Sunday, July 28, 2013

Recent reading

I started writing this post a few weeks back & it has languished in my drafts folder. All these articles were included in one day's edition of the Globe & Mail, in the Life section & I thought they were worth sharing:
  • Why my family's back yard (not the beach) is the best escape:  I found myself nodding as I read this... there was so much I could relate to (you may recall that I recently wrote in a similar vein).  "For most people with relatively predictable lives, vacations are the sunny or snowy reward... As a self-employed person whose career feels like shooting down a two-storey water slide every day, I don’t have the residual time, focus or energy for any of it. At home, I’m reminded of who I was before I left: a dreamy kid reading magazines. While some seek an electrical charge from a vacation; others, calm and relaxation, I need the specific familiarity of where I came from, to be grounded by the values and interests and people that I had before I created my own (often weird, sometimes alienating) adult life. Even on a good day, it’s very different from the suburban tranquil where everyone else in my family still is." 
  • Why we agonize over destroyed possessions: I've always been much more attached to my "stuff" than dh. I liked reading an explanation of why "stuff" can mean so much to us. I know it's only stuff, and people are more important than things... but some things do mean something. I'm obviously not the only one! 
  • What is so wrong with having only one child?  I've seen this book in stores recently, have been reading interviews with the authors. Some of you who are struggling to have that second child may find some comfort in her words.
I'm on vacation right now & my computer time is limited but I am reading & commenting on blogs when I can. And reading a lot of books. :)  Reviews to come, eventually. :)  Hope you are enjoying the summer!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

GRAB(ook) Club: "The Fault in Our Stars" by John Green

**There will be some spoilers in this post, so consider yourself warned. **

The plot of “The Fault in Stars” by John Green -- this month's GRAB(ook) Club selection -- could be summarized (at least in part) as “girl with cancer on hold (for now) meets boy who had cancer but is currently clear.” Since this is a book in which several of the main characters have cancer, it’s not a huge stretch of the imagination to realize that someone going to die by the end of the book – and since the girl is the narrator, you also know that’s it’s not likely going to be her. There are clues foreshadowing what's going to happen and to whom, which I picked up on pretty quickly -- so I was prepared for the big reveal when it finally came, although perhaps not the way in which it was done. 

Cancer books & movies have become a bit of a cliché (“Love Story,” the book by Erich Segal and the movie starring Ryan O’Neal & Ali MacGraw was, after all, a cancer story in part). That said, even though I had my suspicions about how the plot would evolve and how the book would end (some confirmed, some not), I enjoyed the book overall – and found a few surprises along the way.

I knew this book would probably make me cry. (I was forewarned by Mel when she first read the book.) I was on the commuter train platform as I entered the final part of the book – where Gus summons Hazel and Isaac to meet him at the church – and I felt tears starting to sting my eyes as the train pulled into the station. Part of me was dying to plow on & finish the book on the train -- but I knew I would probably keep on crying and get some weird looks from the other passengers (and I’d only just put on my makeup & I still had a full day of work ahead of me…). ; ) So I reluctantly turned my e-reader off. On the way home, I couldn't resist the temptation & opened my e-reader again. After a few more pages, I had to stop again, much as I wanted to keep going. I finally finished the book in the privacy of my home later that evening. ; ) 

There was much I could relate to in what the book had to say about death and grief and families and support groups and how the rest of the world reacts to the misfortune of others. “The world is not a wish-granting factory,” Hazel & Gus remind each other – something that many of us in the ALI community know only too well, albeit from a different perspective. 

I could also relate to the simple story of two teenagers falling in love under less than ideal circumstances. (Did anyone who read this book NOT fall in love with Gus, at least a little bit?)  I haven’t read any young adult fiction in a while now (so many books, so little time…) but I remember the books of my youth fondly, and I still like to dip into that world now & then. I can still remember what it was like to be a teenager and that giddy feeling of amazement when the hot-looking boy you like (although we didn’t use the term “hot” back then) actually likes you back. 

I loved the literate quality of this book – the discussions about books, the poetry that Hazel can quote from memory to Gus. The Shakespeare. The heartfelt eulogies. The various references to stars. I loved how the author worked Anne Frank – another teenager who lived under a different kind of shadow, also doomed to die young -- into the plot, too.

*** *** ***

As an aside -- one of Canada’s greatest national heroes, Terry Fox, had a leg amputated because of osteosarcoma.  He eventually decided that he wanted to run across Canada to raise funds for research to find a cure -- and began his journey in Newfoundland in April 1980. He ran a marathon. EVERY SINGLE DAY. ON ONE GOOD LEG & a prosthetic. By the time he reached Ontario, he was met by cheering crowds. He filled Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto. 

I was in university at the time -- he was just a few years older than me -- and my friends & I talked about how we would go to see him and cheer him on when he passed through Winnipeg that fall.

But before the fall term began, in early September, Terry's epic run ended in northwestern Ontario, just outside of Thunder Bay on Lake Superior. (The town later erected a statue near the spot a few years later -- I had my photo taken in front of it when I drove through with my parents in June 1984.) He was experiencing chest pains, coughing fits and shortness of breath. He cried as he told the press that the cancer had returned and spread to his lungs. Less than a year later, he was dead at the age of 22.   I cried when I heard the news, and I still get tearful sometimes when I think about it.

In the 30+ years since then, Terry Fox Runs have been held across Canada and around the world each September. To date, they have raised more than $500 million for cancer research. 

A few years ago, my department hired a young guy on contract who had lost a leg to the same cancer. In fact, he started right around Terry Fox Run time & on one of his first days at work, I could hear him in a nearby cubicle, doing some media interviews on their behalf, telling his story. He had been cancer-free for a while but still saw his specialists for regular checkups.  He was only with us about a year, but called me a few months after his departure to ask me to edit his application letter for law school. I was glad to do so, and he gave me a hug and Starbucks gift card as thanks when we met to discuss my feedback. I asked him to keep me posted on what he was doing, but haven’t heard from him since. This book made me think about him. I hope he’s doing well.

*** *** ***

So all the above was really just the optional preamble to the main event:  book club participants have been asked to post a single question on their blog (as if we were all sitting in a room together talking about the book), which everyone can then answer in the comment section. All of the posts will be compiled in a linked list on Stirrup Queens. Discussions are also taking place on Facebook and GoodReads too -- post your question there if you don't have a blog and dive into the discussion.

I read this book on an e-reader, which was great in some respects, but made it difficult to flip around in contemplating a question.  And there were lots of questions that popped into my head while I was reading! (But did I write any of them down??)

Anyway -- my question: 

Key parts of the book (including the first meeting between Hazel & Gus) take place in a support group for young people with cancer. Did you ever attend a support group -- for pregnancy loss, infertility, adoption, or any other reason? How did your experience compare with Hazel's? Did you find it helpful? What did you like &/or dislike about the experience?
My own answer:

If you've read my blog, you'll know that dh & I began attending a perinatal loss support group about a month after Katie's stillbirth... and wound up staying for more than 11 years, 10 of them as facilitators.  So obviously, we found the experience helpful or we wouldn't have stayed as long as we did. ; )  Being able to talk about our experiences & feelings openly and honestly among people who had just been through something similar played a huge part in our healing. We used to refer to ourselves (unoriginally, of course) as the club nobody wanted to belong to -- with the caveat that, if you HAD to be a part of this club, you were in some pretty good company.  Like Hazel, we made some wonderful friends through the group. Some went on to have other children, some adopted, a very few (like us) were never able to have any living children.

Group is not for everyone. Some people don't like spilling their guts in front of strangers while others find it easier to talk with people who, while strangers, have a better idea than their family & friends of what they are going through. Some people find the support from their families & friends is enough. Some find solace online. (I did too, & that was my daily lifeline between meetings. I did crave the personal, real-life contact as well.) 

Some people, like us, found kindred spirits in the group, and became "regulars."  Some would come once & we would never see them again. We tried not to take it personally. Some people just found it too depressing to sit and listen to sad story after sad story.  I am sure that some people were freaked out when they started learning all the other ways that it's possible to lose a baby.

Sometimes it only took one meeting for people to get what they needed out of it. I remember one couple who came to group only once, some time after their loss. The wife thought she was going insane. We listened to her story & reassured her that her reactions were normal for what she had been through and that some of us had been through exactly the same sort of thing. The relief in her face & voice was clear;  I could see the burden lifting from her shoulders. We never saw them at group again, but I continued to see them listed as donors in the organization's newsletter for years afterward.

I loved group but by the time we left, after facilitating for 10 years, I did feel it was time to move on. I still miss seeing all the wonderful friends I made there regularly, and being able to talk so openly about my daughter & what happened to us -- but I don't miss the responsibility.  I don't miss the (thankfully very few) clients who monopolized the conversation or held side conversations instead of listening to the person who held the floor or texted on their cellphone instead of giving others the courtesy of listening & paying attention to their story. :p

Aside from the fact that Hazel's group was for cancer patients & mine was for pregnancy & infant loss, there were a few other differences I noticed. While the group I went to met in a church for part of the time we attended, it was not religious in nature. We didn't have any prayers or reading of names, and we did not stand in a circle at the end & chant "Living our best life now" (!) or anything of that sort. I did find that slightly bizarre, but to each their own...  Our original group leaders insisted on giving everyone a hug as we left. It wasn't something mandated, just something from their generous hearts. We all loved that. :) 

You can find my group-related posts under the label  "support group" on the right-hand sidebar of this blog. 

After you answer my question, please click over to read the rest of the book club questions for The Fault in Our Stars.  You can get your own copy of The Fault in Our Stars by John Green at bookstores including Amazon.

Monday, July 8, 2013

And the biggest kids in the audience are...

I spent part of my anniversary weekend in a dark theatre... with a gazillion giggling kids and their parents. The previous weekend, BIL, SIL, dh & I were at FIL's and "Despicable Me" was on TV.

"You haven't seen it??" BIL & SIL gasped. (I think they saw it with their kids -- albeit both boys are now in their 20s...!!) And so we watched together, and howled with laughter.

So when we started discussing what movie we wanted to see this weekend past, both dh & I sheepishly admitted to a preference: "Despicable Me 2."  It didn't hit us until we were standing in line for tickets with hordes of excited children and their parents that this was opening weekend, & of course it would be busy on a Sunday afternoon. Oh well. 

This was not, by far, the first kiddie movie that we've seen, sans children in tow. When you hear people rave -- and justly so -- about movies like Toy Story (1, 2 & 3), Up, The Incredibles, why wouldn't you want to see them too? After all, many of us are still kids at heart ourselves. ; ) And why should parents have all the fun, just because they have a kid with them? 

And it WAS fun. In fact, I daresay that we probably had the most fun of anyone there. ; )

There was one slight "ouch" moment, where the little orphan girl flatly recites a Mother's Day poem and then talks about how funny she feels doing so, because she doesn't have a mother. (I can relate, kid... not my favourite holiday either...)

But the antics of the merry Minions -- the little scene-stealing creatures who do the bidding of the villain-turned-softhearted adoptive dad (there's one on the poster above)  -- more than made up for it. By the last 10 minutes of the movie, dh & I were reduced to clutching our stomachs in helpless fits of laughter while tears of hilarity rolled down our cheeks (and we were both still giggling hours later). Apparently the Minions are getting their own movie next, and we'll probably be in line on opening weekend for that one too. They are hilarious.

So I was amused to find this article from Entertainment Weekly (one of my absolute favourite magazines) in my Facebook feed tonight -- "Despicable Me 2: Would you go to see it in theatres solo?"  -- in which a single, childless woman talks about going to see family films by herself. (At least I have dh, who is probably even keener than I am about cartoons.)  This line in particular cracked me up -- probably because I felt pretty much the same way: 
Despicable Me,” I grumbled to the box office cashier, like I was a teenager asking for condoms from behind a 7-11 counter.

Nevertheless, the majority of respondents to the attached poll question "Do you mind going to kids movies alone and without a child in tow?" responded "Not at all."

How do you feel about going to a kiddie flick -- alone or with another adult?

Saturday, July 6, 2013


"So, do you have a blog post ready to go for our anniversary?"  dh asked me a few days ago. Ummm, actually, I didn't.

And then I saw that some kind soul had posted about our anniversary on LFCA  -- so I kind of felt obligated to come up with something, lol.

Year 28 (!) has been challenging for us -- particularly the last few months, dealing with job loss/extra-early unexpected retirement. We're slowly adjusting to the new reality -- dh to his new status as househusband, me to mine as solo commuter. We know we've survived far worse crises (& if you are a regular reader of this blog, you know what they are). We got through those, and we will get through this too.

I've been off work this past week. We've been checking out caterers & party rentals, pulling weeds & cleaning up the yard. There was a heavy rain last week that left a puddle of water in our basement & mildew on the baseboards :p  -- as a result, we got the eavestroughs cleaned, some landscaping done (sloping the ground away from the wall & planting grass) and may have to look into some new drywall. :p  Dh sometimes finds handyman stuff frustrating -- but as we worked in the yard, pruning and pulling weeds, he commented that "When you're out here working with me, I feel like I get so much more accomplished." We were both amazed by how much we got done in just a few hours.

I like the picture above of Pooh & Piglet, leaning into a blustery wind, but walking on together, hand in hand. There is a stained glass ornament that hangs on our bedroom mirror of Pooh & Piglet (not the picture above, but the same idea), inscribed "It didn't matter where they went as long as they went together." I can't think of a better way to sum up what these 28 years of marriage have meant to me.

Steak dinner tonight! : )

27 (2012)
26 (2011)
My wedding
25 years (2010)
24 years (2009)
23 years (2008)