Saturday, November 29, 2014

Kicking the bucket (list)

If you've read my blog for a while, you'll know that I tend to chafe at the notion that just because I don't have kids, I should be doing something spectacular with my life, make some sort of grand gesture -- sell all my possessions to live on a tropical island, for example, or become a missionary in Africa, or travel the world or learn Mandarin -- as if I need to somehow justify my existence or compensate in some way for my lack of offspring, or simply just because I have the extra time and money to do this sort of thing -- so I should! (I know I've written some previous posts on this subject, which I can't find at the moment, but Msfitzita had an excellent piece a while back along these lines, here.)  

More recently, I've been fending off the same sort of expectations now that I'm unemployed/early-retired. People want to know "So, what do you do all day?"

So I had a bit of a chuckle when I saw this article in this morning's paper: "Why I don't need (or want) a bucket list when I retire." The author begins by noting the current mania for creating "bucket lists." Here are a few excerpts from what he had to say next: 
Not only don’t I have a bucket list, “make a bucket list” isn’t even on my to-do list.  
Can’t we all just relax?...  
If you’re lucky enough to be able to retire — a big if, given how many people simply can’t afford to stop working — you’re expected to then learn a new language, travel to a wildlife preserve in Kenya, take up Bikram yoga or sharpen your culinary skills. Leave it to us baby boomers to turn retirement into summer camp....  
What does it mean to live a full life? Is all this activity essential? That’s a big question. And I have no idea of the answer. But at 56, I’m getting old enough to start giving it some serious thought.  
...I don’t need a bucket list filled with stressful things such as jumping out of an airplane or hiking to the top of a mountain to motivate me. And besides, I don’t want to be motivated. I just want to relax and spend time with family and friends....
Now, let me be clear -- there's absolutely nothing wrong with making a bucket list or beginning a second career or climbing Mount Kilimanjaro or learning Mandarin or running a marathon. I have no desire to do any of these things (at this point in my life, anyway -- that could change) -- but if that's what you want to do and you have the means to do so, then by all means go for it.

The problem, as I see it, begins when there's an expectation -- voiced or implied -- that this is the kind of life we SHOULD be leading as childless or retired people -- when others make us feel less than or crazy or boring or wanting in some way if we aren't doing these things. (Yes, I know, no one can make you feel inferior without your consent, etc. etc. -- but that is sometimes easier said than done...!)

For the record, I DO have some things I want to do in retirement, including travel -- if not written down in a formal "bucket list."

But there's absolutely nothing wrong with taking some time to sit back and watch the wheels go round & round either. ; ) 

Monday, November 24, 2014

I still don't love November

The cold and the darkness still suck. 

Halloween was the preamble to what was coming. It was chilly, grey and pouring rain, so much so that the candle inside my jack o'lantern on the porch refused to stay lit, and I was getting wet just sticking my head & hands out the door to dole out candy to the handful of poor, brave (sugar-desperate??) trick or treaters who showed up on my front porch (our lowest turnout ever in 25 years in this house). 

And then suddenly, it was November. 

Within days, the time change plunged us into darkness well before suppertime -- and it's been gradually getting darker, earlier since then. And colder. By mid-month, the beautiful fall foliage that made this October such a delight had mostly vanished, leaving stark, bare branches against the dull grey sky. We started seeing snowflakes in the air, and woke up the morning of Nov. 17th to a thin blanket of white snow -- and we've had more since then (which has pretty much put the kibosh on our morning walks & given me a slight touch of cabin fever -- the first since I've been off work).  (Although I suppose I shouldn't complain too much about the white stuff, when Buffalo is just two hours & a bit down the road...!!) 

It's November -- and October's tragic & terrifying events in Ottawa and St. Jean-sur-Richelieu cast a dark shadow over my country. Two innocent men lost their lives for the simple reason that they were both soldiers -- and easily identified as such because they were in uniform (one of them was guarding the National War Memorial -- an unarmed ceremonial position). These events brought additional gravity to this year's Remembrance Day ceremonies.  

It's November, and my daughter -- who should have been celebrating her Sweet Sixteen this month, and getting her G1 (learner's driving permit), like one of her cousins in the extended family just did, to much congratulations on Facebook :( -- is long dead, having never drawn a breath. :(

It's November and, being Canadian, we've long since had our turkey and meditated on gratitude (that was back in mid-October)(and to be honest, I prefer that timing, versus having so many big things crammed into the space of less than a month -- Christmastime is already hectic enough as it is...!). But in recent years, we've begun to adopt U.S.-style Black Friday shopping promotions -- which I am not entirely sure is a good thing.

So November is still, unquestionably, my least favourite month.

But I must admit -- November HAS lost some (not all, but some) of its sting. Even before I turned the page on my calendar, I didn't find myself loathing and dreading November in quite the same way that I once did.

A big reason for that, of course, is that I am no longer working. November was always our busiest, most stressful time of year at work (i.e., year end).  When my job suddenly vanished, so too did my year-end work obligations -- and all the stress and exhaustion that went along with it.

In past Novembers, dh & I would be up at 5 a.m., and slog our way through weather that was often cold, wet and miserable to the commuter train station, where we'd stand shivering on the platform until our train arrived at 6:45 a.m., to deliver us to our offices before 8... and then repeat the whole process in the evening in reverse (and hope the cold and snow didn't lead to train delays and cancellations :p ).  These days, I'm generally not up before 7:30 (MUCH more civilized!). :)  And looking out the window of my cozy house last week at the blowing snow, a cup of tea in my hand (or listening to the wind howling outside tonight), I thought for the umpteenth time how thankful I was that I no longer had to worry about commuting. 

In past Novembers, Christmas shopping was something to be squeezed in during lunch hours (a little bit here, a little bit there...) and weekend visits to a packed mall -- or postponed altogether until December (when the pressure was really on...!).  This year, dh & I have already gotten a start on gift-buying. It's great to be able to shop at the mall early on a weekday afternoon when there are far fewer people around. (Although it's a bit jarring, since most of the people there at that hour are senior citizens -- I guess it's one way to feel younger by comparison...!) 

We've booked our flights west for a slightly-longer-than-usual holiday stay with my family -- no need to rush back, or to battle with co-workers over vacation approvals or work coverage. Between now & then, I fully intend to take advantage of my new freedom to enjoy some of the holiday events & activities that I never could find time for when I was working.

For example, I spent a day at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair a few weeks ago with a friend from out of town;  I'm planning to attend a gargantuan annual Christmas craft show with another friend;  and I'm hoping to drag -- errr, bring dh to the European-style Christmas market in the Distillery District -- something we've never had time to do before. And I already have a date pencilled in for the Christmas lunch that's become an annual tradition with a couple of my previously retired colleagues. Aside from the lunch (which I always enjoyed, albeit with one eye firmly on the clock, because I had to get back to the office...), this is all stuff that I would have been hard-pressed to do (there's only so much you can cram into already-packed weekends) in Decembers past.

So I still don't LOVE November. 

But (so far, anyway -- with less than a week to go)(knocking wood?) it's the best November that I've had for quite a long time.  :) 

#MicroblogMondays: Odds & ends

* Is this really the last week of November?? (Annual November post coming up shortly...)
* Christmas Eve is exactly one month from today. (You're welcome.)
*  I saw my first Elf on the Shelf photo/post on Facebook today.  Brace yourselves for the deluge...!
*  We've gone from snow & cold last week to temps of 14C with wind & rain today (high 50sF) -- and then back down close to 0C (= 32F) tomorrow. Crazy. (But -- it's not Buffalo...!!)
*   Aunt Flo is here today -- still as regular as she ever was, as I approach my 54th birthday (!!). I never thought I would still be dealing with her in retirement, but (as I have well learned) life can take some strange twists & turns sometimes...
* I made several phone calls today regarding medical records transfers (to my new family doctor) and dental insurance issues. All were answered & resolved within minutes. I think I should buy a lottery ticket.

And how is your Monday going?

Sunday, November 23, 2014

(American) Thanksgiving: Not about the kids?

An article from the Washington Post popped up in my Facebook feed this weekend with an interesting premise:  "Thanksgiving: A rare holiday that isn't all about the kids."  Author Jack Santino suggests:
Children may enjoy watching the Macy’s parade or look forward to pumpkin pie. But Thanksgiving activities aren’t centered on kids. There are no candies to collect, gifts to unwrap or eggs to hunt. There’s no staying up past bedtime for fireworks or Santa or the ball-drop in Times Square...  
The symbolism of Thanksgiving, too, distinguishes it as a holiday geared toward older relatives. Rather than a baby in a manger, or baby Cupids, or baby chicks, Thanksgiving prompts us to think about the Pilgrims...  
...the day tends to be calmer than the gift-giving frenzy to follow in December, and all the candy-colored, children-centered customs of Halloween, Valentine’s Day and Easter.
Among other points, Santino notes that children are generally segregated from the adults at the Thanksgiving dinner table, and "graduate" to the adult table as they get older. ("...being thankful is really a grown-up value. Only as we grow older does our appreciation deepen.") He also believes that "the adult focus of Thanksgiving has also helped it resist consumerism" -- the rise of Black Friday shopping aside -- although, as he notes, there has been some significant pushback in recent years against Black Friday and particularly how its tentacles have started to creep into Thanksgiving Day itself.

But while Thanksgiving may not be quite the kid-fest that Christmas & Easter & Halloween are (or have become in recent years), I still sense there is a focus on family and bringing the family together that can make it uncomfortable or downright difficult for those who didn't grow up in a Norman Rockwell-style family, or who have failed to conform to the family norms in some way (e.g., by producing children of their own).

I would say Canadian Thanksgiving in October is similar in not being a particularly kid-focused holiday -- although there are certainly critical differences between the two events (beyond the timing). Thanksgiving in Canada is generally not the big deal that it is in the States.  There are no Thanksgiving parades in Canada, no references to the Pilgrims (they had/have nothing to do with our celebration here), and you generally do not hear about people moving hell & high water to get home for Canadian Thanksgiving (if anything, that would be Christmas).

Anyway -- what do you think?

(And -- a propos of nothing -- with this post, and with five weeks left to go in 2014, I've surpassed the number of posts I published in all of 2013! Unemployment/early retirement has obviously helped my productivity, at least on the blogging front, lol.)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Recent reading

A couple of interesting recent articles that I thought were worth sharing:

*  "No, you don't have to "move on." It's okay to grieve forever." (Washington Post)  Love, love, love this essay, written by a PhD student who lost her little brother when she was 5. Sample passage:
Like many therapists, I get a lot of people who come through the door thinking there’s something wrong with them because they’re feeling the loss of someone who has died, left or disappeared long ago. Often they ask me why they still sometimes cry.  
Sometimes I ask them to tell me why they think they shouldn’t still be sad. And most of the time we come to the conclusion they’re in my office so I can somehow put a cork in it for them so they can stop upsetting their families and the rest of the world.
Isn't that so often the case?

*  "The Science of Suffering" (New Republic)  Fascinating study of post-traumatic stress disorder and how it affects entire generations of families and cultures (Cambodians, Jewish Holocaust survivors, Native Americans...) -- and may, in fact, become hardwired into our DNA.  Coping mechanisms and treatment are also discussed, including whether it's better to remember or forget/supress memory.

*  "Tim Cook brought uncles and aunts into the limelight" (SFGate via Gateway Women) Not only did the Microsoft CEO recently come out of the closet as a gay man, in the same article, he also proudly and prominently identified himself as an uncle -- a role too often neglected when it comes to discussions about families.

"By putting “uncle” up high, he outed a huge group of us who are unduly proud of our roles as uncle or aunt, an accomplishment rarely noted by famous people," writer Tori Ritchie notes.
...aunt- and uncle-hood classically has been portrayed as a byproduct of suspicious childlessness, as in eccentric Auntie Mame or foppish Uncle Arthur on “Bewitched.” In the conversation about family values, aunts and uncles are rarely mentioned. There are no Happy Aunt’s or Uncle’s Day cards in the Hallmark aisle. It’s not one of those things you put on your Twitter tagline or brag about at office parties. It’s something you go about quietly, without public fanfare. 
Yet we live in an era when there are probably more devoted aunts and uncles than ever...  Until last week, we had no public voice, but now we have someone powerful and famous who has outed us and proudly claimed membership in our club: Uncle Tim Cook. 
Read the whole thing -- I thought it was sweet, & pays well deserved tribute to the unsung yet vital relationships so many childless/free aunts & uncles enjoy with their nieces & nephews.

I choose

A find from Facebook.  "Choice" can be a loaded word in the context of infertility -- childless/free life was NOT my first choice, although t's the life I wound up living. But I can choose how I deal with the hand I've been dealt, and how I want to spend the rest of my life.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Loss, childlessness, and midlife crisis

I was in an online discussion recently among a group of loss moms (most of them in their late 30s & 40s -- some who have living children, some who don't) debating whether the funk some of the group members are in at the moment can be blamed on loss & grief, midlife crisis, or a bit of both. (And perhaps a dash of perimenopausal hormones as well?) 

So it was timely to find this article from The Atlantic, which puts forward the theory of the happiness U-curve. The data is more or less the same in every country researched: overall life satisfaction generally declines as young adults begin to age, bottoms out somewhere in the 40s or early 50s, and then begins to increase with age again (declining again somewhat in extreme old age, particularly if ill health is involved).  A few excerpts: 
Long ago, when I was 30 and he was 66, the late Donald Richie, the greatest writer I have known, told me: “Midlife crisis begins sometime in your 40s, when you look at your life and think, Is this all? And it ends about 10 years later, when you look at your life again and think, Actually, this is pretty good.” In my 50s, thinking back, his words strike me as exactly right. To no one’s surprise as much as my own, I have begun to feel again the sense of adventure that I recall from my 20s and 30s. I wake up thinking about the day ahead rather than the five decades past. Gratitude has returned...
Midlife is, for many people, a time of recalibration, when they begin to evaluate their lives less in terms of social competition and more in terms of social connectedness. In my 40s, I found I was obsessively comparing my life with other people’s: scoring and judging myself, and counting up the ways in which I had fallen behind in a race. Where was my best seller? My literary masterpiece? Barack Obama was younger than I, and look where he was! In my 50s, like my friend K., I find myself more inclined to prize and enjoy people and relationships, which mercifully seem to be pushing the unwinnable status competition into the background... 
In my own case, however, what seems most relevant is a change frequently described both in popular lore and in the research literature: for some reason, I became more accepting of my limitations... For me, the expectation of scaling ever greater heights has faded, and with it my sense of disappointment and failure.
Nowhere is infertility or pregnancy loss mentioned, although some of the interview subjects mention the stresses of dealing with children, aging parents, and marital, career, health and financial problems. But I find that a lot of this article resonated with me.

I don't know whether it's the passage of time (16 years) and that time really does heal all wounds (although the wounds do still ache, now & then), whether I've just done my grief work really well, or if grief just exacerbated what would have been a midlife upheaval anyway?  I spent most of my 40s coming to terms with both my daughter's stillbirth and the hard reality that I was not going to be a mother. (And if you haven't figured that out in your 40s, turning 50 really brings that particular reality home...!) Having succeeded in just about everything else I'd set out to do in life, this was a tough, tough pill to swallow.  And it's really, REALLY hard not to compare yourself (and find yourself wanting) when everyone else around you is raising (seemingly) happy families (that they seem to totally take for granted), and there are pregnant women all around you, and baby bumps on every magazine cover. My career, such as it was, was no substitute, and it stalled, as the managers who had known and supported me left the organization (culminating in my termination this past July, after 28 years). 

Turning 50 was a milestone -- and while I've had my ups & downs since then (losing my job, for one), for me, I think the U-curve theory fits. I can feel that upward swing of the curve. While I am sad that my daughter is not here and that I never got to be a mom (to living children), I am grateful for the life that I have right now, and feeling happier and more excited about the future than I have in a long time. My life doesn't include children, but it's still a good one. Yes, I've had to deal with some crappy stuff in my life -- but everyone does, at some point -- and do I really want that to define & set the tone for the rest of my life? 

There will no doubt be more challenges ahead in the coming years. (I still have to go through menopause, for one...!)  But right now, overall, I like my life, and I am hopeful for the future.

Monday, November 17, 2014

#MicroblogMondays: It's beginning to look a lot like...

This (photo below) is the scene dh & I woke up to this morning. Not a lot of snow, and we've had some flakes in the air before this, but this is the first real accumulation that we've had this season (and it's still coming down as I type). 

Note that there are still leaves on the neighbour's trees that overhang our yard, and leaves on the ground (even though dh has been raking diligently and already filled 7 big bags).  There are just two yard waste pickups left this season, including one tomorrow. Yikes! 

I know it's mid-November, and my family & friends out west would roll their eyes at this photo -- they've already had to dig out from several major dumps of snow. And I have to admit, snow helps make things feel a bit more Christmasy.  The first snowfall always does look pretty, especially when it sticks to the branches, as it's done this morning.  

But yikes -- I am really not sure I am ready for this. :p

(On the other hand -- I did not have to battle my way on slippery roads to the commuter train station this morning & stand freezing on the platform, waiting for the train. Small victories...!)

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

Looking out my back door (window).

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The search for meaning

I remember a time at our pg loss support group where everyone was discussing what "meaning" we could derive from our babies' brief existences, and how they had changed us for the better.

My dh said he wanted to think that losing Katie had turned him into a better, more noble person -- but he'd come to realize that he was still pretty much the same person he'd ever been. Needless to say, his was a minority view.

A couple of years later, though, when the evening's discussion was heading in a similar direction, our longtime co-facilitator said reminded him of that conversation. And she said (something to the effect of), "You know, when you said that, I thought you were so wrong, that of COURSE I'd been changed profoundly by my daughter's death. But as time goes on, I have to admit -- I think you were right. Life goes on much the same as it ever did, and I'm still basically the same person I was before my baby died."

I thought about that conversation as I read this essay from the New York Times's Sunday Review:  "I Nearly Died. So What?" After her brush with death, the author discovered that her friends & relatives were "hungry for evidence of my spiritual or moral transformation... My stable of petty complaints and shallow concerns, most of them having to do with some combination of unsteady cash flow, real-estate dissatisfaction and constant low-grade career anxiety, would surely be dwarfed by my gratitude just to be alive."
Please don’t misunderstand me. I was grateful to be alive, physically and cognitively — and, to be honest, even more grateful not to have emerged from the coma alive but with severe and irreparable brain damage. 
But I also knew myself well enough to suspect that after a few months of smelling the metaphorical flowers, I’d probably go back to being the whiny ingrate I was before. And as friends came by with meals and groceries and showered me with well wishes and all manner of questions about my state of mind, the more it occurred to me that their hunger for stories of my cosmic transformation was rooted less in their concern for my soul than in their culturally ingrained need for capital-C “Closure.” Because they wanted this chapter to end for me, because they wanted me to go back to being as healthy as I was when I was a whiny ingrate, they wanted to make sure I was sufficiently transformed so as to never whine or be ungrateful again. It was as if the only way any of us could be sure that my body was clear of infection was for me to officially become a better person. 
Americans have always been suckers for stories of triumph over adversity. But increasingly, we’re obsessed not just with victory but with redemption...   
Crises, by definition, are chaotic. They don’t always impart lessons and, contrary to what we like to tell ourselves, they’re just as likely to bring out the worst in people as the best. But the redemption narrative, along with its corollary, the recovery narrative, is so beloved in our culture that even rational people tend to glom onto it — if only for the sake of making polite conversation. Equal parts bedtime story, love story and horror story, it’s a perfect example of the American preference for sentimentality and neat endings over honesty and authenticity. 
What do you all think? (I would encourage you to read the whole article -- and there are some interesting comments too.)  I do believe that going through loss & infertility has made me a more empathetic person. Death & grief are never things we want to deal with, but they no longer frighten me in quite the same way they once did. I think I have a much better sense of what to say & do and how to support a friend who is grieving. But I don't think the essence of who I am has changed much.

Beyond the debate of whether we are changed by what happened to us, I love what this article has to say about others' eagerness to derive some meaning out of our situation -- how we feel compelled to come up with narratives to make others feel better & tie up all that nasty, scary stuff with neat, pretty bow. (I'm reminded of Barbara Ehrenreich's wonderful book "Bright-Sided," which I reviewed here, as well as "Closure: The Rush to End Grief and What it Costs Us" by Nancy Berns (reviewed here).  

I think this pressure to come up with "meaning" and to fashion a story for public consumption that has a happy ending is why so many of us who are living childless/free after loss & infertility feel we need to "compensate" in some way by changing our lives in some dramatic way. What's wrong with deciding that (if you can look past the absence of the children we once assumed we would have) our lives are pretty good more or less the way they are right now?


Friday, November 14, 2014

Bittersweet sixteen

"Bittersweet Sixteen," the headline on the New York Times' Motherlode blog read today.  A post from a mother whose son is 16. And, as you might guess, she is mourning the fact that he is growing up -- and away from her. "This is just as it should be, yes, but my pride in his growing independence is mixed with a very real sense of loss."

And then it dawned on me.

Bittersweet 16?  A "very real sense of loss"? 

Oh, I'll give you "bittersweet 16" -- and loss that's very real, not just in a "sense."

Today is -- was -- is -- my due date. November 14. 1998.  One of several due dates I was assigned -- it kept getting revised as her growth rate kept falling further & further behind the norm.  But this was the first one I was given, so I always think of it as the "official" due date. 

My daughter would/should be having a sweet 16 party this weekend.

And (even worse) I almost forgot about it until I saw the header on this article. Bad Mommy. :( 

In my own defense -- I do find the due date, the might-have-been birthday, generally takes a backseat to the date of loss for many loss moms. (And having three of them kind of complicates the matter. ) I thought it might be different this year, since I am not working & would supposedly have more time to think about these things.

Oh well. :( 
Happy birthday, sweet baby girl.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Recent reading

Crosby, Stills, Nash (& sometimes Young) were part of the soundtrack of my growing-up years in the late 1960s and through the 1970s.  I still thrill to the sounds of their amazing harmonies on songs like "Suite Judy Blue Eyes" and "Teach Your Children." 

Back around the time I got married in the mid-1980s, David Crosby's drug use and multiple arrests were in the news, and I read his memoir "Long Time Gone" when it came out in paperback. So it was interesting to read a slightly different take on some of the same people and events in "Wild Tales" by Graham Nash.

Nash comes across as affable and balanced, and probably the most sane member of CSNY.  He unabashedly loves Crosby, tolerates the prickly but immensely talented Stephen Stills, and admits to a mutual love/hate relationship with the quirky Neil Young.  Nash admits to his own excesses of sex (Joni Mitchell and Rita Coolidge were his lovers before he met his second wife of 35+ years, Susan), drugs and rock 'n roll. Fortunately, he quit cocaine cold turkey in 1984, in part after seeing what it was doing to Crosby. 

Before Nash became part of CSNY, he was a member of The Hollies -- part of the British Invasion sound that formed another important part of the soundtrack of my life. (I loved their tight harmonies on songs like "Bus Stop" and "Carrie Anne," and a friend & I saw a Nash-less version of the group in concert in the late 1970s.)  I especially enjoyed the earlier part of the book where Nash describes his growing-up years in Manchester, his early encounters with the Beatles (competing in the same talent shows!) and the Everly Brothers, and his rise to fame with the Hollies, who included his best friend from his schooldays, Allan Clarke. 

I was also interested to learn that Nash is an accomplished photographer -- the cover photo is a selfie of him and his camera taken the old-fashioned way, in a mirror -- as well as a painter & sculptor and an entrepreneur.

If you are interested in CSNY or Sixties music, this would be a good choice.  It's not a difficult read.

***  *** ***

There's a well-known little piece of Canadian poetry that goes, "Toronto has no social classes/Only the Masseys and the masses."  The Masseys were among the wealthiest and most influential families in Canada in the late 1800s and early 1900s:  the patriarch, Daniel Massey of Newcastle, Ontario, invented the mechanical threshing machine and founded Massey Harris (later Massey Ferguson), which was at one time the world's largest manufacturer of agricultural machinery. One of Daniel's grandsons, Vincent Massey, became Canada's first Canadian-born governor general;  Vincent's brother, Raymond, became a famous actor.

In February 1915, another Massey grandson, Bert, was murdered -- shot on the steps of his Toronto home by his housemaid, Carrie Davies, who claimed he had tried to "ruin" her. It was a shocking event and irresistible fodder for the city's newspapers, particularly the Daily Star (which still exists today as the Toronto Star) and the Evening Telegram.

In "The Massey Murder," award-winning writer Charlotte Gray explores the murder and Carrie's sensational trial (which all happened within the same month!!), in the context of the times -- the changing face of Toronto's social order, the influx of immigrants, the growing movement for women's rights and their expanding role in the workplace, and the impact of the First World War.  Gray's previous books on Canadian history themes have tackled figures such as sister-writers Susanna Moodie and Catharine Parr Traill, inventor Alexander Graham Bell, poet Pauline Johnson, and events such as the Klondike gold rush.

The book was well written, well researched and interesting overall -- albeit just a bit flat. I got to the end and was left with the distinct feeling of "is that all?" Perhaps this is because we know so little about Carrie, the central figure in the drama -- she left no letters or diaries and her only words on record come from newspaper reports from the trial.

It would be an interesting read if you're into vintage true crime stories, upstairs/downstairs relationships, and/or social history (particularly related to Canada and, more specifically, Toronto). 

These were books #15 & #16 that I've read so far in 2014.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

This year's model (2014)

Tuesday was Remembrance Day, meaning that (hereabouts, anyway), banks and government offices were closed, but most other businesses were not. I was downtown anyway for a career transition seminar, and decided to stay in the city and do a little shopping.

I had not been back to the "scene of the crime" -- i.e., the office tower where I worked for almost all of my 28-year career (I remember walking by it as a hole in the ground, en route to the interview that landed me my job) -- but I knew that, being a bank holiday, it was unlikely that I would have any awkward encounters with former coworkers. But the shops in the concourse were still open, and I knew the card shop where I've bought my Christmas cards for the past several years would certainly have this year's stock out by now.

And they did. And, as usual, I knew "the card" when I saw it. No Classic Pooh or angels or little girls this year but, similar to recent Christmases, there's a black & white photo with splashes of colour, and the slightly old-fashioned photo of a little boy peering hopefully up the chimney.  

Now to get the things done... and this year, I guess I don't have any excuses. ;) 

2013 card
2010 card was a photo card of me & dh on our 25th wedding anniversary : )

Monday, November 10, 2014

#MicroblogMondays: A royally good time

I'm late to post, because I was out for most of the day. An online (non-ALI) friend was in town for the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair and I took the train into the city to spend some time with her.

I've lived here for almost 30 years, but this was my first time at the fair (although I have attended other events held in the same location).  For me, it was a bit of a blast from the past, a little country in the big city. While I never lived in the country myself, I grew up in small rural communities where many of the kids arrived from farms by school bus.  My grandparents had a small farm where my dad grew up, and where they grew grain and sugar beets, and kept cows, pigs and chickens, and many of my other relatives lived on farms as well.

Walking around the barns and watching some of the 4-H dairy competitions brought back a whole lot of memories -- of running through the back pasture with my cousins; stepping over (and sometimes into) cow patties;  collecting eggs in the henhouse with my cousin (and sometimes dropping one on my shoe);  watching my grandmother milk the cows, and then following my grandfather into the little shed where he would put the fresh milk through the separating machine.

I wouldn't say I know a LOT about agriculture -- but I probably know more than most people who live in this city do.  I'm willing to bet that most of the schoolkids thronging the fair this afternoon had never seen a real live cow before (much less made the connection to the milk & hamburger on their dinner tables).

What's been your experience with farms and farm animals?  

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

Holsteins, as far as the eye can see. ;) 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Watching the wheels

While I've kept up a pretty good pace of posting here since losing my job in July (and after all, I do have more time to think and write these days), my blogging output has slowed a bit over the last week or two. Perhaps it's my usual November funk kicking in (& I will have a new post about that before the month is out).  Perhaps it's just the regular ebb & flow of blogging -- sometimes I am bursting with inspiration and ideas and things I want to say and writing mojo;  other times, not so much. And then something will happen or grab my attention, and I'm back on my keyboard again, tapping out another post. ; )

The inspiration for this post comes from Sarah at Infertility Honesty.  A few weeks ago, she wrote about her struggle to pick up the pieces of her life and deal with her grief, post-infertility treatment, and it's stuck with me since then. A few excerpts: 
"Infected with the “next step” disease like most infertiles, I wrestled with the adoption question every day, along with the slight time urgency my age brings to the table. 

"And then a funny thing happened. Summer started to feel good...

"As I’ve told people since January, “HOW we are doing is infinitely more important than WHAT we will do. Time to live that, and forego living with the limbo that comes from trying to force something that can’t be forced...
"A temporary step back could be a good thing. All will be there for me when I return. Flailing attempts to grab at ambiguous at best chances to create life no longer apply. I’m not going to actively pursue a career at the moment, so what? I don’t think the world will suffer much for me embarking on a new career at age 43 or 44 vs age 42, and I know I won’t either.  Plus, I’d be crazy not to take advantage of this space my husband’s and my hard work, risks, and sacrifices have earned... 
"For whatever reason my so what summer finally unveiled some joy in my home, more joy in my marriage, and a contentment that is attached to just being."

Her post (and I'd encourage you to read the whole thing) ended with the lyrics of a John Lennon song -- and although I knew the song very well (from the Double Fantasy album, released after his murder in December 1980, about the years he spent away from the music industry and out of the limelight as a "househusband," raising his son, Sean), I read the lyrics anew (& heard the song in my head) with a shock of recognition.  Suddenly, I could relate -- REALLY relate.  I had a whole new appreciation for how Lennon must have felt when he wrote it.  

I loved Sarah's post, and the Lennon song, because they so perfectly explain where I'm at in my life right now and how I'm feeling -- as well as how I felt/feel about stopping infertility treatments and living without children -- "no longer riding on the merry go round" of infertility treatment, desperately trying to grab the brass ring of motherhood.

I have often tried to explain to people that pregnancy loss and infertility treatment was like a roller coaster ride -- and that we decided we didn't want to hop off one roller coaster and then climb onto another (donor egg, adoption, etc.).  I know it's hard for some people -- both inside and outside and the ALI community -- to understand ("Don't give up! It will happen, I know it will!  Are you REALLY going to live without kids?  You would be such good parents! Have you thought about adoption?" etc. etc. etc....), but we were exhausted and spent and reeling from all the ups and downs of the past few years. We just wanted to stop riding roller coasters, and get on with our lives. And it didn't take us long -- a few weeks' vacation walking on the beaches of the Oregon coast -- to realize we'd made the right decision, painful as it felt. 

As I've written before, I'm finding some parallels between that time in my life and right now -- dealing with sudden, perhaps permanent, unemployment/earlier than expected retirement.  People want to know, "So, what do you do all day?"

I know there are those who can't imagine retiring (because they simply can't imagine a life without work, they need the money, or both). Others tell me I shouldn't even think of retiring at my age -- I'm still young!! I still have so much to offer!!

Perhaps. (Realistically, no matter how great my resume, I know there are a lot of similarly talented, suddenly unemployed 50-somethings wandering around right now looking for work. As with infertility treatment, I know the odds, and they are not on my side.) I like to think that yes, I may still have a lot to offer -- but I now have the advantage of offering it on my own terms, how, when & where I want.  I spent the past 28 years in a high-pressure corporate environment ("the big time") -- working and commuting 10-12 hours a day, asking "How high?" when other people said "Jump!" I'm in no hurry to return to that kind of life (if ever).  Been there, done that, bought the T-shirt. 

A certain amount of riding on the merry go round/roller coaster is a given in life.  But sometimes it's nice to get off when the opportunity arises, sit back & watch the wheels go round & round.

Take it away, John. ;) 

People say I'm crazy
Doing what I'm doing
Well, they give me all kinds of warnings
To save me from ruin
When I say that I'm okay
Well, they look at me kinda strange
Surely you're not happy now
You no longer play the game
People say I'm lazy
Dreaming my life away
Well, they give me all kinds of advice
Designed to enlighten me
When I tell them that I'm doing fine
Watching shadows on the wall
Don't you miss the big time, boy?
You're no longer on the ball
I'm just sitting here
Watching the wheels go round and round
I really love to watch them roll
No longer riding on the merry-go-round
I just had to let it go
Ah, people asking questions
Lost in confusion
Well, I tell them, there's no problem
Only solutions
Well, they shake their heads
And they look at me as if I've lost my mind
I tell them, there's no hurry
I, I'm just sitting here doing time
I'm just sitting here
Watching the wheels go round and round
I really love to watch them roll
No longer riding on the merry-go-round
I just had to let it go
I just had to let it go
I just had to let it go

(Another song from the "Double Fantasy" album, "Beautiful Boy," provided the quote that appears in the sidebar of this blog and has been part of my online signature since Katie's stillbirth:  "Life is what happens while you're making other plans.")

Understanding the journey

Monday, November 3, 2014

#MicroblogMondays: Drawing a blank

Today is rare day for me. I turned the page in my datebook & realized I was looking at a blank space. Like, totally, entirely blank. No appointments or places that I absolutely have to be (a lot fewer of those since I lost my job) -- but also no birthdays or anniversaries to note, no bills to be paid, no reminders about whether they're picking up yard waste (raked leaves) as well as recycling & garbage, no TV programs I've flagged to watch. Nothing. Nada.

It's not very often that this happens. The next completely, totally blank date on my calendar is Dec. 29th. (Although I'm betting there will be a few more of them in 2015, now that I am no longer working.) 

I suppose some people might find that blankness terrifying. I find it liberating. :) 

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