Monday, January 20, 2020

#MicroblogMondays: Small pleasures & annoying things

Small pleasures: 
  • Visiting our adorable little Great-Nephew this weekend and getting to see him sneeze (!) and smile (he has dimples!). 
  • Clear blue sky & sunshine today, after a dump of 17 cm of snow (6-7 inches) on Saturday. 
    • Being thankful that I don't live in Newfoundland, where they had hurricane-force winds and 80-90 cm (about 32-35 inches) of snow on Friday (!). 
  • Binge-watching 11 hours of figure skating on TV this weekend (!) (Canadian national championships) and seeing some talented youngsters claim spots on the podium for the first time. 
  • Lindor chocolate on sale at the grocery store. :) 
  • Getting a good start on my 2020 Goodreads Reading Challenge. 
Annoying things: 
  • (Blue skies & sunshine today aside) Grey, overcast, COLD weather lately. (Yep, it's January...) 
  • Pulling up all the blankets on the bed at night because I'm cold... and then having to throw them off because I'm sweltering.  :p  (Lather, rinse, repeat...) 
  • Not having our condo's driveway/parking lot plowed out until around 10 p.m. on Saturday night, about 12 hours (!) after it started snowing (& the main road outside wasn't much better). Isn't this what we pay condo fees and property taxes for?? 
  • Playing telephone tag with the hospital/breast screening centre, trying to get a routine mammogram booked. 

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

Sunday, January 19, 2020

"Impeach" by Neal Katyal

"Impeach: The Case Against Donald Trump" by Neal Katyal was a timely read. I picked it up in early/mid-January, a few weeks after the U.S. House of Representatives voted to impeach President Donald Trump, and finished it just as the articles of impeachment were delivered to the Senate for the forthcoming trial. 

Katyal is a former acting solicitor general of the United States, a leading Supreme Court lawyer, and a professor of law at Georgetown University where, his bio states, he has taught impeachment 29 times. So this is a subject with which he is quite familiar.

As the subtitle suggests, Katyal outlines a clear case for impeachment of the current president in this book, and why he believes it is necessary. But it's worth a read even if you disagree (?!) with him on that point, because it's a highly readable, concise little primer on the subject generally (just 158 pages of text, 214 if you include the appendix). Katyal delves into the history and constitutional background of impeachment, why the founders of the United States chose to include it in the constitution, how it's been used in the past (most notably during the presidencies of Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton), and how it works. He concludes with recommendations of laws that Congress could & should pass to prevent future abuses of presidential power. There's also an appendix of documents pertaining to the Trump impeachment (including the whistleblower complaint of August 2019, and the summary of the July 25th call between President Trump and President Zelenskyy of Ukraine).

Four stars on Goodreads.

This was Book #3 read in 2020 to date, bringing me to 10% of my 2020 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 30 books. I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 2 books ahead of schedule to meet my goal. :)

Monday, January 13, 2020

#MicroblogMondays: Birthday odds & ends

  • Yesterday was my birthday.  (I turned -- big gulp -- 59!)  The weather called for heavy rain turning to freezing rain &/or snow over Saturday night/Sunday, and the restaurant I wanted to eat at isn't open Sundays (private parties only), so we went out for a birthday dinner on Saturday night. 
    • I had a huge plate of pasta (with oil, garlic, rapini & parmesan) & brought almost half of it home with me. (Saved room for a gigantic slice of tiramisu, which I shared with dh.) I'll be having the rest for dinner tonight! 
    • We wound up sitting next to an older woman & younger woman and couldn't help overhearing their conversation with the waitress...!  The older woman was the younger woman's future mother-in-law (!);  her son (the groom) was on his bachelor party weekend in Niagara Falls. The bride-to-be looked pretty young, but she already has THREE children, and is pregnant with a FOURTH.  Her MIL-to-be was praising her to the waitress and saying what a good mom she is. All I could think was, "I have to listen to this on my birthday??"  Oh well....
    • Sunday afternoon, we went to see the movie "1917." Not as gory as you might expect, but VERY intense. Beautifully, beautifully filmed (visually stunning) and acted. It won some Golden Globes and has been (deservedly) nominated for 10 Oscars.  
    • I said to dh, "Next year, the beach!"  Seems like I am always saying that -- but next year I am going to try to make that happen. ;)  Having an early/mid-January birthday sucks sometimes, because it is so overshadowed by Christmas. (Also, my mother's birthday is also in early January, about a week before mine.)  It's like November through December is all about Christmas -- and then Christmas ends & suddenly it's January and, oh yeah, it's my birthday, and there's no time left (not always the money either...!) to plan anything too out of the ordinary. (Plus anytime I do try to do something, it seems like the weather doesn't co-operate...!) 
  • I didn't realize it at the time I hit "publish," but my "Holiday reading" post was post #1600 on this blog!  That's a lot of posting, even when spread out over 12 years!  (On average, 133 posts per year! -- not bad!) 
  • Last March, I posted that I'd heard that a "Mad About You" sequel was in the works. The reboot finally showed up on Canadian TV (CTV's Comedy Channel) last week (the first two episodes, back to back), after showing on Spectrum Originals in the U.S. last fall. 
    • I was a big fan of the original show, which ran from 1992 to 1999, and wrote about it and the parallels to my own life in this 2011 post
    • In this latest version, baby Mabel is all grown up and off to college and living in a dorm -- specifically at NYU, a few blocks away from home.  Nevertheless, her parents -- and Jamie especially -- are suffering a lot of angst over their empty nest.   
    • I had mixed feelings. It was fun to see the old characters and listen to the witty banter and drool over their lovely apartment again.  I did laugh at some of the aging jokes... I could relate!  But the helicopter parenting/empty nest stuff? -- not so much. I hear enough of that in real life!  
  • On a slightly related note, I saw on Facebook that a reboot/sequel to "thirtysomething" is now in the works. "thirtysomething" ran from 1987 to 1991. I was a fairly recent newlywed then, in my mid-20s/turning 30 myself, with hopes of someday having a little girl as adorable as Hope & Michael's baby Janie.  
    • No doubt I will be watching...! But seriously, though -- has Hollywood run completely out of original programming ideas??  Sometimes it seems that way...
You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here

Friday, January 10, 2020

"The Dutch House" by Ann Patchett

I think I may have first heard about "The Dutch House" by Ann Patchett from Modern Mrs. Darcy -- and then my former boss mentioned in an email that she took it with her to read on a trip to St. Lucia this fall. I asked her how it was, and she said it was good. 

Then I saw it on sale at the local mega-bookstore (where it's a "Heather's Pick"-- a guaranteed good read) and I decided to pick it up on our first visit back from Christmas holidays. I had Ronan Farrow's "Catch and Kill" in mind for my next read -- but the girl in the red coat on the cover was calling to me. ;)  I guess I was craving a good fiction read. Once I started it, I found it very hard to put down, and found myself racing through the final 1/3 of the book. 

"The Dutch House" of the title is an enormous house in the suburbs of Philadelphia, built by a tobacco magnate and bought, complete with furniture and full closets, after the Second World War by Cyril Conroy, a rising real estate tycoon, as a surprise for his wife, Elna. 

One of the themes that runs throughout the book is that actions, no matter how well intended, can have unintended/unforeseen consequences. Instead of bringing the family together in triumph, the house becomes their undoing. Unnerved by the house and the family's sudden wealth, Elna leaves Cyril and their two young children, Maeve and Danny (the book's narrator). The siblings' bond is strengthened by their mutual loathing of their stepmother, Andrea, who throws them both out of the house and back into poverty after Cyril's death.  Over the decades that follow, the memories of the house, and the desire for revenge, remain an obsession for the siblings. Night after night, they park in front of the house;  over and over again, they retell old stories and talk about what they've lost. “We had made a fetish out of our misfortune, fallen in love with it,” Danny observes.

On the face of it, this is a simple book (the New York Times review calls it "a modern fairy tale"), but it's actually quite complex and multilayered, with some wonderfully drawn characters.  It's about families, and how patterns of behaviour repeat themselves over time and from generation to generation. It's about holding grudges, and the power of forgiveness.  It's about memory and the passage of time, and about how even the closest siblings can experience growing up in the same family very differently. 

The NYT review quotes Patchett from a 2016 profile in The Guardian, saying “I’ve been writing the same book my whole life -- that you’re in one family, and all of a sudden, you’re in another family and it’s not your choice and you can’t get out.” Isn't that so true? The family we grew up in, the family of our childhood memories, is not the same family we wind up with.  Families -- even the ones that remain relatively intact, avoiding divorce and early death -- morph and change as we all change over time. Says Danny:  "We overlay the present onto the past. We look back through the lens of what we know now, so we're not seeing it as the people we were, we're seeing it as the people we are, and that means the past has been radically altered."

I found the ending just a wee bit unrealistic... but it did not detract from the overall power of the story or my enjoyment of it. This was the first book I've read by Ann Patchett. I don't think it will be the last. Five stars. :)  I think it would make a great book club read! 

*** *** *** 

I flagged this passage with a Post-It note... I think CNBCers, married or not, will relate:    
What I didn't appreciate was that Celeste took such issue with Maeve not coming into the city, when Maeve coming to be with us was the last thing she wanted. "She's too busy with her important job in frozen vegetables to come here for the day? She expects you to drop everything -- your business, your family -- and run to her when she calls?"   
...What was never said but was perfectly clear was that Maeve had no husband, no children, and so her time was less valuable. (p. 238)
This was Book #2 read in 2020 to date, bringing me to 7% of my 2020 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 30 books. I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 2 books ahead of schedule to meet my goal. :)

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

The road less travelled....

Hmmmmm.... What do you think?  (I have some thoughts of my own, but would love to hear yours!)

"Between Friends," Saturday, January 4, 2020 

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

"Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy" by Anne Boyd Rioux

"Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters"  by Anne Boyd Rioux was in my TBR pile for a while, but got moved up in anticipation of the new movie version of "Little Women," starring Saoirse Ronan as Jo, Emma Watson as Meg and Laura Dern as Marmee. I was still in the middle of reading it when I went to see the movie this past weekend with my SIL.

I'll get back to the movie shortly... first, the book!

I probably would have read this book eventually even without the prompt of the new movie, because "Little Women" is one of those books I read as a child that has always stayed with me.  I got an abridged version as a gift on my 6th or 7th birthday -- read the full thing later, several times (although not in quite a while now) -- and I sometimes wonder if Jo March was my original inspiration for wanting to be a writer.

"Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy" is, as the subtitle says, a collection of essays about the phenomenon of "Little Women" and why it still matters, 150 years after it was first published (in 1868). Rioux explores how Alcott came to write "Little Women,"  how closely it reflected her own life (and how it didn't) and how the book (and its subsequent sequels) was initially received by both critics and audiences around the world.  She looks at how the book has gained new life through stage, screen (movies & TV) and radio adaptations, how each version differed from its predecessors and how they were received.  There are chapters on on the book's lasting cultural and literary impact, and on differing readers' interpretations of the novel.  There's an absolutely fascinating chapter called "Can Boys Read 'Little Women'?" (echoing some recent articles I read asking why men aren't going to see the latest film version). Of course they CAN, but they generally DON'T and Rioux delves into the reasons why. She also writes about what the book has to say about the female experience and how girls grow up into women (then and now), and how "Little Women" continues to have an impact on girls' stories today ("Harry Potter"'s Hermione, "The Hunger Games," "Gossip Girl" and "Gilmore Girls" and Lena Dunham's "Girls" are among the modern female-focused stories discussed that were influenced to some extent by "Little Women").

If you're a fan of "Little Women" (as I am) or the subject of women in literature generally, you will enjoy this book.  I did, and I gave it four stars on Goodreads.

*** *** ***

Now, about the movie!  I've seen quite a few of the many filmed versions of "Little Women," in full or in part, most recently the one that aired about a year ago on PBS, with Maya Hawke -- daughter of Ethan Hawke & Uma Thurman (!) -- as Jo. That one was pretty good, and the 1994 version with Winona Ryder as Jo and Christian Bale as Laurie is probably my favourite -- but this one ranks right up there, and definitely deserves the critical praise it's getting. It's beautifully filmed and acted. One  small quibble -- I was glad I was familiar with the story, because it's not a straightforward linear retelling -- the screenwriter chose to jump back & forth in time with the story, and that might be slightly confusing if you're completely new to it. (Take Kleenex.)

Now I want to re-read "Little Women" again...!

This was Book #1 read in 2020, bringing me to 3% of my 2020 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 30 books. I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 1 book ahead of schedule to meet my goal. :)

Monday, January 6, 2020

#MicroblogMondays: The battle of the Christmas tree lights

One more Christmas-related post that I wanted to write down for posterity while it's still fresh in my mind (even if it's not exactly a micro-post)... ;)

If you think I'm a stickler for tradition when it comes to Christmas, you ought to meet my mother (I come by it honestly, lol).  My mother has always wanted the main Christmas tree in the house -- the one in the living room, where we open our presents on Christmas Eve and our stockings on Christmas morning -- to look like the old-fashioned ones from when she was a kid (& when I was a kid). (It's an artificial tree -- we always used to have real ones, until the year Mom started sneezing when the tree was brought in. Out it went, and that was the last time we had a real tree...!)  Most of the ornaments we use on that tree date back to the early years of my parents' marriage and my childhood in the early/mid-1960s -- a set of creamy balls covered in what looks like onionskin with little gold stars on them; red and green teardrops, purchased at the drugstore in a small town where we lived in Saskatchewan (1966-69) -- 99 cents for a box of six (the price tags are still on the boxes);  a battered red and silver aluminium star at the top; ropes of silver tinsel; and silver icicles, painstakingly hung from the tree branches in single strands. (They're difficult to find these days, so Mom takes them all OFF the tree every year and saves them for next Christmas.)  And big, old-fashioned, opaque coloured (incandescent) lights with foil reflectors. (But NOT yellow/gold lights. Mom hates them, and we've always had to swap them out for red, green or blue.)

Unfortunately, the lights Mom loves, while not quite as old as I am (!), are nevertheless getting to be pretty ancient. I'm sure they've had them at least as long as they've lived in this house -- which is now (gulp) 35 years.  This was brought home to me a few years ago when I plugged in one of the strings of lights to test them out before putting them on the tree (decorating the tree is usually left for me to do when I get there, partly to help out and partly because I love doing it) -- and a huge spark flew out of the electric outlet. I yanked the cord out and refused to have further anything to do with it. We made do with the remaining two strings of lights, running them back & forth across the front of the tree, instead of wrapping them all the way around (the tree sits in a corner of the living room, so the lack of lights in back is not too noticeable).

But more and more of the lights on those two remaining strings weren't working, and even when we tried to replace the bulbs, the new bulbs wouldn't work either. One bulb just went around & around in the socket without "catching" and tightening.  I started arguing that, tradition or not, the old lights had to go.  And every year I'd arrive, and we'd bring out the tree decorations, and the old lights would still be there, and the arguments would begin anew.

This year, I told my mother that if she wanted those lights on the tree, I would (reluctantly) put them up, but SHE could plug them in to test them and to turn them on & off. A full-blown family argument ensued. My sister has long agreed with me, and both her boyfriend & dh also agreed that the old lights were unsafe and needed to be replaced. (My dad, for the most part, stayed out of it!) My sister & I made a unilateral decision to go uptown to see what new lights we could find. (The town my parents live in, with a population of fewer than 3,000 people, boasts two small hardware stores.)

Of course, the strings of old-fashioned, large, opaque coloured incandescent bulbs my mother loves are in short supply these days. (Yes, it might be possible to find them on the Internet, but at this point, we didn't have time to wait for online delivery.)  At one store, we found coloured incandescent light strings, albeit with larger bulbs and designed for outdoors. At another, we found coloured LED bulbs, slightly smaller but more energy efficient and also cooler to the touch when plugged in. We took them home & tried them both out. The incandescents were almost blindingly brighter than the old ones, and they were also hot to the touch. The LEDs were slightly more opaque than the incandescents, and because they were slightly smaller lights, there were more of them on the string = more lights on the tree. The incandescents were too large (& hot) for the old reflectors to go on them -- but the reflectors fit perfectly over the LED bulbs -- and because the LEDs are cool to the touch, the old reflectors are far safer to put on them.

That clinched it. We didn't have quite enough reflectors to put on all the LEDs, so I focused on putting them on the bulbs at the front of the tree, and on the reds, greens and blues (thus downplaying the yellow & orange-y ones that Mom dislikes, which were difficult to swap out).

Mom was pretty pissed off at my sister & me when we left on our shopping trip -- but even she had to admit the new lights looked pretty good, especially once the reflectors were on.  Can you spot the difference?

Christmas tree with scary old lights, 2018.

Christmas tree with new LED lights, 2019.

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