Thursday, October 21, 2021

Odds & ends

  • I was thrilled when the private Gateway Women community marked Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month (in part) by setting up a new Childless After BabyLoss group -- and incredibly honoured when I was asked to co-host!  Not only that, but my co-host is the lovely Bamberlamb, who blogs at It's Inconceivable. It's been a while since I put my support group facilitating skills to use, but I hope to do justice in the role! 
  • The New Yorker published one of those articles that I think should be mandatory reading for people who go around asking childless women why they don't "just adopt": "How an adoption broker cashed in on prospective parents' dreams." 
  • There was also this piece in the Atlantic: "The New Question Haunting Adoption." (Tagline: "At a glance, America’s shortage of adoptable babies may seem like a problem. But is adoption meant to provide babies for families, or families for babies?")  
    • I've read and recommended two of the books mentioned in the article, earlier this year: "American Baby" by Gabrielle Glaser, and "The Child Catchers" by Kathryn Joyce. Click on the links for my reviews. 
  • I also thought this Atlantic article was interesting: "The Hidden Costs of Living Alone."  (Tagline: "In ways both large and small, American society still assumes that the default adult has a partner and that the default household contains multiple people.")  Obviously, I do have a partner, but I can still relate to a lot of this -- couples without children don't quite conform to the assumed default household either...! 
    • Sample passage (which I think could also apply in many ways to childless couples -- boldfaced emphasis mine): 
And many single people, whether they live alone or with others, constantly face the stigma associated with not being partnered. “It’s oppressive, always getting pitied,” [Bella] DePaulo said. “People have bought into the ideology that having someone is better—[that] the more natural, normal, superior way of being is being coupled or having a family.”

She sees this norm in the political rhetoric around virtuous, “hardworking families,” and thinks that this cultural default can to some extent be blamed for the ways in which American society has been slow to adapt to people who are single or live alone. She also attributes the slowness to “cultural lag”: In the future, lots of Americans are going to live alone—tens of millions already do—and eventually, society will, with hope, catch up.
  • The latest edition of Anne Helen Petersen's "Culture Study" newsletter focuses on The Ideological Battlefield of the "Mamasphere," with a fascinating interview with Kathryn Jezer-Morton, who is studying "momfluencers" for her PhD dissertation (!!). (Sometimes when I read about mothers like these, I'm glad I never got to be one, and certainly not with today's social media... I could never keep up!)  I especially loved reading the comments about the "Performative Farm"...! 

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

"Why it's OK to quit"

I get a daily newsletter from the New York Times that features highlights and links to the day's opinion columns. I don't always open it, depending on time and interest, but today's header caught my attention because it encapsulates one of my favourite topics:  "Why it's OK to quit." 

The newsletter was written under Lindsay Crouse's byline, featuring a video she produced on this topic, with a brief introduction in the newsletter. I am not sure if Crouse's words are duplicated somewhere on the NYT site that I could link to -- but I'm going to reproduce them here because I think they are so worth reading. (Infertility is never mentioned, but I think there's a lot here that applies!): 
It hit me over the summer: Everyone was quitting. Certainly, there has been an exodus from jobs. In what’s been called the “Great Resignation,” the number of workers who quit their jobs in April alone broke an all-time U.S. record. But then more people quit in July, and in August, even more.

But people aren’t just quitting jobs. They’re moving cities too. Divorce rates are up. If there was ever a time to shake up your life, 2021 seems to be it.

As you’ll see in today’s Opinion video, which I made with Kirby Ferguson, I find this turn of events fascinating. It’s scary to confront the stigmas around quitting, which are instilled in us from childhood. We’re taught that quitters are losers, who shuffle through life without ever achieving the great breakthrough many of us have been raised to covet, not just by our families, but by movies, songs and general Americana.
 
For our whole lives, our culture has encouraged us to embrace toughness and perseverance at all costs — but those costs can be higher than we realize, especially to ourselves. What if sticking with something for the sake of sticking with it actually causes you more harm than good? What if the smartest thing you can do to achieve success is quit?

As brutal as it’s been, I think the pandemic has forced many of us to reflect — and to realize that our tolerance for change might be higher than we thought. The disruption has helped us see what we were too busy to notice before. Now that we’ve been jostled off the treadmill of our ordinary lives, we have a chance to figure out what we path we really want to be on. And to start down that one instead.
Here's a link to the video Crouse mentions, which is also worth watching.  :)  (The comments are worth a glance too.) 

Monday, October 18, 2021

#MicroblogMondays: Odds & ends from a visit "home"

(Not exactly a "micro" post, but it's what I've got this Monday...!) 
  • We spent last week visiting my parents in western Canada, for the first time in almost TWO YEARS (since Christmas 2019, pre-pandemic). While we were there, we also celebrated (Canadian) Thanksgiving.  Thankful doesn't even BEGIN to describe how I was feeling!   
    • We had our big Thanksgiving meal on Thanksgiving Monday itself, and then feasted on leftovers for the rest of the week. My sister prepped the turkey and got it into the oven while our mother slept in. I got the stuffing/dressing ready. 
  • As usual, my time online was limited/sporadic while we were there -- so I am waaayyyyy behind on blog reading & commenting, as well as on keeping up with all my social media sites. 
    • It's not that we were terribly busy while we were there (especially with COVID-19 restrictions & precautions in place) but with six people in one small house, there's a lot of noise (not a lot of privacy) and a lot of interruptions. 
  • BIL gave us some N95 masks the week before we left. We tried them on the night before our departure -- but decided not to wear them, even though all the experts advise they are the most effective. They were TIGHT -- I could feel mine digging into my face -- and while I felt like I could breathe in mine fairly well, they smelled, and they felt sweaty. I salute all the hospital workers and others who wear these things all day, every day. I couldn't do it!
    • We double-masked instead, with a standard blue disposable medical mask worn under a cloth mask from Old Navy. We put them on before we entered the airport terminal where we were departing, and didn't take them off again until we left the terminal upon arrival, with the brief exception of when we had to show our faces to the airline staff for identification purposes before boarding. That was more comfortable/do-able, especially for a 2.5 hour flight. Add in time spent in the airports, pre- and post-flights, and we had the masks on for about 5 hours straight. 
    • Masks are mandatory in the airport and on the plane, but you're allowed to remove them when eating and drinking. There were quite a few people around us in the departure lounge who apparently couldn't survive the prospect of a 2.5 hour flight without their Starbucks or Tim Hortons...!  
      • I guess they deserve SOME slack, though, since our flight west left the airport at 8 a.m....!  We were up before 4 a.m. (gulp...!).   
  • The weather was gorgeous the day we arrived, miserable for most of the week we were there (people blamed us for bringing the bad weather!), and gorgeous again the day before we left, lol -- 16C (about 60-61F), sunny and not a cloud in the sky.  We spent a lot of that afternoon outside, helping my dad do some yard & garden cleanup.
  • My parents are now in their early 80s -- and definitely aging. I've noticed it on previous visits, of course, but the gap between visits has emphasized to me that they are slowing down. They both have some mobility issues (my mother uses a cane or walker outside the house and has a tremor in one arm/hand, my dad shuffles more than he walks and his balance is not good), and they REALLY need to get out of their early 1980s split-level house (three levels, with about 8 steps between levels to go up and down) with the big yard to keep up. (*I* found the stairs tough on my already-wonky knees, and I'm 20 years younger than they are!)  My mother in particular is resisting any talk about moving/downsizing, though...! 
  • You will all remember my moaning and groaning about my long, shaggy hair during the time(s) salons were closed over the past 20 months (on & off) because of COVID-19...!  ;)  Let's just say I come by it honestly, lol.  
    • My mother comes from a generation/culture where, as an adult woman, you get your hair done once a week. She's had a weekly appointment for a wash-and-set (or, these days, wash-and-style), wherever we were living, for as long as I can remember -- but that's gone by the wayside during this pandemic. And she's always worn her hair permed (and, until just recently, coloured). 
    • She stopped colouring her hair shortly before our last visit, almost two years ago -- so the mostly grey/white hair was not such a shock to see -- but I can't remember the last time (if there ever WAS a time) I saw my mother without a perm -- and she is MISERABLE about not having one. I had to admit, she did not look entirely like herself (to me, at least). Without it, and especially without her weekly wash-and-style appointment, her hair is now stick-straight and flat. 
    • On top of COVID restrictions/closures, her regular stylist recently retired because of health issues, and her next-favourite stylist (a former neighbour) is on maternity leave.  Another stylist she knows mostly cuts men's hair and has agreed to cut my mom's -- but she won't do perms because the chemicals bother her skin too much (one reason why she generally only does men these days).  
    • So Mom's hair is, at least, neatly trimmed now that the salons are open again, even if it is also grey/white and flat (if only temporarily...!). 
  • My sister had the week off work and was able to spend it all with us. She & her partner picked us up at the airport and dropped us off again when we were returning home. 
  • My sister's partner/boyfriend/common-law husband is a computer techie who sets up and fixes computers for a living. I brought along both my current (HP) laptop and the one it replaced (an ASUS), which died on me last February. Miraculously, he was able to retrieve ALL my data (aside from just five photos).  Not bad, eh??!  He never charges us because we're family. Nevertheless, I left him my old computer to use for parts, etc. -- and Mrs. Santa Claus will be adding a little something extra to his stocking this Christmas...!  
    • He also brought me a portable hard drive (I did pay him for that), and set me up with a program (called SyncToy) that will help me do regular backups more easily. (Lesson learned!!)
    • I have some cleanup to do -- some of the files on my computer are now duplicates or partial duplicates, and some folders need to be combined -- but it's so much more preferable to NOT having the files at all...! 
  • A couple of the neighbours dropped by briefly to say hello -- one stayed at the door and another wore a mask -- and we ventured out to the grocery store a few times -- but we mostly stayed close to home.
  • Mom & Dad live 20 miles away from one of the province's/country's anti-vax/anti-mask hotspots (perhaps not coincidentally, also one of the province's current COVID-19 hotspots too). Normally, we would go there to shop (it's a much bigger town with a small mall, a WalMart and a large supermarket, among other retail outlets) and maybe have some lunch somewhere. Not this time! 
  • We played cards almost every night we were there. Normally, Parents' Neighbours' Daughter (PND) would have joined us, at least a couple of times. She loves to play cards and has played with us from the time she could hold the cards in her hand and count her points. 
    • Unfortunately, a few days before we arrived, one of Older Little Princess's classmates tested positive for COVID-19 (age 10/Grade 5 = too young to be vaccinated). As a close contact, Older Little Princess had to isolate for several days, including part of our time there.  
      • Her isolation time also overlapped with Younger Little Princess's 7th birthday, and so plans for a birthday party gathering with friends had to be postponed. :(  Needless to say, Younger Little Princess was hugely disappointed.
      • We did all drive over there one night with cards & presents, and that seemed to cheer her up. It was a brief drive-by visit -- we stayed in the car & rolled down the windows to chat. 
    • Not only was Older Little Princess a little too close to COVID-19 for comfort, but PND/her mom herself teaches school in the anti-vax/COVID-19 hotspot just down the road that I mentioned above.  
    • PND said she would love to play cards with us, but she would leave it up to us. (I think maybe she still felt a bit sheepish about what happened the last time we saw them...!). My mother was inclined to call her to come over, but both my sister & I felt (reluctantly) that it was better to be safe. I think PND understood. (I think. I hope.)  I hope things will be different/better/safer the next time we're there...! 
  • While we were there, the U.S. government announced they will reopen the land border as of Nov. 8th. My American mother was ecstatic at the thought of making a day trip to her hometown, 20 miles south of the border, for the first time in almost two years, to check out things and visit a few people -- and one of her friends called the next morning, full of plans to head to their favourite casino in northern Minnesota as soon as they could book rooms at the hotel there (!). 
    • Unfortunately, it's not quite that simple. Besides meeting vaccination requirements, all visitors to Canada crossing the border from the U.S. -- including returning Canadian citizens -- must present a negative molecular (PCR) test taken within 72 hours of departure. Rapid/antigen tests are not acceptable.  
    • For short trips that are less than 72 hours, Canadian citizens are allowed to do their pre-entry molecular test before they leave Canada. 
    • PCR tests for travel purposes are NOT covered by provincial health insurance (at least, not here in Ontario), and cost approximately $150-200, whether you take the test here in Canada or in the U.S.  That's a lot of money for people on a limited income, like my parents -- especially for a short cross-border visit. 
    • From what I could tell via Google, most private insurance companies will not cover the cost of the test through their supplemental health insurance plans either.  
    • News stories on this subject here and here, fyi. 
  • We got back home last night -- and spent most of today recuperating, lol. Slept in, unpacked and took our suitcases back down to our storage locker, went to the supermarket to stock up on groceries again. 
  • We're both wanting to see Little Great-Nephew, but will probably stay away this week, just to be on the safe side. 
  • We are planning a return visit at Christmastime. (Crossing fingers & toes and knocking wood...!)  My dad wants us to stay through New Year's. We'll see...! 
  • We had to turn on the heat this morning. It wasn't THAT cold in our unit (70F -- we normally keep the temperature around 72F at this time of year), but it was starting to get a little chilly...! 
    • Tomorrow is supposed to be 20C/68F -- one last blast of summery weather to enjoy, before temperatures start to plunge again! 
You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here

"The Radium Girls" by Kate Moore

I've been meaning to read "The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women" by Kate Moore for quite some time now. Thankfully, so did my friend who organizes our "Clever Name" book club:  she made it our October selection, which gave me the nudge to finally pick it up and read it on my trip west to visit my parents last week. I started the book on the flight there, and finished it on the flight back home.  ;)  We'll be discussing it (as well as September's book, "The Midnight Library" by Matt Haig -- which I read late last year and reviewed here) at a Zoom meeting in early November. 

When Pierre and Marie Curie discovered radium in 1898, it was regarded as a miracle substance. During the First World War, radium was mixed into paint to create luminous dials for airplane instruments, clocks and watches. Hundreds of women -- mostly teenaged girls -- were hired for highly coveted, well-paid jobs as dial painters for companies in Orange, New Jersey; Waterbury, Connecticut; and Ottawa, Illinois (NOT Ottawa, Ontario, the capital of Canada! lol -- we drove by there on a road trip to Iowa via Michigan and northern Illinois a few years ago and were quite amused to see the signs pointing the way to "Ottawa."). The women were taught to put their paintbrushes in their mouths to hone them to a fine point, dip them in the radium-laced paint, paint -- and then repeat the process, over and over and over again. At night, their clothing, skin and hair would glow from the accumulated radium dust. The girls would even paint glow-in-the-dark designs on their skin and teeth to entertain each other. 

And then, one by one, they started getting sick. And one by one, they began dying -- prolonged, horrible, painful deaths. 

This is a horror story of sorts, made all the more horrific because it really happened. What makes it even more horrific is the companies' response -- or rather, the lack thereof -- to their workers' plight. They lied to the girls about the hazards of working with radium -- even after the hazards became well known and documented -- they refused to disclose the results of medical tests they required the workers to undergo, and they did everything they could to cover up what was going on -- to avoid acknowledging responsibility or compensating their former employees for their pain and suffering, or even to improve conditions for current employees. It took many long years for "the Radium Girls" to receive a modicum of justice (and some did not live to see or benefit from it), but their courage and tenacity led to changes in workplace safety regulations, a greater awareness of the hazards related to nuclear weapons and energy, and ultimately saved countless thousands of lives. 

From an ALI perspective, as you might expect, many of the women experienced infertility, miscarriages, stillbirths and premature births.  "...how many women were crippled or suffered the unique pain of childlessness as a result of their poisoning is also unknown," Moore writes in the book's epilogue. Poignantly, she also writes there how one Radium Girl's nephew "picked his way through the items Pearl kept in her loft:  a baby stroller, a crib -- strange things for an old lady to have in her attic, but perhaps Pearl found herself unable to let go of these final traces of the many children she had wanted, but could never have."  

This is a long and detailed book, written in a very readable style, focusing on the personal stories of some of the key women involved. Some readers will find it all fascinating and gobble up all the details -- but I can understand that it might be a lot for others to absorb. My main issue/complaint:  there's a very large cast of characters spread over several locations, and it was sometimes difficult to keep them all straight. It probably would have helped to have them listed at the front of the book for easy reference. 

Whether or not you read "The Radium Girls," it's a story that deserves to be much better known than it is, and Kate Moore deserves credit for bringing it to our attention. 

4 stars on Goodreads. 

This was Book #51 read to date in 2021 (and Book #3 finished in October), bringing me to 142% of my 2021 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 36 books. (This exceeds my best-ever showing in the Goodreads Challenge since I joined in 2016 -- which was 50 books read in all of 2019.)  I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 23 (!) books ahead of schedule. :)  You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2021 tagged as "2021 books." 

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

"Gerald and Elizabeth" by D.E. Stevenson

My D.E. Stevenson group recently started reading "Gerald and Elizabeth" together -- one of Stevenson's later novels, first published in 1969. As usual, I read the entire novel though myself, and will count it as a re-read once we've finished our chapter-by-chapter group read in December. 

This was a new book to me (if I did read it as a teenager, I have no memory of it), and my assumption from the title alone was that Gerald and Elizabeth would be a romantic couple. (I may also have been influenced by the cover image on the used paperback edition I managed to find and purchase online -- see photo, left!). They are, in fact, half-siblings. 

Even though it was published in 1969, there's still a very 1950s flavour to this book (not a hippie or Beatle in sight, lol).  As the story opens, Gerald is travelling aboard a ship from South Africa back to England.  He is in no mood to socialize and keeps to himself (we soon learn why), but still manages to attract the attention of a wealthy American family (and their pretty daughter Penelope, in particular).   

Back in London, he reunites with his half-sister, Elizabeth (Bess). Bess has always wanted a husband and family, and has neither, for reasons that eventually become clear -- even though she's being pursued by Sir Walter MacCallum, a wealthy shipbuilder from Glasgow. Instead, she's pursued a career on the stage and become a famous stage actress. She's overjoyed to see Gerald again, give him a home and help him get back on his feet again. 

Many Stevenson novels are at least partly set in Scotland, and this one is no different: Gerald travels there to visit his aging Uncle Gregor on Cannochbrae, the farm where he spent part of his childhood. 

Many Stevenson books contain references to the characters and settings in her other novels, and this one is full of them: Drumburly ("Music in the Hills" and "Shoulder the Sky/Winter and Rough Weather"); Haines, Reverend Mr. Kirke and Freda Lorimer ("Five Windows"); the Reverend Mr. Heath and Limbourne ("Katherine Wentworth" and "Katherine's Marriage"); and I believe there are others from the books I haven't yet read (which I'm sure my fellow DESsies will point out as we progress through the book together). ;)  Gerald's story continues in "The House of the Deer" (the last book Stevenson wrote before her death in 1973, published in 1970), which we will also be reading sometime in 2022. 

This had many of the hallmarks of another great Stevenson read: strong characters, lovely descriptions, a strong sense of morality and propriety. Unfortunately, my usual enjoyment of another Stevenson novel was somewhat marred by a couple of things as the plot unfolded. 

(**SPOILER ALERTS**) 

Bess's reluctance to marry and have children stems from the mental illness that runs in her mother's side of the family. Gerald sets out to learn more and hopefully put her mind at ease. What he discovers had me rolling my eyes and shaking my head. It's one of those hoary old plot twists -- not entirely out of the realm of probability, I'm sure -- but one that happens far more often in the books and movies than in real life...!  

The books is also marred by some anti-Semitic references in a scene that takes place in an antique shop near the end of the book. I was forewarned because I had read some reviews mentioning this on Goodreads (and apparently this passage was toned down somewhat in later editions of the book), but I still found it wince-inducing to read. Yes, times were different then, and Stevenson was very much a product of the time and place she lived in -- but still, this was 1969 and not the 1930s, when she began publishing books. One would hope for something better, 24 years after the end of WWII...!  I would never tell anyone not to read a book based on a few offensive paragraphs -- but be forewarned.  

2.5 stars on Goodreads, rounded up to 3 (because of my abiding affection for DES) -- but not one of her best. 

This was Book #50 read to date in 2021 (and Book #2 finished in October), bringing me to 139% of my 2021 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 36 books. (This equals my best-ever showing in the Goodreads Challenge since I joined in 2016 -- 50 books read in all of 2019.)  I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 22 (!) books ahead of schedule. :)  You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2021 tagged as "2021 books." 

Monday, October 11, 2021

#MicroblogMondays: Thankful

I am "home," for the first time in 22 months (!). Back in the province where I grew up (mostly), back with my parents, my sister & her partner. 

We had to get up at 3:30 a.m. to leave the house at 6 and be at the airport by 6:30 for an 8 a.m. flight. We were double-masked (standard pleated medical/disposable and Old Navy cloth) for five hours (not bad in flight terms, but longer than we've had to do for a while...!). 

My sister & her partner met us at the other end. She likes to present herself as a tough cookie -- but we hugged and we both had to wipe our eyes. 

When we arrived at my parents' house an hour or so later, I sobbed in the embrace of both of my aging parents -- a little slower, a little more frail and a little more stooped since the last time I saw them.  

I am beyond thankful to be here with them all. 

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

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Odds & ends

  • It's 7 p.m. and it's almost dark outside... already!! (And the time change hasn't even happened yet...!) 
  • On the bright side, the autumn colours are starting to pop out, and they are gorgeous. :)  I hope they aren't all gone by the time we get back home...! 
  • As I mentioned in a recent post, dh & I are headed west this weekend for a long-overdue and long-anticipated visit with my family -- our first visit since Christmas 2019!  I am SO happy to FINALLY be going -- but also a little stressed. :p  I tend to get a bit stressed before travelling anyway -- what to pack, errands to run before we leave, making sure the alarm clock is et, etc. etc. -- and of course, flying while COVID-19 is still very much in the picture does NOT help (despite double-vaccinations & double-masking!). Send good vibes, please!  
  • A member of dh's extended family has experienced a double tragedy/loss this week. Not really my story to tell, but suffice to say, we had a shocker of a phone call this morning. I know I don't really have to remind people in this community, but tomorrow is not promised... hug your family members and tell them you love them, every day. 
  • Blog housekeeping: New tags recently added for "food" and "my reading life." I've tagged a handful of relevant posts that I remembered and could easily find, but I am sure there are more out there among the nearly 2,000 (!!) posts I've published over almost 14 years... I will tag more as I encounter them!