Tuesday, December 31, 2019

2019 Blogging Year in Review

(A hat tip to Mali, whose post "2016: Looking back on the blog" has inspired me to do the same for the past three years. Also to Mel, whose Crème de la Crème lists from 2007 to 2012 prompted me & other bloggers to review our posts from the year past & pick out our favourites to share.  (There was a list in 2006 too, but that was before I started my blog.)  If the Crème de la Crème list still existed, one of these posts would probably be the one I would have submitted. :) )

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As I mentioned in my 2019 year in review post, I published 164 posts this past/last year (165, including this one) -- my second-best blogging year ever, in terms of number of posts, second only to 2008, which was my first full year of blogging. :)  That's an average of about 14 posts per month. There was not a month in 2019 where I posted under 10 times, and there were two months that had 19 posts each.  :)  


In addition to posts about childless/free issues, I tried to do a "Right now" or "The Current" post at the beginning of each month, and participated in 47 #MicroblogMondays.  I reviewed (or will be reviewing) all of the 50 books I read in 2019, and wrote about news items (usually ALI-related) that piqued my interest. I also wrote a lot about what was going on my life, some of which touched on aspects of ALI/childless/free living -- many about Older Nephew & Niece-in-Law's pregnancy and the arrival of our first great-nephew -- and some that didn't, including aging, (peri)menopause, retirement and condo living. 

Here are a few of my favourite/noteworthy posts from 2019, in more or less chronological order (from oldest/earliest in 2019 to most recent):

2019 Year in Review

Time for another Year in Review post for 2019! 

I started doing this year-end meme 9 (!) years ago -- and, although many of the answers don't change much from year to year (and I can't always think of answers, lol), it's still a great way to look back and keep track. (All of my New Year's/Year in Review posts have now been tagged with the label "Year in Review.")  Feel free to use the questions on your own blog (& let me know if you do!).

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

I don't really make new year's resolutions anymore -- they tend to be pretty much the same ones, year after year (although I have modified some over time, and even deleted ones that no longer apply). Here are the perennials, and the progress I made (or didn't) in 2019: 
  • Lose weight.  Alas, I am (once again) more or less the same weight as I was this time last year... I go up a few pounds, I go down, I go up again... :p  I did reach my highest weight ever during the past year... I am slightly below that right now.  I would need to lose a good 40 pounds to get back within my Weight Watchers goal range. Sigh. 
  • Exercise more. (And hopefully lose more weight...!)  Massive fail on this one. :(  Still haven't gotten into a regular walking routine since we moved here (& probably won't even try now until the weather improves)  or found a yoga class, as I keep saying I'm going to do...!  For the past 3.5 years, I had the excuse of all the roadwork & construction going on around our condo building. That work is now mostly done, so come spring, I am resolving to put on my walking shoes again & start exploring the side streets in the neighbourhood near our condo. 
  • Write more in my journal &/or blog. I haven't written in my paper journal in years. As for blogging, I recently marked my 12th (!!) year in this space. And I actually did wind up writing more in my blog this year (164 posts to date, including this one -- an average of about 14 posts per month) than I did last year (158 posts).  In fact, 2019 has been one of my most productive blogging years since I first hit "publish," coming second in terms of numbers of posts only to my all-time high of 172 posts in 2008, which was my first full year of blogging. Go figure!  (A "Blogging year in review" post will be coming up shortly.) 
  • Read more of the books that have piled up around the house. Once again, I set myself a goal of 24 books read in 2019 via the Goodreads reading challenge -- the same as 2016, 2017 & 2018. (I read exactly 24 books in 2016, did not meet my target in 2017 with just 17 books, and wound up with 27 books in 2018).  I'm not sure what did the trick -- although I think having three book clubs to keep up with must have helped some (library, Gateway Women and D.E. Stevenson) -- but I reached my goal in July, and will finish out the year with 50 (!) books to my credit, 208% of my goal. (All books read were -- or soon will be -- reviewed on this blog under the tag "2019 books.") 
    • Since 24 books is obviously quite do-able, I've decided to increase my goal modestly for 2020 to 30 books for 2020... and if I blow past that one again, I'll consider revising it to something slightly more ambitious in 2021. 
    • Once again this year, non-fiction choices outnumbered fiction (26 to 24), although I did read a lot more fiction, thanks to my book clubs (7 for the library book club, 6 for GW and 6 for DES).
  • Keep the clutter at bay.  (Goal slightly reworded from previous years.) As I've said before -- having downsized in 2016 from a 1,200 square foot, three-bedroom house (not including basement, garage & garden shed) to an 875-square-foot condo (plus one not-very-big storage locker), there's a LOT less clutter than there used to be -- and a lot less space for it to accumulate. I've tried to establish good habits & a place for everything right from the start, & so far, I think I've been pretty successful at doing that. Whenever the piles of books start to overwhelm my existing shelves, and/or I run out of spare hangers in the closet, I know it's time to do some weeding again...!  
  • Return to scrapbooking & complete unfinished projects. (Goal reworded from previous years.)  Sadly, I have not done any scrapbooking in 10 years. And I donated the bulk of my scrapbooking supplies, including most of my substantial collection of pretty patterned paper, to the thrift store before we moved (sob!). I did keep all my unfinished projects, tools & a few other things, though. (They are sitting in a couple of plastic bins down in the storage locker.) So who knows, I may pick it up again at some point in the future & complete some of those unfinished albums...
2. What did you do in 2019 that you’d never done before?

Joined a (real-life) book club. Saw Elton John in concert (after listening to his music for the past 45-50 years!). Became a great-aunt!  

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

YES!  :)  Older Nephew & his wife became the proud parents of a baby boy just a few weeks ago.  If you read this blog regularly, you'll know that the timing of her pregnancy and her due date exactly mirrored my own from 21 years ago, almost to the day. It made for some difficult moments, but I am very, very glad that her pregnancy ended much more happily than mine did. (See #8.) 

4. Did anyone close to you die?

This is not close, but it broke my heart. The daughter of one of my best friends from high school died after being in a serious car accident this fall. She would have turned 30 this coming February. I never knew the daughter, but her mom continues to be in my thoughts. 

5. What countries did you visit?

While I (like many Canadians) have been reluctant to cross the border as long as the Orange One is President, I will never say never, particularly since my mother is American & I have a lot of family & friends in the States. My mother, sister & I took a quick day trip to Mom's hometown in Minnesota, just across the border, when I was "home" in October. We had lunch with a couple of cousins, including one visiting from Iowa, and talked about the family reunion they are planning for next summer. Other than that, I did not leave the country in 2019.  

6. What would you like to have in 2020 that you lacked in 2019?

More travel, even just day trips to get out of the house & out of our own little community. More new experiences. I am very much a creature of habit, I will admit, but I do like getting out & exploring too, and whenever I do push myself to do it, I come back exhausted but also exhilarated. I know I keep saying this, but maybe if I say/write it enough, I'll actually do it...!  ;)  

7. What date(s) from 2019 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

November 17th:  the birth of our first great-nephew. :) 

July 20th: My dad's 80th birthday. 

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Getting through Older Nephew's wife's pregnancy, which progressed in exactly the same time frame as mine, 21 years ago (her due date was one day apart from my own).  This included attending my first gender reveal party in June (!) & her baby shower in September. And not only did I attend these events, for the most part, I actually enjoyed them. :)  

9. What was your biggest failure?

Over the past several years, I've said, "Not speaking my mind enough, and drifting instead of taking the initiative to get things done that I wanted to do." Unfortunately, I think that still applies. :p  

Also, I really do need to get more active and try to get those numbers on the scale to edge downwards, even just a little. I know my knees and my blood pressure will thank me. 

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

No -- but in March I was diagnosed with a “complete PVD (posterior vitreous detachment)” in my right eye (followed by one in the left eye later in the summer!). (I posted about it here.)  Dh & I made multiple trips to our longtime optometrist's office in midtown Toronto (a looonnnggggg, slow drive in heavy traffic down Yonge Street...!) over the spring & summer to monitor the situation. The symptoms remain, albeit they're not quite as intrusive as they were (or maybe I've just gotten used to them?).  

I'm definitely feeling older these days, with parts of me (my knees in particular, and especially the left one!) getting creakier and not working quite as well as they used to...!  :p 

11. What was the best thing you bought?

Tickets to see Elton John with my sister (after seeing Paul McCartney together in 2018). :)  And then tickets to see him again in 2020 here in Toronto with my sister-in-law, as well as tickets to see "Hamilton" with dh in 2020 too.    

12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?

The first answer that came to mind was the American civil servants who stood up to the president, did the right thing, and testified before the House of Representatives committee about what they knew. 

13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed? 

Politicians of many stripes, both in the U.S. (Donald Trump & his cronies, obviously) & on this side of the border, both provincially and federally.  (We had a federal election in October!)  

14. Where did most of your money go?

Beyond the usual bills -- and books, lol -- our condo board levied (another) special assessment (the second one since we moved here) to replenish the reserve fund that was poorly managed/depleted by the original property management company.  Hopefully that will be the last one for quite a while...! 

We've also bought a lot of stuff for our new great-nephew -- a rocking chair and crib mattress for his nursery, lots of cute outfits :) diapers & formula.  We know that anything we do for this little guy, we'll also need to do for any future brothers or sisters or cousins, to be fair... so we're trying (with great difficulty!) not to go TOO overboard...!! ;)  

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

The impending arrival & birth of our first great-nephew. 

Seeing Elton John with my sister. :)  

Getting tickets to see "Hamilton" when it comes to Toronto next year. 

16. What song will always remind you of 2019?

I'm not sure. I Googled "top songs of 2019" and I barely knew any of them, which shows you how current my listening is, lol.  And I can't think of an older song that especially connects with this year. Maybe "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting," which featured in both "Rocketman" the movie, and was a rousing finale to the Elton John concert I attended (even though it was written & recorded in, what, 1973, 1975?). 


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

More or less the same, on all three fronts.     

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

Travelling. Trying new things. Reading more books (even though I did much better on that front than I've done in many years!)  But hey, there's always next year... 

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

Sitting around the house. :p  

20. How did you spend Christmas? 

With my family on the Canadian Prairies (as usual).  There was some snow on the ground, albeit not as much as some years, and it was not quite as cold as it sometimes is at Christmas. Ham dinner & presents on Christmas Eve with PND & the Little Princesses, stockings and turkey on Christmas Day. Much more of the prep work, cooking & cleanup has been falling to me & my sister in recent years, so we were kept busy! 

21. Did you fall in love in 2019?

With my new great-nephew, yes. :)  

22. What was your favorite TV program?

I don't have as many regular TV shows that I watch as I once did. I love watching "Bob's Burgers" (both current episodes and reruns) and still enjoy "Mom." I enjoyed the latest seasons of "Victoria" & "Poldark" on PBS, and "The Handmaid's Tale" on Bravo. We both enjoyed watching Ken Burns's series on "Country Music" on PBS.  And I was thrilled that CBC brought back "Battle of the Blades" this fall (even if my favourite team wound up placing third)!  

I haven't yet watched season 3 of "The Crown" on Netflix, but look forward to tackling that again soon. 

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

No.  Hate is a strong word. But I am definitely not a fan of the President of the United States and his cronies. :p  

24. What was the best book you read? 

(See #1)   It's always very hard for me to pick a single book as "the best," and this year, there were quite a few that would contend for that title -- lots of four and five-star reviews on Goodreads!  The list would definitely include: 
  • "Say Nothing" by Patrick Radden Keefe 
  • "Beartown" by Fredrik Backman 
  • "Little Fires Everywhere" and "Everything I Never Told You" by Celeste Ng 
  • "The Testaments" by Margaret Atwood 
25. What was your greatest musical discovery?

See #16 -- as in the past, I must admit, I don't listen to a lot of new music. 

26. What did you want and get?

Hamilton tickets!!  lol  So looking forward to seeing it in May! 

27. What did you want and not get?

Still waiting on that sunspot vacation. ;)  (Or any kind of major vacation that doesn't involve visiting family, lol.)   A new (quieter) humidifier for our condo. 

28. What was your favourite film of this year? 

We saw 14 movies in the theatres in 2019 (compared to 15 in 2018, 16 in 2016 and 2017, and 23 in 2015)(listed here in the order we saw them in):  On the Basis of Sex, The Favourite, Apollo 11, Avengers: Endgame, Long Shot, Booksmart, Rocketman, Late Night, Yesterday, Blinded by the Light, Downton Abbey, Judy, Western Stars, and Ford vs Ferrari. 

As with books, it's hard to pick a favourite. I'm not sure there was one movie that completely blew me away, although every one of these was good/enjoyable on its own merits. 

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

I was 58.  My birthday fell on a Saturday. I had a manicure & pedicure in the morning, followed by lunch and a bookstore visit with dh.  We went out for dinner at my favourite local steakhouse, but the lineups were ridiculous, so we went to another favourite restaurant instead. BIL, SIL, our nephews, their wives AND the dog came over, later, bringing a cake & presents with them.  

59 (gulp) coming up shortly (!).

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

A little more travel beyond the limits of the Greater Toronto Area. 

Less politics in my social media feeds. :p  More politicians who are willing to do the right thing and not just worry about their own political futures. 

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2019? 

It hasn't changed much in recent years. I tend to value comfort more than style these days!  Since retirement, I spend most of my days in yoga pants (or shorts, in the summer) & T-shirts, lol.  Jeans when I'm out & about. Lots of Old Navy, and Lucky Brand (which I love!).   

32. What kept you sane?

(This question assumes sanity on my part, lol.  ;)  ) Once again this year, I would credit a good mixture of downtime at home, and getting out of the house. Also, turning off the news channels on TV & (especially whenever the Orange One comes on to speak!) and listening to music instead!  

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

I had to think about this one. One contender that came to mind was Dr. Jen Gunter, author of "The Vagina Bible," and fellow Manitoban.  She's made it her mission to debunk myths and empower women with facts about their own bodies, and she does it with a lot of humour (and no apologies). 

34. What political issue stirred you the most?

In recent years, I've expounded on the issue of freedom of the press and media bashing, and this remains near & dear to my heart, as well the whole issue of equality and women's rights, which are (once again) under threat. 

I'm also increasingly convinced that we're screwed as a planet.  Unbelievably, I have several friends on social media who don't believe in climate change or the need to wean ourselves from fossil fuels. I think they must have their heads in the oilsands, because the evidence is all around us. Yes, China & India are a big problem and need to get their acts together too, but every little bit helps. Sometimes I am glad I don't have children for this reason. 

35. Who did you miss? 

FIL. It's hard to believe he's been gone more than a year now. He would have loved this new great-grandchild!   

36. Who was the best new person you met?

I actually did meet a few new people this year, albeit none of them have become close friends (yet?). I had a nice long chat over coffee with another childless-not-by-choice woman last spring (we were introduced by a mutual online friend). Unfortunately, she lives about an hour away from me -- I don't drive, and public transit is not really an option in this case -- but we are hoping to meet up again soon, perhaps at a halfway point between our two locations!  

I also met a lot of fellow book lovers through my library book club (and, after several meetings, I'm even starting to remember some of their names!  lol).  

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2019. 

This year brought home to me, once again, that while the days & weeks sometimes drag, the months & years go by far too quickly. Life, youth & health are precious, and disappear far too quickly sometimes. Enjoy it all while you can! 

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

See #16... I will have to think of this one.... 

Monday, December 30, 2019

#MicroblogMondays: The stocking at the bottom of the box

It was Christmas Eve at my parents' house, and my mother had brought up the box that contains all of our Christmas stockings from the basement crawl space, so that we could hang them up/set them out by the tree, so that Santa could fill them later that night.  :) 

I started pulling out the stockings, one by one -- the coordinating ones my sister & I have had since we were babies, made for us by a neighbour of my grandmother's (green for me, red for her);  the ones we bought as university students to fill for our parents;  the ones we bought a year or two later for our grandparents (dead these 20+ years);  the one Parents' Neighbours' Daughter has opened at our house since she was a little girl;  the ones added over the years for her now-husband & two daughters (the Little Princesses). 

At the very bottom of the box -- a ghost from my past:  a red stocking with a puppy on it, and a name written in glitter: "BRAD." 

I hadn't thought of it since the last time I saw it, this time last year -- and whenever I see it, I'm never sure if I want to wince, roll my eyes, or cry. 

Who is Brad, you might ask? 

Back around the time dh & I got married, maybe even before, we were having a conversation about names -- presumably for our hypothetical future children. Katie was always a favourite for a girl's name, of course.  For boys, Michael was always at the top of my list, and I mentioned a few others that I liked -- including Bruce (after dh's hero, Bruce Springsteen), and Brad. 

I was immediately subjected to hoots & scoffs from dh, my sister & others in on the conversation. "Brad??!"  (This is why I never liked discussing anything related to the possibility of future children, even way back then...!)  I had to admit it was a pretty stereotypically preppy, whitebread kind of name. My husband told his very Italian brother that I liked it;  BIL said, "Sure, and I'll get little Rocco & Enzo to beat him up,"  lol.  (He was not married at the time but, for the record, he did go on to have two sons -- albeit their names are NOT Rocco & Enzo!)

That first Christmas we were married, I opened up a box that was a joint gift for me & dh from Santa. In it was a stocking -- THE stocking -- "Brad's" stocking. Of course there was much laughter from the rest of the family as I pulled it out of the box.  I was furious, as I always was whenever anyone made any kind of presumptive comments or hints or jokes about our future family plans. (I'm reminded of the small yellow candle -- along with one pink and one blue candle -- that dh's relatives put on a cake to welcome us home from our honeymoon, which reduced me to silent fury as everyone around us laughed & nudged each other, and dh quietly pleaded in my ear to smile, for pete's sake, it was only a joke.)(Maybe it was an omen of some kind?) 

Anyway, the stocking wound up at the bottom of the stocking box, where it's remained for 35 Christmases now.  I'm not sure why.  I knew with certainty that, should we ever have need for another stocking, it would definitely NOT be for anyone named Brad...! 

Of course, sadly, there never was need for another stocking. I did find small quilted stockings with a Classic Pooh design on them and bought one each for me & my mother;  they both hang on each of our Christmas trees every year. I also have a supply of miniature red felt stockings, and I take one every year to the cemetery at Christmastime to hang at Katie's niche.  I reuse the stocking from year to year, but whenever it gets too faded and weather-worn, I replace it with another from my stash.

Sometime in the future, someone is going to look in that box of stockings and wonder "Who is/was Brad?"  I thought about taking it and stashing it in my box of Katie's things.  (I also thought about throwing it out wholesale, but I don't think I could ever bring myself to do that, despite the very mixed emotions it brings out in me.) 

I thought maybe I should blog about it -- so here's my post. :)  I also thought about taking a photo of it to go with this post ;)  -- but I didn't want anyone to see me do it. Alas, the box went back into the crawl space before I got the opportunity. Maybe next year.

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

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

"Women & Power" by Mary Beard

In "Women & Power: A Manifesto," Mary Beard ponders "just how deeply embedded in Western culture are the mechanisms that silence women, that refuse to take them seriously, and that sever them (sometimes quite literally, as we shall see) from the centres of power." (Preface, pp. x-xi)

Answer: very. "When it comes to silencing women, Western culture has had thousands of years of practice," Beard says. (3,000-plus, in fact, with the first recorded example found in Homer's Odyssey.)

Beard should know:  she is a classics professor at the University of Cambridge and a well-known television personality in the United Kingdom (whom I recognize from watching various programs on PBS and TVOntario). And, sadly, she's had her own experiences with men trying to silence and mansplain her, on Twitter and elsewhere. 

This is a small, slim little book -- a little more than 100 well-spaced pages (including a preface, afterword, references, acknowledgments, index -- and full-page illustrations!). It's really more of a long essay in two parts than a book, and it's actually based on two lectures Beard gave in 2014 and 2017.  (And yes, I will admit to deliberately going for a short book in an effort to reach my revised 2019 reading goal, lol.)

But Beard packs a lot into those pages, and provides much food for thought and further discussion. She shares examples from her extensive knowledge of ancient Greek and Roman history and literature, with connections to current events and personalities.

I found it interesting and thought-provoking -- a quick read, and worth the brief time it takes to read it. :)  I have only two quibbles (hence, my not-quite-perfect rating below): 

First (mild spoiler alert here): near the end, Beard asks, "Should we be optimistic about change when we think about what power is and what it can do, and women's engagement with it?"  She continues, "Maybe, we should a little."  (p. 87) But on the next page, she admits, "the picture overall is rather more gloomy."  Well, she's honest. I just wish she had reason to feel differently.

And,  in the afterword, Beard explains that she only did some "very light updating" to the two lectures she delivered.  "...I have resisted the temptation to make drastic changes, to introduce new themes or to develop at length some of the ideas that are merely floated here. I would like in the future to think harder about how exactly we might go about re-configuring those notions of  'power' that now exclude all but a very few women;  and I would like to try to pull apart the very idea of 'leadership' (usually male) that is now assumed to be the key to successful institutions, from schools and universities to businesses and government. But that is for another day." (pp. 93-94)  There's a part of me that wishes Beard hadn't resisted temptation and had tackled those ideas in a longer and more expansive book. I really hope she does so in the future! 

Four (4) stars on Goodreads.

This was book #47 that I have read in 2019 to date, bringing me to 196% (!) of my 2019 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books.  I have completed my challenge for the year -- currently 23 books beyond my  goal -- and I have surpassed my reading total for 2018 by 20 books.  :) 

(Can I double my original goal and read one more book -- for a total of 48 -- in the two weeks before the end of the year??  How about going for 50??  Stay tuned...!) 

Christmastime odds & ends

  • The time until our departure to points west for the holidays is rapidly approaching. I'm happy that almost all of my shopping is done (although I could still use a few more stocking stuffers...). There are things I'd hoped to do (baking, a trip to one of the local holiday markets, a trip to the art gallery where I have a membership, watching season 3 of "The Crown"...) that aren't going to get done now (although some can still be done after the holidays), but I'm not going to fret... the most important stuff is done. 
    • I *am* looking forward to my annual Christmas lunch with two of my former coworkers/office friends, downtown, before we leave.  
  • Little Great-Nephew recently made his first trip to the mall with his mom & dad to see Santa!  I will admit I got a bit teary when the photos popped up on my social media feeds -- AND when I realized he was wearing a Baby Gap outfit I bought for him -- a lumberjack shirt onesie (red & black check) and tiny jeans lined in the same fabric (cuffs rolled).  (He was sound asleep for the whole thing, lol.)  I never had my own photo taken with Santa (not a "thing" back then, especially in the small towns where we lived -- although I definitely got to visit with Santa! & had a few encounters with him that I remember to this day...).  I never got to take my own daughter to see Santa... and I'll never get to do it with a grandchild... but I feel like I got to be a little part of it here. :)  
  • It appears that the upstairs neighbours (they of the thundering footsteps overhead) are moving!  Dh was scanning the realtor listings last week and saw that the unit is listed for rent. I'd say "YAY!" except I know it would be quite possible to find ourselves out of the frying pan & into the fire. Fingers crossed for more unobtrusive neighbours this time around... 
  • Lots of great reading and activity within the CNBC online community recently. Just a few examples:    

Monday, December 16, 2019

#MicroblogMondays: This is what it's like

We've been having a lot of fun spending time with our adorable little Great-Nephew, and we got to do a lot of it this weekend. Sunday was his dad (Older Nephew)'s 31st birthday, so all of us were together to celebrate -- BIL & SIL, Older & Younger Nephew & their wives, the dog :) & of course the baby.

I went back & forth between immersing myself in the joy of  being around him, holding him, watching his every movement -- and a curious feeling of detachment. I watched Older Nephew & his wife, the proud parents, cuddling him, feeding him, burping him, putting him in his swing while the rest of us ate... and thought, "This is parenthood. I never got to do this. Any of this."

I watched SIL, the proud grandmother, cuddling her grandson as he slept & giving him little kisses on top of his head, and thought to myself, "This is what it's like to be a grandmother. I'll never get to do this."

I watched Younger Nephew's wife take her turn holding the baby, smiling at her nephew, and knowing she's hoping that someday soon, it will be her turn. I thought, "That was me, 30 years ago. I was young and full of hope once too."

My hope now is that she never has reason to lose hers.

SIL's dad -- the baby's great-grandfather -- was there, and we took a photo of him with SIL Older Nephew & the baby. (It was actually dh who suggested taking the photo.) Four generations. I wanted that shot so badly for my own photo album -- to introduce our daughter to her great-grandparents (my maternal grandparents), even if she didn't get to grow up with them in her life. But I lost her in utero in August 1998;  then my grandfather died in October 1998 (and then my grandmother the October after that, in 1999). I was due in November. Grandpa was 86, had some heart issues and was increasingly frail;  there's a good chance he might not have lived long enough to see my daughter born, even I had brought her to term. I was 37 years old -- how many 37-year-olds do you know who are lucky enough to still have an intact set of grandparents? But I couldn't help but feel (& still feel, sometimes) that after I lost her, and he didn't have that to look forward to any more, some of the spirit to keep living went out of him. :(

Being a great-aunt is a wonderful thing, and I am loving it.  :)

But it's also a reminder of everything that never was, everything we lost, everything we've missed out on.

I try not to dwell on it. I have a good life. I am ever so grateful that this little guy is part of it.

But still. It's still hard sometimes.

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

Saturday, December 14, 2019

"The Baker's Daughter" by D.E. Stevenson

"The Baker's Daughter" is the D.E. Stevenson novel that has stuck most prominently in my memory since the first time I read it as a teenager in the 1970s. I read it several times back then, and was delighted when it was reissued in 2016. I gobbled it up then (my review from then here) and found it just as charming as I remembered.

I recently offered to organize a discussion of "The Baker's Daughter" if my online Stevenson fan group agreed to take it on as our next group read (following "Mrs. Tim Flies Home," reviewed here).  They agreed :)  and while we haven't even started our discussion of Mrs. Tim yet ;) I couldn't resist getting a head start on this favourite DES novel.  :) 

Time & multiple readings have not diminished its charm for me.

"The Baker's Daughter" of the title is Sue Pringle, who has kept house for her father since her mother's death, but has been supplanted in that role by her new stepmother.  On an impulse, she offers to cook & keep house for for an eccentric artist and his glamorous wife who have just moved into an old mill outside of town. It isn't long before the bored wife high-tails it back to London -- and then files for divorce (gasp!) -- but Sue opts to stay on -- and, of course, winds up falling in love with her employer.

This book was first published in 1938 and, as with most DES novels, there are a few references that might make the modern reader cringe (Sue's admiration of General Franco, Darnay's musings on beauty and "purity of race" (!), etc.).  Still, these minor points don't diminish my overall enjoyment of the book.  As with most of Stevenson's novels, the writing is lovely, and the characters are wonderfully drawn.

(Still) Four stars on Goodreads.

This was book #46 that I have read in 2019 to date, bringing me to 192% (!) of my 2019 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books.  I have completed my challenge for the year -- currently 22 books beyond my  goal -- and I have surpassed my reading total for 2018 by 19 books.  :) 

(Can I double my original goal and read 2 more books -- total 48 -- in the 2.5 weeks before the end of the year??  Stay tuned...!) 

Monday, December 9, 2019

#MicroblogMondays: It's a wonderful movie

When I was a university student, back in the late 1970s/early 1980s, there was a film studies professor who would organize a campus showing of the Jimmy Stewart movie "It's a Wonderful Life" every year in December (with a film projector! -- VCRs were only just starting to take off at the time). It was his personal pick for the greatest movie ever made.

I actually never attended one of those campus showings, but I heard about them and read interviews with the professor about the movie. I finally saw it on television several years after I left school and got married, and in the years since then, it's become known as, if not the greatest movie ever made, then certainly a holiday classic -- and one of my own personal favourites. It's a long movie, but I love how it builds and builds to an emotional crescendo -- so that by the time George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) starts his joyful run through the snowy streets of Bedford Falls, shouting "Merry Christmas!"  to everyone he meets, I am a weeping mess. I start crying the moment he begs Clarence, his guardian angel, to help him get back to his wife and kids, right on through to the final chorus of "Auld Lang Syne."  I haven't actually sat through the entire movie in several years now, but I almost always manage to catch those last few minutes on TV, and that's enough to send me searching for the Kleenex box.

I enjoy some of the more modern Christmas movies, like "A Christmas Story" and "Elf" and "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" (one year, my team at work booked the conference room, ordered in Thai food and spent an extended lunch hour watching that one -- and howling with laughter -- together).  But for me, there's nothing quite like the classics.  Beyond "It's a Wonderful Life," my favourites also include the Alastair Sim version of "A Christmas Carol" (although I love just about any version of  "A Christmas Carol")(the half-hour Disney version with Mickey Mouse as Bob Cratchit & Scrooge McDuck as Scrooge (of course) probably ranks a close second in my books, lol), the original "Miracle on 34th Street" with Maureen O'Hara & Natalie Wood, and the original version of "The Bishop's Wife" with Loretta Young, David Niven & Cary Grant.

Do you have a favourite Christmas/holiday movie? 

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

Monday, December 2, 2019

#MicroblogMondays: Annoying things & small pleasures

Annoying things: 

  • The big dump of snow we got yesterday & this morning, and the resulting slushy mess. :p  
  • People who insist on driving like maniacs on snowy, slippery roads. 
  • Having to pull our winter boots out of the closet to wear outside. 
  • Lineups in all the stores (already). 
  • Getting an email from the airline last night, advising us they've cancelled our return flight home (after spending Christmas with my family) & rebooked us on an earlier flight the same day -- but  3.5 hours earlier. Which will mean getting up & leaving my parents' house early in the morning, instead of mid-late morning, as originally planned. Did I mention that my parents live more than an hour's drive away from the airport?  And did I mention my sister & her boyfriend -- neither of them especially great at getting up early -- will be driving us??  Ugh. (We could try to rebook ourselves on a different flight, but there's not a lot available that day -- the timing is even worse for the other flights that day -- and I am sure they are already pretty full.  So we're sticking with the flights the airline assigned us, but ugh...) 

Small pleasures:

  • From dh:  Not having to shovel said big dump of snow/slushy mess (see above).  ;) 
  • Not having to leave the house during bad weather to get to work, etc. 
  • Underground parking in cold, snowy weather. 
  • Snow sticking to the tree branches -- so pretty & Christmas-y (even though I know I'll be sick of it by February...!).  
  • Trying (& liking) a new crockpot recipe last night that I found on Pinterest for easy chicken & dumplings. Perfect on a cold, snowy night! 
  • The lights on our Christmas tree. 
  • A bunch of new books delivered to my e-reader at steeply discounted prices via Cyber Monday sales. 
  • Crossing items off my gargantuan pre-Christmas to-do list. 
  • Nephew's dog curled up in my lap underneath a cozy blanket when we visited there this weekend. 
  • Holding our new little great-nephew, and seeing him wearing one of the cute little outfits we bought for him. :) 

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

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Right now

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

Reading:  I read four (5) books in November (all reviewed on this blog):
With one month to go, my Goodreads 2019 Reading Challenge YTD total now stands at 45 books -- 21 more than my goal of 24 (188%).  :)  Jess challenged me in a previous comment to double my original challenge goal ( = 48 books), which would mean reading three more books by the end of December. Even if I don't get anything read between now & Christmas, I usually read a couple of books while I'm at my parents' house over the holidays, so it just might be do-able...!)

Current read(s): Deciding on the next one! 

Coming up:
  • No library book club meeting in December. Our January discussion will be about "The Alice Network" by Kate Quinn, which I read & reviewed earlier this year here. It was supposed to be discussed at our meeting LAST January (2019) -- the first meeting I was planning to attend. Alas, there was a heavy snowstorm and all library programs that evening were cancelled. :(  A few people were complaining about revisiting a book they'd read last year, but I'm glad we're finally getting another chance to talk about it!  (Which reminds me, Quinn's "The Huntress" is also in my TBR pile...!) 
  • My D.E. Stevenson group will be waiting until the New Year to begin our online discussion of "Mrs. Tim Flies Home," which I recently read & reviewed here. After that, at my suggestion :)  we're going to tackle my personal DES favourite, "The Baker's Daughter," which the group last read & discussed some 20 (!) years ago. I read & reviewed that one here back in early 2016, but may do a re-read, especially since it's one I love. :)  
(Some) recent purchases/additions to the TBR pile (that I haven't read yet):
Watching:  We didn't see any movies in the theatre in November. :( 

On television:
  • The fifth and final season of "Poldark" on PBS wrapped up with a slightly ridiculous finale episode. This season departed from the source material (the books by Winston Graham), and as a result, I found it much less satisfying... but I do still love the characters & actors. Hoping they will be able to reunite the cast in another 10 years or so to film the final 5 books in the series (which take place 10 years after the original 7 novels)!  
  • Still haven't had time to get into Season 3 of "The Crown"... hoping to watch it all before we head west for Christmas!  
  • Anyone know if "Victoria" will be returning soon?? 
Listening:  To a few episodes of the podcast "Kidless" with Ashley & Eric, who are childfree by choice. They recently had a great conversation with Katy of Chasing Creation, who is childless-not-by-choice. Check it out!

Following: Weather reports... lots of warnings/advisories. It was raining this morning, which turned to freezing rain, and is now a snowstorm. Glad to stay safe & warm at home today! 

Drinking/Eating:  For lunch:  leftover fast-fired pizza from dinner at the mall last night:  cream sauce, mozzarella, onion & garlic, spinach leaves, chicken & sausage. Yum!  For dinner:  trying a new Pinterest recipe for crockpot chicken & dumplings, using a can of cut-up Pillsbury biscuits for the dumplings. We'll see how it turns out, but it IS starting to smell good...! 

Buying (besides books, lol):  Christmas presents (of course). (Time is rapidly running out, yikes!!) Baby clothes & diapers (when they're on sale), for Great-Nephew. :)

Wearing: My Christmas-themed long-sleeved waffle-weave shirts from Old Navy, around the house. :)

Wanting: To see our little great-nephew.  :) 

Enjoying: The lights of our Christmas tree, which we put up on Wednesday & decorated on Thursday.

Loving: Spending time with our new little great-nephew. (And the dog!  lol) 

Feeling:  Relieved (incredibly so), that our little great-nephew arrived safely and is doing well. Happy that it's Christmastime. :) 

Friday, November 29, 2019

"Notes to Self" by Emilie Pine

I am not sure where I first heard about "Notes to Self" by Emilie Pine, but when I saw it on the bookstore shelf, I knew it was something I had to pick up. It's a slim volume of six personal essays from a definite female/feminist perspective. I enjoy books like this that I can dip in & out of without losing track of plot or characters.

In this case, I found the book hard to put down -- but I also appreciated the ability to read one essay & then take a break to absorb what I had just read. Pine's writing is amazing, simply stunning at times, and breathtaking in its honesty.

Here's one passage (of many) that I marked with a post-it note, from the "Author's Note."  Let's just say, I can relate...! : 
There are many valid reasons why people keep difficult experiences private. Talking about them can feel like exposing a raw nerve. It can make us afraid of others' judgments. It can make us feel more, not less, alone. And so we keep quiet. But it's not just the risk of public exposure that that silences us;  our self-censorship is so often due to that disapproving inner critic, whose voice tells us that our lives are too small, or too messy, or too painful to share. I didn't want to listen to that critical, belittling voice any longer...
This passage (also from the author's note) may strike a chord with bloggers: 
Though I have written solely about my personal experience, readers have seen their own lives reflected in these pages. The emotions I kept in the dark for so long, it turns out, are not mine alone. The things we are afraid to say, the things we are ashamed of, or embarrassed by, these are not, after all, the things that isolate us. These are the things that connect us. And this realization leads me to another: In writing my life, I thought I was writing about pain. But I have also, accidentally, written about love. 
If, like me, you are childless-not-by-choice, you might like to know that Pine is "one of us," and writes movingly about her journey through infertility, miscarriage and, finally, acceptance (as well as her sister's pregnancy loss) in an essay called "The Baby Years." There's also an essay titled "Notes on Bleeding and Other Crimes" that covers menstruation, menopause and body image that had me nodding along as I turned the pages.

Other topics Pine covers in this book include her father's alcoholism, her parents' failed marriage, her wild teenage years (including eating disorders, drug abuse and rape), and workplace sexism and workaholism.

Read it. It's amazing.

Five stars.

*** *** ***

Pine also had an essay in British Vogue recently. The title alone makes me want to stand up & cheer:  "A Childless Woman Is Not A Tragic Figure."  Sample passage: 
For a long time, during what I think of as "the baby years", I felt as if I were on the sidelines, as if the centre of life were moving on without me. And all through those years, the feeling I struggled most with was failure. I felt that if I tried harder, or took more hormones, or did more tests, I could find the cure for my failure to conceive, or to hold onto a pregnancy... 
I am allergic to the idea that failure is something we have to go through in order to reach success. But I am also done with failure, with marking my body and my life as something that has failed. Because the problem with failure is not just the dead-end of it, but the shame it comes wrapped in. 
In 2017 I wrote an essay about infertility. The first draft ended with the word "barren". That word expressed how bereft I felt, and how angry, and how shamed. And it is a powerful thing to claim grief and pain as your own. But it was a terrible word, a terrible conclusion. Re-reading the essay, I decided the most feminist thing I could do would be to write myself a happy ending. And so I wrote about the great life I saw ahead for me and my partner. A life without children. It felt speculative. And it felt hopeful. And, most of all, it felt like a giant "f**k you" to the persistent expectation that a childless woman is a tragic figure.
This was book #45 that I have read in 2019 to date, bringing me to 188% (!) of my 2019 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books.  I have completed my challenge for the year -- currently 21 books beyond my  goal -- and I have surpassed my reading total for 2018 by 18 books.  :)