Friday, December 31, 2021

2021 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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2021 has been my BEST blogging year ever -- in terms of quantity, if not quality (lol) -- I passed the 200 posts mark in mid-December (and, a few days later, 2,000 posts since I began blogging in October 2007!), and will wind up the year with 213 posts (including this one).  :) That's an average of almost 18 posts per month (!) -- or a post every 1-2 days.  My least-chatty month was June, when I posted 10 times;  my most verbose was May, with 24 posts. Not bad, after 14 years of blogging!  (By comparison, my next-most prolific blogging year was last year, with 197 posts, and then 13 years ago in 2008 -- my first full year of blogging -- when I logged 172 posts.) 

I don't check my blog stats very often, but I had a look at the ones for the past 12 months, and (as of Dec. 29th, anyway), I had 184,000+ views and 601 comments this year! The top-viewed posts of 2021  (that were written/posted IN 2021 -- most of them earlier in the year, which makes sense...) were (also as of Dec. 29th): 

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 51 #MicroblogMondays (that's pretty much all of them this year, isn't it??).  I reviewed all 59 books that I read in 2021, 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, retirement, being an auntie & great-auntie, and condo living. There were lots of "odds & ends" posts, as well as lists of recent "small pleasures & annoying things."  And, needless to say, the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic (now in its second year) provided PLENTY of fodder for blogging!! 

Here are a few of my favourite/noteworthy posts from 2021, or ones that say "2021" to me -- in more or less chronological order (from oldest/earliest in 2021 to most recent): 

  • 60 (!) -- Reflections on my (gulp!) 60th (!) birthday, and on milestone birthdays of my past. 
  • #MicroblogMondays: "I have kids!!" -- A Capitol Police officer, being beaten by the insurrectionist mob on Jan. 6th, pleaded "I have kids!" -- and survived. Which made me wonder -- what would happen to childless me in a similar situation? 
  • "If they die, it isn't as bad" -- "They" being health care workers without children --  according to the child of a COVID ward doctor in Britain. I wasn't sure which was worse, the child's comment, or the parent's response (or lack thereof...!). 
  • Of COVID & coffee -- Reflections on different attitudes and ways of living through a pandemic. 
  • Crazy or grieving? (Mary Todd Lincoln was "one of us") -- A news story about a new museum exhibit on Mary Todd Lincoln and grief and how it was (and continues to be) misunderstood. 
  • Childless mother -- In which I examine being in the weird position of having a foot in two camps: both childless woman and bereaved mother. 
  • A few words of advice -- What "words of wisdom" (?!) I would offer anyone contemplating leaving infertility treatment for a permanently childless life.

2021 Reading Year in Review

I started doing a specific "Reading Year in Review" post last year, in 2020. I figured that since I was doing an overall year in review post (which includes some book information anyway), and a blogging year in review post -- and since keeping track of my books is a big thing I normally do on my blog -- my reading life deserved its own year-end wrap-up post too.  :) 

  • I increased my Goodreads Reading Challenge goal from 30 books in 2020 to 36 books in 2021, reached it by mid-July and wound up with almost double that number of books finished by year end, with 59 books to my credit, 164% of my goal. (I was secretly hoping to reach 60, when it became apparent that goal might be in reach -- but hey, still not a bad showing!) All books read were reviewed on this blog and tagged "2021 books."
    • My Goodreads 2021 Year in Review report tells me I read 59 books with 17,944 pages. 
      • The shortest book I read was "Before and After" by Alison Wilson (168 pages);  the longest was "The Lost Symbol" by Dan Brown (559 pages). 
      • Average book length was 304 pages. 
      • The most popular book I read ( = shelved by Goodreads readers) was "Where the Crawdads Sing" by Delia Owens;  the least popular was "Unimaginable" by Brooke D. Taylor. 
      • My average Goodreads rating in 2021 was 4.1 stars. 
      • The highest-rated book I read was "The Mother of All Dilemmas" by Kathleen Guthrie Woods (average 4.8 stars). 
    • I also started tracking books on The StoryGraph (which Brooke told me about), which provides slightly different stats (and even more, with a paid subscription). Only 54 of my 59 2021 books (16,652 pages) made it there in the transfer of data from Goodreads. 
      • The "moods" of my books were overwhelmingly reflective and emotional. 
      • Most of my books were medium or slow paced (45 & 38%, respectively) -- just 17% were considered fast-paced. 
      • 55% of my 2021 books were 300-499 pages;  40% were less than 300 pages and just 6% were over 500 pages. 
      • 65% of my 2021 books were fiction;  35 non-fiction. 
      • My most-read genre in 2021 was historical, followed by memoir, then romance and biography.  
      • StoryGraph also tracks the format of your books, but selects print as the default. It tells me 83% of my books this year were read in print format -- which I know is not correct. I suspect the format data didn't translate well in the transfer of data from Goodreads. Hopefully the data will be somewhat more accurate next year! 
      • Most-read authors in 2021 (no surprise here):  D.E. Stevenson & L.M. Montgomery. 
      • Average rating 4.04 stars. (Unlike Goodreads, The StoryGraph allows fractional star ratings.) 
    • For the first time in many years, fiction choices outnumbered non-fiction (many of them re-reads, but still...!):  36 fiction, 22 non-fiction and 1 volume of poetry.
    • Re-reads -- which I started counting as books read in 2020 -- accounted for 9 books of my 2021 total. (I think I calculated that correctly?)  
    • My library book club held its last meeting in late February 2020 -- just before the pandemic hit -- but online, the Gateway Women book club, D.E. Stevenson fan group, L.M. Montgomery Readathon on Facebook, and "Clever Name" online book club  have helped boost my 2021 reading totals and provided me with a lot of reading/discussion pleasure during a very difficult year.  
      • I read 8 books for GW, 10 for DES (6 different books, including 4 counted twice as re-reads), 7 for the L.M. Montgomery Readathon (5 different books, including 3 counted twice as re-reads, as well as one LMM book ("Emily's Quest") read on my own)., and 6 for Clever Name. 
    • Since I reached 36 books fairly easily this year (by July), I've decided to stretch a bit and increase my Goodreads Reading Challenge goal to 45 books ( = 3.75 books per month on average) for 2022. I've read more than 45 books in two of the past three years (2019 & 2021, and almost 45 in the third year -- 43 in 2020), so I think that's a reasonable/realistic goal to set. 
  • It's always very hard for me to pick a single book as "the best." I read some really, really good books this year -- very few disappointments or "meh" choices -- and I gave lots/most of them four and five-star reviews on Goodreads. (4.1 stars was my average Goodreads rating this year.)  A few of my favourites (and forgive me for not including links!): 
    • "The Thursday Murder Club" by Richard Osman 
    • "Confessions of a Forty-Something" by Alexandra Potter 
    • "The Bright Side" by Cathrin Bradbury 
    • "The Blue Castle" by L.M. Montgomery (a re-read of one of my all-time favourites) 
    • "Widowland" by C.J. Carey 
    • "American Baby" by Gabrielle Glaser 
    • "The Windsor Knot" by S.J. Bennett 
    • "Sorrow and Bliss" by Meg Mason 
    • "Us" by David Nicholls 
    • "Hungry" by Grace Dent 
    • "The Storyteller" by Dave Grohl 
Did you meet your reading goals for 2021 (if you set any)? What great books did you read this past year? 

2021 Year in Review

Time for another Year in Review post for 2021! 

This is the 12th (!) 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 -- at least new or interesting ones...!), it's still a great way to look back and keep track. (And, like last year, my 2021 answers may be somewhat different than in years past, given that we've spent the last full year -- almost two full years! -- living with a global pandemic...!) 

Feel free to use these 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 2021:   
  • Lose weight. Last year, I was able to report that -- despite spending the better part of the year in couch potato/comfort food mode, I had gained only a net 0.2 pounds over what I weighed on January 1st, 2020.  Not bad, but still just below my heaviest-ever weight to that point.  I had kind of a rude awakening in August when I got on the scale (after avoiding it for several months) and found myself at my heaviest weight ever, by far. GULP.  However! (No) thanks to gout and gallstones, and a rather limited diet these past few weeks/months while trying to put both behind me (again), I was about 11 pounds below that all-time high the last time I weighed myself, pre-Christmas (about 7-8 pounds of that since early November). So, I did lose some weight overall -- but I would NOT recommend how it happened! -- and (assuming those pounds stay off...) I'm still nowhere near the weight I really need to be. 
  • Exercise more. (And hopefully lose more weight...!)  Massive fail on this one :(  -- although we *have* been taking walks to a nearby park with SIL & Little Great-Nephew  on most of our weekly visits there since May, weather permitting.  I still haven't gotten back into yoga 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 14th (!!) year in this space. AND -- I wrote more in my blog this year than any year since I first started blogging! (A separate "Blogging year in review" post will be coming up shortly.) This blog does not entirely take the place of a private 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 30 to 36 books, and reached it by mid-July. I will finish out the year with 59 books to my credit, 164% of my goal! (All books read were reviewed on this blog under the tag "2021 books").  See my "Reading year in review post" (coming up) for more detailed analysis. 
  • 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, and 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...!  and if I can get an e-copy of a book cheaply (or for free -- my sister has her sources...), in most cases, the paper one will go into the donation pile. The storage locker could use another going through/paring down, one of these days -- BUT -- we recently took a couple of cartons of books to Value Village, as well as some clothes, and I now have lots of free hangers in my closet -- so I'd call that a win, overall. :)  
  • 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. I probably need to go through those again, though... there are a lot of stamp pads, glitter glue, etc., that have probably dried up...!) 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. That's great but I've had my own camera since Christmas 1976, so I have a way to go yet...! (although we didn't used to take as many photos back then -- nobody had a camera with them all the time, as we do now, and film, flashes and processing were expensive!)  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 2021 that you’d never done before?

(Continued to) live through a global pandemic, now in its second year (going into THIRD). (Needless to say, new/novel experiences have been further & fewer to come by...!). Finally saw my parents & sister for the first time in nearly two full years -- the longest time we've ever spent apart! :(   

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?


4. Did anyone close to you die?

Dh's cousin's husband died suddenly in early October at age 65 (not much older than dh). He was the first cousin/cousin's spouse of dh's generation to go, and his death was a huge shock to everyone. We were unable to attend the funeral because we were in Manitoba with my family for (Canadian) Thanksgiving. (Can I say that I was kind of relieved we had an excuse not to be there, because I knew there would be unvaccinated people there??)  

Also, my dad's oldest brother died in October at age 93. He was not my favourite uncle, but he was part of my childhood, and the first of my uncles & aunts to pass away. :( 

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, COVID-19 kept us mostly close to home during 2021. We returned to our old community several times for haircuts (between lockdowns...!) and to visit Katie's niche. We did take a day trip to the picturesque town of Elora with BIL & SIL early in the fall, and have been to visit Older Nephew & his wife a couple of times in their new home, about an hour north of us. 

By mid/late summer/early fall, with travel restrictions easing slightly and all of our immediate family members fully vaccinated, we were able to start planning a visit to see my aging parents and my sister in Manitoba, and we spent a week there in October for (Canadian) Thanksgiving, after 22 months apart. It was the longest I've ever gone without seeing them, and it was SO GOOD to be "home" and spend time with them again!  Despite Omicron and rapidly rising covid case numbers, we returned for Christmas on Dec. 18th. (We're still here!) 

6. What would you like to have in 2022 that you lacked in 2021?

Like most people, I would like this pandemic to just GO AWAY... but I'm not holding my breath...!  I think it's highly likely it will still be around by this time next year... albeit I'm hoping it will be on the wane/not quite as prevalent by then... 

I'd like more time with family -- mine & dh's. More time with Little Great-Nephew (and the dog!).

I'd have liked to travel too -- but I'm not holding my breath for that either at the moment. 

7. What date(s) from 2021 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

Jan. 6th:  'Nuff said. :( 

Jan. 12th: My 60th (!!) birthday

April 5th, July 1st & Dec. 16th:  Our first and second covid shots and our (third) booster -- AstraZeneca, Moderna & Pfizer, in that order!! lol  

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Maintaining my sanity??  

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, thank goodness!! Thanks to vaccines, masks, extreme caution (and a little luck), we have dodged COVID-19 (so far...!), and we are VERY grateful for that! 

However, I did have a bout of gout in late August, and my gallstone issues reared their ugly head again in late October/November. :(   

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 because of covid). I think the best thing I bought was probably the advent calendar (more like gift basket) from 
my favourite sterling silver jewelry crafter. I kicked myself for missing out on last year's (the first year she'd tried doing it), and I loved having a little surprise to open and brighten my day every morning during the first 24 days of December. :)  

12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?

All the frontline healthcare workers who have been putting their health & lives at risk to try to save others for almost two solid years now. 

Anyone who stood up for democracy, decency, science and rational thinking.  

13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed? 

Well, (once again) that's obvious. In the U.S., Donald Trump & his MAGA cronies/cult members.  
:(  Not that we are immune here in Canada -- we have MAGA wanabes/imitators too, albeit not to quite the same extent.   

The conservative premiers here in Canada who ignored the best medical advice about covid, only acting when absolutely pushed to do so. (Jason Kenney in Alberta and Doug Ford in Ontario, I'm looking at you in particular...!). (Ford has not been seen in public for a full TWO WEEKS now -- since Dec. 17th -- as Omicron runs rampant and new covid case numbers skyrocket. Grrrrrr....)  

The people (on both sides of the border -- and around the world) who continue to ignore the science and refuse to get vaccinated, wear masks or follow other public health measures, thus dragging this pandemic out FAR longer than necessary, and resulting in far more cases and deaths than there could or should have been. :( 

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.  Prices have been rising, 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), we also both spent a lot more money on e-books for our Kobo e-readers, albeit 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?

Getting vaccinated!  Dh & I literally jumped up & down for joy when I managed to snag appointments for our first shots in April. 

Going "home" and seeing my parents and sister in October, for the first time in nearly two years. :)  And making a return trip at Christmastime. 

16. What song will always remind you of 2021?

I'm not sure. I Googled "top songs of 2021" and I think the only ones I'd heard were "Cold Heart" by Elton John and "Easy on Me" by Adele, 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?

Probably about the same in terms of happiness (started out the year happy about vaccines, ended it feeling somewhat depressed about omicron), slightly thinner (but I could have done without the gout & gallstones...!), and probably a draw on the financial front. 

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

Walking/exercise. There was just no excuse for it -- although the summer heat & humidity was discouraging. 

Reading more books than I did (although I did well in terms of meeting & exceeding my Goodreads challenge goal). But hey, there's always next year... 

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  

Watching too much news on TV. I like being well informed, but sometimes it just gets too overwhelming and depressing!  

20. How did you spend Christmas? 

With my parents, sister & her partner in Manitoba (after spending Christmas 2020 at home with just the two of us). Because of omicron and skyrocketing covid case numbers, we didn't spend as much time with PND & her family as we normally would, and we scaled back on the presents considerably. But we still had presents & stockings to open, we still had a couple of really great meals with most of our traditional favourites, and we still played lots of cards & dominos. (We're still here.)  It's been a good holiday!  :) 

21. Did you fall in love in 2021?

Never fell out. :) 

22. What was your favorite TV program?

I don't watch a lot of TV shows regularly, and I don't do a lot of streaming/binge watching. We both still love watching "Bob's Burgers" (both current episodes and reruns). We enjoyed the most recent seasons of "Jann" on CTV and the latest season of "Finding Your Roots" on PBS (as well as several other PBS programs), and I was still captivated by the most recent season of "The Handmaid's Tale."  Also, several series/documentaries on CNN, most notably "Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy." 

I STILL haven't yet watched season 3 or 4 of "The Crown" on Netflix! 

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 45th President of the United States or his enablers! :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!  My average Goodreads rating this year was 4.1. I've listed some of my favourite reads in my "Reading year in review" post (to be posted soon). 

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?

I desperately wanted those covid vaccines, and it seemed like forever until we became eligible (and then able to book appointments!), especially for that very first one in April.  I jumped up & down with glee when I got those first shots booked.  Those appointment days were three of the happiest days of 2021 for me!  

Thanks to those vaccines, I finally got to go home and see my family, after almost two years apart, and then to spend Christmas with them again. That's a pretty big "get" in my books!  :)  And because of vaccines, we also got to spend more time this year with Little Great-Nephew. :)  

27. What did you want and not get?

The end of the pandemic and a return to normalcy (whatever that is these days...!). 

28. What was your favourite film of this year? 

Dh & I LOVE going to the movies, but that hasn't happened since very early in 2020 -- and we don't stream a lot of movies or watch a lot of pay-per-view.  But we're already talking about putting on masks and foregoing popcorn to see the new "Downton Abbey" movie with SIL when it comes out in the spring. :)  (The three of us went to see the first one together and enjoyed it hugely.)  

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

I turned 60 (!!) last January!  I wrote about how we spent the day, here

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 obviously, the end of this pandemic!!  

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2021? 

More of the same: m
ostly yoga pants and T-shirts (worn without a bra)(even more so than usual!  lol). 

Cloth masks, matched to outfits (much to dh's bemusement...!) (although we now have some N95-equivalent masks too). 

My watch stopped working shortly after the pandemic began in March 2020. There's a kiosk at the nearby mall that replaces batteries, fixes watches, etc., but of course the mall was closed for long stretches of the past two years too, and even when it was open (with masks and social distancing measures in place), I wasn't keen to go there...! So I went without a watch for more than a year -- which was weird, as someone who has worn a watch almost daily, since I got one as a gift from my parents for my 8th birthday (a simple Timex, which I still have!). But in July, we went to the mall to get me a new cellphone, and I took the opportunity to check whether the kiosk was still there. It was!  The guy there replaced my watch's battery, and I've been wearing it daily again ever since then.  

32. What kept you sane?

(This question assumes sanity on my part, lol.  ;)  ) 

Sanity was slightly easier to find in 2021 than it was 2020, particularly once we became fully vaccinated in July, and things started reopening again in the summer (with some restrictions in place) -- and we were able to get haircuts again!! (lol) -- after salons were closed for 14 weeks and then 17 weeks! 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. Being able to download e-books while it was closed also helped maintain sanity and morale for both of us. 

Being able to spend more time with Little Great-Nephew, once SIL started looking after him weekdays and once we all became fully vaccinated, was also a big boost to the spirit. 

In-person meetings of my library book club haven't happened since early 2020, but my online book clubs have continued to be a blessing. Regular Zoom chats & Skype sessions with friends (both online and "real life"), former co-workers and relatives also gave me something to look forward to regularly. 

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

I have huge admiration for the doctors and public health officials who made frequent appearances on television this year, explaining the pandemic to us, and who did a great job of it. 

34. What political issue stirred you the most?

The pandemic and how it's been (mis)handled by our leaders. (See #13.) 

35. Who did you miss? 

My parents & my sister. I was so happy to finally get "home" in October to see them, after nearly two years!  

36. Who was the best new person you met?

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

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2021. 

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

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

Last year, I quoted "Band on the Run" by Paul McCartney & Wings, from 1974. I couldn't think of anything new at the moment, and it still fits!. :)   

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

*** *** *** 

Coming up:  2021 in blogging and in books!  

"Charlotte Fairlie" by D.E. Stevenson

My D.E. Stevenson online fan group will be starting a chapter-by-chapter reading & discussion of "Charlotte Fairlie" soon. This book also goes by the titles "The Enchanted Isle" and "Blow the Wind Southerly." 

My copy is a used volume that I got through Amazon, as this title (first published in 1954) has been out of print for many years -- before I learned that new paperback and e-book editions would be available as of Jan. 3rd!  Oh well!  

Our title character, Charlotte, not yet 30 years old, is the headmistress of Saint Elizabeth's School for girls, where she was once a pupil herself. In many ways, it's the only real home she's ever had, after her father essentially abandoned her after his remarriage. It's a challenging role, made more difficult by a disgruntled teacher who wanted Charlotte's job for herself. Into Charlotte's life comes a new student, Tessa MacRynne, who wants nothing more than to return to her father and home -- a castle on Targ, a remote island off the coast of Scotland.  In the second half of the book, Charlotte visits Tessa and her (divorced) father, Rory -- the "laird" -- during summer vacation, and comes to know the enchantments of Targ herself.  (You can probably guess what happens next.) 

In many ways, this is a typical Stevenson novel -- but some of the themes it touches upon are more serious than some of her other books. (Some mild spoilers follow.)  For example, another of Charlotte's students, and her two brothers, are being emotionally abused by their cold, distant father, with some tragic consequences. 

The last few chapters of the book take place at Christmastime -- something I didn't realize when I started reading it over the holidays. :)  Charlotte, facing a lonely Christmas at Saint Elizabeth's, packs her bags, starts driving aimlessly, and winds up staying at a small inn in a country village, taking comfort in the holiday services at the local church.  I was struck by a passage where Charlotte listens to the parishoners chattering about their children: 

"We left them in bed," one woman was saying. "They were opening their stockings. It was a treat to see Bobbie's face... he was too small last year to be excited about Santa Claus." 

"My two were awake at five," said her companion with a chuckle. "Jim and I were up till nearly two, decorating the tree, so we didn't get much sleep -- but there, Christmas belongs by rights to the children..." 

"That's what I always say," said the first woman. "Christmas would be sort of meaningless without children." 

Charlotte paused for a few moments at the lychgate with a pain in her heart. It was true. Christmas without children was meaningless... and then she raised her eyes and saw the little church with its lights shining through the stained-glass windows and she realised that there was one child who belonged to everybody who would let Him come in. The cloud upon her spirits lifted and quite suddenly she was happy and at peace. 

I realize not everyone will share  Charlotte's Christian beliefs or take comfort in them at Christmastime -- but it was a nice reminder of what the season is supposed to be about, and a welcome surprise to find childlessness treated in a sympathetic way in a book written in the 1950s (by a woman who had children and grandchildren herself). 

4 stars on Goodreads. I wouldn't count this as one of my favourite DES novels, but Charlotte is a very appealing heroine, and the usual lovely DES descriptions, along with the serious themes it tackles, sets this one above some of her other books. 

I will count this book again as a re-read after we finish our group discussion. 

This was Book #59 that I read in 2021 (and Book #5 finished in December) -- my final book read in 2021. (I was secretly hoping to reach 60, when it became apparent that goal might be in reach -- but hey, still not a bad showing!)  This brings me to 164% (!) of my 2021 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 36 books -- 23 books more than my goal, and 24 books ahead of schedule. This is also my best-ever showing in the Goodreads Challenge since I joined in 2016 -- my next-best result was 50 books read in all of 2019.  You can find reviews of all my books read in 2021 tagged as "2021 books."  

A "Reading Year in Review" post will be coming soon!  :)   

Monday, December 27, 2021

#MicroblogMondays: Annoying things & small pleasures (the family Christmas edition)

Annoying things: 

  • Three television sets in three different (but not distant) rooms (plus a radio in my parents' bedroom!), all on, and all on different channels, all at top volume (often as my parents snooze, oblivious). (My parents obviously need their hearing tested...!)  Sometimes I feel like all I do while I'm here is walk around, turning off TVs (or at least turning down the volume...!). 
    • Not only that: even when the TVs are on the same channel -- because each one is connected to a different receiver -- there's a slight delay in reception that results in an echo effect!  Highly annoying!  
  • My dad's penchant for game shows like "The Price is Right," "Let's Make a Deal," and "Family Feud" as well as pseudo-legal shows like "Family Court" and "Judge Judy" (also played at top volume...!).  
  • My parents' habit of eating late, often at 7 or sometimes even as late as 8 in the evening -- which translates to 8 or 9 p.m. for dh's & my stomachs. (We usually eat early, around 5:30 p.m., when we're at home.)  Needless to say, we can both get pretty hungry -- and, in dh's case, hungry often = "hangry" ;) -- by the time dinner is on the table here. 
  • Gallstones giving me grief up after a really tasty pre-Christmas roast beef dinner last week (albeit that's been the only significant incident to date while we've been here -- knocking wood!).  (This sort of confirms my suspicions that red meat is a trigger for these attacks... sadly for me, because I love me a nice roast beef or steak now & then). 
  • Between doing things for my parents, helping out in the kitchen and playing nightly games of cars (along with afternoon games of dominos), there hasn't been a lot of time to spend on my laptop or reading my book(s). My time is not always my own when I'm here!  
  • Not being able to have Parents' Neighbours' Daughter (PND) & family over at some point during the holidays because of the rising covid numbers. :(  
  • The numbers of people in the local grocery store wearing their masks below their noses. 
  • (More scary than annoying:)  Skyrocketing covid case numbers, both here and at home in Ontario, with more than 10,000 new cases logged there on Christmas Day. :(  Officials are warning that the true numbers are probably much higher, because they simply can't keep up with the demand for testing. :(  

Small pleasures: 

  • (Actually, a BIG pleasure!)  Spending Christmas with my family again, after spending last year apart (because, covid). 
  • Decorating my parents' tree with all the old familiar beloved ornaments (some older than I am!) -- and a few newer ones (including a couple of special Katie-related ones).  :)  
  • Still having presents and stockings to open, albeit on a smaller scale than in years past. 
  • Other than the one incident noted above, my gallstones have behaved pretty well so far (knocking wood, loudly!). I've tried to be careful while still allowing myself small helpings of most of the yummy things I love to eat, especially the ones I usually only eat at home and/or at Christmastime. 
  • Taking an evening drive with my parents (after picking my mom up from an evening hair salon appointment) to look at the Christmas light displays -- capped by seeing three deer, frozen in silhouette, in the parking lot of the church near their house on the edge of town. Magical! 
  • Playing cards together every night since we got here, as well as dominos on several afternoons. 
  • Making a brief masked visit to deliver Christmas presents to PND & family on the afternoon of Christmas Day -- and meeting their new puppy! 
  • Using the lap desk I brought in my suitcase with me, which lets me spend more time on my laptop, comfortably, while I'm here. I'm going to leave it here when we go, so that it will be here for me next time I return. 
  • The (mostly) jewelry advent calendar I bought as a treat for myself (I posted about it here).  Opening a lovely new surprise every morning was a real boost to the spirits, and I only wish I had bought one last year, the first time it was offered. I highly recommend the experience! (and if jewelry isn't your thing, there are lots of other cool advent calendars out there for cheese, wine, perfumes, cosmetics -- and chocolate, of course!).  
You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Hello, old friends :)

My sister & I were in the crawl space below my parents' split-level house a few days ago (there are two low, wheeled stools down there that help us scoot around more efficiently, saving wear & tear on our backs & knees -- and, no doubt, our heads!  lol), looking for something for our mother, when she said to me, "Did you know there's a shelf full of old books over there?"  

She took me over to a dark corner where I seldom venture, and moved a few boxes aside. There, on a shelf, covered in layers of dust, were two shelves full of books from our childhood. We'd gone through several boxes of old books about 10 summers ago -- many of which went to the thrift store and/or garage sale. I hadn't seen these particular books in years and I assumed they were long gone too. I'd thought of some of them, on & off (and have mentioned some of them in this blog), and I was *very* happy to reclaim a few old favourites and set them aside to take home with me. :)  

Here they are, from bottom to top:  

  • "On Indian Trails With Daniel Boone" (published in 1947) and its sequel, "Holding the Fort With Daniel Boone," by Enid LaMonte Meadowcroft (which is so obscure these days it doesn't even have an entry on Goodreads!). I borrowed and re-borrowed these books from the library as a child in late 1960s Saskatchewan, and LOVED them both. I also loved watching the 1960s TV series, "Daniel Boone," starring Fess Parker (who also played Davy Crockett). When we moved from Saskatchewan back to Manitoba in 1969, I could no longer access the books -- and so my grandfather, who worked as a caretaker at the local high school, asked the school librarian about them -- and she was able to order copies as presents for me & my sister. :) I was thinking about them again recently when I learned about a new book called "The Taking of Jemima Boone" by Matthew Pearl (which is on my currrent TBR list). I'm sure these would be considered highly politically incorrect by today's standards, but they were among the books that helped spark my lifelong love of history (American, Canadian & otherwise!).  
  • "A Sundae With Judy" by Frieda Friedman. What I remember about this book (published in 1949):  Judy's dad owns a soda shop in New York City, and the family lives above it. She and her friends put on a concert. Looking forward to refreshing my memory further on this one! 
  • "Snow Treasure" by Marie McSwigan. I was reminded of this one while watching "Atlantic Crossing" earlier this year on PBS. It's based on a true story about how a group of Norwegian schoolchildren use their sleds to help smuggle Norway's gold reserves out of the country during World War II, right under the noses of the occupying Nazis.  
  • "Samantha's Secret Room" by Lyn Cook.  This book was a particular favourite because it's by a Canadian author and set in Canada (the Georgian Bay area of Ontario, to be exact). I was able to share this one with dh's cousin's daughter -- also named Samantha :)  -- and I wrote about the book and what that meant to me in a previous blog post here
  • "A Room for Cathy" by Catherine Woolley. (First published in 1956.) The plot as I remember it:  When Cathy's father receives a promotion, the family moves out of their cramped city apartment to a large house in the country -- and Cathy is thrilled to finally have her own room. But when her dad's promotion falls through, the family -- and Cathy -- must make some hard choices. This was the first in a series of books about Cathy and her little sister, Chris. I read and loved them all.  :) (It also spurred my pre-teen demands for a room of MY own, too!)  
  • "My Side of the Mountain" by Jean Craighead George. I've thought of this book often in recent years, especially when I hear about "helicopter" parents who monitor their children's every movement. Even back in the 1960s and 1970s, when we were so much more free to roam around the neighbourhood unsupervised, this story (first published in 1959, and made into a movie in 1969) was pretty alluring to my friends & me!  It's about a boy named Sam who runs away from his home in the city and winds up living off the land, setting up residence in a hollow tree trunk in the forest (!). 

Did you read any of these books when you were growing up? 

Monday, December 20, 2021

"Emily's Quest" by L.M. Montgomery

My L.M. Montgomery Readathon group on Facebook recently announced our next read, starting in early/mid-January:  "The Story Girl," which was first published in 1911, and was (along with the sequel, "The Golden Road," as well as some short stories) the basis for the highly successful "Road to Avonlea" TV series from back in the 1990s. 

This came as a surprise to many group members, who assumed we'd be reading "Emily's Quest" next, since our last two reads were the first two volumes in the "Emily" trilogy:  "Emily of New Moon" (reviewed here and here) and "Emily Climbs" (reviewed here and here). I'd actually already started reading "Emily's Quest" myself -- I figured we'd probably read it as a group, sooner or later, and whatever our next book was going to be, I wanted to complete Emily's story first. (I first read Emily when I was growing up, and have re-read the books since then, but not in many years.)  I started reading before we left for our Christmas holiday, covered the bulk of the book on the plane, and finished it at my parents' house. 

"Emily's Quest" picks up where "Emily Climbs" left off. Emily is now 17, a high school graduate, and back at New Moon, pursuing her ambitions as a writer -- "climbing the Alpine Path," as she (and Montgomery) would describe it. The path is long, lonely and difficult, with some unexpected twists and turns. Her friends Ilse & Teddy have gone to pursue further studies in Montreal, and Perry is now working in a law office in Charlottetown. In their absence, Emily takes comfort in the company of her old friend, Dean Priest...

Montgomery's writing is, as always, wonderful. Like the previous "Emily" books, this is a great portrait of a developing writer, and the ups and downs of the writing life, as well as a coming-of-age story, which followed Emily into her 20s. (Montgomery said that Emily was the character that was most like herself.) Although (and this is probably not a spoiler) there is (eventually) a happy ending, Emily suffers a great deal and in many ways in this book. The overall tone & feel is dark and bleak.  

Part of the darkness has to do with the character of Dean, and his evolving relationship with Emily. (We've had some vigorous discussions within the group on this subject while going through the first two books together...!) He is considerably older than Emily -- a friend of her late father, in fact -- and from a modern perspective, many group members have described his interest in Emily as "creepy." I don't remember feeling this way when I first read the book as a pre-teen/young teenager in the 1970s -- we weren't as aware then about "inappropriate" relationships, generally -- but nevertheless, Dean does something in this book that has stuck in my memory all these years -- something I've found pretty hard to forgive.  

I love Montgomery, love Emily. This book completes the Emily trilogy and wraps up a number of plot lines to the reader's satisfaction, and I loved it overall -- but I have to admit, it's probably my least favourite of the three. I can't rate it quite as highly as I rated the previous two volumes. I'm giving this one 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 on Goodreads. 

This was Book #58 read to date in 2021 (and Book #4 finished in December), bringing me to 161% (!) of my 2021 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 36 books. (I've exceeded my best-ever showing in the Goodreads Challenge since I joined in 2016 -- which was 50 books read in all of 2019.)  I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 24 (!) books ahead of schedule. :)  You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2021 tagged as "2021 books."  

#MicroblogMondays: Home for Christmas during covid

We're here!! Against the odds, dh & I have made it home for Christmas with my family. The pandemic news just kept getting worse and worse all last week:  daily new case numbers in Ontario more than doubled in the space of less than a week:  from 1,536 on Monday (Dec. 15th) to 1,429 on Tuesday, 1,808 on Wednesday, 2,421 on Thursday, 3,124 on Friday, 3,301 on Saturday (the day we were travelling), and 4,177 on Sunday (yesterday).  (The record high new daily case count was 4,800+ in mid-April.) An increasing number of those cases are "breakthrough" cases in fully vaccinated people, albeit to date, it seems few of these wind up in the hospital (thank goodness). 

We decided we'd still go, unless our flight was cancelled or new quarantine restrictions on interprovincial travel were put in place. (Fortunately, that hasn't happened -- so far!)  Ours is not a large family -- just my aging parents, my sister, her partner, dh & me (no spring chickens ourselves...!) -- and I did not want to miss another Christmas together unless I really had to. We never go a lot of places or see a lot of people when we're home at Christmastime anyway. The most I'm expecting to be out & about is a couple of trips to the grocery store while we're here, and maybe a trip to the dollar store for stocking stuffers. We will probably see PND & her family while we're here, but that's about it. She & her dh are double-vaxxed, and both Little Princesses have now had their first vaccines. 

We wore the N95 equivalent masks I'd ordered (recommended by Turia in her comments on this post here -- thanks, Turia!) from the moment we left our condo until we got into my sister's car at the airport there -- about 5-6 hours, door to door (2+ hour flight). They were lightweight, breathable and quite comfortable. Two thumbs up! 

One potential last-minute monkey wrench:  I knew we'd have to present our vaccine "passports"/proof of vaccination with QR codes at some point before boarding -- but I thought that we would just show the officials (on paper or on our phones) while going through security or just before boarding. Nope -- while doing our advance check-in online on Friday morning (on my laptop), I was asked to upload our proof of vaccination. A mad scramble ensued -- where DID I file those PDFs on my laptop? I eventually had to go to the provincial government's website, download them (again) and then try to upload them to the airline. 

Mine, no problem. Dh's -- uh oh.  No matter how many times I tried, I got an error message, something to the effect of "not acceptable." It did say something about resolving the issue at the airport. Obviously, this was stress I did NOT need!!  The only thing I could think of that would make dh's record "not acceptable" was that his booking was made in his "real"/official birth name (the one that's on his birth certificate, passport & driver's license), and his health card/vaccine record is under his nickname/short version. 

(This was something I didn't notice until I took a good look at his vaccine record after trying to upload it. We ran into the sane problem a few years ago when he was applying for his Canada Pension Plan payments, using the Social Insurance Number (SIN) he got when he was a teenager, and wound up having to drive half an hour to a Service Canada office to straighten things out. Who knew, when we applied for/were issued these credentials 40-50 years ago, that someday there would be computers cross-checking them all against each other and flagging discrepancies?? My sister works in financial services and says she sees the same thing happen all the time with clients whose ID doesn't match the exact name that's on their account(s).) 

As it turned out, for all my angst over dh's credentials, he only had to show his proof of vaccination once when we got to the airport -- when we were in line to get into the security area for scanning -- and they didn't even scan the QR code (!).  

Anyway -- we're here. And that's all that matters. :)  

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

Thursday, December 16, 2021

"Unrequited Infatuations" by Stevie Van Zandt

As a longtime Bruce Springsteen fan (dh introduced me to his music early in our relationship, in the early 1980s), I immediately put "Unrequited Infatuations" on my reading list when I heard that Stevie Van Zandt had written a memoir. It was released earlier this fall. (I bought it the same day I bought Dave Grohl's memoir, and it was a toss-up as to which book I'd read first. Dave won.) 

As one review I read pointed out, Van Zandt is best known as the "consigliere" to two of New Jersey's most famous sons -- one being Bruce Springsteen, and the other (fictional) Tony Soprano of television's "The Sopranos." He first met Springsteen as a teenager in the 1960s, both musicians in rival bands, who bonded over their mutual passion for rock and roll music. As "Miami Steve," he was Springsteen's onstage harmonizing sidekick in the E Street Band and offstage arranger, producer and adviser. Their partnership lasted until 1983, when Van Zandt asked for a formal role in decision-making for the band. Springsteen refused. Van Zandt quit. They eventually rekindled their friendship, but he didn't rejoin the band until 1999.  

In the meantime, he produced albums for other artists. He formed his own band, Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul. (I had at least one of their albums, now in Older Nephew's collection.) The band's first drummer on the road was Dino Danelli, formerly of the Rascals, one of Van Zandt's favourite bands, growing up. Years later, he would pull off the nearly impossible feat of bringing the four feuding members of the Rascals together again, first for a one-off charity event and then for a tour, which included a run on Broadway. (Dh & I saw the show in Toronto in August 2013 and thoroughly enjoyed it.)  

Van Zandt was instrumental in getting the Rascals inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997 -- which was, in turn, helped him land the role of Silvio Dante in "The Sopranos." (The show's writer and producer, David Chase, saw him deliver the Rascals' induction speech and thought he'd be a natural as Silvio.)  He's since acted in other vehicles, including "Lilyhammer" -- a fish-out-of-water story about (another) Italian-American mobster living in Norway (!). (I've never seen it, but -- being part Swedish myself -- I got a kick out of his descriptions.)  

A trip behind the Iron Curtain triggered a quest to educate himself about political issues. He became an activist, organizing other artists from across musical genres to record the influential anti-apartheid anthem "Sun City." (I hadn't seen the video in years until I looked it up for this post... it's still pretty powerful.)  And he and his wife Maureen (who, by the way, have no children) are passionate advocates for the arts, especially in education. Their Rock and Roll Forever Foundation has developed a curriculum for use in schools called TeachRock, which uses the history of rock and roll as an educational tool. Van Zandt also hosts a radio show, "Little Steven's Underground Garage," on Sirius XM, where he spotlights his favourite artists and songs from the 1960s & 70s, as well as newer unknown bands (some of them signed to his Wicked Cool Records label).  

This one took me longer than I expected to read -- partly because of other stuff going on my life that distracted me from reading -- but also because there was a lot to wade through and absorb. (I also found myself somewhat distracted/irritated by Van Zandt's annoying habit of capitalizing random terms such as Rock, Jazz, Manager, Arranger, Artist, Religion, etc. etc.) A friend who read the book first told me it was "fun, but needed a heavy dose of suspended disbelief."  Having now finished the book, I agree.  To put it mildly, the guy has an extremely robust ego  ;) (and a fairly sizeable chip on his shoulder).  As she hinted, I suspect there's some healthy embellishment going on, lol.  But he's honest about his shortcomings too. He's done a lot of interesting things in his life, dabbled in a lot of different areas, and he has some interesting stories to tell. If you love rock and roll music, if you grew up listening to Sixties, Seventies and/or Eighties music (as I did), if you're a Springsteen or Sopranos fan, you will probably enjoy this book. 

I debated how to rate this book -- 3.5 or 4? I'm giving it 4, because it did pick up towards the end, and left me with a smile on my face.  I especially loved this passage, near the very end, where he talks about his TeachRock curriculum: 

My initial ambition for education was quite modest. All I wanted was for every kid in kindergarten to be able to name the four Beatles, dance to "Satisfaction," sing along with "Long Tall Sally," and recite every word of "Subterranean Homesick Blues." 

The rest will take care of itself. 

This was Book #57 read to date in 2021 (and Book #3 finished in December), bringing me to 158% (!) of my 2021 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 36 books. (I've exceeded my best-ever showing in the Goodreads Challenge since I joined in 2016 -- which was 50 books read in all of 2019.)  I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 23 (!) books ahead of schedule. :)  You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2021 tagged as "2021 books." 

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AND.... this is it!!  Post #2,000 since I began blogging in October 2007!!!