Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Eve

I don't know where the time goes... the last few days & hours of 2012 have absolutely zoomed by. So many plans, so many good intentions... so many blogs to read & posts rumbling around in my head, so little time...!  My Google Reader is hopelessly stuck above 1000 posts, it seems (not all ALI-related, happily). I manage to read a blog post here & there but meaningful chunks have eluded me for the past month. :p 

The Christmas season flew by too. I missed out on a few of the things I usually like to do at Christmastime... only caught snatches of "It's a Wonderful Life" and "A Christmas Carol," and didn't see "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation," "A Christmas Story" or "The Bishop's Wife" at ALL. :(  But there were compensations. ;)

Dh's Christmas party was on a Thursday night (the most common party night on Bay Street in Toronto), at a restaurant far from downtown, let alone where we live in the suburbs.  Last year's party was at the same place and he didn't get home until midnight (and then had to get up at 5 a.m. as usual for work the next day :p) -- so this year, we spluged for a night at a swanky old downtown hotel... we brought a bag to work with us, checked in at lunchtime (& headed back to work), then he went to his party while I went to the Eaton Centre to shop, eat and admire the holiday decorations, there and all through the underground concourse.  Stopped off at a Starbucks en route back to our room & enjoyed a caramel brule latte while watching our favourite Thursday night shows & waiting for dh's return. While I find I never sleep as well as when I'm in my own bed, we did get to sleep an hour longer than we normally do, & still make it to work at the usual time. Perhaps this will be the start of a new tradition. : )

We spent Christmas with my family as usual... with the added bonus of a near-daily visit from PNGD/The Princess, now 15 months old, walking, saying a few words, redecorating the Christmas trees and generally keeping us hopping. Extreme cuteness all round. Many photos were taken. ; )

For the most part, I was able to enjoy her and her presence on its own merits. But I did have one very emotional moment. Every time she and her mom (PND) left my parents' house, she would take off and lead her mom in a merry game of tag/hide and seek around the car -- peeking around the corner -- before PND scoops her up & into her car seat.  (PND assured us she only allows her to do it at my mom & dad's -- they have a fairly long, wide driveway, on a quiet court with very little traffic.) It was hilarious. (I captured one such chase on video, filming through the living room window.) The first time she did it, I was laughing so hard I thought I was going to wet myself, & I felt tears of hilarity rolling down my cheeks.

And then suddenly, I realized I was crying for real. Laughter to tears, in the blink of an eye. I think my mom noticed, & dh patted me on the shoulder while I wiped my eyes. Just so precious. So much that we've missed out on. :(

It was also tough watching my mother trek off to various neighbours' houses to see their visiting grandchildren. I went with her a couple of times. I'll admit it, I get a kick out of seeing the miniature versions of the people I've known since they were kids themselves, too. ; ) But it was painful to see my mother's eagerness to share in some of the joy of other people's grandchildren, knowing she doesn't have any of her own, & why. :( 

Today, dh & I stopped at the cemetery en route to shopping & dinner out. A beautiful, bright red cardinal was hovering in the snow-covered tree beside the columbarium where Katie's niche is. Breathtaking. : )

I had hoped to have my usual New Year's meme done & posted tonight, but I haven't even looked at it yet. I suspect my answers would be pretty much the same as they were a year & two years ago. Oh well. I may still get it done. Being half Ukrainian, I figure I have until Ukrainian New Year, right? ; )

I hope you've all had a good holiday. I leave you with a photo of the Christmas decorations at the Toronto Eaton Centre (including several gigantic illuminated reindeer roving through the mall):

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Post-Newtown musings

  • Newtown, Connecticut. 20 gorgeous children, 7 adults. Kindergartners and first graders, for crying out loud. :( 
  • I was having breakfast with my teammates at work that morning and there was a TV set on the restaurant wall, tuned to a 24-hour headline news channel, sound turned down. I saw a headline flicker by about a school shooting in the States. I shook my head, but it didn't really register -- school shootings in the States being sadly not unheard of -- until later, in my cubicle, browsing some news online.  
  • Most Canadians don't understand America's fascination with guns. Guns are nowhere near as prevalent here as they are there, and are nowhere near as deeply embedded in the culture.
  • But -- they ARE around -- and there is a vocally pro-gun segment of the population, particularly in rural areas.
  • We have our own tragic stories of mad gunmen, school shootings and mass murders. To name a few:
    • In 1967, when I was six years old, an entire family -- two adults and seven children --was murdered on a farm near the small town of Shell Lake, Saskatchewan, about three hours from where we were living at the time. Only the baby survived. I don't think I knew all the specifics until years later, but I remember the prevailing atmosphere of fear (mass murders were practically unheard of then, nevermind in rural Saskatchewan), and how my mother barely wanted to leave the house until the killer was caught, several days later. To this day, if you mention his name or the subject generally, my mother will visibly shudder.
    • One of my coworkers was a student at Brampton Centennial Secondary School in 1975 when one of Canada's very first school shootings took place. A student and a teacher were killed, and 13 other students injured before the gunman committed suicide.
    • In 1978, one student shot another -- allegedly for ridiculing the rock group KISS -- at a high school in Winnipeg.  I was 17 and living about an hour away at the time, and we often drove by that school on our way to the mall, so I remember it quite clearly.
    • On Dec. 6, Canadians marked 23 years since 14 young women engineering students -- targeted specifically because they were women -- were gunned down at Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal.
    • There was another shooting in Montreal in 2006, at Dawson College, where one person was killed and 19 injured.  
    • In general, though, the reason these stories are so memorable is because they are so rare. 
  • I grew up in small rural Prairie towns where -- even in elementary school -- the boys would talk endlessly about hunting and trapping. Several of my uncles and cousins hunt, and while my dad never has, at least in my memory, he did ask for -- and get -- a BB gun on a recent birthday, to scare the crows away from his precious garden. I chipped in with my mom & sister (he's hard enough to buy for at the best of times and rarely asks for anything specific...), but all the while muttering, "I can't believe I am actually buying my father a GUN. For a PRESENT."   
  • I myself asked for -- and got -- a toy rifle for my 3rd or 4th birthday, so that I could be like my hero, Chuck Connors, "The Rifleman." (Not exactly the common gift of choice for little girls in the early 1960s, I know, but my best buddies were three brothers who lived across the street and so -- for a couple of years anyway -- I was a little tomboy, learning to skate on the backyard rink my dad made for us in a pair of their oversized hockey blades.)  Anyway, somewhere in my mom's photo albums, there exists a black & white snapshot of me, dressed in a crinoline and Mary Janes, and proudly brandishing my new rifle. (!!)
  • Somewhere along the way, though, I lost my appetite for guns. I used to get nervous just being at my aunt's house & eyeing my uncle's rack full of rifles, mounted on the wall.  
  • This might seem petty in the face of so much pain -- but did any other loss moms or CNBCers out there find themselves wincing over all the comments prefaced by the words "as a parent" (including from President Obama), and the comments and Facebook posts from people instructing us to "Hug your kids a little tighter tonight" and "I couldn't get home to my kids fast enough."? 
  • My gut feeling is that, even if we don't have children here on this earth, those of us who have lost pregnancies and babies can relate to those grieving parents right now just as well as (or dare I say, better than?) parents of living children who have never experienced the loss of a child.   
  • I have also had my ALI hackles raised by all the references to how the "moms of America" must unite for social change (a la MADD -- as a New York Times columnist suggested).  (a) While the stats do show that more women than men are in favour of gun control measures, I'm willing to bet there are plenty of dads/men out there who are horrified by what happened and willing to make their voices heard. And (b), obviously, just because I am not a mom doesn't mean I don't have a stake in this too.
  • And then I read this opening paragraph for an opinion piece by Salon's Joan Walsh: "As parents, we can feel the stabbing pain of newly bereaved Newtown mothers and fathers, but we don’t have to be parents to feel that loss." Bless you, Joan! : )
  • As I mentioned in a comment on Stirrup Queens, some local parents are up in arms because their children were told about the shooting in Connecticut by their teachers. They say they don’t want their kids to know about what happened. While I understand the instinct to protect your children, especially the younger ones, from harsh reality, I am not exactly sure how they expect to do that. Kids are so media savvy these days -- the media is saturated in coverage of this event right now -- and of course, they talk among themselves — not that they always get their facts straight. I think it’s much better that they hear it (or at least a true but edited version) from an adult -- preferably their parents, but teachers may be put in a position where they have to answer questions too.
  • Case in point (I may have told this story here before):  in October 1970, when I was 9 years old and in Grade 4, a radical Quebec separatist group called the FLQ kidnapped a British diplomat (who was later released) & also kidnapped & murdered a provincial cabinet minister, Pierre Laporte. (Google “October Crisis” & I’m sure you’ll find lots of information -- here's Wikipedia's entry.) Pierre Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister at the time, invoked the War Measures Act, which severely curtailed civil liberties, and there were troops in the streets of Montreal & Ottawa. It was a very tense couple of months. I was living far away from the action, in a small remote rural community on the Canadian Praries, and there was no Internet or CNN ratcheting up the news coverage, but there was still a lot of fear, and a lot of wild stories circulating on the playground. One of my friends told us that Laporte had been beheaded -- and I believed her. Her dad was an RCMP officer -- he would know, wouldn’t he?? (It wasn't true. I didn't realize that until years later.)
  • Melissa at Stirrup Queens brought our attention to a blog post by Dyke in the Heart of Texas, challenging us to remember one of the young lives lost at Sandy Hook (and not the gunman).  Kathy at Bereaved & Blessed has also embraced this challenge.
  • If I remember one name from Sandy Hook, it will probably be Ana Marquez-Greene. As this article explains, Ana spent spent about half of her far-too-brief life in the city of Winnipeg in my home province of Manitoba, and only recently moved back to Connecticut. Her father is a jazz musician who taught at the School of Music at my alma mater, University of Manitoba. Her funeral will be this Saturday. :( 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Three generations

I never met my mother-in-law. She died before I ever met her (although dh & I were already together, albeit in the long-distance phase of our relationship). 

She died exactly 30 years ago this past Saturday. She was in her early 50s, only a little older than I am now.

Coincidentally, all of us were together that night at BIL's celebrating our oldest nephew's 24th birthday. Dh & I brought FIL & stepMIL;  SIL's family was there too. The house was full of food and laughter, and at one point, dh, his dad (now in his 80s), his brother and our two nephews were all piled onto the couch together, laughing & joking & punching each other. Three generations, so much alike, all of them.

I took a couple of photos -- I have many photos of the five of them together, over the years -- and as I did, I thought about the woman who made it all possible, and how much she would have loved to see this -- how proud she would be of her two boys and how they've grown up, and how proud she certainly have been of those two tall, handsome grandsons. I thought about how the most awful grief can sometimes, somehow, over time, morph back into some form of happiness once again. I thought about how much can change, for worse AND for better, in the space of 30 years.

This morning, dh & I were listening to last year's Vinyl Cafe Christmas concert on CBC Radio -- while getting ready to go into the city to THIS year's Vinyl Cafe Christmas concert.  The musical guest last year was Hawksley Workman, a rather quirky Canadian singer-songwriter. One of the songs he performed had me gulping back tears as we watched live last year, and had me running for the Kleenex again this morning as we listened on the radio. It was prefaced by a long story about his grandparents and the times he spent time with them as a child.

There was so much in the song -- washing dishes (the GOOD dishes, used only on special occasions) in the kitchen before we were allowed to start opening presents on Christmas Eve, "go and get the camera," setting the wishbone on the windowsill to dry, even putting out suet for the birds -- that reminded me of long-ago childhood Christmases with MY wonderful grandparents.

And as he sang the wistful line "three generations are only together for so long," I thought about them -- as I so often do at this time of the year -- and about the three generations who had been together the night before -- and how we need to cherish those good times while they last -- because they pass by so very, very quickly. 

Wash the dishes
wash the dishes
the Christmas dinner dishes
three generations in the kitchen
all at once

and go and get a camera
and go and wake up grandpa
three generations in the kitchen
all at once

play a christmas album
the Elvis Christmas album
three generations sing Blue Christmas
all at once
and light another candle
come sit near the piano
three generations sing together
all at once.

put away the turkey
to make sandwiches tomorrow
and put away the bones to make soup for the winter
but not the wish bone
we'll just put it on the counter
to let it dry out this week
in time to make a wish for New Years Eve

take turns with the washing
and take turns with the drying
three generations in the kitchen
all at once
soak the tough ones til tomorrow
and save the suet for the sparrows
three generations Merry Christmas
all at once

put away the turkey
to make sandwiches tomorrow
and put away the bones to make soup for the winter
but not the wish bone
we'll just put it on the counter
to let it dry out this week
in time to make a wish for New Years Eve

and put away the fancy dishes
just to take them out next Christmas
three generations are only together for so long
telling stories of the good times
the bad times and the war time
three generations
are only together for so long

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Coming soon(ish?) to a mailbox near you

One of the Christmas traditions that's important to me and that I've continued in the years post loss is sending an annual card. As I've written in past years, my choice of card has taken on added significance in the years since Katie came into our lives. All my cards have been picked with her in mind. Classic Pooh and angels have been recurring themes.

Inevitably, I know "the card" when I first lay eyes on it, & this year was no exception. I did look around a little more, just to see what was out there, but in my heart, I knew. : )  I actually had to send the clerk into the basement storage locker to find the quantity I needed. ; )

Once again this year, my card came from the Papyrus store -- it is called Snow Family. I love the family, and I love how the little snowman is looking straight up into the heavens, at a different angle than his/her mom & dad. 

What do you think?

(Now to find time to write the darn things...)

2010 card was a photo card of me & dh on our 25th wedding anniversary : )

Thursday, November 29, 2012

It's always something...

I was horrified to read a news item this week that Gilda's Club in Madison, Wisconsin, is changing its name -- to the far catchier (NOT) “The Cancer Support Community Southwest Wisconsin.” Because, they claim, young people today don't know who "Gilda" was.

This is just WRONG on so many levels.

First of all, if you don't know Gilda -- you should. (Whatever happened to curiosity? -- if you don't know who Gilda was -- ask!  Find out!!  Look her up on YouTube or Google -- isn't that what the Internet is for??)

Gilda's Clubs are named for Gilda Radner, an original cast member of Saturday Night Live from the 1970s. She left SNL in 1980, and died in 1989 at age 42 from ovarian cancer.

I was 14 when SNL made its debut in 1975. Today, almost (gulp) 40 years later, SNL is something of an institution, but back then, it was original, iconoclastic. It was like nothing we had seen before. In those days, before VCRs, kids would still show up to school on Monday mornings repeating lines from the skits they'd seen on the weekend. Parties would come to a standstill on Saturday nights at 10:30 as we'd all gather around the TV set to watch Gilda, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, et al, along with musical guests that you just didn't get to see anywhere else. 

Without Gilda (and the two other women in the original cast, Jane Curtin -- later of "Kate & Allie" and "Third Rock from the Sun" -- & Laraine Newman), there would be no Tina Fey, Amy Poehler or Kristen Wiig. 

Gilda said that “Having cancer gave me membership in an elite club I’d rather not belong to." In 1991, a few years after her death, her husband, the actor Gene Wilder, and several of her friends founded the first Gilda's Clubs -- a place where people living with cancer, their friends and families, could meet to support each other in a homelike setting, free of charge.

Apparently, a few years ago, Gilda's Clubs merged with a similar support organization, and they are now under pressure to "rebrand."

*** *** ***


If you apply the same principle, I would think that institutions like Carnegie Hall & Rockefeller Plaza are due for a renaming, because really, these days, who knows or cares who Andrew Carnegie or John D. Rockefeller were?

Does anyone know who Susan G. Komen was? 

And so on.

As Elissa Freeman noted on,
"As news of the name drop gathered steam over the twittersphere, many wondered if we should also change the name of Martin Luther King Day to some more modern African American man who helped change the course of history? And since Christ hasn’t been around for a couple of centuries now, perhaps we should rename that big celebration we have on December 25th too?"
(Some would argue that we're doing that already, with the trend towards saying, "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." But, I digress...)

*** *** ***

Quite frankly, I am sick & tired of names being constantly changed on me. Too many things today are being named for corporations, not people -- and then when the corporations get bought by another corporation, or the corporation declines to renew its naming rights to a certain property -- the names associated with the company change.

Here in Toronto, one of the more famous examples is a theatre that was, when it was built in 1960, originally named "The O'Keefe Centre." (Admittedly, after a brewery -- which has long since ceased to exist, at least by that name.) Suddenly, after almost 40 years, it became "The Hummingbird Centre" in 1996.  The WHAT? (A software company, I think.) OK.

I was JUST getting used to calling it the Hummingbird Centre when -- whoops! -- it became the Sony Centre in 2007. It is still called that (or at least, it was, last time I checked). 

When Toronto opened its brand-new, then-state-of-the-art domed stadium back in 1989, part of the hoopla surrounding its debut was a naming contest. The eventual winner was "SkyDome," with a fancy logo to go along with it (the capital "D" open like the roof to let the sun in).  Everyone knew what the SkyDome was. The name instantly evokes an image.

But in 2005, the stadium was sold and renamed after the new owner -- a communications conglomerate -- and now it's known as the Rogers Centre. (I keep wondering what the original naming contest winner thinks of that.) The adjacent SkyDome Hotel is now called the Renaissance Toronto Downtown Hotel.  How are people supposed to know THAT's the hotel where you can watch the Blue Jays play from your hotel room??

I hate giving people directions in downtown Toronto these days, because half the time, I am naming landmarks that no longer exist, at least by those particular names. ("Turn right at BCE Place... oops, Brookfield Place... walk until you come to the Movenpick Marche Restaurant -- wait, Richtree -- no, come to think of it, it's Marche again...")  When Eatons department store finally drew its last breath, there was some question as to whether the Toronto Eaton Centre would retain its name (so far, so good...knocking wood) -- and every now & then, I hear rumbles that the iconic CN Tower, perhaps this city's best-known landmark, may soon be called something entirely different. Bah!!

Anyway -- you get the idea.

*** *** ***


Mary Elizabeth Williams, a writer on Salon who is living with cancer and supports her local Gilda's Club, made this important point:
"...there’s a reason that organizations are named after people. There’s a reason that a name resonates in the heart of someone facing a disease in a way that a bland, Cancer Support Community Southwest Wisconsin, does not. It’s because it makes it personal and intimate. It creates the unique and powerful and so necessary experience of identification and empathy. It sure as hell says to people with cancer, “You’re not forgotten,” which is actually a very big deal for a whole lot of us going through it. [Emphasis mine.] My kids certainly didn’t know who Gilda was when we started going to the clubhouse. They do now. And they love her. They love her because she’s real to them. She’s there smiling from a picture on the wall when they walk in. She’s there for all of us in the club, a beacon of laughter and warmth."
This really resonated with me, particularly as childless-not-by-choice woman -- because if there is one thing that we fear (well, one thing among others...!) it's being forgotten. :( 

Gilda was "one of us."  She did not have children. She and her husband were trying to conceive;  she had two miscarriages and was going through fertility treatment when she was diagnosed. 

Was Gilda's cancer caused, or exacerbated, by the powerful fertility drugs she was taking? Nobody knows for sure. A link between fertility drugs & cancer has yet to be definitively proven. As it turned out, Gilda's grandmother, aunt and cousin all died of ovarian cancer, so genetics were not in her favour either. But I have to admit, stories like hers (and there are too many of them for my comfort) are one reason why I abandoned treatment when I did. And why I faithfully keep my annual checkup appointments with Dr. Ob-gyn.

Gilda was not just a very funny woman, but a wise and thoughtful one too. Read her memoir, "It's Always Something." One of my favourite quotes ever, which appears on the right-hand sidebar of this blog, is taken from that book. Gilda took the lemons that life had handed her and made some delicious lemonade in the time she had left.  "While we have the gift of life, it seems to me the only tragedy is to allow part of us to die -- whether it is our spirit, our creativity, or our glorious uniqueness," she said.

*** *** ***

Gilda's Club Toronto has announced that it will not be changing its name, citing Gilda's still-strong ties to this city. Bravo!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Recent Sunday afternoons at the movies

  • Dh & I love going to the movies -- as opposed to watching them on video/TV etc. (although we'll do that too) -- and we've had the good luck to see a string of really great movies lately, one after the other (after a particularly long dry spell earlier this fall).
  • Our favourite time to go the movies: Sunday afternoons. Generally cheaper and (if you go to the first showing) not so crowded. We love popcorn for lunch. : )
  • First was "Argo," directed by & starring Ben Affleck -- based on a true story well known to most Canadians of a certain age (ahem) as "The Canadian Caper." It has been hugely Hollywoodized, and the critical role played by the Canadians was downgraded to make Ben's CIA agent look like more of a hero (grrrr)... but it's still a great story, well filmed, with great performances all round. 
  • Next came "Skyfall," the new James Bond movie with (be still my beating heart) Daniel Craig returning as Bond. I've talked to several of my younger coworkers who have never seen a Bond movie (!!) & aren't quite sure what all the fuss is about. I tell them you'll appreciate this movie much more if you see a couple of the older Bond movies first -- there are a few "in jokes" & references tailormade for loyal fans, including a couple of big ones right at the very end that I guessed just before the reveal. (And you simply can't take it all too very seriously.) (Craig's Bond is far more serious than, say Roger Moore toward the end of his stint -- although there is more humour in this movie than in the previous two Bond flicks starring Craig, and that's welcome. Seeing him adjust his cufflinks right after landing on top of a moving train had me cracking up.)
  • As an aside -- I think my favourite moment of the entire London Olympics was the introduction of the best-ever Bond girl (i.e., Her Majesty). ; )
  • The first Bond movie I can remember seeing is "Diamonds are Forever" -- the closest movie theatre at the time was in a town 40 miles away & my mother took me & my sister. I told her this recently & she was horrified -- "Really??! With all that sex and violence?? And you were how old??" (About 10 or 12.)
  • Since then, I've seen many Bond movies over the years, old & new, on the big & small screens. My favourite Bond was always Sean Connery, but I have to admit Craig is a very close second. I had my doubts when he was first announced for the role, but after about 10 minutes of "Casino Royale," I turned to dh and whispered, "OK. I get it."   I always thought Pierce Brosnan would be great for the role, long before it became his (longtime "Remington Steele" fan here...), and was sad when it ultimately didn't work out.
  • Anyway -- most recently, we saw "Lincoln." We went early on a Sunday afternoon, as usual -- and it was PACKED.  Daniel Day-Lewis is amazing, as usual, but all the performances are first rate. I have loved David Strathairn in everything I've ever seen him in, going waaaayyyyy back to "The Days & Nights of Molly Dodd" -- and Tommy Lee Jones is wonderful. The final scene he's in is a kicker ; )  reminding us that most politics is personal.
  • We are reminded that not only was Lincoln a master politician, but he & his wife Mary (played by Sally Field) -- so often depicted as a psychotic mess -- were also bereaved parents, wrestling with the loss of one son and the potential loss of another (oldest son Robert, who desperately wants to enlist in the Union Army). There is a scene, midway through the movie, where they confront each other about their grief and their different ways of coping with their loss that had me in tears.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

"Moms rule." (Tell me about it...)

Almost exactly one year ago to the day (I checked), I posted a diatribe (& felt MUCH better after doing so...!) about a marketing brochure I had received from my cellphone company, proclaiming: "Moms Rock. Superphones help them roll."

As a non-mom -- and NOT by first choice, either -- you can just imagine how that made me feel. (Well, you don't have to imagine. Just go read the post.) ; ) 

I do not have a smartphone. (I barely use the four-year-old non-smartphone I have now.) Every now & then, I will admit that I do think about getting one. But do you think that getting a pitch like this in the mail is going to make me any likelier to rush right out to the nearest phone store?? (Hmmmm.... what do you think???)

Anyway -- guess what? It's now one year later and -- it's baaaaaccck!! Actually, not the exact same brochure -- it's Annoying Marketing Pitch: The Sequel!

Last year's pitch was "Moms Rock."  This year's brochure arrived in the mail today, addressed to me, and the cover reads:  "Moms rule. And deserve amazing phones that make every day easier."

Inside: "Get a phone that works as hard as you do."

Dear Bell:

Please get it through your thick skull:  I am NOT A MOM. Yes, I am a woman of a certain age -- but contrary to what some people may think or believe, "woman" does not necessarily equal "mother".  In fact, one in five adult women today will NEVER BE MOTHERS -- some of us by choice, some of us by circumstance, some of us because of infertility &/or pregnancy/infant loss.  We may not have kids -- but I'm willing to bet that most of us do have cellphones (and likely more disposable income than your average mom, who has kids to clothe, feed and educate). That's a lot of potential clients you are not just ignoring, but possibly insulting, even hurting, with this sort of mom-centric targeted marketing.

I may not be a mom. But I like to think that I, too, "deserve" amazing phones that make every day easier. I may not have kids, and I don't discount the fact that mothers work damned hard and have "busy lives," as your brochure notes -- but believe me, I work damned hard and am pretty busy some days too.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Lori's Favourite Things : )

Stirrup Queen Mel came up with a list of her favourite things (a la Oprah) & asked us for our own favourite things lists.

(I always regarded Oprah's annual My Favourite Things show with a certain mixture of fascination and horror... on the one hand, she did showcase some cool stuff, and sure, who wouldn't want to be in the audience??!  On the other hand, the continuous screaming and the naked greed I saw in some of those women's faces appalled me. I enjoyed the show more when she targeted certain groups she thought could use a boost -- I remember military wives one year and teachers another.)

Anyway, off the top of my head, here's some of the stuff I am loving right now:
  • Burnt Sugar fudge -- the Seasalt Caramel version in the green package, in particular. ; ) I have confessed to my addiction before on this blog, here. Alas, I ran out of fudge earlier this fall and, despite scouring all the Chapters/Indigo stores in the area repeatedly, I have not been able to find any more. Apparently, within a 100 km/60 miles radius of my home, there are currently just 10 packages available at six stores, only one of them anywhere near me, and I can't get there until at least the weekend. *sigh* :( :( :(
  • Fresh Sugar lip treatment (available at Sephora): horrendously expensive... but feels soooooo good on the lips.... (Smells divine, too!) I invested in a lip brush to make the investment go even further -- there's still a lot of lip balm in the bottom of the tube even after you can't screw it up any further.
  • Sephora. When I walked into my first Sephora store -- the one at the Toronto Eaton Centre, shortly after it opened some years ago -- I felt like a kid let loose in a candy store. I called my sister and said, "I have found the motherlode!!" I don't buy a ton of stuff there (the above-mentioned lip balm, Smashbox primer, the occasional Clinique product -- although I generally buy most of my Clinique products from the same friendly saleslady I've been visiting at the Bay for the past 20 -- yes, 20!! -- years!), but I have sooooo much fun just looking. Just last week, they moved to an even bigger store in the mall, close to their old location. I can't wait to get there & see it.
  • Reitmans Comfort Pants (comfort fit, boot cut):  I resisted for a long, long time.... I thought pants should have a proper waistband and zipper.  But these are soooooo comfortable... the Petites length is perfect for my slightly-shorter-than-most legs... and the price is definitely right. : )
  • The Beatles: I loved the as a pre-schooler, and I still love them today. Their music never fail to put a smile on my face.
  • The Big Bang Theory: our favourite TV show right now. There was a recent episode where the girls kept beating the guys at games, and a round of Pictionary in particular that practically had me rolling off the couch laughing.
  • Sherlock & Dallas: my other favourite TV shows -- both sadly on hiatus at the moment, but Dallas is returning in January : ) and season 3 of Sherlock is currently in production in England.
  • Movies:  After what seemed like a very long drought, dh & I are three for three with the last few movies we've seen -- all of them really great:  Argo, Skyfall and Lincoln. I started a review post earlier this week and will publish it soon!
  • The Vinyl Cafe: Every Sunday at noon, dh scrambles eggs and I make toast while we listen to The Vinyl Cafe on CBC Radio. (The show can also be heard on some U.S. public radio stations and BBC Radio 7, as well as in podcast form.) The closest American equivalent I can come up with would be Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion. Sometimes taped in studio, sometimes broadcasts of concerts taped in locations across Canada, and hosted by the genial Stuart McLean, each Vinyl Cafe show is a mixture of storytelling, gentle humour, amazing music, mostly by lesser-known Canadian artists, and a celebration of all things Canadian, including the particular town or region hosting the concert being broadcast. I'd heard about the show for many years, but rarely listened to CBC Radio, period... until a few years ago, when my parents were driving us to the airport & we got listening to the Vinyl Cafe and a story about how Dave granted Morley's wish for snow for Christmas. I found myself absolutely howling with laughter (and I hadn't even heard the story of how Dave cooks the Christmas turkey yet -- a Canadian classic). Anyway, McLean tours widely throughout the year, and dh & I have seen him several times now, but there is something special about a Vinyl Cafe Christmas show. We are going again this year, and I can't wait. : )
  • Two examples of some of the great Canadian talent that I would likely not have heard about without the Vinyl Cafe (and that I would love to share with you -- particularly since you may not have heard of them, even if you ARE Canadian...!): first,  Reid Jamieson, a  multi-talented singer-songwriter, who will be perfoming at this year's Christmas shows. He did a entire album of Elvis covers for his girlfriend (now his wife), who is a big Elvis fan -- he's not an Elvis impersonator per se, but does the old songs in his own lovely way. Here's a video of him in Elvis mode:

  • Matt Andersen was the special guest at the first Vinyl Cafe Christmas show dh & I attended. This huge, shaggy-haired guy in sweatpants shuffled out onstage -- and then he struck the first chord on his guitar, threw back his head and started singing -- and immediately and completely blew everyone away. It was amazing -- I had chills. People were on their feet cheering, well before the last note. My sister's boyfriend is not easily impressed, but we were listening to the broadcast of the Christmas concert while we had brunch at my parents' house, & I saw the surprise in his eyes as the song began! Here's a link to a video of the first song we heard Matt sing (the video is actually from a Vinyl Cafe concert in Halifax, Nova Scotia -- probably from the same tour where dh & I saw him -- with the incomparable John Sheard & Dennis Pendrith backing him up).

    (He also sings a killer version of O Holy Night):

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The annual whine

It's a little earlier than usual for my annual "I hate November" whine.


Today was my due date in 1998.  I wasn't crying at my desk or anything like that -- but I did not feel like working (even though it's year end, and thus fairly busy hereabouts). I felt tired and spectacularly non-productive. :p 

(I went to Starbucks on my afternoon break for a tea latte to cheer myself up... and when I got back to my desk, I discovered it hadn't been sweetened. Steamed milk & sweetener are why I pay a gazillion dollars for these things, vs a plain old cup of tea anywhere else that I add milk & sugar to myself. Major sulk. :p )

Yes, in a different, more perfect world, I would be making plans/fighting with my teenager about what she'd like to do to celebrate her birthday (among other things, I'm sure).

Sometimes I feel a bit funny, mourning the baby who never was born -- the child who never drew a breath, let alone grew up --  the future I looked forward to that never came to pass. I know my grief is real and legitimate. But sometimes I feel like I'm still stuck back in 1998... while all around me, more and more of my peers are not just in the thick of parenting, but becoming grandparents (!!)(if they're not grandparents already). Dh's cousin (who is younger than both of us) regularly posts photos of her two adorable grandchildren on Facebook (a toddler and a newborn). A high school friend became a first-time grandmother this past week. Another is shopping for wedding dresses with her 20-something daughter.

Clearly, I missed the boat here. :p 

Since the time change, it has been dark when we leave the house for work in the morning, and dark by the time we return home. And although we were only on Hurricane Sandy's fringes & did not experience any damage in our area, the weather has been mostly grey and rainy and chilly. The trees have lost just about all of their leaves. Just a few weeks ago, the world was full of glorious fall colours. Today, everything looks dull, grey, dead.

Speaking of trees and leaves, we hired a tree service to remove a dead plum tree from the corner of our back yard and prune limbs from our next-door neighbours' trees that were beginning to scrape on the side walls and roof.  They came during the day while we were at work, and when we got home that night, even though it was almost completely dark, I could tell they had been there -- something about the shadowns of the trees against the sky looked different. I had to wait until the weekend daylight to see the full extent of their work -- and yikes, they really did PRUNE.  The barrenness, the open space where there had been leafy cover, was shocking (even more so since the Sandy had removed what few leaves were left).  I haven't heard anything from the neighbour;  hopefully, she doesn't mind. (Too much.)(Although we were within our rights to prune the branches that were overhanging our property.)

Since Halloween (and certainly since Remembrance Day this past weekend), Christmas displays, decorations & music have been coming out of the woodwork.  And while I love Christmas, and while I know it's only about 6 weeks away, it still feels too early. I don't feel the Christmas spirit yet.  And, as I've written before, while I love Christmas, because we're so busy at the office through early December, I don't always have time to enjoy it the way I'd like to. It just sort of adds to the melancholy.

I know, I tend to say much the same things, year after year. I'm sorry if I sound like a broken record..... (But hey, it's my party/blog, and I'll cry if I want to...)(You would cry too if it happened to you...)

Previous posts:

November 2011: (Not) the most wonderful time of the year :p
November 2010: Black Friday
November 2009: November blahs
November 2008: November again
November 2007: November: The cruellest month  

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Odds & ends

  • What happened to October??
  • Suddenly, it's November. :p  The time changed, it gets dark a whole lot faster, it's a whole lot colder... and it's November. :p 
  • Stay tuned for my annual "I hate November" whine. ; ) (Despite the above, this isn't it, lol.)
  • The cold I had at the beginning of October returned with a vengeance at the end. :p  I think I am FINALLY almost over it. (Knocking wood.)
  • We took a week off in mid-October, and I managed to wrestle my Google Reader almost down to zero. It is now back up over the 1000+ mark. :p  Please bear with me as I catch up on my reading & commenting. (Again.) :p
  • On the bright side, while we did get some rain and a bit of wind (and while some people in the city lost power & trees), Hurricane Sandy did not affect us much. Thankfully. We were sort of on the outer fringes.
  • And... the U.S. election is over!! (And if we're sick of it here, north of the border, I can only imagine how relieved you are in the States...!)
  • Perhaps best of all -- I recently (finally!) got to meet the lovely and talented Msfitzita. We live on opposite sides of a vast metropolitan area, and I actually spent more time coming & going to her home than I did with her (!), but it was well worth the trip. Hopefully we can do it again soon (maybe next time somewhere midway for us both!).

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Five years : )

Five years.

It's not just Halloween tonight -- it's also five years since I published my very first blog post. There is something about these "anniversaries" that are divisible by 5, isn't there??

If you had asked me then if I thought my blog would last five years, I wouldn't have known what to tell you. I've been a member of several online communities for longer than five years (some ALI-related, some not;  I've known some of my online friends for 10 years or more, although our relationships have generally spanned more than one online forum -- some began on e-mail lists &/or message boards and now flourish on Facebook, for example). Longevity & attachment are certainly in my nature, even in the fast-changing world of the Internet. ; )

I had stumbled onto a few infertility blogs about a year earlier -- including, of course, Stirrup Queens, where I made a few tentative, anonymous comments at the Lushary and wished I could jump into the book club discussions.  I was intrigued by the give & take of the comments, of the ability to flex my writer's muscles & write mini-essays on the topics of my choice.

I knew there were other childless/free-not-by-first-choice women out there, like me -- I wanted to find more of them, and I wanted more of them to know they weren't alone -- that while it's certainly hard not being a mother in a world gone mad for baby bumps, it doesn't have to be the end of the world either.

But I honestly wasn't quite sure what I was getting myself into.

And now, here I am, five years (660 published posts, including this one; more than 5,200 published comments and almost 123,000 page views)(page views since May 2008) later, still blogging, still managing to find things to write about. That's an average of 11 posts per month. I have 127 "followers" & almost 270 subscribers through Google Reader. Wow!

There was a brief, temporary interruption in my writing earlier this year, when I was inadvertently "outed" by a relative who stumbled on my blog & published a link to it on Facebook, of all places (!). As I said at the time:
(If this past week has taught me anything -- besides reinforcing that nothing is private online -- it's how much I enjoy blogging and what a release it can be to write out my feelings & connect to others in similar situations in this way. And how much I miss my blog and the interaction it affords, when it's not there.)
Not being able to blog, albeit briefly, also made me realize this:
I've always said that I blog first & foremost for myself, but hey, let's face it -- if I really just wanted to write for myself, I would have written in a paper journal & hid it in one of my drawers or under my mattress, like I did when I was a teenager.
One of the nicest things about blogging is the company.  I've "met" some wonderful women (and men) through the ALI blogging community, and I've fulfilled my goal of finding other childless/free bloggers. We're definitely not alone these days:  there are more and more of us coming out of the woodwork all the time.

Whether I'm still blogging in another five years, I'm glad that I hit "publish" on that first post five years ago tonight. And I'm grateful to all of you for being here. : )

Blogoversary #4 (2011)
Blogoversary #3 (2010)
Blogoversary #2 (2009)
Blogoversary #1 (2008)
First post

Sunday, October 28, 2012

New beginnings

Another Facebook find. ; ) Sorry, I can't make it any larger.

Monday, October 22, 2012

"To Mom or Not to Mom?"

It's almost Halloween -- and what a treat for the ALI community! 

Two strong and stellar voices in our community are exploring questions about infertilty, motherhood and "the Silent Sorority" this week from very different viewpoints:  Keiko Zoll of The Infertility Voice is newly pregnant via donor egg, and Pamela Mahoney Tsigdinos of Silent Sorority is, like me, living childless/free after infertility.

Every day this week, Pamela & Keiko will both be posting in point/counterpoint style on a different topic related to infertility and how we make the transition to parenting -- or not -- culminating in an open Twitter discussion this Friday, Oct. 26th, at 12:30 p.m. EDT -- #ALIMomSalon and wrapup posts on both blogs.  (I am not on Twitter but am seriously considering getting an account just so I can follow...!)

The first posts are up now!  Read them both, weigh in with comments, and/or consider blogging a response on your own blog. : )

Pamela's post
Keiko's post

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Road trip : )

Another great "road" photo shared with me on FB by a dear CNBC online friend. : )

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The non-mom stays in the picture too

This post has its genesis in a recent essay on Huffington Post called "The Mom Stays in the Picture" by Allison Tate. At a party, Tate's young son asks her to come into a photo booth with him. Like so many women, Tate demurs:
When I see myself in pictures, it makes me wince. I know I am far from alone; I know that many of my friends also avoid the camera.   
It seems logical. We're sporting mama bodies and we're not as young as we used to be. We don't always have time to blow dry our hair, apply make-up, perhaps even bathe (ducking). The kids are so much cuter than we are; better to just take their pictures, we think.    
But we really need to make an effort to get in the picture. Our sons need to see how young and beautiful and human their mamas were. Our daughters need to see us vulnerable and open and just being ourselves -- women, mamas, people living lives. Avoiding the camera because we don't like to see our own pictures? How can that be okay?  
Too much of a mama's life goes undocumented and unseen....  
[Ed. note: Tate then goes on to detail all the many things that moms do that go unnoticed, undocumented and unappreciated.]      
I'm everywhere in their young lives, and yet I have very few pictures of me with them. Someday I won't be here -- and I don't know if that someday is tomorrow or thirty or forty or fifty years from now -- but I want them to have pictures of me. I want them to see the way I looked at them, see how much I loved them. I am not perfect to look at and I am not perfect to love, but I am perfectly their mother.
The essay got a huge response, summarized by Lisa Belkin, HuffPo parenting columnist ("Moms Explain Why They're Getting Back in the Picture").

And it got me thinking.

OK, I'll admit, Tate's litany of mommy stuff had the non-mom in me wincing. 

But -- I thought she had a good point, and one that, if you look closely enough, is relevant for all women and not just those who are mothers.

Even though I don't have (living) children of my own, I could relate to a lot in Tate's essay. As I've written before in this blog, my grandmother gave me my first camera for Christmas when I was 15 (a Kodak Instamatic X-15 with flipflash!) and I've always loved taking photos and looking through family photo albums. I'm acknowledged as "the family photographer" (for both my family & dh's). BIL & SIL freely admit that they wouldn't have any photos of their kids growing up if it weren't for me, and I've scrapbooked a couple of albums for our nephews.

As an occasional scrapbooker (VERY occasional lately...!), this is a subject that comes up every now & then on scrapbooking message boards, blogs and magazines. We take tons & tons of photos of our kids (or, if we don't have kids, someone else's kids -- nieces, nephews, children of friends) -- even more so today than we did even just 10 years ago, with digital photography. These days, just about every cellphone comes equipped with a camera, essentially putting a camera in just about every purse or pocket --  & the quality has been getting better & better. The camera included in the latest iPhones shoots something like 8 megapixels, which is exactly what my own four-year-old point-and-shoot digital camera takes.

So the number of photos we've been taking has increased exponentially.  But where are the photos of US?  Like many adult women, I prefer to lurk behind the camera, rather than in front of it.  I look at photos of myself with a highly critical eye, noticing how round and puffy my face is, groaning over my double chin & the sun damage on my cheeks, or shaking my head over what a gawdawful perm I had in 1992.

(My grandma -- the same one who gave me the camera -- had a solution for photos of herself that she didn't like -- long before Photoshop, she simply took a pair of scissors & cropped herself out of the picture. I still run across the occasional snapshot with a corner chopped out, & I know exactly who's missing and why...!)

Fortunately, I still have many wonderful photos of Grandma.  ; ) But I've read heartbreaking stories about someone suddenly taken from their family... and then the search begins through the photo albums for pictures to put on the bulletin board or slide show at the funeral home, or just to bring the loved one closer again. Too often, especially if it's a woman, there just aren't many to be found.

Throughout the ages, women's lives generally have been discounted and overlooked.  Too often, we are invisible in the history books (the old argument about "history" versus "herstory").  Thankfully, this is starting to change. The advent of computers, digital photography, and the Internet have made it so much easier for women to show and tell their the stories of their lives.

And if a woman's life is just a worthy of documentation as a man's, and if it's important for moms to document their lives with their children, then surely our lives and memories are worthy of preserving, too.  In fact, I would argue that it might be even MORE important for those of us who AREN'T moms to do so. 

The life of a mom has a fairly predictable pattern and rhythm... but anyone who is childless/free for whatever reason knows there are an awful lot of misconceptions out there about what our lives are like and how we spend our time. I know (from personal experience as well as anecdotes from others) that many of us who are childless/free and scrapbook (and we ARE out there) get asked, in genuine (if maddening) puzzlement, why and what we scrapbook, if we don't have kids (cue the grinding teeth). 

People need to know that we lead full, interesting and fulfilling lives -- lives that are worth documenting too -- and, as the old saying goes, a picture can be worth a thousand words.

So, since I became aware of this issue a couple of years ago, I've been making more of a conscious effort to hand the camera over to someone else once in awhile and have them take a photo of dh & me together... or me with our nephews... or me & SIL together (we have dozens of photos of the men in our family together -- and while it's nice to have some generational shots, I've started insisting that we get our fair share of camera bytes!)... or even (gulp) me by myself.  While I have yet to master the art of holding a camera at arm's length to take a decent self-portrait, I have read my camera's manual and learned how to use the self-timer, for those times when I'd like a photo of myself, or of dh & me together, and there's nobody else around.

A few years ago, I decided it was time to set aside the nephews' albums for awhile and do some scrapbooking for and about... me.  Or, perhaps more accurately, me and dh.  The plan was to complete an anniversary album, in time for our 25th wedding anniversary (in July 2010), including a layout of photo and journaling highlights for each year of our marriage, as well as a couple detailing our dating days and our wedding.  Like so many of my projects, I had great intentions, but it hasn't progressed much past the wedding pages....!  But at least I started making the effort. Someday, I hope to get back to it....

Sometimes I wonder whether this reluctance to appear in front of the camera might be a generational thing... I'm thinking about how today's kids have grown up with a camera in their face (and now, in their hands) all the time. Teenaged and 20-something girls take tons of photos of themselves and their friends and post them, seemingly (to me) with little or no hesitation, on their Facebook pages and Twitter feeds. Will they still be as eager to pose for the camera as they start focusing their photographic efforts on their kids (assuming they have them), enter their 30s & 40s & beyond, and confront the inevitable process of aging (believe me girls, it happens to the best of us...!)?  Time will tell...

Of course, there are times these days, since the advent of easy digital photography and videography, when it seems like everyone is frantically trying to capture every single moment of the day.  Sometimes you have to just put down the camera, and LIVE.  : )

What do you think?  Do you hide when someone brings out a camera?  Is this a mom thing, or does it apply to other women too?

If you disappeared tomorrow, what sort of photographic record would remain of your life?

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Hold on

It was good to see a post from Janis recently -- a lovely, lyrical meditation on the words "hold on."

It reminded me of a song by the same name by a Canadian singer-songwriter, Dan Hill. If you don't recognize the name Dan Hill, you will almost certainly recognize his most famous song, "Sometimes When We Touch," which was a huge, huge hit in the late 1970s. Familiarity has a habit of breeding contempt, however, and the song has gained a reputation, perhaps somewhat unfairly, as one of the sappiest love songs ever written. 

Before "Sometimes When We Touch," Dan Hill had a moderate hit in Canada with another song, "Hold On."  The year that I graduated from high school (1979, erk!), I went back to the town where I had lived for grades 3-7 to attend grad for my best friend (and all my other former classmates), and this was the song that was played as they walked down the aisle. (Much more '70s than "Pomp & Circumstance," don't you think??)

My sister, a friend and I saw Dan Hill in concert in November 1978 -- just him and his guitar, in stocking feet and a soccer jersey, sporting his signature long curly hair & a bushy beard. We knew where the stage door was & even though my dad was waiting for us in a car out front (& there were no cellphones back then for us to check in on each other), we kept him waiting while we stood outside, until some kind soul let us in, and Dan graciously obliged our requests for autographs and photos (which I still have).  

Janis's post led me to search YouTube, and I found a video of Dan -- 30-some years older, and with a lot less hair, lol -- singing "Hold On" at a 2011 Canada Day concert in the Toronto neighbourhood, where he lives. The album version has a gospel-style choir backup -- but it's nice with just him & his guitar too. : )  The years have also added some poignancy to the song, too... particularly knowing that Dan has battled prostate cancer in recent years.

*** *** ***

On a lighter note -- long before Dan Hill, I loved another song called "Hold On" by -- wait for it -- Herman's Hermits. 

I've written before about my almost-lifelong love for the Beatles, & how my mother took me to see the movie "Help" when I was a pre-schooler (& how I've been dreaming about having Ringo's ring stuck on my finger for almost 50 years since then). 

And more recently, I mourned the passing of Davy Jones of the Monkees, another childhood favourite.

But the first boy band that really loomed large in my life was Herman's Hermits, another member of the British Invasion of the early/mid-1960s. Shortly after my mother took me to see "Help," we moved from one small Saskatchewan town to another -- and, in our new town, she took me to see Herman's Hermits in their movie, "Hold On." I made a new friend around the same time, and her older sister had the 45 of the song, which we used to listen to. 

Shortly after that, it was Christmastime, and my sister & I got our first record player, along with two LPs -- the soundtrack from Mary Poppins, which we'd also just seen, and a Julie Andrews Christmas album. Shortly after THAT, it was my 6th birthday, and I got another album -- The Best of Herman's Hermits Volume 2. It came complete with a foldout poster of Herman (Peter Noone), which I had taped to the wall above my bed.

The poster has sadly vanished into the mists of time, but I still have the album, scratched, battered & priceless.

And I swear that one of these days, I am going to see Peter Noone in concert (he regularly makes the rounds of the local casinos) & get him to autograph it. I still think he's pretty cute, even if he's now 60-something. ; )

(And yes, there's also Wilson Phillips... but I think that's enough reminiscing for now, lol.)

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Katie's tree

I'm not sure if I've mentioned Katie's tree before in this blog. (Anyone else's blog search function consistenly turning up "no matches" lately??)

Unlike many bereaved parents we know, we didn't deliberately set out to plant a tree in Katie's memory after we lost her. The tree came to be in a very roundabout way.  I can't even remember exactly when this happened;  it was probably the spring/summer of 1999 or 2000, a year or two after her stillbirth.  We had two big wooden, half-barrel planters in our little-used backyard, sitting on concrete slabs on either side of our deck steps, and we have several big maple trees nearby -- actually in the next-door neighbours' yard, hanging over the back fence.

One day when we were back there, we noticed a tiny maple tree sprouting up among the weeds in one of the planters. I don't know why one of us didn't yank it out along with the weeds, then & there. I think I may have thought, idly, that it would be fun to see just how big it got before we got around to pulling it up.

Something about that tiny tree taking root in the barrel appealed to dh. I don't remember how long an interval passed, maybe even a winter & a spring, but the tree kept growing, and it started getting pretty big.

Dh told me he wanted to plant it in our back yard. "It'll be Katie's tree," he said.

So he tugged it up from the barrel -- we were both afraid that he might have killed it, yanking it up by its roots like that -- but we planted it and watered it, regularly for a while, and staked it as it got a bit bigger -- and eventually pretty much left it to its own devices.

And it grew. And grew. And grew.

When I think of it now, it makes perfect sense that that little tree became known to us as "Katie's tree." Like Katie herself, it came from a tiny seed that planted itself and sprouted in an unlikely place (in Katie's case, my aging bicornuate uterus).

While (sadly) Katie did not thrive and grow, against all the odds, "Katie's tree" has.  : )

Here's a photo of dh standing in front of the tree in late October 2001, after a leaf raking session (the tree is already a pretty good size):

And here's what it looked like 9 years later, in October 2010 (two years ago):


(I'm hoping to get a good current photo of the tree when the leaves have turned... if I do, I'll post it here!)

Saturday, October 6, 2012

October and thanksgiving

I recently had some old negatives scanned... about three years' worth -- all my photos taken between about 1997 through 2000. And this weekend, I've been uploading the photos from the CD to my computer & organizing the photos into folders. It's been a bittersweet experience, looking through them all and reliving the past -- in particular, 1998 -- the year of my lost pregnancy, as well as the death of my beloved grandfather. I wonder again why I took so few photos of my pregnancy, but then I remember the uncertainty and anxiety I went through. I guess photos were the last thing on my mind then.

Tomorrow marks 13 years since my grandmother died, and next week, it will be 14 years since my grandfather died, just days after I returned to work after Katie's stillbirth in August. Ever since then, October has always felt a bit melancholy for me. I love the fall colours -- I don't miss the summer humidity and extreme heat -- but there is a chill in the air, and I know that winter will soon be here.

I can pinpoint the exact photos that are the last ones I took of my grandfather and grandmother. My grandmother is sitting in a chair in my mother's living room, a few days before I returned home and about two months before she died. She was a little lost, that last year she spent without my grandfather (after more than 65 years together, since they were teenagers), but in that final photo, she is smiling at me and looks like the Grandma I remember, the way I want to remember her. I am glad that's the last image I have of her. I want to get it framed.

There are photos of our nephews as sweet little boys -- and of cousin/neighbour's two little girls, now grown young women -- birthday parties and picnics, a waterpark outing in September 1998 (with me still wearing maternity clothes). And once again, I wondered, sadly, how and why our families drifted so far apart. Once, I considered them the nieces we didn't have;  today, they are like strangers. I am sad for all the years we have missed that we could have enjoyed together. 

And yet I am thankful for the time that we did spend together and the fun we had and the spoiling I got to do and the photos I got to take when they were little. It seems like another life altogether -- a lifetime ago, certainly, but it was real, and I have the photos to prove it.

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, and this past week, I posted one of those memes that go around on Facebook occasionally. It ends "In memory of all lost angels" and I added, "and especially our beautiful daughter, Katie." A couple of my FB friends picked it up, including a few of dh's cousins, and some of them even mentioned Katie at the end.

What really floored me, though (& had me in tears), was when dh's cousin's son put it on HIS wall, with a nod to "and especially my cousin Katie."  You see, he was born in April 1998, exactly six months before Katie's due date. He is just 14 years old himself.  I didn't even think he knew about our baby, let alone her name (although, being my FB "friend," he has probably seen my occasional references to her). To say he made my day would be an understatement. Among the scanned negatives I got back were a few from his mom's baby shower, just a few weeks before he was born. I'm not in any of the photos, sadly, but I remember being there, newly pregnant myself, happy and excited.

This weekend is Thanksgiving here in Canada. As usual, we're at loose ends... BIL invited us to their family dinner with his inlaws, but his MIL just got home from surgery and dh & I have both had bad colds this week. It's easy to feel sorry for myself (especially when my parents Skyped me tonight just after their own dinner with my sister and aunts -- I can practically smell Mom's fabulous stuffing through the computer screen).

But the truth is, I am one very lucky girl, and there is so very much to be thankful for. (Even if it's not always apparent when I blog, lol.)

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Summer reading

Since the advent of the Internet, the number of books I read every year has sadly declined. (The number of books I continue to BUY, on the other hand, is quite another story...)  I still manage to read several books on every vacation, though. Even thought I now have a laptop that I bring along with me, there is still enough down time to accommodate both activities, along with numerous games of cards & dominos. ; )  While we were visiting my parents in late August, I read 4.5 books in two weeks -- two hard covers, one paperback & 1.5 on my e-reader. (I have since finished the other 0.5, lol.)  And I would gladly recommend any & all of them. : ) Here are a few details:

I don't remember which came first -- whether I saw or read an excerpt from Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World that Won't Stop Talking by Susan Cain -- but I was immediately intrigued. I consider myself an introvert, and I've long noticed how it's the extroverts of the world who tend to get more than their share of the spotlight. (During journalism school, we took both print & broadcast for the first two terms, then specialized in the third. Surprise! -- all the quiet, less talkative types wound up in the print newsroom, while the talkers and class clowns vied for attention in front of the TV cameras & behind the radio studio microphones.)

Cain does a great service by pointing out how our culture favours extroverts -- and the undervalued contributions made by introverts (who make up an estimated 1/3 of the population). She examines the role played by Dale Carnegie in the rise of the extrovert ideal and the culture of personality;  visits a Toastmasters Club, a Tony Robbins seminar,  Harvard Business School and Pastor Rick Warren's Saddleback Church; examines the role that extroverts may have played in recent upheavals on Wall Street;  and uses specific examples from her own experiences, as well as other well-known introverts such as Rosa Parks, Steve Wozniak, Eleanor Roosevelt and Gandhi. She examines some of the scientific aspects of introversion -- research on brain and emotional development in children, whether introversion is genetic -- and even tackles the question of whether cultures can be introverted or extroverted (Asian cultures vs American, for example).

She even addresses the topic of introverts & extroverts online:
"Studies have shown that, indeed, introverts are more likely than extroverts to express intimate facts about themselves online that their family and friends would be surprised to read, to say that they can express the "real me" online, and to spend more time in certain kinds of online discussions. They welcome the chance to communicate digitally. The same person who would never raise his hand in a lecture hall of two hundred people might blog to two thousand, or two million, without thinking twice. The same person who finds it difficult to introduce himself to strangers might establish a presence online and then extend those relationships into the real world." (p. 63)

I marked one other passage that struck me as having great relevance for those of us going through infertility or loss, and the effort it sometimes takes for us to function in the "real" world -- the struggle to hide our emotions and maintain a brave face -- and how exhausting it can be. She tells the story of Brian Little, a highly popular, high-energy professor at Harvard, who is actually an introvert who recharges between classes at a rural retreat: 
"Double pneumonia and an overscheduled life can happen to anyone, of course, but for Little, it was the result of acting out of character for too long and without enough restorative niches. When your conscientiousness compels you to take on more than you can handle, you begin to lose interest, even in tasks that normally engage you. You also risk your physical health. "Emotional labor," which is the effort we make to control and change our own emotions, is associated with stress, burnout, and even physical symptoms like an increase in cardiovascular disease. Professor Little also believes that prolonged acting out of character may also increase autonomic nervous system activity, which can, in turn, compromise immune functioning.
"One noteworthy study suggests that people who supress negative emotions tend to leak those emotions later in unexpected ways. [emphasis mine] The psychologist Judith Grob asked people to hide their emotions as she showed them disgusting images. She even had them hold pens in their mouths to prevent them from frowning. She found that this group reported feeling less disgusted by the pictures than did those who'd been allowed to react naturally. Later, however, the people who hid their emotions suffered side effects. Their memory was impaired, and the negative emotions they'd supressed seemed to color their outlook...." (p. 223)

Near the end of the book, Cain tackles some practical issues, such as how to communicate better with a partner or child who is the opposite of your own personality

Introverts like me will find this book affirming -- but extroverts will find it valuable too, in gaining insight into the introverts in their life and how to deal with them more effectively.

Next, I dove into How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran, as recommended by Mrs. Spit and J9, my longtime penpal from NZ & occasional commenter here. 

I had never heard of Moran before, but I gather she is a well-known newspaper columnist in Britain. As the New York Times review describes it, the book is part memoir, part feminist polemic, written in that frank and insanely funny style that is unmistakeably British. I cannot imagine any North American woman (with the possible exception of Tina Fey) waxing lyrical and at length about the joys of... not waxing. Moran is anti-Brazilian (and I'm not talking about people who live in Brazil) and anti-stilettos, but pro-big girl panties and adamantly pro-choice (the mother of two children, she had an abortion when she found herself unexpectedly pregnant with a third, and writes about it without regret). 

I was particularly amused that the book included a chapter titled "Why you should have children" -- immediately followed by "Why you shouldn't have children" -- both chapters equally well argued. "If having children is hard work... in many ways, it's the easy option for a woman. Why?  Because if you have children, at least people won't keep asking you when you're going to have children," she writes in the "not" chapter. Sing it, sister.

I think what I loved most about the book was that Moran is an unabashed, self-proclaimed "Strident Feminist" -- and makes it sound like fun. If you think you aren't a feminist, or aren't sure, Moran has this to ask you:
"a. Do you have a vagina? and 
"b. Do you want to be in charge of it?
"If you said "yes" to both, then congratulations! You're a feminist."
There's so much more... I've only scratched the surface here. Go, find it, read it (but beware of reading in public -- you may get some peculiar looks when you start laughing out loud-- as you almost certainly will).

I'd read some rave reviews of Wild by Cheryl Strayed -- and, of course, it had that ultimate seal of approval, the Oprah Book Club pick. At first glance, it didn't seem to be a likely choice for me. While I appreciate a leisurely stroll through some nice scenery now & then, and have been camping in my childhood (in a camper, usually one with hard sides) -- hiking, tenting and roughing it in the wild -- solo -- with occasional scary encounters with snakes, frogs, bears, moose and lecherous strangers is generally not my thing.

Nevertheless, I devoured this book in less than two days. It's beautifully written and a highly compelling story -- not just your average travelogue or girl versus nature tale. Strayed envisioned her trip as a personal quest for salvation after the death of her mother and breakup of her marriage left her broke, homeless and teetering on the verge of heroin addiction.

She -- and we -- quickly realize how woefully unprepared she is for the challenge. As Strayed points out, today, hikers on the trail can go online to plan their trips and pick up tips from other, more experienced hikers. The was 1995, in the early days of the Internet. All she had was a guidebook, burning the sections for the parts of the trail she'd already covered to reduce the weight of her overstuffed backpack. (The book burning parts made me wince.)

This is an amazing book by an amazing writer, and I heartily recommend it.

I have confessed in the past to my weakness for Hollywood memoirs & bios. Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe is one of the better ones I've read in awhile (in the e-reader version).

It's not so much that Lowe's story is so unique -- average midwestern boy from a broken home in Ohio, gets bitten by the show biz bug, moves to California with his mother & brothers, finds fame, struggles with alcoholism, eventually gets sober and finds love and more success -- but he tells it very well, with humour and some keen observations. Lowe and his fellow Brat Packers are just a few years younger than me, so I can relate to the times he grew up in and the movies he made. "The Outsiders" was one of my very favourite books, growing up, and Lowe's stories of how the movie was cast and made make for some interesting reading, along with his stories of growing up in Malibu with his buddies, the Penn brothers (Chris & Sean) and the Estevez/Sheen brothers (Emilio & Charlie) -- whose dad would later play his boss on "The West Wing."   

I am generally in bed long before Craig Ferguson's The Late Late Show show comes on TV (11:30 p.m. my time), but whenever I do see him on TV, I always enjoy him, and I have fond memories of him as Drew Carey's department store boss, Mr. Wick. (Of course, I am a sucker for almost any message delivered in almost any kind of accent, lol.)  I knew he had acted in a few movies... but his past incarnations as a bartender, standup comedian and a drummer in a punk rock band (!!) came as a surprise.

I hugely enjoyed Ferguson's memoir, American on Purpose: The Improbable Adventures of an Unlikely Patriot. Ferguson is a year younger than me, so I can relate to the times he grew up in, if not the setting. He grew up in a working class family in a dreary suburb of Glasgow, Scotland, and it's the stories of his youth and how he worked his way to Hollywood that are the most interesting parts of the book. Like Caitlin Moran, he has that unique British (oops, sorry, Scottish) sense of self-deprecating humour and way of expressing himself -- you can pratically hear him talking as you read. He is cheerfully frank in particular about his descent into alcoholism, what it did to him and how he eventually embraced sobriety. This is another one of those books you need to beware reading in public, because you are likely to wind up laughing out loud.

How about you? Any good reads this summer?