Saturday, September 21, 2019

"Up Beaver Creek" by Sue Fagalde Lick

"Up Beaver Creek" by Sue Fagalde Lick is this month's selection at the Gateway Women private community's book club (online discussion coming up next weekend).  Sue is a fellow CNBC-er who blogs at Childless by Marriage (as well as Unleashed in Oregon), and the author of several books.

Those familiar with Sue's blogs will recognize that "Up Beaver Creek" is drawn from her own life experiences. As the book begins, our heroine, Cissy Soares -- recently widowed, 42 years old and childless -- has quit her hospital job in Missoula, Montana, put her belongings in storage, rented out her house, cut her hair, gotten a tattoo, changed her name to P.D., and headed to Oregon with the goal of starting a new life and becoming a singer. She winds up house-sitting near the coastal town of Newport, for a landlord who promptly disappears into the ether, leaving her to deal with quirky neighbours, cranky cats, power outages, intermittent cellphone service, leaky roofs -- and other, more consequential disasters. 

The pace was a bit slow to start, as P.D. gradually settles into her new life, but things pick up midway through, and I found myself zooming through the last few chapters to find out what happened next.  I was initially thinking 3-3.5 stars, but I ultimately gave it 4 stars on Goodreads. :) 

I've vacationed in Cannon Beach on the Oregon Coast (about 2.5 hours north of Newport) several times, and it's one of my favourite vacation spots ever (the ominous tsunami evacuation route signs notwithstanding...!) -- so I had a pretty clear picture of the area Sue was describing. I will admit I was probably predisposed to like this book on that point alone.  ;) 

What I really like & appreciate about this book is its honest depiction of life as a single, widowed, childless woman, rebuilding her life, coping with all kinds of problems by herself, and finding an inner strength she didn't know she had. I am fortunate enough to be married, but Sue's depiction of P.D.'s grief over the loss of her husband and the life she thought she'd have with him was spot on and something I could very much relate to.  Heroines like P.D. are far & few between;  books with characters like her that don't wind up with a wedding (although there are hints of possible romance in the future) &/or a baby are rare indeed. :) 

This was book #32 that I have read in 2019 to date, bringing me to 133% (!) of my 2019 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books.  I have completed my challenge for the year -- currently 8 books beyond my  goal -- and I have surpassed my reading total for 2018 by 5 books.  :)

Haystack Rock, a Cannon Beach (Oregon Coast) landmark.
(Taken from our hotel, just north of  the town of Cannon Beach proper,
in August 2005, the last time I was there (too long ago now...!).)
When the tide is out, you can walk out to the rock and look at the starfish, anemones and other sea life.  

Monday, September 16, 2019

#MicroblogMondays: Odds & ends

  • I saw a comment on Twitter this week referencing "the Caroline Calloway essay" and had NO clue what they were talking about (or who Caroline Calloway was, for starters -- how about you??). After seeing several such posts, I did some Googling and came up with this piece from New York Magazine's The Cut.  I was reminded of when I first started hearing about the Kardashians -- who were these people, and why should I care?  I eventually found out who they were (unfortunately, lol) -- but I still don't care (lol) and I'm really not sure why others do.  
  • A childless friend mentioned she'd recently confided in a co-worker about her sadness over not having children or grandchildren to look forward to. The response? "Yep, nothing compares to your kids and grandkids." !!!  It's hard not having what comes to others so easily, but comments like this -- the total, utter lack of empathy -- makes it so, SO much worse...! 
  • A relative was tagged by one of her other friends in a group photo on social media this past weekend. (Glasses of wine were being raised.)  I don't want to quote the caption in full here, but it was a gushing tribute to "mommy friends" (including a "blessed" hashtag). (I also recently got to listen to another relative rave about the group of mom friends SHE's connected with and travelled to Florida with on a girls trip.)  
    • Part of me was rolling my eyes at the "mommy friends" label. But yes, I'll admit, part of me was jealous. (The post went "unliked" by me.)  What must it be like to have a ready-made source of (at least potential) friendships like that? As a woman without children, I will never know...
  • Did you know this is the third annual World Childless Week? Every year I have great intentions of doing some special blog posts in line with the week's themes... and every year... oh well...! ;)  Thankfully, others have not dropped the ball.  ;)  Go to the WCW website to learn more about all the good stuff that's going on -- including webinars (listening to one right now as I prep this post), blog posts and special WCW meetups (many of them happening in the UK -- you lucky women!).  Jody Day has a blog post summarizing some of the WCW events & activities too.  
    • World Childless Week is also the subject of the latest episode of The Full Stop podcast episode. Tune in to hear hosts Berenice, Sarah & Michael chat with WCW founder Stephanie Phillips and several of the WCW champions.  
  • In the sad and sadly growing category of "The Musical Icons of My Youth are Dropping Like Flies:"  I read last night that Ric Ocasek of the Cars had passed away. The Cars' first album came out in the summer of 1978 (a fabulous year for music), just as I was going into my final (senior) year of high school.  I played it to death, and it remains one of my all-time favourites (and their second, "Candy-O," is pretty fabulous too). Put it on, if you want to put a smile on my face. Sheer perfection. 
  • In the same sad category:  Eddie Money also died this weekend. :(   "Two Tickets to Paradise" (my favourite of his),  "Baby Hold On" and (later) "Take Me Home Tonight" (with Ronnie Spector) were huge hits in my youth. I was lucky enough to see him in his prime. In my memory, it was an all-day concert in the early 1980s -- but I did some Googling, and it turns out it was actually almost exactly 40 years ago -- late August 1979, the weekend before I headed off to university. Canadian rock icon & local hero Burton Cummings was the headliner, along with local band Harlequin (who played at our high school dances) and another Canadian band, Max Webster (with Kim Mitchell, who later had a solo career, and later still DJ-d the afternoon show on our local classic rock radio station). Four great bands/singers, all for $10!! I think I remember it as an all-day concert, because there was no assigned seating, so we drove into the city early and spent several hours lined up outside the venue in order to snag a good spot, once the doors finally opened.  We sat on a blanket on the concrete sidewalk and played cards to pass the time. (No cellphones in those days, kids!)  
You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here

Saturday, September 14, 2019

"American Carnage" by Tim Alberta

While I was able to whiz through Margaret Atwood's "The Testaments" in under 24 hours (review here), it took me a full month & a half to slog my way through "American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump"  by Tim Alberta, the chief political correspondent for Politico magazine.

The book has been well reviewed, both in the media and on reader forums such as Goodreads (current average rating 4.21 stars).  I gave it four stars on Goodreads myself.  I found it interesting -- full of great tidbits and insights -- well written and well sourced, with contributions from (among others) John Boehner, Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Jeff Flake, Mitt Romney and Will Hurd. It's a compelling explanation of how American politics evolved (devolved?) over the past decade or so to its current sorry state.

But... it was LONG -- almost 700 pages (!) -- including more than 600 pages of text, plus acknowledgements, footnotes and index. Plus, it wasn't just 700 pages -- it was 700 pages ABOUT TRUMP. I rest my case, lol. (I was amused to turn to the acknowledgements section at the end and find it began with a "Whew" and an apology for the lengthiness, lol. As a long-winded writer myself, I could relate...!) There were also some typos throughout the book that detracted from my enjoyment of it somewhat. (Do publishers not send books to proofreaders anymore these days??  I am seeing so many more errors than I used to lately...!) Thus, four stars and not five.

The book is pretty much as the subtitle summarizes:  a detailed, critical look at the power struggles within the Republican party in the age of Trump. It begins with the election of Barack Obama in 2008, details the rise of Donald Trump and how the Republican Party establishment gradually bent itself to his will, and ends with the 2018 midterm elections and their fallout into early 2019.  As the book's description on Goodreads puts it:
How did a party obsessed with the national debt vote for trillion-dollar deficits and record-setting spending increases? How did the party of compassionate conservatism become the party of Muslim bans and walls? How did the party of family values elect a thrice-divorced philanderer? And, most important, how long can such a party survive?
It's both amusing and eye-rolling to read quotes from prominent Republicans who denounced Trump, pre-nomination and election in 2015-16 -- only to wind up, post-election, either strangely silent, praising him (*cough* Lindsay Graham), and/or even serving in his White House (e.g., Mike Pence, Reince Priebus, Mick Mulvaney...).

It was somewhat mind-numbing to read through the litany of Trump's/the Republicans' triumphs and disasters over the past several years, however well-chronicled.

And it was chilling to read former Speaker John Boehner's prediction, in the book's epilogue, that it will take another 9/11 -- or something even more catastrophic -- to restore Americans' sense of national unity and purpose.

Let's hope not. But overall, the book's sobering message is clear: it's going to take some time -- perhaps a long time -- for the pendulum of American politics to swing back to a more reasoned, moderate mode.

This was book #31 that I have read in 2019 to date, bringing me to 129% (!) of my 2019 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books.  I have completed my challenge for the year -- currently seven (7) books beyond my  goal -- and I have surpassed my reading total for 2018 by 4 books.  :)

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

"The Testaments" by Margaret Atwood

When I think about it, Margaret Atwood and "The Handmaid's Tale" is one reason why I began this blog, waaaayyyyyy back in late October 2007.  ;)  I'd been lurking for a while on Melissa's Stirrup Queens blog and commenting here & there. I think Mel & I corresponded a bit by email as well, and she encouraged me to think about starting my own blog.  At that time, Mel ran a regular online ALI-themed book club (then known as "The Barren Bitches Book Tour"), and I was dying to participate -- which was one reason why I eventually decided to set up my blog & hit publish on that very first post.  The next book club selection, which we discussed in early December that year, was (you guessed it) "The Handmaid's Tale." (You can read my contribution to that book club discussion -- including the story of my one brief encounter with Atwood herself, some 30+ years ago -- here -- and my other Handmaid's Tale-related posts here.)

And here we are, almost 12 (!) years later, "The Handmaid's Tale" is even more of a phenomenon than it was when it was first published in 1985 (the year I was married), thanks in part to the amazingly well done television adaptation (and NO thanks to The Donald & Friends!!) -- and now there's a long-awaited sequel, "The Testaments," released on Sept. 10th.

I snapped up a copy early that afternoon at the local mega-bookstore, on sale for a reasonable $25. (It came with a limited edition souvenir cloth tote bag -- the cover of the book is on one side, and on the other, the phrase "Under His Eye," lol.)  I decided I was going to finish the book I'd been slowly working my way through, before picking this one up... and maybe even do a re-read of "The Handmaid's Tale" first. Of course, I couldn't resist sneaking a peek... and before I knew it, it was four hours and 200 pages later, lol.  I finished it in less than 24 hours.

By now, you have probably heard a few things about the book. I don't think I'm giving away too terribly much if I tell you the events take place some 15-20 years after the end of "The Handmaid's Tale," and that the story unfolds through the different perspectives of three narrators -- a Gilead Commander's daughter, a teenaged girl from Toronto (fun to read the local references to Queen Street and Parkdale, etc.), and.... Aunt Lydia -- the one and the same character from the earlier book.

(Apparently Ann Dowd, who plays Aunt Lydia so wonderfully on the TV version of "The Handmaid's Tale," is one of the narrators of the audio version of "The Testaments" ...I have not yet gotten into audiobooks, but this might be a good one to start with, lol.) 

I'm giving this one a solid 4 stars on Goodreads. I might have rated it slightly higher -- but it's hard to top the original.  It's a very good book, but I don't think it quite matches the original's greatness.  The plot that plays out in the last 100 pages or so is a wee bit on the improbable side (I kept thinking Margaret's been watching the TV version too much, lol).  The tone is lighter and far more hopeful than the original -- not quite so grim -- which, of course, is not a bad thing!

Overall, I enjoyed the book hugely, and I will admit to wiping my eyes at the end. If you wind up reading it, I would love to hear what you thought of it! 

This is book #30 that I have read in 2019 to date, bringing me to 125% (!) of my 2019 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books.  I have completed my challenge for the year -- currently six (6) books beyond my  goal -- and I have surpassed my reading total for 2018 by 3 books.  :)

Monday, September 9, 2019

#MicroblogMondays: I survived!

Pregnant Niece-in-Law's baby shower was yesterday -- almost exactly 21 years after mine was supposed to be held. I was surprised that I didn't feel more angst about it than I did.  I had the odd ouch/eyeroll moment (if I hear one more woman talking about how grandchildren are just THE BEST!! I might throw something...!) but I survived, quite nicely. I think I was partly too busy helping out, partly too tired by the end of it all (lol), partly just happy for Older Nephew and his wife, and partly just plain thrilled at the prospect of a new baby in the family to spoil. I will never be a mother, let alone a grandmother -- but I've been lucky enough to watch two wonderful nephews grow up -- and the idea that I get to do it all over again with a new generation (and hopefully do it even better this time around) makes me very, very happy. :)

The weather was a bit chilly, and there was a bit of rain before the guests arrived (lunch & games were supposed to be on the patio/terrace) but the sun eventually peeked out a bit & all was well. There was tons of great food to eat (appetizers, lunch & goodies with coffee), some fun people to visit with and not too many dumb games to endure. ;)  Overall, it was a lovely afternoon.

Nevertheless -- at the end of the day, after everyone else had left, the one future grandmother turned to the other and said, "For the baptism -- I say we go to a restaurant!"  lol

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

(Some of) The Haul from yesterday's baby shower.  Note the stacks of diapers!
Everyone who brought a package of diapers
(& most people did, along with an actual gift from the registry)
had their names entered in a draw to win a beautiful gift basket.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

First day of school

Yesterday was the first day of school hereabouts. (Likely the first day of Katie's fourth/last year of university.  Undergrad, anyway.  ;) )  Photo after photo after photo of adorable kids, dressed to the nines (and when did those chalkboard signs get to be a thing??);  comment after comment exclaiming how much they'd grown, etc. Some parents relieved to have the kids FINALLY out of the house after an entire summer, some moaning that they did NOT want the summer to end, did NOT want to send their kids back to school, they LIKED having their kids with them ALL THE TIME.

I "liked" them all (well, most of them ;) ) but as the day went on I was feeling more & more fatigued by the onslaught.

One of my CNBC friends posted a funny photo of an exhausted-looking guy and the caption "8736th day of work" (lol). Which gave me an idea. ;)

I took my e-reader (book:  "American Carnage" by Tim Alberta) and afternoon cup of tea out onto the balcony, did a bit of "days since" calculating via Google, and came up with this photo and caption, which I posted on Facebook & Instagram:

First day of school for some... day 1,869 of retirement for me. 😁😉😂
Enjoying the mild (albeit overcast) weather on the balcony while it lasts... 
I got a lot of "likes."  No comments. ;)  I imagine a few people reading my post probably thought to themselves, "Must be nice!"  Just as I, looking at the photos of their lovely children, thought about what it must be like to have such a beautiful family, to be able to watch their kids grow up and take photos of them...

Someday, they too will be retired and sitting on their balcony/patio/deck... their children may have grown up and left home -- but most of them will be back to visit at least once in a while, and maybe even bring grandchildren with them.

That's something I will never have.

For now, let's just call it a draw & both be thankful for what we do have, shall we?

Monday, September 2, 2019

#MicroblogMondays: Labour Day musings

  • It used to be that a statutory holiday like Labour Day was truly a holiday, i.e., just about everything would be closed.  For dh & me, though, today has been a normal Monday, more or less:  the bank was not open (although cash was readily accessible from the ABM) and traffic was somewhat lighter than usual -- but the supermarket & bookstore/Starbucks were both open. Both were busy, and the supermarket in particular was a mob scene, with families stocking up on supplies for school lunches, etc. 
    • August/September hereabouts is also "tomato time."  This is a predominantly Italian community, and the parking lot garden centres, which were full of flowers & seedling vegetable plants in the springtime, have given way to racks of bushel baskets full of ripe red Roma tomatos, which people buy for processing & canning homemade tomato sauce. When dh was growing up, the tomatos would be ground up via handcranked machine (which the kids took turns cranking). These days you can buy electric-powered machines that do the job in half the time, pulverizing the tomatos and separating the seeds & skins from the pulp and juice. Personally, dh & I have never "done" the tomatos in the 30+ years we've been married (although I am sure we would have, had his mother still been alive) -- and of course, I'm allergic anyway.  :(  Many of his cousins look on it as drudgery but many nevertheless continue the tradition.   
  • Two of dh's cousins took their kids to university over the weekend & got them settled into their dorms (as we saw via "empty nest" posts on Facebook & Instagram). 
  • This brought back memories of my own (much less emotionally fraught, as I recall) drop off at residence & first days at university, 40 (!!!)  years ago this week (as I posted yesterday). I pulled out my photo albums (not yet digitized) & smiled at the snapshots of my floormates and some of the hijinks we got up to during that first year. Not very many photos of ME (1/ we didn't take as many photos then as we do now -- film & processing were expensive, especially when you're a poor student...!  and 2/ selfies not being a thing back then, lol) -- but I did have the good sense to take photos of my dorm room, both when it was newly set up (with posters of Peter Frampton and the Muppets' Dr. Teeth & the Electric Mayhem on the wall, lol) and then again just before I dismantled it and headed home for the summer. 
  • Bracing myself for the fresh onslaught of back to school photos tomorrow...! 
  • Wondering whether I need to swap my white purse for something more fall-appropriate yet (brown or black). Does the "no white after Labour Day" rule still apply these days?? 
  • Wondering how much longer I can get away with wearing capris & sandals... temperatures are already starting to feel cooler... :(  
  • Trying to accept that, for all intents & purposes, summer is over (even if there are still a few weeks of it left officially on the calendar). :(    

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

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Right now

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

Reading:  After zooming through 6 (!) books in July, I read a grand total of ONE book in August (reviewed on this blog): 

My Goodreads 2019 Reading Challenge YTD total now stands at 29 books -- 5 more than my goal of 24 (121%).  :)

Current reads:  

(Some) recent purchases/additions to the TBR pile: 
Watching: Dh, BIL & SIL & I went to see "Blinded by the Light" a few weeks ago -- about a teenaged Pakistani boy in Margaret Thatcher's Britain of the 1980s, who improbably becomes a Bruce Springsteen superfan (based on a true story). It was corny but really cute, and of course there was all that glorious music. :)  Watching it, I was reminded of the early days of our relationship, with dh playing his Springsteen albums (on cassettes, even!) for me in his dorm room and singing along with them to me. :)  We all left with smiles on our faces. 

I also watched the last few episodes of season 3 of "The Handmaid's Tale." The finale was quite satisfying in most respects, the last 20 minutes or so had me sniffling, and I will look forward to season 4, whenever it arrives. (Although seriously, how many times can June ALMOST get out of Gilead??)  (Looking forward to: getting & reading "The Testaments," Margaret Atwood's sequel to The Handmaid's Tale, which continues the saga of Gilead, albeit not Offred's story. Expected publication date: Sept. 10th.) 

Wondering (on a related note...):  (a) Whether I have time to read Donna Tartt's "The Goldfinch" before the movie version comes out on Sept. 13th... (b) Whether I really WANT to read the book... (c) Whether I really want to see the movie either??  Have you read the book? Thoughts?  (I read "The Secret History" by the same author years ago, & was quite impressed with that one.) 

Listening:  I HAVEN'T listened to any podcasts recently, and I have a big backlog to catch up on!!  including new episodes of "The Full Stop" and "Live Childfree with Erik & Melissa."  

Following:  Dr. Jen Gunter, author of "The Vagina Bible" (see above), on social media.  She is an awesome common-sense advocate for women, their health & their reproductive rights, a loss/preemie mom -- AND she's from my home province and the med school of my alma mater. :) She's also frequently hilarious. :)  I am hoping to check out some episodes of her new online show soon.  It streams on CBC's Gem service, and it's called "Jensplaining." (Unfortunately, it may not be available to viewers outside of Canada.)(Now you know how WE feel re: all the stuff online that we can't view here!)    

Drinking/Eating:  Obviously too much, judging from the numbers on the scale lately.... :p  (Actually, I think my issue is probably lack of exercise, more than what I've been eating...)  

Buying (besides books, lol):  I bought my plane ticket back to Manitoba in October to visit my parents for (Canadian)Thanksgiving & attend an Elton John farewell tour concert with my sister. (I also get to be there for one of the Little Princesses' birthdays.) Feels funny to be planning a solo trip -- the last time I travelled by myself was five (!) years ago now, to Minneapolis to attend my uncle & aunt's 50th wedding anniversary (I met up with my parents & sister there).  But my plane ticket plus the cost of the concert ticket were pretty expensive... plus I think dh is still recovering from the 17 days we just spent there in July, lol. I did used to spend time there on my own when we were first married and getting established in our jobs, and he didn't have as much vacation time as I did. And I travelled solo to attend the funerals for both my maternal grandparents, 21 & 20 years ago, respectively (both also in October). It's just been a while...! 

Wearing:  I've had to start bringing a cardigan or jacket with me when we're out in the evening... a touch of coolness in the air that tells me summer is (almost) over... 

Planning: What to wear for Older Nephew's Wife's baby shower (next weekend).  Probably a blue floral print sundress that I bought on sale at the Gap earlier this summer and haven't yet had a chance to wear anywhere. Weather permitting, the shower will be held outside on the beautiful patio where we celebrated the couple's engagement, five years ago.  (Also thinking about what goodies I can bake to bring along for the sweet table!)  

We already bought them a rather pricey rocking chair for the nursery -- but I didn't want to go empty handed (goodies aside), so I bought them a baby/memory book... and a copy of "Go the F*ck to Sleep,"  lol.  I think it will appeal to both Older Nephew & his wife's senses of humour.  ;)  (And if you haven't heard it as read by Samuel L. Jackson on YouTube, you're in for a treat!!  lol) 

Trying:  Not to let all the back-to-school & empty nest posts on social media get to me. (MUCH more to come over the next week or so, though...! -- most schools here start on Tuesday, after the Labour Day long weekend.)  

Remembering: It was 40 (!!) years ago this weekend that I moved into my dorm & headed off to university. It was a little scary, yes, but exciting, too, and my memories of it all are still very clear. I still think of those four years as the best time of my life. :)  I am so glad that I am back in touch with my university roommate. (I'm also in touch with her ex-husband, whom I also met that week -- I introduced them! -- and two of our dorm neighbours.)  

Wanting: I know I've said this before but it's really what I'd like:  a decent night's sleep!  lol  I really can't think of much that I seriously want that I either don't have or can't easily get. I suppose that makes me pretty lucky. :)  

Feeling: A bit creaky, especially in my left knee. :p  But overall pretty happy at the moment.

Loving:  The slightly cooler temperatures and the drop in humidity. We've been able to have the balcony door open almost all day, every day lately.  My idea of summer perfection!  (But also, sadly, a signal that summer is almost over...!)