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).