Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017 Year in Review

Time for another Year in Review post for 2017! 

I started doing this year-end meme seven years ago -- and, although I feel like many of the answers don't change much from year to year, it's still a great way to look back and keep track. (All of my New Year's/Year in Review posts have now been tagged with the label "Year in Review," if you ever want an easy way to check out the older posts.)  Feel free to use the questions on your own blog (& let me know if you do!).

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

I don't really make new year's resolutions anymore -- they tend to be pretty much the same ones, year after year (although I have modified some over time, and even deleted ones that no longer apply). Here are the perennials, and the progress I made (or didn't) in 2017:   
  • Lose weight.  Alas, I am (once again) more or less the same weight as I was this time last year... I go up a few pounds, I go down, I go up again... :p 
  • Exercise more. (And hopefully lose more weight...!)  Ummm... nope. :(  Still haven't found a good walking route or gotten back into a walking routine in our new neighbourhood.  I still think about finding a yoga class at a local rec centre or yoga facility. Just need to find one and give it a try...   
  • Write more in my journal (blog??). Haven't written in my paper journal in years. As for blogging, I recently marked my 10th (!!) year in this space. I didn't post quite as many as the 150 blog entries I wrote in 2015, let alone my all-time high of 172 in 2008, my first full year of blogging. But I still scratched out a very respectable 138 posts (including this one), which is slightly more than last year's 133, and averages out to about 11.5 posts per month. I'm satisfied. :)
  • Read more of the books that have piled up around the house. (Need to do better at this... the faster I read, the more I buy, it seems... yikes!) I set myself a goal of 24 books read in 2017 (via the Goodreads reading challenge -- the same as last year). Unlike 2016, however, I did not reach my goal, falling quite short with just 17 books or 71% of my goal. (All books read were reviewed on this blog under the tag "2017 books.")  Better luck next year??  Despite not reaching my goal, 24 books/2 per month seems to be realistic & do-able (although I would certainly like to read more), so I will probably set that target again for this year. 
  • Keep the clutter at bay.  (Goal slightly reworded from previous years.) Having downsized from a 1,200 square foot, three-bedroom house (not including basement, garage & garden shed) to an 875-square-foot condo (plus one not-very-big storage locker) in 2016, there's a lot less clutter than there used to be (still some -- but definitely not as much...!) -- and I think I've done a relatively good job at not adding to it too much since we moved. (With the possible exception of my book collection...!).  
  • Start a scrapbook for dh & me (that will hopefully be finished in time for our 25th anniversary in 2010).  Finish the nephews' books. And maybe (finally) start Katie's, too. Sadly, I have not done any scrapbooking since fall 2009. And I donated the bulk of my scrapbooking supplies, including most of my substantial collection of pretty patterned paper, to the thrift store before we moved (sob!).  I did keep all my unfinished projects, tools & a few other things, though. (They are sitting in a couple of plastic bins down in the storage locker.) So who knows, I may pick it up again at some point in the future...    
2. What did you do in 2017 that you’d never done before?

Had a root canal -- an experience I wouldn't care to repeat...!  

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

Not close-close. The closest would be dh's cousin's daughter (she had a girl -- her FOURTH baby in under 7 years!!) & SIL's niece (she had a boy).   

4. Did anyone close to you die?

While I attended WAY too many funerals/visitations this year (I lost count at six), most of them were for people we weren't directly related to -- inlaws & relatives of dh's cousins, a friend of FIL's, stepMIL's 96-year-old father. The sad exception was our hairdresser of 15+ years, who was married to a childhood buddy of dh's (he was an usher at their wedding).  She was diagnosed with cancer early in 2017 and died seven months later at the far-too-young age of 55. :(   I think of her often.  

And while they weren't "close," musicians and other influential public figures from my youth continued to drop like flies :(  -- including George Michael (at Christmastime last year), Kenny Shields of Streetheart, Walter Becker of Steely Dan, Gregg Allman, Tom Petty, Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, Malcolm Young of AC/DC, and saddest of all for me, David Cassidy. :(  

5. What countries did you visit?

We did not leave the country in 2017.  (While the United States is less than a two-hour drive away, I have to admit, I have no great desire to cross the border while you-know-who is in charge...)  Aside from our usual summer & Christmas trips west to see my family, we spent our wedding anniversary in Niagara-on-the-Lake (Ontario), and three fun (but too short) days/two nights in Ottawa, our national capital, with dh, BIL & SIL.   

6. What would you like to have in 2018 that you lacked in 2017?

Better health...fewer dental issues!!  (lol -- see #2 & #10). Although compared to many people, I definitely don't have a lot to complain about...!   

7. What date(s) from 2017 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

None immediately spring to mind...? 

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Continuing to roll with the punches...!  

9. What was your biggest failure?

Over the past several years, I've said, "Not speaking my mind enough, and drifting instead of taking the initiative to get things done that I wanted to do." I think that still applies. :p   

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Dental problems in the spring, and gallstones continued to bother me on & off throughout the year. I'm considering having them removed in the new year. And I got a bad cold just after Christmas, the first one in quite a while. I am still sniffling my way through that...! :p  

11. What was the best thing you bought?

A membership to a world-famous local art gallery, that has already paid for itself in visits & enjoyment.  New coffee table & end tables to match the other pieces of furniture we bought last year. Another kick-ass dress to wear to Younger Nephew's wedding this coming spring. :)  

12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?

Princes William & Harry, and Duchess Kate of England, for speaking out about mental health, including their own challenges & experiences. Also Prince Harry for his work with the Invictus Games (which were here in Toronto).  AND -- for proposing to Meghan Markle, and giving us another royal wedding to look forward to!  ;)  

13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed? 

(Surprise!!) The Donald & Co. It still boggles the mind that he was elected president. 

The former property managers of our building, now removed & replaced. Let's just say it was for good reason. :p  

14. Where did most of your money go?

Beyond usual expenses -- and books, lol -- dental work!!  We realized after the fact that the dental benefits package we selected did not include crowns, and only partly covered my root canal.  (Universal health care in Canada does NOT include dental work!)  We maxxed our benefits out pretty quickly & had to pay the rest out of pocket. Ugh. 

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

Our Ottawa trip. :) 

16. What song will always remind you of 2017?

I don't pay much attention to popular music these days... but I've heard Shania Twain's latest song, "Life's About to Get Good" a few times, and it has stuck with me. I'm not a huge country music fan, but I have always admired her. For one thing, she's Canadian; for another, she's not that much younger than I am (!), and for another, she has survived a ton of crap in her life. (See my thoughts about her memoir, here and here.) I love her resilience and optimism in this song & in her life. :)  

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

About the same, for all three.    

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

Travelling. But there's always next year... 

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

As I've said before, "Worrying. It never does much good anyway..."  

20. How did you spend Christmas? 

As usual, we spent Christmas with my family on the Canadian Prairies. Recent post here

21. Did you fall in love in 2017? 


22. What was your favorite TV program?

Poldark continued to enchant, albeit with a limited run. We got Netflix this summer, & I loved "The Crown" (both seasons) and "The Keepers."  I still love The Big Bang Theory, & Bob's Burgers. 

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


24. What was the best book you read? 

While I didn't read a huge amount of books this year (see #1), most of the ones I did read were pretty good.  As in past years, there were more novels by my old favourite, D.E. Stevenson;  re-reads of some of the Poldark novels by Winston Graham (corresponding with recent/upcoming seasons of the BBC/PBS TV series). :)  But, as usual, I read a lot more non-fiction than fiction.

It's very hard for me to pick a single book as "the best," but I think I would probably have to pick "The Rules Do Not Apply" by Ariel Levy, a short but stunning memoir of pregnancy loss and how it affected the author's life. Other contenders would have to include
25. What was your greatest musical discovery?

As in the past, I must admit, I don't listen to a lot of new music. 

26. What did you want and get?

See #11.  I also asked for, and got, a new Kobo e-reader for Christmas (my old one was 7 years old and a dinosaur by comparison), and a new blowdryer for my hair. I don't use one every day -- I generally let my hair dry naturally -- but there are times when it's -20C outside & I need to go out and my hair is still damp. And I think I'm safe in saying that my previous blowdryer was older than a few of the readers of this blog (yikes!!). ;)  

27. What did you want and not get?

Still waiting on that sunspot vacation. ;)  And more travel in general. I was also thinking about getting a new laptop. There's really not anything wrong with mine, other than that it's 7 years old, the battery is shot, and it's a little heavy to lug around on trips -- there are lighter weight models available now. We'll see for 2018.  

28. What was your favourite film of this year? 

We saw 16 movies in the theatres in 2017 (as compared to 16 in 2016 and 23 in 2015)(listed here in the order we saw them in):  Rogue One, LaLa Land, Hidden Figures, The Shack, Going in Style, Maudie, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. II, Snatched, Wonder Woman, Despicable Me 3, The Big Sick, Logan Lucky, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Victoria & Abdul, Murder on the Orient Express, and Thor: Ragnarok. As with books, it's hard to pick a favourite -- we enjoyed them all -- although some were definitely better than others. These would include Rogue One, LaLa Land, Hidden Figures, Maudie, Wonder Woman, The Big Sick, Logan Lucky (surprisingly entertaining) and Thor:Ragnarok. I'm not much into superheroes and I'd never seen a standalone Thor movie before (although I've seen all the Avengers ensemble movies), but this one was pretty good -- funny, even. :)   

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

I was 56 -- we went out for dinner, and then BIL, SIL, both nephews & their girlfriends/fiancees AND the dog came to our condo for cake & coffee!   

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

A little more meaningful human contact with adults other than dh. (And my dentist, lol.) . 

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2017? 

It hasn't changed much in recent years.  Since retirement, I spend most of my days in yoga pants (or shorts, in the summer) & T-shirts, lol.  Lots of Old Navy. ;) 

32. What kept you sane?

A good mixture of downtime and getting out of the house.  

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

See #12. 

34. What political issue stirred you the most?

As I said when answering this question last year, the whole issue of freedom of the press is very near & dear to my heart. (I went to journalism school, worked on a smalltown weekly paper before I got married, and thereafter spent 28 years in corporate communications.)  It's more fashionable than ever to bash "the media"  (led by you-know-who in Washington) -- but I firmly believe that most journalists and mainstream media outlets have honorable intentions and strive to get the facts and get the story right. That said, journalists are human -- mistakes get made. Stories evolve, and the truth and our understanding of it often emerges slowly -- particularly when others are trying to cover it up and hinder investigations. Carl Bernstein, one of my personal journalist heroes, often talks about how journalists strive to uncover "the best obtainable version of the truth." I think that's a great way to describe it.  

The other political issue that is near & dear to my heart is the whole issue of equality and women's rights, which are (once again) under threat. The Women's March last January was one of the most inspiring and heartening things I've witnessed in a long, long time, followed by the explosion of the #MeToo movement later in the year. Long may this long-overdue progress continue! 

35. Who did you miss? 

I never stop missing my daughter, and my grandparents. 

I miss our old hairdresser, N. (see #4).   

The Little Princesses. Getting to see them just twice a year sucks. :p Time goes by too quickly, and they are growing up way too fast. :( 

On a similar note, I sometimes miss the adorable little guys our nephews used to be. They're still adorable, of course ;)  but they're hardly little anymore -- both in their mid/late 20s, 6 feet tall or more, and married/engaged. The years went by in a flash. They were 6 and 9 when we lost Katie, and 9 and 12 when we made the decision to stop pursuing fertility treatments.  As I've said before, I think we've been a pretty good aunt & uncle to them... but there are things we could have done with and for them, but didn't, because we assumed we'd be doing them with our own kids someday. If I could have a do-over, I'd invite them for more sleepovers, more cookie-baking & decorating sessions. I'd take them on more trips to the zoo and the amusement park. I'd have them over more often to carve Halloween pumpkins & dye Easter eggs. I'd attend more baseball games and karate demonstrations, and make the trip to accompany them trick or treating on Halloween when it fell on a weekend. (Maybe with the great-nieces and nephews to (hopefully?) come?) 

36. Who was the best new person you met?

I really haven't met an awful lot of new people lately;  at least, none that I see often. I would love to have a good different answer to this question in 2018. 

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2017. 

Take care of your teeth -- seriously!  I wish I'd started flossing years earlier (although I don't think anyone even knew what dental floss was when I was a kid.) Believe me, it's better (& less expensive) than a root canal, lol.  ;)  

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

With illusions of someday
Cast in a golden light
No dress rehearsal
This is our life

("Ahead by a Century" by the Tragically Hip) 

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Christmas traditions

Mel was asking about our Christmas traditions. Here are some of my family's. They have evolved a bit over the years.

Christmas Eve is probably the bigger of the two days for my family.  We used to get all dressed up when I was a kid -- dresses for the girls & women, suits for the men. THAT has definitely gone by the wayside!!  although I still wear a dressy sweater or top and put on makeup etc. (My sister's boyfriend wears shorts & a T-shirt, which I think is taking informality a bit TOO far....)

When my mother was a kid, Christmas Eve dinner was lutefisk, as per her mother's Swedish family traditions. The lutefisk had been replaced by ham when I was kid (thank goodness!!), but in recent memory, we've been eating pan-fried pickerel fillets. This year, however, there was absolutely no pickerel to be had -- my dad's regular supplier had none (the lake wasn't frozen over yet) & they wanted a ridiculous $20/pound at the fish market in the city. So it was back to ham, lol.  Christmas Day dinner is always, always, always turkey with mashed potatos & gravy and my mother's wonderful homemade stuffing (made with seasoned bread cubes, apples, celery, onions and raisins). As a nod to my Dad's Ukrainian family (& because we all love it), we always have perogies as part of our Christmas Eve & cabbage rolls/holubtsi on Christmas Day. There are various veggies & salads that have become part of the traditional menu, and it's my job to put together a goodie/sweet tray to nibble on after dinner while we're opening presents. Usually that includes butter tarts, two kinds of shortbread cookies (all homemade) & Nanaimo bars (which we have made in the past, but now buy at the store).

For awhile, and as a break from turkey leftovers, dh & I would make lasagna for everyone for dinner on Boxing Day, but my tomato allergies put an end to that.  So in recent years, we've often had ham or ribs instead. Or leftovers. ;)

We open our family presents on Christmas Eve after dinner.  When we were kids, we were allowed (after MUCH begging) to open ONE present before dinner. The rest had to wait until the dishes were done (great incentive to get us to pitch in and help!! lol -- and no dishwashers back in those days...).  We take turns opening gifts, one by one, starting from youngest to oldest. (You open one gift, then the next person opens one of theirs, & round we go until everyone has opened all their gifts. Makes Christmas last longer.) 

Before we go to bed, everyone has to pose for a photo in front of the tree with their stockings (and we ALL have stockings -- my sister & I take turns filling mom's & dad's) before we "hang" then up. (When we were kids, my sister & I would be photographed together -- these days, we do it with our respective partners.) Aside from my parents' tiny newlywed apartment, we have never lived in a place with a fireplace, so we don't actually hang them up -- we just put them under & around the tree. My sister & I have and still use our similar felt stockings (mine is green, hers is red) that were handmade by one of my Grandma's neighbours when we were babies. Stockings get opened the same way as the Christmas Eve presents, youngest to oldest. We generally wait until PND & family come over to open them. And my mother insists we have to wait until AFTER the turkey goes into the oven.

Growing up, we would always go to church either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. I found church too difficult after we lost Katie ("Away in a Manger" would just about kill me...), so my attendance since then has been sporadic. I don't think any of us, even my mother, has attended church on Christmas Eve or Day in recent years, particularly since the Little Princesses came along. If church was in the early evening on Christmas Eve, we'd have to rush supper to get there on time (if you didn't go to church, you had to do cleanup) & then wait until everyone came back to open presents -- or if there was a midnight service, we'd have to make sure we were done opening gifts well in advance, and then it would get to be really late. Likewise, attending church on Christmas morning meant getting up extra early to get the turkey ready & into the oven. Just too much going on and too much to do.

After dinner on Christmas Day &/or Boxing Day, there is usually a card game.

Dh & I have travelled to spend Christmas with my family every year since we were married -- but we have developed a few traditions of our own:
  • We have our own (artificial) tree (now pre-lit), with a large & still growing collection of ornaments, many of them Katie-related
  • I have a felt advent calendar that I picked up years ago. there's a green tree on a red background with gold grommets on it. The 24 pockets below the tree contain little felt "ornaments" -- a teddy bear, a Santa, a sleigh, a candle...  I add a new ornament to the tree every day until we leave, and then I add all the remaining ones on the morning before we go. 
  • We often take a drive around the neighbourhood at least once to look at the light displays. 
  • Oldest Nephew has a mid-December birthday, and we haven't missed one yet. That has become our defacto Christmas celebration/get-together with dh's family.
  • I still send out Christmas cards, and collect the ones I get in a basket that's been spray-painted gold. Photo cards go up on the refrigerator with magnets. 
  • Since my best friend at work retired in 2006 (!), she, I & our boss have made it a tradition to meet for a pre-Christmas lunch, usually at a British-style pub close to the office. All three of us are retired now, and live anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours-plus from downtown Toronto, but we haven't missed a Christmas lunch yet. 
  • Being both part Ukrainian and Swedish, I feel entitled to leave my tree and other decorations up until after Ukrainian Christmas (Jan. 6-7), if not until St. Knut's Day (Jan. 13), which supposedly is the day Swedes traditionally take down their trees and eat up the leftover Christmas cookies and other goodies. ;)  I usually don't make it that far, although I almost always do keep the tree up until after New Year's. 
More Christmas-related posts from over the years here

Friday, December 29, 2017

Christmas review

The Good: 

  • I got to spend time with my parents, sister (who had time off work and was there almost the entire time we were) & her boyfriend. Lots of laughs, lots of card games & dominos. 
  • We also got to spend time with Parents' Neighbours' Daughter (PND) & her two little girls (i.e., the Little Princesses). Not quite as much as we'd hoped, perhaps -- they were still in school for the first while we were there -- but we still saw a good deal of them. The family was with us for dinner & presents/stockings on both Christmas Eve & Day.  The girls were so excited, & it was fun to have them around & see their reactions to their presents. They were tracking Santa on an app on their Mom's phone, and when it looked like he was getting a little too close for comfort, the three-year-old insisted, "MOM!!  You have to start the car RIGHT NOW!!  We have to get home to bed before Santa comes!!" (lol)   
  • Remember when I wrote about a white Christmas being practically guaranteed where my parents live? The streak continues...! 
  • Lots of great food to eat -- my parents are both great cooks and make an excellent turkey dinner with all the trimmings. Among other things, we also had ham for dinner on one night and ribs on another. My dad also bought himself a new "toy" -- a waffle iron -- the last time they were in the States and made us waffles with strawberries & whipped cream for brunch one morning. There were lots of perogies & cabbage rolls/holuptsi (traditional Ukrainian fare), and lots of shortbread & butter tarts. 
  • Despite an agreement to limit spending, I still got some nice presents for Christmas, including a new Kobo e-reader from dh (we figured spouses were exempt from the limit, lol -- and my old one was a near-original from 2010, so I figured I was due for an upgrade...!).  

The Not-So-Good: 

  • My parents' Internet service is not exactly high-speed -- and when you have six adults in the house, most of them using one or more electronic devices.... it's SLLLLOOOOOWWWWW.  So frustrating!  
  • My mother has banned laptops from her dining room table, and my sister was often sitting on the couch in the basement with HER laptop, meaning there weren't many places where I could sit down, plug in & play/write on my computer.  (And whenever I did, I would inevitably get called away.)  I can read on my phone, but I find it difficult to type more than a sentence or two on it.  
  • My parents, at almost 77 and 78, still do pretty well -- but there is no doubt they are aging and slowing down. Last year, my mother was sick at Christmas. This year, my father (who does most of the cooking these days), banged his elbow just before we arrived and developed painful bursitis -- on top of an already-sore shoulder on the same side. He still stubbornly persisted in doing stuff... but even he had to admit defeat a few times & ask for help.  
    • This mean the rest of us (no spring chickens ourselves) had to step up & pitch in even more than usual, with everything from decorating (strings of lights on trees and garlands kept burning out, adding to the stuff to be done) & gift wrapping, to food prep (chopping celery, onions & apples for the stuffing, getting stuff out of the chest freezer, helping Mom stuff the turkey) and cleanup, to making & baking spritz cookies with my Grandma's recipe and Mom's antique cookie press, to snow removal to just helping Dad get his jacket on & off.  
  • The Little Princesses are adorable and lots of fun... but they are also EXHAUSTING. My mother complains when they haven't been around... but then when they do come around, she finds them too noisy and rambunctious. She bemoans the damage done to her carpet, her coffee table, her prized Willow Tree Nativity set (the Little Princesses are fascinated by it).  
    • It made me wonder whether she would have been similarly impatient with/critical of MY child. Then I realized that MY "child" would be 19 years old now -- and would have been a baby/toddler when my mother was much younger and (presumably?) more flexible and able to cope with disruption to her life and routines. (In fact, not that much older than I am right now.... eeekkkkk...) SIGH.  
  • All of the above also meant that I am waaayyyyyyyy behind on my blog reading & writing. Trying to catch up now, but I may have missed some of your news. 
  • I also did not get one book read while I was away. (I started one, but have not yet finished it.)  So much for my 2017 Goodreads reading challenge....!  :p 
  • It was a white Christmas (with some fresh snow while we were there) -- but it was also very, very COLD -- the coldest Christmas in 20 years in that area. 
    • How cold was it? I don't think the temperature went above 0C the entire time we were there, and it was often much colder, with highs in the -20C range, overnight lows of close to -30C, and windchill values that reached -40C one morning.  I did not leave the house for four full days. 

The Bad: 

  • PND, her hubby, & the two Little Princesses were all sick or just getting over it when we first got there. And then passed along their germs to me, as well as my sister & her partner. :p  The fact that I was utterly exhausted from all the holiday prep & cleanup work probably didn't help matters. I started getting a scratchy throat late on Boxing Day and by the time we flew home yesterday, I'd added a stuffy, drippy nose to the mix. :p  Flying, of course, did not help the situation. :p  I haven't had a bad cold like this in quite a while. (One of the perqs of both childless living & retirement -- less contact with germy people & situations, lol.)  
  • To make matters worse, as a belated Christmas present (??), Aunt Flo decided to grace me with her presence, after a record-breaking 146-day absence. (It was fun while it lasted...)  So I'm back to square one in terms of counting down to official menopause (i.e., a full year's absence). At almost age 57. (!!)  
  • We got to the airport yesterday in plenty of time (despite my mother, for whom "punctuality" is a dirty word, and who is never ready less than 20-30 minutes LATER than you tell her you need to be walking out the door...!), but getting on the plane was another matter. As we entered the security screening area, I was pulled aside and asked to submit my purse for inspection (including swabbing for explosives).  I was required to take off my boots before going through the main screening zone (dh was not -- mine had metal embellishments, which might be one reason). And something (still) set off the metal detector as I walked through, so I had to submit to a full body scan followed by a partial patdown, in which I was asked to show the bottoms of my feet to the security guard (desperately hoping there weren't any holes in my socks...!).  Not sure exactly what the issue was, but I was eventually sent on my way. 
  • Our flight was completely full, with many people trying to make connections in Toronto to points south. Despite the pleas of the flight attendants at the gate for volunteers to check carry-on luggage, the overhead bins were already jammed full by the time dh & I boarded (& we were by no means among the last people on the plane). We wound up having to put our own carry-on items under the seats in front of us and sit with our bulky winter coats draped over our shoulders.  So much for the premium we paid to get seats with more leg room...!  As we left the plane, we heard shouts of  "Excuse me!!" behind us as an entire family of five (three children) raced past by (presumably on their way to a connecting flight), each of them towing a wheeled carry-on-sized suitcase behind them. Grrrrrr.... 
So... how was your Christmas?? 

Friday, December 22, 2017

Twas the Friday before Christmas...

I know, it's been a while (or at least it seems that way)... let's just say I've been busy, time on the laptop has been limited, and my writing mojo has been seriously lacking. On the other hand, it's a good kind of busy. We are here at my parents' house in the Land of White Christmas (Practically) Guaranteed, where today's temps are -10C, windchill -16C, and it's about to get even colder over the next few days. (Forecast for Christmas Day:  a high of -24C and an overnight low of -32C.)  Parents' Neighbours' Daughter and the Little Princesses have been in school this week, so we haven't seen too much of them (yet), but that all should change after today. ;)  My sister is here and we've been helping our parents get ready... trying, anyway. ;)  Both the trees are decorated, most of the gifts are wrapped, and there are butter tarts, one kind of shortbread (with a second kind possibly in the works) and a pumpkin pie in the freezer. There have been arguments and a lot of eye rolls -- but a lot of laughs too. (And a lot of great eating. ;)  )   My parents (78 & almost 77) are definitely slowing down... but they are here, and I am so thankful for that. 

I will be back post-Christmas with some year-end posts (if not before then). Whether or not you're celebrating, I hope the next few weeks bring you peace & joy. :)  

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Please, put yourself in the picture!

This is a topic I've written about before over the years, but it bears repeating.  :) 

I have childless-not-by-choice friends who, even years after their loss, find the annual onslaught of holiday photo cards of adorable children, and/or cards with photos in them, unbearable.  Some cannot fathom WHY people would send them photo of their kids, when they know (or should know) how hurtful it is to them.

Getting photos of other people's kids does not bother me. (Mostly.) It might have, early on, and especially when the babies/kids were the same age as my daughter might have been. And I will admit to the occasional twinge when I see how grown-up my peers' kids have become -- and how adorable their grandkids are.  Still, by and large, I enjoy getting to see family photos at Christmastime. 

But, as this year's batch of cards started arriving in my mailbox a week or two ago, I was reminded of something that does bother me about them. 

Exhibit A:  A photo card from a couple that we met through our support group... they came to us after the stillbirth of their baby girl (who would be in her teens now, yikes!). They subsequently went on to have three boys (yikes again!! lol). The mom wrote us a lovely note on the back about how knowing us has enriched their lives (aww).  The photo is of the three boys. (Fine.) 

But it's signed "Love, A, B & C" (boys' names). No mention of Y & Z (the parents).   

Exhibit B:  Another photo card, this time from one of my (male) cousins, his wife & their two boys (the oldest is the same age Katie would have been).  It's one of those two-sided photo cards with one photo on the front of the two boys, & multiple photos on the back:  more photos of the boys (together & individually), a photo of the family dog, and even a photo of my cousin.

But the wife/mom (who presumably designed & sent the card) is nowhere to be seen.

I have a friend who has faithfully sent me her kids' school photos every year for the past 20 years. (Not sure whether I'm getting any this year, as her daughter is now finished high school.)  I haven't seen this friend, in real life or in photos, for about 30 years. Would I even recognize her if I passed her on the street now?? (Which isn't likely, as she lives on the other side of the country, but you get my drift...). 

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I don't mind getting photos of people's kids. I LIKE getting photos. But it would be nice to see at least SOME photos that include the whole family. I know we all like to prattle on about how "Christmas is for kids," and "Family comes first," but seriously, women are people and part of the family too. We deserve a place in the family photo card.

I understand this pattern isn't all about women putting their kids before themselves, about their individual identities being subsumed by motherhood. Quite simply, most women don't like having their photo taken, and are more than happy to let the kids take the spotlight. And even when we do pose for a photo, we are hypercritical about the resulting image. I am guilty of this myself.  (My grandmother had an easy solution: whenever she saw a photo of herself she didn't like, she would, quite literally, cut herself out of it. Grab a pair of scissors and snip! -- pre-digital, of course, lol.) 

But photos are precious. They capture moments in time. And there are only so many opportunities we have to take them. I can't tell you how many stories I've heard about people who have lost their mom/grandma/sister, went looking for some recent photos to display at the funeral -- and found, to their dismay, how very few existed. Partly for the reasons I mentioned before, but also because moms/grandmas/aunties are usually the ones behind the camera, taking photos of everyone else, right? I am guilty of this myself, too. Partly because I enjoy taking photos, partly (yes) because taking photos means I don't have to be in them (lol) but also (I've come to realize) because taking photos gives me something to do in awkward &/or painful social situations like baby showers and kids' birthday parties. If I'm taking photos, I don't have to sit & listen (as much) to the other women chat about babies and pregnancies and grandkids, or answer painful questions about why I don't have any myself. 

Those of us without kids often fear being forgotten... but it's a whole lot more likely to happen if we don't leave any photos & stories behind to help people remember who were are/were and what we look(ed) like.

So this Christmas, whether you have kids or not, resolve to hand the camera over (or get a selfie stick... or make friends with the self-timer feature) and get yourself in the picture. :) 

Monday, December 11, 2017

#MicroblogMondays: White Christmas

Right now, it is -5C with a windchill of -12C (that is 23F and 11F for those of you south of the border) -- and it's snowing outside. We've had a few flakes in the air over the past few weeks, but nothing that's stuck. I think that's about to change. ;)  And in my humble opinion, it's about time. ;)  After all, Christmas is just two weeks away! 

I was talking to my mother last night, and she said there's very little snow on the ground there so far -- although that is very likely to change by the time the big day arrives. December here in southern Ontario can often be green (if not particularly warm) -- but I have spent every Christmas of my life with my family, on the Canadian Prairies where I grew up, where a white Christmas is practically guaranteed. I can only remember two Christmases where we didn't have snow on the ground. The last time was in 1997 -- my beloved grandfather was still alive then (although he was gone by the next Christmas :(  ). He was then 85 years old, and my mother asked if he could remember another Christmas without snow. He couldn't. 

I know a lot of people moan and groan about the snow and cold -- and believe me, it does get pretty old by the time it disappears, usually sometime in March. (I loathe February and would happily accept a trip to the Caribbean or Florida or Hawaii then.) 

But I can't imagine Christmas without snow.  I've often said that if I ran the universe, it would start snowing on Dec. 1st, and then all the snow would magically disappear around Jan. 31st. 

How about you?  Is it usually a white Christmas where you live? 

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

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

He's baaaaccckkkk....

It's that time of year again... The Elf on the Shelf has taken my social media feeds hostage. :p

I expressed my loathing of the Elf in a post four Decembers ago ("Elf Yourself") -- and the passage of time has not softened my opinion. (With the possible exception of some of the more, shall we say, "adult" variations on the theme that I've seen & heard about that cracked me up, lol.)

If you have kids, do you also have an Elf on the Shelf? And if you're childless like me, are you as relieved as I am that you're not under pressure to take part and add one more thing to your daily to-do list, at an already-stressful and hectic time of year?? 

(Maybe this should have been my #MicroblogMondays post this week??  lol)

Monday, December 4, 2017

#MicroblogMondays: Brushing up my routine

I am so old-fashioned/analog sometimes. While I am grateful for all the modern conveniences we enjoy, I sometimes wonder whether all the gadgets we have complicate life unnecessarily. instead of making things easier.

Here's one example: toothbrushes.  When our former dentist retired about 10 years ago (he was in his EIGHTIES -- was a WWII vet who graduated from dentistry school in the early 1950s, & had been dh's dentist since he was six years old!!), the new dentist he sold his practice to presented us with fancy rechargeable electric toothbrushes (with charging cords & holders/cases that could be mounted on the wall) as "welcome to the practice" gifts on our first visit. It was a pretty nice freebie, I will admit -- but they were big clunky things and just looking at them and all the accessories & the tiny type of the included instruction booklet intimidated me. I'm a little embarrassed to say we never used them.

The hygienists kept asking us if we were using electric toothbrushes, though, and continued to recommend that we give them a try, saying they did a much better job of removing plaque. About 10-15 years ago, I saw some cheaper, smaller & less intimidating battery-powered brushes at the drugstore, so I bought us each one.  We gave them the old college try. No question, using it made my teeth feel smooth & polished in a way my manual brush never could.

But I couldn't help feeling like something was... missing. I knew my teeth were probably clean, but I didn't feel like I had DONE anything to them, KWIM??  I'd been brushing my teeth the same way, with a manual brush, since I was a toddler, and old habits die hard. Gradually, we both drifted back to using our manual brushes. 

We were back at the dentist last week for checkups & cleanings. Since our last visit six months ago, my teeth had inexplicably developed some embarrassingly bad stains, including a stain right on one of my front teeth that made me embarrassed to even open my mouth, let alone smile. Brushing vigorously with some baking soda had helped remove some, but not all of the stain. 

Thankfully, the hygienist was able to clean it up with a minimum of scraping & polishing. She asked if I was doing anything different with my diet (I drink tea every day, but I hadn't been drinking any more than usual) or whether I was using any new products on my teeth. I was: at my last visit, she'd noticed some inflammation of the gums around a recently installed crown, and recommended I use an antiseptic mouthwash to counter it. She told me she & the other hygienists have noticed that, in a small segment of the population (which OF COURSE would include me...!), certain kinds of mouthwash seem to increase the incidence of stains on teeth. Go figure. You think you're solving one problem, but in the process, you're creating another...!

She encouraged me to try a different mouthwash formula. And (just guess!) to use my electric toothbrush. 

Younger Nephew's wedding is coming up in a few months -- before our next checkup -- and I certainly don't want to have to hide my smile that day. :)  So I've switched to a different kind of mouthwash, to see if that helps -- and I fished my old electric toothbrush out of a dusty drawer. It still worked;  didn't even need a new battery.

And after I use it, I give my teeth a quick going-over with my manual toothbrush too. I figure it doesn't hurt -- and it makes me feel better somehow. :)  Maybe doing both will help me stick to the new routine this time around.

How about you?  -- Electric/power or manual toothbrush? 

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

Friday, December 1, 2017

Right now

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

Not believing: It's December!!  A little over three weeks to Christmas (and less than that until we travel to be with my family).... eeekkkk.....

Counting: The days until we head out to spend Christmas with my family. (And the days I have left to get my shopping done before then...!) 

Redecorating: Katie's niche at the cemetery. We visited there today and swapped the fall-themed decorations for Christmasy ones. 

Reading:  I just bought & started Jann Arden's new book, "Feeding My Mother," which appears to be part cookbook & partly the story of dealing with her mother's Alzheimer's disease. Jann is a national treasure here in  Canada -- a multi-talented singer/songwriter, writer & media personality (to name a few of the hats that she wears). I was lucky enough to hear her speak earlier this year, and adored her earlier memoir about growing up in rural Alberta, "Falling Backwards" (reviewed here).  

Margaret Atwood's "Alias Grace"  (and the TV miniseries adaptation) are still on my to read/view list. 

(Some) other recent purchases/additions to the TBR pile (!):  

(Very much doubting: Whether I am going to meet my goal of reading 24 books in 2017... although I still have a few weeks to go, & I do usually manage to cram in a few books over the Christmas holidays...! I have finished 17 so far;  Goodreads helpfully informs that is 4 behind schedule...!)  

Watching:  Lots of figure skating on the weekends (Grand Prix events;  final coming up shortly). Still watching "Designated Survivor," although more out of habit than anything else (season 1 was much more exciting).  Looking forward to a binge session of season 2 of "The Crown" on Netflix shortly...!  ;)  

Eating:  Very carefully these days, after one too many bouts of gallstone discomfort lately. :p  Hoping to get through Younger Nephew's wedding this spring, and then will talk with my dr about the pros & cons of possible gallbladder removal surgery. 

Drinking: Chamomile tea or ginger ale, when my gallbladder starts acting up. 

Listening:  Christmas music! :)  We are hoping to put up & decorate our Christmas tree this weekend... our usual soundtrack for that activity includes: "A Charlie Brown Christmas" by Vince Guaraldi;  "A Merrie Christmas to You" by Blue Rodeo (beloved Canadian country-rock band) and "Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas" by Ella Fitzgerald. 

Wearing:  My new/recently purchased down winter jacket.... wonderfully lightweight yet still warm. (I kept my older, heavier jacket for really cold days, extended time outdoors & Christmas visits home.)  It looks really cute on me too. ;)  The (quite literal??) downside?  Little feathers. Everywhere. All over my clothes & the seat of the car where I sit. Yikes!!  (I've never had a down jacket before -- is this normal??) 

Buying (besides books, lol):  Christmas gifts!!  The Little Princesses will each be getting an outfit and a new pair of PJs from Gymboree (same designs, different colours), as well as two fondly remembered books from my own childhood: "Ramona the Pest" & "Beezus & Ramona" by Beverly Cleary. 

(Still) wondering:  If/when Aunt Flo will make her next appearance... it's now day 118 (and counting...!).  Technically, I am about 1/3 of the way to 365 days = officially being in menopause. 

Hoping: For a decent's night's sleep, one of these days... :p  

Enduring:  The endless roadwork on the highway that runs directly in front of our building. Traffic here is nuts enough as it is, and this just makes it worse (if such a thing is possible...!).  

Looking forward: To another royal wedding (as well as William & Kate's royal baby!) in the spring! :) 

Feeling:  Startled to realize that it's actually December, a little stressed by my to-do list, but happy the Christmas season is finally here!  

Monday, November 27, 2017

#MicroblogMondays: Royal engagement (pass the Kleenex...)

I was out most of today, but before I left this morning, I caught the announcement of Prince Harry's engagement to Meghan Markle, and their brief photo op at Kensington Palace. (I plan to watch the TV interview later.)  Much to my surprise (and dh's bemusement), I found myself getting emotional and wiping my eyes as I watched the happy couple give huge smiles for the cameras, show off Meghan's ring, and then exit, arm in arm.

"Why are you crying??" dh asked.  I couldn't quite explain -- I wasn't quite sure myself. But when I thought about it, I could think of several reasons why I might have reacted the way I did.

First, I love royal weddings (who doesn't??) -- I don't think I've missed one since Princess Anne's (her first marriage in 1973, when I was 12). Another wedding, another link in the chain extending back into my past.

Then I realized just how long I've been watching royal weddings (eek), and how many. And I suddenly felt very old. :p

I thought about Harry's parents' wedding, and everything that came after that -- and how happy Diana would have been to see this day. Diana was the same age I am -- meaning that, in a different life, Harry could have been my son. (Gulp.) I thought, briefly, about my own little girl, who will never be a bride, and the lifetime of milestones that we've missed out on with her.

I thought about how, not that very long ago, a marriage between a British royal prince and a divorced, biracial American actress could never have happened. I thought about King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, and Princess Margaret & Peter Townsend, and how far we have come since those days.

And I guess I was happy to see Harry happy, and finally find the right girl, after several previous romances didn't work out.

(And, quite possibly, I'm just a sentimental sap, lol.)

Congratulations to the happy couple! :)

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

Friday, November 24, 2017

Odds & ends: The aches & pains edition ;)

  • American Thanksgiving is always kind of an odd day to be online, when you're a Canadian and already had your turkey and pumpkin pie and declarations of gratitude a month & a half ago. I kept refreshing my tab pages yesterday for new Facebook and message board & blog posts that never popped up, people south of the border being otherwise occupied with food, family & football. ;)  It suppose it's a little how non-Christians might feel on Christmas Day. ;)  
  • I banged my head on Wednesday afternoon -- I bent over to pick something up as we were going into a store -- and brought my head up on the handle of an automatic door that was closing.  OW.  
    • I'm feeling a lot better today, although it still aches now & then.  
    • Besides an ice pack and ibuprofen when we got home, I decided to try the Peppermint Halo essential oils roller by Saje, which is supposed to work miracles on headaches.  I don't know if it really helped, or if the minty tingling just distracted me (lol), but it did feel good & smell nice. 
    • This is not the first time this has happened to me (although it's far from the worst):  
      • (1) The first time I remember being hit in the head was by a neighbourhood kid with a baseball bat (accidentally) when I was about 6 or 7.  I remember crying and going home -- but kids are resilient, and hey, I was walking and talking, so I guess I was fine. 
      • (2) The second time was when I was 18 & the car I was in -- being driven by my friend's dad -- was rear-ended, giving both her & me whiplash, and I banged the back of my head against the edge of the backseat/on the back window ledge of the car. I suppose we should have gone to the hospital to get checked out, but we were en route (and already late) to the closing ceremonies of the Canada Winter Games -- and, being young and foolish, we didn't want to miss it, so my friend & I hailed a cab while her parents stayed with the car to sort things out with the other driver & with the police. I remember my head hurt so bad that night I wondered whether I was going to wake up in the morning. (Spoiler alert: it's almost 40 years later. I did.)  
      • (3) 13 years ago, almost exactly at this time of year, I was vacuuming the bathroom in the basement of our house. I was bent over to get into the corners behind the toilet, brought my head up & cracked it hard on the knobby end of the towel rack. I watched the Grey Cup (Canadian Football League championship game -- this year's is on the this weekend) that afternoon with an ice pack pressed to my head. It ached for days afterward. 
      • (4) 10 years ago, dh had one of those "club" things that locks onto the steering wheel of the car to deter theft. He was taking it off & swinging it around to drop into the back seat of the car -- at the same moment that I happened to lean over in that direction. CLUNK. At first, I didn't think it was that bad, but within a few minutes, I realized it hurt. A lot. I probably should have had dh take me to the hospital to get checked out -- and I did get checked out by our family dr a few days later when the aching still hadn't subsided. He was a former professional baseball player, and he didn't seem too concerned. Nevertheless, it was months before that achy feeling disappeared.  (That was the worst.) 
    • Today, we know a whole lot more about concussions and their lingering effects. I'm not an athlete, and I know people who have had far worse concussions. But I also know that the effect can be cumulative and effects can still show up years later, which does worry me sometimes. :(  
  • Between my allergy to tomatos and my gallstone issues, it's getting increasingly hard to find stuff that's "safe" for me to eat, especially when we eat out.  I think that, in the new year, I am going to have to bite the bullet & (a) investigate having my gallbladder removed and (b) get another referral to my allergist & do an oral challenge test. 
    • It's been almost 10 (!!) years since I started having issues with eating tomatos & tomato products (ketchup, salsa, tomato sauce, etc.). I last saw my allergist not quite two years ago, and had some scratch tests and bloodwork done that (promisingly) showed little reaction to tomato. The next step was probably to do an oral challenge (i.e., slowly eat a tomato in increasing-sized portions in her office while being monitored for any reaction), to determine whether I'm still tomato-sensitive (I did one about five years ago and, encouragingly, I managed to eat almost an entire tomato before a hive popped up) -- but that was right around the time we moved, and I never did follow up.  
    • I'm just a little leery about having my gallbladder out, because (a) I've never had surgery of any kind before (unless you count having my wisdom teeth out?) and (b) my great-grandmother died of complications after gallbladder surgery when she was just 44 years old. Granted, that was in 1928 and in a small, rural hospital -- I think medicine has probably come a long way since then. Plus she had NINE CHILDREN to look after (the oldest was 26 & the youngest was 11 -- my grandfather, somewhere in the middle, was 16), plus her husband, two hired men and a farmhouse. No running water or modern conveniences in those days, either. As my mother sometimes says, no wonder she died young...!
  • I recently bought a pair of Skechers shoes after hearing rave reviews from several people, including both SIL & dh.  They make all kinds of running shoes, etc.  The ones I got are slip-on canvas walking shoes. OMG... So. Comfortable!!  My feet are nowhere near as sore & tired now when we come home from walking around a mall (on those hard concrete/tile floors) for a few hours. They even have wide widths, which is a must for me. :)