Wednesday, April 21, 2021

"Lady in Waiting" by Anne Glenconner

I'd already started reading a new book, but after watching Prince Philip's funeral, I felt like something royal-related. ;)  

So I set aside my other book & picked up "Lady in Waiting: My Extraordinary Life in the Shadow of the Crown" by Anne Glenconner, who served in that position for Princess Margaret, a friend since childhood. I'd been wanting to read this book since it was first published last year, but decided to wait until it came out in paperback this spring. Before that, though, I was recently able to scoop up an epub version for my Kobo on sale for $3.99.  Score!! :) 

In the prologue to the book, Glenconner writes about having Helena Bonham-Carter over for tea and a chat about Princess Margaret before Bonham-Carter began filming the role for season 3 of "The Crown." (Nancy Carroll, cast as Anne herself, also came to tea.)  Afterwards, she found herself reflecting back on what she realized had been a pretty remarkable life. 

"I've always loved telling stories, but it never occurred to me to write a book until these two visits stirred up all those memories," she writes in the prologue. "From a generation where we were taught not to overthink, not to look back or question, only now do I see how extraordinary the nine decades of my life have really been, full of extreme contrasts."  And how!  

Anne Coke (pronounced "Cook"), daughter of the 5th Earl of Leicester, grew up near the royal estate of Sandringham in Norfolk, and played with Princesses Margaret & Elizabeth when they were all children. Years later, she was one of Elizabeth's maids of honour at her 1953 coronation as Queen, and she served as a lady in waiting to Margaret from 1971 until the Princess's death in 2002.   

She was briefly engaged to Johnnie Althorp -- future father of Diana, Princess of Wales.  In 1956, she married Colin Tennant, Baron Glenconner, whose ancestors invented bleach and made a fortune from it.  Colin had a reputation for being "eccentric." Mentally ill was more like it, but unfortunately Anne didn't realize this until after the wedding. Despite some rather appalling behaviour on his part, she stuck with him for the next 54 years until his death in 2010.  (Spending plenty of time apart probably helped, as well as the British "stiff upper lip/just get on with it" mindset.)  They had five children together -- three sons and twin daughters.  Two of the sons died young -- one from hepatitis C, contracted from heroin use, and the other from AIDS -- a third was badly injured in a motorcycle accident.   

In 1958, Colin purchased the small Caribbean island of Mustique for $45,000, eventually turning it into an luxury vacation destination for the rich and famous (and giving a plot of land to Margaret as a wedding present).  

(As an aside: years ago, in the late 1980s, when I first started working, I sat at a banquet with a woman about the same age as me, who worked for the same company (different department) whose path would cross with mine many times over the next three decades (so far as I know, she still works there). She was just newly married and regaled us during the meal with tales of her honeymoon on Mustique, which most of us had never heard of. Fast forward 10-15 years later, when we ran into each other again. Her face lit up:  "You had a baby, didn't you??"  And then I got to watch her expression turn horrified, as I stammered out (not for the first time, and not for the last) that, well, yes, I HAD been pregnant, but... Come to think of it, I am not sure she ever had children herself. Anyway, I digress...) 

If you are fascinated by royalty and life among the British upper classes, particularly during the post-war period (as I will admit I am!), you will probably enjoy this book.  Four stars on Goodreads. 

This was Book #21 read to date in 2021 (and Book #5 finished in April), bringing me to 58% of my 2021 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 36 books. I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 11 books ahead of schedule. :)  You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2021 tagged as "2021 books." 

Monday, April 19, 2021

#MicroblogMondays: Odds & ends

  • It hasn't been a good week here. :(   
    • The weather this weekend was dark, rainy and gloomy, and the furnace kicked back in after taking a vacation for several weeks. (It could be worse:  my parents had SNOW where they live -- albeit the farmers in the area are thankful for the moisture.)  
    • COVID-19 case numbers soared to record highs, almost exactly two weeks after the Easter long weekend (4,800+ new cases in one day in my province -- current 7-day average about 4,400 cases). ICUs are jammed and reaching the point where some pretty awful triage decisions are going to have to be made. We had some truly frightening projections released late last week, predicting anywhere from 10,000 to 30,000 (!!) new cases daily, depending on what action is (or is not) taken.  
    • This was followed by (more) new restrictions from our provincial government -- most of which were clearly (still!) not enough to ward off disaster (e.g., most construction sites and factories remain open, whether truly essential or not, and the government adamantly refuses to implement paid sick days, which healthcare officials have continually requested) and some of which were almost immediately rescinded (playground closures, anyone?!) or tweaked yet again (new police powers to stop and question anyone out after certain hours about where they live and why they're out -- most police forces immediately said they would not be doing this, and the government "clarified" that police must have a valid reason for stopping anyone).  
    • The Washington Post actually published an op-ed on the weekend (from a Canadian writer) calling for the premier's resignation (!).  
    • He has been calling the other provincial premiers, asking if they can spare any medical staff and/or vaccine doses. In most cases, they have their own problems and capacity issues to deal with. The cavalry will not be riding in to save us. 
    • At the same time, we learned that Moderna will only be shipping half the expected doses of vaccine Canada was promised to receive soon -- although, happily, the federal government was almost immediately able to purchase more vaccine from Pfizer to make up for that, and then some. (Meanwhile, appointments for AstraZeneca -- the vaccine dh & I got two weeks ago -- are going unfulfilled.) 
    • On the bright side, Manitoba lowered the eligible age for vaccines there, and my sister was able to make an appointment. My whole family will have received their first shots by the beginning of May.  Progress!! :)  
  • I set my alarm clock on Saturday morning for 7, so that I'd be showered and had my breakfast before TV coverage of Prince Philip's funeral began at 9.  (MUCH more civilized than the 4 a.m. wakeup calls I'm used to for royal weddings!  lol). 
    • I was chatting on Facebook with several friends about the funeral as it was going on, and my New Zealand pen pal of (gulp) 40+ years told me it was 2 a.m. Sunday morning there... so I guess I really shouldn't complain!  
    • I thought it was a lovely funeral -- the venue and the music were glorious -- and it was actually much more intimate with just the family there (and however many millions of us watching on TV/internet, lol). But I did feel sad seeing the Queen sitting all by herself. :(   
  • Dh has been working on our taxes these last few days (deadline: April 30th). I'm actually getting a refund this year! 
  • If you are following this blog by email, please take note:  I got a notification from Blogger that my "FollowByEmail" widget (Feedburner) is going away. It will be discontinued in July 2021.  "After July 2021, your feed will still continue to work, but the automated emails to your subscribers will no longer be supported. If you’d like to continue sending emails, you can download your subscriber contacts." I checked out the link that supposedly explains how to do this, but I must admit it's all Greek to me... There may be a way to continue to host email subscribers, but I have no idea how to do that... my apologies!  
    • Personally, I have always followed blogs on a blog/RSS reader. Since Google Reader was discontinued some years ago, I've been using Bloglovin, although I know a few people who use Feedly and like that. 
  • In 1978, Gloria Steinem wrote a now-classic article titled "If Men Could Menstruate."  I recently ran across a piece in Ms Magazine (which, of course, Steinem helped found) speculating "If Men Had Miscarriages."  Not quite as satirical/funny as Steinem's original piece, but still worth a read. 
You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

"I Had a Miscarriage" by Jessica Zucker

In October 2012, alone at home and 16 weeks into her second pregnancy, Jessica Zucker experienced a traumatic miscarriage. The baby was a girl she later named Olive -- a favourite name of her older son, Liev. A psychologist specializing in reproductive and maternal mental health issues, Zucker suddenly found herself relating to her patients in an entirely different way.  

Almost exactly two years later, an article she wrote detailing what she'd lived through that was published in the New York times on Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day 2014. Her use of the hashtag #IHadaMiscarriage went viral, and led to the creation of her popular Instagram account of the same name. 

In "I Had a Miscarriage: A Memoir, a Movement," Zucker tells her personal story as well as the stories of some of her patients, backed up with research and statistics. This will all be painfully familiar territory to anyone who has experienced pregnancy loss:  the shock and trauma of the loss itself, the pressure -- from others and ourselves -- to move forward quickly, the "strident trifecta" of silence, stigma and shame that women experience after a miscarriage, the exhaustion from dealing with others' shocked reactions and dismissive platitudes ("at least..."), the anxiety of enduring a subsequent pregnancy, and the healing to be found in honouring our losses and in connecting with others who have been through similar situations.  

Full marks to Zucker for acknowledging (particularly in Chapter 12) that "Sometimes rainbows follow storms. Sometimes they don't." 

Blindingly relying on the comforting notion that every traumatic storm is followed by beautiful, awe-inspiring happiness is common within the pregnancy- and infant-loss community. But we all know this isn't always the case. Some people don't go on to get pregnant again. Some get pregnant and have yet another loss. Some stop trying to conceive altogether. So while this hopeful message is encouraging for some, it might feel alienating to others, and in ways that are not always obvious...  Alternative outcomes -- outcomes that do not consist of full-term pregnancies and babies wrapped in rainbow-colored blankets -- deserve to be acknowledged too... Sometimes a rainbow follows, and sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes a rainbow is a child, and sometimes it's the renewal of vows, a career milestone, a new sense of self, the ability to self-love. 

This is a great addition to the existing (and, happily, growing) literature about pregnancy loss. Four (4 & 1/2) stars on Goodreads. 

This was Book #20 read to date in 2021 (and Book #4 finished in April), bringing me to 56% of my 2021 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 36 books. I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 10 books ahead of schedule. :)  You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2021 tagged as "2021 books." 

Monday, April 12, 2021

#MicroblogMondays: Pandemic odds & ends

  • Strike up the Hallelujah Chorus!!!  My parents (aged 80 & almost 82) are finally going to be vaccinated!!  Not because they weren't eligible before this, but because they were dragging their feet. (eye roll)  My sister finally managed to persuade them to get it done when she was there this weekend (and I think the rising numbers of cases and variants there finally convinced them), and booked their appointments for them. They'll be going in a week & a half, to one of the provincial vaccination centres in another slightly larger town, 20 miles down the road. My sister is prepared to take Friday off work and come out from the city on Thursday night to help out, if they're feeling rough from side effects. I am very relieved!! (as is my sister, who is torn between wanting to come visit and help out, and fearing bringing the virus to them...)
  • After I posted my post-vaccination updates (24 and 48 hours out), I noticed a sore, hot, red patch on my upper left arm, below the vaccination site, when I was in the shower on Wednesday morning. The exact same thing has happened to me before, after regular flu shots (and noticeably after the H1N1 flu shot in 2009) , so I've tried not to be (too) worried. (It WAS the AstraZeneca shot, lol..!)  
    • A week after I first received the shot, and several days after I first noticed the red patch, it's still there, and my arm is still a bit sore -- although the redness has faded considerably and is almost gone now. I've also been a little more tired than usual all this week. 
    • Apparently SIL also experienced some side effects after her shot. 
    • (BIL goes back & forth between thinking he's now invincible after just one shot, and that he must have received a placebo, since he didn't feel anything at all...!)
  • Everywhere in my social media feeds I (still... STILL!!) see groups of people getting together... in Canada, in the U.S.  Not six feet apart, not wearing masks. Yes, some of them may have been fully vaccinated -- but I suspect (I know) most of them have not. (And unless you're getting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, one shot does NOT mean you are immune!)  
    • Meanwhile the variants are running rampant, case numbers are skyrocketing and ICUs are nearing capacity. My province hit a record number of daily new cases on Sunday:  4,456. And we won't see the numbers from people infected at family get-togethers, etc., over the Easter weekend -- even thought both politicians and medical staff alike begged people to stay at home -- for another week yet... 
    • (Thank you for coming to my TEDTalk...) 
  • Dh woke up before me on Friday morning, and came back into the bedroom after turning on the TV to tell me that Prince Philip had died. I guess it was not unexpected -- he was almost 100 years old (!) and his health has not been good lately. But it's still very sad... as someone said on TV, perhaps not the end of an era, but the beginning of the end of one.  
    • I've written several times previously (including here) about the one time I got to see Prince Philip -- and the Queen, Prince Charles and Princess Anne -- in July 1970 (when I was 9 years old), but Mel's post about Philip's death reminded me of a time several years later (late 70s/early 80s), when Philip was coming to Winnipeg to speak at a fundraiser for a local hospital. The morning DJ on the radio station I listened to decided he was going to call Buckingham Palace and ask Prince Philip to bring along one of those tall fur hats the guards wear. It was kind of a joke/prank call, but believe it or not, he actually got put through and talked to Philip, and Philip said he would see what he could do. The hat was sent in advance of Philip's visit, and they auctioned it off with proceeds going to the hospital. The DJ was absolutely stunned when he actually got through -- but he was very polite and he did remember to address the Prince as “Your Royal Highness,” lol.
    • In Philip's honour (lol), I've done a search of my old posts and added a new "Royals" label to ones mentioning the Royal Family. 
  • Sunday/yesterday was dh's (64th) birthday, his second of the pandemic. Last year, we were under lockdown and I had to scrounge up a card for him from my stash. This year, we're under lockdown/stay-at-home order (AGAIN), but I managed to pick up a proper birthday card for him before it kicked in. And he had a birthday cake: at his request, we baked one on Saturday -- chocolate from a cake mix with canned frosting, but that's what he wanted!  
    • (He even let me take and post a photo on social media -- although he refused to let me put a candle on the cake or sing him "Happy Birthday," lol -- although an online friend/fellow Beatles fan suggested "When I'm 64" might be more appropriate...!)  
    • Hopefully next year, he can have a proper party for his 65th (if he wants one -- which he probably won't, but at least a family gathering with his brother & SIL, the nephews and Little Great-Nephew). 
You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Unpopular opinion

A Facebook find. 

Happy to be a wanderer. ;)   

Saturday, April 10, 2021

"The Princess Saves Herself in this One" by Amanda Lovelace

This month's NoMo/Gateway Women book club pick is a book of poetry by Amanda Lovelace, "The Princess Saves Herself in This One."

I don't read a lot of poetry, but I'm not unfamiliar with it either. I grew up at a time when we were regularly required to memorize and recite poetry in school ("In Flanders Fields" is the only one I can still recite in full) and I did study a fair bit of poetry at university too -- Shakespeare, the Romantics, the Victorians. And I read lots of Rod McKuen as a young teenager in the 1970s, lol. 

This was a slim little volume -- or at least I'm assuming it's slim, since I read it on my Kobo e-reader. It took me less than an hour total to finish, and I almost feel guilty counting it as a complete book. (Almost!  lol)  Drawing on her own life experiences (or so I assume), Lovelace explores themes of love, loss, grief and empowerment. I enjoyed the messaging/imagery and could very much relate to a lot of it -- although I will admit to agreeing a little with a one-star reviewer on Goodreads who snarked:












3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 on Goodreads. 

This was Book #19 read to date in 2021 (and Book #3 finished in April), bringing me to 53% of my 2021 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 36 books. I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 10 books ahead of schedule. :)  You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2021 tagged as "2021 books." 

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Does pregnancy loss/infertility belong on your resume?

Here's an interesting question:  does pregnancy loss (&/or infertility, for that matter) belong on a resume?  

A friend shared a Twitter post on Facebook from a British academic who has included both the birth of her son and her miscarriage/recurrent pregnancy loss on her CV (screenshot, left).  

"Although one line on a CV cannot speak to the profound physical and emotional trauma of pregnancy loss, I believe it is time to update #academic CVs to be inclusive of women's whole lives," she said. 

It's worth reading the comments that follow, which are (so far) generally sympathetic and supportive. (Is it a coincidence that the less supportive/more facetious ones come mostly from men??) A few people questioned whether this kind of information belonged under "Publications" -- perhaps a category for "Life Events"?? (I wondered this too!)  

A sample of comments (but do go read yourself):   
  • "Whenever I look at a CV with gaps, I remind myself that sometimes real life calls, and that that's okay." 
  • "...this really resonated with me - so many years of attempts, losses.. it’s hard to even quantify the physical and emotional toll it takes - and nearly impossible to account for the impact it has had on my career."
  • "Yes please. That was 2 years of my life with invisible reduced opportunity. So much morning sickness, no baby." 
  • "Think of it like this: the institutions and managers that judge you negatively for including this wouldn’t treat you well as a working parent. It’s like a built in bullshit filter."
  • "Maybe employers shouldn't draw any inferences from career gaps, rather than pressure people into disclosing details of their health?  Committees judging whether gaps are adequately explained by physical or mental health disclosures is cringe. Normalize having gaps as being OK."
  • "My first instinct is ‘why should we have to explain ourselves’. But second thoughts are it shows the qualities we possess & experience gained that we bring forward in all aspects of our lives including work. I think I will use this going forward too." 
There were also some interesting comments on my friend's Facebook post about this.  One commenter liked the idea. She pointed out that academics are under a great deal of pressure to publish continuously, and any gaps must be explained. Someone with no gaps on their resume is generally deemed a better candidate for hiring or promotion than someone who does. (Or, she mused, perhaps we need to change antiquated notions of what makes someone a "better" employee.)  Another commenter pointed out that everyone has significant life events, not just women, and not just related to pregnancy and children. Are we going to start including those too?  

I'll admit my initial feelings on this subject are mixed. The first line ("Birth of son") gave me pause -- people are actually including the birth of their children on their resumes?? From a childless-not-by-choice perspective, that could be interpreted as more of the pronatalist/mommy-bragging culture that rubs salt in the wounds of so many of us. 

BUT -- if including the birth of children is going to become a "thing," then most definitely, recurrent pregnancy loss (and infertility treatment) should be included, and not swept under the carpet. There's a whole lot of coping skills and hard-won life experience (that we never asked for) embodied in those few stark words: "recurrent pregnancy loss." 

I'm not sure I've ever told this story on my blog, but when I was going through "transition services," post-job loss, I had a practice interview session. The woman I "interviewed" with looked through my updated resume, which included 10 years of volunteer group facilitator experience with the pregnancy loss organization that had helped us following Katie's stillbirth. Surprise! (or maybe not) -- she had lost a baby years earlier too, and attended a support group too (different location) -- and we had a nice conversation about our common experience and about the huge impact it had on our lives. 

It was just a practice interview, so I'll never know if I got the job ;)  but it was nice to make that connection and have that conversation, nevertheless.