Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The mother of all book dilemmas ;)

I went to one of the local library branches today to get a library card & ask about the book club, which meets next week. The librarian who runs the club told me they provide the books, and we'll receive our copies of the next selection (to be discussed at the February meeting) -- "The Mothers" by Brit Bennett -- at next week's meeting (where we'll be discussing "The Alice Network," which I assured her I already had & had read).

OK, I have to admit, I flinched at the mere mention of the title. ("The Mothers" -- not "The Alice Network.")  Yes -- I am ashamed to admit -- I am literally judging a book by its cover/title. Even though, glancing at the blurb, it doesn't seem to be a "mommy-lit" kind of book.

I'm trying to tell myself that this is part of the reason why I'm joining a book club, to be exposed to books & authors I might not otherwise look at. Who knows, I might wind up enjoying it.

But seriously -- the next read just happens to be a book called "The Mothers"??  What are the odds, right?  Just one more reminder of what I am not. :p 

Have you read "The Mothers"?  Would you recommend it?

(On a completely different note, I was shocked at how few BOOKS there actually were in the library. Many of the shelves were only half-filled/half-bare, and there were far fewer shelves than I expected to see. I grew up in towns much smaller than this one -- although granted, this was just one small branch of about 10 in this city -- but the shelves of my childhood libraries were crammed with books.)  The computers, on the other hand, were being well used...  I guess it's obvious I haven't been in a library in quite a while, but yikes!!) 

Monday, January 21, 2019

#MicroblogMondays: Blue Monday

I've been feeling just a little bit "blah" the last few days. Christmas is long over... my birthday is over.

We were housebound for most of the weekend:  there was a snowstorm on Saturday... and although the skies were much clearer & sunnier for most of Sunday, temperatures remained bitterly cold (like, -17C & -29C windchill at the peak of the afternoon sun... that's 2F & -20F for those of you in the States!).  It didn't help that one of my high school friends was posting photos on social media of margaritas on a sunny beach in Mexico...!

Before the weekend, on Friday night, we attended a funeral visitation for a 70-year-old woman (a relative of a relative) who died in a tragic car accident earlier in the week (caused by some young idiot driving at twice the posted speed limit -- at 7 a.m.!!)(truly, the drivers hereabouts are THE WORST  :p  ).

Because of the weather, anytime we do get out of the house these days, it's generally to someplace indoors -- quite often, the bookstore, the supermarket or the mall (although we did take a trip last week to the well-known local art gallery where I have a membership to view an exhibit that was wrapping up).  At the malls, the clearance racks are getting pretty picked over, but there's not a lot of cool new stuff arriving yet to fill the stores. I've been finding it difficult to get into a new book.

And then I realized: today is Blue Monday. (And of course, February, my least-favourite month, is just around the corner...!)  Well, I guess that explains it (at least partly...!)...

(Previous Blue Monday posts here.)

Is it a Blue Monday for you?  What's your favourite mid-winter pick me up? 

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

Sunday, January 20, 2019

58

Another year older..! I recently celebrated my (gulp) 58th birthday. Kind of daunting. I don't FEEL 58 (except maybe sometimes in my knees...), and I hope I don't look it -- although I have definitely noticed more grey hair showing up lately. But, as my grandma used to say (& as I'm sure I've written here before), "It's better than the alternative...!"

Even before my birthday, I was thinking a lot about the subject of getting older, and specifically without children. There was that post from Cup of Jo that I flagged in an earlier post, about choosing not to have children, and all the young women in the comments section wondering what life as an older childless/free woman might be like -- seeking reassurance that things would be OK if they didn't have children.  There was Jody Day's social media comments on aging:
I'll be 55 next year and it really feels like a huge milestone - the beginning of my transition towards my 'young elderhood'. I'm excited by the idea of what an older, childless woman's life can be like - because as with my trip through being a middle-aged childless woman, I've found there's very little guidance or inspiring role models out there and so I'm going into unchartered territory - again!  
It IS unchartered territory -- not because we're the first women ever to head into our senior years without children (we're certainly not), but because we're the first writing about it, analyzing it and connecting to other childless/free women via the Internet.  All of us are fumbling our way down these roads less travelled (although it's great that we've been running into more and more fellow travellers along the way lately!).  (If I HAD to lose a baby, go through infertility & wind up childless not by choice, how fortunate I feel that it happened right at the same time that the Internet began taking off, bringing me support from wonderful online friends every step along the way! -- a comfort that previous generations of women never had.) 

One things I've observed (& written about before):  so often, those of us who wind up without children feel like we have to do something fabulous with our lives as "compensation."  On that front, I suppose, I have failed miserably.  ;)  I haven't travelled the world (yet?!), or worked with starving children in Africa, or found a cure for cancer.

But.

I've watched my two nephews grow up to be fine young men, and dh & I have tried to support and encourage them along the way as best we can. We've helped to pay for their educations. We've been to their weddings, and provided generous wedding & housewarming gifts. We hope to spoil their babies someday (sooner vs later!). We spent 10 years supporting other bereaved parents through our support group facilitation work. I've managed to retire, early, and put the corporate rat race behind me. I've stayed married to my husband for almost 34 years now. I've stayed connected to my family. I've extended my family tree, not by birthing babies but through my genealogy research, by connecting the people here and now with the people and stories from the past.

That's something.

Do I regret that I'm not a mother? Of course I do. 

But is it possible to have a good life without children?  Of course it is.

If there's one thing I've learned over these past 20 years, it's that life is what you make of it.  You don't always get to choose what happens to you, but you DO get to choose how you deal with it.

When I lost my daughter -- and then realized I would not be having any other children -- I eventually realized that I had a choice.  Did I want my daughter's brief existence to destroy the rest of mine? Or did I want to honour her life by living the best life I could -- even if it wasn't the one I originally had in mind? (Being childless may not have been a true "choice," but what I did with my childless life most certainly was.) If there's a life beyond this earthly one, I want her to look at me and be proud to call me her mother.

No, it hasn't been the life I planned... but it's MINE. It hasn't always been easy (whose life is?) -- but, on balance, it's a pretty good life.  I may not have the children I wanted -- but I have a pretty great husband. ;)  I got to retire at 55, with a pretty fair severance package, a defined benefit pension (an increasing rarity these days) and some benefits. I have a lovely mortgage-free condo full of books and music and other nice things, with a great view of both sunsets and sunrises, and no snow to shovel or grass to mow. I have a wonderful family.

Seriously, I am a lucky girl (and I still often feel like a girl), and I know it.

*** *** ***

Related notes:

This article was published in the New York Times, appropriately, on my birthday. :) It's by Mary Pipher, about older women and happiness (and thank you to Sarah at Infertility Honesty for bringing it to my attention!).  Pipher writes about being in her 70s, but there was still a lot I here I could relate to.  Sample excerpts:
Gratitude is not a virtue but a survival skill, and our capacity for it grows with our suffering. That is why it is the least privileged, not the most, who excel in appreciating the smallest of offerings... 
Our happiness is built by attitude and intention. Attitude is not everything, but it’s almost everything...  
We may not have control, but we have choices. With intention and focused attention, we can always find a forward path. We discover what we are looking for. If we look for evidence of love in the universe, we will find it. If we seek beauty, it will spill into our lives any moment we wish. If we search for events to appreciate, we discover them to be abundant.
I wasn't the only one who found Pipher's article relatable. ;)  Pamela immediately grasped the specific parallels between the life Pipher describes and our lives without children, and transformed the piece into one of her brilliant word swap blog posts.  Please read!

Finally, Cathy used her final post at Slow Swimmers and Fried Eggs to recount five things her infertility journey has taught her.  It's a great post. :)  Go over, read, and thank her and Eric for their insights over the past few years. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

"The Alice Network" by Kate Quinn

"The Alice Network" by Kate Quinn has been in my TBR pile for a while now. The premise (female spies in World War I ) sounded intriguing, it was a "Heather's Pick" (personally endorsed by the CEO) at our national mega-bookstore chain (also a featured pick from actress Reese Witherspoon's book club), and it was on sale, lol. It also happens to be this month's pick for one of the local library book clubs I'm hoping to join, and so I picked it up about a week ago and started to read.

The book actually interweaves the stories of two different women from two different eras:  Evelyn (Eve) Gardiner, who is recruited to become a spy in 1915 wartime France, and Charlotte "Charlie" St. Clair, in 1947, a wealthy American college girl who is pregnant, unmarried and desperately searching for her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in France during the Nazi occupation. The structure goes back & forth between the two women's story lines. Both are interesting, but Eve's is by far the more compelling. I've heard of Mata Hari, of course, and the book reminded me of Edith Cavell  (there's a mountain named after her in Jasper National Park in Alberta), but I had no idea that so many women were involved in intelligence work in the First World War. Moreover, there's an author's note and appendix at the end that make it surprisingly clear just how much of this book was based in actual historic fact and on actual people.

It's a novel by a woman, about women (strong female, even feminist, characters, at that) -- and yes, there is romance -- but it's far from chick lit. ALI caveat:  the book includes several unplanned pregnancies, abortion, infertility (of a peripheral character -- who later has a baby, of course!), and the death of a baby/child (as recounted by an observer).  The brutality of the German/Nazi regimes during both wars -- including torture and mass murder -- is made abundantly clear.

But is it worth reading? Absolutely. Perhaps it's a bit long (almost 500 pages) -- but the subject matter is really interesting, and it kept me turning the pages, especially towards the end. I gave it four stars on Goodreads. (And note to Hollywood: I think this would make a really great movie or mini-series for TV.)

This was book #3 that I have read in 2019 to date, bringing me to 13% of my 2019 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books.  I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 2 books ahead of schedule to meet my goal. :)

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Mail order library

When I wrote recently about my history using the local library (or not...!), I forgot about one unique aspect of my library user experience.  I was reminded about it by my mother, who set me off on a trip down memory lane this weekend when she responded to a friend's Facebook post about having books in the home and encouraging children to become readers. She mentioned libraries as a way to facilitate literacy and added, "When we lived in (a small town in rural Manitoba), we were able to order library books through the mail."

It was called the University of Manitoba Extension Library service.  Someone told my mother about it shortly after we moved to this town, in the late 1960s, and before long, we were avid users. There were catalogues of available books (with a brief description & order number for each book), including a catalogue just for children. My sister & I would pore over the catalogue & mark off which books we'd read and which ones we wanted to read. Then -- decisions, decisions!!  I think there were limits on how many books you could order at once (and at any rate, limited room on the order form).  I don't remember how long it took to receive our order, once it was sent (never soon enough, of course!), but a lumpy package would arrive in the mail full of books, with a blank order form tucked inside (and, once a year or so, an updated catalogue, or, occasionally,  a note about recent additions to the library). I think we were allowed one month to read the books we'd ordered.  When we were finished, we'd package them up again (I remember re-using the original envelope -- eventually, the library moved to a canvas package with snaps and a plastic pocket on the front where you tucked in the address card) -- along with an order for more books. I don't believe we ever had to pay for postage, either.

What fun to receive those fat, lumpy packages full of books in the mail!   I devoured every book by my favourite authors that the extension library could provide. Non-fiction books too. This is where I was introduced to the works of Lucy Maud Montgomery, Betty Cavanna, Betsy Allen (who wrote the Connie Blair mysteries -- & I just found out, as I was Googling for this post, that she & Betty Cavanna were the same person!), Rosamund DuJardin, Anne Emery, Janet Lambert, Lenore Mattingly WeberCatherine Woolley, Beverly Cleary... One of my teachers had introduced us to the "Adventure" books by Enid Blyton, but it was the extension library that brought me the Famous Five, and furthered my reading in popular series such as Nancy Drew, the Dana Girls, the Happy Hollisters, Vicki Barr (flight stewardess) & Cherry Ames (nurse).

It was such a blessing. We did have a small school library, but the selection there was limited.  We were able to occasionally order books through the Scholastic Book Club, which was a lot of fun. We could occasionally get books at a stationery store in a bigger town 40 miles down the road, or on the paperback rack at the drugstore... but the closest "real" bookstores were the book department at Eatons department store in downtown Winnipeg, 250 miles away, and a Coles bookstore chain outlet at the Polo Park Shopping Centre there. (No mega-bookstores then... certainly no Internet, or Amazon!)  I would save up my weekly allowance & then blow it all on books during one of our rare visits to the city. At 50 cents to $1.50 a pop, you could buy a LOT of paperbacks with $30 in those days...!

When, five years later, we moved to a larger town, closer to the city, I remember sending in an order from our new address -- and being told we no longer qualified for the extension library service, since we now had a library in our new location. It was bittersweet to finally have access to a real, well-stocked library again, but sad to know there would be no more fat packages full of books in the mail any more.

I did a Google search to see if what I could find about the history of the service, and whether it still exists (or when it went out of service), but wasn't able to find much, beyond a couple of PDF documents from 1956 , 1959, 1962 and 1964.

Did you have easy access to libraries & bookstores when you were growing up?

Monday, January 14, 2019

#MicroblogMondays: Odds & ends

  • Dh & I have long been big fans of "The Big Bang Theory" -- but last week's episode left me shaking my head.  You might remember that, earlier this season, Leonard & Penny argued about whether to have children:  he wants them, she doesn't. That episode ended with Leonard deciding (somewhat unconvincingly) that he could live without children. This week, Penny's old boyfriend Zack and his wife Marissa invite Leonard & Penny over for dinner -- and then drop a bombshell:  they confess they're struggling with infertility (Zack's, specifically) -- and ask Leonard to be their sperm donor (!). Penny is flabbergasted, both by the request and by the fact that Leonard wants to do it -- but eventually, she decides that if he can accept her wish to remain childfree, she can accept his wish to help Zack and Marissa have a baby.  I wish I could cheer them on, but it all seems just too glib & easy.  I have to admit, I just don't have a good feeling about this... :(    
    • This recap from Glamour expresses things better than I can! 
    • From the reviewer from Fansided: "It’ll be interesting to see whether Leonard goes through with the donation of offspring in the coming weeks. I’m hoping it leads to a surprise pregnancy with Penny instead." (Of COURSE you do...!!) 
  • I was glad to see this article from The Globe & Mail this weekend: "‘Emotional trauma’: New therapy for couples undergoing fertility treatments targets relationship strife"  --  the recognition that (a) couples desperately need emotional support while they're going through infertility treatment, (b) support at present is woefully lacking, especially from the drs/clnics themselves and especially in rural/remote areas & (c) things are slowly changing. Of course, there's the requisite couple with the happy ending -- including a second (surprise!) pregnancy! -- but overall, it's a great piece. 
You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here

Friday, January 11, 2019

"Mrs. Tim Carries On" by D.E. Stevenson

January 7th was a great day, if you're a fan of mid-20th century British author D.E. Stevenson (as I am). This was the day that Dean Street Press and Furrowed Middlebrow issued new editions (in both paperback and e-book formats) of five Stevenson novels which have long been out of print and difficult/expensive to find on the resale market -- complete with a wonderful new introduction by author Alexander McCall Smith, who beautifully summarizes the lasting appeal of Stevenson's work (you can read the introduction & the first few pages here on Amazon -- click on the cover where it says "Look Inside").

Three of the new releases are sequels to "Mrs. Tim of the Regiment," which my D.E. Stevenson online fan group explored together last year (my review here).  So it was natural that we chose the next Mrs. Tim book in the series, "Mrs. Tim Carries On," as our next group read as soon as it became more widely available.

"Mrs. Tim Carries On," like the original "Mrs. Tim," continues the diary of Hester (Mrs. Tim) Christie, an army officer's wife in 1930s/40s Britain. The book/diary chronicles the adventures of Hester, her two lively children, Bryan & Betty, and their friends in the military community of Donford while Major Tim and his batallion are in Europe fighting the Nazis.  The book/diary covers the year 1940, early in the Second World War, and was published in 1941 -- meaning that (like "The English Air," our group's previous read), it was written and published while the war was still going on, without the benefit of hindsight/knowing what the outcome would be.

Hester vows that she is not going to write about the war in her diary:
There is so much War News in News Bulletins, in Newspapers, and so much talk about the war that I do not intend to write about it in my diary. Indeed my diary is a sort of escape from the war . . . though it is almost impossible to escape from the anxieties which it brings.
But of course, the shadow of the war looms large in Hester's life and in this book. Hester and her friends (including several we met in the first "Mrs. Tim" book) "keep calm & carry on" in the absence of their men with stiff-upper-lip British resolve (and no doubt this book provided readers of the time with a welcome escape from their own war-related worries). She organizes "comforts" for the batallion, takes shelter during air raids, and entertains a young house guest (among other adventures).

And then comes Dunkirk -- and Tim goes missing.

(Never fear -- this IS D.E. Stevenson, and a happy ending of some sort is practically guaranteed. ;)  )

From our modern perspective, this book (like "Mrs. Tim Christie" before it) is quite dated in some respects. There are some male comments about educated/smart women (not complimentary ones, either!) that are jaw-dropping from a modern perspective... and I could cheerfully strangle Hester's annoying friend Grace, who gives birth to twin boys (of course!) and basks smugly in the attention following their birth. When Hester arrives to visit, a week after the boys are born, Grace is (still) lounging in bed with a nurse tending to the babies (and whisking them away after Hester admires them):
Grace looks comfortable and happy. I am not surprised at her air of well-being, for, on looking back at my own experience, it seems to me that the happiest and most comfortable times in my own life were after my own babies arrived. One feels one has done a good job of work to the best of one's ability, and one glories in the rest and the attention and in all the kindness and consideration. There one lies, a luxurious prisoner, in an atmosphere of cosy comfort which nothing is allowed to disturb.   
I know this is the distance of both time & class talking here... but it still rubs me, as a childless woman, the wrong way. And I'm sure that most modern middle-class mothers wouldn't relate much to this passage either. Who among you mothers out there, one week post-birth, found yourself  "glorying in the REST??... which nothing is allowed to disturb"??

But even with stuff like this (!), overall, I didn't find this book quite as annoying as the original. It's a a fascinating glimpse of the home front... and, like most of Stevenson's books, a pleasant diversion from the worries of our own modern world. I zipped through it in a couple of days. (Which is a good thing, since I will be leading part of the group discussion in less than two weeks.)

I would give it 3 & 1/2 stars on Goodreads -- but since you can't leave half-stars on Goodreads and I was feeling generous, I gave it 4. :)

This was book #2 that I have read in 2019 to date, bringing me to 8% of my 2019 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books.  I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 2 books ahead of schedule to meet my goal. :)

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Aunt Gayle saves the day

Whenever there's nothing else on TV to watch, dh's fallback option is watching cartoons -- not the cartoons of our youth, mind you, like Bugs Bunny or Rocky & Bullwinkle or The Flintstones -- or even the cartoons that kids today watch -- but the "adult" cartoons of the past few decades -- "Family Guy," "King of the Hill," "American Dad," "Futurama," and (of course) "The Simpsons." 

One of the few programs in this genre that I find really tickles my funnybone is "Bob's Burgers,"  now in its 9th (!) season. It's about the Belcher family, who run a struggling burger restaurant in a rundown seaside American town:  Bob, his wife Linda, and their three kids:  Tina, Gene and Louise.

One semi-regular character who pops up from time to time is Linda's eccentric sister Gayle -- who is single, childless and embodies just about every stereotype that goes along with that description (and then some). She lives in a dingy studio apartment with three cats (one named Jean Pawed Van Damme). She wears a fanny pack. She writes and performs ridiculously bad poetry. As the Bob's Burgers wiki (! -- the stuff you can find on the Internet...!) notes, she is "extremely socially inept... Her emotional fragility and inability to connect with others often leads her to depression, even going so far as to play pretend every night before bed that she's taking shelter from a nuclear apocalypse where everyone dies, "especially the men, so it's okay to sleep alone"."

Ooooookay then...! 

But. 

Gayle was central to the plot of a great episode from season 4 that we watched in reruns last night, called "The Kids Run Away."  When feisty little Louise learns she has a cavity that needs filling, she runs away from the dentist's office and hides out at Aunt Gayle's apartment. When Bob & Linda find her there, Linda bets her daughter she can't spend an entire week putting up with her nutty aunt. If she loses the bet, she goes back to the dentist. Tina & Gene join Louise at Aunt Gayle's, with Tina secretly conspiring with her mother (via text) to come up with ideas to up Gayle's craziness  ante and prod Louise to come home. (Anyone up for a round of "Gayle Force Winds," Gayle's self-invented, convoluted board game??)

Louise endures Aunt Gayle's weirdness and wins the bet -- but a celebratory bowl of ice cream for breakfast makes it clear her tooth needs to be fixed. And, in a great twist, neurotic Gayle winds up the hero of the episode when she takes charge and convinces her niece to face her fears and get the filling done (devising a creative solution involving not just the dentist but the entire Belcher family).  Bob & Linda have to admit that pathetic Aunt Gayle has demonstrated some pretty impressive parenting skills ("Maybe we should let her watch the kids more often. Oh, maybe Gayle could move in with us, be a full time nanny!"  "I'm gonna call your bluff on that - yes." "No…No. No.")

Gayle, after all, is still... Gayle.  But overall, the ending is pretty satisfying vindication for childless aunties everywhere, for once. :) 

Any other Bob's Burgers fans out there?? 

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

"Trumpocracy" by David Frum

It's no secret that I'm not a fan of the current U.S. president, and there were a number of Trump-related books on my reading list last year. I expect that will continue in 2019 (particularly since I still have a number of relevant books in my TBR pile).  ;) 

In fact, my first pick of the new year -- begun on my Kobo e-reader on the plane home from Christmas holidays -- was "Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic" by David Frum.

Slight digression:  Frum is well-known these days as a political writer and commentator (for The Atlantic, among others), and as a former speechwriter for U.S. President George W. Bush, but I've been aware of him for much longer. David and his sister Linda (now a Canadian Senator) are just slightly older and younger (respectively) than I am, and I remember reading about them and their involvement with U.S./Reagan-style conservative politics (he at Yale, she at McGill) when we were all university students in the early 1980s. Their father, Murray, was a wealthy Toronto dentist-turned-real estate developer; their mother, Barbara, was (and remains) one of Canada's finest and best-loved broadcast journalists, first in radio & later in television. (I attended a political convention as a student delegate in 1983 and got to watch her in action, broadcasting "The Journal" from the convention floor -- it remains one of my greatest journalism-related thrills.)  Sadly, she died from chronic leukemia at the far-too-young age of 54 in 1992.

I don't always agree with Frum's opinions, and he sometimes come across on camera as condescending. But compared to some right-wing/conservative commentators (Trump apologists) out there these days, he brings some welcome sanity and rationality to the discussion.

And he can write! 

"Trumpocracy," published almost exactly a year ago, in January 2018, is a mid-term look at the first two years of the Trump presidency and what it is doing to America. (It's not a pretty picture.) "If it's potentially embarrassing to speak too soon, it can also be dangerous to wait too long," Frum writes, explaining his decision to write this book now.

Frum chronicles how Trump and his government are eroding the basic, commonly accepted tenets & practices of American democracy, and what the potential consequences could be, not just for America but for the world.  While Frum warns that the damage may be long-lasting, he ends on a hopeful note in the final chapter:
Perhaps the very darkness of the Trump experience can summon the nation to its senses and jolt Americans to a new politics of commonality, a new politics in which the Trump experience is remembered as the end of something bad, and not the beginning of something worse. 
This was a well-written, clearly laid-out book that deserves wide readership -- one of the best-written and best-argued critiques of the Trump presidency I have read so far. I gave it four stars on Goodreads.

This was the first book (#1) that I read in 2019, bringing me to 4% of my 2019 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books.  I am (for the moment, anyway...!) one (1) book ahead of schedule to meet my goal. :)

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

2019/January reading goals, challenges & decisions

As I've mentioned in a couple of previous posts, I've once again signed up for the Goodreads Reading Challenge, and set a goal of reading at least 24 books in 2019 (again).

I've noticed, though, that a couple of my friends have joined book challenges that are a little more detailed than aiming at a simple numerical goal.  One friend, besides setting a Goodreads Challenge goal, is taking part in the PopSugar reading challenge, which provides 50 "prompts" to guide your reading for the year. (Sample prompts:  "a book becoming a movie in 2019,"  "a book published posthumously," "a book set in Scandinavia"...).  If committing to 50 specific books sounds a little TOO challenging for you, Modern Mrs. Darcy has a similar, albeit less complex reading challenge with 10 categories/12 books to complete. Among the ALI bloggers I follow, Jjiraffe has not only joined the Goodreads challenge, she's actually planned a list of 30 books she wants to read during the year.

I've never given much thought about WHICH 24 books I will try to read, or whether I should try to read books from specific categories -- my TBR pile is so huge, and there are always great new books popping up in the bookstore. I tend to just follow my reading muse and see where it takes me. ;)  (I'd  probably manage to tick off many of those challenge category boxes during the course of my reading year anyway.)

But I do want to do one book-related thing I've been talking about doing forever (and if I post about it here, I will probably be more likely to do it...!): join a (live/in person) book club.

I have a few friends ("real life" and online) who are members of book clubs, and I've been insanely jealous (and no, none of them are close enough for me to join too).  I love the online book clubs I'm in, but hanker for some real-life contact with fellow bookworms. (And since I (still) don't really know anyone other than dh's relatives hereabouts, any real-life contact with other human beings who don't happen to be baristas or store clerks and might become potential friends would be nice, lol.)  Book clubs, like reading challenges, do impose a certain rigour/discipline/stress on one's reading list -- but  I do believe it's good to step out of my comfort zones once in a while and try something a little different. :)

So I searched for local book clubs via Meetup.com a while back, but none that came up were particularly "local"/close to me. And then -- I'm not sure what prompted me to check out the website for the local public library, but it turns out that most of its nine branches -- including two just a short drive from our condo -- host monthly book club meetings. :)  I have vowed to check out at least one and perhaps two nearby branch book club meetings later this month. 

This will probably involve me getting a library card. I'm ashamed to say that, even though I am an avid reader and book lover, I haven't had a library card since we moved from an apartment in the city to a house in the suburbs, almost 30 years ago, although I was a frequent library user all my life to that point.

I'm not entirely sure how/why we got out of the library habit -- although I have a few theories. First, while the library in the city was an easy walk from our apartment, it required a car trip in our new (now former) location (& will require a car trip here too).  Second, dh wasn't impressed by their holdings or the condition the books were in (he's picky & won't read a book with yellowed pages or a musty smell, etc.).  Third, a couple of years after we moved to the suburbs, the big-box mega-bookstore trend began taking off, and an outlet opened not too far from where we lived. A bookstore browse became a staple of our Saturday night routine, after dinner out, and we rarely left without a bag in tow.  Fourth, with the busy lives we lead (or were leading, anyway), getting through a book(s) on a deadline ( = before the return date) was stress I just didn't need. Buying a book that I could read (or not) at leisure just seemed simpler.

(And finally, I may have been influenced by my sister -- a prodigious reader and always an enthusiastic library user in her own city -- who stopped going after a bug crawled out of a library book she was reading (!).)

Anyway -- here's what my January reading is shaping up like:
  • I started David Frum's "Trumpocracy"on New Year's Day & will likely finish it by the time this post is ready to publish (review to come).  
  • My D.E. Stevenson online fan group is wrapping up its discussion of "The English Air" (my review here) and will be starting its next pick later this month -- a new reissue of "Mrs. Tim Carries On" (a sequel to "Mrs. Tim of the Regiment," which my group read earlier last year -- reviewed here). I've already volunteered to lead the discussion on a section (several chapters) -- although the exact schedule and which volunteers are doing which section are yet to be determined. 
  • The two library book clubs I'm interested in meet at the end of the month (one on the 28th, one on the 30th). One will be discussing "The Alice Network" by Kate Quinn (at one branch) and the other "Beartown" by Fredrik Backman -- both, happily, already in my TBR pile. :) 
    • Of these two books, I'm inclined to read "The Alice Network" first, because the branch where "The Alice Network" is being discussed will also be discussing "Beartown" a couple of months down the road.  If I don't have time to read it now & miss it at the one location, I can still catch it at the other, lol.  
  • Also in the mix:  Alan Bradley has a new Flavia de Luce mystery coming out on Jan. 22nd -- "The Golden Tresses of the Dead" -- and I generally love to dive right into a new Flavia mystery as soon as I get my hands on it. ;)  
  • And of course, there may be other books that come around, or grab my attention, that I haven't taken into consideration.  
Keep in mind that two books per month was my average for last year -- three or more books in a month doesn't happen often for me these days...!  (Of course, I could probably get more read if I got OFF THE PHONE/LAPTOP once in a while...!)

Decisions, decisions...!! So many good books... so little time...!  (But it's a good problem to have!)  :)

How do you feel about reading challenges?  Do you belong to any book clubs (in "real life" or online)?  What are you reading right now? 

Monday, January 7, 2019

#MicroblogMondays: The new year starts now!

Mel asked if any of us were having trouble with "re-entry" -- getting back to "normal" life, after the Christmas/New Year holiday period.

Ummm.... yes. As I told her in the comments, I hesitated to respond... after all, as a childless retiree, I didn’t have to plunge back into routines that include commuting, work & children.

But, yeah -- we returned home on Jan. 1st after spending 12 days with my parents over Christmas & New Year’s -- and I've been EXHAUSTED since then -- had no idea what day of the week it was for most of last week, lol.  I love long weekends & holidays (and Christmas is my favourite), but they always throw my internal clock completely out of whack. We didn’t do a whole lot while we were visiting my parents, except sit around the house (too damned cold to go outside much), play cards & eat -- and I can’t really blame jet lag, since there’s only a one-hour time difference. And we haven't done a whole lot since we got back here, either. We went out for brunch, groceries and a few other things the day after we got back, and the stores & restaurants were still packed with parents & kids -- school didn't resume here until today.  As a result, we decided to avoid the malls and stores for another few days. (We did have things to do around the condo that kept us busy for a few days -- laundry, taking down the tree & cleaning up, etc.) 

Anyway, it's Monday. The kids are back in school (yay!), & we were happy to venture out to less-crowded public places this morning, & get back into our usual routine -- which, for Mondays, generally includes lunch (excellent pizza -- tomato sauceless for me) & groceries, followed by a trip to the local Starbucks/mega-bookstore.

So, as far as I'm concerned, the new year actually started today, lol. Here's to 2019, and a return to normalcy. ;) 

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

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Childless living odds & ends

  • I can't remember which one of you suggested I should read "Cup of Jo" a few years ago (Brooke?? Jjiraffe?)(I think it was this post here). I have been a regular reader ever since then. Lots of posts about motherhood (which I tend to skip over) but other stuff too... including, sometimes, infertility.  Back before Christmas, she asked 8 women to address the subject of choosing not to have children. There's a lively, intelligent (and mostly very respectful -- so heartening!!) conversation going on in the comments section, including comments from women who wanted children but don't have them, women who didn't want children and now have them, as well as younger women who are unsure of what they want, and are looking for advice. Interestingly (for me), many said they would love to hear from older women who are living without children, what their lives look like, and whether they regret their decision... feel free to add your $.02!   
  • Speaking of aging without children, Jody Day of Gateway Women recently mused on this subject, both on social media, and in a great "Reflect & Renew" webinar (also accessible through this GW blog post, which comes with a list of helpful resources mentioned in the webinar). On Facebook, she said: "I'll be 55 next year and it really feels like a huge milestone - the beginning of my transition towards my 'young elderhood'. I'm excited by the idea of what an older, childless woman's life can be like - because as with my trip through being a middle-aged childless woman, I've found there's very little guidance or inspiring role models out there and so I'm going into unchartered territory - again!"  
    • My 58th (!) birthday is coming up shortly, so I will probably have some (more) thoughts on my own on this topic soon!  
  • Pamela from Silent Sorority brought this article from the New York Times to my attention:  "The Special Misogyny Reserved for Mothers." I won't dispute that mothers face some significant challenges -- or that most people (both men & women) don't want to hear about upsetting/"messy" issues such as birth injuries (as a stillbirth mother, I know a bit about taboo subjects...!). But to say or imply that motherhood, generally, is a topic that's been treated as "niche" and "unimportant" is a bit of an exaggeration, I think -- certainly from my perspective as a childless woman,  subjected to a daily barrage of mommy-related conversations, assumptions and marketing messages.  Even if there is resistance to discussing the problems and challenges of motherhood in the mainstream media (which seems to be one of the author's key complaints), these concerns are certainly broadly shared, acknowledged and accepted, by other mothers, and by the many media & forums specifically aimed at women, if not all mainstream media outlets -- and they are being discussed there more than they have been in the past.  I was happy to see several commenters (comments are now closed, unfortunately) pointing out that childless/free women face our own special challenges... hey, we definitely know a little something about our own unique problems & issues being dismissed and minimized too. 
  • On the subject of being dismissed and minimized:  How about this choice comment from my mother while I was home for Christmas? She was telling me about how upset my 85-year-old aunt is that her middle son (age 55) has moved from Canada to England to be with his British girlfriend:  "She's never had her kids live more than a few miles away from her... I'd be upset if it was MY kid... but then, you wouldn't know anything about that." (!!!) My mother doesn't often refer to my childlessness (and she could also have been referring to the fact that I myself moved far away from her & my dad -- albeit not half the world away...!), but when she does, she can sure come up with some zingers. :(  I think my jaw literally dropped, and of course I couldn't think of a pithy response... although perhaps it's just as well that I kept my mouth shut...!  

Friday, January 4, 2019

"I'd Rather Be Reading" by Anne Bogel

I believe it was Mel at Stirrup Queens who first piqued my interest in Modern Mrs. Darcy by mentioning her (several times, I think) in her blog.  Eventually I clicked over & wound up adding MMD to my blog reader.  (MMD, whose name is actually Anne Bogel, also hosts a book-focused podcast called "What Should I Read Next?"  which I have yet to actually listen to, but have on my to-do-someday list.)

"I'd Rather Be Reading" is an extension of both the book and the podcast:  21 chapters/mini-essays about books and reading and loving both, and how to get more out of your reading life.  I love books of essays & short stories like this that you can dip in & out of at your leisure -- each essay/chapter complete in itself but thematically linked to the others.  Among the topics Bogel writes about:

  • literary "sins"
  • books that "find" you at just the right time in your life 
  • books that break your heart 
  • living next door to the local library 
  • the book that hooked you on the power of story 
  • bookshelf envy 
  • books & real life 
  • organizing your bookshelves
  • being "book bossy" 
  • familiar bookworm problems
  • the readers we have been at different stages of our lives 
  • reading deadlines 
  • reading the author's acknowledgements 
  • coming of age as a reader 
  • being a bookseller (the fantasy vs the reality) 
  • book twins 
  • re-reading books 
  • "book people" and bookstores 
  • keeping a reading log 
  • how our favourite books are windows to our soul 
If you love books and reading (as I do), you are bound to love this book.  My one caveat: when I finally found it at the bookstore, I was surprised at what a slender little volume it was. My sister saw the price tag on the back, & commented, "$18.49 (Canadian)(the U.S. price is $14.99) is a lot of money for such a little book!"  It kind of is -- although I did enjoy it thoroughly. :)  Maybe I just wished there was more of it to enjoy. :)

I gave it four stars on Goodreads.

This was the 27th & final book that I read in 2018. I surpassed my 2018 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books by 3 books, or 113%!  :)

Thursday, January 3, 2019

"Becoming" by Michelle Obama

Former First Lady Michelle Obama's memoir, "Becoming," lives up to the hype and is well worth a read. It's well-written, frank, thoughtful, sometimes blunt and sometimes funny.

The book is divided into sections on the theme of "Becoming" -- "Becoming Me," "Becoming Us" and "Becoming More."  In "Becoming Me," Michelle describes her upbringing in a very ordinary, tight-knit, working class black family.  This is the section I found the most interesting, I think. Michelle is just a few years younger than me (her husband is eight months younger than me), so we grew up in a similar time frame with similar historical & cultural references -- although, admittedly, there are some big differences between growing up black on the South Side of Chicago and the very white, small Canadian Prairie towns where I grew up.

Throughout her life, and especially her youth, Michelle  benefited from the support & encouragement of caring adults & mentors, including her great-aunt who lived downstairs & gave her piano lessons; her parents, who taught her the value of hard work, persistence and education (her mother had her moved out of an unruly classroom with an ineffective teacher, which she pinpoints as a key moment in her life);  and a number of mentors who broadened her horizons and provided her with valuable career advice and work opportunities. Both she & her brother wound up graduating from Princeton (and she later earned a degree from Harvard Law School, a few years earlier than her future husband). 

In "Becoming Us," she describes how she met and eventually married Barack Obama and built a family with him. As most of us in this community have heard by now, her first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage, and they used IVF to conceive both of their daughters. (I wrote about my shock of recognition when I realized Malia Obama is the same age as my Katie would have been, here -- not knowing then that Malia was an IVF baby.)  The book also discloses the tensions in the Obama marriage -- Barack, the dreamer, chased a career in politics, while practical Michelle tried to hold down the fort at home -- and how they were resolved through counselling.

"Becoming More" describes the Obamas' eight years in the White House -- the first black family to occupy a house that was (as she once noted in a speech) built by slaves. Besides some fun & fascinating behind-the-scenes tidbits about life at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, she touches on some of the key moments of her husband's presidency, her efforts to give Malia & Sasha an upbringing that was as "normal" as possible, and her own campaign to reduce childhood obesity rates -- which included the launch of a White House garden, which clearly was and is a source of enormous pride for her.

I learned so much about Michelle & her family in these pages -- and yet she leaves me wanting to know more. I guess that's a good thing, as well as a (minor) sticking point -- and of course, it's her prerogative to disclose as much or as little detail as she chooses.  (Just don't expect to hear more from her as a political candidate... she makes it very clear that is NOT going to happen, lol.)

I gave it five stars on Goodreads.

This was book #26 of 27 that I read in 2018. When I finished it, I had surpassed my 2018 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books by 2 books, or 108%!  :)

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Right now

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

Reading:  I finished both "Becoming" by Michelle Obama and "I'd Rather Be Reading" by Anne Bogel while I was visiting my parents over Christmas & New Year's (reviews to come!). I closed out 2018 having read 27 books, 3 more than my Goodreads 2018 Reading Challenge goal of 24 books!  I will be keeping the same goal for 2019, and started my first book of the year, "Trumpocracy" by David Frum, on the plane ride home yesterday. 

No recent-recent purchases to report... but between the two of us, dh & I have several bookstore gift cards burning holes in our wallets...! 

Watching:  We watched "Springsteen on Broadway" on Netflix just before we left for Christmas holidays. Well worth your while (& much cheaper -- and easier to access -- than an actual ticket to his now-closed Broadway show, lol).  

I watched "Love, Gilda" on CNN last night -- & was reminded all over again how much I loved & miss Gilda Radner (& how I need to dig out her memoir again to re-read). (She & her husband, Gene Wilder, struggled to have children, before she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, which ultimately killed her at the far-too-young age of 42.) Previous Gilda-related post here

Looking forward to the return of "Victoria" and "Finding Your Roots" within the next week or so on PBS, as well as "Three Identical Strangers" on CNN later this month!  

Listening:  To the "thump-thump-thumps" from our energetic young neighbours overhead, again. (insert eye roll icon here) School here doesn't start again until Monday, which was also obvious from the number of people at the restaurant, supermarket & bookstore this morning...!  Dh was suggesting a mall visit tomorrow, but I am sure it will be pretty busy there too, so we'll see...!    

Following: The World Junior Hockey Championships (underway in Vancouver & Victoria, B.C.) and Team Canada's progress -- albeit nowhere near as obsessively as some Canadians do, lol. ;)   World Juniors always starts on Boxing Day and runs into the early new year, & has become a post-Christmas Canadian ritual. 

Drinking/Eating: Lots of water. Very dry in here (humidity was just 27% when we returned last night!);  we need to get out our humidifier -- but first, we need to get a new filter for it -- or get a new humidifier, since this one (a Honeywell) is annoyingly LOUD (even though the box billed it as "quiet"). Any recommendations for a good humidifier that's not too noisy? (& preferably not too expensive -- someone recommended a Dyson to me, but YIKES, the price...!!) We had one attached to our furnace at the house, which worked really well, but that's obviously not an option here. 

Wearing:  My new yoga pants (a gift from my parents) & Christmas-y waffle-weave PJ top from Old Navy. (Being part Ukrainian, I figure I can get away with Christmas-y stuff for another few days, lol.)  

Buying (besides books, lol): Groceries, to restock our empty cupboards & refrigerator, lol.  We had to go out for brunch this morning, because there was absolutely nothing to eat in the house, and pretty much everything was closed when we got home last night (New Year's Day = stat holiday).  (For the record, I had waffles with strawberries & whipped cream -- yum!)  

Wanting: A decent night's sleep...!  

Contemplating: What I want to do to mark my upcoming birthday... 

Worrying:  About my parents... they are still doing pretty well, but they are definitely aging, & don't manage as easily as they used to, even just a few years ago. It is hard to watch, especially when we live so far away & there's so little we can do to help from this distance. :(  

Loving: Our travel experience yesterday (from my parents' house back home, via car & air).  It was a bit of a scramble to get up early(ish) & get ready to leave my parents' house for our mid-afternoon flight (my sister & her boyfriend drove us) -- but we made excellent time to the airport (it can take up to an hour & a half, depending on traffic, but we made it in just over an hour!). Once there, we sailed through check-in and security and got our pick of seats in the waiting area (although our flight was full), and our luggage arrived on the carousel almost as soon as we reached our destination -- we usually wind up waiting for a half hour or so, so we were shocked!! (& quite pleased!).   

Enjoying: Our (artificial) Christmas tree, for just a little bit longer... 

Feeling:  Still a bit tired & dazed from our trip, adjusting to being back home again & getting back into more of a regular routine. Grateful for being able to spend another Christmas with my family. 

Tuesday, January 1, 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 two 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. :) )

*** *** *** 

As I mentioned in my 2018 year in review post, I published 158 posts last year. In addition to posts about childless/free issues, I tried to do a "Right now" or "The Current" post every month or so, and participated in 47 #MicroblogMondays.  I reviewed 25 of the 27 books I read in 2018 (the other two reviews are coming up...!), 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 and some that didn't, including aging, (peri)menopause (and Aunt Flo's refusal to JUST GO AWAY ALREADY...!), retirement and life in a condo.

Here are a few of my favourite/noteworthy posts from 2018, in more or less chronological order: