Wednesday, February 27, 2019

"Childless Mother"

I found this poem online, many years ago, when I was first coming to terms with a childless future, and shared it with the email list I posted about recently in 2001.  I found it again when I was going through some old posts to the list this week.  I am not sure whether I have the correct line breaks here, as the formatting has gotten a bit garbled in translation from one computer to another over the years...!

When I started my blog in October 2007, one of the blog names I strongly considered was "Childless Mother," because of this poem.

Childless Mother

I am a childless mother.
There is an empty hole in my heart
Where my child is supposed to be.
Where there should be squeals and laughter
There is nothing but mind-numbing silence.
And look, there, in the corner sitting idly,
Waiting, is a child's rocker, my rocker –
The rocker that I used to sit in and imagine
Rocking my baby instead of just a doll.
And I realize, that as empty as that rocker seems,
My arms feel even heavier with the emptiness.
How can emptiness feel so heavy?
That emptiness carries my broken dreams,
My disappointments, my resentment.
Flutterby kisses never shared,
Laughter never heard,
Tears never brushed away
All weigh more than a child ever will.
There is an empty hole in my heart
Where my child is supposed to be.
I am a childless mother.

Louise C. Taylor (1997)

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

End of an era

In those first few awful weeks after I lost Katie, and especially once my parents left and dh went back to work, I spent a lot of time on the computer, searching endlessly for answers -- why had this happened to me? -- and reassurance that I wasn't the only one out there to have experienced this tragedy.  I found some message boards, but being relatively new online, I was a little leery about putting myself out there in such a public way (even under a pseudonym). (Blogs had yet to be invented, or at least popularized, and Facebook was still 7 years away from being launched.)

And then I found a website connected to a private email list for women (& men, although the vast majority of members were women) who had lost babies and were either trying again, or experiencing a subsequent pregnancy. It was called Subsequent Pregnancy After a Loss Support, SPALS for short.  I was accepted as a member, opted to receive digests instead of individual emails, and wrote my first post, introducing myself and telling my story.

And then watched as my inbox filled up with messages of welcome and sympathy.

I had found my tribe.

We started attending an in-person support group, once or twice a month, around the same time -- but that was a LONG time between meetings for a newly bereaved mom. SPALS filled the gaping hole in between "real life" meetings, and became my daily lifeline, especially in those early weeks & months. When I went back to work in October, fellow SPALSers were there with advice & support. They were there when we started trying to conceive again, and when we sought help, first from Dr. Ob-gyn and then Dr. RE.

It was customary for members to include their TM (Trying Mom -- pregnant moms signed themselves as PM, or Pregnant Mom) status as part of their signature... mine looked something like this:

(email address)
Mom to Kathleen Maria (Katie), s/b @ 26 wks LMP, Aug. 7/98.
TM cycle #xx

Below my signature, I added:

"Life is what happens while you're making other plans." -- John Lennon

eventually joined by

"We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us." -- Joseph Campbell

(Both quotes now appear in the sidebar of this blog.)

My final failed IUI (in June 2001, when I was 40) marked the end of cycle #27 since we started trying again after Katie's stillbirth. Skimming through my old emails to the list (I have saved almost every one of them! -- hundreds and hundreds of them, over the years), I found this one from September 8, 2001 (just a few days before the tragedies of September 11th):
Hi everyone, 
A SPALS friend recently commented to me that I'd been rather silent lately & asked whether I was still staying with the list, given that I've stopped infertility treatment.  So I thought it was time for a bit of an update on where my life is at. 
I guess one reason I've been quieter (though not completely silent -- I counted & I did post nine times in August!) is that I have not returned to the RE, so I don't have any day-by-day updates on treatment to report on anymore!  While I reserve the right to change my mind, I don't think I will be going back anytime soon, if ever. 
This doesn't mean we have given up ttc altogether -- but I know our chances are pretty slim.  I got one of the Clearplan Easy Fertility Monitors & started using it this cycle (now cycle #30!), but I have no great faith that it will work where 300 IUs (4 amps) nightly of GonalF & IUI didn't.  I'm just trying to looking at it as neat gadget I can have some fun with!  : ) & not obsess too much... 
While part of me feels guilty for "giving up" when I could have tried IVF, donor egg, a surrogate or what have you, I have reached the point where the physical, emotional & mental strain of treatment just got to be too much. I've come to realize that just because the option is there doesn't mean that you have to try it, or that it's personally right for you.  In a way, I think it was simpler 30 or 40 years ago, when you either had kids or you didn't, and didn't have all these choices to make  & dilemmas to weigh! 
Everyone has their own limit, & I think I reached mine, as evidenced by the anxiety attacks I had in June. I have not had any since then, thankfully, & while I sometimes get depressed knowing that, by giving up on treatment, we likely won't ever have a living child of our own, it feels good to be free of that particular source of stress in my life.  I have been hanging out on several "childfree living" forums on the Web & trying to focus on dh, projects around our home & the good things we have in our life together, instead of what I don't have & may never have. 
I still plan to stay with the group.  Regardless of whether I ever have a living child, I do have a daughter, even though she is not on this Earth, and this is one of the few places where I AM recognized as a mother.  What I have been through these past 3-4 years has shaped who I am today, & will always be a part of me.  SPALS has been a big part of my life.  Next week it will be three years since I joined, & I honestly don't know how I would have survived without all of you to lean on! 
So even though the "subsequent pregnancy" part of the equation has continued to elude me (& may never come to pass), I hope I can still be of some support to the rest of you. 
Besides, I can't leave now -- I still have to see all the oldtimers, like [names], through their SPALS pregnancies!  : )
Much love & hugs to all...
Despite what I wrote, I gradually (perhaps inevitably) drifted away from the list. I still kept updating the cycle number in my signature for another year or so, but once I hit cycle #40 (sometime in 2002), something in me broke, and I changed it to "too many cycles to count anymore!"  By mid-2004 (when I was 43), I stopped referring to my cycles completely.  

For a while, I continued to respond to posts when I thought I could offer my experience or advice. But my words felt less and less relevant as time went on, I got older, the newly arrived grieving members seemed to get younger, and the remaining oldtimers I knew delivered their subsequent "rainbow" baby... and then a second, and sometimes a third, or more.  

I only posted twice in 2005, once in 2006 (on Katie's birthday) & once in 2007.  I haven't posted there since then. And gradually, the digests landed in my inbox less and less frequently, until I was receiving just a few digests per year. Apparently most of the action eventually moved over to a Facebook group. I have remained in touch with a handful of former SPALSers over the years, mostly as Facebook friends. One of them (Julia, who lost a daughter the very same day as I lost mine) later became a blogger (although she's no longer active there).  

Still, I couldn't bring myself to unsubscribe. 

I got a new digest this morning, the first in several months, I think. As I scanned over its contents, I felt a pang of sadness -- and then a warm wave of nostalgia &  profound gratitude.

After 24 years, the longtime list administrator -- a bereaved dad who was one of the early members of the list himself -- is shutting the list down.  For many years, the listserv has been run from a private server donated by a(nother) bereaved dad who benefited from the list. He can no longer offer us the server, and while it would be theoretically possible to move the list elsewhere, it has been effectively dormant for several years now, and new members have not been admitted for some time.

And so the list where I first found solace online as a newly bereaved mom, 20+ years ago -- and where thousands of other bereaved parents from all over the world have found a safe haven over the years -- is ceasing operations. Several members have responded to the admin's post announcing the end of the list with final posts of thanks. I sent one of my own this afternoon. I also removed the site from my list of resources on this blog.

Thank you, SPALS. I will always treasure the years I was a member, and be grateful for the support I found there.

Monday, February 25, 2019

#MicroblogMondays: Post-Oscars edition :)

  • The night before the Oscars, I dreamed I was AT the Oscars -- as a presenter, no less!  Hanging out with Queen & the guys from "Bohemian Rhapsody."  ;)  And it was five minutes to showtime, and I was struggling to put on my makeup.  :p I do remember I was wearing a kickass dress, though.  :)  Dark metallic grey-blue with sparkles. 
  • Not having a host actually seemed to work out pretty well, I thought...! The pace of the show seemed much improved from recent years (under 3 hours & 20 minutes, not bad...), and they didn't seem to be quite as strict about cutting off people's speeches. 
  • I do think they could have given a LITTLE more time to the honorary & science/tech award winners, though...! (presented at separate banquets)
  • I am glad they did not move some of the awards to the commercial breaks, as previously announced.  They deserve their moment in the spotlight too.  And often some of the best speeches & most memorable moments come from these "minor" award winners. 
  • I will admit, I didn't think "Bohemian Rhapsody" was best picture material... but it was one of my favourite movies from last year. A whole lot of fun, and I do think it deserved all the awards it got. (And it actually wound up winning more awards -- four -- than any other movie this year!)  
    • LOVED having Queen and Adam Lambert open the show. Just perfect and set an energetic tone for the show. Loved seeing Brian May & Roger Taylor in the audience later too. :) 
    • Also perfect having Mike Myers & Dana Carvey (aka Wayne & Garth :)  ) introduce the movie as a Best Picture nominee. :) 
    • Loved Rami Malek's acceptance speech too.  
  • Loved Bradley Cooper & Lady Gaga's duet, and how they just walked up to the stage from the audience & started singing. They need to put a picture of these two under the dictionary definition of "chemistry."  ;)  
  • I did not see "Mary Poppins Returns," but hearing Bette Midler sing "Where the Lost Things Go" brought me to tears. It's a song about loss & grief & comfort. (My understanding of the movie is Mary Poppins returns after Michael Banks -- now the grown-up father of three children -- loses his wife.)  
    • Great Poppins-esque entrance from Keegan-Michael Key to introduce the song (being lowered from the ceiling with an umbrella in hand!).  I would have been terrified!! (I am sure that was WELL rehearsed!)
  • I have not seen "The Favourite" either, but I loved Olivia Colman's surprise win & speech.  
    • Was there anything funnier than Melissa McCarthy and her rabbit-festooned dress -- a send-up of the queen Colman played in "The Favourite"?  
    • A friend (also living without children after loss) pointed out to me on Facebook "While Queen Anne didn't really have a rabbit for every child she lost [17] it was kind of cool that The Favourite addressed her losses with them." (17!!)  I did not know this! 
  • Favourite dresses:  Tina Fey, Regina King, Amy Adams, Glenn Close (obviously designed with a win in mind...!), Emma Stone, Gemma Chan (a bit frou-frou with all those ruffles, but she pulled it off), Constance Wu, Michelle Yeoh, Brie Larson, Julia Roberts. 
  • Just... no (re: dresses):  Maya Rudolph, Kacey Musgraves, Linda Cardellini, Rachel Weisz. And Charlize Theron. Normally she looks stunning, but IMHO, her dress was drab and way too severe looking.  
Previous Oscar-related posts here. :)

Did you watch? Thoughts? Favourite dress(es)?  Dress(es) that made you wince? Favourite speech? Moment(s) that made you cheer? Cringe?

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

Friday, February 22, 2019

"Parkland" by Dave Cullen

Ten years ago (!) this summer, I read "Columbine" by Dave Cullen, the definitive account of the school shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado (which happened 10 years before that, in April 1999).  Whether or not true crime stories are your kind of reading, it's an amazing book (with some perceptive insights on grief, loss & the long-lasting effects of trauma), and I have recommended it highly to many people in the years since then.

(Sadly, I have a cousin who still can't bring herself to read it -- she was an elementary school teacher in a small town in the U.S. that was affected by a shooting at the local high school in 2005. It wasn't her school, but nevertheless she & her students were on lockdown, and she knew everyone involved.  The subject matter is still way too close to home for her.)

After reading "Columbine," I reviewed it on my blog, here -- and was floored when Dave Cullen himself popped by to comment (and then commented again on a follow-up post I wrote). (As I noted at the time, stuff like this never or rarely happened, pre-Internet...!)

I've been following Dave on social media ever since then. Unfortunately, his accumulated subject matter expertise has made him the media's go-to guy whenever there's a major mass shooting event in the States (which, sadly, is far, FAR too often). He developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) himself, post-Columbine, and as he found himself commenting on mass shooting after mass shooting in Columbine's wake, he despaired that nothing was ever going to change.

And then came Parkland.

Dave immediately noticed something different in the aftermath of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, Florida, on Valentine's Day 2018.  The day after Columbine, the survivors were like zombies, shellshocked. These kids in Florida were MAD.  And they were demanding action.

Before long, they were taking action themselves: within days, they were (successfully) lobbying the Florida state legislature to demand changes to gun control laws;  within weeks, they had organized a march on Washington (the March for Our Lives) that attracted 470,000 people, and up to 2.1 million in almost 800 "sibling" marches on all 7 continents.  Meanwhile, they also began networking with other kids from across the country, and spent the summer on a cross-country bus tour, building a movement. Their efforts to register young voters and elect candidates who share their quest for sensible gun control laws had a tangible impact on the 2018 mid-term elections.

While both "Columbine" and "Parkland" are about school shootings and what happened afterwards, and both books have a similar cover design, there are some important differences. "Columbine" was 10 years in the making, and delves heavily into the story of the two killers, what motivated them, how they planned and carried out the shooting, and how investigators gradually unravelled what really happened (versus the myths that sprang up almost immediately), as well as the stories of the victims and the survivors.

"Parkland" arrived in bookstores almost one year to the day after the MSD shootings. The events of February 14, 2018, are dispensed with in just a few pages;  the killer is not named and is barely mentioned.  The focus of the story is on what happened next:  a fly-on-the-wall view of a year in the life of a group of motivated, media-savvy teenaged survivors, and how they came together to build a movement for change.

It's a story of hope.

I really enjoyed "Parkland" and found it hard to put down (and I can say & mean "enjoyed" in a way that I couldn't about "Columbine," if you know what I mean... although there are some parts where you may want to have some kleenex handy...!). The "Notes on Sources" at the end are among the most readable I've ever seen, and add further insight and information.

I gave this book four stars on Goodreads.

The story of the Parkland kids and the March for Our Lives continues. I would love to get Dave's perspective on them (and the further great things I am sure they will accomplish) in another 10 years... but I don't think anyone would blame the guy if he wanted to move on to other subjects. ;)  He's been following the story of two gay soldiers for the past 20 years, and interrupted his work on a book about them to follow the Parkland story. He's hoping to finally complete that other book later this year.  I am looking forward to reading it, too!

This was book #6 that I have read in 2019 to date, bringing me to 25% of my 2019 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books.  I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 3 books ahead of schedule to meet my goal. :)

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Odds & ends: Recent childless/free reading & listening

  • This past weekend was a long weekend -- Family Day -- here in Ontario. You can read my past whines/rants about Family Day and its wince-inducing name here.  ;)  Thankfully, media coverage was mostly limited to lists of what's open and what's closed and suggestions for fun family activities (which can be difficult enough to read about -- but at least there were no (or few) rhapsodic meditations on the importance of family, etc.).  Dh & I mostly stayed at home to avoid the crowds of parents & kids that we knew would be everywhere. 
  • Between avoiding the mobs of happy families ;) and all the bad weather we've been having lately, I've had the chance to get caught up on some great reading & listening. ;)  A few things I've found:  
  • Today is sunny (but with a cold wind)... but the forecasters are calling for freezing rain (AGAIN) tomorrow night!!  :p   

Monday, February 18, 2019

#MicroblogMondays: "Probably Mom"???

This image above popped up in my Facebook feed this weekend. I shared it with some of my childless/free friends to see if they had the same reaction I did. Which was:  "Umm... my name (and yours) might not be Mom -- but do any of you feel like YOU'RE being listened to??"

Because this is the unspoken flipside of the coin here, isn't it?  -- i.e., if you're a woman, and someone IS listening to you, your name probably ISN'T Mom.

To be clear, I don't believe whoever wrote that memo was thinking in terms of moms vs non-mothers. It was just one of those jokey things that parents say to each other, especially when they're having a rough day, right?

But (from my perspective as a childless woman) that's the point, isn't it??  Nobody tends to consider the childless/free, in a world where parents are in the majority.  It's not just that nobody's listening to us (and if you think your voice isn't being heard or doesn't count, try walking in our shoes as childless women...!);  nobody realizes that our experience might be different. It's generally just not on anybody's radar.

I'm sure it's true that a lot of (most?) moms don't feel listened to sometimes (especially by their kids!).  One wise childless friend noted that kids tend not to listen to their moms OR dads -- but "not being heard or listened to is a woman thing, for sure." 

Another noted this meme might be true in the context of parents speaking & children listening (or not!) -- she thought her goddaughters were (sometimes) more likely to listen to her than their own uncool parents ;)  -- but not so much in terms of women speaking & being listened to in society at large.

A few commenters on the original post noted this could also apply to a teacher.  (True.) A couple added, "Or wife!"  But nobody seemed to question the inherent pronatalism in the meme.

Realistically, I don't think motherhood (or non-motherhood) has much to do with it. If you're a woman and you don't feel like people are listening to you, it's likely because you're a woman, and women generally aren't listened to or taken seriously as much as men are.

What do you think?

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

Thursday, February 14, 2019

"The Golden Tresses of the Dead" by Alan Bradley

Like clockwork over most of the past several years, a new Flavia de Luce mystery by Alan Bradley has arrived in January or February to brighten up the dreariness of a cold, grey southern Ontario winter. :)

"The Golden Tresses of the Dead" is the 10th Flavia novel. Twelve-year-old Flavia is a precocious young chemist/detective in early 1950s Britain. The story opens with the long-awaited wedding of Flavia's beautiful oldest sister, Ophelia/Feely... but the festivities are marred when the happy couple slice into their wedding cake, only to discover a severed human finger inside (!).  Whose finger is it, and how did it get there? Flavia is on the case!

I rated this 5 stars on Goodreads.

There have been hints/speculation that this would be the final Flavia book (sob!!). (And, if it is, the wonderful closing paragraphs would be a fitting epitaph.)  Thankfully, though, Bradley hinted in a recent interview with the Toronto Star that, while this IS the final book he was contracted to do, there may be more to come. Good news for all of us who love Flavia! :)  

*** *** *** 

If you haven't read any of the previous Flavia novels, I recommend you start with the first book in the series, "The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie," and continue from there in order. The mystery in each novel is self-contained -- but the plot itself always plays a distant second fiddle to the characters & the wonderful writing.  You will learn more about Flavia, her family and friends, and appreciate them and the stories more, if you start at the beginning and follow her adventures in order. 

I don't seem to have reviewed "The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie" on my blog, but here's where I've written about the others:

The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag (#2)
A Red Herring Without Mustard (#3)
I Am Half-Sick of Shadows (#4)
Speaking From Among the Bones (#5) 

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches (#6)
As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust (#7)
Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd  (#8)

The Grave's a Fine and Private Place (#9) 

This was book #5 that I have read in 2019 to date, bringing me to 21% of my 2019 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books.  I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 3 books ahead of schedule to meet my goal. :)

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Monday, February 11, 2019

#MicroblogMondays: A midwinter blog rant

My blog has a label/category for "I hate November," but I'm thinking I need to add an "I hate February" category as well. ;) While I have many reasons to dislike November, I actually dislike February even more (November is, at least, is redeemed by its proximity to Christmas). A few reasons why:
  • February 8th was my LMP date for my ill-fated pregnancy, 21 years ago now. 
  • We now get a February holiday/long weekend here in Ontario (= next weekend/Monday) -- but it was slapped with the wince-inducing moniker of "Family Day" by politicians eager to appeal to "family values." (No doubt I will have another whine on that specific subject coming up soon. ;)  )
  • February weather sucks, to put in mildly.  
Ah yes, the weather...!  I get a lot of flak from my friends & relatives out west, where I grew up, if I dare to complain about the winter weather here in the GTA.  Yes, the temperatures are not quite as cold as they are on the Prairies, and there's usually not as much snow.  There's an old joke whenever people complain about the cold out west -- someone will add, "Yes, but it's a DRY cold."  Unless you've lived somewhere where it's a "wet" or damp cold, I'm not sure you can really appreciate the difference. I often say that I will take -40C in Manitoba any day over -20C in Toronto:  the "damp" cold can be bone-chilling in a way that the brisk cold in Manitoba is not -- and winters here tend to be overcast, grey & slushy.  It may reach -40C at times where I grew up -- but the sun shines a lot more there, and the snow will crunch & squeak under my boots. I miss that sometimes.

What also sometimes gets forgotten (or isn't realized) by people who don't live here:  the GTA is a pretty large area, with a large population and some of the worst traffic in North America -- and that's in GOOD weather. When the weather is bad, road traffic slows down even more, transit (buses, streetcars, subway trains and commuter trains) is delayed -- and tempers get short. There were many mornings, when we were working, that we would leave the house earlier than usual (in the dark) because the weather (and roads) were bad, to give us plenty of time to drive to the train station -- only to find, once we got there, that our train into the city was delayed because of frozen rail switches and doors that were too cold to shut properly -- and I would have to call my boss to say I would be late. (Sometimes, I would STILL get to the office ahead of her!) Once the train did arrive, it would be packed -- sometimes standing room only (for a 25 to 40 minute ride -- assuming there weren't any further delays...!).  I'd eventually arrive at work feeling frazzled and exhausted and generally ready to turn around and go home again. 

There were many afternoons when the same thing would happen in reverse -- train delays at Union Station, crowded waiting areas, crowded platforms, crowded train cars (anxious parents calling day care providers -- some of which charged $1 for every minute they were late past 6 p.m.), parking lot chaos (after you spent several minutes clearing & scraping the accumulated snow & ice from the roof, hood & windows of your car) -- and then snow to shovel from the driveway, sidewalks and front step when we finally did get home (in the dark), before we could even think about dinner.

Needless to say, I don't miss those days...! Being retired, we don't HAVE to be out driving in bad weather and on bad roads to get to work, or anywhere else. But it does mean that sometimes, depending on the weather and what else we have going on (e.g., laundry & housecleaning to do), we could go several days without leaving the condo. Cabin fever, anyone?? :p 

I guess I'm in a whiny/ranty mood about the weather in particular right now, because we are expecting a(nother) winter storm tomorrow, which may take the form of snow, freezing rain, or a little of both. Needless to say, we will likely be staying at home (AGAIN).  (I will take a straightforward blizzard ANY DAY over freezing rain.)

What's good about February?  Well, it IS only 28 days long. ;)

(Whine over. If you made it this far, thanks for listening/reading!)

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

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

"Beartown" by Fredrik Backman

I am only an occasionally serious hockey fan. I love my Winnipeg Jets, whom I've followed since I was a kid (and I was beyond overjoyed when the team returned to Winnipeg in 2011) -- but I don't follow them obsessively (except maybe during the playoffs, lol)(curse you, Las Vegas Golden Knights, lol).

But hey, I'm Canadian. Even if you're not a huge hockey fan, you can't really avoid hockey here, or absorbing some knowledge of the game by osmosis -- especially if you grow up in a small town.

Which I did. I spent my youth (1960s & 70s) in five different towns in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, the largest of which (by a pretty big margin) was about 13,000 people. In just about all of these towns, social life revolved around the rink(s) and the sports played therein:  figure skating for the girls, hockey for the boys, curling for the adults. (I wrote about my memories of one of those rinks here.) Until I was 14 (when we moved closer to Winnipeg and to the U.S. border), we had just one TV channel (the CBC). Watching TV on a Saturday night in the winter meant you were watching Hockey Night in Canada (and, during playoff season, you got to watch hockey and nothing but on many other nights too).

When I was I was about 6 or 7, and we were living in Saskatchewan -- just a few miles down the road from the site of a tragic bus crash that killed 16 members of a junior hockey team last year -- my dad would sometimes take me to local hockey games with him (after much pleading from me).  He would wrap me up in a blanket and buy me a treat from the canteen, and I would sit on the hard wooden bleachers of the crowded rink & scream myself hoarse. I liked the fights best back then (!). Local rivalries were so intense that, my mother tells me, the RCMP had to escort the visiting team's players from the arena onto the bus, and then escort the bus out of town.

*** *** ***

This is a very roundabout way of saying that I can see why "Beartown" by Swedish author Fredrik Backman -- about a small, declining town in Sweden and its junior hockey team -- has been a bestseller in Canada.

I KNEW this town in my bones. I KNEW these people.

But the book isn't entirely about hockey. It is, but it isn't. (With a little imagination, I think it could just as easily be about a football-obsessed town in the American South. Or maybe a soccer club in smalltown Britain. But I don't think you have to be a hockey fan, or a sports fan, to relate to the story or appreciate it.) It's about the people of Beartown (featuring a broad cast of characters), their relationship to the team & to each other. It's about winning, and losing, and belonging. It's about obsession, the burdens we place on our heroes, and the price we pay for success.

There's an old banner hanging in the Beartown arena that proclaims the hockey club's motto: "Culture, Values, Community."  David, the coach of the junior team, stares at the banner and ponders what it means:
He was sitting in this precise spot when he was twenty-two, thinking exactly the same things. Sune [the longtime coach of the A-team] was sitting beside him then. David asked about the banner, asked what it meant to Sune, and Sune replied: "Community is the fact that we work toward the same goal, that we accept our respective roles in order to reach it. Values is the fact that we trust each other. That we love each other." David thought about that for a long while before asking: "What about culture, then?" Sune looked more serious, choosing his words carefully. In the end, he said: "For me, culture is as much about what we encourage as what we actually permit."  
David asked what he meant by that, and Sune replied: "That most people don't do what we tell them to. They do what we let them get away with." 
David closes his eyes. Clears his throat. Then he stands up and walks down toward the ice. Doesn't look up at the roof again. Banners have no meaning this week. Only results. [Chapter 26, page 210]
This passage said so much to me about the world we live in right now:
Hate can be a deeply stimulating emotion. The world becomes easier to understand and much less terrifying if you divide everything and everyone into friends and enemies, we and they, good and evil. The easiest way to unite a group isn't through love, because love is hard, It makes demands. Hate is simple.  
So the first thing that happens in a conflict is that we choose a side, because that's easier than trying to hold two thoughts in our heads at the same time. The second thing that happens is that we seek out facts that confirm what we want to believe -- comforting facts, ones that permit life to go on as normal. The third is that we dehumanize our enemy... 
It doesn't take long to persuade each other to stop seeing a person as a person. And when enough people are quiet enough for long enough, a handful of voices can give the impression that everyone is screaming. [Chapter 35, p. 273] 
It's a tense, dark book, almost right from the beginning (a great winter/hockey season book!) -- and it gets much darker as the story goes on -- but it's uplifting and affirming too. I found it hard to put down.

"Beartown" has been a "Heather's Pick"at our mega-bookstore chain here in Canada, and on several other recent "best" lists. Modern Mrs. Darcy has recommended it frequently, and it's an upcoming pick for one of the library book clubs hereabouts that I hope to join soon (which is one reason why I read it now). (The discussion should be pretty interesting, I think...!)

Personal note: I was amused to read about the town's intense rivalry (hockey-wise and otherwise) with the larger town down the road, Hed.  Hed is a real town in Sweden -- and, coincidentally, some of my Swedish ancestors came from there, or thereabouts. :)  Maybe that's another reason why this book resonated with me.

And, ALI spoiler alert: one of the families featured has experienced the loss of a child, and is still dealing with the grief and its repercussions, years later. There's a lot here about grief and loss (and dealing with it, or not) and parenting and protecting our children (or trying to) that was all too familiar.

I would give "Beartown" 4.5 stars on Goodreads -- but since I can't give half-stars, I wound up giving it five. :)  I think that (properly done) it would make a great movie, or TV series or mini-series (and I learned, via Google, that a Swedish production company has a TV version in the works). Backman has written a sequel, "Us Against You," which I will probably read too, eventually :) -- so it looks like there's plenty of material to keep a show going for quite a while.

(If you want to read a really good (non-fiction) book about hockey, I would highly recommend "The Game" by Ken Dryden, legendary goalie for the Montreal Canadiens. Dryden writes as well as, or even better than, he played hockey. He has also been a TV broadcaster/host, a member of Canada's Parliament, and an executive with the Toronto Maple Leafs.)

This was book #4 that I have read in 2019 to date, bringing me to 17% 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. :)

Monday, February 4, 2019

#MicroblogMondays: Small pleasures

  • Checking my bank accounts this morning and noticing that our chequing account balance was larger than expected. It seems one of our investments did better than usual last year, resulting in an unexpected little windfall that was deposited this morning. :) 
  • Using some of that surprise bonus money to treat myself this afternoon to a couple of books I've been eyeing at the local mega-bookstore (hardcovers, instead of waiting for the paperbacks). 
  • Knowing we'll have a nice little financial cushion for the next while, with the possibility of funding a few more fun little "extras."  
  • Enjoying milder, spring-like temperatures today (+11C -- albeit with grey skies & drizzle) after several days around -20C (colder with windchill!) last week. 
  • (Finally) Getting out of the house/condo after barely leaving it all last week because of the extreme weather.   
  • Enjoying a great roast beef dinner from the crockpot/slow cooker last night. (With leftovers to follow!) 
  • Getting to spend time with Older Nephew's dog on the weekend (BIL & SIL -- the "grandparents" -- were dogsitting).  :)  Few humans can make you feel consistently loved & appreciated in the same way that a dog can, lol.  ;)  

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

Friday, February 1, 2019

Right now

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

Reading:  I'm off to a good start with my Goodreads 2019 Reading Challenge (goal:  24 books), with 3 books finished in January (all reviewed on this blog) and another underway ("Beartown" by Fredrick Backman... so far, so good...!).

Recent purchases:  "The Golden Tresses of the Dead" (the latest -- and possibly last, sob!! -- Flavia de Luce mystery by Alan Bradley).

Dh has also been reading more again lately, which makes me happy. :)

Watching: I finally got to see "Three Identical Strangers" last Sunday night on CNN (and I understand it's going to be on again on Saturday night, if you missed it). Well worth watching, especially if you have any interest in adoption issues or multiples. I've always been fascinated by multiples (my sister & I were known as "the Bobbsey Twins," even though we're almost two years apart & really aren't much alike at all, especially once you get to know us well...!), and I remember hearing about this in the early 1980s, when the triplets first found each other at age 19 (they are exactly six months younger than I am).  I knew the story took a dark turn, and I found myself wiping my eyes at a couple of points, but it was still an amazing story with a few surprises, and very well done.

I've been enjoying season 3 of "Victoria" and the new season of "Finding Your Roots" on PBS.

The only movie we saw in January: "On the Basis of Sex," with Felicity Jones as a young Ruth Bader Ginsburg (and Armie Hammer as her supportive husband Marty).  We both enjoyed it a lot.

Listening: Dh recently discovered that our TV service (Bell Fibe) includes a number of music channels from a service/app called Stingray. (Oh, give us a break, we're aging baby boomers here, lol.)  There are tons of different stations you can listen to (commercial/DJ-free!) -- country, classical, 70s, 80s, 90s, R&B, classic rock (our most frequent choice).  It's so nice to listen to music instead of TV news or sports constantly during the day. We listen to a local classic rock station on the car radio all the time, but the Stingray classic rock channel plays a lot of songs I haven't heard in eons. Of course, even if it's been years since I last heard the song, and it's 40+ years old, I can still sing along. (One recent earworm here. :)  )

Following:  Yay, it's figure skating season!  :)  (Forget the Super Bowl!!  lol)  I've been binge watching (and enjoying) the Canadian, European & U.S. national championships over the past few weekends.  World championships will be in mid-March.

Drinking/Eating: Lots of tea, lots of "comfort food."

Wearing:  Slippers and a cardigan over my socks and usual clothes, trying to keep warm during the recent cold snap! (Floor-to-ceiling windows and laminate floors look fabulous, but they are also COLD in winter!)(Especially when you know there must be a concrete base below that laminate...!)

Buying (besides books, lol):  A friend of a friend makes beautiful sterling silver jewelry -- AND she offers a birthday discount to people on her mailing list -- so I treated myself to some pretty new bling :)  which, happily, arrived today. :)

I also scored a pair of black jeans/twill pants from Old Navy for $5.99 recently. (The legs are way too long & had to triple-roll up the bottoms -- but otherwise, they fit perfectly. And -- $5.99, right??!)

Collecting: Christmas & birthday discounts/goodies from various retailers. I didn't manage to cash in on all of them before they expired at the end of January -- but beyond the discounted jewelry mentioned above, I also picked up a new nightgown for 25% off, and an essential oils rollerball for 30% off. :)

Wanting:  A break from the monotony of winter.  :p 

Loving: That I don't have to get up early, leave the house & wait for a commuter train (that's probably delayed...!) in this frigid weather.

Remembering:  Three years ago today, I officially retired (!!).  In July, it will be five years since I was pink-slipped!

Wondering:  What kind of a month February (generally my least favourite) is going to be?

Feeling: COLD!! COLD!! COLD!! Yesterday morning's temperature: -21C, -35C windchill (-6F & -31F)  I try not to complain too much, though... on Wednesday morning, it was -40C WITHOUT the windchill and -50C WITH the windchill where my parents live!  (-40C is the same as -40F -- and -50C = -58F -- so whatever system you use, you know it's cold!!)