Friday, May 31, 2019

"Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine" by Gail Honeyman

"Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine" by first-time author Gail Honeyman is this month (June)'s pick for our Gateway Women online book club.  It was a good read (I went through it relatively quickly), very well written (an impressive debut!) & I would recommend it -- but I'll admit, it was not entirely what I expected.

The reviews on the back of my paperback call "Eleanor"  "wacky, charming... hilarious and moving" (People), and   "satisfyingly quirky" (New York Times).  Yes, it is all these things... but I'm more inclined to agree with the blurb from Purewow, which calls it "simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking." I was expecting a comedy -- and yes, there is a lot of humour in Eleanor's narration, in her complete lack of social awareness and the resulting faux pas.  But there's also sadness, and dark undercurrents that rise to the surface as the story progresses.

Eleanor is 30, lives in a flat by herself furnished with castoffs, and has an unexciting office job that she's held for the past nine years. Her routine rarely deviates -- except for Wednesdays, when she talks to Mummy, and on weekends, when she picks up a pizza for Friday night's dinner -- and two bottles of vodka, which she drinks to help make the time go by faster until it's Monday and time to go to work again.

Little by little, we come to learn more about Eleanor and her life story -- and that she's not quite as "completely fine" as she appears. Three things happen that shake up Eleanor's carefully calibrated  world: first, she develops a crush on a local singer and begins plotting how to meet him.  Second, she gradually develops a friendship with her affable coworker Raymond. And finally, she & Raymond come to the rescue of an elderly gentleman -- a simple act of kindness that changes everything.

"Eleanor Oliphant" reminded me of another Eleanor (Rigby), and "all the lonely people... where do they all come from?"  Loneliness and social isolation are major themes of this book.  Eleanor is different -- and as the story progresses, we learn some of the reasons why.  Her coworkers think she's weird, and she's often the butt of their jokes. There's nothing in this book that's directly related to the ALI world -- and yet I was reminded of the social isolation we often experience as infertile people, as bereaved parents and as non-parents, and the inappropriate comments and questions and assumptions we are often subjected to.

We don't always know the full story.  Sometimes, we need to skip the speculation and the judgment, and just give the other guy a break.

"Eleanor Oliphant" is one of Reese Witherspoon's book club picks, and apparently she is making it into a movie (Americanized, no doubt -- what a pity!)(I could hear the British/Scottish accents in my head as I read which, for me, was part of the charm). I will be interested to see how they cast it.

Four stars on Goodreads.

This was book #17 that I have read in 2019 to date, bringing me to 71% of my 2019 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books.  I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 8 (!!) books ahead of schedule to meet my goal. :) 

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Odds & ends

  • No #MicroblogMondays post this week... I didn't get anything prepared in advance over the weekend, & yesterday & today were busier than I expected. Maybe next week...? 
  • Yesterday (Monday), I was back in the city at the optometrist. Floaters & flashes are still there, but not as noticeable/intense as they were a few weeks ago.  Unless they suddenly get worse or something else happens that concerns me, I don't have to return for another 6-12 months. Yay! 
    • I did have to call him this morning -- because, much to my dismay, my right pupil was STILL dilated from the drops he put in some 18 hours earlier (!).  He told me not to worry, it would return to normal, eventually. (He thought he might have used a stronger drop than he had previously.) It's not quite back to the same size as the left eye yet (almost, but not quite...), but it HAS returned to a much more normal size, thank goodness.  
  • Last night was my library book club meeting to discuss "Little Fires Everywhere" (which I reviewed here). The discussion was... interesting. Lots of conversation along the lines of "what makes a mother?" and about motherhood and surrogacy and adoption and who the baby at the centre of the custody case should ultimately go to. I didn't get into my own story much, but I did throw out a few comments. 
    • One other woman (older than me) said she didn't have children (I think it was by choice) and voiced the opinion that most people have children for themselves, for selfish reasons/their own benefit (& not necessarily the child's). Let's just say not many people agreed with her, lol.  
  • Lots going on in the childless-not-by-choice world lately! :) To highlight just a few things I've seen & listened to recently: 
    • I'm excited to share a new monthly podcast with you, created specifically by & for the childless-not-by-choice community!  Berenice Smith (Walk in Our Shoes), Sarah Lawrence (After the Storm) and Michael Hughes (Married and Childless) have teamed up to bring us The Full Stop podcast. The first episode is scheduled for release on June 9th, but you can listen right now to a 24-minute introduction. The podcast is too new to be listed on iTunes or other podcast apps yet, but with our support, it will soon be easier to find!  Meanwhile, you can sign up for the podcast newsletter and listen to the intro on the podcast website
    • Another podcast worth listening to (as recommended by Gateway Women's Jody Day):  this episode of M's the Word, featuring Rebecca, who is living without children after loss & infertility. In this case, "M" refers to miscarriage, not motherhood. :)  I hope to find time to listen to other episodes soon! 
    • A couple of years ago, Pamela at Silent Sorority teamed up with documentary filmmaker Irina Vodar to organize a forum in New York City called "The Cycle: Living a Taboo," at which she and other childless-not-by-choice advocates spoke about their experiences. 
      • Luckily for us, their presentations were filmed, and are now being made available on YouTube as a series of short videos called "Infertility Tales."  You can find the available episodes here and subscribe to get notified of new ones as they're released. 
      • Pamela is featured in Episode 2 (The Blogger/Author), and recently wrote here about her experience. 
      • Irina's documentary about ARTs and the taboos surrounding them, "Anything You Lose," premiered at Fertility Fest in London earlier this month.
    • Being in Canada, I was sadly unable to attend Fertility Fest... but through the miracle of technology, I was happy to watch "Fertility Fight Club" via Facebook. :)  Well worth viewing!    
    • (Lots more, but I think that's enough for now...!) 

Sunday, May 26, 2019

"No Happy Endings" by Nora McInerny

After getting my book club obligations out of the way (& -- happily -- they were both good books!), I was glad to get back to "No Happy Endings," the second memoir by Nora McInerny, host of the podcast "Terrible, Thanks for Asking" (which I still haven't listened to... yet!).  It's a sequel/followup to "It's Okay to Laugh," which I read (and loved!) just a few weeks ago & reviewed here.

"It's Okay to Laugh" was about how Nora met & married her husband Aaron and became a mother to their son, Ralph -- then lost her second baby, Aaron and her dad, all within a few weeks' time in 2014, when she was just 31 years old. "No Happy Endings" is about what came next: adjusting to life as a single mom, dating again, meeting and marrying "Sophie's Hot Dad," Matthew, and how they blended their families -- including Nora's subsequent pregnancy after her miscarriage. Those of you who have also experienced subsequent pregnancy will probably relate, a lot, to Nora's feelings of joy, ambivalence, depression and sheer terror, in these chapters. (Chapter 20, "Memorial Day," had me in tears.)(By coincidence, I read it on the American Memorial Day weekend this year.)

I was predisposed to like this book because I enjoyed "It's Okay to Laugh" so much -- and I was not disappointed. It's more of the same mix of humour, hard-earned wisdom and brutal honesty. I adored Chapter 32, "Feminist Agenda." :)  And the final chapter, "Yes, And" reminded me of what Justine Froelker calls
...the complicated grey... the permission to change the but to an and. Giving ourselves permission to feel it all, all at the same time; the anger and acceptance, the  joy and the longing, the fear and the hope. The permission to walk into the muck of the gray between the certainties of life; allowing ourselves to hold both truths, as difficult and uncomfortable as that is, we will awaken to life in color.
Nora embrace of "yes, and" will resonate with all of us who grieve what we've lost, the life we thought we'd have, while simultaneously embracing and celebrating the life we do have now: 
And is where I am now. 
And does not deny the past, or the pain. And makes room for it, in a way that but does not. And allows for the future, too... 
Yes, I have a life I love, and a life I miss.  
Yes, I am filled with happiness and gratitude, and with an eternal ache.  
Yes, Matthew is my husband, and the love of my life. And so is Aaron. 
Five (5) stars on Goodreads.

This was book #16 that I have read in 2019 to date, bringing me to 67% of my 2019 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books.  I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 7 (!!) books ahead of schedule to meet my goal. :)  

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

"The Keeper of Lost Things" by Ruth Hogan

"The Keeper of Lost Things" by Ruth Hogan is this month's book club selection (the very first book club selection, actually!) for the Gateway Women private community I recently became part of. Jody Day will be leading a live chat about the book for community members this coming weekend. (Main criteria for GW book club selections:  no miracle babies! lol)  It's not a book I would likely have picked up otherwise... for one thing, I'd never heard of it or Hogan before this, even though it was well reviewed and was nominated for a Goodreads Choice Award for Best Fiction in 2017.

(I Googled Hogan while writing this review. Would you believe we share the EXACT SAME BIRTHDATE?? -- day, month & year!)

"The Keeper of Lost Things" is a multi-pronged story. There is Laura, a divorced, childless, middle-aged woman who has lost her purpose in life -- until she becomes the assistant of writer Anthony Peardew. Anthony lost his beloved fiancee, Therese, 40 years earlier -- as well as an important keepsake she'd entrusted to him. Since then, as a form of atonement, he's made it his life's work to collect all kinds of lost things, in the hope of eventually reuniting them with their owners. And, in the process of carrying on Anthony's mission to find where the lost things belong, Laura winds up finding herself.

Interwoven with the story of Laura & Anthony, there's also the story of Eunice, assistant to publisher Bomber, and how their relationship unfolds over a period of some 40 years.  And then there's Anthony's stories about the lost things themselves -- which may or may not be true. The book bounces around among these three threads, eventually bringing them all together. (And as if that's not enough, there's a bit of the supernatural thrown in for good measure too...)

This was a warm, rather quirky/whimsical story, with underlying themes of grief and loss, and some lovely writing.  I enjoyed it overall -- but it did meander a bit, and it took a while to start making the connections between the various threads and figuring out what was going on. Best enjoyed with "the lovely cup of tea" (a catchphrase from one of the book's characters :)  ).

Three stars on Goodreads (three & a half, if I could give half stars).

This was book #15 that I have read in 2019 to date, bringing me to 63% of my 2019 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books.  I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 6 (!!) books ahead of schedule to meet my goal. :)  

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Happy retirement, Dr. Ob-gyn

I made my last visit to Dr. Ob-gyn today -- almost exactly 21 years to the day since I first walked into his office in May 1998, when I was about 12 weeks pregnant. He's retiring at the end of June, after a long and stellar career at this hospital (along with his wonderful office manager and his nurse, both of whom have also been there the entire time I've been his patient).

After confirming I was pregnant in March 1998, my former, longtime family dr (who retired about five years ago himself, after being our dr for 29!! years) referred me to Dr. Ob-gyn. "He delivered my three boys -- I can't give you any better recommendation than that,"  he told me, smiling. Dr. Ob-gyn also came highly recommended by my university roommate, who went to him throughout her own pregnancy, a few years earlier. He has top ratings on all those "rate my doctor" websites (and -- I checked! -- is currently ranked #2 of more than 620 gynecologists in the city!).  Calm, patient and kind are just some of the adjectives patients use to describe him (myself included).

Dr. Ob-gyn and his staff were there for me though the ups & downs of my rollercoaster pregnancy (see my "1998 memories" posts). At my followup appointment after the stillbirth of my daughter, he invited me to continue to visit his office for my Pap smears & other gynecological issues (something I knew my family dr was happy to let him do, lol).  After a year had gone by without another pregnancy (and my 39th birthday fast approaching), we called him for help. He shepherded us through a basic infertility workup, and referred me to Dr. RE when he'd done all he felt he could. When one of my Paps showed some suspicious early changes, he reassured me and kept me coming back for checks and colposcopies every few months until the situation finally reversed itself, as he had thought it might.  In recent years, he's reassured me through my wonky perimenopausal symptoms and an obnoxious Aunt Flo who just keeps showing up, even though I am now 58-frickin'-years old.  :p

I suppose some women who have lost a pregnancy (& wound up childless) dread seeing their ob-gyn again. I'll admit that seeing all the happy pregnant couples (& sometimes newborns) in the waiting room isn't always easy, but I've appreciated the continuity of care - and great care, at that. There are so few people who remember my pregnancy, and beyond me & dh, there's probably no one else who was so intimately involved with the details (even if he doesn't remember all of them now -- and who can blame him, 21 years and hundreds or even thousands of patients later).

(The fact that he moved his office to a different building a couple of years after my daughter's stillbirth has helped, I think. His old office had the ubiquitous newborn photos papering the walls, but there are no photos in new digs, aside from a few framed photos in his private office of his kids & grandkids, as well as a set of quintuplets (!!) he delivered in the early 1980s. I think he earned that one...!)

Sometimes we don't know when "the last time" we see certain people is going to be. I'm glad I knew this would be my last visit, and got to say goodbye and to tell Dr. B. & his staff how much I've appreciated their help and how much I'm going to miss them. As I said to him today, I wasn't always there for happy reasons, but I always appreciated the care I received.  I brought a card for them in which I thanked them for their support over the past 21 years, and let them know I've made a donation in their honour to the hospital foundation's programs for women & children.  There were hugs all round. :)

Another chapter of my past, closed....

Monday, May 20, 2019

#MicroblogMondays: We are amused :)

Today is Victoria Day, a statutory holiday unique to Canada that celebrates Queen Victoria's birthday & her role in our country's history. (Her birthday was actually May 24th, but as has become common in recent years, the powers-that-be changed the official holiday to ensure we get a long weekend in May to unofficially kick off summer.) 

Her Majesty, of course, was famous for supposedly saying, "We are not amused." But what's more amusing/fun than a long weekend?? 

I will admit that my life lately has not been particularly exciting... but here are a few things/small pleasures that are amusing me right now:  :) 

  • Watching traditional Victoria Day fireworks in the neighbourhood every night this weekend from the windows/balcony of our condo (and there may be more later tonight). The kid in me still loves a good fireworks display. :)  
  • Older Nephew's dog -- always entertaining. :) Got to spend some time spoiling him and taking him for a walk on Saturday. 
  • After-dinner gelatos with dh, BIL & SIL on Saturday night. 
  • Playing Internet detective & trying to track down some old school friends I've lost touch with via Google. 
  • Following the reviews & social media reaction to the "Game of Thrones" finale -- even though I've never watched a single episode myself. ;)  
  • Endless games of Spider Solitaire on my cellphone. 
  • Watching reruns of "Bob's Burgers."
  • Books. Always books. ;)  And spending time at the local bookstore (it was open today, even though most stores are closed).(New review coming shortly!) 

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

Saturday, May 18, 2019

They went there...

Yep, they went there. :p  As I feared, after 12 seasons, "The Big Bang Theory" ended -- with childfree-by-choice Penny not only pregnant (an "oops" pregnancy after a night out drinking at the Cheesecake Factory) -- but happy about it.

There was absolutely no explanation about her  sudden change of heart. Nothing to show us how Penny got from point A (adamantly childfree) to point B (happily pregnant).  Husband Leonard said something to Sheldon along the lines of  "She didn't want kids, and now she does."  Well, allrighty then... easy peasy...

Perhaps this abrupt shift in character development wouldn't have been quite so eyebrow-raising/infuriating if Penny wasn't the show's SECOND childfree-by-choice female character to wind up pregnant.  Howard's wife Bernadette also didn't want kids (perhaps even more vocally so than Penny) -- and yet wound up having not one but TWO.  And in a week full of bad news out of the U.S. about the extreme limits some states are trying to place on reproductive choice... it just left me very disappointed. (Not that I would expect an abortion discussion in the series finale of what is, after all, a comedy... but...)

I found several articles that agreed with me, or that at least pointed out that this was entirely out of character for Penny.  Said Vanity Fair:
The Penny story is not necessarily a problem on its own; some women do change their minds about wanting children after learning they’ve conceived by accident. The issue is how it all unfolded: viewers find out Penny has been secretly pregnant, and never see her find out the news or contemplate what it means for her. Instead, they see a character who has repeatedly stated her desire not to have children suddenly do an about-face for no discernible reason—cheerful and ready to bear children. Given the recent, alarming wave of punitive abortion restrictions cropping up across the country, including one that passed in Alabama just this week, this might might be the worst possible time to drop a story in which a female character gets accidentally pregnant and does not once contemplate her options... 
The uncharitable read on all this would be that both a female character’s emotional experience and the option of abortion were both rendered invisible to pay off a male character’s fantasy of getting his hot neighbor pregnant with his babies.
From Vulture:’s hard to overstate how much this plot — which was surely intended as a sweet, hopeful end — instead comes off as thoughtless and tin-eared at best, dismissive and condescending at worst. In an otherwise heartwarming finale for these characters, after 12 years spent together on one of TV’s most popular shows, it’s infuriating and unfortunate that The Big Bang Theory would essentially erase a woman’s right to choose from her own narrative.
Of course, many viewers were ecstatic:  I saw lots of comments on Twitter and in news stories along the lines of "FINALLY!" and "It's about time!" Some were disappointed that Amy didn't announce a pregnancy too (oh, brother... she only just won the Nobel prize, but nope, her life is not complete...)(although we learned on a past episode of "Young Sheldon" that he & Amy do have children -- so that would have been a more "in character" pregnancy announcement than Penny's, in my mind).

Said one commenter on the Vulture story: "Until you decided to make it political it never even crossed my mind." (Seriously?) My own husband rolled his eyes at me when I moaned "OF COURSE" at the TV screen, and said he thought it was a sweet way to end the show.

I've loved this show, and there WERE some funny and touching moments in the finale.  It's just disappointing that the ending was so completely, utterly predictable and cliched (happy ending = MUST HAVE BABY!!).  SO MANY TV couples who struggle with infertility wind up with a "miracle" baby (even though we know that real-life "miracles" are not quite so frequent), and those who say they don't want children somehow wind up with them, and becoming cheerful, loving parents.  Just off the top of my head, I can think of Doug & Carrie in "The King of Queens" (in the series finale, they adopt a Chinese baby and immediately, before they even leave China, find out Carrie is pregnant);  "Rules of Engagement" (in the series finale, immediately after the birth of their baby via surrogacy, Audrey tells Jeff she's pregnant), and "How I Met Your Mother," in which the series ends with childfree-by-choice Robin marrying Ted after his wife dies and becoming stepmother to his two kids (= she gets to be a mom after all!). (I'm sure there are others!)

Women's lives are complex. Not all women want to be mothers. Not all women who want to be mothers get to be mothers. A happy ending does not always have to include a pregnancy/baby.
It would be nice, just once in a while, to see a few stories where the infertile couple winds up without children (and a good life regardless), and/or the childfree-by-choice characters remain childfree and happy.

Come on, Hollywood, surprise us!!

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Midweek odds & ends

  • Older Nephew's (Pregnant) Wife's bloodwork came back with no red flags (yay!).  Later the same day, they made things Facebook & Instagram-official and posted ultrasound photos.  She is almost 14 weeks now.
  • BIL has already ordered the furniture for his forthcoming grandchild's nursery. Even dh said (privately, to me) that might be a LITTLE premature (although he's not going to tell BIL that!! & the furniture WILL take a couple of months to arrive). 
  • Speaking of babies, I made some notes for a post that never got written after the recent birth of the world's most famous newborn:  the royal baby, aka Baby Sussex, aka Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor. Mostly it was things being said on TV that raised my ALI hackles. On CBC News Network, one middle-aged female host commented on why Meghan might have wanted to hold off on the first public appearance, saying, "Ladies, you ALL know what I'm talking about!" (Ummm, no, we don't.)  Another female host was heard to say, "Are we REALLY making all this fuss over a baby??  We ALL have babies!"  (Ummm, no, we don't.)
    • The media comment I loved most was a woman expressing admiration that Meghan was daring to wear a WHITE dress, two days after giving birth!  ;)   
    • Side note:  "Archie??!!" (Just writing it, I hear Edith Bunker's voice in my head, lol.)  
  • I am both horribly angry & horribly depressed over the news coming out of the U.S. lately. All I can say is "The Handmaid's Tale" is SUPPOSED to be fiction... 
  • The weather has not been helping my mood. It's gradually getting a bit milder (albeit still not quite capris & sandals territory) -- but it's been mostly grey, grey, GREY.  Even dh admits it's been getting to him...!  It's our long weekend coming up this weekend too -- the traditional kickoff to summer.  We'll see...!  
  • I still love my condo -- but I've been thinking that anyone with a high intolerance for noise might want to think twice before moving into one. There's been the usual construction noise (from the townhouse construction project behind us and the highway widening/rapid transit project in front), the ongoing thump-thump-thumps overhead, the barking dogs in the hallway going to & from the elevators (and then outside as they're being walked/exercised). We also seem to have a new baby/toddler living down the hall (guess how we know THAT!). The night the Raptors won Game 7 & moved on to the next round of the NBA playoffs, I nearly levitated off the couch from the sudden loud shouts emerging from more than one neighbouring unit. ;) We occasionally get woken up late at night (and not just on weekends!) by the sound of people partying on a nearby balcony.  (I overheard every word of a conversation about mortgages one night... it was 3 a.m., and my window was not even open! I'm willing to cut young people some slack on a Friday or Saturday night, but 3 a.m. is way too late for this kind of crap, even on a weekend!)  And the other night, we were awakened at around 12:30 a.m. by the sound of a young woman screaming & crying outside, and looked out the window to see two cop cars parked directly below us. Still don't know what that was all about...!  Funnily enough, most of these things really don't bother me (much), and certainly bother me less than the neighbours' dogs barking at all hours did when we lived in our house. But when you start listing it out like this, you realize everything you put up with...!   
  • Hiding out at the movies on Voldemort Day, dh & I found ourselves counting the number of ads:  SIXTEEN (16), including DURING the coming attractions (but not counting the "please turn off your cellphones" and "please don't kick the seat in front of you" PSAs, or the ads during the "pre-show," which really is just one big long ad itself, isn't it?).  I know I am dating myself here (what else is new, lol), but I remember the days when there were no ads, just the coming attractions. And I remember when they started introducing ads and people used to boo & hiss at the screen. This went on for quite a while too. I suppose we knew even then that resistance was futile :p  but it's sad to see how what began with one or two pre-show commercials has turned into SIXTEEN...!!  

Monday, May 13, 2019

#MicroblogMondays: Voldemort Day* recap

Well, it wasn't great (never is...!) but it wasn't as bad as it's sometimes been either.  ;)  My usual choice of activity is to spend the afternoon hiding out in a dark movie theatre ;)  and thank goodness there was a comedy playing that I thought might be fun, & that's been reasonably well reviewed:  "Long Shot" with Seth Rogen & Charlize Theron. Some of it was kind of raunchy, as Rogen's stuff often is -- but it was actually kind of cute overall, & they did have chemistry. I don't think I've seen Charlize Theron in a comedy before.

But first -- would you believe when we walked into the theatre, they were playing a clip montage as part of the pre-show:  movie scenes featuring (what else??) moms & kids (Shirley Maclaine & Debra Winger in "Terms of Endearment," Meryl Streep & Amanda Seyfried in "Mamma Mia," etc.).  "Happy Mother's Day from Cineplex."  I couldn't believe it. I go to the movies to hide out from this stuff!  :p

Earlier in the week, it was both nephews' wives birthdays (they were born on the exact same day, same year -- what are the odds, right?).  BIL & SIL invited us to come over for dinner (homemade pizza, including a tomato-free option for me!). The kids were there, and we had birthday cake to celebrate. The dog was deliriously happy to see us all. :)  Thankfully, they'd already exchanged Voldemort Day gifts before we arrived.  I wished the girls happy birthdays when we came in, & Oldest Nephew's pregnant wife started to say "Hap--" and then caught herself. :p  Oh well.  It was a good time overall... but I was exhausted by the time we got home. I can do these days/events -- but they (still) do take a toll! 

Hope you all survived too!

*  Voldemort Day = my personal nickname for That Painful Sunday in May (Just Passed) Which Shall Not Be Named  :) 

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

Friday, May 10, 2019

"Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng

When I mentioned in a recent blog post  that my next read would be my library book club's selection, "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng, a few of you commented that it was a good book, but it contained a lot of "tropes" about motherhood and family-building that might be "triggering."

You were right!

"Little Fires Everywhere" is set in the affluent, picture-perfect, planned community of Shaker Heights, Ohio, as personified by lifelong resident Elena Richardson, who believes that life rewards you when you play by the rules and do all the right things. And life has rewarded Elena with a big, lovely home, a good job, a successful lawyer for a husband and four beautiful teenaged children (two boys and two girls).

Enter nomadic artist/free spirit Mia Warren and her teenaged daughter, Pearl.  Over the course of the novel, their lives become intertwined with the Richardsons', with some unexpected consequences for all.

In a number of ways, this book hit just a LITTLE too close to home.  I could relate to the character of Linda McCullough, of course. I will admit to recognizing a bit of myself in Elena (although I hope I'm not QUITE as uptight and controlling!): I always played by the rules, did what was expected of me -- and I was rewarded for it -- until I wasn't. 

Yes, there are some tropes (stereotypes, even) that may be triggering/painful for ALI readers (POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERTS AHEAD):  there's a premature/NICU baby; not just one but two desperate infertile couples, one of whom endures multiple pregnancy losses;  a custody battle between adoptive parents and a birth mother; a surrogacy situation;  teenage pregnancy and abortion.

(Beyond the relatable ALI content:  I calculated that Mia Warren is a year younger than me/same age as my sister. The story is set in 1998 -- which was, of course, the year I was wrestling with my own issues surrounding pregnancy and motherhood.  There's even a tan/gold Volkswagen Rabbit -- model year 1981, if I read the book correctly. FIL had a gold 1981 VW Rabbit that he gave to me & dh when we were married. It was our first car, and we drove it until it was totalled in a car accident in spring 1993.)

As someone who's living a much different life than the one I expected -- and certainly one that's different from most of my family members & friends who are parenting -- I could identify with Mia's final words to Elena/Mrs. Richardson:
"It bothers you, doesn’t it?” Mia said suddenly. “I think you can’t imagine. Why anyone would choose a different life from the one you’ve got. Why anyone might want something other than a big house with a big lawn, a fancy car, a job in an office. Why anyone would choose anything different than what you’d choose.” Now it was her turn to study Mrs. Richardson, as if the key to understanding her were coded into her face. “It terrifies you. That you missed out on something. That you gave up something you didn’t know you wanted.” 
(Personally, I think this lack of imagination -- this inability to understand why others might choose a different kind of life, let alone tolerate those different choices -- is at the heart of so many of the problems our world faces today...)

In the reader's guide at the back of the paperback edition, author Ng is asked, "At the heart of the court case is the difficult question of who "deserves" to be a mother. Why did you want to tackle this subject?"  She responded:
I think a lot about these issues because I’m both a mother and a daughter: what motherhood is, what my relationship to it is, what society expects of women who are mothers, or who aren’t. How we’re “supposed” to go about this whole business of motherhood. I have friends who’ve conceived easily, who’ve struggled to conceive, who’ve adopted or gone through invasive IVF procedures or used surrogates, or who’ve decided not to conceive—and the main constant in all of their experiences seems to be judgment. Motherhood seems to be a no-win battle: however you decide to do (or not do) it, someone’s going to be criticizing you. You went to too great lengths trying to conceive. You didn’t go to great enough lengths. You had the baby too young. You should have kept the baby even though you were young. You shouldn’t have waited so long to try and have a baby. You’re a too involved mother. You’re not involved enough because you let your child play on the playground alone. It never ends. 
It strikes me that while all this judgment goes on, the options available to women become fewer and fewer. I’m not even (just) talking about the right to choose—across the U.S., women have less access to birth control, health care, reproductive education, and post-partum support. So we give women less information about their bodies and reproduction, less control over their bodies, and less support during and after pregnancy—and then we criticize them fiercely for whatever they end up doing. This seems not only unfair to me but a recipe for societal disaster. I don’t have answers here, but I wanted to raise questions about what we expect of mothers and who we think “deserves” to be a mother and who doesn’t—and why we think that question is ours to decide.
Yes, there are tropes and triggers and stereotypes. The constant references to fire and sparks are a running thread throughout the book... an apt metaphor, perhaps, but it does wear a bit thin after a while. And it's not entirely clear to me why Mia makes a certain critical decision that she does, in her younger years. It's a decision that seems to come out of the blue.

Despite these reservations, the story -- how all the different characters' lives intertwine and how their actions have consequences they never could have imagined -- is compelling. All of the characters have hidden dimensions -- even the most unlikeable ones have sympathetic moments, and vice versa -- and the writing is wonderful. I was agog at the descriptions of Mia's gifts to the Richardsons, near the end of book. I would love to see the "real" things!

I devoured this book in under 48 hours. It deserved the rave reviews it has received from both readers and critics. I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads.

I understand there is a limited edition TV series in the works, starring Reese Witherspoon (this was one of her book club picks) and Kerry Washington (as Elena & Mia, respectively).

This is going to be some book club discussion...!!  (I have to admit I'm a bit apprehensive about it...)

This was book #14 that I have read in 2019 to date, bringing me to 58% of my 2019 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books.  I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 6 (!!) books ahead of schedule to meet my goal. :)  

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

"It's Okay to Laugh" by Nora McInerny

I think it was Brooke who first introduced me to Nora McInerny (who also goes by Nora McInerny Purmort on Goodreads) and her podcast, "Terrible, Thanks for Asking." (ETA:  It was! -- in this post here, from early 2017.) 

I don't think it's giving anything away to tell you that, in the space of just a few months in 2014, when she was just 31 years old, McInerny lost her second baby (to miscarriage), her husband, Aaron (to brain cancer), and then her father, Steve (also to cancer). I vaguely remember reading Aaron's hilarious "Spiderman" obituary, which they wrote together as he went into hospice care, and which went viral on the Internet.

Earlier this year, I saw that she had a memoir coming out -- "No Happy Endings" -- and it put it on my bookstore wish list for when it became available in late March -- but then I learned she had also published a previous memoir in 2017:  "It's Okay to Laugh (Crying Is Cool Too)."

So I bought them both (of course!)  :)  and decided to read them in order. (And if it wasn't for the fact that I have a book club selection to get through before May 27th, I would have dived straight into "No Happy Endings" right after finishing this one.)  (McInerny actually has a THIRD book out now too,  although I haven't yet found it at the bookstore -- "The Hot Young Widows Club" -- which is also the name of a support community she created after her husband's death.)  I have yet to listen to TTFA (although it's in my podcast queue) but I am now following both her & TTFA on social media.

You don't have to have lost your husband (or your father -- or your baby, although that's probably where most of us here will find our stories intersect with Nora's) to appreciate this book.  Less publicized, and a surprise to me when I read it here, is that Nora's son Ralph, as well as the baby she miscarried, were the result of fertility treatments -- IUIs, with sperm banked by her husband before he began cancer treatments.  And if the grief & loss themes weren't enough for me to relate to, there's also the fact that she's from Minnesota  ;) the American state that's nearest & dearest to my heart. ;) 

Nora kept a blog during Aaron's illness (called "My Husband's Tumor" -- not available, at least not right now), and I wonder whether some of the chapters in this book were originally blog posts, or at least had their genesis there. The book covers Nora's youth, family, marriage, motherhood and bereavement, although not necessarily in any particular order. The chapters jump back & forth & around in time. This did not detract from my enjoyment of the book, even though I sometimes tend to be a bit OCD about these things. ;) 

And yes, I enjoyed this book -- even though "enjoy" might seem a weird thing to say about a book that's mostly about cancer, grief and bereavement. I did laugh, and I did cry.  My copy is full of yellow sticky notes. The first thing I read that had me fumbling for kleenex was this passage on page 21: 
I can never say it, I can barely even think it, but I know that I am crying because I am afraid that when Aaron is gone, there will still be parts of him I do not know, little things like this that he forgot to share with me. I'd felt that from the moment I met him, before we knew he was sick, but I feel it more urgently now;  like I want to just stick a little USB drive into his arm and download everything about him.
The book's title reminded me of the little speech we used to give to open each meeting of the perinatal bereavement group dh & I ran for 10 years. "It's okay to cry -- that's why there's kleenex o the table," we'd say. "It's okay to laugh too." (And we did laugh, although much of our humour was pretty black & would probably have shocked some of our family members & friends.)  And yes, I laughed as often as I cried while reading this book too.

I loved it. I gave this book four stars on Goodreads, and am considering whether it should actually be changed to 5. :) 

If you've never heard of Nora, I highly recommend her recent TEDTalk about grief as a starting point. :) 

This was book #13 that I have read in 2019 to date, bringing me to 54% of my 2019 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books.  I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 5 (!!) books ahead of schedule to meet my goal. :)  

Monday, May 6, 2019

#MicroblogMondays: Odds & ends, and a blogging milestone

  • Current temp: 22C (72F)!!  I went to the supermarket in my shirtsleeves, and I probably could have worn my capris too. It is clouding over, though, & there is rain in the forecast, on & off, all week.  But... progress!!  :)  
  • New royal baby born this morning to Prince Harry & Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex! I am happy for them -- and sad for all the ALIers out there who will find this news painful. (And I love that they still put an official announcement out on an easel, just inside the gates of Buckingham Palace, lol.)  
  • I found another onesie at GapKids for my little great-niece or nephew-to-be on Saturday... grey, with the slogan "Little Wild Thing" on the front, lol.  :)  
  • I was startled when a fellow bereaved mom flagged an article on Facebook yesterday -- from CBC Saskatchewan -- about International Bereaved Mothers Day. I don't think I've ever seen an article about IBMD on mainstream media before. Maybe, once in a while, an article about how Voldemort Day* isn't easy for everyone. Progress? 
  • If you missed IBMD, Katy at Chasing Creation has launched a campaign encouraging bereaved moms to post photos on social media next Sunday (Voldemort Day) with the hashtag #BlueMothersDay . Details on her blog post here
    • According to this site I found about International Bereaved Mothers Day, its founder, CarlyMarie Dudley, "believed that Mother's Day should include all those who have experienced loss, as well as those who have been unable to conceive. The goal of the day is to change Mother's Day so that it includes those who feel left out of it. Dudley wants International Bereaved Mother's Day to be a temporary holiday, and for the hurting mothers to eventually become a part of Mother's Day."  Interesting! 
  • Dh & I went to see "Avengers: Endgame" on Sunday.  (And if you haven't seen the movie yet -- SPOILER ALERT!!) 
    • Overall, it was a MUCH more satisfying movie than "Infinity Wars," which I saw last year on Voldemort Day (and am STILL fuming about! -- made a crappy day even worse, as I wrote here) -- although not everyone survives this movie either. :(  There's a lot in this movie about grief & loss and trying to deal with it (or not -- some characters do it better than others). There was a lot that resonated. 
    • BUT (and here's the spoiler part -- although I'm not going to name names here) -- why is that the childless, infertile female character (one of the few major female characters throughout the entire Avengers movie series) is the "dispensable" one??  Yes, she nobly sacrifices herself to try to bring back everyone else's loved ones (and, specifically, to save someone who has family to think about). It was her choice. And yes, I probably would have made the same choice if I'd been in the same position. But still. :p  It made me sad. (And mad.)
    • I mentioned this to dh after we got home... he just shook his head and said, "You WOULD notice something like that."  Yes, I would!  ;)  
  • And last but not least -- this is post #1500 that I have published on this blog over the past 11 & 1/2 years!!  Yikes!!  
*  Voldemort Day = my personal nickame for That Painful Sunday in May Which Shall Not Be Named  :) 

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

Sunday, May 5, 2019

International Bereaved Mothers Day

It's all kind of crept up on me. Today -- one week out from Voldemort Day* -- is International Bereaved Mothers Day.  I ALMOST felt brave enough to post something about it on social media this year. For whatever strange reason, I'm finding it easier lately to be a little more open  (among the non-members of this Club Nobody Wants to Belong To) about my daughter & her stillbirth -- although not so much, still, about infertility & being childless not by choice. Let's see... which is "better/worse" in the eyes of my family & friends & the general public? -- being reminded I am childless? -- or being reminded that I actually, really am a mother -- the mother of a stillborn baby?

Anyway. I didn't post anything, because I don't want to rain on our Older Nephew & his pregnant wife's parade. It's her birthday this coming week, as well as her first Voldemort Day as a mother-to-be.  Nephew has already bought her a beautiful necklace for the occasion. BIL has never been anything but kind to me, but he's a nervous/anxious guy (even more so than dh), completely on edge with this pregnancy, and he's said more than once that he doesn't want anyone or anything stressing out these two parents-to-be. I don't want that someone to be me.

And so, I keep my literal and cyber mouth shut  :p (outside of dh's company, this blog and a few private forums). I may post something next Sunday, along the lines of wishing a happy m-day to my own mom, and a peaceful day to everyone who is missing someone special in their lives (which I have done before). That covers both friends who have lost babies, as well as those who have lost their mothers (which seems to be a far more acceptable form of loss to speak about). 

Nephew's Wife had another ultrasound yesterday. She's now 12 weeks along. ("She must have gotten pregnant on Valentine's Day!"  SIL mused. "Really?" -- sez I, whose due date was one day apart from NW's, and whose LMP date for my pregnancy was February 8th.) We didn't see her, but she sent a picture to SIL which we all crowded around the cellphone to admire, and we did see Nephew, briefly.

"It was so cool," he told us, adding that they saw the baby moving around and waving its arms. "She was saying hello to you!" laughed SIL, the proud grandma to be (they don't know the gender yet, but we're all kinda/sorta hoping for a girl, lol).

I kind of winced at that. Just before they plunged the amniocentisis needle into my stomach, they located the baby via ultrasound, and I saw a little arm waving at dh & me, as if to say, "Hi Mom & Dad!" A happy & sad memory all at once. I felt horribly guilty and anxious about the amnio -- we were only doing it because we already suspected, from the blood testing I'd had done, that all was not well -- and as the needle went in, I burst into tears & started sobbing, "Oh baby, I'm so sorry. Mommy's so sorry."

The onslaught of Voldemort Day posts hasn't started yet on my social media feeds (thank goodness!!)... but I've already seen photos from several proms, and of a shopping expedition for a "moving up ceremony dress." Which reminded me that my friends' & relatives' kids in the States should be getting out of school soon -- kicking off a full month of proms, graduations, "last day" photos & moaning from the parents about where time has gone and how big they're getting and what grade next year and so on & so on & so on, until the last "last day" of school and last graduation here in Canada in late June. As I've said before, I don't mind the odd photo -- but they just keep coming & coming & coming, wearing down my spirit, like Niagara Falls on a stone.

Hang in there, everyone...

*  Voldemort Day = my personal nickame for That Painful Sunday in May Which Shall Not Be Named  :)

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Right now

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

Reading:  I read 4 books in April (and reviewed them here on my blog):  

This brings my Goodreads 2019 Reading Challenge YTD total to 12 books -- halfway to my goal of 24, and FIVE books ahead of schedule, which is a very nice surplus to have...!

Earlier this week, I attended my second meeting of the local library's book club, where we discussed "The German Girl" (above). The selection for our May meeting will be "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng. I haven't started it yet. Anyone read it? What did you think?

Current read:  It's Okay to Laugh (Crying Is Cool Too) by Nora McInerny Purmort.

Recent purchases/additions to the TBR pile: 
Watching:  No movies at the theatre in April. :(   Finished watching all six episodes of "Jann" on CTV.  Watching the final few episodes of "The Big Bang Theory," which wraps up later this month (and crossing my fingers that it won't end with a pregnancy -- especially from the avowedly childfree Penny! -- a well-worn scriptwriting cliche that deserves to die!).   

Listening: My most recent podcast find:  a Canada 2020 project called "No Second Chances," about the experiences of women in Canadian politics -- with a particular focus on the 12 (yes, just TWELVE!) women (out of more than 300 men...!) who have served as prime minister or a provincial premier in Canada's 152-year history -- all of them within just the last 30 years. I'm really enjoying it, and I think it would be interesting/instructive for non-Canadians who cares about women in politics, too. (There was an article about the project in the Globe & Mail this past weekend -- "Why has Canada had so few female first ministers?" -- unfortunately, behind a paywall, I think.)  

Following: (albeit not especially closely, lol) The Toronto Raptors in the NBA playoffs -- especially since both the Toronto Maple Leafs & my beloved Winnipeg Jets have been eliminated from the Stanley Cup hockey playoffs. :(  Nice there's still a team we can cheer for right now!  Dh was a big Raptors fan when the team was first established, 20+ years ago, albeit he's lost some interest over the years. We've been to a few games (although not lately), and SIL managed to get us courtside seats from her boss at work for dh's birthday one year. The face value of those tickets was $650 EACH (& that was a good 10 years ago = they would be much more expensive now!). Yikes!

Drinking/Eating: Lindor chocolate mini-Easter eggs. (I stocked up at the outlet store after Easter, when all the Easter stuff was heavily discounted, lol.)  

Wearing:  We're in that in-between time -- sweaters are too warm but short sleeves generally too cold. I've put away my winter hats & gloves, and been able to wear my denim jacket outside a few times, which is nice. I remember that last year, I was able to wear capris & sandals for the first time on May 1 or 2. Not gonna happen this year! -- but hopefully later this month!

Buying (besides books, lol):  Summer clothes -- probably too many of them (erk!) -- especially since it will probably still be a few weeks until I actually get to wear them...! I need to weed out my closet again! 

A new kitchen sink faucet, almost identical to our current one, which has become increasingly difficult to completely turn off.  (It's only four years old, for crying out loud...!)(And I can't believe how much these things cost... this was $139, and it was one of the cheaper models!)  BIL has promised to come install it for us this weekend. 

Wishing:  That I could buy more clothes for our little great-niece or nephew-to-be... but so many of the baby clothes in the stores these days are very specifically gendered. Hard to shop when you don't know yet if it's a boy or a girl!  :(  (When we do find out... look out, wallet!  lol)  

Contemplating:  Setting up an RESP (registered education savings plan) or savings/investment account for this little one (keeping in mind that whatever we do for this baby, we'll be obliged to do for any other great-nieces &/or nephews that come along...!).  

Trying:  Not to think too much about Older Nephew's Wife's upcoming ultrasound this weekend. Please send prayers, positive thoughts & vibes, etc., their way (and ours, lol).  

Anticipating: Several medical appointments coming up this month, including our annual physicals, and my final visit (after 21 years!) with Dr. Ob-gyn, who is retiring in June. :(   Also, a return visit to the optometrist to check on my PVD.  Dental checkup in early June! 

Contemplating: When we should schedule our usual summer visit to Mom & Dad's... my dad will turn 80 in mid-July, so we'll probably go sometime around then = should probably book some flights soon. 

Wanting:  To plan a trip soon for somewhere else other than to visit Mom & Dad. Several potential destinations in mind.  ;) 

Loving:  The milder weather, even if it's been rather gloomy & rainy lately. :p  Progress?! 

Feeling:  Slightly impatient: wanting the roadwork & other construction around us to be finished (not happening until at least the end of this year) and the weather to improve.