Monday, October 22, 2018

#MicroblogMondays: "First Man" & a father's grief

(*Warning: spoilers*)

Going to the movies on Sunday afternoons is one of our favourite things to do, and yesterday's pick was "First Man," starring Ryan Gosling as the astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon.

Dh has been a NASA geek since childhood (he was founder & president of his junior high rocket club), & I well remember watching that first moon landing at my grandparents' house in Minnesota (I was 8). Together, we've seen (& loved) "The Right Stuff" and "Apollo 13."  This movie fits in between those two, timewise.

I vaguely remembered hearing, when Neil Armstrong died a few years ago, that he & his first wife Janet (played in the movie by Claire Foy -- Queen Elizabeth in "The Crown")  had lost a little girl to cancer... but I did not expect grief and loss to be the centrepiece of this movie.  It was more of a personal portrait than a space epic (to dh's disappointment)(although there are plenty of scenes of rocket launches and moonwalking too -- mostly from the astronauts' perspective). Armstrong was a stoic and reserved man who did not show his emotions easily, even to his family -- but the death of his toddler daughter obviously affected him deeply -- as did the untimely deaths of many of his test pilot/astronaut friends and coworkers.

Now I'm tempted to pick up the book that provided the source material for the movie. (Another one for the TBR pile...!)  I want to know if the scene near the very end of Armstrong's stint on the moon is true, or a Hollywood embellishment.

What movies have you seen lately?

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

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

"The English Air" by D.E. Stevenson

The latest novel under discussion in my D.E. Stevenson online book club is "The English Air." The story opens in 1938 coastal England, as the Braithwaite family is preparing for a visit from their German cousin, Franz von Heiden.

Franz has an ulterior motive for reconnecting with his late mother's British relatives:  his father is a high-ranking official in Hitler's Nazi party, and has instructed his son to report to him on the thoughts/mindset and morale of the British people. Steeped in Nazi teachings and culture, Franz is convinced of the Fatherland's superiority -- but gradually, he warms to Britain and its people -- especially Wynne Braithwaite, the daughter of his mother's cousin -- and he begins to question the truthfulness of what he's been taught to believe. When Hitler invades Czechoslovakia in March 1939 -- after promising not to do so -- Franz is devastated. Ultimately, he is faced with a difficult choice.

I enjoyed this book a lot.  "Home front" novels about the two world wars have always interested me, and "The English Air" is a rare "slice of life" book, covering the period from 1938 to early 1940 and published later that year. The Second World War was just getting under way;  nobody knew then what the outcome would be. Understandably, it has a bit of a propaganda ring to it.

Stevenson's novels tend to be on the light side -- and while this is not a "serious" novel, it's certainly more serious than most Stevenson books tend to be, in both tone and subject matter.  It's also unusual, in that Franz, the German, is the central character, and we see much of the story through his eyes.

While this book is nearly 80 years old, some of its themes remain relevant today (at times, uncomfortably so): the folly of blind devotion to a charismatic leader; the power of opening one's eyes and heart to new experiences, to different ideas and different ways of life. "There is too little kindness amongst us today," Franz's Tante Anna tells him, and that too rings true. 

I rated this a solid four stars on Goodreads.

(For my other DES-related posts, click on the label below.)

This was book #21 that I've read so far in 2018, bringing me to 88% of my 2018 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books.  I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 2 books ahead of schedule to meet my goal. :)

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

"Fear: Trump in the White House" by Bob Woodward

"Fear: Trump in the White House" -- the highly anticipated, recently released book by Bob Woodward -- is similar in many ways to Michael Wolff's "Fire & Fury" (which I read earlier this year & reviewed here) -- both of them fly-on-the-wall looks at the Trump White House during its first two years.

The difference, of course, being that this was written by BOB WOODWARD, of Woodward & Bernstein fame -- you know, the guys who doggedly investigated a mysterious little break-in at the Watergate Hotel in Washington back in the early 1970s, which eventually led to the resignation of a  president. I've read several of Woodward's previous 18 books (with & without Bernstein & others), including the first (and best), "All the President's Men" (which I re-read last year & reviewed here).

We might be able to brush off the gossipy books written earlier this year by Wolff & by Omarosa Manigault-Newman (who clearly had an axe to grind).  But when we hear the same sorts of stories from Bob Woodward, distinguished Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, it's clear that something is happening at the White House, and that we should all pay careful attention.

As Woodward himself said in an interview with CBS Sunday Morning, "People better wake up to what's going on."

In anecdote after anecdote, example after mind-numbing example, Woodward demonstrates that (as Chief of Staff John Kelly is said to have remarked) "We're in crazytown." 

“The reality was that the United States in 2017 was tethered to the words and actions of an emotionally overwrought, mercurial and unpredictable leader,"  Woodward writes. "Members of his staff had joined to purposefully block some of what they believed were the president’s most dangerous impulses. It was a nervous breakdown of the executive power of the most powerful country in the world.”

Unlike Wolff & Manigault-Newman's books, Woodward's was meticulously researched and documented, with his methodology explained up front, and notes and an index at the back.  As Woodward explains in the Notes section, most of the book is based on "multiple deep background interviews with firsthand sources." "Deep background" means the source agreed that all the information provided could be used without his or her identity being revealed (although it's not hard to identify who some of the sources might have been).  Most of the interviews were taped with the sources' consent (and later transcribed). Meeting notes, files, personal diaries and both government and personal documents were also used to provide a fuller picture. (Not only does Woodward describe how Gary Cohn and Rob Porter conspired to remove a critical letter from the President's desk before it was signed and sent -- from which we can infer that Cohn, Porter or both told him about the incident, in great detail -- he actually shows us an image of the unsigned letter.)  Other sources are documented in the notes section at the back.

The final sentence of the book is a killer.

I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads.

This was book #20 that I've read so far in 2018, bringing me to 83% of my 2018 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books.  I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 2 books ahead of schedule to meet my goal!  :)

Monday, October 15, 2018

#MicroblogMondays: Odds & ends

  • While I'm happy for the Duke & Duchess of Sussex (aka Prince Harry & Meghan Markle), who announced today that they are expecting a baby, did they really have to do it on Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Day?? (And here I always thought the Brits were ahead of us in North America when it comes to awareness of these issues...!) I am sure it was unintentional on their part, but it just goes to show we still have a long way to go when it comes to awareness of these issues. 
  • Yes, today is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Day (in Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month).  Around the world tonight,  bereaved parents will be lighting candles at 7 p.m. local time and letting them shine for one hour, providing a continuous "wave of light" for 24 hours in memory of our babies. I actually haven't participated in the candlelighting in recent years, but I think I will do it again this year. 
  • Trying to get back into our usual routine since returning from visiting my parents last week.  Last Monday was (Canadian) Thanksgiving (a statutory holiday);  Tuesday we travelled home;  Wednesday we went to the supermarket to restock our cupboards & fridge/freezer (which we usually do Monday). I had a hard time remembering what day it was! Hoping this week will be a little more "normal!"  
  • Dh & I went to see the most recent version of "A Star is Born" this weekend, starting Bradley Cooper & Lady Gaga (as well as Sam Elliott -- sigh!! -- Dave Chapelle, and Andrew Dice Clay (!!) as Gaga's dad (!!))(and he was really good!!).  I remember seeing the Barbra Streisand/Kris Kristofferson version when I was a teenager, and crying buckets over it... and I cried at this one too. Cooper can sing (& direct), Gaga can act, and together, they have fabulous chemistry. I predict Oscar nominations to come... 
  • Younger Nephew & his bride have been living in her parents' basement since their wedding in April, but this weekend, they moved into their recently purchased townhouse -- two bedrooms, two levels, and about two blocks away (a 5-10 minute walk) from our condo building. Dh & BIL both think they paid wayyyyyyy too much money for it -- and they probably did -- (is there any other kind of real estate, hereabouts??) -- but I understand their desire to spread their wings & get their own space.  We went there to see it yesterday. I still think of  YN as an adorable, curly-haired toddler with a soother stuck permanently in his mouth, and it's somewhat bizarre to realize (not for the first time) that he's now a married adult with a mortgage.  
You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Horror story

Did anyone else see this story about a funeral home in Detroit where the decomposed bodies of 11 infants were found in the ceiling, after an anonymous tip??

This is every bereaved parent's nightmare, I think. (One of them, anyway...) How did this happen? Obviously, this is NOT standard/proper funeral home procedure...!!  But what did the parents think the funeral home was doing with their babies' bodies??

One possible explanation (& something that has long bothered me):  I know many hospitals (even still today) will offer to "take care of things" for the parents of babies who are miscarried, stillborn or die shortly after birth.  The idea of planning a funeral for an infant is an overwhelming prospect for newly bereaved/totally in shock parents -- you were supposed to be planning a baby shower, a christening, a nursery!! NOT a funeral!! -- and many are grateful for the offer;  grateful to be able to shove the whole thing out of their minds.

Most don't realize this means their babies will likely be buried (or their ashes interred) in a common, unmarked plot, perhaps months after their deaths. I have heard stories -- not as frequently these days, thank goodness, but certainly when I was newly bereaved -- of parents who later wanted to know where their babies were buried, and were horrified when an exact location could not be provided.  I recall one blogger, a decade ago, who signed a form to release the bodies of her twins -- changed her mind shortly afterward -- and was then told the hospital could not locate the bodies!  (They were eventually found, thank goodness.)

(Years ago, some parents weren't even told that it was an option to plan their own funeral -- the dead baby was whisked away immediately after birth -- without ever being seen or held by the parents -- and parents were merely advised to get on with their lives and "have another one.")

This is why I am an adamant fan of having standard procedures for how to deal with pregnancy & infant losses in place across all hospitals -- nationally, if possible, and certainly state or province-wide -- and of parents being provided with a broad array of options and suggestions by their caregivers during the brief, precious time they get to spend with their babies.

I remember my mother suggesting, tentatively, over the phone, before she even got to my side at the hospital, that perhaps we could have some sort of funeral or memorial service for Katie at the church dh & I attended? I hadn't even thought about that part of things, and the thought did give me some comfort. The hospital staff told me that because our daughter was past 24 weeks gestation, we were REQUIRED to arrange for burial or cremation. I didn't view it as a burden; it was actually kind of a relief to know that I was going to be able to do this for my baby, and I will be forever grateful for that.

I know everyone's experience & feelings will be different -- but I am sure that whatever the stories of those babies & their parents, this was NOT what they thought was going to happen!!  :(

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Childlessness & "The Big Bang Theory"

Childlessness -- voluntary or not -- is a topic not often explored on TV -- and when the subject is touched upon, it's often handled in a disappointing way.  More often than not, even female characters who say they don't want children wind up having them.

The question of children and the choice to have them (or not) reared its head on a recent (Oct. 4th) episode of "The Big Bang Theory," now in its 12th & final season. Penny & Leonard finally got around to talking about having children... and guess what? Leonard wants kids;  Penny doesn't. (You would think they would have discussed this BEFORE they got married, right? They've certainly known each other long enough by now...!) 

After Leonard stormed out of the apartment, the couple eventually made up & Leonard told Penny he can accept not having children. In the meantime, however, Penny was subjected to enormous pressure, not just from Leonard but also from Amy (they were supposed to be pregnant at the same time!!  their kids were supposed to be besties too!!!) and her dad (angered at the prospect of not being a grandfather). 

The eyerolling coup de grace for me, though, was seeing Bernadette -- who was originally completely unenthusiastic about having children, and still doesn't show much enthusiasm for motherhood since having not just one but TWO kids in quick succession! -- hand Penny just about every cliche in the book -- all the usual lines that parents use to try to convince the childless/free about the superiority of a life with kids.

(Even Sheldon & Amy are, apparently, fated to have children -- an episode of "Young Sheldon" last season ended with a voiceover from the adult Sheldon, talking about his love of contracts -- including the fact that he uses them with his children.) 

I will be curious to see whether there's a pregnancy announcement -- from Sheldon & Amy, or Leonard & Penny, or both -- before the season & series ends.

(We watched this episode while we were visiting my parents, who are also big fans of the show -- with them in the room. Awkward...!)

Here's a recap of the episode that I found online. (Note the headline: "Is Leonard and Penny's Marriage in Trouble?" -- even though they make up in the end -- and the editorializing: "Leonard apologizes for freaking out, then tells Penny he can accept not having children. (Hmm… we’ll see about that.)")  (As always, beware the comments...!)

Anyone else watch? Thoughts?

(I wrote/ranted about how the show "How I Met Your Mother" handled the issue of Robin's childlessness, here, here and here.) 

Friday, October 12, 2018

1 in 4

Many of my friends from the babyloss world (both online & in real life) have been posting this meme on their Facebook walls and other social media sites over the past few days, marking Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month (& Day, coming up on Monday, Oct. 15th). 

I did too. 

It's hard sometimes to "go public" with my ongoing grief -- to remind others of our loss (and that, yes, we are not "over it," 20 years later!) -- but if not now, then when, right? 

I am one of the estimated 1 in 4 who have lost a baby, through miscarriage, stillbirth, ectopic pregnancy or infant loss. (That statistic could potentially be higher, since many women miscarry before they are aware they are pregnant.)

I am also one of the (approximate) 1 in 5 to 1 in 4 women of my generation (born in the 1960s & 70s in developed countries) who does not (and will not) have (living) children -- both by choice & not (as was the case for me).  No "I am 1 in 4" memes for us (yet?), although I am sure there will be soon...! 

Just for fun, I Googled the phrase "1 in 4" to see what would pop up.  It wasn't what you might expect:

  • One of the first links to pop up http://1infour.ca/ .  It took a bit of searching through the site to figure out exactly what the site was for, but it appears to be an initiative to shed light on domestic violence issues in the Hamilton, Ontario area. 
  • There were several links related to mental health issues, including: 
  • http://www.oneinfour.org.uk/ supports people who have experienced child sexual abuse and trauma in the U.K.  
As I clicked on, here are some of the other "1 in 4" links I found: 
I gave up after scrolling through 10 pages (!) of Google results, without finding anything related to pregnancy & infant loss awareness (and remember, this is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month!), or childlessness.  All of the above links represent important issues -- but so too are the loss of much-wanted children (often for reasons that can never be explained).  1 in 4 is a pretty big chunk of the population. For all the progress I have personally witnessed on issues of pregnancy loss, infertility and involuntary childlessness over the past 20 years (and there HAS been progress), we clearly still have further to go to get our stories heard (let alone adequately understood!)...  

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Thankful

This should have been my #MicroblogMonday post, since Monday was Thanksgiving here in Canada. But the day/weekend went by far too fast. Of course, gratitude should be a 365-day-a-year thing -- so in the ongoing spirit of Thanksgiving, here are a few things I am thankful for right now:
  • Family -- his, mine & extended. :) Besides my parents & sister (as well as Parents' Neighbours' Daughter and the Little Princesses), I got to see my aunties (my dad's two sisters) & a cousin I haven't seen in several years while I was out west. None of us are getting any younger, and I cherish the time we can spend together. 
  • Being able to spend Thanksgiving with my family, for the first time since we were married 33 years ago (!). (I was actually home in both October 1998 & 1999 for my grandparents' funerals :(  but my grandfather died after Thanksgiving, and turkey dinner was not a priority while we were planning & assembling for my grandmother's funeral.)(Besides which, we were in Minnesota, where they don't celebrate until late November...!) 
  • Spending precious time with my aging parents, and being able to lend a hand around the house & yard. 
  • Seeing the Little Princesses, spoiling them with cute new clothes I had fun picking out for them (and then seeing them wear some of what I'd bought), and celebrating the Littlest Princess's 4th birthday. :) 
  • Getting to see Paul McCartney in concert -- and WITH my sister (reliving our teenage years...!).  :) 
  • Having a computer expert in the family (my sister's partner) that I can call on anytime for tech support. :) 
  • Dh. (He's not the best traveller, and I am also thankful that our travel experience this week went relatively smoothly...!) 
  • Being retired early and still being able to live a comfortable lifestyle. 
  • Our lovely condo & all its comforts. 
  • Shelves full of books to read. :) 
  • Being on track to meet my Goodreads 2018 Reading Challenge goal. :)  
  • Getting to wear capris and sandals for one more day, thanks to balmy temperatures. ;) 
  • Gorgeous fall colours starting to emerge. 
  • Good friends, in real life and in the computer. :) (Thank you all!) 
  • The good fortune to be born and to spend my life in the best country in the world. :) 


Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Right now

Right now... (an occasional meme, alternating from time to time with "The Current")

Recuperating: ...from a visit to my parents in Manitoba over (Canadian) Thanksgiving (hence, the lack of recent posting/commenting...!). ;)  Got back home last night.

Reading:  Finished: "Fear: Trump in the White House" by Bob Woodward while I was away. Review to come, eventually.  ;)  Year-to-date, I've finished 20 books (out of my Goodreads 2018 Reading Challenge goal of 24 books (83%), and 2 ahead of "schedule," so far!).  

Currently reading: Rage Becomes Her:  The Power of Women's Anger by Soraya Chelmaly. Extremely timely!  ;)  

Recent purchases: 
Watching:  I tend to be somewhat wary of reboots, since so few of them live up to the originals, but I have watched the first two episodes of the return of "Murphy Brown." So far, not as good as the original :(  (...but then what is??), although it's great to see everyone again. Also happily watching: season 4 of "Poldark" on PBS! :) 

Most recent big-screen movie: Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 11/9."  (More of the same, if you've ever seen any of his stuff.)

Listening:  To stories (& reading them too) from women I know about long-ago ...., in the wake of Christine Blasey Ford's courageous testimony before the Senate committee recently.  During my visit "home," I heard an almost 40-year-old story for the first time from my own sister about an experience she had during her first month of dorm living at university in the early 1980s. It wasn't rape, and I suppose back then we had no idea what to call it, but these days it would definitely be classified as sexual assault. :(  

Drinking/Eating:  Still recuperating from the great eating while I was at Mom & Dad's ;)  including Thanksgiving dinner, with all the trimmings, on Saturday night. :)  Turkey with mashed potatos, stuffing & gravy;  mashed turnip, peas, coleslaw, buns and a cottage cheese salad my mom has made since we were kids (that's really almost more of a dessert). And apple & pumpkin pies for dessert.  

Wearing:  I had to borrow my mother's winter jacket while we were out west, since it was pretty chilly the entire time we were there (including some SNOW!!).  I had only brought my denim jacket and a slightly warmer fall jacket. It was 5C when we left Winnipeg yesterday;  27C/36C humidex when we arrived in Toronto. (Somewhere, there has to be a happy medium...!)  The forecast for today is similar (although it will chill out again after that). Guess my capris & sandals will get one more wear today, before they're washed/put away for the season...!   

Buying (besides books, lol):  Groceries, later this morning. We always try to leave the cupboards & especially the refrigerator as empty as possible whenever we got away, and they are both pretty bare at the moment!  

Wanting:  A good night's sleep. :p  I was hoping I would sleep better, being back in my own bed again, but (despite being exhausted last night) I was awake before 4 & up before 5. :p  

Feeling:  Sad to say goodbye to my parents again, but happy to be back in my own little condo. (And looking forward to returning at Christmastime!) 

Loving:  Going to a concert again after so many years -- with my sister again, like when we were teenagers - AND that the concert was Paul McCartney, to boot...!  (I wrote about the experience here!)  

Thinking ahead: To October 2019. My sister just got two tickets to Elton John's farewell tour for October 5th. (I really think it's ridiculous to have to buy concert tickets a WHOLE YEAR AHEAD, but, whatever...!). SIL & I tried and failed to get tickets to his recent farewell concerts here -- and I/we could stay for Thanksgiving again too ;)  -- so it's a very tempting prospect...!  

Playing: A lot of cards while we were at my parents' house :) -- mostly a rummy game we've played since I was a kid, for quarters. 

Monday, October 1, 2018

#MicroblogMondays: Yeah, I'm amazed...

It was the dream of a lifetime come true:  seeing Paul McCartney in concert. (Even better, seeing it in my "home" city, along with my sister, who shares my love of the Beatles & so many of my Beatles-related memories from growing up in the 1960s & 1970s.)

I tried taking a few photos & videos, but most of them didn't turn out very well. I mostly let my phone sit in my purse, and just let the music and emotions (and there were many) wash over me.  (Set list here.)

He and his fabulous band opened with "A Hard Day's Night." I had flashbacks to seeing the movie for the first time in a theatre re-release in the early 1980s, to watching the Beatles cartoon show with my sister & cousin as a child, and to my mom taking me to see "Help!" at the movie theatre when I was a pre-schooler.

He played "Maybe I'm Amazed," quite possibly my favourite of his solo songs and a strong contender for our wedding first dance song (although we wound up picking something else).

He sang "Let 'Em In," and I remember my grandpa singing along & chuckling over "Auntie Jin" (he had an Aunt Jinny too).

They played "Band on the Run," and I was a young teenager again, listening to the song on the radio and to the album in my friend's basement rec room.

They played "Live and Let Die," complete with explosions, and I thought of how much the world had changed since he wrote the song in the mid-1970s for the James Bond movie of the same name. (Frankly, both my sister & I were surprised the explosions were still allowed, in this very different day & age...!)

We all sang along to "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" -- and he ended off with the ultimate singalong -- "Hey Jude" (of course) -- and I remembered all the junior high dances where that was always the last slow dance, desperately hoping someone would ask me to dance. (They never did.) And I thought about how cool it was to be sitting in an arena, more than 40 years later, singing the same song along with Paul & 14,000+ other people. I wondered if Paul imagined, back in 1968, that 50 years later, he'd still be singing that song in front of thousands of people. I know that 14-year-old me from 1975 would never have imagined the day when Paul McCartney (or any Beatle, for that matter) & I would share the same space.

(He & the band then came back for a kick-ass encore set that started with "Yesterday," and wound up with (of course) "The End" -- "And in the end the love you take/Is equal to the love you make."  Perfection. :)

Probably my favourite moment of the night (among so, so many memorable moments) was when when he came out to the edge of the stage with an acoustic guitar and played "Blackbird." The lights dimmed, the glow of hundreds of cellphones lit up the arena like tiny stars, and the stage rose up and up and up into the air, high above the audience. It was magical. It was hugely emotional. I blinked back tears.  He told us he'd written it with the civil rights marches of the 1960s in mind (and I couldn't help thinking of the present day, and of Christine Blasey Ford & all the brave women who have come forward with stories of courage and survival). "All your life... you were only waiting for this moment to be free."

And then he sang "Here Today," which he wrote after John Lennon was murdered, saying all the things to him that he never got the chance to say, and the stage slowly lowered back to its regular height.

His voice is not quite what it once was... but he played for three solid hours, bouncing from his famous Hofner bass to electric guitar to acoustic guitar to ukelele (George taught him how to play it) to grand piano to upright -- back & forth, and telling stories along the way.  Did I mention the man turned 76 years old (!!) this summer??!  We should all be so energetic at that age...

He clearly still loves doing what he does, and I hope he keeps on doing it for as long as he's willing and able.  I feel so very lucky to have lived almost my entire life with Beatles/Wings/McCartney songs as a major part of the soundtrack. And so very lucky to have finally seen him in concert.

Concert review & newspaper photos here.

One local couple got the ultimate photobomb for their wedding album! :) 

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


He's hard to see here ;) but that's Sir Paul McCartney himself, singing "Blackbird" with an acoustic guitar
on an elevated stage (with larger images on screens on either side of the stage). 

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

#MicroblogMondays (on Tuesday night): Odds & ends


  • I am late with my #MM post. The last week or so has been busy... 
  • Younger Nephew & his bride just closed on the purchase of their first home -- a two-bedroom condo townhouse. They paid a ridiculous price for a two-bedroom townhouse -- but then all real estate hereabouts is ridiculously priced, and it was about as "affordable" as local real estate gets.
    • We still haven't seen it yet but we did go shopping with Younger Nephew on Saturday. We told him to pick out a piece of furniture or appliance as a housewarming gift (within a semi-reasonable price range).  He picked... a vacuum cleaner. 
  • In response to a "wait until you have kids" comment from his dad (BIL), Younger Nephew said, "Actually, Dad, kids might not be on the table."  I am pretty sure he said that just to get a rise out of BIL (because I can't imagine his wife not wanting to have kids). ;)  But I think everyone was surprised when dh said to him, "That is ENTIRELY up to the two of you to decide!" (Not sure how BIL felt about THAT! lol)  
  • SIL & I went to a free taping for the Marilyn Denis show downtown yesterday (one reason this post is late). Marilyn is a well-known TV & radio personality, locally as well as nationally, and we had a good time. (Afterward, we went for lunch at a nearby cafe and then to a big downtown mall to shop.) 
    • For those of you who live in Canada and can watch, the show will air this Thursday morning. :)  (See if you can spot me!) It was mostly prepared clips from her recent visit to Ireland. They also taped a Halloween-themed cooking segment for a show that will air on Oct. 25th.
  • It's always great when a new blog post from an old blogging friend shows up in my reader.  :)  Welcome back, Miss E/South City Sadie!  
You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Memories of campus life

Stories in the news about U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanagh & Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused him of sexually assaulting her at a high school party, have included accounts and photos from Kavanagh's fraternity days at Yale in the early/mid-1980s.  A photo of some of Kavanagh's frat brothers hoisting a flag made of pilfered women's underwear brought back memories of my own college days -- some funny, some unsettling.

I graduated high school in (gulp) 1979 (almost 40 years ago!!) & went to university that fall. (NOT Ivy League -- an ordinary Canadian university, an hour away from where my family then lived.)  The women's movement had been a presence all throughout my youth and teenage years -- the Equal Rights Amendment had just been defeated in the U.S. a few years earlier -- so feminism was part of my consciousness -- things were starting to change -- but slowly. To give just one example, this was the era of what was then known as "jiggle TV" -- think "Charlie's Angels" and "Three's Company" and Daisy Duke. It was long before Anita Hill (that's a whole other set of memories...!), workplace and campus harassment policies, "no means no" and #MeToo.

I spent all four years of my undergrad career living in an all-girls dorm, connected to a larger dorm that was half coed & half all-guys by a third building that housed (among other things) the administration office and the cafeteria where we all ate. Fraternities and sororities were not a big thing at my university, but at most of the residences on campus, a rowdy party atmosphere prevailed. Helicopter parents were unheard of in those days and seldom seen on campus. There were no personal computers, Internet or cellphones. I telephoned my parents once a week, usually on Sunday nights, when rates were cheaper (long distance was expensive!).  Not everyone had TVs.  I had a 12-inch black & white set with rabbit ears that picked up three or four local stations. Just a very few students had colour TVs -- I remember the one who did on my floor dragging her set into the lounge so we could all watch the infamous "Who shot JR?" episode of "Dallas" together in colour.  :)

Guys and girls roamed in & out of each others' rooms at all hours. "Overnight guests" were not unheard of.  There were beer bashes every Friday afternoon (50 cents for a beer ticket, if I remember correctly), and dances & parties, somewhere on campus, every Friday &/or Saturday night, with pre-parties and after-parties in dorm lounges and rooms. The drinking age was 18 (kids coming from places where the legal age was 19 or 21 went wild). Bar-sized mini-refrigerators were not uncommon in dorm rooms, but some of the guys had full-sized refrigerators, stocked with beer that they sold to other students.  (Others who didn't have fridges kept cases on the windowsills in the wintertime -- a natural refrigerator/freezer!)  They made furniture out of the empty cases. Some people grew marijuana plants in their rooms -- not many, but I did see them.

The movie "Animal House" had been released the previous year, and it both reflected the atmosphere I found at university, and influenced it. (Yes, I went to a few toga parties!). I can only remember one near-food fight at the cafeteria, where a couple of dinner rolls got tossed around... but I do remember witnessing many "beltings," in which unfortunate students would be dragged over to the conveyor belt which carried our trays of used dishes into the kitchen, tossed on, held down and stuffed through the opening.

There were also "shaftings." Most of the victims were guys from the other dorm, but that building was just three storeys and had no elevators (that I remember)(it was built in 1912, and this was before mandatory accommodations for people with disabilities) -- so these took place at our girls' dorm, which was built in the early 1960s, with nine floors and two elevators. The victim (usually a guy, although I remember at least one girl) would be stripped to his underwear, tied to a chair and covered with shaving cream & lipstick, sent up in the elevator, and then down, with stops on every floor, where both girls & guys would be waiting with garbage bins full of water to throw in (and cameras to record the event -- I have a few such photos in my collection...!). (My parents once arrived to pick me up in the aftermath of one of these "shaftings." You can imagine their reactions...!) Everyone would pitch in afterward to help clean up the mess (fortunately, we had a very good-natured caretaker), but needless to say, all that water was not great for the elevators & repair crews would often have to be called in.

Once a year, usually sometime in the late winter/early spring, there would be a raid on the girls' dorm. Not a panty raid (although I do remember one of those, and seeing dozens of pairs of women's underwear strung across the cafeteria dining hall afterward). There were pass keys floating around (Lord only knows how many...) that gave the user access to all the rooms in the building, and once a year, the administration would look the other way (!!) & they would be used.

Each raid was elaborately planned.  There was actually a list you could ask your proctor/residence assistant to put you on, if you absolutely objected and did not want to "take part" -- although the pressure to "be a good sport" was enormous. Consequently, the "no raid" list was usually pretty small, maybe just a few girls on each floor.

An advance party would be sent over in the wee small hours of the morning -- typically after 2 or 3 a.m. -- to roll up rugs,  move lounge furniture out of the way, and fill all the bathtubs up with freezing cold water. (We had common bathrooms for the entire floor -- a big bathroom with several toilet cubicles & sinks, a separate shower room with several shower cubicles, and two separate tub rooms.) Often, someone going to the washroom or up late studying would hear the tubs running, or see the rolled-up rugs -- or some sympathetic guy would call a female friend -- and she would call a few friends to warn them, who would call a few friends... if you woke up to the sound of phones ringing all over the floor, you knew what was about to happen (and had a short window of time to prepare yourself... imagine if you slept in the nude??).  One year, my room had a view of the hallway that ran along the front of the third building, connecting our two dorms -- and I witnessed the daunting sight of hundreds of guys running through it towards us. Yikes.  The sound of hundreds of thundering footsteps and loud male voices would get louder.... Resistance was futile.

Once the guys reached your floor (both by elevator and up the stairwells), they'd use the passkeys. A half-dozen or so of them would haul you out of bed, drag you out of your room and down the hallway to the tub rooms and dump you unceremoniously in the tub of cold water. Most girls refused to submit without a fight, and the guys got almost as soaked as we did. As with shaftings, both guys and girls would pitch in after each raid to mop up, although I'm sure there was still a mess waiting for the caretaker & maids when they arrived to work that morning.

I only took part in one raid. In first year, my roommate was married (!) (long story) and her husband was NOT impressed when he found out about the raid. He installed a deadbolt lock on our door, and the night of the raid, we used it and sheltered several of our floormates in our room. We yelled to the guys trying to open our door that the door was bolted & they weren't going to get in, and they finally gave up. (Two years later, I wound up in a room next door to that room -- the deadbolt had been removed, but the hole my roomie's husband had drilled into the door frame for it remained.) In second year, I was sick in bed with the flu. It was a stroke of luck that I was good friends with the ringleader of the group that burst into my room. I pleaded with him that I was sick, really sick, and really not up to this. I guess I must have looked & sounded pretty pathetic because they actually retreated, closed the door & left me alone!  Third year I got dumped in the tub -- but not before joining the other girls from my floor to lay in wait & douse the guys with wastepaper baskets full of water first (if we were going to get wet, so were they...!).  :)  By fourth year, I'd had enough & added my name to the "no raid" list -- and was left alone. (Nevertheless, I still didn't get much sleep because of all the commotion going on outside my door...!)

I imagine (I hope!!) these raids have long since gone the way of the dodo bird. (The coed/guys' dorm was decommissioned as a residence a few years ago, and is now home to the school of music!)  The raid was a "tradition" and supposedly in the spirit of "fun" -- but the idea that the administration would turn a blind eye to such antics (effectively sanctioning such behaviour) was somewhat disturbing/unnerving to more than few of us, even in those less enlightened times. One girl once commented how easy it would be, in all the noise & chaos, for some guy with dishonourable intentions to use the pass key -- & then close & lock the door behind him. I'm sure she wasn't the first person to have those thoughts.

Because there was a darker side to campus life that surfaced periodically.

Fortunately, the really dark stuff was not something I ever experienced, and seldom heard about, but I did see & experience things that made me uncomfortable.

There was the "three-man lift" trick, which I saw performed every fall at a big "beer & skits" gathering during frosh month. One guy claims he can lift three people, single-handed. He offers to demonstrate and asks for three "volunteers" -- two guys, who may or may not be in on the joke, and one unsuspecting victim -- a frosh/freshman, sometimes a guy, but also sometimes a girl. They lie flat on the floor, arms linked, with the victim in the middle -- helpless to do anything as the guy takes his beer & pours it down the front of his or her pants.  I only avoided becoming the victim of this humiliating prank because I was warned by my proctor/residence assistant not to volunteer or go along with it.

There were the older guys who preyed on the incoming frosh/freshmen girls every fall. (Unfortunately, I had some experience with this.)  They'd pick you up at a party, stick to you like glue, make out with you in your room or theirs afterwards (depending on the roommate situation), disappear until they saw you at the next party (seldom ask you out on an actual date)... and eventually (when they got what they wanted -- or got bored when they didn't), unceremoniously dump you.  Then you'd see them the next September doing exactly the same thing to yet another innocent frosh girl.

There were guys who would follow me around at parties and stick to me like leeches even when I made it clear (I thought??) that I wasn't interested.  Shortly before I met dh, I met one guy who shoved his tongue down my throat after a couple of dances at a party. Then he started showing up at my table in the cafeteria every day, and hanging around my room. Then he started calling me. When I asked how he'd gotten my number, he confessed he'd looked at the dial when he'd been in my room (we used to have our phone numbers written in the middle of the dial). At a dorm outing to see "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," he plunked himself down beside me, uninvited.  It soon became quite apparent he had no interest in watching the movie. I did (I hadn't seen it before). I had long since decided he was not for me, and he didn't seem to be taking the hint. He finally got the point, though, when I elbowed him the ribs, hissed, "Cut it out!" and then pointedly ignored him when the lights finally came up and everyone began leaving. A couple of nights later, in what I assume was an act of attempted revenge, he tried to penny the door to my room shut as I slept inside. I heard my doorknob rattle, woke up with a start & started yelling, "Who's there??" loud enough to wake up my next-door neighbour.  He fled, mission unaccomplished, leaving a few pennies lying on the floor in front of my door. (I knew it was him, because he'd told me about how he and some of his floormates had done the same thing as a prank on someone else.) (He found someone else at the next party who found his attentions more welcome, and ignored me from then on. Good riddance...!) (I wrote about this incident, in part, in a previous post, here.)

There were lurid prank calls.

There was the guy (actually someone I'd known in high school) who got my name in an inter-floor Secret Santa exchange -- and gave me a copy of Playgirl magazine.

There were whispered stories about a drunken guy who seduced a drunken girl in the bathroom while his floormates listened at the door.

Perhaps the most serious incident I can remember:  There was a golf course that bordered the university and separated it from the highway where many kids lived in off-campus apartment buildings. There was a well-worn path between a hedge and a chain-link fence along the border of the golf course, and many students would take a shortcut through there en route to classes and then home again later. (It was also the fastest and easiest route to a popular off-campus bar.)  One fall -- I think it was when I was in my third or fourth year -- several female students were attacked by a guy who would lay in wait for them at the end of the path. They were easy prey, effectively trapped there in a leafy tunnel with no easy way out.

Word spread about what was happening -- there were stories in the newspaper -- and all the girls from both dorms were summoned to a meeting.  I don't remember anyone telling us about what action was being taken to ensure our safety -- or even any tips on what we could do ourselves.  I do remember an earnest young woman from a local women's group, who reminded us that our bodies belonged to us,  that we had the right to say no. She told us a story about a date who pressured her into staying at his apartment overnight, and how shitty she felt afterwards. I felt bad for her, and I agreed with what she had to say (I'd read enough to have already absorbed that message, but I don't ever remember someone specifically delivering it to me & my peers before), but it didn't feel particularly relevant to the specific situation at hand. (The girls who were attacked may have said "no" but I don't think the guy was listening.)  What I wanted to know was what the police and the the university were doing to find this guy and to protect others from being attacked. That was not made clear. And even then, I also remember wondering why just the girls were getting the talk -- how about the guys?  Shouldn't someone be saying something to them too?? (Of course, they weren't the ones being attacked.)  Nope, the onus was solely on us.

Times were different then -- much different. I cannot imagine that students today would get away with half the stuff we used to do. (I hope?) It was all (mostly?) good fun... at least, I think that was the intention. I have a lot of great memories from that time, and made friends I still have today. (Not to mention I met my husband there!) 

But when I look back on those days now, I do sometimes shudder at what people got away with, and how naive and trusting -- and very, very lucky -- I was.  There was a lot of alcohol and a lot of kids, living away from home for the first time, getting very drunk and doing very dumb things.

For example, I used to walk home by myself from parties on the other side of campus, late at night, through the underground tunnel system that connected different buildings to each other (and protected students from the bitter cold during the winter). I knew I was taking a risk walking home by myself, whether above or below ground. But I still did it. (Speedwalking all the way...!) Even back then, there was a campus escort system, but nobody I knew ever used it.

I remember one time when I was the only girl in a room with a dozen guys and a whole lot of beer. It may have entered my mind that that maybe I shouldn't be in that situation -- but it was hard to believe that anything bad might happen to me, because I thought of these guys as my friends. (Plus it was still early in the evening, the door was wide open & I didn't stay very long.) I knew some guys were jerks, but I knew most of these guys pretty well. They were nice guys, and I trusted them. I don't think I ever seriously considered that they might do something bad to me.

Luckily for me, they were, and they didn't. But not all girls were as lucky as me.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

A blast from the past

With the change of seasons underway, I recently went into the closet & pulled out the plastic bins where I keep my extra placemats & tablecloths. I had some fall-appropriate placemats I wanted to start using, and I had recently bought some new ones I wanted to put away.

As I went through the bin, I pulled out a flat square cardboard package. I wasn't sure what was inside. There were some lace doilies wrapped in tissue paper (slightly yellowed) and, inside, an envelope addressed to me & dh in familiar handwriting, with a card inside. It had a picture of a rose on the front, and a Bible verse inside.

It was from my great-aunt, my grandmother's older sister. She & my grandmother had a fractious relationship: they lived their entire lives in the same small town, but they could go for years without speaking to each other. It made things very difficult for those of us who loved them both -- but, to their eternal credit, they wholeheartedly loved and welcomed each other's children and grandchildren, even if they couldn't tolerate each other. My grandmother never objected or made her disapproval known (that I noticed, anyway) when we went to see Aunty E., and my mother would always take us to visit her whenever we were in town. When we got old enough to roam around town by ourselves, my sister & I would often stop by her apartment on our own. We knew there would always be hugs, cookies &/or a generous bowl of chocolate chip ice cream waiting for us. :) Sometimes we had sleepovers at her apartment with her granddaughters (our mother's cousins' children).

I always had a special relationship with Aunty E. I was born a few months after her husband died suddenly, when she was in her mid-50s.  She was in a deep depression, until someone suggested that she should come stay with my mother after I was born and help take care of me (instead of my grandmother). I guess I was a welcome distraction. "You're my girl, Lori," she said to me once, one of the last times I saw her before she died, as she gave me a big hug. "You always have been. Remember when I came to take care of you?"  I did not remember, of course, but I always knew she loved me.

I read the card. The lace doilies were, apparently, a housewarming present. I was reminded that I had sent out "New home" announcement cards when we bought our house in 1990. (I had them designed by a graphic designer I knew at work, instead of using the standard bureaucratic change of address cards provided by Canada Post.) (I hadn't thought of this in years, and I'm not even sure I kept one for myself?)

Anyway, this is what the note inside said:
Dear [Loribeth & dh],  
The day I received your announcement I could tell by the feel it was a card so of course what did ol' E. think -- it's a baby!  But it was still a surprise, I've never seen a house announcement -- fun to see something different!  
Sincere good wishes for oodles of happiness in your new home!  May God bless you always.  
Love,
Aunt E. 
When I got that package, I was in my late 20s, married five years -- hoping for babies, eventually, but now a new homeowner with a daunting mortgage. I knew that babies would have to wait a while longer.  I don't remember how I felt when I first read the note -- but I am sure I was slightly irritated. ;)  I wanted babies, yes, but even then, long before the shadow of infertility, nothing pissed me off more than questions or assumptions on the subject of our plans to procreate, even from beloved great-aunts. 

Reading the note again, almost 30 years after I received it, it stung to realize that my aunt had assumed I had sent her a baby announcement. It hurt to think I had disappointed her in some way. I felt guilty that I never produced a baby for her to cuddle and fuss over. (And seriously -- did she really think I would have had a baby without the family grapevine letting her knowing I was pregnant??)  It was one of those out-of-the-blue "ouch" moments that I'm sure all CNBCers have experienced at one time or another.

But I knew then, and know now, that both package and note were well-intentioned and sent with love. Aunty E. was in her 80s then. She died four years later -- and four years before I finally did become pregnant -- before stillbirth and infertility entered my life -- before the hopes we had for that little house died too -- the house we sold two years ago, when we bought the condo where we now live.

I could hear her voice saying the words as I read them, and hear her throaty chuckle.  Tears stung my eyes. Partly because of what the note said.

But also just because I miss her.

Monday, September 17, 2018

#MicroblogMondays: Exploring roads less travelled

I got to do a little meandering down roads less travelled (literally) late last week. My friend/former work colleague J & I headed "up north" (about a two-hour drive) on Thursday to visit our friend & former workmate (actually, our former boss) S -- something the three of us have been talking about doing for quite a while now. S's husband was away and the timing was perfect for a girls' get-together. I don't get much girlfriend time these days, and I enjoyed every minute of it. :)

I had never been to this part of Ontario before;  S has lived there most of her life -- even when she was working in the city, she & her partner would head home to the farm for weekends & holidays, and when they both retired, they sold their house in the city and came home for good. And she was a great tour guide. It's an area where cottages & ski resorts along the lakeshore (Lake Huron/Georgian Bay) give way to rolling farmland and apple orchards. We spent a lot of time just driving around country roads that most daytrippers and tourists wouldn't know about, enjoying the scenery. The fall colours are just starting to peek out from among the greenery, but it was very pretty nevertheless. S lives in town these days, but they own a piece of beachfront property off a narrow dirt road in the country, and she took us there late in the afternoon. We dragged a couple of  chairs (called Adirondack chairs in the U.S.) out of the storage shed and down to the water's edge & sat there for an hour or so with the drinks & snacks we'd brought along in an insulated cooler bag, talking and laughing and enjoying the view, and the peace & quiet.

Besides work (and early retirement), another thing the three of us have in common: none of us has children (although J has several stepchildren & grandchildren). We never discuss WHY we don't have kids (although they both supported me through my rollercoaster pregnancy, Katie's stillbirth & its aftermath) -- but we did talk about various issues related to aging without children -- where to live, what to do with a lifetime of accumulated STUFF (and who, if anyone, is going to want it when we're gone), etc. My social networks are not quite as well developed as theirs, but we all spoke with pride and affection about our cousins & their kids, stepkids (& their kids), nieces & nephews (and great-nieces & nephews), and friends' kids who are like grandkids/nieces & nephews to us. I was struck (not for the first time) by the generosity my childless/free friends show towards other people's children -- contrary to the popular stereotype that we're all "selfish" and "child-haters."

The next day (Friday), we drove about two more hours north to the very northernmost tip of the peninsula (with a lot of side trips & stops at points of interest along the way), where we strolled around the harbour, eating ice cream & getting sunburned before heading home again. I imagine the place is crawling with tourists on a summer weekend (and there was a lot of northbound traffic as we headed back south that afternoon), but it was not at all crowded and very pleasant. (One of the perqs of retirement!) J & I headed back to the city again the next morning (Saturday), via a different route along rolling country roads. It brought home to me (not for the first time...!) just how vast this province and this country are (and how we really need to get out of the city more often to explore...!). 

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

Early evening on an inlet on Georgian Bay (Lake Huron, one of the Great Lakes).
The stone structure to the right of the trees is an inukshuk

Monday, September 10, 2018

#MicroblogMondays: Odds & ends

  • Just a reminder: It's World Childless Week!  :)  Lots going on! 
  • Back to school photos seem to have (finally!) tapered off as most kids returned to classrooms last week. As I said to another CNBCer, I don't think it's the photos themselves that bother me as much as all the accompanying commentary...!  
    • (I did see a couple of brilliant adult parodies online, including one of a male schoolteacher holding up one of those blackboard signs (which included the line "my wife made me do this") and another guy holding up a chalkboard citing "day xxx of work."  ;)  )  
  • This time last week, we were sweltering, running from air conditioned condo to air conditioned car to air conditioned stores and back again. Yesterday was grey and chilly, to the point that I had to put on socks and yoga pants for the first time in months. They're back on today, and I had to wear shoes & a jacket when we went out earlier. There has to be a happy medium somewhere... right?? (Thankfully, things should warm up a bit later this week...) 
  • Remember the annoying online friend I posted about a few months ago, on a mommy group getaway?  Her first grandchild -- a girl, of course -- was born a few months ago, and I have barely been able to click a perfunctory "like" on the flood of gloating grandma posts on social media. Why is it so easy to be happy for some people, but others...?? 
  • Looking forward to a rare girls' getaway of my own later this week!  :)  
You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

"Juliet, Naked" by Nick Hornby

When I heard there was a movie version of Nick Hornby's novel "Juliet, Naked" coming out, I decided I'd like to see it. I'd previously read both "High Fidelity" and "About a Boy" by Hornby after seeing and enjoying the movie versions.  (I also saw "Fever Pitch" with Drew Barrymore & Jimmy Fallon, although I never read the Hornby book it was based on.)

This time around, I thought I'd try to get the novel read before I saw the movie (and, moreover, cram it into the few days in between when I finished my most recent book (reviewed here) and Sept. 11th, when "Fear: Trump in the White House" by Bob Woodward came out.  ;) I finished the book in three days flat (started Friday, finished this afternoon). :)

(As it turns out, I needn't have rushed:  "Juliet, Naked" the movie is only playing in three theatres in the GTA at the moment -- none of them anywhere near me (albeit one of them is near where we lived before we moved). Hmph.)

Pop culture and music are often themes in Hornby's books, and this one is no exception. The plot:  Main characters Annie & Duncan have lived a humdrum existence together for the past 15 years in a small town by the seaside in England. Duncan's life revolves, not around Annie, but his obsession with an American singer/songwriter, Tucker Crowe, who disappeared from public view at the height of his fame, 30 years ago. When Crowe releases a new album -- a stripped down/demo version of his most famous work -- Duncan is ecstatic. Annie is less impressed (not to mention fed up with Duncan), and publishes an online critique of the album on Duncan's favourite fan forum, which sets off a string of events that change everything for her, Duncan -- and Tucker Crowe.

*** POTENTIAL SPOILERS FOLLOW *** 

I have to admit, I was taken aback, not far into the novel, when the topic of childlessness popped up. (And then again later on, when pregnancy loss (not Annie's) made an appearance.)  I'm not sure why I was surprised -- after all, childless/freeness was a major theme in "About a Boy" too.)  Approaching her 40s, Annie finds herself longing for a child:
The decision not to have children had never been made, and nor had there been any discussion resulting in a postponement of the decision... Annie could imagine herself as a mother, but Duncan was nobody's idea of a father, and anyway, neither of them would have felt comfortable applying cement to the relationship in that way. That wasn't what they were for. And now, with an irritating predictability, she was going through what everyone had told her she would go through: she was aching for a child. Her aches were brought on by all the usual mournful-happy life events: Christmas, the pregnancy of a friend, the pregnancy of a complete stranger she saw in the street. And she wanted a child for all the usual reasons, as far as she could tell. She wanted to feel unconditional love, rather than the faint conditional affection she could scrape together for Duncan every now and again;  she wanted to be held by someone who would never question the embrace, the why or the who or the how long. There was another reason, too: she needed to know that she could have one, that there was life in her. Duncan had put her to sleep, and in her sleep, she had been desexed.  
She'd get over all of this, presumably, or at least it would become a wistful regret, rather than a sharp hunger. But this holiday hadn't been designed to comfort her. There was an argument that you might as well change nappies as hang out in men's lavatories taking pictures. The amount of time they had for themselves was beginning to feel sort of... decadent
Later on:
The cliche had it that kids were the future, but that wasn't it: they were the unreflective, active present. They were not themselves nostalgic, because they couldn't be, and they retarded nostalgia in their parents. Even as they were getting sick and being bullied and becoming addicted to heroin and getting pregnant, they were in the moment, and she wanted to be in it with them. She wanted to worry herself sick about schools and bullying and drugs.
I could relate to this section, where Annie reflects on the photos from her recent American vacation with Duncan (a Tucker Crowe-focused pilgrimage)(it reminded me of Jess's recent post about photos):
Annie scrolled back through the photo library on her computer and started to wonder whether her whole life had been a waste of time. She wasn't, she liked to think, a nostalgic, or a Luddite. Sher preferred her iPod to Duncan's old vinyl, she enjoyed having hundreds of TV channels to choose from, and she loved her digital camera. It's just that, in the old days, when you eventually got your pictures back from the drugstore, you never went backward through time. You shuffled through the twenty-four holiday snapshots, only seven of which were any good, put them in a drawer and forgot about them. You didn't have to compare them to every other holiday you'd had in the past seven or eight years. But now she couldn't resist it. When she uploaded or downloaded or whatever it was you did, the new photos took their place alongside all the others, and the seamlessness was beginning to depress her.  
Look at them. There's Duncan. There's Annie. There's Duncan and Annie. There's Annie, Duncan, Duncan, Annie, Duncan standing at a urinal, pretending to pee...Nobody should have children just because it made the photo library on the computer more interesting. On the other hand, being childless meant that you could, if you were in a negative frame of mind, come to the conclusion that your snapshots were a little on the dull side. Nobody grew up or got bigger;  no landmark occasions were commemorated, because there were none. Duncan and Annie just slowly got older, and a little fatter. (She was being loyal here. She hadn't gotten much fatter at all, she noticed.) Annie had single friends who'd never had kids, but their holiday photos, usually taken in exotic locations, were never boring -- or rather, they didn't feature the same two people over and over again, quite often wearing the same T-shirts and sunglasses, quite often sitting by the same swimming pool in the same hotel on the Amalfi coast. 
Beyond childlessness (as well as some thoughts on parenting, art and obsessive fan worship), the novel explores the questions that many of us (childless or not) face as we head into midlife: What makes life meaningful? How do you shake off years of inertia, seize the initiative & start being an active participant in your own life? And what happens when (even despite your best efforts) life doesn't turn out the way you thought or hoped it would?

Some choice quotes from the book along these lines:
Tucker didn't want to think about whether they'd be starved out if they couldn't drive anywhere. He wanted to think about how old he was, and how he was going to die soon, and how his whole life seemed to have slipped away without him noticing.  
In the last e-mail Annie had sent to Tucker, she'd posed the following question:  What do you do if you think you've wasted the last fifteen years of your life?  
She and Duncan had ended up together because they were the last two people to be picked for a sports team, and she felt she was better at sports than that. 
For the best part of 40 years she had genuinely believed that not doing things would somehow prevent regret, when, of course, the exact opposite was true. 
There was an awful lot to be said for familiarity, if you thought about it. It was an extremely underrated virtue, ignorable until the very moment that you were in danger of losing whatever or whoever it was that was familiar—a house, a view, a partner.
In some ways, this book was quite typical Nick Hornby -- and at the same time, not at all what I had expected. I enjoyed it, and I gave it four stars on Goodreads.

I will let you know what I think of the movie, if/when I get to see it. (It stars Rose Byrne, Chris O'Dowd and Ethan Hawke as Annie, Duncan and Tucker, respectively, which seems like pretty good casting to me!)

This was book #19 that I've read so far in 2018, bringing me to 79% of my 2018 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books.  I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 3 books ahead of schedule to meet my goal!  :)

Saturday, September 8, 2018

"The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

I first bought and read -- and loved -- "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows when it was published about 10 years ago. I was thrilled when I heard a movie version was in the works (albeit slightly less so when I found out it would not be released on the big screen -- in North America, anyway -- but instead go straight to Netflix).

I rarely re-read books these days -- far too many unread books sitting on my shelves! -- but it had been a while, and some of the details were a bit hazy, so I decided I should pick it up again & read it before watching the movie, which started airing on Netflix in mid-August.

The book was just as delightful -- and moving -- as I remembered. It's the story of Juliet Ashton, a writer in post-WWII London, who strikes up a correspondence with a pig farmer named Dawsey Adams from the island of Guernsey, who has picked up one of her books second-hand.  Guernsey and the Channel Islands were occupied by the Nazis during the war, and Dawsey and his neighbours form the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society as a diversion -- and as an alibi. The story of Guernsey, the society and its members and how they endured the war years is told through letters to & from Juliet and the members as well as her publisher and other friends.

I love books & reading (the story of how Juliet broke off her engagement (in the letter From Juliet to Sidney, 28th January 1946) had me laughing out loud)... I love letters (both writing & reading -- although sadly, I seem to do little of either these days...)... and I love stories about how ordinary people survived the war years -- so needless to say, I adored this book & gave it four stars on Goodreads. :)  I am planning to watch the movie soon, & will let you know what I think of it when I do!

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When I took this book off my shelf to re-read, it had two passages marked with post-it notes. The first describes Juliet's emotions as she prepares to land in Guernsey and meet her penpals for the first time. "Hiding behind paper" and "better at writing than living" -- cough, cough.... hmmm....
As the mail boat lurched into the harbour, I saw St. Peter Port rising up from the sea on terraces, with a church on the top like a cake decoration, and I realize that my heart was galloping. As much as I tried to persuade myself it was the thrill of the scenery, I knew better. All those people I've come to know and even love a little, waiting to see -- me. And I, without any paper to hide behind. Sidney, in these past two or three years, I have become better at writing than living -- and think what you do to my writing. On the page, I'm perfectly charming, but that's just a trick I learned. It has nothing to do with me. At least, that's what I was thinking as the mail boat came toward the pier. I had a cowardly impulse to throw my red cape overboard and pretend I was someone else. (From Juliet to Sidney, 22nd May, 1946) 
The second passage I had marked immediately reminded me of how very few people around us want to hear our stories as survivors of pregnancy/infant loss &/or infertility -- and the importance of peer support:
I have been reading an article by a woman named Giselle Pelletier, a political prisoner held at Ravensbruck for five years. She writes about how difficult it is for you to get on with your life as a camp survivor. No one in France -- not friends, not family -- wants to know anything about your life in the camps, and they think that the sooner you put it out of your mind -- and out of their hearing -- the happier you'll be.
According to Miss Pelletier, it is not that you want to belabour anyone with details, but it did happen to you and you cannot pretend it didn't. "Let's put everything behind us" seems to be France's cry. "Everything -- the war, the Vichy, the Milice, Drancy, the Jews -- it's all over now. After all, everyone suffered, not just you." In the face of this institutional amnesia, she writes, the only help is talking with fellow survivors. They know what life in the camps was. You speak, and they can speak back. They talk, they rail, they cry, they tell one story after another -- some tragic, some absurd. Sometimes they can even laugh together. The relief is enormous, she says. (From Juliet to Sophie, 29th August, 1946) 
Since that first read, I've added a few more post-it note markers:
That's what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you onto another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It's geometrically progressive—all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment. (From Juliet to Dawsey, 15th January 1946) 
So true!

One more:
When my son, Ian, died at El Alamein-- side by side with Eli's father, John -- visitors offering their condolences, thinking to comfort me, said, "Life goes on." What nonsense, I thought, of course it doesn't. It's death that goes on; Ian is dead now and will be dead tomorrow and next year and forever. There's no end to that. But perhaps there will be an end to the sorrow of it. Sorrow had rushed over the world like the waters of the Deluge, and it will take time to recede. But already, there are small islands of -- hope? Happiness? Something like them, at any rate. (From Amelia to Juliet, 10th April 1946) 
This was book #18 that I've read so far in 2018, bringing me to 75% of my 2018 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books.  I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 2 books ahead of schedule to meet my goal!  :)