Thursday, December 31, 2020

2020 Blogging Year in Review

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

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2020 has been my BEST blogging year ever, in terms of numbers of posts!
-- 196 (197, including this one)!  -- just under 200 posts!!  :) That's an average of about 16 posts per month -- or a post every 1-2 days.  My least-chatty month was February, when I posted 9 times;  my most verbose was August, with 21 posts. Not bad, after 13 years of blogging!  (By comparison, my next-most prolific blogging year was 12 years ago in 2008 -- my first full year of blogging -- when I logged 172 posts.) 

In addition to posts about or related to childless/free issues or other adoption/loss/infertility issues, I tried to do a "Right now" or "The Current" post at the beginning of each month, and participated in 48 #MicroblogMondaysI reviewed all 43 books that I read in 2020, and wrote about news items (usually ALI-related) that piqued my interest. I also wrote a lot about other things going on in my life, including aging, (peri)menopause, retirement and condo living. 

And, needless to say, the global COVID-19 pandemic provided PLENTY of fodder for blogging this year!! In fact, I daresay that COVID-19 made the difference for me, in terms of posting! (one good thing to come out of this crazy year?!). 

Here are a few of my favourite/noteworthy posts from 2020, in more or less chronological order (from oldest/earliest in 2020 to most recent):

2020 Reading Year in Review

Most of this information in this post comes directly from my "2020 Year in  Review" post.  Since I was doing an overall 2020 review post, and a blogging year in review post (coming up!)... and since keeping track of my books is a big thing I do on my blog, I thought that deserved its own post too, lol.  :) 

  • I increased my Goodreads Reading Challenge goal from 24 books in 2019 to 30 books this year, and reached it by mid-August. I will finish out the year with 43 books to my credit, 143% of my goal. (All books read were reviewed on this blog under the tag "2020 books"). Not quite as good as the 50 books I read in 2019 -- and my 2020 total includes re-reads too! -- but not bad either! 
    • Once again this year, non-fiction choices outnumbered fiction (but just barely -- 22 to 21). 
    • My library book club held its last meeting in late February -- just before the pandemic hit -- but online, the Gateway Women book club, D.E. Stevenson fan group and L.M. Montgomery Readathon on Facebook have helped boost my 2020 reading totals and provided me with a lot of reading/discussion pleasure during a very difficult year.  
      • I read 1 book for the library book club, 5 for GW, 6 for DES (3 different books, including 2 re-reads) and 5 for the L.M. Montgomery Readathon (e different books, including 2 re-reads).
    • (As I mentioned above,) I began counting re-reads in my challenge total, which also helped to boost my reading totals. 
    • Since I reached 30 books fairly easily this year (by mid-August), I've decided to increase my Goodreads Reading Challenge goal modestly to 36 books ( = 3 books per month on average) for 2021. 
      • This year, I reached 36 books by late October. I also reached the 36-book mark in October 2019, my best reading year since I started keeping track (50 books total).  So we'll see how I do in 2021...! 
  • It's always very hard for me to pick a single book as "the best," and I gave lots of books four and five-star reviews on Goodreads! (Four stars was my average Goodreads rating this year.) I must admit, though, that there was one clear standout for me this year -- and that was "The Dutch House by Ann Patchett. It was one of the first books I read in 2020, and it remained at the top of my "best" list all year long!  I have recommended it to many people! 

2020 Year in Review

Time for another Year in Review post for 2020! 

This is the 11th (!) year that I've done this year-end meme (first one published in December 2010) -- and, although many of the answers don't change much from year to year (and I can't always think of answers, lol), it's still a great way to look back and keep track. (And I suspect that some of my answers THIS year will be at least somewhat different from previous/non-pandemic years...! -- yikes!! what a year...!!) 
Feel free to use the questions on your own blog (& let me know if you do!).

All of my New Year's/Year in Review posts are tagged with the label "Year in Review."  

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

I don't really make new year's resolutions anymore -- they tend to be pretty much the same ones, year after year (although I have modified some over time, and even deleted ones that no longer apply). Here are the perennials, and the progress I made (or didn't) in 2020:   

  • Lose weight. I recently read somewhere that most people put on at least a few pounds during this pandemic/stay-at-home year. I steeled myself and stepped on the scale just before Christmas. (Needless to say, I'm not doing THAT again until well after Christmas!!  lol)  I was down 1.2 pounds from the last time I weighed myself, in early November -- but still up 0.2 pounds over what I weighed on January 1st, 2020. That's not a HUGE net gain over almost 12 months, so I suppose I can take some comfort in that.  (And after all, I've spent most of the past year in couch potato & comfort food mode!)  But I'm still reluctant to pat myself on the back. I'm hovering just below my heaviest-ever weight (the early November weigh-in).  I would need to lose a good 40-50 pounds to get back within my old Weight Watchers goal range. I'm now almost 60 pounds heavier than the original goal I had -- and reached -- when I was 30. I know it's not realistic, at almost 60, to expect to weigh the same as I did when I was 30 -- but I know where I am is not a healthy weight for me to be at either. So -- a fail on this one. Sigh... 
  • Exercise more. (And hopefully lose more weight...!)  Massive fail on this one. :(  We did try to start a regular walking routine earlier in the spring/summer, and we did pretty well -- for about a month or so -- exploring the looping streets of the subdivision behind our condo building and building our time from an initial 15 minutes on each outing to 30-40. Then the weather started heating up. When it's 9 a.m. and the temperature (not even including the humidex) is already at almost 30C, you just want to stay inside and hide in air-conditioned comfort...!  And once we got out of the habit, we didn't get back into it, even when the cooler weather returned. I've been saying I'd like to find a yoga class since we moved here, and of course that definitely went out the window this year. I've heard good things about online yoga classes (a lot of people have recommended Yoga With Adriene to me), but haven't tried those yet either.  
  • Write more in my journal &/or blog. I haven't written in my paper journal in years. I've been far more successful with blogging: I recently marked my 13th (!!) year in this space.  AND -- I wrote more in my blog this year than any year since I first started blogging! (A "Blogging year in review" post will be coming up shortly.) This blog does not entirely take the place of a journal, but it's the closest thing I have to one at the moment. 
  • Read more of the books that have piled up around the house. I increased my Goodreads Reading Challenge goal this year from 24 to 30 books, and reached it by mid-August. I will finish out the year with 43 books to my credit, 143% of my goal. (All books read were reviewed on this blog under the tag "2020 books"). Not quite as good as the 50 books I read in 2019 -- and I started counting re-reads this year too! -- but not bad either! 
    • Once again this year, non-fiction choices outnumbered fiction (but just barely -- 22 to 21). 
    • My  library book club held its last meeting in late February -- just before the pandemic hit -- but online, the Gateway Women book club, D.E. Stevenson fan group and L.M. Montgomery Readathon on Facebook have helped boost my 2020 reading totals and provided me with a lot of reading/discussion pleasure during a very difficult year.  
      • I read 1 book for the library book club, 5 for GW, 6 for DES (including 2 re-reads) and 5 for the L.M. Montgomery Readathon (including 2 re-reads).
    • (As I mentioned above,) I began counting re-reads in my challenge total, which also helped to boost my reading totals. 
    • Since I reached 30 books fairly easily this year (by mid-August), I've decided to increase my Goodreads Reading Challenge goal modestly to 36 books ( = 3 books per month on average) for 2021. (This year, I reached 36 books by late October... I also reached the 36-book mark in October 2019, my best reading year since I started keeping track -- I went on to complete 2019 with 50 books read.  So we'll see how I do in 2021...!) 
  • Keep the clutter at bay.  (Goal slightly reworded from previous years.) As I've said before -- having downsized in 2016 from a 1,200 square foot, three-bedroom house (not including basement, garage & garden shed) to an 875-square-foot condo (plus one not-very-big storage locker), there's a LOT less clutter than there used to be -- and a lot less space for it to accumulate. I've tried to establish good habits & a place for everything right from the start, & so far, I think I've been pretty successful at doing that. Whenever the piles of books start to overwhelm my existing shelves, and/or I run out of spare hangers in the closet, I know it's time to do some weeding again, and make another trip to the thrift store...!  
  • Return to scrapbooking & complete unfinished projects. (Goal reworded from previous years.)  Sadly, I have not done any scrapbooking in 10 years. And I donated the bulk of my scrapbooking supplies, including most of my substantial collection of pretty patterned paper, to the thrift store before we moved (sob!). I did keep all my unfinished projects, tools & a few other things, though. (They are sitting in a couple of plastic bins down in the storage locker.) So who knows, I may pick it up again at some point in the future & complete some of those unfinished albums...  
    • Perhaps a more realistic/pressing related goal would be to work on scanning more of my pre-digital photos. I didn't get a digital camera until 2004, but all my photos dating back to 1991 have been digitized. I've had my own camera since Christmas 1976. There used to be a photo shop chain (whose operations have now moved entirely online) near my office where I could get 400 prints or 35 mm negatives scanned for $99, and I would take them in whenever I had an extra $100.  I have a scanner here at home and do the odd one-off photo myself, but this would be a much greater undertaking...! 
2. What did you do in 2020 that you’d never done before?

Lived through a global pandemic!  Stayed inside the condo for weeks on end!!  Wore a mask!  Had a COVID test!  Had surgery (albeit minor -- hysteroscopy/d&c)!!  Didn't make it home for Christmas! :(  Went an entire year without seeing my parents &/or sister! :(  

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

No. But our little Great-Nephew, born November 2019, was the best thing about 2020, by FAR!!  

4. Did anyone close to you die?

SIL's father died in April. His death was not COVID-19-related, but because of the restrictions in place, the funeral/interment was held in the presence of immediate family only, and dh & I were not able to attend to support them, as we normally would have. :(   

My mother lost several of her cousins, and a close neighbour of my grandmother's that I've known since childhood also died. (None of these deaths was COVID-related either.)  While not close-close, these people were a big part of my childhood memories. I will miss them all. 

5. What places* did you visit?

(* wording changed slightly from previous years;  the question used to read "countries." I noticed that Kathy of Bereaved & Blessed used "places" in answering her version of a similar questionnaire in 2019, and decided to use her wording after that. Makes me feel less travel-deprived!)

Needless to say, any travel-related plans we might have had for 2020, even just for weekend getaways in-province, were completely nipped in the bud by COVID-19.  :(   The furthest we travelled this year was back to our old community a couple of times for a few hours, for haircuts (once the salons reopened!) and to the cemetery to visit Katie's niche -- about 50-60 km, one way (approximately 30-40 miles). Pre-COVID, I went downtown by subway to one of the hospitals in the city centre for a mammogram (about 30 km/20 miles), and then shopping for a while afterwards at the Eaton Centre. 

Many of my Canadian friends have been reluctant (or downright refused) to cross the border as long as Donald Trump was President. I could never say never -- particularly since my mother is American, and I have lots of family & friends Stateside -- but I'm so happy that, after January 20th (and once COVID-19 has been vanquished, and the border finally reopens!), I can once again head south with a clear conscience in that respect!

6. What would you like to have in 2021 that you lacked in 2020?

More time with family -- mine & dh's. More time with Little Great-Nephew (before he gets TOO much bigger...!). A trip home (or two, or three) to see my aging parents, especially for Christmas.  (A trip anywhere!! lol)  Leisurely visits with friends over lunch or coffee. Meals out with dh in nice restaurants.  
A return to the malls. Hugs. Generally, some return to normalcy.  But that will have to wait until we finally get this pandemic under control...

7. What date(s) from 2020 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

March 12th:  What I call "The Last Normal Day" -- the day after the World Health Organization declared the pandemic. It was the last day we went out for lunch, for groceries & to the bookstore/Starbucks, as we often did -- albeit very much conscious of the gathering storm clouds on the horizon. (The toilet paper aisle at the supermarket was already completely bare!)  

April 4th:  One year from day one of my last menstrual period -- i.e., official menopause!! (at age 59, no less!!). 

July 22nd:  My parents' 60th wedding anniversary. (Sadly, I was unable to be there to celebrate with them.) 

November 3rd & 7th:  U.S. Election Day and the day the election was actually (finally!) called.  

November 17th:  Little Great-Nephew's 1st birthday. :) 

November 27th:  My hysteroscopy and d&c, to check out my fibroids (diagnosed earlier in the fall via ultrasound, after several weeks of on & off post-menopausal spotting). 

December 24th/25th:  A very different Christmas this year! 

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Maintaining my sanity??  Not gaining more weight than I did?? 

9. What was your biggest failure?

Not getting out of the house for more walks!! (one of the few things we could easily leave the condo to do...!) 

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

No real illness or injury.  So far, we have dodged the COVID-19 bug, and we are VERY grateful for that! So far, the closest family member who's had it (that we know of) is the husband of one of dh's cousins. I have friends in the States who have multiple friends & family members who have been ill and/or died from COVID-19 -- and/or who have had it themselves -- so I feel very lucky in that respect. 

In April, I marked a full year since my last menstrual period -- i.e., menopause!  But after experiencing some post-menopausal spotting this fall, I was diagnosed with fibroids via ultrasound, which led to a hysteroscopy and d&c on Nov. 27th. The doctor removed a polyp and some tissue for analysis, and did a Pap while he was at it too. Happily, the results were all benign/negative/clear. 

11. What was the best thing you bought?

Beyond books (both paper and e-versions), and the occasional piece of jewelry from my favourite sterling silver jewelry crafter, I didn't buy an awful lot of stuff this year, for obvious reasons (i.e., we weren't going into stores, either because they were closed or because we were avoiding the malls).  

I ordered some masks from Old Navy -- a batch in July and some fun/festive Christmas season ones on Cyber Monday in November, all of which have been put to good use. Also some cloth headbands from Old Navy, which came in VERY handy when my hair got unbearably long & shaggy while the hair salons were closed!  

12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?

The first answer that came to mind was all the frontline healthcare workers who have been putting their lives at risk to try to save others. 

Anyone who stood up to Donald Trump -- whether it was related to the impeachment in early 2020, his ridiculous attempts to challenge the results of the election, or his (non) handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Anyone who stood up for democracy, decency and rational thinking in American (and Canadian) politics. 

John Lewis. Ruth Bader Ginsburg. John Turner (briefly a former Canadian prime minister, who passed away this year). Lives well lived, and examples for the rest of us.   

(Re: John Turner -- I don't think I ever mentioned him on this blog, but in his post-political life, he worked for a law firm in the office tower where I worked. Once known as one of the most powerful, handsome and charismatic men in Canadian politics, he was now in his 80s, stooped and shuffling slowly through the concourse using a cane. Occasionally I'd see him eating lunch -- sometimes with a companion, but sometimes by himself -- at the building's Italian restaurant. None of the younger kids I worked with had a clue who he was. Dh, however (who worked in the same office tower that I did), once found himself waiting for an elevator with him. The elevator arrived and Turner gestured to dh to get on... dh said, "Oh no, after you, Mr. Prime Minister."  He said Turner looked obviously pleased to be remembered, lol.)  

13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed? 

Well, that's obvious. In the U.S., Donald Trump & his MAGA cronies/cult members, who first voted not to impeach him (despite the clear evidence against him) -- and who then,
after four awful years -- and 330,000+ Americans dead, largely because of this man's complete & utter incompetence and sheer negligence -- said, "Sure! I'll take four more years of that!"  (WTAF??)  (But shall I tell you how I REALLY feel??  lol)   

The people (on both sides of the border -- and around the world) who continue to ignore the science and refuse to wear masks or follow other rules and recommendations, thereby dragging this pandemic out far longer than necessary, and resulting in far more cases and deaths. 

14. Where did most of your money go?

(See #11!)  There was nowhere to go to spend a lot of money for most of the year. Beyond the usual bills, we have probably spent more money on groceries and personal care items.  Dh has been doing most of the grocery shopping, and he is not the bargain hunter I am. ;)  With bookstores closed for several months (and shelf space in our condo at a premium), I also spent a lot more money on e-books for my Kobo, albeit I purchased most of them at a deep discount, watching for bargains. We also still managed to buy things -- mostly cute outfits and books -- for our great-nephew, as well as fatten his piggy bank. ;)  

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

The Biden/Harris victory in the U.S. election. They're not perfect, of course, and there will be challenges ahead. (The inauguration is still a few weeks away.)  But I am already sleeping better!! 

16. What song will always remind you of 2020?

I'm not sure. I Googled "top songs of 2020" and I did not know a single one, nor did I know all of the artists (although I HAVE heard of some of them) -- which shows you how current my listening is, lol.  

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

Sadder/more anxious (given the state of the world at the moment, & our lack of contact with our families), slightly fatter, and probably a draw on the financial front. On the one hand, our investments took quite a hit when the stock markets tumbled earlier in the year. :(   O
n the other hand, we haven't had as many places to spend our money! 

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

Walking. There was just no excuse for it, although the summer heat & humidity was discouraging. Reading more books than I did (although I didn't do too badly, in terms of meeting & exceeding my Goodreads challenge goal). But hey, there's always next year... 

More Skyping with my parents. 

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

Sitting around the house. :p  There weren't many places to go, obviously, but we could have pushed the walking program more than we did. :p  

20. How did you spend Christmas? 

Very differently this year!  For the first time in my life, because of the pandemic, I was unable to head west to be with my parents & sister. :(  And also because of the pandemic, we weren't able to spend any real time with dh's family here, or to do or buy some of the things that would have made a Christmas here more fun and memorable. 

Still, within the parameters of what was possible, we managed to have a reasonably good celebration with just the two of us. We took presents over to BIL's on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, Zoomed with relatives in the evening, stuffed stockings for each other, had brunch on Christmas morning and turkey breast roast in the evening, and some hotly contested games of Yahtzee in between. ;)   

21. Did you fall in love in 2020?

At first glance, I thought this question said, "Did you fall in love WITH 2020?"  BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA...!!!!!!!!! 

22. What was your favorite TV program?

I don't have as many regular TV shows that I watch as I once did. I love watching "Bob's Burgers" (both current episodes and reruns), and dh & I hugely enjoyed watching the entire series of "Downton Abbey" on CBC TV this fall. We still enjoy "Mom," albeit not quite as much now that Anna Faris has left the show.  I enjoyed season 1 of "World on Fire," and loved "Mrs. America."  And I was blown away by "Normal People," the amazing British adaptation of Sally Rooney's novel, which I watched on CBC Gem on my laptop and raved about here on my blog. :)   

In terms of Canadian content ;)  we enjoyed the second season of "Jann" with Jann Arden, as well as a new season of "Battle of the Blades" this fall (one of the few reality/competition shows I will watch!). 

I haven't yet watched season 3 or 4 of "The Crown" on Netflix, but look forward to tackling that again soon. 

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

Hate is a strong word, and I don't like using it.  Suffice to say, though, that I am definitely NOT a fan of the outgoing President of the United States and his cronies! :p  (See #13.) 

24. What was the best book you read? 

(See #1)  It's always very hard for me to pick a single book as "the best," and I gave lots of books four and five-star reviews on Goodreads!  Four stars was my average Goodreads rating this year. 

I must admit, though, that this year there was one clear standout for me this year -- and that was "The Dutch House by Ann Patchett. It was one of the first books I read in 2020, and it remained at the top of my "best" list all year long!  I have recommended it to many people! 

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?

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

26. What did you want and get?

Lots of great books to read, both paper & e-books.  And lots of time for reading -- even if I found it hard to focus sometimes...! 

27. What did you want and not get?

A trip home to see my family, especially for Christmas. :(  More time with our great-nephew.  

28. What was your favourite film of this year? 

Dh & I love going to the movies -- but needless to say, theatres closed in March and we haven't been back, even after they reopened this summer.  
As a result, we saw just FOUR movies in-theatre in 2020 (mostly during January)(compared to 14 in 2019, 15 in 2018, 16 in 2016 and 2017, and 23 in 2015). They were (in the order we saw them in):  Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Little Women, 1917 (on my birthday), and Knives Out.  They were all very good and enjoyable in their own ways.  

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

I turned 59, last January. My birthday was on a Sunday. We went for dinner on Saturday night at a 
favourite Italian restaurant near our condo, and on Sunday afternoon, we went to see the movie "1917" at the theatre. (It was really good, beautifully filmed.) 

60 (!!) is coming up shortly (!).  I always thought this would be the year I FINALLY got to spend my birthday on a beach somewhere, away from the cold Canadian winter. Oh well...!! 

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

My answer to this question is usually travel-related. That goes without saying, I suppose...!  But more to the point -- No COVID-19??  More time with little Great-Nephew (but, see COVID-19...). 

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2020? 

Mostly yoga pants and T-shirts (worn without a bra)(even more so than usual!  lol). 

Masks, matched to outfits (much to dh's bemusement...!).

I stopped wearing my watch when the battery died. I haven't been to the mall since March, so I haven't been able to take it to the battery kiosk there to get it replaced!  It feels a bit weird -- I've worn a watch almost daily since I got one as a gift from my parents for my 8th birthday (I still have that one!). But there are enough clocks around the house (plus my cellphone) to keep me on time, lol. 

32. What kept you sane?

(This question assumes sanity on my part, lol.  ;)  ) And heaven knows, sanity in 2020 was hard to come by...!  

My usual answer has been a good mixture of downtime at home, and getting out of the house. Getting out of the house was a whole lot harder to manage this year, if not completely out of the question, particularly earlier in the spring/summer (and now again these past few weeks), when most non-essential businesses were completely shut down. Being able to get a haircut again early this summer (after 17 weeks!) was a great sanity-saver. Trips to the bookstore once or twice a month since it reopened in the summer also lent a small semblance of normalcy to our lives. 

My library book club shut down early in 2020, but my online book clubs have continued to be a blessing. Regular Zoom chats & Skype sessions with friends (both online and "real life") and relatives also gave me something to look forward to regularly. 

In the past, I've also responded "turning off the news channels on TV & (especially whenever the Orange One comes on to speak!) and listening to music instead!" That continues to be a good strategy. :)   

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

My first thought was.... Dr. Anthony Fauci. ;) There were several other public health officials who made frequent appearances on television this year, explaining the pandemic to us, and who did a great job of it. Among them here in Canada, were/are Dr. Bonnie Henry in British Columbia, and Dr. Isaac Bogosh  of Mount Sinai Hospital here in Toronto. 

34. What political issue stirred you the most?

Where to start??  In the past, I've answered this question by writing about freedom of the press & media bashing, equality and women's rights, and threats to the environment/climate change. Those are all still important issues to me.

There are two issues that I can think of that were particularly relevant to 2020.  First, the way the pandemic was (mis)handled and politicized in the U.S. has been extremely painful to watch. So many completely unnecessary deaths!! Such a lack of basic respect for the health & safety of others. :(  Our political leaders here in Canada certainly haven't done everything right (and there's a small segment of the population that thinks it's all been overblown and/or refuses to wear masks) -- but even the most conservative/populist premiers seem to have at least some basic respect for science & medical professionals. And most of them are also at least somewhat empathetic to the pain that people are going through. 

Second, the U.S. election. I'm not American, but what happens in America affects the entire world, and nowhere moreso than here in Canada, right next door. The blatant attempts by Donald Trump and his followers to hijack the election results and subvert their own constitution were not unexpected (par for the course...) but still jaw-dropping at times in their brazenness. 

35. Who did you miss? 

Just about everyone!  -- since we hardly saw anyone beyond BIL & his family (and even then, we didn't see them nearly as often as usually do).  

Even though we did get to see him occasionally, we have missed out on a lot of time that we would normally have spent with Little Great-Nephew during his first year -- time in which he grew and changed rapidly, time that we can never get back. :(   We didn't get to attend his baptism and only spent an hour with him on his first birthday, masked.  I HUGELY resent COVID-19 for taking this precious time from us. :p  

My parents & my sister would also be at the top of the list. My mom will soon be 80;  my dad is 81. I know the time I have left with them is limited, and even in a more "normal" year, I generally only get to see them twice (for a few weeks in the summer and at Christmastime). I have not seen them in a full year now. :( 

36. Who was the best new person you met?

Needless to say, this was NOT a good year for meeting new people!! let alone seeing your friends. :( 

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2020. 

This year brought home to me, once again, that life, youth & health are precious, and disappear far too quickly sometimes. Enjoy it all while you can! 

Also:  Never underestimate the power of simple things like washing your hands (thoroughly/properly!) and wearing a mask!  

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

Stuck inside these four walls,
Sent inside forever,
Never seeing no one
Nice again like you,
Mama you, mama you.
If I ever get out of here,
Thought of giving it all away
To a registered charity.
All I need is a pint a day
If I ever get outta here

If we ever get outta of here

("Band on the Run" by Paul McCartney & Wings, 1974)

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Coming up:  2020 in blogging and in books!  

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Post-Christmas odds & ends

  • So who says there's no Santa? My parents ordered two turkey dinners from a local cafe/catering company for their Christmas dinner this year. When Dad went to pick them up late that afternoon, he found out they'd already been paid for. The lady at the counter wouldn't tell him who did it. They thought it was my sister or me (nope). Turns out someone came into the cafe earlier that afternoon, asked how many dinners hadn't been paid for yet, and paid for them all, on the condition that she not reveal who had done it. $25 each. Isn't that nice??
  • We're now in that curiously flat bit of space between Christmas and New Year's Day. In a normal year, we'd usually be heading back to Toronto from Manitoba sometime during this week (or shortly after New Year's). We've never been big on New Year's Eve parties, but we do sometimes like to go out for dinner, or to get together with BIL & SIL, order takeout and watch a movie (which is what we did last year). Needless to say, we won't be doing that this year!  As the meme says, though, we'll certainly be staying up till midnight, if only to make sure that 2020 really leaves...!  ;)  
  • Just before Christmas (on Dec. 21st, I think?), the premier announced that the lockdown covering the city of Toronto, my region and a few others would be extended to the entire province, in an effort to curb rapidly rising case numbers and hospitalizations. 
    • Initial reports said the lockdown would begin Christmas Eve -- but when the official announcement was made, the lockdown was announced for Dec. 26th/Boxing Day. Supposedly this was to allow businesses "time to prepare." What it did, of course, was give people license to jam the stores in a frenzy of panic buying (exacerbated by the looming Christmas holiday) & to gather with extended family members and friends over Christmas. :p  REALLY smart. :p  
      • Dh went to the supermarket at 8 a.m. on Tuesday the 22nd. This is the time he normally goes there, and it's not too busy. That day, though, the parking lot was PACKED and the lineup for the cashiers stretched along the entire front of the store and halfway around to the back. 
    • The lockdown in northern Ontario is slated to end Jan. 9th, while here in the south is will go to Jan. 23rd. Of course, if the numbers don't start trending downward, those dates could very well be extended. (I'm not holding my breath for the 23rd...) 
      • We usually get haircuts every six weeks. Our next usual haircuts would be on or around Jan. 15th. I could probably tolerate another week or two beyond that, but anything later... HEEELLLLLPPPPPP.....!!  ;)  (At least this time around I have a good supply of cloth headbands to keep my hair out of my face, ordered from Old Navy last summer, when I had to endure 17 weeks (!!) between haircuts...!)  
    • The province set another new record for new case numbers today:  2,923. Not good. (Dh said, "Are we EVER going to get out of this house again??" )  The public health officials are saying this isn't even the surge they're expecting from (illegal) gatherings over Christmas (still too early for that to start showing up) -- they think it's probably due to Christmas shopping outings and pre-holiday get-togethers. 
    • The new, more contagious strain of COVID-19 recently discovered in Britain has made its way here: the first case was diagnosed in the Toronto area a few days ago. 
    • Our provincial finance minister was discovered to be vacationing in St. Barts for the past THREE WEEKS (!).  The premier claims he didn't know anything about it (yeah, right), after telling us all to stay at home.  (This would be the same premier who spent Mother's Day at his cottage after telling everyone not to go to their cottages.) Great example they're setting... 
  • It's a dark & gloomy day out there (again)(which is probably why I'm in such a delightful mood, lol).  But our Christmas tree is still up... I am loving the extra bit of light it provides in the living room. I never like to take it down until after the new year. 
  • Working on some year-end roundup posts, coming to you all shortly....! 

Monday, December 28, 2020

#MicroblogMondays: Sugar overload!!

(And I'm not referring to all the Christmas baking & goodies!  lol) 

I slogged my way through my first Hallmark Christmas movie on Boxing Day -- "Project Christmas Wish." (It was on the W Network here in Canada, and aired on the Hallmark Channel in the U.S. on Dec. 20th.)  Not my usual viewing fare. The incentive for watching, for me, was that parts of it were filmed in the town where my parents live (other parts in Winnipeg), with familiar, utilitarian storefronts spiffed up with elaborate Christmas lights & decorations (which nobody who lives there could ever afford...!). The niece of one of my best friends from high school was an extra in a Christmas market scene near the end. 

(My sister's boyfriend does a lot of work with production companies making movies locally -- Manitoba is apparently known as the Hallmark movie-making capital -- and says the powers that be were very impressed with my parents' town as a shooting location. A couple of other movies have been made there in recent years, and this bodes well for more.)  

I love Christmas, and I consider myself a bit of a sentimental sap. I'll admit the elaborate decorations were very pretty, if a bit Disneyfied/over-the-top.  (The town never looked better!  lol)  And there were a few shoutouts to grief that were nicely done, if a bit platitudinous. (Is that a word?)

But it WAS a slog. The paper-thin plot, the cutesy dialogue, the overacting, the photo-session perfect hair & makeup & outfits...!  How do people watch this schlock??  And not just this movie specifically, but all the others like it??  (I know they do -- I have several friends who can't WAIT for these movies to air, every year!) 

(Dh went to bed early, lol.) 

Hallmark Christmas movies -- yay or nay?? (And if you saw this one, I'd love to know what you thought -- of the locations, if nothing else, lol.)  

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

A scene near the end of the movie, filmed in the town where my parents live. 
This is an actual existing structure in a downtown park by the river,
all dressed up with lights and garlands to amazing effect. 
It was previously the site of an old hotel that burned down some years ago. 
(My friends & I used to frequent the bar there
during the year I lived in town with my parents before I got married, lol.)

Sunday, December 27, 2020

"The Midnight Library" by Matt Haig

What makes a life worth living?  What would you do differently, if you had the chance to choose a different life?    

These are the questions that lie at the heart of "The Midnight Library" by Matt Haig, the November pick for the Gateway Women/NoMo (NotMom) book club. The book came highly recommended by the book club organizer, Lisa -- but November was a sluggish reading month for me, and I barely started this one before we were on to the pick for December. I set it aside for a while, but picked it up again just before Christmas, and vowed to finish it before the year ended.  

I'll admit this wasn't exactly the most cheerful holiday reading ;) (at least to begin with). I don't think I'm giving *too* much away by telling you that the book begins with an attempted suicide after Nora, our heroine, experiences one too many calamities and  disappointments. She wakes up in the Midnight Library -- presided over by a friendly librarian she knew during her school days -- where she's offered the opportunity to explore her past regrets and different life paths.  

For me, this book started slowly and (as I mentioned above), not especially auspiciously. But once Nora entered the Midnight Library and began trying on her alternate lives, I got hooked. :)  I'm generally not a big reader of science fiction, but I've always been fascinated by time travel stories &/or alternative histories, on both the page and screen. This was thought-provoking, sometimes fun (and even a little humorous at certain points) -- and, ultimately, quite moving. (Near the end of the book, living another life quite happily, Nora visits her old hometown. It's a scene straight out of "It's a Wonderful Life.")  

Those of us who wind up childless not by choice often speculate about the life we might have led, if our dreams of having a family had worked out.  Not everyone in the group loved "The Midnight Library" as much as Lisa did, but I can see why she felt this was a great book for us to discuss!  

When I started reading this book, I was thinking 3.5 stars on Goodreads. I wound up giving it 5. It won me over. :) I closed the book with a smile on my face.    

This was Book #43 read to date in 2020 (Book #4 finished in December), bringing me to 143% of my 2020 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 30 books. I have completed & now exceeded my challenge goal for the year by 13 books, and am (for the moment, anyway...!) 14 books ahead of schedule. :)  You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2020 tagged as "2020 books." 

Saturday, December 26, 2020

A COVID Christmas

Well, as they say near the end of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas,"  "It came just the same."  We couldn't stop Christmas from coming... so we resolved to make the best of it. We survived, and I would say it was probably as good as a holiday could be, under the circumstances...! 

Christmas Eve:  We drove over to BIL's house to deliver gifts. Unfortunately, Little Great-Nephew was napping so we didn't get to see him. :(  We'll try again for a brief visit later this week (maybe New Year's Eve?), masked & socially distanced. 

StepMIL called, and we got caught up on the news from her family. We haven't seen them since early March, just before the pandemic & first round of lockdowns hit, although we've spoken on the phone a few times. 

I had suggested to dh that he look for some frozen fish fillets for Christmas Eve dinner, when he went to the grocery store on Tuesday -- I was thinking of these High Liner things we used to get, packaged with sauce. He got breaded cod patties. Oh well... that's 2020 for you! They weren't bad, actually, lol.  And of course, there was wine...!  ;)  

Later that evening, there were Zoom calls -- first, one with my aunties & some of my cousins on my dad's side of the family, and then later one with my parents, sister & her partner, and Parents' Neighbours' Daughter and her family (her husband & the two Little Princesses). (PND has spent at least part of every Christmas with us since she was a baby!)  My sister & her boyfriend drove out to see my parents on the morning of Christmas Eve (about an hour's drive) -- and then returned to the city with leftover ham from my dad and other goodies. ;)  (They also stopped briefly at PND's house and drove away with cookies decorated by the Little Princesses.) They'd wanted to do it earlier in the week, but the weather was bad and roads were not good then. She wouldn't go in the house, so they sat out in the garage on lawn chairs (in frigid temperatures that were probably cold enough to kill off any lurking virus, lol), but at least they saw each other for a little while. My parents have been married 60 years and this is the first Christmas they've spent with just the two of them! 

It was dark & gloomy for most of the day here. The forecast called for freezing rain or snow. Shortly after the sun set, the snow started falling. It continued all night, and we woke up to a white Christmas!  (To be specific, we woke up at 5:30 a.m. to the sound of snowplows right outside our window...!)  I can only remember one or two Christmases in my lifetime when there wasn't snow on the ground (some years more than others, obviously) -- but hereabouts, a white Christmas is not a given -- so I was thrilled!  I posted a photo of the scene outside my window on my social media accounts, saying, "Well, 2020, you finally got one thing right!!"  lol  

Christmas Day (yesterday): We stuffed stockings for each other (with lots of chocolate in them), and opened them first thing on Christmas morning. Dh made scrambled eggs & toast for brunch, and we had a turkey breast roast for dinner, similar to the one we had at Thanksgiving -- only this one had stuffing in the middle. Apple pie (warmed up in the oven) with ice cream for dessert. And wine, of course. ;)  

While dinner was in the oven, I challenged dh to a few rounds of the card or board game of his choice --something our family usually does several times over the Christmas holidays.  We wound up playing nine rounds of Yahtzee!  (I won six rounds to dh's three.)  My sister called, and I called our parents (even though I'd just Zoomed with them the night before), and dh talked to his brother.  My mother complained that it was Christmas Day and she was doing LAUNDRY (I said, "Well, the laundry has to be done sometime...!"). They ordered two turkey dinners to go from a local caterer who was offering them -- but of course, that meant no smell of roasting turkey wafting through the kitchen all day... 

When all's said & done, OF COURSE, I would have preferred to be with my family out west. Even if we couldn't be with them for some reason (other than COVID-19), there's a lot of things I would probably have done differently, if it wasn't for COVID-19 and the current lockdown -- if we were free to socialize with other people, and if I was free to go to the mall and supermarket to shop for the things I wanted/needed, in the same way that I could at this time last year.  

But on its own merits -- and considering the limitations we're operating under -- it wasn't really a bad two days. I said to dh that if we HAD to stay here, by ourselves, I wanted it to be at least a little special (i.e., not just another day at home) -- and I think we managed that, even with COVID to work around. 

I hope you can say the same! <3 

A white Christmas! :) 
2020, you finally got something right...!  ;)  

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

"A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens

As an honours English student at university, I read (and -- mostly -- enjoyed) several novels by Charles Dickens as part of my coursework -- "The Pickwick Papers," "Great Expectations," and "Hard Times." (I was *supposed* to read "Bleak House" too -- but in every class I took, there was at least one assigned novel that I never managed to get through -- and that was one of them, lol.)(Insert red-faced icon here.) 

I don't think I ever read "A Christmas Carol," (first published in 1843) -- although of course I've absorbed a lot of the story over the years via movie & TV adaptations (and even ads, lol).  (My favourite version would be the 1951 black-and-white British film with Alastair Sim as Scrooge -- followed closely by the short Disney version starring Scrooge McDuck & Mickey Mouse, and then the one starring the Muppets.) 

The plot, of course, is well known:  it's Christmas Eve, and miserly, miserable Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley -- and then, in turn, by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. We learn more about Scrooge's past, how he came to turn away from humanity, and how his actions have affected others. It's a wonderful Christmas story -- a great ghost story too! --  and an ever-timely lesson about the value of kindness and generosity. Also the idea that it's never too late to change our ways and make amends. 

I've been listening to the story for the past five nights, as read by the three members of The East Pointers, a Prince Edward Island-based band. I was first introduced to the East Pointers earlier this year when I learned about "Annedemic" -- their nightly readings of "Anne of Green Gables" (and then later the first two sequels, "Anne of Avonlea" and "Anne of the Island"). (See this blog post.)  The sight of these long-haired, bearded, tattooed young guys earnestly reading Lucy Maud Montgomery -- with side comments and occasional musical performances -- was irresistable. :)  I didn't tune in every night, but I did watch several times (and donated to their fundraiser for East Coast musicians who are having a hard time making ends meet during the pandemic) -- including a must-see guest appearance by Megan Follows -- who played Anne memorably in a 1980s TV adaptation -- reading a critical chapter -- and the finale of "Anne of the Island," which was read AT Green Gables in Cavendish, PEI, with "Anne" herself present -- braiding a band member's long hair and even doing some stepdancing!!

Screen shot from Night #4
of "A Christmas Carol"
with PEI's East Pointers. :) 
I figured that tuning in for all five nights of "A Christmas Carol" counted the same as listening to an audiobook. ;) I will admit, I haven't really gotten into audiobooks. I'm too easily distracted... suddenly I'm half an hour in and I'm wondering, "Wait, what happened?" (I'm the same way with podcasts.) 

But it was fun to watch/listen to this one. Being at least somewhat familiar with the story helped, although many of the film adaptations necessarily trim some of the minor characters and dialogue that add so much colour and richness to Dickens's work.  They were all here, as voiced by the band members, sometimes to hilarious effect. ;)  A highlight for me was the scene of the Christmas party at Fezziwig's. One band member read a lively description of the dancing & merriment, while another picked up his fiddle and added appropriate background music. Magical!  

I am tempted now to pick up (or download) an actual copy of the book & read it for myself. :) 

Videos of the East Pointers reading the book can be found on the band's Facebook page.   

Goodreads rating (for Dickens' novel):  5 stars. 

East Pointers performance:  5 stars. 

This was Book #42 read to date in 2020 (Book #3 finished in December), bringing me to 140% of my 2020 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 30 books. I have completed & now exceeded my challenge goal for the year by 12 books, and am (for the moment, anyway...!) 13 books ahead of schedule. :)  You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2020 tagged as "2020 books." 

"Cathy's Christmas Kitchen" by Tilly Tennant

"Cathy's Christmas Kitchen" by Tilly Tennant is the December pick for the Gateway Women book club, which focuses on books with childless characters as the focus, or at least does not feature pregnancy/parenting as major plotlines.  

Cathy is in her late 30s, unmarried, childless, and now parentless. She's spent the last several years caring for her ill mother, and is now facing her first Christmas without her. Looking for ways to fill this hole in her life, she attends a coffee gathering at a local church hall, bringing with her an assortment of baked goodies made using her late mother's recipes. 

(Cathy finds baking "relaxing" and is forever whipping up goodies and sharing them with her friends... it made me hungry, lol -- and it made me want to see some actual recipes!)  

Not only does she make a new friend there (Erica), her baking is such a hit that she winds up organizing a cooking club/classes at the church hall. And just as a new romantic interest enters her life, an old one returns... 

This is not the sort of book that I typically read a lot of (certainly much lighter fare than some of the political books I've been reading, lol).  I found myself slightly irritated by some of Cathy's angst & dithering (a conversation near the end of the book with her ex-boyfriend dragged on WAY too long -- get rid of him, already!! lol). I also found myself wondering just how she was supporting herself, working just part-time at a flower stall.  (Mom must have left her a nice inheritance?) 

On the other hand, sometimes a nice, easy, "cozy" read is just what you need at the moment.  The holiday setting, in a cozy English village, was perfect for December reading.  AND (bonus!!) -- this is one of those rare books (especially books about women in their 30s) that's almost completely free of babies, children, pregnancies and mommy concerns. Not only does Cathy not have children, but neither do her friends, Erica & Fleur. Aside from Erica's troubled teenaged niece Tansy (who figures prominently in the plot), children are not really a part of the story, and that was refreshing. The childless women don't dwell on their lack of progeny, but there are a couple of matter-of-fact conversations/observations about not having children that rang true to me. 

Lisa, who runs the GW book club, has included an interview the author with her review of the book on her blog

Baked goodies + holiday ambiance + childless characters = 3 stars on Goodreads. 

This was Book #41 read to date in 2020 (Book #2 finished in December), bringing me to 137% of my 2020 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 30 books. I have completed & now exceeded my challenge goal for the year by 11 books, and am (for the moment, anyway...!) 12 books ahead of schedule. :)  You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2020 tagged as "2020 books."