Saturday, May 15, 2021

"Katherine's Marriage" by D.E. Stevenson (re-read)

My D.E. Stevenson fan group just finished our chapter-by-chapter reading and discussion of "Katherine's Marriage" -- a sequel to "Katherine Wentworth," which we read together last summer (reviewed here and here). As is my usual practice, I read the novel through on my own before we began our discussion (and reviewed it here).  

Our group discussions usually add to my appreciation/understanding of the book -- and that was certainly the case here -- but not enough to raise my previous Goodreads rating of 3 stars. ;)  (Perhaps 3.5?)  Generally, I thought "Katherine Wentworth" was a better book, and I rated that one 3.5, rounded up to 4. 

Our group's next DES novel will be "Summerhills," a sequel to "Amberwell," which we read together last summer (reviews here and here). I very much enjoyed "Amberwell,"and I'm looking forward to reading more about the Ayrton family and what happened to them after the war! 

This was Book #27 read to date in 2021 (and Book #4 finished in May), bringing me to 75% of my 2021 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 36 books. I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 14 books ahead of schedule. :)  You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2021 tagged as "2021 books." 

Friday, May 14, 2021

"Us" by David Nicholls

"Us" by David Nicholls has been in my TBR pile for a while, but I moved it up when I heard that a TV version will begin showing on PBS on June 20th. :)  (Apparently it's also been shown on CBC TV here in Canada -- which I totally missed while I was watching stuff on PBS! -- and is also available on the CBC Gem streaming service.) 

I read and (mostly) loved Nicholls' earlier book "One Day" (and reviewed it on this blog, 10 years ago now -- eeek! -- we never did go to see the movie version...), and I have another title of his, "Sweet Sorrow," in my TBR pile. 

"Us" is a classic tale of midlife crisis: a long-married couple facing their empty nest and struggling with the question of what comes next. As the book opens, our narrator, Douglas, is drifting off to sleep when his wife of 25 years, Connie, announces that their marriage has "run its course" and she's thinking of leaving him, once their teenaged son, Albie, heads off to college in the fall.

"I just feel that as a unit, as husband and wife, we did it," she tells Douglas. "We did our best, we can move on, our work is done... I want to feel this is the beginning of something new, not the beginning of the end." 

Before Albie's departure -- and presumably Connie's -- the family agrees to spend the summer together on a "Grand Tour" of Europe, which Douglas views as an opportunity to keep his marriage together -- and to forge a better relationship with his uncommunicative son. The narrative shifts back and forth between past and present (and sometimes it's difficult to tell what time frame we're in, at least at first...), with Douglas remembering the arc of his relationship with Connie, as they drag a reluctant Albie around the museums and art galleries of the Continent. 

I've seen similar scenarios among couples we know, when family life (and especially the mom/wife's life) revolves completely around the children for 18+ years -- and then the children leave home, and the couple is left staring at each other and thinking "Who ARE you??" and realize they have absolutely nothing in common any more. Sometimes they stay together, albeit leading rather separate lives, sometimes they go their separate ways. (Sometimes, of course, they wind up adjusting to this new chapter in their lives just fine.)  

But this idea that children are the only reason for a marriage, the only reason for two people to stay together...?? (and then when they leave...??) That's not my idea of what marriage is (or should be) all about -- has never been, even when we were hoping for children.  And when Connie talks about dreading "the hole" that will be left by Albie's departure, I couldn't help but think, HEY, what about those of us who can't have children?  We've had to confront that hole -- learn to deal with it and how to fill it (or try to fill it), while she was busy enjoying 18 years of motherhood??  

Anyway, there's plenty of humour to go along with the angst. Douglas's "brief history of art" (chapter 39), for example, had me cracking up. He's a biochemist, with a practical view of the world; Connie has a background in art, and Albie wants to be a photographer. 
And, of course, there's an ALI angle lurking in the wings (as there so often is!). (Potential spoiler alert!):  Douglas & Connie had another child before Albie, a daughter named Jane, who died shortly after birth. This is mentioned by Douglas early in the book, almost as a throwaway as he introduces himself to readers -- but (as you might guess) it pops up again later... 

I enjoyed "Us." It's a little long (416 pages in paperback), but well-written and absorbing. The parts about Jane were bang-on accurate. It took me less time than I'd estimated I'd need to finish it. Douglas is a thoroughly decent fellow, albeit perhaps a little obtuse at times (as many men are...!). I was rooting for him to succeed. It's a bittersweet story that ends on a hopeful note, albeit perhaps not exactly the way you might think. 

A solid 4 stars on Goodreads, possibly 4 & 1/2.  

This was Book #26 read to date in 2021 (and Book #3 finished in May), bringing me to 72% of my 2021 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 36 books. I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 13 books ahead of schedule. :)  You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2021 tagged as "2021 books." 

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Odds & ends

  • COVID-19 updates:  
    • My province (Ontario) has halted first-dose use of the AstraZeneca vaccine (which is, of course, the vaccine both dh & I got -- after being urged to take the first vaccine available to us), because of the clotting issue. Also cited: the fact that only a limited number of new AZ doses are scheduled to arrive soon, versus a ton of Pfizer on its way. Any AZ leftover/received will likely be used for second doses. (Ontario is not alone:  there are now 7 Canadian provinces that have suspended use of AZ.) 
      • Now there is some question as to whether we'll be getting AZ for our second shots in mid/late July, or one of the MRNA vaccines (Pfizer or Moderna). (There won't be enough AZ for all of us who had first shots with it to get second shots within the current Canadian standard 16 week/four month time frame.) There's a study coming out of the UK soon on mixing vaccines that's supposed to help the authorities decide what to do. 
      • I have no fears of a second AZ dose (the risk factor is supposedly much less with the second dose than the first, for whatever reason), and if they tell me that mixing is safe, I'll be happy to get a Pfizer or Moderna shot -- I am thankful for whatever I can get to become fully vaccinated. But quite frankly, I can't help but feel like a bit of a lab rat. :p  
    • After reaching a pandemic high of 4,800+ new cases in a single day in mid-April, both our daily new case levels and the 7-day rolling average have dropped below 3,000 (on a couple of days recently, new daily cases have been in the low 2,000s). Those are still pretty high numbers, though, and hospital ICUs are still at capacity. 
    • The stay-at-home order that went into effect in early/mid-April was due to expire next week, on May 20th -- just before our Victoria Day long weekend -- and rumours that it would be extended another two weeks, to June 2nd, were confirmed this morning. Which of course will not please the anti-lockdown crowd, but the evidence is clear that long weekends/holidays have fuelled big spikes in case numbers and contributed to the second and third waves we've experienced. I'm happy to keep things locked down until the numbers get a whole lot lower. 
  • Jody Day was the guest on the podcast "A Certain Age" -- on the day after Mother's Day, no less!   Links to the podcast and a transcript here
  • Journalist Jill Filipovic (who is childfree) recently mused on Twitter
I would really love to read more essays and op/eds from women (and men, too) who regret having children as early as they did, regret having as many as they did, or regret having children at all. There's not much about motherhood that remains publicly unexplored, but that does.
In her Substack newsletter, Filipovic admits "Perhaps I am naive, but I was surprised by the level of vitriol and blowback." (I wasn't.)  Her entire essay on the subject of maternal regret, the decision whether to have children (or not -- and if so, when) and why these subjects are so taboo, titled "The Things We Don't Discuss," is worth a read. 
Try to tell someone you don’t like Mother’s Day and the response that elicits can be pretty harsh — especially for those who feel sad on and around Mother’s Day because they weren’t able to become mothers as they had hoped. That’s almost guaranteed to inspire a harsh response that lacks any sense of compassion. 
If you don’t like Mother’s Day because your mother has passed on or because you lost a child, you’re likely to get a little more sympathy, but there’s still not an open invitation to share freely.

(And this:)  

Does another woman’s pain about Mother’s Day actually take away anyone’s joy or ability to celebrate in a way that suits them? Can there not exist the nuance that a woman can feel grief around Mother’s Day and still support and encourage mothers? 
And do we really need to be so miserly about how we celebrate this holiday? Is it really necessary to insist that women who struggle with this day just sit down, smile, and shut up?
    • Rebecca Solnit had a similar essay in the Guardian, expressing her "conflicted feelings" about Mother's Day.  "The holiday feels coercive, as though it tells us what to feel and what our experience was, and it leaves out those who don’t fit its template."  Yes to all that!  

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

A few words of advice

A friend from one of the childless forums I'm on was recently preparing to speak to a group of women who are trying to decide whether to walk away from infertility treatment. She asked us: what advice/suggestions/words of wisdom could we offer from our own experiences? 

I've probably shared some if not all of these tips/observations in previous posts over the years I've written here, but I'm not sure I've ever put them all together in one post before.  It's a huge subject, and everyone's experience/advice will be different, of course, but this is what I told her was helpful for me:  

  • Take a realistic look at your situation. What has the cost of this journey been so far to your mental, physical, emotional and financial health? Can you continue without doing further damage to your health, your finances, your relationships? Could you handle another loss/failed cycle? -- are you prepared for that outcome? Realistically, what do you think your odds of success are?
  • If you're not sure you're ready to stop yet, try taking a break for a while and then revisiting the subject once the dust has settled a little. While you're on break, try to reconnect with your partner and some of the things you used to enjoy before infertility took over your lives. We had pretty much decided to throw in the towel by the time our third medicated IUI failed (in June 2001), but then we headed off on a family vacation on the Oregon coast. Having some time to rest, relax and distance ourselves from treatment helped me know for sure that I couldn't do this any more... I was done.
  • Perhaps discuss your options with a counsellor/therapist. (One who is familiar with infertility/childlessness/loss & grief issues can be especially helpful.) We did this as we were heading into treatment and then again as we were heading out, and I am so glad we did. She did not try to talk us into continuing treatment, or push adoption as an alternative. She treated childless living as a valid option, and asked what we thought a family of two would look like for us.
  • Think about what a life without children would look like -- the positive things you could do with your time, money and energy, as well as the things you'll be missing out on (which we tend to dwell on).  My dh & I knew a good life without kids was possible, because we'd been having one already, before ttc took over our lives. :)  We looked forward to doing more of the things we already enjoyed doing together: dinners out, going to the movies & theatre, travel, spending time with extended family. We immediately knew that if we weren't going to have kids, we were going to try to pay off our mortgage as quickly as possible and retire early. (We both wound up losing our jobs before we had the chance to retire on our own terms, but with no mortgage and no children to support, and having saved some money in the years since we stopped treatment -- and having rolled with a few punches in the past, i.e., infertility & pregnancy loss! -- we were much better prepared to cope than some of our colleagues who still had families and mortgages to support.) 
  • The counsellor also told us "I know this is going to sound completely crazy, after everything you've been doing to try to have a family, but consider going on birth control. It's the only thing that will remove that nagging little voice in the back of your head that says 'maybe this will be the month!' " I'll admit we did not follow that piece of advice -- but I know some women who have, and I do see the wisdom in it. 
  • Find other childless women who can support you in this transition. There are SO many more resources, online & in "real life" now than there were 20 years ago when I was facing this decision -- blogs, forums, social media, podcasts, books (and you'll find some suggestions on the pages and in the sidebars of this blog). I actually started lurking on a few childless living forums/message boards, long before we made our final decision. Knowing there were other women out there struggling with the same situations and issues made a huge difference for me! 
  • Finally, remember: this takes time. You're not going to flip a switch and everything will immediately be sunshine & roses. Rome was not built in a day, etc. etc. You've spent an entire lifetime thinking you were going to be a mother someday -- you're not going to reverse a lifetime of hopes, plans and expectations overnight. But over time, it DOES get easier. It might not be the life you planned or expected, but there IS a good life to be had without children! ❤
Do you have any advice to add?? 

*** *** *** 

On a somewhat related note, Mel at Stirrup Queens flagged a recent article in Vox from Ann Davidman, a "parenthood clarity mentor," who helps people to decide whether to try to have children at all. Some of her advice might also be helpful for people going through infertility. 

Monday, May 10, 2021

#MicroblogMondays: Small pleasures & annoying things

 Small pleasures: 

  • Seeing Little Great-Nephew (soon to be 18 months old) this past weekend (stay-at-home order notwithstanding...) for the first time in over a month, and basking in all the cuteness. :)  (It was just BIL & SIL at home with him, the front screen door and balcony doors were both open for air circulation, all the adults have had our first vaccines, and BIL is the only one of us still out working, so we took a calculated risk.) 
    • Bonus: Seeing the dog too. :)  
    • Bonus: Getting out of the house!! after spending most of the past month in the house. :p 
  • Finishing yet another book (reviewed here) and watching my Goodreads Reading Challenge total grow closer to my goal. :) 
  • Easy crockpot chicken & dumplings (comfort food!) for yesterday's dinner.  

Annoying things: 
  • WAY too many grey, dreary, cloudy (sometimes rainy) days lately.  :(  
  • Seeing/reading about fully vaccinated people in the States travelling, venturing out into bars and to places like Disney World and getting to hug their moms on Mother's Day, while things here are (still) in such a mess. :(   Those kinds of scenes are still a long way off here... 
  • Knowing our current stay-at-home order is due to expire on May 20th -- just before our Victoria Day long weekend -- and not trusting our provincial government to make the right call and extend it for another few weeks. :p  (New case numbers are starting to decline, but they're still pretty high, and the hospital ICUs are still pretty jammed. I heard an estimate today that it will take something like THREE YEARS to clear up the backlog of surgeries that have been postponed...)   
  • Coming up to 9 weeks since our last haircuts, and my scraggly hair is starting to get pretty annoying again... 
    • (I've said it before and I will say it again:  Wearing masks everywhere? No problem. Staying home for weeks on end? No problem. Staying away from malls and restaurants for more than a year?  Can do!  But going without regular haircuts??  Heeellllpppppp....)
You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here

"Sorrow and Bliss" by Meg Mason

I don't remember where I first heard about "Sorrow and Bliss" by Meg Mason. It may have been when someone suggested it might be a potential read for the Gateway Women book club. We haven't read it there (yet?) but I picked it up myself earlier this month. 

I've heard/read comparisons made between this book and Bridget Jones's Diary, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and Sally Rooney's novels -- all of which I've also read. I'd say the comparisons are both vaguely apt and not quite right at the same time. "Sorrow and Bliss" is funny and witty, full of pointed observations and some amazing writing -- but it's also sad (sometimes overwhelmingly so). I felt like there was a dark cloud hanging over (almost) the entire book -- just as a dark cloud perpetually hangs over the life of Martha, our narrator/protagonist.  

As the novel begins, 40-year-old Martha has just broken up with Patrick, her husband of 8 years and friend since they were teenagers, and moved back into her childhood home with her eccentric parents (an alcoholic artist mother and a struggling poet father). The bulk of the novel is an episodic look back on the events and tangled web of relationships that led her to this point in her life.  

Martha describes how a "bomb" went off in her head when she was 17, and how things were never the same afterwards. The "bomb" is never clearly identified (there's an author's note at the end of the book, indicating that Martha's diagnosis, treatment, etc., is entirely fictional), but it's obvious that she's had an almost-lifelong struggle with some form of mental illness.  She longs for a baby -- her uber-fertile sister Ingrid has four (!) -- but a doctor tells her that her diagnosis and medications are not compatible with pregnancy, and so she tells everyone she does not want children. Late in the book, she receives an unexpected new diagnosis, which changes her life. 

The melancholy mood that permeates this novel is lightened/tempered by a  hopeful ending, and a wonderful cast of supporting characters. I particularly loved Martha's father;  her kind, sweet, patient husband Patrick; her hilarious sister Ingrid;  her former boss and kind friend Peregrine; and the wealthy and domineering Aunt Winsome, who bankrolls the entire dysfunctional family and attempts to hold them all together. 

4 stars on Goodreads.  There's a lot to chew on here. Overall, I loved it and would recommend it, but you may find some of it difficult, depending on your frame of mind!  

This was Book #25 read to date in 2021 (and Book #2 finished in May), bringing me to 69% of my 2021 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 36 books. I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 13 books ahead of schedule. :)  You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2021 tagged as "2021 books." 

Friday, May 7, 2021

More odds & ends (pre-Voldemort Day)

  • Not sure what I did to deserve this, but why do I suddenly have Pampers diaper ads popping up in all my social media accounts??  And just before Voldemort/MDay, too... Ugggghhhhhh....  :p 
  • Speaking of V/MDay, Civilla Morgan at the Childless Not By Choice podcast has posted a lovely special episode full of practical advice and encouragement on that subject. It's only about a half hour long, but it packs in a ton of wisdom from 10 childless & childfree women on how they manage this difficult weekend. Some of them will be familiar to many of you, perhaps some not. Worth a listen
  • Also speaking of V/MDay, a Facebook friend flagged a post from the writer Anne Lamott in which she reproduced an old essay of hers, "Why I hate Mother's Day."  I know I've read it before but not sure I've shared it here -- at any rate, worth a reshare!  
    • Anne prefaced her Facebook share of this essay by saying: 
Here is my annual Mother’s Day post, ONLY for those of you who dread the holiday, dread having strangers, cashiers and waiters exclaim cheerfully, mindlessly, “Happy Mother’s Day!” when it is a day that, for whatever reason, makes you feel deeply sad. I told Neal last year that I didn’t think I’d run it, because I always get so much hate mail, and he said, “It’s never stopped you before.” 
This is for those of you who may feel a kind of sheet metal loneliness on Sunday, who had an awful mother, or a mother who recently died, or wanted to be a mother but didn't get to have kids, or had kids who ended up breaking your hearts. I wrote about how I’m still getting over having had Nikki as a mother, and how I miss her, 20 years after her passing, in Dusk Night Dawn. If you love the day and have or had a great mom and happy, highly successful kids, maybe skip this:
  • A great article from Forbes (!) about "miscarriage: the costly business taboo" -- the costs to businesses, the value of greater recognition and more compassionate treatment of employees who have experienced pregnancy loss, and practical things employers and managers can do to help. 
  • This is a gorgeous piece by Yael Wolfe, a childless woman writing about the children she has mothered over the years. 
    • Quote: "Too often, I feel the contributions women make to children who are nor their own are dismissed and ignored. But I’d like to see that change — to see our culture celebrate all expressions of maternal love. All of it is worthy."
  • The New York Times had a recent article/photo essay about a photographer in Berlin who is photographing and telling the stories of consciously childfree women.  These women are childfree by choice, but I think there's still lots here that not-by-choicers can relate to. (Some interesting comments too.) 
  • This article from the NYT, published a few weeks ago, tells the story of a couple in their 60s who thought they had put their IVF treatments behind them nearly 20 years ago. Then they got a letter -- and a bill -- from their clinic. (Beware the comments section.) 
  • Another NYT article (& podcast):  U.S. birth rates are plummeting, and the pandemic hasn't helped. 

“It could be good news if women feel like they have more control over their fertility,”  [Caroline Sten Hartnett, a sociologist at the University of South Carolina] said. “But it is not good news if having a child is just becoming harder than it was because jobs are more precarious, and families just can’t make it work in a minimally functional way.”

But this comment, from a 29-year-old woman interviewed at the end of the article, set my teeth on edge, with the tired old assumption that postponing having children (or not having them at all, for whatever reason) is "selfish." 

“I’m feeling a little bit selfish,” Ms. Jones said. She said only one of her friends had a child.

“Everybody in my friend group is saying, ‘When is the right time to let go of that selfishness?’” she said. “We are all putting it off.”

  • I did like this take on the population decline from Jill Filipovic on her Substack newsletter: "The Great Birth Rate Freak-Out." (I enjoy Jill's writing/newsletter in general!) 
    • Although they allude to the gap between the number of children women say they want and the number they are actually having, neither of these two pieces mentions rising infertility rates as a factor in declining birth rates. If governments truly believe that falling birth rates are a problem, why not provide policies and funding to ensure that those who would like to access infertility treatment can do so without going bankrupt (while recognizing that ARTs do have their limits and won't work for everyone)?  

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Childless mother*

*(a name I considered giving to this blog when I was starting it. Also the name of a poem I found long ago.) 

I've been pondering the curious place I find myself in as a childless mother -- a woman without children, who actually/technically is a mother -- as we approached International Bereaved Mother's Day (last Sunday), and now in the dreaded lead-up to the "main event" this Sunday. 

On the one hand:  I am a mother -- a bereaved mother. I was pregnant, for 26 weeks  anyway. I went through labour. I gave birth. But I went through it knowing that my daughter was already dead in my womb;  she never took a breath. (Nobody wants to hear MY birth story...!)  I held her for an all-too-brief time that evening, staring into her wee red face, then handed her over to the nurse to take to the morgue, and I never saw her again. 

On the other hand:  I am childless. I am a parent -- but I didn't get TO parent. Not in the traditional sense, anyway. I did not have a "rainbow baby." I have no living children. I will never be a grandmother either.  I won't have any children to take care of me as I age. 

Another bereaved mom on one of my childless forums called it "having a foot in both camps."  It's an awkward place to be in, sometimes. After my daughter's stillbirth, I found comfort in the pregnancy loss community (both online and in a "real life" support group). All the pregnancy loss groups I belong(ed) to were (and to some extent still are) a place where I feel free to be the mom that I am (however limited that experience of mothering must be), where I can feel comfortable talking about my daughter and what happened to us. 

But many of the bereaved moms there were already mothers of living children. And/or the vast majority of them went on to have "rainbow babies" -- sometimes two or three of them. I've watched their kids grow into young adulthood (high school, university, graduate school, work...) while Katie remains frozen in time as my one, forever baby. At get-togethers, I sat in silence while they chatted and compared notes about their growing families. Even among these people, who knew my pain better than anyone, I would occasionally get "bingoed" with comments like, "You want to take mine?"  (Seriously?!)  I hesitated to join in when they complained about how busy they were, because of course, how busy could I be if I didn't have children??  

Once we realized there would be no more babies for us, I began to look for similar support among women who were also childless not by choice. And I found some -- but I found myself treading carefully there too. As Jody Day of Gateway Women has said, the room called childlessness has many doors. Some women, like me, are childless because of loss and/or infertility, but there are many, many other reasons why a woman might not have children. To name just a few: mental and physical health issues, husbands who already have families from previous relationships, husbands who don't want (more) children, no husbands or boyfriends to have children with... 

I know some childless women envy me my experience of pregnancy.  And while I understand that, and while I would never trade those 26 weeks, I would never wish a pregnancy like mine on anyone -- the wild rollercoaster ride of emotions, gradually overshadowed by a growing sense of fear and dread --  nevermind the way the whole thing abruptly ended.... 

Some childless women I know identify intensely as mothers to their lost children -- even those they only knew as embryos in an IVF petri dish. Others rarely mention their pregnancy(s) or the children they never got to parent. Some post faithfully on social media about International Bereaved Mother's Day and Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Day/Month, but nothing about World Childless Week;  with other friends, it's the opposite. 

There is no "right" or "wrong" way to be a childless mother, obviously. I just find it interesting that some people seem to identify more with one part of the equation than the other. I think sometimes it's easier/more socially acceptable to identify with/focus on the "mother" part of the equation than the "childless" part.   

I try to remember my audience and post/speak with care, depending on where I am and who I'm addressing. Obviously, this blog is my personal space and I write about my whole experience, both as an "older" (gulp) childless woman and as a childless mother. Some days I feel my childlessness more keenly; sometimes (like this week) I'm more in mother mode, thinking of my brief pregnancy and the little girl who would now be a young woman. But I'm always both.  

If you are a childless mother like me, can you relate to this experience of having "a foot in both camps?" 

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Odds & ends

  • My SIL (dh's brother's wife) is now retired!  (Sort of!)  She lost her longtime job three years ago. Since then, she's had a couple of different jobs, most recently as a receptionist at a nearby warehouse. She's been working in the front office, mostly by herself at the front desk, with very few drop-in visitors these days, and so (thankfully) she has been relatively safe from COVID-19 there.  Her last day of work was Friday. 
    • I say she is "sort of" retired. She is taking this week off. Next Monday, her daughter-in-law/Older Nephew's Wife/Little Great-Nephew's mom is returning to work after her 18-month maternity leave.  And SIL is going to be taking care of her grandson (Little Great-Nephew). Of course, Older Nephew & his wife also just bought a house,  about an hour north of us here. They take possession in early June, and will move in there (and out of BIL & SIL's house) after doing some painting. One of them will bring Little Great-Nephew to his grandparents' house before heading on to work (both workplaces are closer to BIL & SIL's house than to their new home). (SIL said she would take care of her grandson, but she wasn't going to drive an hour one way each day to do it... I think that's fair!) Crossing my fingers for all of them that all these changes go smoothly!  
    • Dh & I plan to drop by regularly this summer to visit (and provide some backup/relief, lol), once our stay-at-home order is lifted, the weather improves (so we can spend time outside) and SIL & Little Great-Nephew have settled into their new routines. Something to look forward to!  :) 
  • COVID-19 vaccinations here are opening up to younger and younger age groups. Both nephews & their wives (all between the ages of 28 and 31) are now booked for their first shots -- they'll all have them before the end of the month. Yay!!  :)  
  • We've noticed an influx of voices in the hallways lately, indicating guests coming and going and lingering at someone's door -- doubly annoying during a pandemic with a stay-at-home order in place (for the third time in a little over a year).  There's a couple down the hall who have a new baby (we can hear him/her faintly crying sometimes). Dh thinks that friends & relatives come over to see the baby -- they may or may not go into the unit but they stand out in the hallway and talk and admire the little one, and that's why we're hearing their voices so loudly & clearly. I guess that would explain what we've been hearing, but seriously?!  
  • Credit to RESOLVE for hosting a great "Kitchen Table Conversation" on "The Many Perspectives of Living Without Children," moderated by actor and filmmaker Tracey B. Wilson and featuring Jobi Tyson from Tutum Global; Justine Froelker of Ever Upward; and Katy DeJong from The Pleasure Anarchist, talking about their childless lives.  Worth a look! 
  • Several people have shared this fabulous New York Times article about a woman doctor who is doing some much-needed research on the endometriosis. I don't have endometriosis (that I know of?? -- I have sometimes wondered...), but I know some of you who do. This article is both infuriating (how common it is and how often women's pain has been dismissed), and inspiring. The stories in the comments are worth a read as well.
  • I've written before about my interest in genealogy, and I loved this piece I found, "In praise of maiden aunts."  "...these maiden aunts, bachelor uncles, and childless couples often have fascinating stories, and sometimes had profound impact on our ancestors," writes author Andrew Searle Pang, who describes several examples from his own family tree in this article.  
    • I wrote about one very important maiden aunt in my own family tree here

Monday, May 3, 2021

#MicroblogMondays: Here's a story....

Here's a question for you!  A Facebook friend recently asked why people choose to post "stories" (and should that be "stories" or "Stories"??) instead of wall posts. 

Her main issue was how the stories zoom by so fast, and having to click back and/or hold her finger on it (on her cellphone) to be able to fully take in the whole thing. "If something's worth sharing in the first place, why not let it linger?" she asked. (Good question, I thought!) She also disliked that stories are now showing up in her Facebook feed, and she doesn't always realize it's a story versus a regular post until she clicks on it. (I noticed this recently too!) 

Some commenters agreed, saying they find stories "annoying." Most people said they prefer watching them on Instagram versus Facebook. (IG allows you to cross-post to FB, but not vice-versa, so far as I can tell.) 

Others came to stories' defense and said they enjoyed watching them. Those who have shared stories said they liked being able to share things they've found on other people's stories, and that it's a "tidier" way of sharing memes and other stuff they've found and liked without cluttering up their wall. Small business owners & entrepreneurs said stories are a critical marketing tool for them in helping to build their brands... that they reach and engage their audience (especially younger people) in a much different way through stories versus regular posts. 

I get that. 

But I have mixed feelings. 

It took me a long time to start watching the stories on my Instagram feed. I didn't "get" what they were all about, and it seemed like it was just one more thing I had to deal with/scroll through. Once I started looking at them, I realized that some of the content in the stories was different from what was in the main feed... and I certainly didn't want to miss anything posted by some of my good friends and relatives. I currently follow about 450 accounts on Instagram, and some of them are VERY active on stories -- some post literally dozens of snippets every day. That's a lot of time spent watching or advancing through stories every day! (I tend to watch them in IG far more than on Facebook, for some reason -- and apparently I'm not alone in that.) And the "deadline" -- the need to get through the stories before they expire -- makes me feel pressured. 

Stories from some of my favourite brands or "influencers" are one thing (and I do enjoy some of this content -- for example, I find @gocleanco 's before & after cleaning videos mesmerizing!).  Personal stories are another thing entirely -- and one user's in particular, lol.  ;)  My MAIN complaint/reservation about stories is that Older Nephew's Wife uses FB & IG stories almost exclusively for her social media posts -- which means we get 24 hours max (and often less -- because we do have to sleep...!) to enjoy any photos and videos she posts of Little Great-Nephew before they disappear...  And sometimes it's a week or more before she posts something else. It would be nice to be able to go back to them later and watch at our leisure. It's especially maddening when COVID-19 prevents us from seeing him as often as we otherwise might and taking our own photos. Someone suggested taking screenshots -- which we do -- but those don't adequately capture the full experience -- or cuteness :) -- of the videos. I don't know WHY she uses social media this way -- and I suppose we could ask her/tell her how we feel -- but I don't want to make her feel bad or feel that she has to do something just because we're annoyed by it. She is, after all, our nephew's wife, not our own daughter or daughter-in-law!  And she's the mother of said Little Great-Nephew -- we want to stay in her good graces, lol.  

Plus, I have an issue with impermanence, lol. Okay, I know nothing lasts forever, especially on the Internet, but I have a general tendency to want to hang onto things. I'm a packrat, even in my virtual life...! 

You might guess that I don't use stories myself. (Or at least I haven't to date.) One friend confessed they've only ever shared stories by accident -- I had to admit I'm in that camp too. ;)  I think I might have shared one deliberately once to enter a giveaway. Part of the reason I've never used stories is I honestly don't know what the heck I'm doing when it comes to posting one. Maddeningly, social media doesn't come with instruction manuals. All those special little effects -- the captions (in different fonts), the stickers, the music, the polls, the tags... How do people do these things??  (I suppose I am showing my age here... younger people seem to have an instinct about how these things work, and certainly less trepidation about just diving in and using them.) (I also suppose there is such a thing as Google, lol...)  

So -- Instagram &/or Facebook Stories -- yay or nay? Do you use the "Stories" feature on these apps/sites? Why or why not? 

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

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Crazy or grieving? (Mary Todd Lincoln was "one of us")

Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, tends to get a bad rap. People have called her "crazy" and point out that she spent some time in an insane asylum after her husband's death.

A new exhibit at President Lincoln's Cottage -- a Washington, D.C., museum I had never heard of! -- makes the case that Mary was not crazy -- she was a bereaved mother. Moreover, the exhibit places the Lincolns' grief "alongside the stories of modern-day bereaved parents and their kids, showing their similarities across time." 

Think about it! "In her lifetime, the former first lady lost her husband to an assassin’s bullet and three of her four children to disease. Her lengthy, public mourning defied conventions of the day and led to criticism and questions about her sanity," says a fascinating Washington Post article about the exhibit.  

The cottage was a kind of summer White House -- a refuge where the Lincolns could escape the heat and humidity, relax and grieve the loss of their son Willie (who died in February 1862 of typhoid fever, age 11) in peace. 

"The trauma of child loss shaped both Lincolns." says the museum's website about the new exhibit. "It seeded new fears they carried until they died. It deepened the limits of their emotional and mental endurance. It changed the character and course of their lives. And, the stigma of grief transcends time and place as families continue to struggle under the societal pressures of mourning the death of children in modern society." 

Does any of this sound familiar? (From the Washington Post article:) 
The modern bereaved parents in the exhibit, who are anonymous, describe a society that is in some ways even more uncomfortable with expressions of grief than it was 150 years ago.

“I think society expected me to just move on,” says the mother of Jacob, who was murdered when he was 6. “I think it is still a surprise for some people that we still talk about her so freely,” said the mother of Abby, an only child who died at age 17 five years ago. “I think they are confused as to why we are still talking about her, assuming reflecting on her life, and death, only accentuates the pain.”

[Callie Hawkins, a bereaved mother who works at the museum and helped to create the exhibit] encountered this discomfort when she presented the project to some colleagues. “Isn’t it going to make visitors sad?” they worried.

Yes, it will,  Hawkins replied. And that’s a meaningful experience.
Read the article!  And, if you're in Washington D.C. over the next year or two (and hopefully COVID-19 will subside enough by then to make such visits possible!), you can visit the exhibit at the cottage museum too. :)  

*** *** *** 

Early in my blogging career (January 2008), I saw another article about another museum exhibit that got me thinking about the fine line between public perceptions of bereavement and insanity. Read about Ethel Smalls' suitcase here

I wrote then: 
There but for the grace of God and about 70 years difference in attitudes toward mental health go I. 

I know that just about all of us, from time to time, feel misunderstood by the people around us, and yes, there are days when I feel like I'm going out of my mind. I've even consulted a therapist from time to time. But so far, nobody's tried to commit me to an insane asylum. At least, not yet...

*** *** *** 

While writing this post, I was reminded that today is International Bereaved Mothers Day. I don't have a lot to write on the subject, but wanted to acknowledge that "regular" Mother's Day can be difficult for those of us who never got to bring a baby home (to the point that I refer to that "other" day as "Voldemort Day" on this blog -- That Day Which Will Not Be Named, lol). Be kind to yourselves today, this week and next Sunday!  


Saturday, May 1, 2021

"What's Not Said" by Valerie Taylor

"What's Not Said" by Valerie Taylor is the May pick for the NoMo/Gateway Women book club, where we read & discuss books where pregnancy/babies/children/parenting are not major plot points. 

As the novel opens, Kassie O'Callaghan, a 54-year-old marketing/advertising executive, is on the verge of leaving her husband of more than 30 years, Mike Ricci, and moving in with Chris Gaines, the hot young lover she met five years earlier on a solo trip to Venice. Unfortunately, her meticulous plans go awry when Mike winds up in the hospital, and she learns he has chronic kidney disease -- has had it for the past several years, but hasn't told her about it. And that's not the only secret he's been keeping from her. Chris has a few secrets of his own too... 

 A few of the reviews I read on Goodreads used "soap opera" in their descriptions of this book, and I don't disagree. There is plot twist after plot twist after plot twist -- secrets and lies (and more secrets and lies) and miscommunication galore -- almost to the point of ridiculousness. (Also plenty of steamy stuff, for those who like it.  ;)  )

None of the characters is particularly likeable (and we get to view events from all three perspectives).  I did like Kassie's best friend Annie, and I did appreciate that, in a youth-obsessed culture, Kassie & Mike were an older, childless couple in a long-term relationship, even if it wasn't a happy one.  (Kassie had a miscarriage early in their marriage and we learn that Mike was reluctant to bring a baby into their lives, which drove a wedge between them.)

This wasn't a long nor difficult read, and I will admit that it did keep me turning the pages, just to find out what would ultimately happen.  It's the first in a planned three-book series (the second expected in August).  Not sure I will be picking up any of the sequels, but I will look forward to our book club discussion about this one! 

Three (3) stars on Goodreads. 

This was Book #24 read to date in 2021 (and Book #1 finished in May), bringing me to 67% of my 2021 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 36 books. I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 13 books ahead of schedule. :)  You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2021 tagged as "2021 books." 

Right now

Right now...* 

*(an occasional (mostly monthly) meme, alternating from time to time with "The Current"). (Explanation of how this started & my inspirations in my first "Right now" post, here. Also my first "The Current" post, here.)

April was Month #13 going on 14 of living with the COVID-19 pandemic.  In last month's "Right Now" post, I wrote: 

The region where I live (near Toronto) came out of lockdown on Feb. 22nd (and there are some businesses in Toronto & Peel regions that STILL haven't been allowed to reopen! -- hair & nail salons, gyms, no indoor dining at restaurants, etc.). However, case numbers are almost as high as they've ever been, including a huge surge from the new, more contagious variants -- and it's almost a certainty that there will be a THIRD shutdown/stay at home order soon... sigh... 

(I REALLY hate being right in this case.)  I started trying to write a summary of the rollercoaster ride and twists & turns this province has experienced over the past month (alone!), but gave up when it started reaching "War & Peace" length (and I'm only slightly exaggerating)...!  It's one of those things that needs to be seen/experienced to be believed.  

Suffice to say the provincial government doesn't know what the frack it's doing and basically has been throwing things at the wall to see what will stick. It took months & months of begging from the medical experts before they FINALLY agreed to a paid sick leave plan last week for those workers whose companies don't offer one (just three days, when most experts were asking for 10 to 14, to accommodate the recommended length of quarantine). Daily new case numbers reached an all-time high of 4,812 on April 16th, and the seven-day average only just dipped back below the 4,000 mark again this week.  Hospitals are jammed, and ICUs are at capacity. The patients being admitted are both sicker and younger.  Tragically, a 13-year-old girl living one town over from mine (one of the hardest hit regions in the country) died at home last week:  her mother was already in the hospital with COVID;  her father hesitated to take her to the hospital because he was afraid she would get transferred to another hospital far away (a possibility), and because he thought that since she was young, she would bounce back. She didn't.   

At the moment, we are under our third lockdown/stay-at-home order of the pandemic, scheduled to last until (at least) mid-May.  Almost everything is closed, including all non-essential retail (curbside pickup only). For the first time, however, larger "essential" stores, such as Walmart and Costco, are restricted to selling groceries and pharmacy items only (something other provinces have done, but Ontario had not yet).  All schools are closed (at-home learning only again). The provincial government has continued to resist closing down most construction sites and non-essential factory production -- so several local municipalities (including Peel Region and the City of Toronto proper) have taken matters into their own hands and have ordered any business with five or more cases of COVID-19 to close for at least 10 days.  

Meanwhile!  Vaccination efforts FINALLY began to ramp up (albeit the rollout has been messy). Dh & I happily received our first shots of AstraZeneca on April 5th (and BIL & SIL got theirs the following day). We likely won't get our second shots/become fully vaccinated until at least mid-July (the current protocol is that second shots come four months -- yes, FOUR MONTHS (16 weeks) -- after the first, in order to give more people the chance to get that critical first vaccine, with at least some protection against the virus).  As of yesterday (Friday), 32.4% of Ontarians have received at least one dose of vaccine, but just 2.5% have received both ( = fully vaccinated). In Manitoba, my parents and my sister's partner both received their first shots recently (Pfizer), my sister's boyfriend got his earlier this week, and she will get hers tomorrow/Sunday. Yay!! 

On top of dh's usual (once or twice weekly) trips to the supermarket for groceries and for takeout dinners on Saturday nights, this month, we went (together -- with some trips including multiple stops): 
  • to the pharmacy on April 5th to get our first vaccines!! (see above)
  • to the supermarket (after getting our shots).  
  • to see Little Great-Nephew (oh yeah, BIL & SIL too!  lol), twice (earlier in April, pre-new lockdown), including once (maskless, on April 6th)to stay with him while his grandparents got their first vaccines and his parents were at the lawyer's office about their new house. 
Otherwise, we've continued to stay close to home (both by edict & by choice). 

*** *** *** 

Reading: I read 7 books in April (all reviewed on this blog, as well as Goodreads, & tagged "2021 books"):
This brings me to 23 books read so far in 2021 -- 64% of my 2021 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 36 books. I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 12 books ahead of schedule. :)

Earlier this month, dh decided that Goodreads was stressing him out and so he stopped tracking his reading there. Last week, he went back on again. (Recall what I said about his social media use in a previous post...!)  By mid-February, he had already blown past his 2021 Reading Challenge goal of 24 books; by the time he stopped tracking, in early April, he'd read 49 (!).  He's now at 52 (and likely higher, if he counted the books he read in between). 

Current read(s): 
Not being counted as an April read, but previously read and discussed at an online/Zoom meeting of my "Clever Name" book club held earlier in the month: "The Vanishing Half" by Brit Bennett. We'll be talking about "The Thursday Murder Club" by Richard Osman (which I already read & reviewed here --and thoroughly enjoyed!) at our May meeting (date TBD). 

Coming up: 
  • "Summerhills" by D.E. Stevenson (for my author fan group, once we finish "Katherine's Marriage" -- a sequel to "Amberwell," which we read and discussed last year). 
  • "Us" by David Nicholls, which has been in my TBR pile for a while, but has been moved up -- there's a four-part TV version that will be shown on PBS, beginning on June 20th. :)  
A few recently purchased titles (in digital formats, discounted):   
Watching: I started watching two new shows on PBS on Sunday nights this month:  
  • "My Grandparents' War," sort of a variation of "Who Do You Think You Are?" in which British celebrities explore the stories of their grandparents' lives during World War II.  Unfortunately, there are only four episodes (starring Helena Bonham-Carter, Mark Rylance, Kristin Scott-Thomas and Carey Mulligan). I don't know if they're planning on making any more, but both dh & I thoroughly enjoyed it. 
  • "Atlantic Crossing," based on a true story about how the Norwegian royal family fled the country after the Nazi invasion of 1940, how Crown Princess Martha and her three children wound up spending the war as refugees in Washington, D.C., and her friendship with  U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Some of it's a bit contrived (e.g., FDR's secretary, Missy LeHand, is jealous and resentful of her boss's relationship with Martha, and Eleanor is a bit of a sourpuss), and some of the details have obviously been embellished beyond historical fact, but I'm enjoying learning about a part of WWII history that goes beyond the usual British/American-centric narrative that we're used seeing and hearing about. 
    • At the end of episode 2, there's a very moving scene that had me reaching for the kleenex box -- set in a stunning fjord (supposedly in Finland), where a small boat is taking the Crown Princess and her children to a ship that will take them to safety in America. They are trying to hide their identity, but some Norwegian fishermen recognize them, stand up in their boats and begin singing the national anthem. One by one, sailors on the other boats follow suit. Martha acknowledges them by holding up her young son (Prince Harald, the future/current King Harald V), and he waves to the men in the boats as they sing. This really did happen
    • The show reminded me of a children's book I read and loved as a kid -- "Snow Treasure" by Marie McSwigan -- about how the Norwegians managed to smuggle millions of dollars in gold bars from the national reserve out of the country, right under the noses of the Nazis, by using children on sleds as cover. Also based on a true story!  Anyone else ever read it? 
We also watched Ken Burns's three-part documentary, "Hemingway," about the famous writer, also on PBS this month. (I've never read much Hemingway -- but "The Sun Also Rises" was, I think, the first novel I read in my first-year university English class -- 20th-century literature, I think it was called.) 

I stayed up to watch the Oscars (again) -- even after I considered setting the PVR and watching my regular Sunday night shows instead. 

We recently stumbled onto (and started watching) reruns of "Soap," which I watched faithfully when I was in high school in the late 1970s... it now comes with a content warning!! lol  It was very controversial in its time, and some of the content is politically incorrect these days, but it was a groundbreaker in many respects (for example, the character of Jodie Dallas, played by a young Billy Crystal, was one of the first openly gay characters on prime-time TV).  

And the first two episodes of season 4 of "The Handmaid's Tale" aired Thursday night on the CTV Drama channel (formerly known as Bravo -- three episodes were released on Hulu in the States on the same day). Part of me wonders (not for the first time) just how many times June can ALMOST escape Gilead?? -- it's getting a little monotonous.  But I've come along this far, so....  

Listening:  I caught up on the last couple of most recent episodes of The Full Stop podcast -- including one with author Kate Kauffman, one with Jody Day, celebrating Gateway Women's 10th anniversary, and one with just the three hosts chatting, which is always fun to listen to!  

I follow supermodel Paulina Porizkova on Instagram, and I listened to an interesting (and very frank) conversation she had recently with Ashleigh Banfield about aging, the death of her estranged husband Ric Ocasek of The Cars (and the fallout from that, including finances), and more. (I gather it was aired on TV;  there are video clips available, but this link is a sound file of the entire conversation -- or almost the entire conversation;  it cuts off rather abruptly at the end.)  I was thrilled to see her at the Oscars as Aaron Sorkin's date, looking gorgeous as always! 

Following: Bruce Arthur's columns in the Toronto Star about the pandemic and how the Ontario government is (not) handling it. Unfortunately, they may be behind a paywall, but if you can read them, they are excellent.  (And scathing, lol.)  

Buying (besides books, lol):  Ordered some (more) essential oils from Saje to replenish my supplies (I previously ordered some, including some Christmas scents, during from the Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales last November. Haven't been to a store in more than a year now, and probably won't be for a while still.  

I also ordered a nifty squeegee/window cleaning kit, as recommended by my house cleaning guru on Instagram, @gocleanco. ;) It was on back order when I ordered it, but should be here in a few weeks. I can't wait to try it out on our balcony doors, and maybe even on my nemesis, the shower cubicle!  

And I ordered some chequebook registers. I don't write many actual cheques these days, but I still keep track of all our debits & credits/deposits -- what's going in and what's coming out -- in a paper register (and balance it every month or so). (Hey, my dad was a banker! And I worked as a teller at a credit union one summer while at university, too -- at a time & place when we were still using paper debit and credit slips...!)(And yes, I CAN get it to balance! -- sometimes...  lol...) When I was working, I would just go downstairs to the bank branch and request one from one of the tellers. Even before I lost my job (summer 2014), it was taking longer and longer for them to hunt one up for me. 

Then we moved here in April 2016. I went to two different branches of our bank here, trying to explain what it was that I wanted to clearly bewildered young tellers, raised in the age of Internet banking, who had never heard of such things. Thank goodness at the second branch an older teller overheard me and came to my rescue. Apparently the branches no longer stock them (!), but she was able to order me a bundle via the bank's website. The last one from that batch is almost completely filled in... I found where to order new cheques on the bank's website, but not the registers. I wound up ordering some from (guess!)  Amazon.  Hopefully they'll last me at least another five years. Apparently some people now use Excel for this purpose, but I'm not very well versed in that program. Sigh... 

CelebratingDh's 64th birthday, mid-April  :) -- his second during this pandemic. This time around, I managed to buy him a proper birthday card (pre-lockdown) and (Eating/Drinking) we baked a chocolate cake (from a mix we had on hand in the cupboard, with icing from a can... it was still pretty good!). 

MourningThe death of yet another one of the Bay City Rollers, the boy band of my youth -- my sister's favourite, lead singer Les McKeown, at the way-too-young age of 65 (on top of bassist Ian Mitchell last fall, age 62, and founder Alan Longmuir in 2018, age 70). See my recent post, hereHumming:  BCR tunes in the shower since then! 

Enduring: A last blast of winter, with snow flurries two days in a row last week (followed immediately by temperatures in the high teens)(Celsius = mid-60sF).  This past week has been mostly grey & rainy.  Gotta love Canada in the spring...!  

Smelling: Cannabis. :p  It's nice to be able to open the balcony doors now that the weather is starting to be nicer -- but some people are obviously using the opportunity to sit out on their balconies and indulge. (More noticeably so than the previous springs that we've been here since the stuff was legalized.) Sigh... 

Wearing:  Brought out the short-sleeved T-shirts when the weather turned warmer -- only to have to add a cardigan when it got cold again. (Soon! Soon!!)  

Trying (and failing):  To get up the motivation to start walking again regularly...!  

Wondering:  If and when things will ever return to some kind of normalcy. :(   It's been a very LONG winter/year!  

Wanting:  The people I love to stay safe while the new virus variants run rampant and vaccines slllloooowwwwwlllly roll out...  

Loving:  That I seem to have found my reading mojo again. (For now, anyway...?!)  

Feeling: Like I'm languishing. Not looking forward to (eek) Voldemort Day. The ads and emails have been flooding my TV screen and email inbox for a few weeks already, since Easter.  

But, it's May!  Yay!!