Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 Year in Review

Yikes -- where did 2015 go?? It's time for another Year in Review post!

I started doing this year-end meme five years ago -- and, although I feel like many of the answers don't change much from year to year, it's still a great way to look back and keep track. Feel free to use the questions on your own blog (& let me know if you do!).

1. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

As I have said in the past, I don't really make new year's resolutions anymore -- they tend to be pretty much the same ones, year after year. So here are the perennials, and the progress I made (or didn't) in 2015:
  • Lose weight.  Alas, I am more or less the same weight as I was this time last year... I go up a few pounds, I go down, I go up again. :p  I did buy a new digital scale, which will hopefully help in terms of accuracy.   
  • Exercise more. (And hopefully lose more weight...!)  We weren't quite as consistent with our morning walks this year during the spring/summer/fall (perhaps one reason why the scale hasn't been going down :p ) -- and since the advent of colder & wetter weather, we haven't been out walking much at all. I am planning to look into yoga classes at the local rec centre in the new year to help bridge the activity gap until the nicer weather returns. Last winter I spent entirely too much time sitting on the couch. :p  
  • Write more in my journal (blog??). Haven't written in my paper journal in years. Blogging: Being unemployed has been good for my blogging output as well as weight loss.  I wrote 150 posts in 2015 (including this one), the most I've written since 142 posts in 2009 (my all-time high is 172 posts in 2008, my first full year of blogging). And I reached a milestone: 1,000 posts!!       
  • Read more of the books that have piled up around the house. (Need to do better at this... the faster I read, the more I buy, it seems... yikes!) I racked up my best "books read" count since I started keeping track a few years ago: 27. :) I've reviewed all of them on this blog except the most recent one I finished (a review is coming shortly). And I'm almost through another one, which will be #28 for 2015 or #1 for 2016, depending on whether I finish it tonight. ;)      
  • Tackle some of the clutter that never seems to go away. ("Some" being the operative word...)  This is one resolution where I can say I have made significant progress! Over the past year, dh & I (well, mostly dh) have hauled almost 60 (!!) boxes (liquor store-sized cartons) of stuff to the local Salvation Army thrift store -- which includes almost 40 boxes of books alone. I did not count the many, many bags of clothes and other things that also went to the Sally Ann. I also gave my old stereo, vinyl collection and cassettes to our oldest nephew and a ton of my scrapbooking/craft supplies to his fiancee. Giving up stuff (& especially books) is very hard for me, and I am proud of what I accomplished this year. I still have stuff, of course -- more than I probably need -- but there is a lot less of it, and it is neater and better organized.
  • Finally do something with the spare bedroom that was to have been the nursery (get new furniture & linens to replace dh's college apartment castoffs).  I did get a new bedspread several years ago, and there's now a fresh coat of pain on the walls, but new furniture is still on the to-do list... 
  • Set aside the nephews' scrapbooks for awhile, & start a scrapbook for dh & me (that will hopefully be finished in time for our 25th anniversary in 2010). And maybe (finally) start Katie's, too. Sadly, I have not done any scrapbooking since fall 2009.  I have more time now (& still have a TON of supplies to use...! -- even though I gave a bunch to Oldest Nephew's fiancee), so I am hoping to carve out some regular time for scrapbooking into my schedule in the new year. (Besides which, I'd better finish the nephews' books before any great-nieces and nephews start showing up!)  ;)   
2. What did you do in 2015 that you’d never done before?

Nothing really earth-shaking stands out. :p

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

Nope, no new babies in my circle of close family & friends.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

Sadly, SIL's mother (our nephews' grandmother) died in late February. 

5. What countries did you visit?

Did not leave Canada this year. :(

6. What would you like to have in 2016 that you lacked in 2015?

To travel!! Even just close by. I loved getting away for our anniversary for a few days at a resort in cottage country. Maybe next year... :p 

7. What date(s) from 2015 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

Our 30th wedding anniversary. :)

For less happy reasons: Dh's emergency trip to the hospital. :p

The day (quite recently) when Nephew #2 popped the question to his girlfriend & got engaged. :)

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Getting to enjoy more of the Christmas season than I have in YEARS.

9. What was your biggest failure?

Not speaking my mind enough, and drifting instead of taking the initiative to get things done that I wanted to do.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Thankfully, no. A bit of a cold recently, & assorted aches & pains, but nothing that a couple of ibuprofen and some rest couldn't fix. 

11. What was the best thing you bought?

Loving our new car. :) That was probably our most major purchase this year.

12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?

Our new prime minister. I don't think he's the Second Coming (in a religious, political or genealogical sense, lol).  He's going to screw up, eventually. To be honest, I don't get the whole "hot" thing. (He's nice looking, for sure, but "hot"??) And frankly, it's rather disconcerting to have a prime minister who is not only a decade YOUNGER than you are, but whose birth you clearly remember...! But the change in tone from the top has been most welcome. And anyone who promises gender equity in his new cabinet -- and then delivers on that promise, with some exceptional choices -- and justifies that decision by saying, "Because it's 2015" -- deserves some kudos. :)

Members of the Ontario legislature from all parties, who passed Bill 141 to provide more research into pregnancy loss and more support for affected families. 

13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?

While some politicians did deserve kudos this year (see #12, above!), politicians (from both sides of the border) continue to top my "appalled and depressed" list. :p  With an election here this past fall, and one coming up in the U.S. next year, there has been no shortage of appalling & depressing behaviour, it seems. :p

14. Where did most of your money go?

As usual, beyond the essentials of daily living, and savings, our biggest indulgence is probably reading materials -- books & magazines. And as mentioned above, we also bought a new car, which was a big chunk of money to shell out all at once. :p

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Younger Nephew's engagement, just before Christmas. :)

Seeing the Little Princesses at Christmastime. :)

16. What song will always remind you of 2015?

I can't think of an obvious candidate.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you: (a) happier or sadder? (b) thinner or fatter? (c) richer or poorer?

About the same, across the board. 

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Travelling -- even just within driving range. Maybe next year.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Two years ago, I said, "Worrying. It never does much good anyway..." I said the same last year, and I think I need to remind myself again this year...!  :p 

20. How did you spend Christmas?

In the usual way:  with my family (my parents, sister & her boyfriend).  Lots of visits from the Little Princesses, lots of good stuff to eat, lots of fun card games.

21. Did you fall in love in 2015?

Never fell out. ; )

22. What was your favorite TV program?

Poldark! I also (still) love The Big Bang Theory, Bob's Burgers and Modern Family.

23. Do you hate anyone now that you did not hate this time last year?

As I've said before, no. Hate is a pretty strong word. Although there are certainly some people I think less of than others. 

24. What was the best book you read?

I read a lot of good books this year -- primarily memoirs. The one that has stayed with me the longest, I think, and one that I have probably talked about & recommended the most, is They Left Us Everything by Plum Johnson.  Not sure about its availability outside of Canada, but definitely worth a read.

Honorable mentions:
25. What was your greatest musical discovery?

As in the past, I must admit, I don't listen to a lot of new music...

26. What did you want and get?

More Christmas-y experiences this year:  Black Friday shopping with SIL, Swedish Christmas festival, craft show with my girlfriend, Toronto Christmas Market with dh, BIL & SIL (as well as Oldest Nephew & his fiancé), Christmas shopping by myself at the Toronto Eaton Centre -- all stuff I didn't have time to do when I was working. Made the season much merrier, and got me into the Christmas spirit early on. :)

27. What did you want and not get?

Still waiting on that sunspot vacation. ;) And there's a pair of earrings that I've looked at & passed up on, several times, even when they've been on sale. I swear next time I see them, I'm buying them. :p

28. What was your favourite film of this year? 

We saw 23 movies in 2015 and they were all pretty good.  (We're planning to see the new Star Wars movie on New Year's Day.) The one that was probably my favourite was the one we saw most recently:  "Spotlight." Great cast, great story, great script. A strong contender for the Best Picture Oscar. The runner-up would probably be "Inside Out" from this past summer. Not really a kid movie, and one that made me cry.

Other movies dh & I went to the theatre to see in 2015 (working backward from most recent -- all of them good):  SPECTRE, Steve Jobs, Bridge of Spies, The Martian, Everest, Mr. Holmes, Ricki & the Flash, Man From UNCLE, Trainwreck, Minions, Love & Mercy, Spy, Tomorrowland, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Woman in Gold, Casablanca (yes, THAT Casablanca...!), Birdman, Kingsman, Selma, Wild, The Imitation Game.

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I was 54, and we went to our favourite steakhouse for dinner. Freedom 55, coming up shortly...!

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

A little less anxiety, from both dh & me. Much of it was totally unnecessary -- but then, anxiety is rarely rational, is it?

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2015?

I spend most of my days in yoga pants & T-shirts, lol.  So I'm not sure I have a "personal fashion concept"??! 

32. What kept you sane?

Staying busy and getting out of the house most days, particularly during the LONG winter. :p

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

This was another one I had to think about... no obvious candidates yet...!

34. What political issue stirred you the most?

The plight of the Syrian refugees, and the demonization of immigrants generally (here in Canada, as well as in the U.S.), bothered me a lot this year. Unless you're from an indigenous/aboriginal tribe, all of us in North America are descended from immigrants -- some of us more recently than others -- and many families (including my own, & dh's) have their own stories about ancestors & family members who were vilified and mistreated by those who came earlier.

35. Who did you miss?

As always, my daughter, and my grandparents.

The Little Princesses.  Only getting to see them twice a year, and occasionally on Skype, sucks. :p Time goes by too quickly, and they are growing up way too fast. :(

My childhood best friends. Had a wonderful visit with them when I was home this summer, and realized how much I miss them and that I really don't get to see enough of them. :(

36. Who was the best new person you met?

I really haven't met an awful lot of new people, aside from one-offs. So I will have to think about this one too.

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2015. 

When painting & doing other renovations... go with your gut instinct (despite the painter's assurances). Use the dropcloths!!  ;)

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

"Time keeps on slipping, slipping... into the future..."  ("Fly Like an Eagle," Steve Miller Band -- an oldie but a goodie that seems appropriate) ;)

New Year's Eve 2007
New Year's Eve 2008
New Year's resolutions for 2009
New Year's resolutions for bereaved parents
New Year's Eve 2009
New Year's Eve 2010
Year in Review 2011

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Post-Christmas odds & ends

  • I'm back! (Did you notice I was gone?) I was visiting my parents over Christmas, & computer time was hard to come by -- at least the kind where I could sit & think & read & write in long, uninterrupted stretches of time.
  • Sometimes, I think that's a good thing -- to have a bit of a break. ;)
  • I had a nice visit with my family, spoiled two adorable little girls, played lots of cards and ate way too much great food (and actually came home one pound lighter than when I left...!). 
  • I had a few wistful moments, seeing the little girls in their holiday finery and (especially) seeing dh having a blast with them. All the "what ifs" and "if onlys." Only a few moments, but yes, they still happen.
  • (ETA:)  I was tickled that among the Christmas photo cards I received this year, there were several from my childless/free friends, of themselves and their husbands. They are proudly displayed on my fridge, alongside the usual ones of my friends & cousins and their kids. :)  
  • I finished one book & got most of the way through another. Reviews to come.
  • Also coming up shortly: 2015 Year in Review post. :)  
  • I hope the holidays have been kind to you (and maybe even a little fun :) ).

Friday, December 18, 2015

"Let go of the life we have planned"

Found this on Facebook. :)
One of my all-time favourite quotes (it's in the sidebar of this blog)
and (I think) very applicable to childless/free living after loss & infertility.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015


This post marks a major, major milestone for me and for this blog. This is my 1,000th post!!!

1,000 posts in a little over 8 years -- that's pretty amazing.

Sometimes I find it hard to believe -- that I have been blogging for more than 8 years, that I have written this many posts, that I am still -- at almost 55 years old, 17 years post-stillbirth and more than 14 years post-infertility treatments -- finding things to write about (and in fact, I've written more posts this year than I have since 2008, my first full year of blogging).

Granted, I have gradually started writing about more than just loss & infertility. I also write about the books I've read (whether or not they're ALI-related), current events, things that have been happening in my life (renovations, new appliances, etc.).  My blog, my rules, lol.

But the vast majority of my posts (still) have at least some sort of an ALI/childless living angle to them. Which goes to show you coping with grief is a lifelong process, and that the effects of infertility & loss can linger long after the funeral is over and the treatment ends. 

But I hope my continued blogging also demonstrates that, even when you walk away from ttc without a baby, it's not the end.  It's only just the beginning of something new and different. You can still have a good life, even if it's not the one you thought you'd be leading. And it does get easier in time.

Love & (((hugs))) to all of you who are on this road less travelled with me. You are definitely not alone!

Stuff to read & watch

  • Toronto Star columnist Catherine Porter wrote a lovely supportive article about Bill 141 and the need to change the way pregnancy loss is handled, both in Ontario hospitals and by society at large.  "Why should we feel shame about losing a child?" she asks. Good question!
    • Sample quote: “We have a two-tier treatment for mothers who are pregnant. If it’s a successful birth there is cheer, joy and care. If something goes wrong, the nurse walks out on you, they send you home or leave you in the hall for hours or next door to a room with a crying baby being born,” says Colle [MPP Mike Colle, who sponsored Bill 141 and whose daughter has lost three babies]. “Then you go home, and no one talks about it. You are supposed to suffer in silence.”
  • Front page article in today's Toronto Star about the Ontario government's recently announced move to fund IVF -- and how limited funding is turning the much-anticipated program into a "baby lottery." :p  The online coverage is far more extensive than the print version. As always, beware the comments -- when I looked, there was not one positive or supportive comment in the bunch. :p  :( 
  • In her ongoing video interview series, "Talking About Childlessness," Jody Day of Gateway Women chats with Lisa Manterfield of Life Without Baby about grief, Plan B, and handling the holidays --  both highly articulate spokespeople for our childless/free segment of the ALI community. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Peace is...

A Facebook find. :)
Easier said than done sometimes, isn't it...??

Monday, December 14, 2015

#MicroblogMondays: Feeling old/feeling young

A few things that are making me feel old(er) lately:

* Younger Nephew got engaged this past weekend!!  (Wedding date still TBD -- his older brother's is this coming fall.)  I still think of him as an adorable, chubby, curly-headed toddler with a soother permanently stuck in his mouth.
* Discussing mother of the bride (& groom) dresses with SIL & Older Nephew's fiancée's mother this weekend, including the merits of dresses with sleeves when you're in your 50s.
* Getting the ubiquitous Christmas card photos from friends & neighbours and noticing how grown-up their kids (& grandkids!!) are becoming.
* Noticing a LOT more grey hair on my head lately.
* Seeing online photos of a holiday gathering of some of my high school classmates, & not being able to identify most of them. (On the other hand, feeling better about my own grey hairs when I see some of theirs, lol.)
*  Trying (& failing) to master a whole lot of new technology all at once. :p
* Only lasting two hours while Christmas shopping in the city last week. (Although to be fair, that's probably as much because of the cold I've been battling as my age...!)
* Trying (& failing) to get tickets to see Bruce Springsteen, & realizing "The River" (which he will be performing in its entirety) was released 35 years ago, when dh & I were both at university.
* Realizing that there's no way these days that I could stand for three hours for a rock concert on the floor like I did when I was 20. Reserved seats all the way!!  (Even if they are more expensive, lol.)

 A few things that make me feel like I'm still a kid: 

*  Watching Santa with the kids at the mall & wanting to go sit on his lap myself. ;)
*  Seeing the Christmas lights on the neighbours' houses, all lit up after dark.
* Enjoying the lights on my own Christmas tree every evening.
*  Passing by an outdoor neighbourhood skating rink that's under construction & wishing I still had a pair of skates (even though I haven't been skating in 30 years...!).
*  Finding myself wishing it would snow (even though I'm enjoying the current balmy temperatures...!) -- makes things much more Christmas-y.
*  Doing the daily advent calendar every morning with dh.
*  Counting the days until I see my family for the holidays (soon! soon!!).

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

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

An early Christmas present :)

Good news today for bereaved parents living in Ontario, past, present & future. :)  Bill 141 -- the Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness, Research and Care Act, which I blogged about a few weeks ago -- was passed by the Ontario legislature, with widespread support from all parties across the legislature. The bill will establish October 15th as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day in Ontario. More importantly, it will require the Ministry of Health to allocate resources to conduct much-needed research and expand programs to support the many, many families affected by pregnancy loss and infant death. 

Perhaps even more importantly, as the first known healthcare legislation of its kind in North America, the bill helps to break the silence that surrounds pregnancy and infant loss issues, and sets a long-overdue precedent and an example for other Canadian provinces, American states and other countries to follow.

Here's a press release about the passage of the bill.  Media coverage has been shamefully minuscule, with the notable exception of Ashley Csanady of the National Post, who has written a couple of excellent articles following the bill's progress, including this one about its passage. (I suggest you not read the comments.  Even about an issue like this, people find bones to pick. Sheesh. :p )

Monday, December 7, 2015

#MicroblogMondays: Bah, humbug...

Welcome to my whine & cheese party. :p  I'm sick. :(  AND Aunt Flo conveniently decided to drop by at the same time -- talk about a double whammy. :p

It's been a busy couple of weeks... I'd been feeling fatigued and there was a suspicious scratch in my throat, which should have been a clue that something was up, I guess. Then on Friday, we spent a couple of chilly hours tramping around downtown Toronto and the Christmas Market. Which was a great way to spend the afternoon and get immersed in the holiday spirit, but probably didn't help suppress whatever bug I'd picked up. I haven't had a full-fledged cold in a couple of years, so I guess I was overdue. On the bright side, it's still two weeks before Christmas & travel time. If I had to get sick, this is a much better time for it! 

So here I sit on the loveseat with my laptop, tissues, water, lozenges and TV remote control close at hand. Nothing to do except rest up and focus on getting through this thing as quickly as possible. No kids to worry about (and I think I probably get sick much less often most parents I know), no meetings to attend or deadlines to power through. Christmas shopping can wait another day. Childlessness (and unemployment/retirement) does have its perqs, lol.   

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

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Odds & ends

  • In case you haven't noticed ;)  I have been on a posting roll lately. ;)  17 posts in November alone, sometimes two in one day. I didn't formally take part in NaBloPoMo, but maybe I could have/should have. ;)  I said a little while back that I was hoping to reach 1,000 posts before the year is over -- and I'm well on track to meet that goal (knock wood!) ;) -- but I haven't been posting simply to rack up numbers. Sometimes I can't think of anything I want to say/write for days on end (or I just don't have time);  other times, the posts just write themselves, one after another. November was one of those months. ;)   
  • Dh & I have also been on a roll with movies:  we've seen 23 to date this year, i.e., an average of two a month. Most of them have been really good. Most recently, we saw "Spotlight." I'd heard it billed as the best movie about journalism since "All the President's Men" (which I adored), and it did not disappoint. I predict Oscar nominations.
  • "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" will have to wait until after we return from Christmas vacation, though. :(  I wouldn't say I'm a Star Wars fanatic, but I LOVED the original three Star Wars movies (the first came out when I was in high school, the third when dh & I were both in grad school), and I am so looking forward to seeing this one, with the original cast members. :)  When I saw the trailer with Han Solo & Chewbacca entering the Millennium Falcon, and Han smiling & saying, "Chewie, we're home" I got teary. ;)  (OK, maybe I am a geek after all.)  
  • Mel had a post recently asking whether we assume technology will always work, or always fail.  My response was that MY assumption when it comes to new technology is that *I* won’t be able to figure it out!  lol  It was a timely question because at the moment, we are awash in new technology, issues with old technology -- and frustration. 
    • As I wrote a little while ago, we just got a new flat-screen, HD LED Smart TV (stepBIL helped us with the initial setup for that). Then we had to get an HD box to go WITH the TV (& figure out how to hook up & operate THAT -- not to mention it’s costing us an extra $13 on our monthly cable to be able to watch HDTV on our HDTV, grrrr…). We've had to call the cable company at least three times for help so far, because every time there is a new download, it screws everything up. :p 
    •  Then we got a new car (our old one was 12+ years old) -- and IT has all kinds of high-tech bells & whistles we are still trying to figure out.
    • Then yesterday, I went to print a photo on my home printer. The printer is about 12 years old, but I have never had an issue with it -- until now.  The colours came out all wrong & muddy. (It still prints black & white documents fine.)  The one thing I can think of that's different since the last time I printed off a photo is that the last two ink cartridges I installed (it takes 6) have been generic Staples brand ones, because I can't get the manufacturer's cartridges in those shades any more. I had hoped to hang onto this printer for a little while longer... we'll see...
    • We recently realized we really do need to trade in our 8-year-old flip phones for smartphones (when dh was in the hospital last week, I had to go outside to pick up a signal every time I wanted to call his brother with an update -- and he couldn't call me -- while all around me people were yakking on their smartphones) -- but we’ve decided to wait until after Christmas. There is only so much new technology two aging baby boomers can master at once. :p
  • Speaking of technology (& frustration) -- I mentioned awhile back that I have been having some major issues with leaving comments on some WordPress/self-hosted blogs. I try to post something & it goes "poof!" & disappears. Or tries to get me to log into my WordPress account, vs just letting me use my regular info. I've tried to contact the bloggers privately where possible, but I don't have emails for some... so if it's been awhile since you've heard from me, check your spam folder -- some WordPress bloggers have found my comments in there. :p 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

"No more baby"

I saw a post today from a (non-ALI) blogger I follow. The title made me catch my breath: "No more baby," it read.

"Oh no," I immediately thought, "she's had a miscarriage!" 

She wasn't pregnant, that I knew of, but that was the first thing that popped into my head.

What would YOU have thought? 

Of course, the post wasn't pregnancy loss-related at all. It was her son's first birthday. She WAS mourning, but mourning the fact that the first year was over;  her little boy wasn't a "baby" any more.

Context is everything, I guess. When you've never lost a baby, you probably don't realize the impact that words like "no more baby" can have on someone whose baby-related experiences have been very different. I envy the innocence some people have about these matters.

And I realize that old habits & patterns of thinking die very hard, especially when you're an ALI-er. :p 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Book: "Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter" by Kate Clifford Larson

I've read many books about the Kennedy family over the years, so I was familiar with the story of Rosemary, Joe & Rose Kennedy's third child and oldest daughter: born with "intellectual disabilities" that were carefully hidden from the public, presented at court in front of the king and queen of England along with her mother & sister in 1938, lobotomized at age 23 in a botched operation orchestrated by her father, and then whisked away to spend the rest of her long life (she died in 2005 at age 86) in seclusion in the care of nuns at a convent in Wisconsin.

Long overshadowed by her more famous parents & siblings, Rosemary has finally been given a well-deserved turn in the spotlight by Kate Clifford Larson in her new book, Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter. The book is full of new details, material and insights about Rosemary, her life and times. Larson puts the reader in Rosemary's shoes, reminding us what it must have been like to grow up in the highly competitive Kennedy family, but unable to keep up with your siblings and meet the extremely high expectations that your parents had for their children. She also reminds us what it meant to be "mentally retarded" (the term then used) in the early part of the 20th century: to have a person like Rosemary in your family was considered shameful, and there were very few resources, programs, or schools to support these children and their families. Of course, the wealthy Kennedys were far better equipped than most people to offer Rosemary every advantage they could find to help her -- a succession of private schools, camps, lessons and paid companions -- but at the same time, they strove to present a picture of normalcy, carefully guarding Rosemary's secret from the public, so as not to damage the family's reputation and social and political prospects. 

As she grew older, Rosemary's frustrations manifested in increasingly rebellious and even violent behaviour. The most beautiful of all the Kennedy sisters, her parents feared she would be easy prey for unscrupulous men.  This led Joe Kennedy to decide -- without consulting his wife!! -- to subject Rosemary to a lobotomy, which was then a fairly new and untested procedure that was supposed to "calm" her. When it was over, Rosemary was reduced to a shell of her former self, physically disabled with the mental capacity of a two-year-old. What happened to Rosemary was not openly discussed within the family;  she just disappeared. Her mother did not visit her for 20 years (when she did, Rosemary was clearly furious). Older brother John paid her a private visit her during the 1960 presidential campaign. Gradually, her siblings began to understand what had happened to her, and to re-integrate her into the family. When she died in 2005, it was with her surviving brother and sisters around her.

Beyond Rosemary, her next-younger surviving sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, emerges as the heroine of the story: after her father's stroke, and as her mother aged, she assumed responsibility for her sister's care. Inspired in part by Rosemary, Eunice became well known as a tireless advocate for children's health and disability issues, and as founder of the Special Olympics. Senator Ted Kennedy, the youngest Kennedy sibling, was also well known for championing legislation that improved the lives of Americans living with disabilities.

This book is a reminder of how much things have changed in a very short time for people with disabilities -- and how much the Kennedy family, and Rosemary, had to do with that. It's a sad but important story that deserves to be told, and Larson has done an admirable job of bringing this long-neglected member of the famous Kennedy family out of the shadows.

This was book #26 that I've read so far in 2015.

Monday, November 30, 2015

November -- yay or nay?

So -- it's over! As you all know, November is NOT my favourite month (although it still beats February...!).

So now the big question:  Did November suck (as much as it sometimes has in the past)? Did I hate November or not this year?

Why November still sucks (a bit): 

I have to admit, there were a few parts of November that I could have done without.
  • Near the end of the month, the weather turned colder and gloomier and more November-like.
  • What happened in Paris on Friday, November 13th, was sad & scary. :(  
  • We had to hand over a big chunk of change to get a new car, after our old one (12+ years and counting) was diagnosed with more repairs than we felt were worth spending money on. This, on top of a new fridge in early October, the Painting Project, and plane tickets to see my family Christmas, left quite a dent in our wallet (and this was BEFORE I started Christmas shopping...!). Ouch! 
  • Dh & I spent the better part of two days going back & forth to the local hospital's emergency room. Long story short, he had a piece of chicken stuck in his throat, which had to be removed via gastroscopy/endoscopy.  It was kind of scary -- he could breathe, but he could not swallow anything, including water (!) -- but aside from a sore throat for the next few days, he quickly bounced back to normal, thank goodness.
  • And, of course, November will always be a reminder of my unfulfilled due date, and the little girl who never grew up. :( 
Why November doesn't suck (as much): 
  • I'm not at work!! :)  :)  :) 
You know, I've heard a lot of people complaining about the painful memories that come back to haunt them via Facebook's "On This Day" feature. (Bent Not Broken recently had a thoughtful post on this subject.) So far, I haven't had any real gut-punches -- perhaps because Facebook wasn't even invented until long after I had been through stillbirth, infertility & finally settled on continuing to live without children.

Nevertheless, there have been a couple of surprises -- things I'd forgotten about, funny stories I'd shared that were still funny a few years later. One thing that's plainly evident is how miserable I've often been at this time of year -- particularly in November and particularly late November/early December -- crunch time for year-end work deadlines. Often I'd have similar complaints pop up from various years on the same day!

A few examples (slightly edited):

From November 19th, 2012:
"It's the most wonderful time of the yeeeeeeeeaaaaaarrrrr....." (Sung sarcastically, with looming deadlines for year end in mind... :p )
From November 22, 2010:
...will be very, very, very, very happy when year end stuff is finally finished. :p
From November 23, 2011 (exactly one year later!):
...thinks it totally sucks that the fun of the Christmas season coincides exactly with the busiest & most stressful time of year at work (year end reporting). :p (You would think I would have figured this out & gotten used to it after 25 years on the job, but every year about this time, I feel the need to vent & sulk, lol. The fact that all my American relatives are enjoying turkey tomorrow while I still have to wait another month for Mom's might also have something to do with it...)
Other reasons why November didn't suck (as much):
  • The weather for the first 1/2 to 2/3 of the month was, for the most part, gorgeous. (In fact, I just saw a weather story on TV that showed something like 21 days of above-normal temperatures in November!)  There were a couple of days, early in the month, when I was outside in my shirt sleeves. That DOES NOT HAPPEN in Canada, people (certainly not where I grew up). It was Nov. 24th before I woke up to snow on the ground, and even then, it was just enough to coat the grass, and vanished quickly. (Yes, I know -- global warming, etc. etc.  But still...!)    
  • The Painting Project, which started in mid-October, spilled over into the first part of November. By the time stepBIL packed up his paint rollers and I managed to get my house back into some semblance of order and cleanliness, it was almost Remembrance Day. So the month really flew by.
  • Despite the fact that getting a new car ate up a big chunk of our savings (albeit savings that were budgeted specifically for a new car sometime in the near future), it was, of course, exciting :) and we are enjoying it.  
  • I got a head start on getting into the Christmas spirit, first by getting in touch with my Swedish roots at a Swedish Christmas festival, complete with a St. Lucia pageant (where St. Lucia stuck with tradition and wore a crown of real candles in her hair!) -- then by getting a head start on my Christmas shopping on Black Friday with my sister-in-law. :)  Black Friday is a relatively new phenomenon here in Canada -- promoted by retailers who are desperate to keep us and our dollars from crossing the border in search of bargains -- and the mall was pretty crowded, but SIL is a great shopping companion.  We had fun and yes, we found some bargains. :)
On balance, then: another November that didn't totally suck. :)  How about that?? :) 

#MicroblogMondays: It's a date :)

A couple of weeks ago, after our semi-annual dental cleanings & checkups in the city (no cavities, yay!!), dh & I made a side trip to an exclusive little stationery shop in a ritzy shopping neighbourhood. Not a place where I habitually go to shop, but then, there aren't a whole lot of places around anymore where I can find a calendar insert for my Filofax for the upcoming new year. There used to be several such shops in the financial district where we both used to work, but most of these have gradually closed over the past few years, no doubt a casualty of the growing shift from paper to digital recordkeeping.

Yes, I still use a paper calendar. I've used Filofax (Week on Two Pages) for something like 25 years now. Originally, I used a cheap vinyl DayRunner organizer with a Filofax calendar insert -- but a couple of years ago, after wearing out two of those, I splurged and, for my birthday, bought myself a lovely black leather Filofax Personal organizer (bonus: it was on sale!). Besides the calendar/datebook, it also includes my address book, business cards for our various doctors and other service people, to-do lists, a vinyl envelope containing postage stamps and address labels, a solar-powered calculator the size of a credit card, train schedule, etc. -- and, in case of an emergency, a $5 bill tucked away, lol. (It's been awhile since I put it there -- maybe I should make it $10 or $20 -- inflation!)  Some people go nuts if they lose their cellphones;  for me, if I lost my Filofax, I would be up the proverbial creek without a paddle.

I love filling in a blank calendar for a new year with fixed stuff like birthdays, appointments I've already made, paydays (& then wait for the inevitable bills to arrive & fill those in too, lol).  Birthdays & anniversaries go in red, important stuff like bills to be paid go in black (& when they're paid, they're ticked off in green with the amount paid written beside). Regular appointments are written in blue (and sometimes highlighted with yellow highlighter). The datebook also serves as a bit of a diary:  I make notes about the day's weather in purple, mail sent and received in turquoise, notable phone calls made & received in brown... I use lots of post-it notes too, for little to-do reminders, etc. 

At the end of the year, the old insert gets binder-clipped together and stored in a desk drawer along with the others from years past. I have all my datebooks and wall calendars going back to the early 1970s;  it's great to have them at my fingertips and be able to check what happened when and what I was doing xx years ago on this very day. For example, thanks to an old datebook I found & brought home from my mother's house this past summer, I was able to pinpoint the exact date of the dorm party where I first remember meeting and talking to dh, 34 years ago. :)

I suppose I could have just ordered my calendar insert online (& I may eventually have to, if fine stationery shops keep going the way of the dodo bird...), but it was fun to make the trip and be around all that lovely paper and fine fountain pens. It was just after Remembrance Day, and Christmas decorations were starting to go up;  it was a great way to kick off the holiday season. :)

What kind of a calendar/datebook system do you use?

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

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Uterine transplants & social pressures

There was an article in Ms Magazine's online blog several days ago, about recently announced trials at the Cleveland Clinic that would, conceivably (OK, bad pun), allow women to experience pregnancy and give birth via uterine transplant.

While writer Katherine Macfarlane applauds the efforts to give women more reproductive choices, she also takes note of "the social pressures at play that equate true womanhood with the ability to become a biological mother... pressure to experience motherhood in a very specific way."
I understand the determination to become a mother. Aside from the fact that it’s a natural part of life, socialization makes the experience of motherhood hard to separate from the experience of being a woman...  I know from personal experience that, even when it could pose a threat to your own wellbeing, the chance to carry a baby yourself is compelling... It's hard to let that dream go...  
Uterus transplants will give women who had lost hope a new chance to control their reproductive choices: They can now choose the option of experiencing motherhood through their own pregnancies. 
If women walk into these procedures fully informed of the risks, advised by doctors who will weigh the pressure to experience pregnancy alongside what women want, uterus transplants will represent medical innovation at its best. But questioning the restrictive gender norms that might influence those choices is critical.
The key point here for, for me, was the very specific focus on "biological" motherhood as a norm that women feel pressured to aspire to.  Interestingly, the article does not define any alternatives to "biological motherhood."  It does not encourage women to "just adopt" or consider adoption as an alternative.  In fact, I don't think the word "adoption" appears once in the article. (Other "alternative" routes to motherhood, including the use of donor eggs or surrogacy, are not mentioned either.)  On the one hand, it's kind of refreshing. ;)  On the other hand, when you think about it, it seems slightly odd... if you're questioning the pressures women feel to achieve motherhood biologically, why no mention of the other ways they can achieve this goal? 

Which brings me to my point. I just wish the writer had gone one step further.  It's not JUST the pressure to become a biological mother and/or experience pregnancy yourself that women face -- it's the pressure we face to become mothers, period, by any means possible. Or, if not to actively parent a child, then at least to appear "motherly" and nurturing in other ways, and especially when interacting with other people's children. (I know there was a great online discussion on this subject recently, although I can't for the life of me remember where -- on a blog? On Facebook?  -- if anyone remembers, let me know in the comments!) 

Of course, many people consider feminism to be anti-motherhood -- perhaps the writer and the magazine was trying to avoid that image with this specific focus?

What do you think? -- of the pressures to become a mother, biologically or otherwise, and of uterine transplants as a potential route to motherhood?

Right now...

Sharah recently did a list on her blog, "Right now," that I've been wanting to do here for awhile now. Similar lists that I've long enjoyed are "The Present Participle" by scrapbooking blogger Cathy Zielske (the verbs she uses vary from month to month -- November's list is here) and the "Download" column in the Sunday New York Times Review section (the standard categories are Reading, Watching, Listening and Following, plus a couple others that seem to be specifically tailored to the person featured).

So here's sort of a mishmash/combination/my version... if I remember, I'll resurrect this now & then. ;) 

Reading:  "Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter" by Kate Clifford Larson. Review to come. Also in my to-read pile (among other volumes): the latest memoirs by Elvis Costello, Patti Smith and Gloria Steinem.  Plus, of course, the inevitable magazines & newspapers. ;)

Watching: This afternoon: "Spotlight," a movie that's getting rave reviews & Oscar buzz.  Tonight: Grey Cup, the one & only football game I feel compelled to watch every year -- Ottawa Redblacks vs Edmonton Eskimos (who last met for the championship in 1981). Bonus: this year, it's being played at the new(ish) stadium built on the campus of my alma mater in my home province. :) 

Listening: I haven't listened to it yet, but I picked up Adele's new CD on Black Friday. :) One of the local FM radio stations has switched to an all-Christmas music format, and we've been listening to that in the car a lot, in addition to our usual classic rock station. :)

Following: The progress of Bill 141 through the Ontario legislature. Third Reading debate has been set for Monday, Dec 7th, and a final vote is scheduled for Dec 8th. If you are a bereaved parent living in Ontario, please call or email your local MPP to express your support. There is a Facebook page where you can follow the bill's progress along with me. :)

Drinking: I just realized I have not yet treated myself to a Starbucks Christmas drink!! Must remedy that shortly!  ;)

Eating:  Popcorn for lunch at the movies this afternoon. ;) 

Anticipating: A busy three weeks ahead (yikes!!) until we head home to visit my parents for Christmas. 

Contemplating: What happened to October & November and how did we get here, with Dec. 1st just two days away and Christmas less than four weeks off??! 

Loving: Seeing the sunshine flooding into my living room.  Makes November feel less Novemberish. ;)  

Monday, November 23, 2015

#MicroblogMondays: Farewell to a dinosaur

Dh & I recently joined the 21st century: we got a new 48-inch flat-screen, high-definition LED television set. I'd resisted getting one for quite a while;  our 12-year-old, 32" Sony TV worked perfectly well and I saw no reason to get a new one.  (Not having kids, we might not be as susceptible to peer pressure as our parent friends are -- although we took plenty of ribbing from BIL, who's probably bought three flat-screen TVs in the time that we've had our Sony.)

Having finally succumbed to the charms of the flat screen, the question became what to do with our old dinosaur of a set. It had a flat screen (of sorts), but it was probably one of the last batch of picture-tube TV sets to be made, and even though it works perfectly well, NOBODY wants these things anymore. Our nephews just laughed when we asked if they wanted it;  most of the local charities I checked won't take picture tube TVs.

Dh & stepBIL lugged the set out to the garage shortly after the conclusion of the painting project, with the idea of hauling it to the dump along with the other garbage generated by the recent renovations. StepBIL warned us, however, that the dump charges according to weight (they weigh your car as you arrive and then again when you leave). This was a BIG TV -- just 32" wide but, with the picture tube, probably almost 32" deep.  I think it weighed at least 100 lbs; stepBIL is a strong guy, & together, he and dh were struggling to carry it out of the house.

Tomorrow is garbage day & dh decided he would try setting it out at the curb. We weren't sure the garbage guys would take it (would they even be able to pick it up??), but there are a lot of local scavengers who drive around the night before garbage pickup, scouting for treasures, and we hoped one of them might take it. Dh managed to slide it down the driveway to the curb all by himself (!), and there it sat for a few hours, looking forlorn.

A little while ago, dh looked out the front window: "Hey, someone's trying to pick up the TV!"  And (surprise!) he was struggling. Dh didn't want to let the guy drive away empty-handed (!), so he pulled on his shoes and went outside & offered to help the guy. "This s*** is heavy!" was the man's bemused remark. He went away happy with his find;  dh was ecstatic that we finally got rid of the thing.

It still sort of bothers me that something that still worked perfectly well is probably going to be sold for scrap -- but on the other hand, it's out of the house and not our problem anymore.  And our new 48" set is so thin and light, I can probably pick it up with one hand.  ;)

(We still have a small 12-inch picture tube set -- an 18-year-old Panasonic. It was in our bedroom but we rarely watched it anymore, so since the paint job, it's been sitting in the basement. But that one's much easier to take out to the curb, if/when we decide to part with it.)

What sort of TV set do you have and how old is it? When did you get rid of your picture tube set, or do you still have one? Do you share my guilt over getting rid of stuff that may not be the latest & greatest, but otherwise works perfectly well??   

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

Thursday, November 19, 2015

"N or M?" by Agatha Christie

I'm on an Agatha Christie kick lately. ;)  The second "Partners in Crime" novel by Christie to be filmed for television was "N or M?" and, as usual, I wanted to try to get the book read before part one of the TV adaptation was broadcast earlier this week on Bravo here in Canada. I started it just before part one aired, and finished it a few days later. Parts two & three of the TV show are still to come. :)

"N or M?" is another adventure featuring Tommy & Tuppence -- the same couple from "The Secret Adversary." "The Secret Adversary" took place in post-WWI Britain; "N or M" picks up some 20 years later. It's 1940, the Second World War is in full swing, and Britain is expecting a Nazi invasion at any time. Speculation is rampant about "the Fifth Column" and German spies lurking everywhere.

The Beresfords are now a long-married, middle-aged couple and the parents of young adult twins (a boy & a girl, both involved in the war). Their old friend Mr. Carter enlists Tommy's help:  British intelligence believes there are two Nazi spies operating out of a quiet seaside boarding house, laying the groundwork for an imminent invasion of Britain.  Who among the staff and guests are they?  (Of course, Tuppence finds out what he's up to and gets in on the action...!)

By the end of the book, I had figured out the identity of at least one of the spies. But, in true Christie fashion, there were still enough twists & turns and surprises to keep things interesting. The ending, with Tommy & Tuppence out for dinner & dancing with their adult children, is rather amusing, although beware! -- there is a groaner of an ALI angle to the story at the 11th hour. :p

As I said, I've only seen the first of three parts of the TV adaptation of "N or M?"  As with "The Secret Adversary," the producers seem to have taken a lot of liberties with Christie's story:  the action has shifted to the Cold War years of the 1950s, and instead of fending off a looming invasion, the Beresfords are now trying to locate a nuclear bomb. Somehow, it's not quite as exciting as a looming Nazi invasion.

Unfortunately, it seems that others agree with my assessment: "Partners in Crime" has been cancelled by the BBC, after just these two adaptations. It's been fun (re)reading the adventures of Tommy & Tuppence, though, and I may still carry on with the remaining volumes, even if there's no longer an impending TV episode to serve as a reading incentive. :)

*** *** ***

Side note: I started reading this book shortly after the events that unfolded in Paris on Friday, Nov. 13th.  Among the story's prime suspects is a young German man, a refugee from Nazi persecution whose (non-Jewish but critical of Hitler) family is now in a concentration camp. Imagine my reaction when I started reading & found a few exchanges like this:
"...You take my word for it, this refugee business is dangerous. If I had my way I'd intern the lot of them. Safety first."  
"A bit drastic, perhaps."  
"Not at all. War's war. And I've got my suspicions of Master Carl... He's a Nazi -- that's what he is -- a Nazi." 
As the French say, "Plus ca change, plus ca meme chose." (The more things change, the more they stay the same...).

(There's also a few shots against the Irish throughout the book. Full disclosure: my family background is 1/4 Irish. ;)  )

*** *** ***

This was book #25 that I've read to date in 2015.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Are you a bereaved parent living in Ontario?

In the "it's about time" category, Mike Colle, MPP for Eglinton-Lawrence (in Toronto), introduced a private member's bill (Bill 141) this week -- the Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness, Research and Care Act, 2015.

If passed, this bill would require the Ontario Ministry of Health to undertake research on pregnancy loss/infant deaths, in order to establish & expand counselling programs to bereaved mothers & families, and to undertake comprehensive, wide-ranging research into the best practices available in risk reduction and causes of pregnancy loss & death. It would also establish October 15th as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day in Ontario (something I thought had already happened several years ago).

The National Post published a great article yesterday about this new (and long overdue) initiative. In addition to mentioning that one in three women will lose a pregnancy during her lifetime (which I have heard before), it quoted another figure that floored me: 37,000 parents in Ontario lose a baby at some point during their pregnancy every year. 37,000!! That's enough to fill a good-sized town. Assuming two parents per child, that's about 18,000+ lost pregnancies. In Ontario alone. Every. Single. Year.

That's a lot of grief and loss, people. :(

As the article states:
Many of [these parents] struggle with a system that often lacks support and training, as well as families, friends and even health care providers who don’t know what to say. Then their grief is compounded by a lack of answers and insufficient research to provide them.
You can bet that if 37,000 parents were losing their children each year to automobile accidents or playground accidents or airplane crashes, there would be a huge public outcry, and swift action would be taken to investigate why this was happening and what could be done to remedy the situation.

Why should things be any different just because those children died before or shortly after birth?

Those of us who have experienced pregnancy loss know how badly an initiative like this is needed.  But if this bill is to be passed, public support will be critical.  You and your families can show your support by:
  • signing and submitting petitions to Mike Colle's office (here's a link to a sample petition).
  • sharing this news on social media and asking your friends & family to share and show their support. (I don't often post about loss-related matters on Facebook, but I have been sharing the heck out of this since I learned about it.)
  • calling, writing or emailing your local MPP, the Minister of Health, and the Premier. (I just emailed them all tonight. I can't remember the last time I contacted a politician about an issue I felt strongly about. But this, of all issues, is worth the effort.)
I know this is a taboo subject. I (still) find it difficult to talk about publicly, even after 17 years. (Blogging to strangers, though -- well, that's different, lol.)  But it's just too important NOT to take action when we have this opportunity to make a real difference.

Let's get this done!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Birthday girl

Saturday night, dh & I walked into a local pizza restaurant for dinner. It was early (late afternoon) & there was a birthday party going on -- a table full of giggling pre-teen girls and pink & purple balloons.

That's when it hit me.

Saturday (Nov. 14th) was my original due date in 1998. In other words, it might have been, could have been, should have been, Katie's birthday. Her 17th birthday. It was written in my datebook, but I hadn't really thought about it all day, until I saw the balloons & heard the giggles. (Bad Mommy!!)

After the waitress took our order, I told dh. He looked sad, & we held hands across the table as the girls sang "happy birthday" to the birthday girl on the other side of the room.

It was a weird feeling. Ten or 15 years ago, I probably would have been devastated -- both by my forgetting & by being confronted with a little girl's birthday party on this day of all days.

But I just felt sad, and a bit wistful, thinking of everything we've missed out on these past 17 years, and how different things might have been.

#MicroblogMondays: Paris

Dh & I had dinner on Friday night with BIL & SIL at a restaurant near their home, then went back to their house for coffee, where we turned on the TV and learned about what had happened in Paris.

Scary and disturbing news any time, but -- thanks to good old Facebook -- even more so, because we knew that two of dh & BIL's cousins, their spouses and a few of their friends were in Paris that day -- they'd just arrived the day before for a few days of fun and milestone birthday celebrations, posting giddy shots of plane tickets and wine glasses from the airport lounge.

I immediately went on SIL's computer to check my Facebook feed. (Times like this are when Facebook can be a really good thing.) Thank goodness, one of them had posted just minutes before to say they were all together and safe. They had been on a dinner cruise, completely oblivious to what was going on, until news filtered through. They had to WALK back to where they were staying -- because everything, including transit, was shut down -- spent a sleepless night huddled together in one room, and managed to get a flight home the next day.

Paris sometimes seems very far away, but needless to say, the events of this past weekend hit just a little too close to home for comfort.  We are thankful that our family members returned home safely -- but we're also all too conscious that many, many others did not.  :(

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

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Punk rock reading

(Me, as a 19-year-old university student in my dorm room, going to a punk rock social (dance), February 1980, and trying to look appropriately sullen & smouldering, lol. You can't see it, but I'm wearing safety pins in my ears -- carefully sterilized in rubbing alcohol (I wasn't THAT much of a punk...!) -- instead of earrings. My sister was visiting for the weekend & took this photo with her new Nikon SLR camera, & there must have been some static on the lens, because there is this cool lightning burst effect happening all around me -- which seemed kind of appropriate in the context of the event, lol.  Photo & caption previously used in this post from June 24, 2009: "Pat Benatar, I wasn't.")

Around the time I was in high school in the late 1970s, with my boy-band phase on the wane, we started hearing about a strange new movement in the British music and fashion world called punk rock. I asked my British penpal about it, and she obliged by sending me a tape with the Sex Pistols' "Pretty Vacant" on it.

"Is this a joke?" I remember one of my friends saying at the time. It didn't sound much like music to us. It was raw and angry and dischordant. (Of course, we'd been listening to Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles and Steely Dan (not to mention the aforementioned boy bands, lol)... the Sex Pistols were like a bucket of cold water in the face, by comparison.)  The musicians and their followers LOOKED angry, with their spiky hairdos and spiky jewelry, smudged makeup and torn clothing held together with safety pins. It was scary -- but fascinating at the same time, particularly to us teenagers from conformist smalltown Prairie Canada. (How conformist, you ask?  As an example: it was a Very Big Deal to wear anything other than jeans to school or one of our school dances. "Dressing up" meant wearing your corduroy pants ("cords") instead of denim -- and you'd only do it if at least two of your friends agreed to do it too, lol.) 

Needless to say, the Sex Pistols never got much airplay on the radio stations I listened to. By the time I graduated from high school & entered university, though, I was enjoying, if not hard core punk rock, then its slightly more palatable cousin, New Wave. Among the bands I listened to at that time -- late 1970s/early 1980s -- was the Pretenders, fronted by a girl (!!) -- a tough looking chick named Chrissie Hynde.  I assumed she was British, but it turned out she was American -- from Ohio (as in "My City Was Gone" -- "Ay, oh, way to go, Ohio..."). 

Now in her early 60s, Hynde has written a memoir, "Reckless," which I snapped up on sale the week it came out in September.

Hynde grew up in post-WWII Akron, Ohio, and vividly describes her childhood there. She fell in love with rock & roll at an early age -- her first kiss came from Jackie Wilson at one of his concerts. Mitch Ryder, David Bowie, Jeff Beck, Paul Butterfield and Iggy Pop were among her musical heroes.

After high school, she went to Kent State University, ostensibly to study art, but mostly to party. (Yes, THAT Kent State -- and she was there on May 4, 1970, when the National Guard opened fire on a protest gathering, killing four students.)  Hynde had no ambitions and no idea what she wanted from life, except to have a good time.

While there's some sex in the book (including a violent encounter with a group of bikers that's become the source of much controversy, not only for what she's written about it but her subsequent comments and media reaction) -- and certainly rock & roll -- the one thing the book has in spades is drugs. Lots and lots of drugs, including copious amounts of alcohol. (Hynde admits she waited until both her parents were dead before writing a memoir, because she didn't want them reading the truth about what she had been doing.)  There are some colourful stories about her drug-fuelled escapades, but it does get kind of monotonous after a while. Different times...!

For me, the best part of the book began once Hynde moved to England in 1973, became part of the fledgling punk scene and, eventually, formed and found success with The Pretenders. It's fun reading her observations about the differences between American & British culture, and her encounters with punk rockers like The Clash and The Sex Pistols. (There's an amusing story about how she almost married first Johnny Rotten and then Sid Vicious, primarily as a way of solving her visa problems.) 

Unfortunately, she doesn't get to England until about 3/4 of the way through the book. The story of the all-too-brief rise and fall of The Pretenders rushes by all too quickly, and the book ends abruptly after the drug-related deaths of band members James Honeyman-Scott and Pete Farndon (with whom Hynde was once romantically involved).

Bizarrely, I felt torn between feeling glad that I'd finally come to the end of a very long, convoluted, meandering journey, and wanting to read more. It's a flawed book, but still an interesting read, and I don't regret having spent the time on reading it. In retrospect, though, I probably could have waited for the paperback. ;)

*** *** ***

A few chapters into "Reckless," I had a pedicure appointment. I didn't want to lug a heavy hardcover along with me, so I slipped my Kobo e-reader into my purse & selected a book that someone had recommended to me as a memoir that included some ALI themes -- "Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys" by Viv Albertine.  (And I never noticed until I added in the photos of both book covers how similar the poses are!!)

Can I say I had absolutely no idea who Viv Albertine was? None. Nada. (How about you?) From the blurb on the back of the paperbook version I saw at the bookstore, I gathered she had been involved with the punk movement in Britain in the late 1970s in some way. Sounded good to me (and anyways, the title was irresistible). 

(There are some books that I feel compelled to buy simply because of the title alone. One of my favourite novel titles (I bought the book but have yet to read it) is "Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons."  Isn't that great??)

Turns out Albertine's book was a good companion volume to Chrissie Hynde's (and, actually, a better book overall).  The two women knew each other in London in the '70s and hung out with many of the same people. Hynde turns up in Albertine's book and vice versa (although the appearances in each other's stories are strictly small cameos).

As a teenager in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Albertine was a fan of John Lennon & The Beatles, The Kinks, and later David Bowie, Marc Bolan and, later still, Patti Smith. At art school (because -- like Hynde -- she had no other ideas about what she wanted to do with her life), she met Mick Jones, who later became part of The Clash and wrote "Train in Vain" about their relationship. Like Chrissie Hynde, she was close to Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols, and knew many other key figures of the period, including Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood, whose shop, Sex, was the source of many key pieces in the trend-setting outfits Albertine describes in loving detail  (the "Clothes" part of the title).

Hanging around musicians so much, it was probably inevitable that she would eventually become one herself -- even though there were very few women rockers as role models in those days, let alone punk rockers. "For the first time, I felt like myself," she writes about lugging her newly purchased electric guitar home on the bus. Never mind that she couldn't play a note at first, although she eventually developed her own unique style. Initially, she joined a band called The Flowers of Romance (with Sid Vicious, pre-Sex Pistols);  later, she became lead guitarist of an influential all-girl punk band called The Slits.

After The Slits disbanded in 1982, Albertine went to film school, wrote and directed TV shows and movies, and created sculptures. She met and married a man she refers to as The Biker (and later The Husband) and went to live with him in the country. In her late 30s and desperate to have a child, she sold most of her keepsakes from the punk era (including letters and other things Sid Vicious had given her) to pay for IVF treatments. Eventually, she did have a daughter, but not before enduring a great deal of loss and heartbreak.

Sample passage about loss & infertility (from a chapter titled "Hell"):
I am wildly, insanely bug-eyed crazy with grief. I don't want to live. I think of ways to kill myself. Throw myself under this passing car? Jump off Chelsea Bridge and drown in the Thames? Or just lie face down in this puddle and stop breathing? Poor, poor Hubby, he is hitched to a raving lunatic. But he is my rock, solid, grounded, steady. I love him so much that life is just about still worth living. If it's just going to be me and him, so be it. 
We keep on going to the Lister [clinic]. I keep on trying to get pregnant, months turn into years, fail after fail after fail. I am not a person. I'm a shadow, creeping along walls, quivering along pavements, my body itching, my mind wild, my patience stretched tight, ready to snap at the slightest provocation. I can't stand to look at pregnant women. I hate them. I can't even bear pregnant friends -- I stop seeing them. If anyone walks too close to me in the street or at a bus stop, I want to kill them...  
Lying on the doctor's table, week after week, my feet hoisted up in stirrups, I transport my mind outside of my body: I'm not here, it's the woman who is longing for a baby who's lying down there, legs wide apart with a man she's never met before sticking his arm right up inside her.
(Is that not one of the most completely raw, honest descriptions you've ever read of infertility & loss and what it can do to you? And that's just a sample.)

By midlife, numbed by the turmoil she had lived through and the minutae of suburban domesticity, her marriage falling apart, she entered into an emotional, long-distance quasi-affair with the actor Vincent Gallo. The relationship ended badly, but it reignited her creative spirit and gave her new courage to begin to write and play music again, both in a reunited version of the Slits as well as a solo artist. Would you have the courage to not only pick up the guitar again in your 50s, after 25 years away from it, and sing your own compositions at open mic nights at local bars??

Albertine, now 60, has led a rather messy life, and her book includes graphic descriptions, not only of her pregnancy losses, infertility treatments, abortion and struggle with cervical cancer, but also fellatio, crabs, her periods and other bodily functions. There were passages in this brutally honest book where I winced or cringed. But the more I read, the more I grew to admire this woman for her everything she has endured and survived, and I very much enjoyed the book overall. It's not just about being a punk rocker;  it's about growing up & being a woman in the latter half of the 20th century. "Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys" won several awards in the U.K. and was nominated for more, and deservedly so, in my opinion.

After reading this, I looked up some YouTube videos, both of The Slits (interesting & energetic, but dated) as well as Albertine's more recent solo stuff, which I quite liked, and also some interviews. Check out "Confessions of a MILF," below (her old love, Mick Jones, plays guitar on the track, although he's not in the video):

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Speaking of Patti Smith, her latest book, "M Train," was released while I was reading these two books. Like Chrissie Hynde's book, it was on sale for $25, and like Chrissie Hynde's book, I couldn't resist, lol.  I read & reviewed Smith's first memoir, "Just Kids," here.

And then a week later, Elvis Costello's memoir appeared on the bookstore shelves -- "Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink," which is getting rave reviews. So I have plenty of reading material to last me for quite a while to come (as if I didn't already, lol). 

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These were books #23 & #24 that I've read to date in 2015.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Golden Girls revisited

The Globe & Mail is running an excellent in-depth series this week about "The Boomer Shift" --  the baby boom generation (of which I am a tail-end member), aging and retirement. I've been watching with interest to see whether the issue of aging without children would be addressed -- so far, it hasn't.

However, one of today's articles was this: "Meet the new Golden Girls (and guys): How boomers are coming up with creative living arrangements."

For me, this is old news:  as I wrote on this blog five years ago, living together in a "Golden Girls" house has long been a private semi-joke among my longtime childless living message board chums. It's been fun to see this idea gaining more currency in the media lately, and not just among those of us without children -- although of course, creative living arrangements where residents commit to looking out for one another would be particularly ideal for those of us who are aging without offspring.

What do you think? Does the idea of a "Golden Girls" communal living arrangement of some sort appeal to you?