Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The mother of all book dilemmas ;)

I went to one of the local library branches today to get a library card & ask about the book club, which meets next week. The librarian who runs the club told me they provide the books, and we'll receive our copies of the next selection (to be discussed at the February meeting) -- "The Mothers" by Brit Bennett -- at next week's meeting (where we'll be discussing "The Alice Network," which I assured her I already had & had read).

OK, I have to admit, I flinched at the mere mention of the title. ("The Mothers" -- not "The Alice Network.")  Yes -- I am ashamed to admit -- I am literally judging a book by its cover/title. Even though, glancing at the blurb, it doesn't seem to be a "mommy-lit" kind of book.

I'm trying to tell myself that this is part of the reason why I'm joining a book club, to be exposed to books & authors I might not otherwise look at. Who knows, I might wind up enjoying it.

But seriously -- the next read just happens to be a book called "The Mothers"??  What are the odds, right?  Just one more reminder of what I am not. :p 

Have you read "The Mothers"?  Would you recommend it?

(On a completely different note, I was shocked at how few BOOKS there actually were in the library. Many of the shelves were only half-filled/half-bare, and there were far fewer shelves than I expected to see. I grew up in towns much smaller than this one -- although granted, this was just one small branch of about 10 in this city -- but the shelves of my childhood libraries were crammed with books.)  The computers, on the other hand, were being well used...  I guess it's obvious I haven't been in a library in quite a while, but yikes!!) 

Monday, January 21, 2019

#MicroblogMondays: Blue Monday

I've been feeling just a little bit "blah" the last few days. Christmas is long over... my birthday is over.

We were housebound for most of the weekend:  there was a snowstorm on Saturday... and although the skies were much clearer & sunnier for most of Sunday, temperatures remained bitterly cold (like, -17C & -29C windchill at the peak of the afternoon sun... that's 2F & -20F for those of you in the States!).  It didn't help that one of my high school friends was posting photos on social media of margaritas on a sunny beach in Mexico...!

Before the weekend, on Friday night, we attended a funeral visitation for a 70-year-old woman (a relative of a relative) who died in a tragic car accident earlier in the week (caused by some young idiot driving at twice the posted speed limit -- at 7 a.m.!!)(truly, the drivers hereabouts are THE WORST  :p  ).

Because of the weather, anytime we do get out of the house these days, it's generally to someplace indoors -- quite often, the bookstore, the supermarket or the mall (although we did take a trip last week to the well-known local art gallery where I have a membership to view an exhibit that was wrapping up).  At the malls, the clearance racks are getting pretty picked over, but there's not a lot of cool new stuff arriving yet to fill the stores. I've been finding it difficult to get into a new book.

And then I realized: today is Blue Monday. (And of course, February, my least-favourite month, is just around the corner...!)  Well, I guess that explains it (at least partly...!)...

(Previous Blue Monday posts here.)

Is it a Blue Monday for you?  What's your favourite mid-winter pick me up? 

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

Sunday, January 20, 2019

58

Another year older..! I recently celebrated my (gulp) 58th birthday. Kind of daunting. I don't FEEL 58 (except maybe sometimes in my knees...), and I hope I don't look it -- although I have definitely noticed more grey hair showing up lately. But, as my grandma used to say (& as I'm sure I've written here before), "It's better than the alternative...!"

Even before my birthday, I was thinking a lot about the subject of getting older, and specifically without children. There was that post from Cup of Jo that I flagged in an earlier post, about choosing not to have children, and all the young women in the comments section wondering what life as an older childless/free woman might be like -- seeking reassurance that things would be OK if they didn't have children.  There was Jody Day's social media comments on aging:
I'll be 55 next year and it really feels like a huge milestone - the beginning of my transition towards my 'young elderhood'. I'm excited by the idea of what an older, childless woman's life can be like - because as with my trip through being a middle-aged childless woman, I've found there's very little guidance or inspiring role models out there and so I'm going into unchartered territory - again!  
It IS unchartered territory -- not because we're the first women ever to head into our senior years without children (we're certainly not), but because we're the first writing about it, analyzing it and connecting to other childless/free women via the Internet.  All of us are fumbling our way down these roads less travelled (although it's great that we've been running into more and more fellow travellers along the way lately!).  (If I HAD to lose a baby, go through infertility & wind up childless not by choice, how fortunate I feel that it happened right at the same time that the Internet began taking off, bringing me support from wonderful online friends every step along the way! -- a comfort that previous generations of women never had.) 

One things I've observed (& written about before):  so often, those of us who wind up without children feel like we have to do something fabulous with our lives as "compensation."  On that front, I suppose, I have failed miserably.  ;)  I haven't travelled the world (yet?!), or worked with starving children in Africa, or found a cure for cancer.

But.

I've watched my two nephews grow up to be fine young men, and dh & I have tried to support and encourage them along the way as best we can. We've helped to pay for their educations. We've been to their weddings, and provided generous wedding & housewarming gifts. We hope to spoil their babies someday (sooner vs later!). We spent 10 years supporting other bereaved parents through our support group facilitation work. I've managed to retire, early, and put the corporate rat race behind me. I've stayed married to my husband for almost 34 years now. I've stayed connected to my family. I've extended my family tree, not by birthing babies but through my genealogy research, by connecting the people here and now with the people and stories from the past.

That's something.

Do I regret that I'm not a mother? Of course I do. 

But is it possible to have a good life without children?  Of course it is.

If there's one thing I've learned over these past 20 years, it's that life is what you make of it.  You don't always get to choose what happens to you, but you DO get to choose how you deal with it.

When I lost my daughter -- and then realized I would not be having any other children -- I eventually realized that I had a choice.  Did I want my daughter's brief existence to destroy the rest of mine? Or did I want to honour her life by living the best life I could -- even if it wasn't the one I originally had in mind? (Being childless may not have been a true "choice," but what I did with my childless life most certainly was.) If there's a life beyond this earthly one, I want her to look at me and be proud to call me her mother.

No, it hasn't been the life I planned... but it's MINE. It hasn't always been easy (whose life is?) -- but, on balance, it's a pretty good life.  I may not have the children I wanted -- but I have a pretty great husband. ;)  I got to retire at 55, with a pretty fair severance package, a defined benefit pension (an increasing rarity these days) and some benefits. I have a lovely mortgage-free condo full of books and music and other nice things, with a great view of both sunsets and sunrises, and no snow to shovel or grass to mow. I have a wonderful family.

Seriously, I am a lucky girl (and I still often feel like a girl), and I know it.

*** *** ***

Related notes:

This article was published in the New York Times, appropriately, on my birthday. :) It's by Mary Pipher, about older women and happiness (and thank you to Sarah at Infertility Honesty for bringing it to my attention!).  Pipher writes about being in her 70s, but there was still a lot I here I could relate to.  Sample excerpts:
Gratitude is not a virtue but a survival skill, and our capacity for it grows with our suffering. That is why it is the least privileged, not the most, who excel in appreciating the smallest of offerings... 
Our happiness is built by attitude and intention. Attitude is not everything, but it’s almost everything...  
We may not have control, but we have choices. With intention and focused attention, we can always find a forward path. We discover what we are looking for. If we look for evidence of love in the universe, we will find it. If we seek beauty, it will spill into our lives any moment we wish. If we search for events to appreciate, we discover them to be abundant.
I wasn't the only one who found Pipher's article relatable. ;)  Pamela immediately grasped the specific parallels between the life Pipher describes and our lives without children, and transformed the piece into one of her brilliant word swap blog posts.  Please read!

Finally, Cathy used her final post at Slow Swimmers and Fried Eggs to recount five things her infertility journey has taught her.  It's a great post. :)  Go over, read, and thank her and Eric for their insights over the past few years. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

"The Alice Network" by Kate Quinn

"The Alice Network" by Kate Quinn has been in my TBR pile for a while now. The premise (female spies in World War I ) sounded intriguing, it was a "Heather's Pick" (personally endorsed by the CEO) at our national mega-bookstore chain (also a featured pick from actress Reese Witherspoon's book club), and it was on sale, lol. It also happens to be this month's pick for one of the local library book clubs I'm hoping to join, and so I picked it up about a week ago and started to read.

The book actually interweaves the stories of two different women from two different eras:  Evelyn (Eve) Gardiner, who is recruited to become a spy in 1915 wartime France, and Charlotte "Charlie" St. Clair, in 1947, a wealthy American college girl who is pregnant, unmarried and desperately searching for her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in France during the Nazi occupation. The structure goes back & forth between the two women's story lines. Both are interesting, but Eve's is by far the more compelling. I've heard of Mata Hari, of course, and the book reminded me of Edith Cavell  (there's a mountain named after her in Jasper National Park in Alberta), but I had no idea that so many women were involved in intelligence work in the First World War. Moreover, there's an author's note and appendix at the end that make it surprisingly clear just how much of this book was based in actual historic fact and on actual people.

It's a novel by a woman, about women (strong female, even feminist, characters, at that) -- and yes, there is romance -- but it's far from chick lit. ALI caveat:  the book includes several unplanned pregnancies, abortion, infertility (of a peripheral character -- who later has a baby, of course!), and the death of a baby/child (as recounted by an observer).  The brutality of the German/Nazi regimes during both wars -- including torture and mass murder -- is made abundantly clear.

But is it worth reading? Absolutely. Perhaps it's a bit long (almost 500 pages) -- but the subject matter is really interesting, and it kept me turning the pages, especially towards the end. I gave it four stars on Goodreads. (And note to Hollywood: I think this would make a really great movie or mini-series for TV.)

This was book #3 that I have read in 2019 to date, bringing me to 13% of my 2019 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books.  I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 2 books ahead of schedule to meet my goal. :)

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Mail order library

When I wrote recently about my history using the local library (or not...!), I forgot about one unique aspect of my library user experience.  I was reminded about it by my mother, who set me off on a trip down memory lane this weekend when she responded to a friend's Facebook post about having books in the home and encouraging children to become readers. She mentioned libraries as a way to facilitate literacy and added, "When we lived in (a small town in rural Manitoba), we were able to order library books through the mail."

It was called the University of Manitoba Extension Library service.  Someone told my mother about it shortly after we moved to this town, in the late 1960s, and before long, we were avid users. There were catalogues of available books (with a brief description & order number for each book), including a catalogue just for children. My sister & I would pore over the catalogue & mark off which books we'd read and which ones we wanted to read. Then -- decisions, decisions!!  I think there were limits on how many books you could order at once (and at any rate, limited room on the order form).  I don't remember how long it took to receive our order, once it was sent (never soon enough, of course!), but a lumpy package would arrive in the mail full of books, with a blank order form tucked inside (and, once a year or so, an updated catalogue, or, occasionally,  a note about recent additions to the library). I think we were allowed one month to read the books we'd ordered.  When we were finished, we'd package them up again (I remember re-using the original envelope -- eventually, the library moved to a canvas package with snaps and a plastic pocket on the front where you tucked in the address card) -- along with an order for more books. I don't believe we ever had to pay for postage, either.

What fun to receive those fat, lumpy packages full of books in the mail!   I devoured every book by my favourite authors that the extension library could provide. Non-fiction books too. This is where I was introduced to the works of Lucy Maud Montgomery, Betty Cavanna, Betsy Allen (who wrote the Connie Blair mysteries -- & I just found out, as I was Googling for this post, that she & Betty Cavanna were the same person!), Rosamund DuJardin, Anne Emery, Janet Lambert, Lenore Mattingly WeberCatherine Woolley, Beverly Cleary... One of my teachers had introduced us to the "Adventure" books by Enid Blyton, but it was the extension library that brought me the Famous Five, and furthered my reading in popular series such as Nancy Drew, the Dana Girls, the Happy Hollisters, Vicki Barr (flight stewardess) & Cherry Ames (nurse).

It was such a blessing. We did have a small school library, but the selection there was limited.  We were able to occasionally order books through the Scholastic Book Club, which was a lot of fun. We could occasionally get books at a stationery store in a bigger town 40 miles down the road, or on the paperback rack at the drugstore... but the closest "real" bookstores were the book department at Eatons department store in downtown Winnipeg, 250 miles away, and a Coles bookstore chain outlet at the Polo Park Shopping Centre there. (No mega-bookstores then... certainly no Internet, or Amazon!)  I would save up my weekly allowance & then blow it all on books during one of our rare visits to the city. At 50 cents to $1.50 a pop, you could buy a LOT of paperbacks with $30 in those days...!

When, five years later, we moved to a larger town, closer to the city, I remember sending in an order from our new address -- and being told we no longer qualified for the extension library service, since we now had a library in our new location. It was bittersweet to finally have access to a real, well-stocked library again, but sad to know there would be no more fat packages full of books in the mail any more.

I did a Google search to see if what I could find about the history of the service, and whether it still exists (or when it went out of service), but wasn't able to find much, beyond a couple of PDF documents from 1956 , 1959, 1962 and 1964.

Did you have easy access to libraries & bookstores when you were growing up?

Monday, January 14, 2019

#MicroblogMondays: Odds & ends

  • Dh & I have long been big fans of "The Big Bang Theory" -- but last week's episode left me shaking my head.  You might remember that, earlier this season, Leonard & Penny argued about whether to have children:  he wants them, she doesn't. That episode ended with Leonard deciding (somewhat unconvincingly) that he could live without children. This week, Penny's old boyfriend Zack and his wife Marissa invite Leonard & Penny over for dinner -- and then drop a bombshell:  they confess they're struggling with infertility (Zack's, specifically) -- and ask Leonard to be their sperm donor (!). Penny is flabbergasted, both by the request and by the fact that Leonard wants to do it -- but eventually, she decides that if he can accept her wish to remain childfree, she can accept his wish to help Zack and Marissa have a baby.  I wish I could cheer them on, but it all seems just too glib & easy.  I have to admit, I just don't have a good feeling about this... :(    
    • This recap from Glamour expresses things better than I can! 
    • From the reviewer from Fansided: "It’ll be interesting to see whether Leonard goes through with the donation of offspring in the coming weeks. I’m hoping it leads to a surprise pregnancy with Penny instead." (Of COURSE you do...!!) 
  • I was glad to see this article from The Globe & Mail this weekend: "‘Emotional trauma’: New therapy for couples undergoing fertility treatments targets relationship strife"  --  the recognition that (a) couples desperately need emotional support while they're going through infertility treatment, (b) support at present is woefully lacking, especially from the drs/clnics themselves and especially in rural/remote areas & (c) things are slowly changing. Of course, there's the requisite couple with the happy ending -- including a second (surprise!) pregnancy! -- but overall, it's a great piece. 
You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here

Friday, January 11, 2019

"Mrs. Tim Carries On" by D.E. Stevenson

January 7th was a great day, if you're a fan of mid-20th century British author D.E. Stevenson (as I am). This was the day that Dean Street Press and Furrowed Middlebrow issued new editions (in both paperback and e-book formats) of five Stevenson novels which have long been out of print and difficult/expensive to find on the resale market -- complete with a wonderful new introduction by author Alexander McCall Smith, who beautifully summarizes the lasting appeal of Stevenson's work (you can read the introduction & the first few pages here on Amazon -- click on the cover where it says "Look Inside").

Three of the new releases are sequels to "Mrs. Tim of the Regiment," which my D.E. Stevenson online fan group explored together last year (my review here).  So it was natural that we chose the next Mrs. Tim book in the series, "Mrs. Tim Carries On," as our next group read as soon as it became more widely available.

"Mrs. Tim Carries On," like the original "Mrs. Tim," continues the diary of Hester (Mrs. Tim) Christie, an army officer's wife in 1930s/40s Britain. The book/diary chronicles the adventures of Hester, her two lively children, Bryan & Betty, and their friends in the military community of Donford while Major Tim and his batallion are in Europe fighting the Nazis.  The book/diary covers the year 1940, early in the Second World War, and was published in 1941 -- meaning that (like "The English Air," our group's previous read), it was written and published while the war was still going on, without the benefit of hindsight/knowing what the outcome would be.

Hester vows that she is not going to write about the war in her diary:
There is so much War News in News Bulletins, in Newspapers, and so much talk about the war that I do not intend to write about it in my diary. Indeed my diary is a sort of escape from the war . . . though it is almost impossible to escape from the anxieties which it brings.
But of course, the shadow of the war looms large in Hester's life and in this book. Hester and her friends (including several we met in the first "Mrs. Tim" book) "keep calm & carry on" in the absence of their men with stiff-upper-lip British resolve (and no doubt this book provided readers of the time with a welcome escape from their own war-related worries). She organizes "comforts" for the batallion, takes shelter during air raids, and entertains a young house guest (among other adventures).

And then comes Dunkirk -- and Tim goes missing.

(Never fear -- this IS D.E. Stevenson, and a happy ending of some sort is practically guaranteed. ;)  )

From our modern perspective, this book (like "Mrs. Tim Christie" before it) is quite dated in some respects. There are some male comments about educated/smart women (not complimentary ones, either!) that are jaw-dropping from a modern perspective... and I could cheerfully strangle Hester's annoying friend Grace, who gives birth to twin boys (of course!) and basks smugly in the attention following their birth. When Hester arrives to visit, a week after the boys are born, Grace is (still) lounging in bed with a nurse tending to the babies (and whisking them away after Hester admires them):
Grace looks comfortable and happy. I am not surprised at her air of well-being, for, on looking back at my own experience, it seems to me that the happiest and most comfortable times in my own life were after my own babies arrived. One feels one has done a good job of work to the best of one's ability, and one glories in the rest and the attention and in all the kindness and consideration. There one lies, a luxurious prisoner, in an atmosphere of cosy comfort which nothing is allowed to disturb.   
I know this is the distance of both time & class talking here... but it still rubs me, as a childless woman, the wrong way. And I'm sure that most modern middle-class mothers wouldn't relate much to this passage either. Who among you mothers out there, one week post-birth, found yourself  "glorying in the REST??... which nothing is allowed to disturb"??

But even with stuff like this (!), overall, I didn't find this book quite as annoying as the original. It's a a fascinating glimpse of the home front... and, like most of Stevenson's books, a pleasant diversion from the worries of our own modern world. I zipped through it in a couple of days. (Which is a good thing, since I will be leading part of the group discussion in less than two weeks.)

I would give it 3 & 1/2 stars on Goodreads -- but since you can't leave half-stars on Goodreads and I was feeling generous, I gave it 4. :)

This was book #2 that I have read in 2019 to date, bringing me to 8% of my 2019 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books.  I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 2 books ahead of schedule to meet my goal. :)