today.

They were from the Prairies, with roots in Regina and later based in Winnipeg, and Kenny was the charismatic lead singer, with a one-of-a-kind voice. (The original guitarist, Paul Dean, and drummer, Matt Frenette, later went on to even greater success as members of Loverboy.)  I found a 1979 video of their cover of  the Stones' "Under My Thumb" (which I probably heard before the Stones' version), in which he's wearing just one glove, years before Michael Jackson did. My sister (who served him once at the bank branch where she worked in the late 1980s) & I went to see them in concert in Winnipeg in the spring of 1979, and I can tell you to this day exactly what I wore, right down to the shade of blusher I was wearing (Revlon's Tawny Red Frost).

I read the news of his death at age 69 in a Winnipeg hospital on Facebook on Friday morning, just as I was packing to head home to Prairies. Seemed fitting, somehow... Thanks for the music, Kenny!

*  Lyric from "What Kind of Love is This?"

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

Friday, July 21, 2017

Marilyn was one of us

The scene: Me, at a lovely local spa for the first time. Dim lighting, soft music playing, comfortable reclining pedicure chair, mug of soothing herbal tea within reach. Enjoying a relaxing manicure & pedicure, courtesy of a gift certificate I received. One other 50-something woman in the room, also getting a mani-pedi -- as she explained, for her son's wedding the next day.

Mom (looking up at large framed photo of Marilyn Monroe in her prime, hanging on the wall): That's a great photo of her! How old was she when she died?

Pedicurist: I think she was 36.

Mom: She didn't have any kids, did she? That's SO sad!  (Didn't catch everything she said next, but it seemed to be something along the lines of what else gives life meaning if you don't have kids?)(Or maybe I'm just projecting...??)  She was married two or three times, wasn't she? Of course, at that age... most people in those days had kids really young...

I felt myself tensing up & mentally rolling my eyes. So much for the relaxing mood...!  

But she moved on to another topic -- thank goodness!!

(And also thank goodness, nobody asked me about MY kids while I was there...!)

(For the record, Marilyn was married three times, including to baseball great Joe DiMaggio and playwright Arthur Miller. And no, she didn't have any children. But she desperately wanted them, struggled to conceive, suffered from endometriosis, and endured several miscarriages, including an ectopic pregnancy.)

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

"Tribe" by Sebastian Junger

"Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging" is an expanded version of an article that Sebastian Junger wrote for Vanity Fair -- a short & well-spaced 136 pages (plus source notes).

In this case, less is definitely more: there's a lot packed into this slim volume. It's well written and thought provoking -- a fascinating look at how humans have banded together over time to survive -- and how modern life works against our deep-seated need to belong, and:
"why -- for many people -- war feels better than peace and hardship can turn out to be a great blessing and disasters are sometimes remembered more fondly than weddings or tropical vacations." (p. xxvi)  
Most the reviews I've read focus on what "Tribe" has to say about the military and PTSD -- the main subject of Junger's original article, and something he has often written about before. But we also learn about American Indian tribal life (and its appeal to American frontier settlers), infant sleeping practices, the London Blitz of the Second World War, the Springhill (Nova Scotia) mining disaster of 1958, mass shootings, and so much more.

Near the end of the book, Junger also makes some timely observations about the deep divisions in modern American society. "People who speak with contempt for one another will probably not remain united for long," he says. "The most alarming rhetoric comes out of the dispute between liberals and conservatives, and it’s a dangerous waste of time because they’re both right." (p. 126)

"If you want to make a society work, then you don’t keep underscoring the places where you’re different -- you underscore your shared humanity,” Rachel Yehuda of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City tells him. (p. 127)

Makes sense to me...

*** *** ***

One reason I was interested in reading this book was that both PamelaLisa have referred to it in different forums where I follow them. In the ALI community, we often talk about the importance of"finding our tribe" and the support we give and receive to & from each other -- and I was curious to see how Junger's concept of "Tribe" would relate to the ALI world.  

Junger doesn't address infertility issues here, but it's certainly possibly to extract some lessons/meaning for our own situations from this book. One of its main messages is that people will bond together in times of adversity and when dealing with a common adversary -- and I think that's one of the driving forces behind the growth of online communities such as ours. I wouldn't say the fertile world is an "adversary," of course -- but when you're dealing with infertility & pregnancy loss, there's certainly a feeling of alienation and "other-ness" that the fortunate fertile probably don't realize even exists, let alone respond to in an adequate or satisfying way. That's why we feel such a sense of relief and belonging when we discover others -- online or "in real life" -- who have shared a similar experience, and why we consider them our "tribe."   

Here's another quote from the book that spoke to me:  
“...human beings need three basic things in order to be content: they need to feel competent at what they do; they need to feel authentic in their lives; and they need to feel connected to others.” (p. xxx) 
Hmmm -- let's see. When you can't get or stay pregnant -- which the majority of women do with ease (and often without giving the subject much thought), and which some consider the main purpose of a woman's existence -- you feel anything BUT competent. We are often forced to hide our authentic selves and feelings as we struggle through infertility & loss.  (Infertility & loss, of course, change who we are in profound ways, leaving us to try to figure out who we are now, and who we're going to be, if we're not going to be parents.)  And infertility and loss, and this struggle to find and maintain our authentic selves in the face of adversity, creates barriers between those of us who suffer and those who don't.  At a time when we badly need support from others, we find them shying away from the sadness and messiness of our situations and the rawness of our emotions, and the "bad luck" we represent. No wonder we have such difficulty finding "contentment"!   

“Humans don’t mind hardship, in fact they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary. Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary. It's time for that to end.”  (p. xxvi) 

Who feels less necessary in a society fixated on families, children and baby bumps than a childless woman? 

And yes, it's time for that to end. 

This was book #10 that I've read so far in 2017, bringing me to 42% of my 2017 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books.  I am 3 books behind schedule to meet my goal. :p  ;)  

Monday, July 17, 2017

#MicroblogMondays: Odds & ends

  • The local megabookstore has had an all-Canadian playlist as background music this month, no doubt in honour of Canada 150. I've been enjoying hearing (and struggling not to sing along with, lol) some old favourites ("The Hockey Game" by Stompin' Tom Connors, anyone?? ;)  ), and some I haven't heard in eons (Valdy!). And even a rousing version of "Farewell to Nova Scotia," which I can still sing along to in its entirety -- we sang it ad nauseum in music class in grade school. (Imagine a bunch of Prairie kids, living about as far away from the ocean as it's possible to be, singing, "But a poor simple sailor just like me/Must be tossed and be driven on the dark blue sea..."). 
  • Gallstones have been giving me grief lately. :(  With the possible exception of having my wisdom teeth removed (all four at once!) when I was in my early 30s (is that considered surgery? -- dental surgery, sure...), I have never had surgery -- and I have no desire to start now, but may have to consider it (may not have a choice...) if this continues... :(  
    • I think I've mentioned this before, but I remember reading that there's a co-relation between high estrogen levels and gallstone formation... which is one reason why it's so common among pregnant or post-partum women. And, perhaps, women going through infertility treatment? I remember my RE commenting at one point in my cycle that my estrogen levels were sky high. Infertility, the gift that just keeps on giving... 
    • I do have genetics in my favour/to blame too -- my dad, and apparently all of my aunts & uncles on his side of the family, and some cousins to boot, have had their gallbladders removed.
    • Has anyone else out there had issues with gallstones? Gallbladder removal surgery? 
  • One of dh's cousin's daughters just had a baby early this morning. Her FOURTH!! Beyond jealousy at the ease with which she seems to get & stay pregnant (not to mention regain her slender figure...!), I am beyond awed that anyone has the energy (let alone can afford) to raise four children these days...!!  
  • Looking forward to a much-needed mani-pedi later this week! :)  (Even better, I have a gift certificate for it!)  
  • When did the neighbours across the back fence (across the construction site behind our condo building) paint the brick on their house??  I just noticed this morning. 
  • The neighbours next door to them were having their eavestroughs cleaned this morning. I was watching a guy strolling casually around their rooftop with a hose, spraying them out. (Yes, we are nosy retiree neighbours, lol.)  
You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here

Saturday, July 15, 2017

It takes a village

A Facebook friend recently shared this article/blog post, titled "In the absence of a village, build one." My friend added the comment, "We do not have do to it alone. Find your village, love them hard."  

The article is written from a mommy-centric perspective, for an audience of other mommies. (Which seems ironic from an infertility/childless perspective, because from where we sit, motherhood seems like a highly exclusive country club that everyone else gets to join and hang out with -- except us, of course.)(Scroll down to the comment from Jen on July 14th.) But I think that with a little imagination and some rewording, the thoughts shared here could apply to those of us in the adoption/loss/infertity community (or just about anyone, really).  

The author notes, "The time when you need a village the most also happens to be the time when it’s hardest to build one." She's thinking about her kids and their childhood, of course -- but I immediately thought about those awful days, post-loss, during infertility treatment, post-stopping, when I felt so completely alone.  (Maybe not in the immediate days after my loss, of course, when friends & relatives rallied round, called and sent flowers and cards, but in the weeks & months afterwards, when they assumed things were "back to normal" and got on with their lives, assuming I was doing the same thing. I wasn't.)  

*** *** *** 

First, let's look at the barriers to finding your village identified in the article. (Not all might apply to your personal situation.)

Barriers to finding your village   

1. The age of fellow moms in your life—and the ages of their children

The age you're at -- when you're going through infertility/loss, when you have children, or just going through life, period -- can make it harder to find your village. If you're in your 20s & 30s, some of your friends might be having babies, some might still be looking for someone to have babies with. The ones having babies might not understand what you're dealing with, if you're going through infertility & loss -- and even if they do, they're obviously busy with other things;  you and your problems aren't their priority.  If you're trying to get pregnant in your 40s while all your friends have already had their families (some of them even becoming empty nesters...!), you can certainly feel out of sync with them. Even if you eventually do have a baby or adopt a child late in your reproductive life, there might be quite an age gap between your kids and theirs. Your friends may have already found their mommy tribe and feel more comfortable talking about school PTA meetings with the other PTA members, rather than comiserate with you about your lack of sleep. If you never have children, by choice or by chance, you will most likely feel shut out of the loop while your peers build their families. Working (and working & commuting) can make it difficult to find new friendships and maintain old ones. And if you're like me, & retire early, you can sometimes feel isolated if most of your friends are still working.

2. The arrangement of work & life

"For example, mothers who work outside the home may have a hard time connecting with moms who stay home. There are only so many hours in the day…" the article says. And, I might add, both kinds of moms often have a hard time connecting with non-moms, and making room for them in lives that are now laser-focused on all things mommy & baby-related.

A little more about work and the role it plays in finding our village: for some of us, work becomes our village, or a part of it.  I met a lot of great people at work, and I've stayed friends/friendly with some of them. But there are barriers to cultivating friendships at work, too. I know a lot of the younger people in my office liked to go out together after work (especially on a Thursday night, for some reason)  -- I did too, when I was in my 20s and we lived in the city. But when you get older, your priorities change -- even if you don't have kids tying you down. You don't recover from a night out at the bar as quickly ;)  you start to value your sleep, and you have a husband (if not kids) waiting for you at home.

Also, this probably wouldn't be as much of an issue in a smaller community, but the people I worked with commuted to our downtown office from all over a huge metropolitan area. Distance & commuting time -- not to mention the need to adhere to train, subway & bus schedules -- can certainly be barriers to after-work socializing, and forming and maintaining out-of-office friendships. After a long day of work (8.5 hours including lunch, plus another two hours or so commuting, round trip), I often just wanted to go home.  (Especially on a weeknight -- since I had to get up at 5 a.m. the next morning & do it all again...!)

3. The courage it requires to reach out to another woman

Especially "in real life,"  even if that person has also experienced loss &/or infertility. Sometimes, it's easier to reach out to other women in similar situations online.

4. The feeling that the women around you already have a village in place

Thinking of that exclusive mommy club again. ;)  Although feelings don't necessarily equal reality. There are more women out there looking for villages, or new people for their village, than we might think.

5. A fragmented village

I have lots of different people from different parts of my life and places that I've lived, some that I rely on more than others, sometimes for different things. They don't necessarily know or know about each other, or about the different parts of my life beyond the part I shared with them. (This was one reason I was very leery to join Facebook at first -- I wasn't sure I wanted all these different parts of my life coming together in one place. I am sure some of my Facebook friends, have been surprised at some of the things they've learned about me there...!)  

*** *** *** 

6 Tips to help you build your village 

I think these tips from the article can apply to any village-building effort, not just if you're a mom. 

1. First, believe that you don’t have to do motherhood adoption/loss/infertility (or anything else)  on your own. 

There are people who are going through the same thing you are (both in "real life" and certainly online) who are also looking to build their villages and find support... and who are willing to support you, too. Start looking for them.  

2. Next, get comfortable (ironically) with vulnerability. 

"Vulnerability allows us to take friendships to a much more meaningful level, and in turn we find ourselves feeling happier and more comfortable in our own skin because of the authenticity we’ve developed in the safety of close relationships," the article says. 
If anyone knows about vulnerability, I think it's ALIers. :)  Infertility & loss are pretty isolating, lonely, emotion-laden experiences. Our hearts are raw, broken, tender.  If there's one thing that helps us survive, it's giving voice to our truth -- being honest, expressing our feelings fully and honestly (by talking about them, or at least writing them out) -- and to know that others are listening.  Not necessarily that they have answers for us. Sometimes the mere act of voicing what's in our hearts -- and having someone pay attention -- is comfort enough.   

3. Watch for women you can bring in.

"A village gets stronger with numbers. If you already have a support network, keep your eyes open for women... who might need what you can offer. Be a people connector."

We're everywhere -- even if we're not always upfront about it. 

4. Keep working on YOU.

"Your vibe attracts your tribe." 

5. Ask for help, and accept it when it’s offered. 

So often, the people around us don't know we're hurting. It's hard to open ourselves up and admit we need help. Sometimes it leads to more hurt (clueless friends & relatives who don't understand) -- but sometimes it can lead to new understanding & new, stronger connections. 

6. Offer YOUR help. 

"Being willing to help others—to be their village—is the biggest key to creating one."  Share what you've learned, comment on others' posts.  

What do you think?  Did the translation to the ALI world work here? What would you add?

*** *** *** 

Reading the post got me thinking (not for the first time...!)  about my personal "village" and how it applied to my own life, post Katie, post-infertility.    

Immediately after losing Katie (in August 1998), I found myself reading obsessively about pregnancy loss -- why it happens, what I could do to prevent it from happening again, and what I could do to help myself recover from such a horrible blow. Several older women in my life who had lost babies years ago -- dh's aunts, my best friend's mother -- called & told me it had happened to them too. Most of them told me "you'll have another baby,"  which I suppose is what they'd been told (and for them, it did happen, so why wouldn't they believe otherwise?). Most of the women my own age that I knew had not experienced such a loss, it seemed.  I was floored -- and so touched -- when a former coworker now living in the States called me out of the blue (after reading the mass email I'd sent out) and told me about her own miscarriage.  

The package the hospital sent home with me included some information on local support groups. Even in a city as big as Toronto, it was hard to find support: the hospital's own onsite group no longer existed (!), another wanted me to come to their midtown office for an interview (!) & then wait until they had enough people to form a group that would last for a certain number of weeks & then send us on our way.  Finally, the hospital social worker I was dealing with told me about another group where she was a board member.  I went to one meeting by myself;  dh joined me for the next one, and we stayed there for the next 10+ years -- first as clients and then as facilitators. Finding our tribe, real-life people who lived nearby and were going through a similar experience, was a huge part of our healing. 

But the group only met once or twice a month. The time between meetings felt like an eternity sometimes.  That's when I discovered the power of the Internet. We'd bought our first computer two years earlier, in the fall of 1996.  Early on in my pregnancy, one of dh's coworkers had given him the name of a website she thought I'd like to check out. It was Parents Place (now defunct), with week by week pregnancy information & tips, as well as message boards for pregnant women and new mothers. There were, I realized, post-Katie, also message boards for pregnancy loss -- but I was a little hesitant about putting myself out there publicly like that. 

Eventually, I found a private e-mail list that seemed a little "safer" to me than public message boards, and joined that. It proved to be my daily lifeline for the next several years. I would rush home to check my email for the latest digests and emails from my newfound friends, and pour my heart out onscreen, both to the entire list and privately to several members I'd formed cyberfriendships with.  

The list was for women (& men) who had endured pregnancy loss and hoped to try again. As you might imagine, many of them also had infertility issues, and they were a source of invaluable information and encouragement as we ventured down the slippery slope of infertility testing and treatment. But as more & more of them got their "rainbow babies" (and sometimes a second, and a third...) -- and I did not -- my postings to the group began to taper off. It was becoming obvious that the "subsequent pregnancy" part of the title was not going to happen for us.  

I didn't post regularly on any infertility message boards while I was going through treatment (although I did check some out). (Blogs were not yet a "thing" -- that came a few years later.)  But after my final IUI failed early in the summer of 2001, I started hunting for resources for living without children.  There was not much out there -- and a lot of what I did find was for people who never wanted children. But I did find a very few message boards (often attached to infertility websites) devoted to the subject, with a somewhat active membership. In particular, I found a home on the Childless Living message board at iVillage. Sadly, it is long gone now -- but this week it will be 16 years (!) since I introduced myself there. I always consider that date as as the beginning of my childless/free life after infertility & loss. And I am still in touch with several of the women I "met" there (and I have met two of them "in real life") -- on a different private forum we created a few years later, and (later still) on Facebook. 

I don't think I discovered blogs until about 2006, and I started following a few of them regularly. Most of the ones I found in those early days no longer exist. But one in particular still does: Melissa's Stirrup Queens, which has long been a community hub for those of us dealing with adoption, loss & infertility. I think I started tentatively commenting on some of her posts -- particularly the sessions in The Lushary (which hasn't creaked opened its doors in a long time, but which still holds a fond place in my heart...! ;)  ) -- sometime in 2007. Through her blogroll, I discovered Pamela's original Coming2Terms blog, which eventually morphed into Silent Sorority.

And so, with Pamela's example in front of me and Mel's encouragement (and to take part in her Barren B*tches Book Tour -- which was, at the time, getting ready to discuss Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale" -- plus ca change...!), I decided to start my own blog. This fall, it will be 10 years (!!) since I hit "publish" on that very first post.  While many of the bloggers I used to follow (sadly) no longer write, I'm so very happy (& proud) that the childless-not-by-choice neighbourhood of our ALI village has grown by leaps & bounds in recent years!  

I know I've told this story before (and I'll probably tell it again & again) -- but I felt compelled to tell it again now... mostly because I'm so grateful to the Internet and to blogging for giving me hope, empathy and friendship at a time in my life when I really, really needed it (and found it hard to come by in my offline life).   
Thank you all for being part of my village!  :)  

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

"Sex & the City"and me

I was recently watching the new CNN series about "The Nineties," which started with a two-hour episode about 1990s TV shows. One of the shows they featured was "Sex & the City."

Somehow, I never became a regular SATC-watcher -- even though many of my friends raved about it and told me I should watch it, and I still, somehow, got to know who all the characters were and some of the plot lines. I did see a couple of episodes in reruns years later (no doubt censored).

Then, on the screen, they showed the date SATC debuted:  June 6, 1998.

Well, that explained it.

The debut of "Sex & the City" coincided with my roller coaster pregnancy with Katie & its aftermath. In early June 1998, I did the triple screen blood test, followed by an ultrasound -- both of which indicated some abnormalities, and led to genetic counselling, amniocentesis and the shadow of a potential termination looming over us, all before the end of the month.

Clearly, I had other stuff on my mind at the time, and while perhaps I could have used something frivolous as a distraction, SATC somehow never quite struck a chord with me, and I never got into the habit of watching it.

I guess there's always Netflix... ;)

Did you ever watch "Sex & the City"?  Did loss &/or infertility interfere with your enjoyment of any TV shows that everyone else was watching & loved?

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Anniversary getaway: Niagara-on-the-Lake

Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario:  clock/cenotaph and court house (now a theatre).
We first visited Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario (not Niagara Falls -- Niagara-on-the-Lake! -- there's a difference!!),  back in June 1984.  My parents & I drove across northern Minnesota, Wisconsin & the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, through Detroit (quite an experience in itself...!!) and across the Ambassador Bridge to Windsor (where dh -- then just my boyfriend -- was finishing up his MBA) and on to London (Ontario), where -- main purpose of the trip -- I picked up my master's degree diploma at convocation.

Then we cut through the backroads of southwestern Ontario to the tourist trap (cough, cough -- errrr, hotspot?? mecca?? honeymoon capital??) of Niagara Falls (the first time for all three of us). After spending the night there, we drove up the Niagara River Parkway about a half hour to the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. (And then continued on to Toronto, so that my parents could meet dh's father before we headed home -- but that's another story for another day...)

I'd been living in southwestern Ontario for the past year, attending grad school, so I think I must have heard about NOTL then, and its Shaw Festival -- a professional theatre festival/company, which performs the works of George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries on three different stages in town from approximately May through October/November every year (as opposed to the Stratford Festival in Stratford, Ontario, which does Shakespeare -- albeit not exclusively these days). (We took a trip to Stratford for our 24th anniversary in 2009, and I blogged about it here.)    

We didn't spend any time in NOTL then -- I think we just drove through to have a look at the place. But what little we got to see enchanted us, and we vowed to return. 

We did, two years later, in August 1986. My parents came back to visit us in our tiny apartment in midtown Toronto, and we decided that we wanted to go back to NOTL & spend more time there. (We did the falls again too.)  We've returned a number of times since then, both with my parents and by ourselves, for a few hours and for a few days. It's about a 2.5 hour drive from our old home and just 1.5 hours from our current location (in good traffic). 

Over these 30+ years, there have been many changes in NOTL.  Some say it has been "Disneyfied," and it is definitely much more "commercial" than it was 20 or 30 years ago.  (It's also gotten a lot more expensive...!)  While chains were once banned in the old town, main street today includes a Starbucks as well as a Sunset Grill restaurant.  And development (both commercial & residential) along the roads leading into town  is running amok.

But the quiet smalltown charm remains, drawing hundreds, perhaps thousands of visitors every day throughout the summer months.  The town dates back to the 1700s, and was the original capital of the province of Upper Canada (what eventually became Ontario).  It survived the War of 1812 -- the Americans burned it to the ground in 1813, but it was rebuilt, and there are many beautiful old homes homes and commercial buildings from the early to mid-1800s. The town offers accommodations in a number of charming old inns, small luxury boutique hotels, and bed-and-breakfast establishments -- although, for those who prefer the tried-and-true and don't mind a bit of driving, there are now a couple of larger chain hotels a few miles outside of town near the highway (including a Hilton Garden Inn). The number of vineyards & wineries in the area has exploded since we first visited the area -- many of them world-class, most of them offering tours and tastings, and some with fine dining in onsite restaurants. There are other excellent restaurants in town, and great shopping too -- as well as a (relatively new) humungous outlet mall just outside town on the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW, the main highway between Toronto & Niagara) that offers some great shopping.  

*** *** *** 

We hadn't been back to NOTL for an overnight stay since our 20th wedding anniversary in 2005 -- or even a day visit since October 2014 -- and I decided it was time for a return trip!  

Several of the hotels I looked at were booked for the dates we wanted (at least the lower-priced rooms -- which can still be pretty expensive...!)(and whose idea was it to get married the same week as both Canada Day & the Fourth of July, not to mention the kickoff period for summer vacation??). I eventually found us accommodation at the Charles Hotel -- where we'd previously stayed back in the late 1980s/early 1990s when it was newly transformed from a private residence to an inn and called the Kiely House. We thoroughly enjoyed our stays then, and I was curious to see what had changed (& what hadn't) in the years since our last visit. 

The house that's now the hotel/inn was built in 1832 (!), and comes with tons of atmosphere and interesting architectural & decorative details, including wraparound porches, both open & screened in, that just beg to be sat on with a good book & cold drink (or a cup of tea).  There's a lovely garden, and a view of the neighbouring Niagara-on-the-Lake golf club, the oldest golf club in Canada. It's just a few blocks walk from downtown and the three Shaw Festival theatres. It's not child UNfriendly -- no doubt there are families with children that have stayed there -- (no pets allowed) -- but I would say it's definitely more of a romantic/couples kind of place. In other words, perfect for a childless couple celebrating their wedding anniversary. :)

Front entrance

Front of the house, from an angle. The patio is part of the restaurant/bar. 
Back of the inn, with a view of the golf course next door.
Dh, my parents & I stayed on the second floor 30+ years ago.
Hugely enjoyed the veranda!! 

We arrived on Thursday afternoon shortly after 3 p.m. (check in time) and found ourselves assigned to the Daisy Room, which was on the ground floor, just off of the front veranda where breakfast was served each day. The room was smallish but comfortable & nicely furnished. (Most important, perhaps, on a horribly hot & humid day, it was air conditioned!! -- all the rooms are.)

The Daisy Room.
The bathroom was large with a large, newish glassed-in shower cubicle, complete with rainforest shower head (ahhhh....!!).

Bathroom
And -- bonus!! there was a lovely little private screened-in porch for our exclusive use. It reminded me of the (much smaller) screened in porch on the side of my grandmother's house, where we used to gather in the evening to drink coffee & socialize with visiting relatives and neighbours.  I spent a couple of happy hours out there (heat & humidity be damned... ) reading and watching the people & traffic go by.

A partial view of the private screened-in porch
accessible only from our room.
I'd made us an early dinner reservation at the hotel's well-reviewed restaurant, called the HobNob, which was located in the beautiful double drawing room. We had a table near the window. There were two other tables while we dined (with more arriving as we finished), and while there was music, it wasn't too loud, so we were actually able to carry on a conversation, lol. We decided not to have appetizers, but did have dessert. :)  I had salmon while dh had chicken, and we both thought our meals were amazing -- crisp on the outside and tender on the inside.

Where we had dinner on our anniversary. 
After a most enjoyable dinner, we hiked over to the other side of town. I'd bought us theatre tickets to see "Me and My Girl" at the Shaw Festival Theatre.  I knew nothing about it, except that it was a musical.  It turned out to be a British musical from the late 1930s, the story of a Cockney guy who discovers that he's an earl, and the clash of classes & cultures that unfolds when he meets his new family. I had heard of one of the song & dance numbers, "The Lambeth Walk" -- and realized that I could sing along with another, "Leaning on a Lamppost," which was jazzed up a bit & recorded in the 1960s by my original boy band idols, Herman's Hermits (!!).  :)  Well done and thoroughly enjoyable.

We had breakfast the next morning (and the morning after that, before we left) on the veranda near our room. (Price not included with the room.)  Again, the service was great, and the food...!  We both ordered the maple cinnamon brioche French toast, which came with maple syrup, fresh fruit, potatos, sausage and bacon fried just the way I like it (crisp), and arrived piping hot.  The tea came in a proper china teapot (yay! -- no leaky metal horrors...) & dh's coffee was made fresh in a French press. He said it was great & wants to look for one for himself now. ;) The breakfast (served from 8 to 10 a.m.) was ample enough that we didn't need to eat lunch (although we did wind up having afternoon snacks later...!).

The front veranda, where breakfast was served. 
As I mentioned, Niagara is famous for its vineyards & wineries. We thought about doing a winery tour on Friday afternoon -- there are even tour companies that will pick you up, drive you around to several wineries and then take you back to your lodgings. But while dh & I enjoy the occasional glass of wine with dinner, neither of us are big drinkers (out of practice since our student days!! lol) -- we toured one winery several years ago and attended a tasting seminar, & left wondering whether dh should really be driving...!  The tour company our hotel recommended offers several different packages, most of which took you to three different wineries, where you'd sample a minimum of three wines each = approximately 9 (usually generous) samplings within a few hours (on a very hot, humid day). A glass of wine at lunchtime used to leave me relatively useless for the rest of the workday;  I figured a tour would probably do both of us in for the rest of our day in NOTL. So we decided to skip the wine tour this time around.

We also thought about going to Niagara Falls, but we've been there several times before -- it's always jammed with people, parking is horribly expensive, and the weather forecast was predicting thunderstorms.

So instead, we spent a pleasant few hours walking up & down main street and poking into the many wonderful little shops (including the Christmas store, the jam shop, and an obligatory stop at the fudge shop, which has been there since 1967). Then we drove back out toward the QEW and the outlet mall, where I picked up a new nightgown, some tops and jewelry from some of my favourite stores.

Back in town, we decided to wander back up the main street and find a place to eat dinner, without making reservations. The restaurant we chose was well rated online -- but we found it just adequate but nothing really special.  Next time, we'll try somewhere else. We did save room for dessert, and stopped for gelato at one of several gelato/ice cream shops on the main street, then strolled through Simcoe Park while we ate it.

We spent a LOT of time walking while we were in town -- it's a very walkable place.  By the time we left, though, my feet and knees were killing me....!  It was VERY hot & humid when we arrived on Thursday;  not quite as hot (but still pretty warm and still very humid) on Friday.  Although the chances of rain & thunderstorms were given as 60-70% in the forecast, we didn't get a drop. Saturday, of course, was wonderfully pleasant. Figures!!

Saturday morning, we had breakfast, took another walk around the neighbourhood, and then checked out & headed back home.

We will be back, sooner rather than later...! 

If you are in Toronto/southern Ontario, Niagara Falls is certainly a must-see. The falls themselves are spectacular (tip: Americans, get your passport & come on over to the Canadian side -- the view is better.)(And I'm not just saying that because I'm Canadian, lol.)  I'll admit I haven't actually spent much time in the town itself in recent years, but it tends to be on the kitschy/commercial/tourist-trap-ish side. A lot of my friends with children love taking their kids there to Great Wolf Lodge, Marine Land, ziplining, the wax museum, etc. (as well as the traditional Maid of the Mist boat tours & Table Rock, etc.).  There's a casino with shows & gambling, if that's your taste.

But I always urge everyone to take the drive up the Niagara Parkway and spend some time in Niagara-on-the-Lake too. You won't regret it!