Wednesday, May 22, 2019

"The Keeper of Lost Things" by Ruth Hogan

"The Keeper of Lost Things" by Ruth Hogan is this month's book club selection (the very first book club selection, actually!) for the Gateway Women private community I recently became part of. Jody Day will be leading a live chat about the book for community members this coming weekend. (Main criteria for GW book club selections:  no miracle babies! lol)  It's not a book I would likely have picked up otherwise... for one thing, I'd never heard of it or Hogan before this, even though it was well reviewed and was nominated for a Goodreads Choice Award for Best Fiction in 2017.

(I Googled Hogan while writing this review. Would you believe we share the EXACT SAME BIRTHDATE?? -- day, month & year!)

"The Keeper of Lost Things" is a multi-pronged story. There is Laura, a divorced, childless, middle-aged woman who has lost her purpose in life -- until she becomes the assistant of writer Anthony Peardew. Anthony lost his beloved fiancee, Therese, 40 years earlier -- as well as an important keepsake she'd entrusted to him. Since then, as a form of atonement, he's made it his life's work to collect all kinds of lost things, in the hope of eventually reuniting them with their owners. And, in the process of carrying on Anthony's mission to find where the lost things belong, Laura winds up finding herself.

Interwoven with the story of Laura & Anthony, there's also the story of Eunice, assistant to publisher Bomber, and how their relationship unfolds over a period of some 40 years.  And then there's Anthony's stories about the lost things themselves -- which may or may not be true. The book bounces around among these three threads, eventually bringing them all together. (And as if that's not enough, there's a bit of the supernatural thrown in for good measure too...)

This was a warm, rather quirky/whimsical story, with underlying themes of grief and loss, and some lovely writing.  I enjoyed it overall -- but it did meander a bit, and it took a while to start making the connections between the various threads and figuring out what was going on. Best enjoyed with "the lovely cup of tea" (a catchphrase from one of the book's characters :)  ).

Three stars on Goodreads (three & a half, if I could give half stars).

This was book #15 that I have read in 2019 to date, bringing me to 63% of my 2019 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books.  I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 6 (!!) books ahead of schedule to meet my goal. :)  

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Happy retirement, Dr. Ob-gyn

I made my last visit to Dr. Ob-gyn today -- almost exactly 21 years to the day since I first walked into his office in May 1998, when I was about 12 weeks pregnant. He's retiring at the end of June, after a long and stellar career at this hospital (along with his wonderful office manager and his nurse, both of whom have also been there the entire time I've been his patient).

After confirming I was pregnant in March 1998, my former, longtime family dr (who retired about five years ago himself, after being our dr for 29!! years) referred me to Dr. Ob-gyn. "He delivered my three boys -- I can't give you any better recommendation than that,"  he told me, smiling. Dr. Ob-gyn also came highly recommended by my university roommate, who went to him throughout her own pregnancy, a few years earlier. He has top ratings on all those "rate my doctor" websites (and -- I checked! -- is currently ranked #2 of more than 620 gynecologists in the city!).  Calm, patient and kind are just some of the adjectives patients use to describe him (myself included).

Dr. Ob-gyn and his staff were there for me though the ups & downs of my rollercoaster pregnancy (see my "1998 memories" posts). At my followup appointment after the stillbirth of my daughter, he invited me to continue to visit his office for my Pap smears & other gynecological issues (something I knew my family dr was happy to let him do, lol).  After a year had gone by without another pregnancy (and my 39th birthday fast approaching), we called him for help. He shepherded us through a basic infertility workup, and referred me to Dr. RE when he'd done all he felt he could. When one of my Paps showed some suspicious early changes, he reassured me and kept me coming back for checks and colposcopies every few months until the situation finally reversed itself, as he had thought it might.  In recent years, he's reassured me through my wonky perimenopausal symptoms and an obnoxious Aunt Flo who just keeps showing up, even though I am now 58-frickin'-years old.  :p

I suppose some women who have lost a pregnancy (& wound up childless) dread seeing their ob-gyn again. I'll admit that seeing all the happy pregnant couples (& sometimes newborns) in the waiting room isn't always easy, but I've appreciated the continuity of care - and great care, at that. There are so few people who remember my pregnancy, and beyond me & dh, there's probably no one else who was so intimately involved with the details (even if he doesn't remember all of them now -- and who can blame him, 21 years and hundreds or even thousands of patients later).

(The fact that he moved his office to a different building a couple of years after my daughter's stillbirth has helped, I think. His old office had the ubiquitous newborn photos papering the walls, but there are no photos in new digs, aside from a few framed photos in his private office of his kids & grandkids, as well as a set of quintuplets (!!) he delivered in the early 1980s. I think he earned that one...!)

Sometimes we don't know when "the last time" we see certain people is going to be. I'm glad I knew this would be my last visit, and got to say goodbye and to tell Dr. B. & his staff how much I've appreciated their help and how much I'm going to miss them. As I said to him today, I wasn't always there for happy reasons, but I always appreciated the care I received.  I brought a card for them in which I thanked them for their support over the past 21 years, and let them know I've made a donation in their honour to the hospital foundation's programs for women & children.  There were hugs all round. :)

Another chapter of my past, closed....

Monday, May 20, 2019

#MicroblogMondays: We are amused :)

Today is Victoria Day, a statutory holiday unique to Canada that celebrates Queen Victoria's birthday & her role in our country's history. (Her birthday was actually May 24th, but as has become common in recent years, the powers-that-be changed the official holiday to ensure we get a long weekend in May to unofficially kick off summer.) 

Her Majesty, of course, was famous for supposedly saying, "We are not amused." But what's more amusing/fun than a long weekend?? 

I will admit that my life lately has not been particularly exciting... but here are a few things/small pleasures that are amusing me right now:  :) 

  • Watching traditional Victoria Day fireworks in the neighbourhood every night this weekend from the windows/balcony of our condo (and there may be more later tonight). The kid in me still loves a good fireworks display. :)  
  • Older Nephew's dog -- always entertaining. :) Got to spend some time spoiling him and taking him for a walk on Saturday. 
  • After-dinner gelatos with dh, BIL & SIL on Saturday night. 
  • Playing Internet detective & trying to track down some old school friends I've lost touch with via Google. 
  • Following the reviews & social media reaction to the "Game of Thrones" finale -- even though I've never watched a single episode myself. ;)  
  • Endless games of Spider Solitaire on my cellphone. 
  • Watching reruns of "Bob's Burgers."
  • Books. Always books. ;)  And spending time at the local bookstore (it was open today, even though most stores are closed).(New review coming shortly!) 

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

Saturday, May 18, 2019

They went there...

Yep, they went there. :p  As I feared, after 12 seasons, "The Big Bang Theory" ended -- with childfree-by-choice Penny not only pregnant (an "oops" pregnancy after a night out drinking at the Cheesecake Factory) -- but happy about it.

There was absolutely no explanation about her  sudden change of heart. Nothing to show us how Penny got from point A (adamantly childfree) to point B (happily pregnant).  Husband Leonard said something to Sheldon along the lines of  "She didn't want kids, and now she does."  Well, allrighty then... easy peasy...

Perhaps this abrupt shift in character development wouldn't have been quite so eyebrow-raising/infuriating if Penny wasn't the show's SECOND childfree-by-choice female character to wind up pregnant.  Howard's wife Bernadette also didn't want kids (perhaps even more vocally so than Penny) -- and yet wound up having not one but TWO.  And in a week full of bad news out of the U.S. about the extreme limits some states are trying to place on reproductive choice... it just left me very disappointed. (Not that I would expect an abortion discussion in the series finale of what is, after all, a comedy... but...)

I found several articles that agreed with me, or that at least pointed out that this was entirely out of character for Penny.  Said Vanity Fair:
The Penny story is not necessarily a problem on its own; some women do change their minds about wanting children after learning they’ve conceived by accident. The issue is how it all unfolded: viewers find out Penny has been secretly pregnant, and never see her find out the news or contemplate what it means for her. Instead, they see a character who has repeatedly stated her desire not to have children suddenly do an about-face for no discernible reason—cheerful and ready to bear children. Given the recent, alarming wave of punitive abortion restrictions cropping up across the country, including one that passed in Alabama just this week, this might might be the worst possible time to drop a story in which a female character gets accidentally pregnant and does not once contemplate her options... 
The uncharitable read on all this would be that both a female character’s emotional experience and the option of abortion were both rendered invisible to pay off a male character’s fantasy of getting his hot neighbor pregnant with his babies.
From Vulture:
...it’s hard to overstate how much this plot — which was surely intended as a sweet, hopeful end — instead comes off as thoughtless and tin-eared at best, dismissive and condescending at worst. In an otherwise heartwarming finale for these characters, after 12 years spent together on one of TV’s most popular shows, it’s infuriating and unfortunate that The Big Bang Theory would essentially erase a woman’s right to choose from her own narrative.
Of course, many viewers were ecstatic:  I saw lots of comments on Twitter and in news stories along the lines of "FINALLY!" and "It's about time!" Some were disappointed that Amy didn't announce a pregnancy too (oh, brother... she only just won the Nobel prize, but nope, her life is not complete...)(although we learned on a past episode of "Young Sheldon" that he & Amy do have children -- so that would have been a more "in character" pregnancy announcement than Penny's, in my mind).

Said one commenter on the Vulture story: "Until you decided to make it political it never even crossed my mind." (Seriously?) My own husband rolled his eyes at me when I moaned "OF COURSE" at the TV screen, and said he thought it was a sweet way to end the show.

I've loved this show, and there WERE some funny and touching moments in the finale.  It's just disappointing that the ending was so completely, utterly predictable and cliched (happy ending = MUST HAVE BABY!!).  SO MANY TV couples who struggle with infertility wind up with a "miracle" baby (even though we know that real-life "miracles" are not quite so frequent), and those who say they don't want children somehow wind up with them, and becoming cheerful, loving parents.  Just off the top of my head, I can think of Doug & Carrie in "The King of Queens" (in the series finale, they adopt a Chinese baby and immediately, before they even leave China, find out Carrie is pregnant);  "Rules of Engagement" (in the series finale, immediately after the birth of their baby via surrogacy, Audrey tells Jeff she's pregnant), and "How I Met Your Mother," in which the series ends with childfree-by-choice Robin marrying Ted after his wife dies and becoming stepmother to his two kids (= she gets to be a mom after all!). (I'm sure there are others!)

Women's lives are complex. Not all women want to be mothers. Not all women who want to be mothers get to be mothers. A happy ending does not always have to include a pregnancy/baby.
It would be nice, just once in a while, to see a few stories where the infertile couple winds up without children (and a good life regardless), and/or the childfree-by-choice characters remain childfree and happy.

Come on, Hollywood, surprise us!!

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Midweek odds & ends

  • Older Nephew's (Pregnant) Wife's bloodwork came back with no red flags (yay!).  Later the same day, they made things Facebook & Instagram-official and posted ultrasound photos.  She is almost 14 weeks now.
  • BIL has already ordered the furniture for his forthcoming grandchild's nursery. Even dh said (privately, to me) that might be a LITTLE premature (although he's not going to tell BIL that!! & the furniture WILL take a couple of months to arrive). 
  • Speaking of babies, I made some notes for a post that never got written after the recent birth of the world's most famous newborn:  the royal baby, aka Baby Sussex, aka Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor. Mostly it was things being said on TV that raised my ALI hackles. On CBC News Network, one middle-aged female host commented on why Meghan might have wanted to hold off on the first public appearance, saying, "Ladies, you ALL know what I'm talking about!" (Ummm, no, we don't.)  Another female host was heard to say, "Are we REALLY making all this fuss over a baby??  We ALL have babies!"  (Ummm, no, we don't.)
    • The media comment I loved most was a woman expressing admiration that Meghan was daring to wear a WHITE dress, two days after giving birth!  ;)   
    • Side note:  "Archie??!!" (Just writing it, I hear Edith Bunker's voice in my head, lol.)  
  • I am both horribly angry & horribly depressed over the news coming out of the U.S. lately. All I can say is "The Handmaid's Tale" is SUPPOSED to be fiction... 
  • The weather has not been helping my mood. It's gradually getting a bit milder (albeit still not quite capris & sandals territory) -- but it's been mostly grey, grey, GREY.  Even dh admits it's been getting to him...!  It's our long weekend coming up this weekend too -- the traditional kickoff to summer.  We'll see...!  
  • I still love my condo -- but I've been thinking that anyone with a high intolerance for noise might want to think twice before moving into one. There's been the usual construction noise (from the townhouse construction project behind us and the highway widening/rapid transit project in front), the ongoing thump-thump-thumps overhead, the barking dogs in the hallway going to & from the elevators (and then outside as they're being walked/exercised). We also seem to have a new baby/toddler living down the hall (guess how we know THAT!). The night the Raptors won Game 7 & moved on to the next round of the NBA playoffs, I nearly levitated off the couch from the sudden loud shouts emerging from more than one neighbouring unit. ;) We occasionally get woken up late at night (and not just on weekends!) by the sound of people partying on a nearby balcony.  (I overheard every word of a conversation about mortgages one night... it was 3 a.m., and my window was not even open! I'm willing to cut young people some slack on a Friday or Saturday night, but 3 a.m. is way too late for this kind of crap, even on a weekend!)  And the other night, we were awakened at around 12:30 a.m. by the sound of a young woman screaming & crying outside, and looked out the window to see two cop cars parked directly below us. Still don't know what that was all about...!  Funnily enough, most of these things really don't bother me (much), and certainly bother me less than the neighbours' dogs barking at all hours did when we lived in our house. But when you start listing it out like this, you realize everything you put up with...!   
  • Hiding out at the movies on Voldemort Day, dh & I found ourselves counting the number of ads:  SIXTEEN (16), including DURING the coming attractions (but not counting the "please turn off your cellphones" and "please don't kick the seat in front of you" PSAs, or the ads during the "pre-show," which really is just one big long ad itself, isn't it?).  I know I am dating myself here (what else is new, lol), but I remember the days when there were no ads, just the coming attractions. And I remember when they started introducing ads and people used to boo & hiss at the screen. This went on for quite a while too. I suppose we knew even then that resistance was futile :p  but it's sad to see how what began with one or two pre-show commercials has turned into SIXTEEN...!!  

Monday, May 13, 2019

#MicroblogMondays: Voldemort Day* recap

Well, it wasn't great (never is...!) but it wasn't as bad as it's sometimes been either.  ;)  My usual choice of activity is to spend the afternoon hiding out in a dark movie theatre ;)  and thank goodness there was a comedy playing that I thought might be fun, & that's been reasonably well reviewed:  "Long Shot" with Seth Rogen & Charlize Theron. Some of it was kind of raunchy, as Rogen's stuff often is -- but it was actually kind of cute overall, & they did have chemistry. I don't think I've seen Charlize Theron in a comedy before.

But first -- would you believe when we walked into the theatre, they were playing a clip montage as part of the pre-show:  movie scenes featuring (what else??) moms & kids (Shirley Maclaine & Debra Winger in "Terms of Endearment," Meryl Streep & Amanda Seyfried in "Mamma Mia," etc.).  "Happy Mother's Day from Cineplex."  I couldn't believe it. I go to the movies to hide out from this stuff!  :p

Earlier in the week, it was both nephews' wives birthdays (they were born on the exact same day, same year -- what are the odds, right?).  BIL & SIL invited us to come over for dinner (homemade pizza, including a tomato-free option for me!). The kids were there, and we had birthday cake to celebrate. The dog was deliriously happy to see us all. :)  Thankfully, they'd already exchanged Voldemort Day gifts before we arrived.  I wished the girls happy birthdays when we came in, & Oldest Nephew's pregnant wife started to say "Hap--" and then caught herself. :p  Oh well.  It was a good time overall... but I was exhausted by the time we got home. I can do these days/events -- but they (still) do take a toll! 

Hope you all survived too!

*  Voldemort Day = my personal nickname for That Painful Sunday in May (Just Passed) Which Shall Not Be Named  :) 

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

Friday, May 10, 2019

"Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng

When I mentioned in a recent blog post  that my next read would be my library book club's selection, "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng, a few of you commented that it was a good book, but it contained a lot of "tropes" about motherhood and family-building that might be "triggering."

You were right!

"Little Fires Everywhere" is set in the affluent, picture-perfect, planned community of Shaker Heights, Ohio, as personified by lifelong resident Elena Richardson, who believes that life rewards you when you play by the rules and do all the right things. And life has rewarded Elena with a big, lovely home, a good job, a successful lawyer for a husband and four beautiful teenaged children (two boys and two girls).

Enter nomadic artist/free spirit Mia Warren and her teenaged daughter, Pearl.  Over the course of the novel, their lives become intertwined with the Richardsons', with some unexpected consequences for all.

In a number of ways, this book hit just a LITTLE too close to home.  I could relate to the character of Linda McCullough, of course. I will admit to recognizing a bit of myself in Elena (although I hope I'm not QUITE as uptight and controlling!): I always played by the rules, did what was expected of me -- and I was rewarded for it -- until I wasn't. 

Yes, there are some tropes (stereotypes, even) that may be triggering/painful for ALI readers (POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERTS AHEAD):  there's a premature/NICU baby; not just one but two desperate infertile couples, one of whom endures multiple pregnancy losses;  a custody battle between adoptive parents and a birth mother; a surrogacy situation;  teenage pregnancy and abortion.

(Beyond the relatable ALI content:  I calculated that Mia Warren is a year younger than me/same age as my sister. The story is set in 1998 -- which was, of course, the year I was wrestling with my own issues surrounding pregnancy and motherhood.  There's even a tan/gold Volkswagen Rabbit -- model year 1981, if I read the book correctly. FIL had a gold 1981 VW Rabbit that he gave to me & dh when we were married. It was our first car, and we drove it until it was totalled in a car accident in spring 1993.)

As someone who's living a much different life than the one I expected -- and certainly one that's different from most of my family members & friends who are parenting -- I could identify with Mia's final words to Elena/Mrs. Richardson:
"It bothers you, doesn’t it?” Mia said suddenly. “I think you can’t imagine. Why anyone would choose a different life from the one you’ve got. Why anyone might want something other than a big house with a big lawn, a fancy car, a job in an office. Why anyone would choose anything different than what you’d choose.” Now it was her turn to study Mrs. Richardson, as if the key to understanding her were coded into her face. “It terrifies you. That you missed out on something. That you gave up something you didn’t know you wanted.” 
(Personally, I think this lack of imagination -- this inability to understand why others might choose a different kind of life, let alone tolerate those different choices -- is at the heart of so many of the problems our world faces today...)

In the reader's guide at the back of the paperback edition, author Ng is asked, "At the heart of the court case is the difficult question of who "deserves" to be a mother. Why did you want to tackle this subject?"  She responded:
I think a lot about these issues because I’m both a mother and a daughter: what motherhood is, what my relationship to it is, what society expects of women who are mothers, or who aren’t. How we’re “supposed” to go about this whole business of motherhood. I have friends who’ve conceived easily, who’ve struggled to conceive, who’ve adopted or gone through invasive IVF procedures or used surrogates, or who’ve decided not to conceive—and the main constant in all of their experiences seems to be judgment. Motherhood seems to be a no-win battle: however you decide to do (or not do) it, someone’s going to be criticizing you. You went to too great lengths trying to conceive. You didn’t go to great enough lengths. You had the baby too young. You should have kept the baby even though you were young. You shouldn’t have waited so long to try and have a baby. You’re a too involved mother. You’re not involved enough because you let your child play on the playground alone. It never ends. 
It strikes me that while all this judgment goes on, the options available to women become fewer and fewer. I’m not even (just) talking about the right to choose—across the U.S., women have less access to birth control, health care, reproductive education, and post-partum support. So we give women less information about their bodies and reproduction, less control over their bodies, and less support during and after pregnancy—and then we criticize them fiercely for whatever they end up doing. This seems not only unfair to me but a recipe for societal disaster. I don’t have answers here, but I wanted to raise questions about what we expect of mothers and who we think “deserves” to be a mother and who doesn’t—and why we think that question is ours to decide.
Yes, there are tropes and triggers and stereotypes. The constant references to fire and sparks are a running thread throughout the book... an apt metaphor, perhaps, but it does wear a bit thin after a while. And it's not entirely clear to me why Mia makes a certain critical decision that she does, in her younger years. It's a decision that seems to come out of the blue.

Despite these reservations, the story -- how all the different characters' lives intertwine and how their actions have consequences they never could have imagined -- is compelling. All of the characters have hidden dimensions -- even the most unlikeable ones have sympathetic moments, and vice versa -- and the writing is wonderful. I was agog at the descriptions of Mia's gifts to the Richardsons, near the end of book. I would love to see the "real" things!

I devoured this book in under 48 hours. It deserved the rave reviews it has received from both readers and critics. I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads.

I understand there is a limited edition TV series in the works, starring Reese Witherspoon (this was one of her book club picks) and Kerry Washington (as Elena & Mia, respectively).

This is going to be some book club discussion...!!  (I have to admit I'm a bit apprehensive about it...)

This was book #14 that I have read in 2019 to date, bringing me to 58% of my 2019 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books.  I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 6 (!!) books ahead of schedule to meet my goal. :)