You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here.
Monday, August 31, 2020
Thursday, August 27, 2020
Amberwell, on the west coast of Scotland, has been home to several generations of the Ayrton family, each one seeking to improve and add value to the property for the next generation to enjoy and build upon. In the years between the two world wars, the family includes a set of distant, self-centred parents and five children -- two boys from Will Ayrton's first marriage and three girls from the second -- who are left to the care of their nanny and tutor and whose world revolves around the third-floor nursery and the vast grounds of Amberwell.
Mostly ignored and neglected by their elders (the girls in particular! -- grrrr....), the siblings bond with each other and with Amberwell itself. I love how the house becomes a beloved character in the story, and how the two older brothers, Roger and Tom, were so protective of their three younger stepsisters, Connie, Nell and Anne. There's a wonderful scene in which the children, banished in great disappointment from the party their parents are giving to mark the installation of a grand decorative fountain, sneak out of the house in their pajamas & turn it on themselves to enjoy in the moonlight. When her sisters marry, and her brothers and servants leave to take part in the war effort, shy, awkward middle sister Nell becomes the glue that holds the estate and the family together.
This is a book that started slowly, but it grew on me, and by the time the two youngest Ayrton sisters reached their teen years, I was hooked. :) Like most Stevenson novels, it's the literary equivalent of comfort food, but I found it absorbing and moving (more so than some of her other, lighter novels). I will admit to reaching for the Kleenex box a couple of times, especially towards the end. I could see it being adapted for a Masterpiece Theater run on PBS, lol.
There is a sequel, "Summerhills," which we will also be reading a few months down the road. I'll look forward to finding out more about what happens to the Ayrton family!
ALI alert: Unmarried, childless and bitter Aunt Beatrice lives by herself in a flat in Edinburgh and comes to stay with the children for three months while their parents travel to South Africa. She's an unlikeable character who gets a bad rap (perhaps deservedly in some ways) -- and yet I found myself sympathizing with her. In Chapter 3, she tearfully unburdens herself on her youngest niece Anne (still a small child) and tells her story -- effectively warning young Anne not to accept a fate like hers. Her one suitor was turned away by the family as "not good enough for a Miss Ayrton," and she was forced to leave her beloved Amberwell when her brother (Anne's father) married and inherited the property. Aunt Beatrice later becomes the catalyst for a disastrous episode involving Anne that tears the family apart.
Nell is another, more heroic childless aunt figure who brings up Roger's son at Amberwell (with the help of the family's faithful old Nannie) during the war.
Caveat: I understand that some editions of this book -- including, unfortunately, the one from Endeavour that I was reading on my Kindle app -- have been abridged. :( I would love to find an unabridged version, although I am not sure I could do so in time for our discussion...
Four stars on Goodreads
This was Book #32 read to date in 2020 (Book #8 (!!) finished in August), bringing me to 107%!! of my 2020 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 30 books. I have completed & now exceeded my challenge goal for the year by 2 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."
Wednesday, August 26, 2020
- I watched another Zoom event with Lyz Lenz last Thursday night, sponsored by the bookstore Politics & Prose. She was interviewed about her new book, "Belabored" (which I reviewed here) by Soraya Chemaly, author of another great book, "Rage Becomes Her" (reviewed here). It was a pretty lively & interesting conversation, and even included a question related to infertility, as well as a few nods to the fact that not everyone wants to be pregnant, or can get pregnant when they want to, or becomes a mother through pregnancy. But I was somewhat annoyed by the P&P event host, who said not once -- not twice -- but THREE TIMES!! -- that at the end, they were going to talk about their birth stories, "because we all have them, right?" (She said that exact phrase THREE TIMES -- "we all have them!") Ummm, WRONG. We do not. (And some of us have them, but we all know that nobody wants to hear ours...!)
- Thankfully, it was only a joke (??)/empty threat -- they didn't tell their birth stories at all (no time, for one thing!). But it was still annoying.
- In a similar vein, this article popped up in my blog reader from "Let Grow," which generally publishes articles about free-range parenting: "We Need the Village Now More Than Ever." I don't disagree with that sentiment -- but my heart sank a little (& my childless hackles rose, lol) as I read the author's fond remembrances of how, as new mom, casseroles were dropped off at her door and friends volunteered to hold the baby while she showered. "It was a great example of families helping families," she says, and then goes on to describe similar offers of help from her son's classmates' moms as she struggled to keep things together during the early days of the pandemic while her husband was away.
"Parents are forming learning pods to support one another as they navigate uncharted waters. We are sharing grocery trips and delivering dinners or baked goods. We’re mowing each other’s lawns and doing dump runs. We’re sharing online resources and tips for home learning. There are childcare co-ops and walking buses to get to schools if they open. We are all giving what we have to give and grateful to accept what others can provide."
This is all really, really great. But in all the talk about "it takes a village" and "families helping families," I'm hoping that someone is extending the concept of "family" to include their single and childless friends and relatives, the elderly, the disabled and others who may also be isolated and struggling -- with simple loneliness, if not material needs. They (we) are part of the village too. (They/we like & appreciate casseroles too, lol.) It shouldn't just be moms helping moms and parents helping parents.
- COVID-19 cases in my home province of Manitoba, which have remained quite low these past six months, have suddenly spiked -- 72 new cases on Sunday alone! There have also been two cases in the small town where my parents live (rumoured to be a couple my parents know, about the same age as them, who attend my parents' church -- no idea where they might have picked it up). School has yet to start there, too. Here I've been fretting about rates here and the inevitable spike once school begins, never considering that things might take a turn for the worse there too. :( My sister has been calling my parents to lecture them about the importance of wearing their masks. (Late Sunday night, I heard they'd been made mandatory in all indoor public spaces there.) And I've been starting to grapple with the very real possibility that I might not make it home for Christmas for the first time in my life... :( :( :(
Monday, August 24, 2020
- If it's not COVID-19 keeping us inside our condo, it's the heat & humidity -- and if it's not THAT, it's the ongoing (still!!) construction noise & dust/dirt blowing around behind our building. Even just being able to have our balcony door open makes SUCH a difference in feeling less cooped up, but heat/humidity & noise/dust often preclude that lately... :(
- Being stuck at home today, COVID notwithstanding: they are power-washing our underground parking garage (done at least annually), and all cars had to be out of the garage by 9 a.m. Presumably a lot of people would be at work during the day, but of course a lot more people are working at home because of COVID right now, plus it's summer, so a lot of people are taking holidays. And our building has a lot of retired residents too. There are something like 140 parking spots in the garage, and only about 30 spots in visitor parking (which we are not allowed to use other than this one day a year). The overflow has to go on the side streets in the neighbourhood behind us (which is where dh parked our car this morning). The job is supposed to be done by 5 p.m., but never is, and it's always a sh**show when people start returning home in the evening, can't access the garage and abandon their cars in the laneway (and block it)(which of course they are not supposed to do...!).
- Political posts (and comments!) on social media (from American, Canadian AND UK friends/relatives!). :p (And I fear there will be more, with a U.S. election coming up this fall, and possibly a Canadian federal one too...!)
- Reminders in my Facebook memories of the fun we were having this time last year, and other summers past. Sigh...
- An overflowing/backlogged email inbox. I subscribe to a lot of (okay, way too many) newsletters/news summaries from newspapers and other media outlets/journalists, and I have great ambitions/delusions that I'm going to get around to reading them all... someday...
- New photos of Great-Nephew on social media.
- (Annoying thing: two weeks since we last saw him...)
- Wonderful wood oven pizza for takeout dinner on Saturday night (and leftovers for today's lunch!).
- Watching dh rediscover his reading mojo and tear through one Daniel Silva novel after another...!
- Getting my own reading mojo back (7 books read this month -- so far!! -- and still a week more to go...!).
- (Annoying thing: hence the overflowing email inbox -- and blog reader -- and magazine pile... seems like I can keep up with reading one or two of these things, but rarely three and never all four!)
- Admiring my sparkling clean glassed-in shower cubicle...
- (...after the annoying task of scrubbing it clean...!).
Saturday, August 22, 2020
That discussion is drawing to a close, but happily, we've decided to keep going into the fall and change the group's name to the more generic Lucy Maud Montgomery Readathon. Our next selection (starting soon) will be (another) one of my Montgomery favourites -- "The Blue Castle"! (In fact -- with apologies to "Anne of Green Gables," lol -- "Rilla," "Jane" and "The Blue Castle" would probably be my top 3 LMM reads of all time -- just don't ask me to rank them...!). :) You are welcome to join us! I will be going through this book again as we read & discuss it together, and I will count it as another book (re)read when we've completed our discussion. :)
The cover photo posted here shows the edition I own -- a musty, yellowing paperback that I bought in June 1973 (! -- date written inside the front cover) when I was 12 years old, in Regina, Saskatchewan, while visiting family friends. (Cover price: a whopping $2.99.) I've re-read it several times over the years, but not in quite a while, so I was happy to revisit it and am looking forward to discussing it in-depth with others.
"The Blue Castle," published in 1926, is one of Montgomery's few novels aimed at an "adult" audience, and the only one that's set entirely in Ontario (and not her beloved PEI), in the cottage country area of , Muskoka. Montgomery spent a two-week vacation there in 1922, in the town of Bala. The tourist home where she stayed is now a museum (although operations this year have been limited because of COVID).
Our heroine, Valancy Stirling, age 29, is an "old maid" who leads a dull life with her oppressive mother and whiny cousin in the staid town of Deerfield. The two things that make Valancy's life bearable are the books by nature writer John Foster that she borrows from the local library, and her dream life in her "Blue Castle" in Spain (complete with a Prince Charming, of course).
But when she receives some unexpected & shocking news, Valancy decides to throw caution to the wind and start living her life honestly and to please herself. She scandalizes her family when she moves out of her mother's house and becomes a housekeeper for the local drunk and a caregiver to his invalid daughter, whose reputation was ruined when she (gasp!) bore a child out of wedlock. (ALI/mild spoiler alert: the baby died before his first birthday, and there is a poignant chapter in which his mother tells her story to Valancy and expresses her love for her lost son. Montgomery, of course, knew whereof she wrote: her second son, Hugh, was stillborn in 1914.)
And then she meets the mysterious, reclusive, roguish Barney Snaith... and finds her real-life Blue Castle.
This book is a wonderful argument for taking control of your life and living it NOW, without worrying about others' opinions. Who doesn't sometimes dream of telling their nosy, overbearing relatives exactly what they think of them?? (Some of the scenes with Valancy's bewildered relatives had me literally laughing out loud, even though I've read this book several times before.)
As I said, one of my favourite LMM novels, and perhaps one of my favourite books ever. I loved it when I was 12, I loved it when I was 20, and I think the lessons of Valancy's life are even more meaningful now that I'm almost 60. There are a few aspects of the book that are perhaps a bit dated/unrealistic, but Valancy is a thoroughly modern kind of heroine.
4.5 stars on Goodreads, rounded up to 5.
(I wrote about "The Blue Castle" here, almost 10 years ago!)
This was Book #31 read to date in 2020 (Book #7 finished in August), bringing me to 103%!! of my 2020 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 30 books. I have completed & now exceeded my challenge goal for the year by 1 book, 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."
I stumbled onto this post in my Instagram feed this morning by The Dovecote, a UK-based organization that supports childless women (it's actually a repost from a bakery called The Kitsch Hen!). When I saw that today is apparently "Rainbow Baby Day," I winced a little. I love rainbows, and I am so happy for my friends who got their "rainbow baby" ...but of course, any talk of "rainbow babies" is always a reminder that I didn't get mine, that (as some childless friends have put it) I've been stuck standing outside in the pouring rain these past 22 years, metaphorically speaking. ;)
So I was happy to read on in the post (always read the whole post, people!) and get a thrill of recognition that my childless tribe had not been forgotten. :) That, in fact, someone recognizes that those storm clouds still might have a silver lining, that the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow might not be a baby after all. Thank you, The Dovecote & The Kitsch Hen! I don't often share stuff like this on my own social media feeds, but I shared this one on Facebook because I was so tickled.
(And because of this post & my desire to share it, I learned how to embed an Instagram post into my blog, so there's that too..!)
View this post on Instagram
Absolutely adore these by my lovely and super talented friend @thekitschhen 🌈💜💜 I’m so pleased you realised it was today... and was able to share these little beauties and your beautiful words with us 🕊🤍🤍🤍 ... sometimes our rainbows 🌈 look a little different to what we’d imagined & dreamed of 💭🕊🤍🤍🤍 #Repost @thekitschhen with @get_repost ・・・ Today is national rainbow baby day (thank you @kellydasilvafertilitysupport for highlighting this to me in your post) - I had no idea when I was icing these biscuits for Lucy @_mother_of_one_ yesterday but it feels super fitting to post a picture of them today. 🌈 Rainbow baby day marks the light that comes after the clouds, and the miracle babies that come after loss. 🌈 So this morning I’m sending love to those who have their rainbows to hold after their heartache. I’m thinking of those who are still patiently waiting and hoping for their miracle to arrive, and I’m holding a huge space in my heart for those of us who chose to look for a different rainbow and seek the silver linings in our clouds to find joy, purpose and meaning in a life that looks a little different from how we imagined. 🌈 Have a beautiful weekend friends, and remember you are right where you need to be.
A post shared by The Dovecote 🕊 (@thedovecote.org_official_) on
Wednesday, August 19, 2020
The small, declining Midwestern towns Lenz writes about here -- in Minnesota, Iowa, the Dakotas -- are familiar territory to me. I'm Canadian, but my great-great grandparents were early settlers in the northwest corner of Minnesota in the late 1870s. The family prospered; Great-Great Grandfather was known locally as "Squire." But by the early days of the Great Depression, my great-grandfather (their son) lost first his wife and then his farm. Several of his older children found work (and then spouses) in Iowa, along the Mississippi River, and many of their descendants still live in Iowa today. Great-Grandfather moved the younger children "into town," including my teenaged grandfather.
That's where my mother was born, and where I spent much of my childhood summers. It's the seat of a rural, agriculture-based county, and even when I was a child in the 1960s and 1970s, it was still a bustling, Mayberry/Norman Rockwell kind of place, where everyone knew everyone, including me & my sister ("those little girls from Canada") -- where the stores stayed open late on Thursday nights and cars lined the main street, where the county fair was the highlight of the summer and maybe even the year, where neighbours regularly dropped by for coffee & my grandmother's home-baked goodies, and where my cousins, friends, sister & I were free to roam so long as we were home for supper. It was almost exclusively white and Scandinavian, with the seasonal exception of the migrant Mexican workers who arrived every summer to work in the sugar beet fields outside of town.
By the time I went to university in the late 1980s, the town was already starting to decline. The sign as you entered town read "population 1,497" for years and years; these days, it's under 1,000. There are gaps on the main street where stores used to be, and many of the buildings that remain have long been empty. The pretty, wood-panelled, century-old Episcopalian church my grandparents attended and were buried from disbanded its dwindling congregation a few years ago, and the building was sold to a breakaway group from the local Lutheran church, which split over the issue of LGBTQ ministers.
*** *** ***
Lenz was born in Texas and brought up in a conservative, evangelical Christian family, who moved to South Dakota and then Minnesota when she was a teenager. Even then, she questioned and chafed against the restrictions of her faith, dying her hair and wearing T-shirts with Marxist slogans. In Iowa, she & her conservative, evangelical Christian husband went from church to church (and even started their own at one point), searching for a home where they both felt welcomed. Lenz finally found comfort in a liberal Lutheran congregation with a female pastor and a rainbow LGBTQ flag hanging in the entry -- but it proved to be the breaking point in her marriage when her husband refused to attend with her. All this happened just as the 2016 election was taking place (she voted for Clinton, he voted for Trump), tearing apart the country as well as Lenz's family.
This book intertwines Lenz's personal story with a look at the state of faith in Middle America, and Midwest culture itself. Lenz visits congregations that have survived despite the odds against them, and some that haven't -- small country churches, multicultural congregations and suburban megachurches. She attends a training session for new pastors serving rural communities, where there's lots of talk about guns (and she wonders why nobody has yet designed a similar course to explain urban living to rural residents). She writes about how many churches marginalize women, LGBTQ people, people of colour & of other faiths. She explores the connection between religion and sports. And much more.
It's not a long read (about 170-180 pages, depending on which edition you have) -- I finished it in a little over 24 hours. My enjoyment of the book was marred only by the typos I spotted. It does tend to be episodic -- I suspect some (much?) of the material was probably repurposed from articles Lenz wrote for other publications.
(ALI note: I also winced when Lenz wrote about using her children as a way to connect to the other women at a pastor training session dinner. What would someone like me do in the same situation??:)
I feel both at home and wildly out of place. I'm the journalist, not a pastor and not even married to one and at this point, not married for much longer. No one knows what to say to me. But I have kids, so I talk about them. The funny bon mots about my children are the safest conversational currency I have. I don't know what I'd do if I didn't have them to help set people at ease and bridge the divide that they already feel just knowing that I'm a woman alone with an occupation. There is welcome, but there is also an unspoken reserve, and I spend a lot of time trying to put people at ease with my presence. (Chapter 9, "Bridging the Divide")
But overall, I really like Lenz's writing. Lots of books over the past four years have attempted to explain the red/blue divide in America and the psyche of the Trump voter -- e.g., "Hillbilly Elegy," "White Working Class," "Strangers in Their Own Land".... This one should be added to the reading lists. It's not a comprehensive text by any means, but it's a compelling read, with lots of food for thought.
Four stars on Goodreads
This was Book #30 read to date in 2020 (Book #6 finished in August), bringing me to 100%!! of my 2020 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 30 books. I have now completed my challenge for the year, and am (for the moment, anyway...!) 12 (!) books ahead of schedule. :) (I guess I finally found my COVID reading mojo, lol -- and anything I read after this will be gravy.) ;)
You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2020 tagged as "2020 books."
- We had a rude awakening on Monday morning: another fire alarm at around 4:45 a.m. (eyeroll) -- the first in quite a while, thankfully. (Why is it these things always happen late, late at night or early, early in the morning? Never at, say 10 a.m. or 2 p.m. or 9 p.m....) Three trucks arrived to check things out & we got the all-clear to return to our units about 45 minutes later. Early as it was, I was actually grateful that it was 4:45 a.m. and not an even more ungodly hour, like 3 a.m., and that, while it WAS a tad chilly outside (about 15C, I think?), it wasn't the middle of winter. I went out in my shirt sleeves (before realizing that maybe a sweater or jacket might have been a good idea...), but it wasn't too bad. Also, as someone said, "At least the sprinklers didn't go off this time...!" (which has happened in the past, causing a lot of damage to some units, although thankfully not ours!). We got to chat with some of the neighbours (some wearing masks, some not -- we did remember to grab ours before we left our unit, and put them on before we went down the stairs), & laugh at all the dogs, barking at each other. There was even a couple with a brand new baby, all bundled up in blankets.
- In the city of Toronto proper, masks are now required in the common areas/public spaces of all condo buildings. No such rules hereabouts (yet?), although signs have appeared beside all the elevators recommending that masks be worn, and a lot of residents are now doing so.
- It's so weird (/annoying?) to see so many photos on social media of friends & relatives, travelling (to other cities/locations within the province, but still), at the beach, at pool parties and on restaurant patios with friends, celebrating birthdays with multiple other families. Taking group photos, arms around each other, heads close together. Part of me is envious that they can be that carefree (& that they have such active social lives and so many friends...!). Part of me, of course, is thinking, "WTF? Hello, pandemic??" Meanwhile, dh & I (still) sit in our condo, venturing out only occasionally to BIL's house or to the bookstore or gelato shop (at times when the stores are less busy, wearing masks & using hand sanitizer liberally, washing our hands thoroughly when we get home...), and that's an adventure these days for us.
- People have posted memes that allude to being the diligent ones stuck doing the group project at school while everyone else fools around (& shares in the A without having done any of the work). As someone who often got stuck in that role at school, it does feel like deja vu. I can't help but feeling like a sucker sometimes.
- And yet I KNOW that were I to venture out to a party or restaurant, etc., *I* would surely be that one person who wound up getting the virus. (It's the same guilt complex & fear of being the one who would surely get caught that kept me from smoking pot at university, lol.)(Definitely not the lack of opportunities...!)
- We're actually considering a quick trip to the mall soon. We haven't set foot in one since pre-COVID times (late February/early March). The only reason(s) I want to go are (1) I'm overdue to have my anniversary ring inspected by the jewelry store to maintain the warranty, and (b) my watch needs a new battery, and there's a kiosk there that replaces them on the spot. (I have another watch that's running, but it's huge and heavy... I much prefer my usual everyday one.)
- Cases in my home province (Manitoba), which have been relatively low all, have suddenly shot up. And school hasn't even started yet...! My sister has brought my parents masks & lectured them to USE THEM. I feel like any chances I had of spending Christmas with my family are slipping further and further away... :(
- Speaking of social media, a cute Great-Nephew story, from an Instagram post by his dad (Older Nephew). The caption reads: "Whenever [Great-Nephew] starts getting fussy the Beatles calm him down." Great-Nephew (who turned 9 months old on Monday) is standing in front of the TV, one pudgy little hand grasping the edge of the TV stand, the other reaching up to touch the screen, as the Beatles (circa 1968) loom large above him, singing "Hey Jude." George, John and Ringo appear in closeups, but it's mostly Paul, playing the piano and singing and looking straight at the viewer. Great-Nephew is mesmerized, swaying a little to the music. (He's not walking yet, but he can pull himself up on furniture in a flash!) Eventually, Great-Nephew turns and looks at his dad, soother/pacifier in his mouth, & just before the video cuts off, Older Nephew asks. "Do you like the Beatles?" Just way too cute. Totally made my day. :) I'm not sure I can claim any credit, as I'm pretty sure Older Nephew was already a Beatles fan before I turned over my vinyl collection to him -- but I had this very satisfied feeling of "My work here is done," lol. "Well done, Daddy!" I wrote in the comments. ;)
- My "Rilla of Ingleside" Readathon Facebook group -- which has morphed into a readathon of "Jane of Lantern Hill," by the same author (Lucy Maud Montgomery) -- has decided to keep going and change its name to the more generic Lucy Maud Montgomery Readathon. And our next selection (starting soon) will be (another) one of my Montgomery favourites -- "The Blue Castle"!! A lot of other LMM fans also point to "The Blue Castle" as their favourite among her novels (sorry, Anne of Green Gables...!) In fact, "Rilla," "Jane" and "The Blue Castle" would probably be my top 3 LMM reads (just don't ask me to rank them...!), so needless to say, it's been a great couple of months for me as a longtime (practically lifelong) Montgomery fan. :) You are welcome to join us!
Tuesday, August 18, 2020
In her new book "Belabored: A Vindication of the Rights of Pregnant Women," Lyz Lenz. a columnist with the Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Gazette, examines the paradoxes of pregnancy and motherhood in modern America. It's a time when women find themselves the centre of attention & worship -- and yet also the subject of scrutiny and criticism. (Example: "You're eating for two! -- but don't eat too much, and should you be eating THAT?") Pregnancy and motherhood are rarely about the woman herself or her wishes.
"To be pregnant, to be a mother, is to occupy a political space where your body is fought over and you feel powerless to control the conversation that rages around you," Lenz writes in the introduction. " Power over our bodies begins with consent and consent begins with choice and choice is the primary right that is stripped from people in their journeys to and through pregnancy."
The book is part polemic, part sociological/cultural study, part history lesson and part memoir. It is honest, pointed and frequently funny. Lenz was raised and homeschooled in a large, conservative Christian family, married to a conservative, Christian man, and gave birth to two children, a boy and a girl. As a teenager, she received a "purity ring" from her father, which she gave to her husband on her wedding night. But she was keeping a dark secret from him: she was sexually assaulted at a college conference, and remained silent about it until (like so many women) she watched Christine Blasey Ford testifying against Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court. In the years between, she wrestled with her guilt and shame in silence, and the growing rift between the ideals and the realities of pregnancy, motherhood and married life. (She and her husband are now divorced, and as I read the book, I could understand why...!)
This is a short book, but it packs a lot into its 224 pages: purity, conception, creation, hunger, the desire for children, maternal death, doctors versus midwives, natural childbirth versus C-sections, breastfeeding and pumping versus formula, pain, maternity leave (or the lack thereof in the U.S.), women's bodies and who controls them, and much more. There is so, so much here to chew on, both in terms of ideas and how well they're presented. I read this on a Kobo e-reader, and I have 10 pages (!) of electronic bookmarks. If I'd had a paper book in my hands, it would have been dog-eared from folded page corners, or papered with yellow post-it notes.
Last week, before starting to read this, I watched a live conversation between the author and Dr. Jen Gunter, author of The Vagina Bible, sponsored by Books Are Magic. (I blogged about it here.) I was curious to know whether infertility and/or pregnancy loss were addressed in the book, and submitted a question to that effect, but the webcast ended before they got to it.
I'm happy to say that YES, both subjects are discussed (with some great observations & insights). In addressing the question of "who gets to be a mother?" in the introduction, she doesn't address the fact that some of us don't get to be mothers at all (and what happens then? how kindly does society view THAT?), which I found disappointing -- but I forgave her as I read on, particularly a chapter titled "Miscarriage" (in which she describes her own miscarriage experience) and another titled "Desire."
I am very glad that Lenz included some of these topics in this book. But make no mistake -- while these subjects are touched on, the book is about pregnancy and motherhood, plain & simple. If that's (still) a sensitive/triggering subject for you, you may want to proceed with caution.
Four stars on Goodreads.
This was Book #29 read to date in 2020 (Book #5 finished in August). I'm currently at 97% of my 2020 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 30 books, and am (for the moment, anyway...!) 11 (!) books ahead of schedule to meet my goal. :) You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2020 tagged as "2020 books."
*** *** ***
Some quotes from among the 10 pages worth (!) that I had bookmarked:
In the end, to carry a potential for life is to also carry a potential for death. You cannot separate the two.
As the concept of home became clearer, women became smaller. For smart, ambitious women with no outlet for their skills except their children, motherhood and homemaking became all-consuming identities. Dalla Costa and James write that women decorate their homes because their homes are the only proof they exist. The same logic could be used for pouring one's life into children. Children become a woman's reason for being, her proof of existence. As if her own existence weren't enough.
"Be sweet!" is still the dominant advice given to pregnant women today. Take a rest. Sit down. Don't worry your pregnant mind. Think of the baby. Mothers are advised not to be stressed out... But we routinely overlook the culture and system that overworks women physically and mentally, that is so powerfully bigoted and unjust that day-to-day life here can be a potentially deadly stressor for members of marginalized groups, and instead we place the blame and the burden of stress on the mother.
[Interviewing Alyssa Mastromonaco, formerly of the Obama White House, about her book and about how hard it was to write about choosing not to be a mother:]
"It's all people want to talk about," she said.
I laughed. "When you have kids, it's still the same."
"Fucked either way," said Mastromonaco.
I think about that a lot. Fucked either way. Mother or not mother. Pregnant or not, our life is defined by the reproductive role we're expected to play.
*** *** ***
For so many women, pregnancy is an honor -- the canonization of a certain type of femininity. Often, it's the only time that society celebrates a woman, besides her wedding. There are baby showers. Pregnancy photos. Gifts. Special food. Special attention. People on the subway give up their seat for you. Men hold open doors.
Pregnancy is power. Our culture bestows esteem and honor upon women who conceive and carry children. Fawning over and fetishizing the rising tide of our bellies.
Growing a baby, pregnant women feel empowered to ask for things they'd never dared, or even considered, asking for before... And it's one of the few times that our society allows women to take those things for themselves. We insist on it. Sit in this seat. Put your feet up. Take care of yourself.... But is it the woman or the baby that we are truly caring for?
Pregnancy feels like power because it is. But it is a tenuous power.
The power of pregnancy is not accessible to all women, or even all pregnant people... Some women, of course, choose not to be pregnant -- a power in its own right. But others, who want to conceive and can't, describe feeling powerless.
The problem with centering the womb as the woman's path to goddess-hood is that it completely devalues a woman's other achievements and contributions to the world.
And if we are not mothers, if we choose to do other things, our lives always raise the unanswered question posed by the existence of our wombs.
It can be freeing to find power in your womb. But if that is the extent of the power we allow women, it's really not power at all.
I have no more insight, no more voice or vision, just because I used my uterus twice to make humans.
The power of the womb also leads to powerlessness when a womb cannot be used.
"When are you having children?" "Do you want children?" "You should have children." These are the relentless slings and arrows our culture lobs at couples once they seem relatively happy and settled -- or, increasingly, at single women of a certain age and stable income. As if children are all a woman could ever or should ever want. The message being that our fulfillment lies in our reproductive capabilities.
Monday, August 17, 2020
- Something I've been meaning to do for a while now: I've added a couple of pages, right under the blog header and above the most recent post. "About me" is a longer version of my Blogger profile that appears on the right-hand side of the page near the top. "Timeline" is a more-or-less chronological listing of the highlights of the past 35 years, including our marriage, one & only pregnancy, stillbirth, ttc and what's happened since then. I have ideas for a couple more pages that I may eventually add, but I thought these were the ones I should start with...! Let me know what you think! (I think you should be able to comment directly on those pages -- or you can leave me a comment here!) :)
- I've gone through the resource links & blogrolls in the sidebar on the right-hand side of the page (as I occasionally do)... some of the resource links no longer worked & so I've deleted those. I like to keep inactive blogs in my blogrolls, just in case the writer ever decides to post again (and I have had the unexpected pleasure of seeing a new post pop up from a once-familiar name, now & then) -- but if the link is clearly dead (or appears to have been co-opted by another user), I've deleted it.
- On & off, I've been consolidating some duplicate labels and added a few new ones. I wasn't as conscientious about labelling things in the early years of this blog, and one of these days, I plan to go through my entire blog & do some (re)labelling (as well as fixing any typos I see along the way -- which I do anyway as I notice them...!).
Her post brought back a LOT of memories for me. We never had a backyard pool when I was growing up -- unless you count the cheap inflatable ones. (I hear they sold out earlier this summer when people realized they were going to be stuck at home because of COVID-19...!) My dad actually built a pool for me & my sister out of plywood when we were preschoolers (!) -- he painted it an aqua blue & would fill it up with the garden hose. (I'm not sure how he kept it from leaking??) There were no such things as waterparks back then (and even if there were, we were probably hundreds of miles away from the closest one!), but we set the slide from our swingset into it, so we could climb up & then slide down into the water. :)
Some of the small towns we lived in had public pools where we took swimming lessons. The public pool where I spent the most time was the one in my grandmother's small town in Minnesota. When we were younger, our moms would take me & my cousins there; when we got older, we'd bring our bikes with us to Grandma's house and then ride them over there by ourselves, wearing our suits with our towels tied around our waists, sarong style. We spent many, many hours in that pool. We'd start swimming lessons at the pool in our hometown in late June. Then we'd head to Grandma's in early July and stay there for several weeks. We'd enroll in swimming lessons at the pool there, but the schools in Minnesota had been out (and the pool open) since mid-May, so we'd be way behind our classmates. Somehow, I learned enough to be able to swim, although not really well -- enough to keep myself afloat for a little while if I had to, lol.
Some of the places we lived were too small to have a public pool, but we would still go to the beach (nearby small lakes) on many summer weekends. Even in the middle of the Canadian Prairies, there was always a lake somewhere nearby. At one point, when I was between the ages of about 8 to 13, we lived in a small town on the shore of a very big lake -- like, within a few blocks of our house. The water was often too cold for swimming until at least July, but we were "free-range" kids in those days, and my sister and I and our friends would often ride our bikes down to the beach & go wading, or just sit on the shore & talk, watching the waves roll in. It was a very shallow lake, and we could wade out for quite a long way before the water ever got above our knees.
When I was in high school, there was another big lake & a lovely beach about 20 miles outside of the town where we lived. Once my friends got their driver's licenses, we'd drive out there on a summer Saturday night after work/supper, swim until it got dark and then build a bonfire on the beach. I don't think we ever drank anything more than Coke or 7-Up, but we sure had fun. I can never hear "Echo Beach" by Martha & the Muffins (a huge hit in Canada if not elsewhere) without thinking of those days.
I don't think I knew anybody with an in-ground pool in their backyard until I got married and moved to Toronto. I always said I didn't think I'd want one myself, because it was such a huge responsibility, and if anything ever happened to someone else's kid, I wouldn't be able to forgive myself. But I thought it would be nice to have a friendly neighbour who had one, lol. ;) Alas, that was never the case! A couple of dh's cousins have them, but it's mostly the kids who go in whenever we all get together -- not the adults, and rarely/never the adult women for some weird reason!!
Our condo building doesn't have a pool. (It's one of the first things people ask us when they hear we live in a condo!) It's a smaller building, 122 units on 7 floors. Pools & their upkeep cost money -- and our monthly maintenance fees are high enough as it is, lol. There are indoor pools at the local community centres -- two within short drives of us -- but we've never gone. I'm not even sure my bathing suit still fits me -- it's pretty ancient and it's been quite a while since the last time I had it on...!
Do you have a swimming pool? Do you have friends with a pool(s) who invite you to use theirs?
You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here.
Sunday, August 16, 2020
I hadn't heard the name Suzi Quatro in YEARS, so this was an unexpected blast from the past. I Googled her and saw that she had written a memoir a few years ago (published in 2007), called "Unzipped." And then, when I read about her influence on Kathy Valentine & Joan Jett (among others), I decided her book would be my next read. :)
I remember Suzi Quatro from the '70s, dimly. She's one of those musicians that I knew OF, more than I actually knew their music. I knew she was huge in Britain (much more so than she was in North America), and assumed she must be British. (She's not -- she was born and raised in Detroit.) I mostly remember her as Leather Tuscadero on the TV show "Happy Days" -- the younger sister of Fonzie's great love, Pinky Tuscadero -- which is how most of my peers (the North American ones, anyway) seem to remember her too, if they remember her at all. (I Googled, and she appeared in 7 episodes in season 5 & 6, fall 1977 through spring 1979, when I was graduating from high school.) Clad in leather, aggressively slinging a (bass) guitar, singing in a raspy voice, hair cut in a '70s shag, she was kind of (totally?) out of place in late 1950s/early 1960s Milwaukee with Richie Cunningham, Potsie Webber & Ralph Malph. Which didn't mean she wasn't worth watching...!
Susan Kay Quatro was born in 1950 to a Hungarian mother & Italian father, the second-youngest of five children. Like many kids of the 1950s, she was mesmerized seeing Elvis on TV, and after seeing the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964, she and her sister Patti formed an all-girl group with a couple of neighbouring sisters, called The Pleasure Seekers. They graduated from local clubs and high school dances to touring around the country and into Canada, and even went to Vietnam to entertain the troops. In 1971, she was "discovered" by British producer Mickie Most, and headed to London in search of fame, fortune and a band to back her up. Not only did she find a band, she married one of her guitarists, Len Tuckey, in 1976. They had a son & daughter before they divorced in 1992. (She had fertility issues and two miscarriages over the years, as well as a teenaged abortion.) She's been married to Rainer Haas, a German promoter, since 1993.
After "Happy Days," Suzi appeared in other roles on television in Britain, including hosting a talk show for a while. She's also hosted a long-running radio show. She starred in a West End production of "Annie Get Your Gun," and wrote & starred in a musical about the actress Tallulah Bankhead. She considers herself more of an entertainer than a rock star. Now 70 and a grandmother, she's still rocking (albeit waiting out COVID along with the rest of us). She has been quoted as saying, "I WILL RETIRE WHEN I GO ONSTAGE , SHAKE MY ASS, AND THERE IS SILENCE." :)
This was probably far more than I ever needed to know about Suzi Quatro (lol), but it was a fun, non-taxing read & a blast from the past (I listened to and was reminded of some great '70s music, by Suzi and other glam-rock bands of the era, as I read). It's written in a distinctive voice, in a breezy, conversational style (sometimes almost as a stream of consciousness -- with asides in which "little Susie from Detroit" trades comments & observations with older "Suzi Q"). Lots of famous names get dropped :) (and, unfortunately, misspelled -- like many other musical memoirs I've read, this one could have used a good editor/proofreader). There are even some creepy ghost stories.
If you're a fan, obviously, it's a must-read.
3 stars on Goodreads, rounded up to 3.5.
(I still hope to see the documentary someday!)
This was Book #28 read to date in 2020 (Book #4 finished in August). I'm currently at 93% of my 2020 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 30 books, and am (for the moment, anyway...!) 10 (!) books ahead of schedule to meet my goal. :) You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2020 tagged as "2020 books."
Here's Suzi & her band in 1973, when she was 23:
Tuesday, August 11, 2020
- So, Joe Biden has chosen Kamala Harris as his running mate in the U.S. presidential election... anyone want to take bets on how long it will be before someone comments the fact that she's not a mother?? (She does have two grown stepchildren via her husband's first marriage.)
- Lyz Lenz, the Iowa-based writer who authored the Washington Post article I took apart about the Wall of Moms (!), has a new book out today, called "Belaboured: A Vindication of the Rights of Pregnant Women." Despite my reservations about her Post article ;) I do like a lot of her other writing that I've seen, and her previous book, "God Land" is in my TBR pile.
- Needless to say, I haven't yet read her newly published book, BUT, I did catch her in a live conversation earlier tonight with the fabulous Dr. Jennifer Gunter, fellow Manitoban :) and author of The Vagina Bible, sponsored by Books Are Magic.
- It was a lively conversation on a wide range of topics related to women & their bodies. I submitted a question asking whether pregnancy loss &/or infertility are addressed in the book, but the hour was up before they got to it. :(
- Watch for the video to appear on the bookstore's blog.
- Be forewarned:
- Lenz is currently living in a hotel room, since a tree fell on her house after a windstorm swept through Iowa a few days ago (!), and children & a puppy are visible in the background.
- Sensitive political issues are freely discussed, including abortion.
- Several F bombs get tossed by both interviewer & interviewee.
- The other night, I listened to an 18-minute podcast/conversation on "What the Pandemic Might Mean for Conversations About Being Childfree." It featured Dr. Amy Blackstone, author of "Childfree by Choice: The Movement Redefining Family and Creating a New Age of Independence" (which is in my gargantuan TBR pile of books), and Samhita Mukhopadhyay, who recently wrote a piece for the The Atlantic on the subject, with the hopeful title of "One Legacy of the Pandemic May Be Less Judgment of the Child-Free."
- As I commented on a childless forum, I'm not sure I saw any evidence presented in the article to convince me of that ;) but it's a nice thought. (We can always hope...!)
- And, as usual, the focus was on childFREE versus childLESS women -- there was no mention of the fact that most women without children didn't actively choose this life, and might be struggling with loneliness while parents talk incessantly about the challenges they're facing while parenting during this pandemic.
- Nevertheless, it's nice to listen to an intelligent discussion about women without children and the very real challenges they are facing during this pandemic (and outside of it).
- Among the points made:
- There's a (false) assumption among parents that childfree people have no responsibilities and endless free time. It's completely untrue, and it's something that divides us. We may not be facing the same pressures as people who have children, but we are taking care of parents, working full time, volunteering in our communities...
- There is no space in our collective imagination for what a woman does when she doesn't have children.
- We need to try to understand and help each other.
- Women without children are still asked to justify their decision to others. "You would think it would be parents we should ask to justify their choice...!"
- We need to focus on our shared interests, e.g., work/life balance. The vision of that is "children," but the reality is that we all have lives outside of work that matter to us, and we all need and deserve balance.
- The pandemic has opened up a space for parents to talk about the challenges of parenting. The decision not to have children has to be a part of that conversation, along with the recognition of why people opt out of parenthood, and why parenthood might not be the best fit for all of us.
Monday, August 10, 2020
When I heard that Kathy Valentine of the Go-Go's had written a memoir, it immediately went onto my to-read wish list. The Go-Go's were huge during the early 1980s, the years I was at university; I owned and loved their first three albums. They were -- and (almost 40 years later) remain -- the most successful female rock band of all time -- the first and only all-girl rock group to top the American music charts by writing and playing their own songs.
Her British mother and American father met when he was in England with the U.S. military; they married and initially settled in Austin, Texas. They split when Kathy was 3, and she and her mother moved back to Austin, renting housing in rundown neighbourhoods. Mom was very much a laissez-faire parent, who did drugs with her daughter and slept with one of her teenaged male friends. (Yikes!!) Rules, boundaries and consequences were unknown in the Valentine household. Without few limits on her behaviour, young Kathy graduated from smoking cigarettes to drinking to smoking pot to harder drugs. She had an abortion at age 12 (!). She skipped school frequently, and her house became a hangout for other delinquents.
While visiting her grandmother in England over Christmas 1973, when she was 14, Kathy saw Suzy Quatro on TV -- clad in a leather jumpsuit, playing a bass guitar and leading a band. "...this was a female. Doing what I had only seen men do before... She was a fucking earthquake," Kathy writes in Chapter 8:
I knew women existed in music. They sang in bands, they held acoustic guitars or sat at pianos. Years later I would learn that women had even played electric guitars in rock 'n' roll -- but I had never seen or heard of any of those women. Seeing Suzi Quatro had the same effect as lightning bolgs shooting through my grandma's house, with thunder blasting along. Where do I go, what do I do, who am I? Every question had an answer. All paths and possibilities suddenly pointed in one direction.
Back in Texas, she started taking guitar lessons at the alternative school where she was a student and hanging out in Austin's many bars, where was encouraged by iconic local musicians such as Jimmie Vaughan (brother of Stevie Ray). On another visit to England a few years later, she briefly joined a fledgling all-girls band which later became known as Girlschool.
Back in Austin, she and a friend formed a band called The Textones and moved to LA. In December 1980, she ran into Charlotte Caffey of the Go-Go's -- already a well-known local band with punk rock roots -- in the washroom of a bar. The Go-Go's bass player was sick, and they had four shows booked at the Whisky-a-Go-Go over New Year's Eve. Did Kathy play bass? She didn't, but lied said yes, went home, borrowed a bass and learned to play it and all the Go-Go's song over the next few days. The band decided to make the arrangement permanent, and the rest is history.
The book ends in 1990 with the Go-Go's first reunion. (There's a brief epilogue that covers what's happened in the 30+ years since then.) There have been more reunions (and breakups... and reunions) in the years since then -- as Kathy sharply observes, the band members had a tendency to gloss over or ignore small problems until they became too big to ignore. Disputes over songwriting credits & royalties, combined with drug and alcohol abuse, were what initially tore the band apart; sobriety helped bring them back together again. After one blackout too many, Kathy finally resolved to stop drinking in early 1989, and joined Alcoholics Anonymous. She has remained sober in the 30+ years since then.
I gave this book 4 stars on Goodreads. There are lots of rock & roll memoirs out there, including a recent influx of ones by female rockers (some better than others) -- including Pat Benatar, Chrissie Hynde, Viv Albertine, Kim Gordon, Ann & Nancy Wilson, as well as Go-Go's lead singer Belinda Carlisle. (Links go to my reviews on this blog -- have I covered them all?? lol) All rock & roll memoirs include the usual/expected elements of sex, drugs and rock & roll, and there's plenty of all three here (along with some great anecdotes where famous names are dropped liberally). What sets this one apart (aside from the female rocker angle) is the quality of the writing, the depth of the introspection, and Kathy's raw honesty and willingness to share her pain as well as joy. Well worth a read, especially if you're a fan of the Go-Go's '80s music &/or rock memoirs generally.
A new documentary about the Go-Go's was just released on Showtime in the U.S. I hope I'll eventually be able to see it here in Canada...
This was Book #27 read to date in 2020 (Book #3 finished in August). I'm currently at 90% of my 2020 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 30 books, and am (for the moment, anyway...!) 9 books ahead of schedule to meet my goal. :) You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2020 tagged as "2020 books."
We had appointments for haircuts that morning in our old community, and after that, we picked up some flowers at the nearby supermarket (the one where we used to shop when we lived there) and took them to the cemetery for a short visit before heading home. A lot of the "traditions" & things we used to do on this day have kind of fallen by the wayside in recent years, and we already had dinner planned for that night, but dh asked me if I'd like to order in Chinese food on Saturday night, which we did. (The night we arrived home from the hospital 22 years ago -- along with my mother, who dropped everything to fly to my hospital beside -- we were all too tired and drained to cook, so we ordered in Chinese food -- and thus began that tradition...!)
I posted a couple of photos from the cemetery on Facebook and Instagram, and had a flurry of lovely comments & reactions from friends & family members -- including an unexpected message on Facebook Messenger from a classmate (from both junior & senior high school) that I'm FB friends with. We weren't close-close friends in school, and I don't think I've seen her since we graduated (41 years ago!!), but we knew each other fairly well, and I always liked her. She's always been a very quiet, introverted person, so she doesn't post much, but she does "like" & occasionally comment on my posts, particularly those involving the dog & great-nephew. :) (She's married and still living in the town where we grew up & went to school together -- three adult children and a couple of grandkids.)
Anyway, she wrote to say how sorry she was about my loss and then said "forgive me for asking this" but she had always wondered what happened, and would I mind telling her my story? that she did not want to pry and it she understood if I didn't want to share. It was so nicely worded. I responded "thank you for asking" and said I did not mind telling my story at all -- the hard part is usually watching people's reactions to it (especially if they had no prior inkling that I've lost a child). And that sometimes it's (still) easier to write about it than to talk about it.
I gave her the Coles/Cliffs Notes version of my pregnancy story & my fertility issues and our decision to leave treatment when I was 40. I assured her that dh & I had a good life together, even if it wasn't the one we had planned or expected, and thanked her for her kind words. She wrote back to say she was so sorry we'd been through so much sadness, and that she could tell Katie is always in my thoughts, and she hoped she hadn't upset me. I assured her she hadn't.
I didn't tell her that her message totally made my day. :) To have someone ask about my baby, to willingly listen/read what I had to say and offer their sincere sympathy, after all these years -- it's a rarity -- and a gift.
You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here.
Friday, August 7, 2020
Thursday, August 6, 2020
- I've been a longtime follower of the writer Joyce Maynard, & I've written here about the huge impact that her 1973 memoir "Looking Back" (published when she was just 19!) had on me when I first read it age 12. She has a new novel in the works and mentioned on Facebook that she is trying to find a new title for it, since her publishers didn't like the one she had originally chosen. It's the story of a family living through and after divorce (likely based on Maynard's own experiences). Someone helpfully suggested in a comment, "In this post, you talk a lot about the mother. Perhaps your title needs to have MOTHER or MOM in it?" (Capitalization hers.) I read that and practically screamed out loud, "NO!!!" Just... no!!!
- (Maynard does write a lot about mothers, and motherhood. About this novel, she says, "It’s about marriage, and divorce, and the children of that divorce, but at its core this novel is about family. And one family in particular, whose story I follow over the years from 1973 to 2009." So... NO.)
- I noticed on Twitter that the "Wall of Moms" (in several U.S. cities) has changed its name to "Wall of Many." Said a tweet from the Wall of Many Bay Area CA: "Our name has changed, but our focus has not. #BlackLivesMatter always and in all ways. We are not only moms anyway - dads, childless adults, all genders care about Black lives and the right to protest. Let’s get back to work." Bravo!
- (I suspect many people will continue to refer to it as "Wall of Moms" -- but, points to them for acknowledging that it's not just moms who care and are out there protesting.)
- On her Gateway Women blog, Jody Day recently interviewed Australian writer Donna Ward about her new book, "She I Dare Not Name: A Spinster's Meditations on Life." It's a fascinating conversation -- video & transcript available to watch &/or read here!
- Unfortunately, Donna's book is not yet available outside of Australia. If you'd like to read it, be sure to leave a comment on Jody's post mentioning that, to show the publishers there's a demand for it in other parts of the world!
- Love this quote from Jody (near the end): "...I think childlessness is actually another part and singleness is another part of the intersectionality that the Fourth Wave [of feminism] needs to embrace and as yet, isn’t ready to do so. And… it’s interesting how scary, unconsciously scary our lives must be that so many people don’t want to look at them."