Monday, February 29, 2016

#MicroblogMondays: Leap Day odds & ends

*  It's February 29th -- Leap Year Day, which only comes around once every four years.
* I was glad I managed to stay awake until the end of the Oscars last night to see "Spotlight" win Best Picture. Dh & I saw five of the eight Best Picture nominees (the exceptions being Mad Max: Fury Road, The Revenant and Room), and it was our mutual favourite. Just an all-round excellent movie -- well written and extremely well acted.
*  It's day 59 (!) since Aunt Flo last made an appearance... her previous record absence was 58 days, back in my 40s, and most of my cycles recently have been 30-35 days. While I suppose it's too much to hope that she'll stay away another 306 days (thereby officially launching me into menopause), it definitely looks like I have (finally!) started heading in that direction. At age 55, no less...!! :p
*  More on condos shortly. :)

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

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Condo conundrum, continued

The front door of the house
where we've lived for the past 26 years.
(Photo taken before recent repainting!)
(The light fixture & mailbox have changed too.) 
(Warning: Loooonnnnnggggg, rambling post, written on & off over the last few months.)

You've probably noticed a few posts within the past year about my attempts to declutter my house and downsize my belongings (including my vinyl LP collectionmy beloved books and even (gasp!!) my pregnancy clothes).  

In part, it's because the house needed it (erk) -- but it's also because we've been talking condos. Again. Seriously.

Four-plus years ago, I wrote a post titled "Condo conundrum," in which I weighed the (mostly theoretical, at that time) pros & cons of selling our house & moving into a condo. 

(As I explained back then) As background: 

We bought this house almost exactly 26 years ago for typical reasons -- we'd been renting a small apartment for five years, were starting to think about having a family, and we had finally reached the point where we could afford to buy a house. It was the logical next step in our adult, married life.

The house had to be affordable, and it had to be somewhere within a reasonable commuting distance to work on public transit. (We didn't want the stress of driving to work in downtown Toronto every morning, nevermind trying to find parking, let alone the COST...!!)

And then dh's cousin phoned to tell us about a house that was for sale on his street, in a suburb just outside of the city proper, on one of the main commuter train lines. We didn't buy that house, but the price was right, and so that phone call became the catalyst that launched our search, in the same area. We'd looked at a few places in the city that people had told us about, and hadn't been too impressed by what we'd seen. We knew we could buy a whole lot more house for the same or (more likely) much less money out here in suburbia.

So after viewing about a dozen houses, we bought this one -- small(ish) (about 1,400 square feet), three bedrooms, with a big, kid-friendly back yard (big enough to accommodate a swimming pool, or a swing set, or maybe both), a few blocks away from Cousin/Neighbour and his growing family, a 15-minute drive from FIL, and close to good schools, shopping and transit. We thought we would only be here five years or so before moving on to something bigger to accommodate an expanding family. 

Fast-forward 26 years: of course, the kids never materialized, and neither did the urgent need or desire for a bigger (more expensive) house. In fact, even though it's not a big house, much of the space is never fully used.  The spare bedrooms were never filled with children, and get used more for storage than guests these days: the last visitor we had who stayed overnight was my mother, in 2008. She used to come to visit at least once a year, during her vacation time -- but retirement, aging, her dislike of flying and an inconvenient change in the cross-Canada train schedule (and, no doubt, the lack of grandchildren as added incentive to visit) have combined to keep her away these past several years. She's now in her mid-70s, and while she may still pay us a few more visits in the years to come, I expect they will probably be fewer & further apart.  

Because we spent so much time working & commuting, and because we never had kids (and thus never got plugged into those parent networks in the neighbourhood, at school and at activities), we have never developed many friendships hereabouts. (We have cordial relationships with a few very nice neighbours. And then there are a couple of neighbours that we are increasingly tired of co-existing with...!)  We gradually, inexplicably drifted apart from Cousin/Neighbour & his family and seldom see them these days (much to our sadness).

Both dh & I are now unemployed/retired, so commuting is no longer an issue (although we still do use the train whenever we need or want to travel downtown).

That big, kid-friendly back yard has been mostly unused, and after 26 years, dh is getting pretty sick and tired of mowing it (not to mention that he now regularly mows the lawn for FIL too). He's also tired of shovelling snow from the driveway (particularly over the last few brutal winters).

I have (mostly) enjoyed living here -- but I have to admit that we are living a very different life than the one we thought/expected we would be living, and many of the reasons why we bought this house and moved here are no longer relevant -- if they ever really were in the first place.

In retrospect, I wonder if home ownership for us was like what parenthood is for many people: something we did because it was the next logical step, the next major life step that we were expected to take. (Indeed, dh's relatives were horrified that we didn't buy a house right away when we got married & actually PAID RENT to live in an apartment for FIVE YEARS -- ignoring the fact that we had absolutely NO money in the bank as newlyweds, and that even when FIL generously offered to help us with a down payment, our combined income in those early years of our marriage wasn't enough to carry the mortgage.)

Like parenthood (I'm am guessing), home ownership is one of those things where you never really know what you're in for, until you're in the thick of it. And sometimes, the reality can be kind of overwhelming, and not quite a match for the picture in your head.

In my fantasies of what home ownership would be like, I always pictured myself entertaining our friends & relatives at fabulous parties on our big back deck, where they would compliment me on my well-manicured flowerbeds and putting green-worthy lawn. The reality is that our social circle is rather limited (see above);  I get nervous having more than two people over for coffee, let alone a full-scale party; the deck faces west, bathes in the afternoon sun & gets awfully hot, so it's seldom used; and it's all I can do to keep the weeds at bay, let alone keep the lawn watered and fertilized. I don't even try plant flowers most years anymore, because more often than not, we go away for a couple of weeks in the summer, just as they're starting to grow nicely -- and without regular watering and weeding, they're usually in pretty sad shape by the time we get back.

I know some people who love being outside in their yard all the time, when the weather is nice. They thrive on gardening and doing renovation projects around the house. I like the IDEA of a deck and lovely garden, but in terms of actual usage (nevermind the work that's involved to keep things looking good)? -- It's just not us. We keep the place looking presentable, but we'll never be in one of those magazine spreads. I might WISH my back yard & garden looked like the ones I see in the magazines (or even just like some of my neighbours') -- and we do have more time for home & garden upkeep these days, now that we're both essentially retired.  But realistically, when push comes to shove, I think both of us have to admit we'd rather spend our free time inside, in air-conditioned comfort, on the couch, reading a book. ;)

Even without the cosmetic stuff, there are things that need to be taken care of when you're a home owner. The reality of home ownership is that sometimes, toilets overflow, bathtub enclosures leak, basements walls seep water after a torrential rainstorm, mice invade the kitchen, wasps build nests in the garden shed and under the soffits, and squirrels invade your attic. (All of the above has happened to us at one time or another over the past 26 years.) And you're the one who has to fix the problem, or call someone and pay them to do it for you. It can be expensive, it can be anxiety-inducing. It can be hard work.

Still, the I have to admit that sometimes, I feel like home ownership is just one more thing I've failed at. I failed at family building. Now I've failed at being a good suburbanite.  :(  (Children, of course, being a key ingredient in the stereotypical suburban lifestyle.)

*** *** ***

In the years since we realized that children weren't going to be in the picture, we've talked on & off about ditching the house in the kid-friendly neighbourhood with the big kid-friendly back yard and  buying a condo. Maybe. Someday, down the road. We looked at some real estate listings and realized we could get a pretty nice, reasonably sized one or two-bedroom condo for about the same money -- or less -- than we could probably sell our house for.

I'd always assumed that, if we started looking at condos, it would be around here -- if not in the exact same town where we're now living, close by. (Neither of us wants to live in the city again.)  After all, we've lived here 26 years -- it's what we're familiar with, and it's not too far from FIL. It took me awhile to wrap my head around the idea of a condo, but I was starting to warm to the idea. I even had my eye on a couple of prospective buildings -- one existing, one currently under construction, both near the lake, which I love, and yet close to both transit and shopping.  And I assumed this was all still "someday," in the future.

But then, last year, dh started talking condos again in earnest. He wants to move -- sooner versus later. And he wants to move closer to where his brother lives. Which is 45-60 minutes from where we currently live -- on the other side of the city.

I have to admit, I was taken aback. (Initially, at least.) 

Beyond the absence of snow to shovel and lawns to mow (and (hopefully) squirrels in the attic) -- dh misses his brother. They were not especially close as kids (there's a five-year age gap), but in the three years since dh's layoff, BIL has faithfully called him several times a week to check in on how he is/we are doing & share family news. The reality that their father is not going to be around forever has also drawn them closer.

Now that the nephews are grown up, we've been spending a little more time with BIL & SIL as a couple, like we did when we were all first married -- and that's been a lot of fun. There would be a lot of advantages to living closer to them and to our nephews (and perhaps, in the not-too-distant future, some grand-nieces and nephews??), and building closer relationships with them -- particularly as we age. After all, our nephews are the ones we'll likely be asking for any help we might need in our twilight years -- and it will be easier for them to check in with us and give us a hand if we live 10 minutes away and not 45 minutes, as we do now.  (Dh's pre-Christmas trip to the hospital -- just the two of us there, with me keeping BIL updated via cellphone -- certainly drove home the advantages of living closer to family.) Dh has told them that we are thinking about moving closer, and they are all happy and excited about the prospect (which is gratifying). There are other relatives living in the same area, which might give a boost to our social life.

Dh has also pointed out that it would be much easier to leave a condo empty and travel for a couple of weeks at a time, as we'd both like to do, now that limited vacation time is not an issue. BIL or one of the nephews could easily come by to check on the place for us, if we lived closer. We used to be able to rely on FIL to do this for us -- but he's 87 and doesn't drive as much or as far as he used to (and believe me, that's a good thing...!), so that's no longer an option.  

So I understand the benefits of living closer to family, particularly as we get older. I just really never pictured myself living in that particular location, and dh caught me completely off guard when he announced he wanted to move there. It's a larger community than the one where we now live, and more congested. There has been rapid growth there over the past 30 years, but services have been slower to keep pace.  A new hospital has been long promised, but not yet built, and public transit, while slowly improving, is still not great. And it's nowhere near the lake, which I love. 

On the other hand, family attractions aside, while it's not near the water, there are some lovely forested areas nearby -- parks, golf courses and conservation areas.  There is good shopping, some excellent restaurants and a few notable cultural attractions. And it's a lot closer to the airport than our current location.

And things are changing hereabouts as well, not necessarily for the better: as I mentioned in a recent post, construction has started on a massive new development nearby that will DOUBLE the population of the town where we're now living over the next decade or two, and will no doubt change the character of the place significantly. There's been a lot of roadwork locally, and traffic here has been a lot heavier than it used to be too.

While I have to admit that this particular location was not on my radar as somewhere to move, I'd probably find moving anywhere at least a little bit difficult. True, it's something I did a lot of when I was younger (although obviously, I haven't done it in 26 years now...! -- so I am sadly out of practice).  But it was never something that I got used to doing, or said "Yay!" to -- it was almost always a traumatic upheaval in my life. I spent my growing up years moving from one small town to another -- 11 houses in 7 different towns in two provinces by the time I was married (even more, if you count university dorm rooms and summer apartments in two different cities in two different provinces). It was never a choice:  my father was told by his employer that he was being transferred, and that was that. Back then, most people didn't question or refuse a transfer, unless they were quitting their job, and of course, kids had absolutely no say in the matter (although my father did eventually switch jobs, in part because my sister & I were thisclosetofinishinghighschool and, understandably, wanted to graduate with our friends).

(Dh, on the other hand, spent almost his entire life growing up in the same house in the same neighbourhood, with most of his aunts, uncles & cousins living close by. The idea of moving does not faze him;  he is excited by the prospect. I cling to my possessions;  he could care less. There's probably a dissertation somewhere in there...!) 

The only non-school-related moves I can ever remember being really excited & happy about were the last two -- from my parents' home to start married life with dh, and then when we moved into this house from our tiny apartment. Even then, I cried buckets the last time we walked out the door of that wonderful little apartment -- my first adult home, my first home with dh. I had loved it there. It was a great apartment in a great neighbourhood.  But I was also excited and looking forward to creating new memories -- and a family -- together in our new home -- the first home that was truly OURS. 

Growing up, we were always sad whenever we moved from one place to another -- just as we'd been sad leaving the last place to move there. And I'll admit I am sad at the prospect of leaving this little house, no matter how exciting the prospect of a new place might be. I've lived here longer than I've ever lived anywhere in my life (my previous record was six years). We had so many dreams and plans and hopes and expectations for our life together when we moved in here. And of course, some -- many -- of those dreams never materialized, and never will. I realize that I am, in part, grieving all over again for the life that I thought would be mine, the life (& child) that never materialized.

But I am also pretty sure that, if/when we find the right place, I'll start to feel the excitement that dh is already feeling -- and that, eventually, it will feel just as much like home as this house or our little apartment in the city once did. (Sometimes it just takes me a while to warm up to a new situation -- I'm already feeling more positive about the whole idea than I did a few weeks ago. A shiny, modern new kitchen, with stainless steel appliances? And maybe a walk-in closet? Hey, I can learn to live with that, lol.)

If I've learned anything in a lifetime of moving around it's this:  there are good things and bad things, everywhere you go. It's up to you to find the good, and make the most of the situation. (I'm just a little out of practice...!) And, as I've learned from experience, there will always (eventually) be new dreams to replace the old ones that didn't quite work out.

Most importantly -- while I could probably be happy staying here for an indefinite while longer, dh is clearly itching to move. This is obviously important to him -- and while I love my house, it's not as important to me as he is. If moving will make him happy, then I will move. As my Classic Pooh suncatcher (described here) says, "It didn't matter where they went, as long as they went together."

*** *** ***

Over the past few months, we've had a look around the community and scouted out some buildings we're interested in via the online listings, and we'll probably start looking in earnest sometime this spring. (A lot will depend on finding the right unit in the right building in the right location for the right price, of course.) We need to make some repairs and improvements to our house before we can think about selling (last fall's painting project was an important step in this process), and we need to get rid of some of our stuff. (OK, a LOT of our stuff. :p ) (OK, MY stuff, lol.)  (1,400 square foot house plus basement, garage & garden shed vs 600-900 square feet of condo plus storage locker of yet-to-be-determined proportions -- you do the math.) 

And I've made a pretty decent start of it: about 60 cartons and umpteen bags full of stuff donated to the thrift store since last spring (including almost 40 cartons of books alone!), as well as a good chunk of my scrapbooking supplies to Oldest Nephew's fiancée (although believe me, I still have plenty left for my own projects...!).  Doing some much-needed deep cleaning and purging was always something I had in my head as a retirement project, anyway. My parents are also making noises about selling the house they've lived in for the past 30 years and downsizing, and I'll probably be called upon to help them with their own downsizing/de-cluttering (if only to make decisions about my own stuff that's still there...!) -- so if anything, this will be good practice...!

It is hard to part with the treasures I've accumulated over the past 30 years. I do find, however, that the more I do it, the easier it gets (to a point, anyway).  Sometimes I have to sit with the idea for a while (just like I have had to sit with the idea of a condo for a while, too)... I think, "Okay, I'll part with that, but not that," come back a few days later and think, "Oh, what the hell...!"  & into the Sally Ann box it goes too. So far, I've had very few pangs of regret over something that went out the door. In many cases (especially with the books), if I really, really do regret my decision, I can always buy another copy. It's just stuff, after all. It's hard to let go of, but most of it IS just stuff, and stuff that can be replaced, if need be. The memories are what's most important.

We have created some good memories in this house. Some painful ones too, of course. My late 30s & most of our 40s were a time of transition for us -- stillbirth, infertility & learning to accept permanent childlessness -- and now, in our mid-50s, it seems like we're in another period of transition -- the loss of both of our jobs over the past two years, earlier-than-expected retirement and adjusting to that. We're both dealing with aging parents, and I'm (still!) navigating through perimenopause. Moving into a condo seems like something you do when you're first starting out in adult life, before you move up to a house -- or when you're in your late 60s or 70s and looking for an interim stop between the family home and the seniors home. :p   Maybe that's partly why the idea of a condo is giving me pause. We're not OLD -- but we're not young anymore either, and the reality that we're not getting any younger is becoming all too clear lately. As an online friend recently observed, "Midlife ain't for the faint of heart."

More to come, soon... :)

Friday, February 26, 2016

"In the end, you're my sister"

OK, I promised awhile back that I wouldn't make blogging about "Downton Abbey" a regular habit. ;) But near the end of last weekend's episode, the final episode in the series proper (with a wrapup "Christmas special" still to come for those of us on this side of the Atlantic), there was a scene that got me unexpectedly sobbing.  


One of the running plotlines throughout the series has been the ongoing friction between sisters Mary and Edith. In this episode, Mary makes a vicious remark at the luncheon table that destroys Edith's chance of happiness with the man who has asked her to marry him. The two get into a nasty fight and, after calling her sister a bitch, Edith leaves for London. 

In the end, though, with the encouragement of their grandmother (the wonderful Maggie Smith), the sisters make up (or at least come to a bit of a truce). Edith returns to Downton Abbey for Mary's wedding, and Mary asks why she's come.

“Because in the end, you’re my sister,” says Edith. “And one day, only we will remember Sybil. Or Mama or Papa. Or Matthew or Michael. Or Granny or Carson. Or any of the others who have peopled our youth. Until at last our shared memories will mean more than our mutual dislike.”

The episode ended on a poignant note, with the three children of the three Crawley sisters -- George (Mary), Sibbie (Sybil) and Marigold (Edith) -- frolicking in the cemetery outside the church where the wedding had just taken place, right beside Sybil's grave. Sybil died post-childbirth from a seizure caused by eclampsia. Life goes on, one generation passes, the next one grows up to take its place...

Edith's words reminded me of an old Ann Landers column about bickering siblings that had made an impression on me years ago (for reasons I'll explain in a minute), and I eventually found it through the wonders of Google. :)  The letter was from a mother who had been listening to her two teenagers quarreling all day, and blew her top: 
"You must become better friends," I said, "because, God willing, you will both live a long time. I will be gone, and your father will be gone, and all your teachers and many of your friends will be gone. There may be only the two of you left, and you will remember what you were like as children. 
"Nobody else will remember the Christmases you had, the treehouse you built, the day you learned to ride a bike, the fun you had trick-or-treating, the teacher you loved in the 3rd grade and the kittens born in the laundry. There will be only the two of you, and you had better love each other now, because 60 years from now, only you will remember all the wonderful experiences you shared, and those memories will be golden."   
They both became very quiet, and I thought perhaps they were too young to understand. But it must have made an impression, because they never squabbled or tried to hurt each other after that. I wish my parents had explained to my sister and me 40 years ago that sibling rivalry is natural but brothers and sisters who are not good to each other lose something precious.
(Of course, the irony is that Dear Ann famously feuded with her twin sister, Dear Abby -- but I digress... ;) )

In his episode recap for Entertainment Weekly, Kevin P. Sullivan writes: 
The reason for the surprise return is essentially the thesis of the show. Mary may be a bitch, but years from now, after the world has changed even more, the sisters will be the only ones who remember everything that happened in those halls. Every moment that defined their time there is lost and rendered meaningless without people to share them with. 
The conversation reminds me of the Lost finale in the way that it handles mortality, suggesting that all of us and our lives are just blips in time that are defined by the people we share them with. Downton has always been preoccupied with modernity and the changing of the times, but at the core of that fear is mortality. A telephone is just a telephone, but it and whatever comes after it will be around long after Lord Grantham or Mary or Cora. The world will continue to evolve and forget; that’s why we need the people who saw us through it all.
(An aside:  My favourite DA recaps are the ones in the New York Times, which I think I will probably miss just as much as the episodes themselves. Here's this week's -- enjoy!) 

The episode and the Ann Landers letter struck a chord with me. The theme of sibling rivalry is something I understand too well. As I think I've written before, my grandmother and her older sister had a prickly relationship and feuded on & off all through their life. Sometimes they would go for years without speaking to each other, even though they both lived in the same small (pop. 1400) Minnesota town. This made life difficult for those of us who loved them both.

My own relationship with my own sister is not exactly the Hallmark variety (although it's not exactly Grandma & Aunty E. or Mary & Edith either). Perhaps we learned a lesson from our elders.

Like me, my sister has no children (she is childfree by choice). When we die, the memories and experiences we have shared will die with us. Others may share in some of our memories through our letters or blog posts or photo albums -- but only we will know exactly what it was like to grow up together at the time and place that we did.

The lesson that life and memory are transient -- and far too short -- is something those of us who have lost a child quickly learn. It's something that I struggle with -- the desire to pass along the memories and knowledge and experiences that have made my life meaningful to a new generation, in the hopes that some small shred will survive and be passed along to the generation after them.  And it's something that's harder to do when you don't have children of your own to inherit the memories and heirlooms and the stories behind them. It's one of the things I find most difficult about life without children -- who will remember me when I'm gone?  Who should I leave my treasures to? Who will remember my Katie? What will my legacy be? How can I make an impact, a difference?

A few days after I saw this episode, Mali wrote a gorgeous post about "the keepers of memories" that echoed some of the things I'd been thinking about since the "Downton Abbey" episode. Mali's mother recently passed away, and as they went through her mother's things, her childless cousin D wondered, “are the childless the Keepers of Memories because we look back, not forward?”
I thought about it, and agree that it is possible this is the reason. Perhaps we look back simply because we have the time to do so. But I prefer to think that, as keepers of memories, we’re doing it out of love and a feeling of connection, a belief that the past will matter to the future. That without the past, there is no future, even if personally, I am not going to be part of that future...  
Ultimately, I prefer to think that we’re the Keepers of Memories because we know how precious they are, how easily people and memories can be lost, and that once they’re gone, they’re gone. That it’s not always about the family tree, but more about the memories and connections and links.
I'm proud to call myself a Keeper of Memories. Whether my memories and the memories that others have entrusted to me ultimately matter to someone else is out of my control.  People will remember and find meaning in what I leave behind, or they won't. In the end, I don't think any of us will ever know our true legacy or the impact that we have made on the world. 
But these things matter to me now, while I'm here, and I live in hope that someday, they will matter to someone else too. And ultimately, it's not things that truly matter -- it's people. 

Monday, February 22, 2016

#MicroblogMondays: Stress and hunger

It's been a stressful couple of days... and I've noticed something interesting. When I'm stressed out, I get hungry. Ravenous, even. (I used to keep chocolate stashed in my desk drawer at work, & would sometimes gobble it by the handful when I was under deadline... hence, the reason why I never succeeded at Weight Watchers...!)  Dh finds this amazing -- whenever he is stressed out, he finds it impossible to eat.

(This reminds me of when I was in the hospital, in labour with Katie... the pains had been low-level and intermittent, and I had just dived in to the supper a nurse had brought me -- chicken & rice, I think -- when all of a sudden, they started increasing in frequency and intensity. I started eating faster, because I knew as soon as they called in the anasthesiologist (sp?) for pain management, I wouldn't be allowed to eat any more -- and I was hungry. Still makes me chuckle to remember it.) 

Are you like me, or like dh in this respect?

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

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Right now...

Right now... (an occasional meme)

Reading:  "The Baker's Daughter," another D.E. Stevenson novel (albeit not being discussed by my online group). This is the DES novel that I remember most clearly & fondly from my youth. It's all coming back to me as I read, and I am enjoying it all over again. :)

Watching: I'm not much for superheroes (although I've enjoyed the "Avengers" movies)... but I am getting a huge kick out of watching "Agent Carter" these past few weeks.  I just can't get into vampires and zombies -- but secret agents in 1940s Hollywood?  I'm in!  :)  
Listening:  For squirrels overhead (& hoping I won't hear anything... :p ). 

Following:  My online book group's discussion of D.E. Stevenson's "Listening Valley."  

Drinking: Ginger ale. 

Eating: Way too much junk food lately. :p Two visits to McDonalds in three days -- ugh. :p
Wearing: My post-layoff uniform of yoga pants & a T-shirt. :)  Comfort rules!!

Anticipating: Afternoon tea at the King Edward Hotel with dh's female cousins (the same ones I went to New York City with in fall 2013). :)
Contemplating:  Condos. (And a potential upcoming post on the subject. ;)  )

Loving: Being able to sleep in.  
Wondering: Why the formatting of this post is so wonky??? (Grrrrr.....)

Thursday, February 18, 2016

"Late, Late at Night" by Rick Springfield

This past summer, I dragged dh to the movies to see Meryl Streep as an aging singer in a rock & roll bar band in "Ricki and the Flash." The movie was okay, a little unrealistic plotwise, but the performances were good and the music was first-rate -- Streep sings a string of rock classics & learned to play guitar for the role (with some coaching from Neil Young, of all people...!)(is there nothing that woman can't do??).  

Anyway -- for me, part of the attraction was the chance to catch up with an old favourite -- Rick Springfield, in the role of Meryl/Ricki's guitarist and sometimes lover, Greg. :)  You may (or may not, depending on your age...!) remember Rick from the days of "Jessie's Girl" -- or as the swoony Dr. Noah Drake in "General Hospital," back in the Luke & Laura days of the early 1980s. (Personally, I was watching "Another World" at the time...!)  But I first encountered him almost 10 years earlier, in the early 1970s, alongside my favourites (first David Cassidy and then Donny Osmond) in the pages of 16 and Tiger Beat magazines -- a fresh-faced import from Australia, who had a minor hit with a folksy little song called "Speak to the Sky."  

In the movie, he was a tad grizzled looking (he IS -- gulp -- 66!! now -- and the part did sort of call for it) but I thought he was still kind of cute. :)  I remembered that I had an unread copy of his 2010 memoir in my gargantuan "to read" collection in the basement, and retrieved it when I got home from the theatre. I started reading it then, set it aside when a newer book grabbed my attention, and picked it up again early in the new year.

"Late, Late at Night" made the New York Times' bestseller list, and was named one of the 25 greatest rock memoirs of all time by Rolling Stone magazine. I wouldn't put it in quite the same class as Keith Richards' memoir "Life", but overall it was an entertaining and sometimes surprising read, written by Rick himself in a distinctive voice. 

Rick (nee Richard Springthorpe) was born into a military family, and spent his childhood moving from place to place (something I could very much relate to!) around Australia, and then for a few years to England, just as the Beatles were becoming famous. (He saw them perform in Melbourne in the early 1960s and admits he "screamed like a girl" at the concert.)  Understandably, he struggled to find a sense of belonging and security.  This set the stage for a life-long battle with depression -- including a memorable failed teenaged attempt at suicide -- which he describes in vivid detail.  Depression actually becomes a character in the book -- Rick refers to him as "My Darkness" or "Mr. D."  Along with the depression came addictions to drugs, alcohol and sex.

In his late teens, Rick dropped out of school to play around Australia in a series of bands -- including a stint entertaining the troops in Vietnam at the height of the war there, where he found himself in some hair-raising situations. In the early 1970s, he recorded his first solo album in England and then came to the United States (where he was often compared to David Cassidy, and later mistaken for Bruce Springsteen!). When musical success faltered, he took up acting classes, and landed the role of Dr. Noah Drake in "General Hospital" right around the time his 1981 album, "Working Class Dog," was released.  Both the album and Dr. Drake were hits, launching Rick to a new level of fame, but also bringing new challenges and complications.

As with most rock & roll memoirs, the addiction stuff gets tedious after awhile (you want to shake the guy and tell him, "You idiot!!" -- although he would probably tell himself the same thing). While Rick admits he continues to struggle with depression, he has gained a new sense of peace in his life in recent years with the help of therapy and spiritual study, a young fan named Sahara, and the love and incredible patience of his wife of more than 30 years, Barbara, and their two now-grownup sons. Rick's wry sense of humour and love for his music and for performing, as well as for his family and his dogs, shine through the pages, and the book ends on a hopeful and appreciative note of thankfulness for the life he now leads.

*** *** ***

ALI note (page 29): 
I don't remember my mother's third pregnancy, but I do remember her going away for awhile and returning home seeming much sadder. She'd had a baby girl who died at birth. Nothing much is said in the aftermath of this, but there is a pall over all our lives for awhile.  
I have a feeling that my sister, had she lived, would have changed my relationship with women dramatically. If I'd grown up loving, living and fighting with a sister, I might have seen the human side of women much earlier and skipped the whole "madonna/whore complex" completely. Thoughts of my lost sister have never left me;  in fact, I think I'm still looking for her spirit.
Rick's wife Barbara also had a miscarriage, in between their two sons (page 217). He also writes movingly about his father's long illness and death.

This was book #3 that I've read so far in 2016.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Odds & ends: Mid-February edition

  • I missed #MicroblogMondays this week. :(  And I am way behind on my blog reading & commenting. Just too much going on right now.
  • The squirrels are back. :p  We started hearing them on the roof again about three weeks ago. Called the animal control company that booted them out in May;  they checked and all was OK ( = they were just on the roof).  But the noises continued, on & off, and last Saturday night (one of the coldest nights of the year to date, with temperatures well below zero -- Celsius OR Fahrenheit, lol) around 3:30 a.m., we heard a THUMP, followed by some scratching, and then the sounds of rampaging feet directly above us. DAMN.  Made another call, but they weren't able to send the same guy out until this morning. I could tell he thought he had some paranoid clients on his hands -- but when he climbed up on the roof to check, sure enough, they had broken through one of the vents again. It had steel mesh around it, but not OVER it. (It will soon.) First, they have to exit out the one-way door he installed, which will allow them to leave but not re-enter. That could take a few days. (Fortunately, because the work they did last May was guaranteed for a year, we don't have to pay any more money.) The guy said it's highly unusual for them to gain re-entry. (Yay us, we hit the jackpot, again. :p )  We've been sleeping on the living room sofas in the meantime. I can't sleep, listening to squirrels overhead (or waiting to hear them) -- but I miss my comfortable bed, and as a result, I am feeling tired and irritable. Damned squirrels. :p
  • Recent conversation:
    • Salesperson: How old are your kids?
    • Dh: We don't have kids.
    • Salesperson: Oh my gosh, you are so LUCKY!! I have three teenagers, and they are driving me CRAZY!! 
    • Dh (quietly):  It's a long story....
  • I had a routine mammogram a week ago. Just waiting for the results. I think if they had needed to call me back for more pictures, I would have heard something by now. If everything's OK I will just get a letter in the mail confirming that. Fingers crossed and knocking wood. :p 
  • I try not to stress or think about these things too much, but I have too many friends & cousins who have been dealing with breast cancer recently. :(  Offhand, I can count 6 on my FB friends list (of just over 200 people), most of them between the ages of 40 & 60. :(  One (a fellow loss mom IRL) is currently back in the hospital dealing with complications from surgery, and is much in my thoughts. :( 
  • When I marked my blogoversary in October, I had 151 followers on Blogger... a few weeks ago, I noticed I was down to 143, and not I'm at 141. Was it something I said/wrote??

Friday, February 12, 2016

Rituals, milestones and childlessness

I got quite a laugh when this article -- "All Praise the Women of Menopause" -- landed in my Facebook feed. I'm not quite through menopause yet (much to my dismay...!), but I could relate to the contrast between the author's first communion as a child, and the total lack of rituals or cultural acknowledgement as she marks the end of her fertile years and the beginning of a new phase in her life.   

"Why is it that we’re lauded and celebrated when we’ve only just embarked on the journey? Why do we stop marking, ritually, the accomplishments along the way? The hurdles that we overcome?" she asks.  Good questions.

I think a lack of rituals and milestones and celebrations and acknowledgement is one of the more difficult aspects of childless/free living. Yes, there are still some milestones that we celebrate, but I would venture to say not as many as parents get to mark.

Plus, I grew up at a time (1970s) when many of the old rituals and milestones weren't being celebrated, or were marked in a much more informal way than they had been in the past. My track record in this respect has been sort of hit & miss:
  • Not being Catholic, I didn't have a first communion.
  • But I was confirmed when I was 14, alongside my younger sister. We didn't wear white dresses -- although we did wear veils (which all the girls in the class agreed looked dumb).  Our aunts (also our godmothers) were our sponsors, and both sets of our grandparents attended (our paternal grandmother died soon afterward). We got gifts (including a charm bracelet from my aunt, which I still have.)  But it was not the big deal it is in some families and cultures.  
  • I stopped having big birthday parties after I turned 12 (although my birthday was always celebrated by my family & a few close friends).  These days, dh & I generally celebrate our birthdays by exchanging cards & going out for dinner. Sometimes, BIL & family will bring a cake to our next get-together, which is nice. :)  It's not often these days that I hear "happy birthday" being sung to me.   
  • I didn't have a high school prom, in the American sense. We had a spring semi-formal dance in the high school gym, to which my sister & I wore sundresses, and my class had a graduation cruise, to which the girls wore short dresses.
  • We wore long dresses & suits to our high school graduation ceremony. Caps & gowns were adopted the following year.  
  • I missed picking up my diploma for my undergraduate degree, because I was already beginning a year-long master's degree program at another school in another province. I did get to attend that graduation with my parents & my future dh.
  • I did have a lovely traditional wedding, preceded by a couple of small bridal showers -- one hosted by my aunt and attended mostly by relatives on my dad's side of the family, and one hosted by a neighbour of my parents.
  • But because our wedding was 1,000 miles away, the only people from dh's family who attended were those in the wedding party -- his dad, brother & two cousins.  The cousins on his mother's side of the family took us out for dinner before our wedding, when I came to Toronto to hunt for apartments, and when we returned from our honeymoon, we were taken straight from the airport to his aunt's house, where his dad's relatives held a "welcome home" gathering for us. 
  • A baby shower was planned (but never held). 
  • My sister & I hosted big catered parties for both our parents' 40th & 50th wedding anniversaries (as well as a party at their house for their 25th, years earlier). The 50th anniversary party coincided with our own 25th.  Of course, we don't have any kids to plan milestone wedding anniversary parties for us.  My sister did ask whether the 50th party should be a combined 50th/25th, but I thought that would complicate matters and that my parents deserved their own milestone celebration (and, for that matter, so did we..!) .  We usually mark our anniversaries with dinner out & the exchange of cards, although we will usually do something more special for the ones divisible by 5.
  • I recently retired -- but, since I lost my job 18 months earlier, there was no retirement party. I never even got to say goodbye to most of my coworkers.  (I was presented with a bouquet at a department meeting and taken to lunch with my immediate team on my 25th work anniversary, and attended a big banquet for long-service employees later that year.) 
Of course, nothing in this life is perfect, and so often, the anticipation of these events turns out to be the best thing about them. ;)  But most people get to relive, or improve on, the rituals and celebrations and milestones they experienced as a child with their own children as they grow up. Those of us without children don't get to do that. Moreover, we often don't even get invited to participate when family members & friends celebrate (e.g., kids' birthday parties). Often, it's assumed that we wouldn't enjoy these occasions, or be interested. Maybe some of us wouldn't be -- but some of us would. It's always nice to be included with an invitation, even if we opt not to take part.

Ultimately, it's up to us to decide what milestones and life passages are important to us, how we want to celebrate them (or not) and to remind others that, even if we don't have kids, we have a life that's worth celebrating too.  Menopause parade, anyone?? 

*** *** ***

Jody Day of Gateway Women touched on the importance of rituals -- and the absence thereof for childless women -- with Sasha Cagen of Quirkyalone. (This topic comes up in the conversation around the 26-minute mark, but the entire video is worth watching.) 

Monday, February 8, 2016

#MicroblogMondays: Life, motherhood & challenges

I've been trying to think what, if anything, I wanted to write about the "Motherhood Challenge" that's been popping up on my Facebook feed lately -- particularly when others have already said it so much better.  (Just Google "motherhood challenge" to get a broad array of opinion pieces on the matter.)  My own favourite response was from a childfree woman who posted photos of herself, snuggled under the covers, cradling a bottle of wine. ;)

Beyond the usual glorification of motherhood as the be-all-and-end-all of existence (conveniently ignoring the growing segment of the female population who are not and will not ever be mothers, some by choice, others by chance and circumstance), I think part of my issue with the "motherhood challenge" is with the word "challenge." Yes, I know, you are "challenging" the friends you tag to post photos that demonstrate why you love to be a mom (question: what if you have kids but none of your friends tag you to participate?? Is that a judgment on your mothering skills, or the quality of your so-called friendship, or...???).  But lumping it together with the word "motherhood" puts the focus on the messages we've had drummed into our heads (or at least MY head, and maybe it's my own insecurities talking here...):  that motherhood is a challenge, THE most important challenge that trumps everything else -- i.e., that other challenges (especially when you don't have kids) are somehow lesser-than, less important.

OK, we get it. It's a challenge. It's hard work. VERY.  But that's not to say that non-moms don't face their own challenges -- and those of us who tried to become moms but didn't certainly know all about challenges. 

We all face challenges in life sometimes, whether or not you're a parent. In the end, it's how we deal with them, and how we treat each other in the process, that matters.  

Those of you who don't have kids: what five photos would you post to show what you love about childless/free living?  (You don't have to actually post them anywhere, but tell us about them!) :)

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

Friday, February 5, 2016

Such a fine sight to see...

I've been listening a lot to the Eagles lately (again), and humming "Take it Easy" and "Already Gone" in the shower.  I'm sure I'm not the only one.

David Bowie's death in mid-January, at 69, was sad and shocking -- but I will admit he was never one of my favourites, growing up -- although I certainly knew his music, and grew to like and respect it more in later years. As a teenager in the '70s, growing up in a small town on the Prairies, he just seemed kind of weird, lol.

A few days later, someone posted a list on Facebook showing the ages of a long list of classic rockers, all over the age of 65 (see left), with the reminder "Appreciate them while we can." It was a sobering read. I mean, I know that Paul McCartney is less than a year younger than my mother (!) -- but to see all those names and ages all together was a sad reminder that they're not getting any younger (and -- cough, cough -- neither are we).  :( 

"Grace Slick is 76??!!"  I noted as I shared the post on Facebook. And a few days later, Paul Kantner, her bandmate in Jefferson Airplane (and father of her daughter, China), was dead at 74 -- as was Signe Anderson, the singer Slick replaced.

But Glenn Frey's sudden death at the age of 69, not long after Bowie's, was a shocker. Suddenly, it seems like the musical heroes of my growing up years, the guys (and girls) who provided the soundtrack of my youth -- at least, the ones who survived into middle and older age -- are starting to drop like flies. :(

It's not like I had posters of the Eagles on my bedroom wall or anything like that. (That honour was reserved for David Cassidy, Donny Osmond and, later, the Bay City Rollers, lol.  And, at university, Peter Frampton, Bruce Springsteen -- and Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, lol.) 

But they were THERE -- always there -- a constant presence on the airwaves and on the stereo, from the time I was entering my teens in the early 1970s, through "The Long Run" which came out in the fall of 1979, just as I was entering university, to their breakup the following year -- and ever since then, on the classic rock radio stations I've always loved to listen to.

I remember taking a multi-day high school band trip, where one of the guys brought along a boombox (powered by slowly dying batteries, lol) and three cassette tapes, which we played ad nauseum. I forget what one of them was, but the other two were Frank Zappa's "Sheik Yerbouti" and the Eagles' "Hotel California." Needless to say, I knew "Hotel California" inside and out by the time the trip was over. (And, for a while, was thoroughly sick of it, lol.) 

The Eagles played a concert locally in late July 1978 -- the Steve Miller Band was the WARMUP act (can you imagine??!). They were also huge at the time -- but nobody was bigger than the Eagles. I don't know why I didn't go -- many of my friends did. I did some Googling to confirm the date and found a news story that mentioned tickets were just $13!!!  I wound up babysitting for a couple who went. I remember thinking how cool that was, to have a mom & dad going to a rock concert. They threw some blankets and bottles of beer in the back seat of the car, and returned home several hours past midnight ( = big payday for me!). No cellphones back then to call to check on the kids!

My future husband -- an even bigger Eagles fan than I am -- saw them a few days later in Toronto. In 1994, the band reunited for their "Hell Freezes Over" tour. Ticket prices were exhorbitant, and hard to get, so we didn't go. A young girl at dh's office asked him if he was going. "No," he responded, "but I saw them on the Hotel California tour in 1978." Her jaw dropped. "HOW OLD ARE YOU???" she gasped. (Answer: In his late 30s at the time.) We laughed about it, then and now, but it was a reminder of the passage of time, and the growing generation gap we were starting to feel.

We watched "History of the Eagles" on CNN last weekend (parts 1 & 2, over four hours, including commercials). It opened with a clip of the band backstage, singing the first lines of "Seven Bridges Road," a cappella. Those harmonies!! Instant chills.

And a profound sense of loss.

A couple of great related articles on this:

Monday, February 1, 2016

#MicroblogMondays: Today, it's official!

Back in the '70s, there was a popular saying (in fact, I seem to remember it as a commercial jingle/song), "Today is the first day of the rest of your life." That little jingle has been running through my head the last few days as I approached this day.

Of course, EVERY day is the first day of the rest of your life, right?  ;) -- but today feels just slightly special because it's my first official day as a PENSIONER. Yes -- technically, I haven't worked since July 22, 2014 -- but as of today, February 1st, 2016, I'm officially retired. Freedom 55 lives!! lol 

It feels like this day has been a long time coming. (I know, it probably feels like it for you readers too, right?? lol -- sorry!)  I never got to have a retirement party or say goodbye to my coworkers the way I imagined. :(  But dh is taking me out for lunch to celebrate.  A nice way to kick off February (my least favourite month) and the official start of this new phase in my/our life.

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