Monday, February 28, 2022

#MicroblogMondays: Solidarity

As you all know by now, we woke up Thursday morning to the awful news that, overnight, Russia had invaded Ukraine. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am half Ukrainian-Canadian on my dad's side of the family: his mother's parents came here in 1897, to one of western Canada's first Ukrainian-Canadian communities in southern Manitoba, founded a year earlier. My teenaged grandfather arrived in 1906 at the age of 14, leaving his parents and several siblings behind. (Undoubtedly, I still have cousins there.) 

Today, Canada's Ukrainian diaspora is second only to Russia's, making up almost 4 per cent of the population. (Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland is half Ukrainian, and spoke at a rally in Toronto yesterday.) Most Ukrainian-Canadians live in the western provinces. Manitoba, where I grew up, is the province with the largest percentage of people with Ukrainian heritage (14.5%).  

These days, I live in a community near Toronto that is predominantly Italian (53.5%, the highest concentration of Italians in all of Canada). But Friday morning, we were doing the housecleaning, when dh pointed out the window. Overnight, one of our neighbours in the townhouse development behind our condo building had hung a banner in the colours of the Ukrainian flag outside. (See the photo below.) I was tickled to think that there might be another "Uke" in the neighbourhood. (Or at least someone who was moved enough to make a show of solidarity, which is a wonderful thing too.) 

Hi neighbour!  :)  

If you look closely, you'll see the colours of Ukraine
flying from one of the townhouses in my very Italian neighbourhood. :) 

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

Friday, February 25, 2022

"Sisters Behaving Badly" by Maddie Please

If you think I'm a bookworm, you should meet my sister. Our relationship has never been the Hallmark "my sister is my best friend!!" variety -- it's had its ups & downs over the years (happily, more ups in recent years than downs) -- but books have always been something we could talk about and bond over. Her favourite place to be whenever we're all together at Mom & Dad's is curled up on the couch under a blanket with her e-reader in hand. Sometimes she falls asleep clutching it, the screen glowing in the darkness. 

Over Christmas, I was browsing the sale titles on and started laughing when I stumbled onto a book called "Sisters Behaving Badly" by Maddie Please.  Some books beg to be read simply because of the title, and this was definitely one of them. (The cover was pretty beguiling too.) I told my sister and saw a mischievous gleam flash into her eyes. Long story short, we both wound up with copies ;)  and I finally got around to reading mine. 

The plot: British sisters Jenny & Kitty were close when they were growing up -- but they haven't spoken in six years. As the book begins, they're on a ferry headed to France to fix up and sell the rundown farmhouse they inherited from their late Aunt Sheila. Uptight older sister Jenny is 66, married for 35+ years to controlling, persnickety Paul, and mother of an adult son, Ace. Impulsive younger sibling Kitty, 62 (the narrator of the story), is a childless three-time divorcee, now living alone in a dreary flat. The cast of supporting characters includes a flock of wayward chickens, a flatulent donkey (!), a well-stocked wine cellar, and (ooh la la) a charming contractor.

For the most part, this was a quick and easy read (if perhaps somewhat predictable) -- lighthearted chick-lit/rom-com, a bit of a fairy tale, with a midlife flavour -- a pleasant way to spend a few hours. But there are some serious issues underlying the fun -- sibling rivalry, family estrangements, failed marriages, emotionally abusive spouses. There are some deft observations about women and aging, second chances and starting over later in life. And Kitty's childlessness comes up at several points in the book (sometimes in direct contrast to Jenny's motherhood). Those of us who are childless-not-by-choice (particularly those of us of a -- cough! -- certain age) will definitely relate. 

4 stars on Goodreads.   

And now, if you'll excuse me, I think I need to go call my sister. :)  

This was Book #11 read to date in 2022 (and Book #6 finished in February), bringing me to 24% of my 2022 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 45 books. I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 5 books ahead of schedule. :)  You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2022 tagged as "2022 books."  

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Odds & ends

  • Monday was Family Day in Ontario. I mostly stayed away from social media -- but I couldn't stay away entirely... and yes, I regretted it! (Will I ever learn??)  Not sure which was worse -- the personal posts from  friends, with "happy family all together" photos, or the companies/brands I follow cashing in on the day by wishing customers a "Happy Family Day!" and offering Family Day specials. 
    • Something else that got under my skin:  People posting "Happy Family Day, Canada!" It's NOT a holiday in all provinces, and not all provinces that have a February holiday call it Family Day (smart people!):  it's "Riel Day" in my home province of Manitoba, "Heritage Day" in Nova Scotia, and "Islander Day" in PEI.  
  • We recently got new neighbours in the condo unit kitty-corner from ours. 
    • It was for sale at the same time this one was, six years ago... we looked at both units, but ultimately decided on this one. Our unit is slightly smaller, but faces the back of the property (the other one faces the busy main road out front), has more storage/closet/kitchen cupboard space, and we liked the layout a little better. (Also, this one was cheaper, lol -- albeit it was still a little more expensive than the price range we were looking in.)  
    • That unit sold shortly after we bought this one, and we met the new neighbours the same day we moved in -- a couple about the same ages as us. We're not sure why they decided to move now. (The wild parties we've been having, maybe??  lol)  
    • Anyway -- we haven't met the new neighbours yet. But we've heard at least one childish voice coming and going in the hallway outside recently, more than once, which makes me think there's at least one young child living there. There's two bedrooms, and it's one of the more sizeable units in the building, so there's certainly room for one and possibly two children. This could be good or not so good (or just neutral)... time will tell...! 
  • I had a visit with my family doctor last week to discuss changing where I get my mammograms done. (I'm due for another one  -- the last one was two years ago, just before covid hit...!) I've always gone to a clinic within one of the big hospitals downtown (near the provincial legislature) -- which was fine when I was working downtown and could just zip up there on the subway -- but for obvious reasons (covid, protesters, etc.) I would prefer not to have to make that trip (45 minutes on the subway now) or be anywhere near a hospital or the provincial legislature right now. 
    • I'm now booked at a local clinic for later in March.
    • I also wound up with referrals for a colonoscopy (has it really been 10 years since my last one?? -- I guess it has!) and will be getting one for a surgeon re: my gallbladder as well. (Yikes!)  
    • I am having the colonoscopy done in late March at a clinic that is quite literally a three-minute walk away from our condo building, which is nice. 
    • As for the gallbladder surgery -- there is a huge backlog of  "elective" surgeries that have been postponed/delayed because of the pandemic (the dr told me his own dad has been waiting for gallbladder surgery since before covid! -- yikes!!). So I'm not holding my breath, but I decided I might as well get my name on the waiting list for that sooner versus later...!   
  • I am saddened by what's happening in Ukraine. I am, as some of you know, partly (one-half) of Ukrainian descent, on my dad's side -- albeit the Ukrainian part of my family has been in Canada for more than 100 years. I looked up the town in western Ukraine where my grandfather was born on Google Maps. It's about 1 hour from one of the targeted larger centres I've seen on the maps on TV, and 2-3 hours from the city of Lviv. (About 9 hours from Kiev.) I know there are still relatives "over there" --  the descendants of some of my grandfather's siblings. One of my uncles went there and met some of them, about 30 years ago, after the Cold War ended. I don't know their names or anything about them -- but they are my kin, and it makes what's happening there a little more personal.
    • As Russian expert Tom Nichols said on Twitter, "I haven't felt this kind of feeling in the pit of my stomach since the 1980s." Me either. (Nichols and I are the same age.) 
      • Someone asked Nichols, "Could you help describe how bad it is for the under 40 crowd?"  Nichols: "Not as bad as the Cuban Missile Crisis. But bad."  :( 
  • (This rant comes a week or so late, but it's still bothering me, so here goes.) Another quadrennial, another Winter Olympics, another figure skating scandal. (eyeroll)  My usual enjoyment of the Olympics, and Olympic figure skating in particular (aside from the 5 a.m. wakeup calls to watch...!) was marred by the scandal over young Russian skater Kamila Valieva's positive drug test, revealed only after she helped propel Russia to a gold medal in the team event -- and how despite this, she was still allowed to compete in the women's event (with disastrous consequences).  
    • Personally, I think the minute that positive drug test was uncovered, the entire Russian team should have been told to pack their bags, put on a plane and sent home. They were at the Olympics on "probation" for previous doping offenses as it was, not even allowed to compete under their country's flag. That seemed like an overly generous arrangement to me as it was. (But then, I'm not the IOC.) 
    • I felt immensely sorry for a 15-year-old who was clearly being manipulated by the adults around her and should never have been placed in this position. I felt even sorrier after she was "allowed" to skate but fell apart under the enormous stress, with the entire world watching. Even more so after watching her coach berate her (in Russian -- translations were later provided) when she came off the ice. But I felt sorrier still for all the other athletes who skated drug-free and had their Olympic moment of glory tainted by what happened and how it was (mis)handled. 
    • I'd never even heard of Valieva before this season, but apparently little girls who can do quadruple jumps are a dime a dozen in Russia -- at a terrible cost. This same coach has produced several other world and Olympic champions in recent years -- most of whom explode onto the scene in the same way Valieva did, and then flame out a year or two later, their bodies and spirits broken under the physical and mental demands. Few make it to two Olympics in a row.  (The Washington Post had a pretty good article last week naming other recent Russian blink-and-you'll-miss-her champions and what happened to them.) 
    • Back in the 1990s, I read (and still have) a book called "Little Girls in Pretty Boxes: The Making and Breaking of Elite Gymnasts and Figure Skaters." (The author just wrote a piece for the Washington Post about Valieva, calling for reforms.) Sad to think that so little has changed, almost 30 years later.   

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

"The Boys" by Ron Howard & Clint Howard

Since I enjoyed Hayley Mills's memoir so much, I decided to immediately tackle another child star memoir released last fall. "The Boys: A Memoir of Hollywood and Family" was written by not just one but two of Hollywood's most famous child stars of the 1960s & 1970s -- Ron Howard (of "The Andy Griffith Show" and, later, "Happy Days") and his younger brother Clint, whom I remember watching in "Gentle Ben."  Ron's daughter, Bryce Dallas Howard -- also an actress, and the third generation to enter the family business -- provided an affectionate introduction.  The two Howards alternate telling their stories, with occasional interjections into each other's memories.  

Ron & Clint's parents, Jean & Rance Howard (born Harold Beckenholdt), were born and raised in Oklahoma (introduced at university by classmate Dennis Weaver -- who later played Clint's dad on "Gentle Ben"!), but headed to New York and then Hollywood in pursuit of fame & fortune. While both continued to act in small/character roles (Rance later branched out into writing and directing too), their own careers took a backseat when first Ron and then Clint also became actors at very young ages. Rance patiently coached both of them, helping them learn their lines before they could read, explaining what was happening in each scene and what was expected of them, and accompanied them on set. 

Both Ron & Clint give full credit to their parents for providing them with a solid grounding of Midwest values, a modest, ordinary home life, and a focus on hard work and professionalism. Unlike Hayley Mills and other child stars of the era, the money Ron & Clint earned was wisely invested for their futures, with Rance & Jean taking a minuscule 5 per cent as compensation for their services. (In one chapter, 12-year-old Ron realizes, with a shock, that between his salary on the "The Andy Griffith Show" plus residuals, he was earning more money annually than his baseball hero, Sandy Koufax.)  

As you might expect, there are some great stories about the movies and TV shows both boys worked on, including anecdotes about their famous co-stars, and the life lessons they learned along the way.  Even as a child, Ron was fascinated by what went on behind the scenes on the set of the Griffith show -- how the shots were lit and set up, the special effects used and so on. The show's  producers gave him an 8mm movie camera for his 8th birthday, which he used to make his own home movies (often starring his brother and his dad). Eventually, of course, he became one of the most well-known and respected directors and producers in the business. 

While Ron has maintained his wholesome Opie/Richie image, he confesses to some un-Opie-like behaviour. His dad taught him to fight to help counter the bullying he received in school. He admits to his guilt over teasing his mother at times, and confesses to ignoring a summons to report for an army physical, a prelude to being drafted and likely sent to Vietnam.  (The draft ended shortly afterward.) Clint struggled with alcohol, pot and then cocaine from his teen years onward, finally achieving sobriety in 1991.  

Like Hayley Mills's memoir, this book effectively ends well before present day, after Ron's first major directing job for Roger Corman ("Grand Theft Auto") and his departure from "Happy Days." The last 40 years are dispensed with in a few pages that bring us up to date on what's happened since then. I will admit to shedding a few tears in the Epilogue, in which the brothers describe their parents' final years & deaths.  Their love, respect and gratitude is evident in every page of this book.  

I thoroughly enjoyed this one.  4.5 stars, rounded up to 5.  

*** *** *** 

ALI alert:  Ron & Clint had an older brother:  Mark Allan Howard, Rance & Jean's first child, was stillborn on Jean's birthday in January 1953. He had a congenital heart defect, and would not have lived long even if he had been born alive. "Forever after, she never much enjoyed [her birthday]. Ron and I didn't know why when we were kids, though," Clint writes. "Our folks rarely discussed Mark with us. He was simply too painful a subject for them. Not until we were adults -- after Mom had died, in fact -- did Dad tell us the complete version of what happened."  

Jean had a later miscarriage (in her early 40s, I think?), a few weeks after telling the boys she was pregnant.  

Ron also writes with great affection about Mrs. Barton, his teacher on the set of "The Andy Griffith Show," who (so far as he knew) did not have children. 

This was Book #10 read to date in 2022 (and Book #5 finished in February), bringing me to 22% of my 2022 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 45 books. I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 4 books ahead of schedule. :)  You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2022 tagged as "2022 books."  

Monday, February 21, 2022

#MicroblogMondays: "Grief stole my love of reading"

The New York Times had a wonderful personal essay this past weekend, written by Tish Harrison Warren, an Anglican priest and a lifelong reader, who was dismayed to find she'd lost her ability to read books after the loss of her father, a complicated pregnancy and two miscarriages (further complicated by her social media consumption). (Caveat: Living children are mentioned in the article.) Sample passage: 

I could still go through the motions. I could open a book and stare at its pages. But I couldn’t concentrate. My eyes floated on the page like a castaway adrift. I couldn’t sit still. Every few minutes, I’d pop out of my chair and get busy with something else. I’d return to the page unable to remember what I had just read.

What was worse was that I didn’t care about what I was reading. It all felt stupid and pointless. Sitting with a book requires some level of compassion and energy. A reader sits with the thoughts, stories, insights or opinions of another. She opens herself empathetically to the world of another human being. And I didn’t feel I had the requisite compassion or energy to do so...

No one told me that grief affects reading. No one told me that this was common. But apparently it is.

I mentioned this experience to my therapist recently and she told me that some find comfort in reading. But for others, in times of intense grief or stress, our brains decide to spend their energy elsewhere. This was the illiterate impulse of my poor, overtaxed limbic system.

She said it was analogous to her experience after a recent surgery. She assumed that during her recovery, laid up all day, she’d get a ton of reading done. But she read nothing at all: “I was in so much pain, I just didn’t give a crap about what was in the books.” She said her body had to focus all that energy on healing. It is the same, in seasons of grief, when it comes to our heart and souls.

I could relate to Warren's story. While my love of reading never totally abandoned me -- and while I think the Internet/social media also had a lot to do with the marked decline in my reading consumption during the past 20-odd years -- grief most certainly had an impact on how much I read, and what. I remember Jody Day of Gateway Women telling me the same thing happened to her for the first several years that she grieved her childlessness. If I remember correctly, she said that while she was eventually able to get back to reading, it was mostly non-fiction for a very long time. (As Warren noted above) Jody explained that reading fiction requires us to put ourselves into the lives and minds and feelings of others -- empathy -- and sometimes when we're grieving, we just don't have that capacity. Coping with our own situation is taxing enough without taking on someone else's, even when they're just characters in a book.  

This rang true to me. My fiction reading took a real hit in the years after stillbirth and infertility, although there were a few exceptions, which I think I've mentioned in previous posts on this blog. I fondly remember reading "Bridget Jones's Diary" by Helen Fielding, not too long after Katie's stillbirth in the summer/fall of 1998, and having to stifle my impulse to laugh out loud while reading it on public transit. At a time when I felt like I might never laugh again, it was a real comfort to find that I could. 

And when my dad flew in for Katie's funeral (Mom was already with us), he brought me a gift from my sister: a copy of Elizabeth Peters's newest "Amelia Peabody" book, "The Ape Who Guards The Balance."  Both of us had/have been big fans of Peters (who also wrote as Barbara Michaels) since we were teenagers.  There was a handwritten note inside which read (in part), "I thought Amelia chaining herself to #10 Downing Street would be more entertaining than flowers."  (She was right. :) )  (I wrote more about our love of Peters/Michaels -- and how I got the book autographed by the author, a few months later -- in this post from 2017.)  

It's only in recent years that I've started reading fiction again in significant quantities.  Joining both real-life and online book clubs (which mostly seem to choose fiction, it seems) has helped, I think. Some of these books wouldn't have been something I would have chosen to read on my own, and some of them were a bit of a slog to read to the end (*cough* -- "The Three Weissmans of Westport" -- *cough*).(lol)  But some were delightful surprises, and got me picking up other works of fiction on my own. Last year, for the first time in many years (and certainly since I started tracking my reading), my fiction choices outnumbered non-fiction (many of them re-reads, but still...!):  36 fiction, 22 non-fiction and 1 volume of poetry.

Warren notes that she turned to "doomscrolling" social media after Donald Trump was elected, and that while many people took comfort in reading while everything else shut down during covid, others (including herself) found they could not focus on books.  (I've taken part in the Goodreads challenge every year since 2016.  After reading Warren's article, I checked:  2017 -- the first year of the Trump presidency -- is the only year to date in which I did not meet my reading goal, which was then a rather modest 24 books. Hmmm....)  

But having felt this way before, she was confident it would pass. It did:  

As we slowly return to some semblance of normalcy, part of my “recovery” has been taking up deep reading again with a newfound joy and fervor... I am feasting after a fast, drinking words down deeply after a time of drought. After these blank years of stress and sorrow, page after page is just waiting to be savored.

Have you noticed that grief/covid has affected your reading life? In what ways? 

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

Thursday, February 17, 2022

"Forever Young" by Hayley Mills

When I was growing up in the 1960s, my sister & I often spent Saturday afternoons at the matinee at the local movie theatre, which was always a film geared to younger audiences -- Beach Party & Gidget movies, Elvis Presley vehicles and, quite often, Disney movies. (The cost of a ticket was 35 cents -- later jacked up to 50 cents -- and a bag of popcorn was 10 cents. Those were the days...!)  

Sunday nights, we faithfully watched "Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Colour" on TV (albeit our TV was black and white, until we finally got a colour set when I was about 12). It was the one night of the week we were allowed to watch TV while eating dinner, sitting on the couch with our plates set on TV trays. 

(I didn't know it then, but my great-uncle, who worked for the U.S. Coast Guard in the Santa Barbara area of southern California, was friends with Walt Disney. He introduced Disney to his mother/my great-grandmother, when she came to California to visit her family in the 1940s. I never met my great-uncle, who died in 1969, not too many years after Disney. But, I digress.)  

Between those two screens, I saw a LOT of movies that featured one of the biggest child stars of the era, Hayley Mills:  "Pollyanna," "Summer Magic," "That Darn Cat," "In Search of the Castaways," and "The Truth About Spring." Two of her movies in particular are still huge favourites of mine:  first, "The Parent Trap," in which Mills plays identical twins separated as infants when their parents split up -- one winding up in California and one in Boston. By coincidence, the girls wind up at the same summer camp -- and take an instant dislike to each other. Eventually, of course, they become friends, figure out why they look so much alike, and decide to switch places -- first, to see how the other half has been living and second, to try to bring their parents back together again and reunite their family.  

(One more digression:  Disney remade "The Parent Trap" in 1998 with Lindsay Lohan (!) as the twins and Dennis Quaid and the late, lovely Natasha Richardson as the estranged parents. Hayley Mills has a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo as a hotel elevator passenger. My mother & I went to see it as a diversion in mid/late August that year, shortly after our Katie was stillborn. I thought it was cute on its own merits, but I still far prefer the original.)  

My other fondly remembered Mills favourite is "The Trouble With Angels:" Hayley and June Harding play two students at an all-girls Catholic boarding school whose "scathingly brilliant ideas" keep them in constant trouble with the Mother Superior (Rosalind Russell).  

So, as you can imagine, I was pretty thrilled to find a memoir written by Mills -- "Forever Young" on the shelf of my local mega-bookstore early last fall.  (I have a huge weakness for Hollywood memoirs generally!) I was able to get an e-copy at a fraction of the hardcover price not long afterwards, and it's been on my "priority TBR list" ever since then. 

*** *** *** 

The book begins with Mills returning to Disney studios in 2016 for the first time in many years, where Walt's office has been preserved exactly as he left it for the final time before he died suddenly in December 1966.  She'd already been thinking about writing a memoir for many years:  

I wanted to go back and remember, to make some sense of it all, not only for myself but also for my children, who I felt deserved some clarity. After all, it was they who had borne the brunt, as well as reaped the benefits, of my unusual childhood. 

At lunch with some Disney friends, old and new, the co-creator of "Frozen," Michael Giaimo, asks her, "So come on, Hayley, tell us... What was he like?"  

And then it hit me -- of the hundreds of people now working at Disney, most had never known him, never met him. But I had... For better or for worse, I'd literally grown up at Disneyland. 

And that was it. The penny dropped. Not a bolt of lightning, exactly, but the missing piece of jigsaw puzzle that I needed to write this book. For while this is the story of my childhood, and of course my career, it is also about a time that has now passed into history -- when Hollywood was still "Tinseltown" and the great Walt Disney was at his zenith, ruling over what was, at least in his own head, still a family business. 

Mills grew up in an acting family:  her father was the distinguished stage and film star John Mills;  her mother, Mary Hayley Bell, acted before turning to writing;  her older sister, Juliet, was an actress, and her younger brother Jonathan eventually carved out a career behind the scenes. Mills had no thoughts about entering the family business until she was 12, when the director J. Lee Thompson came to the visit her father about a part in his new film, "Tiger Bay."  He wound up casting Hayley in a pivotal role in the movie too. A Disney producer saw the movie and thought she would be perfect for the studio's next big project, "Pollyanna."  Walt Disney agreed. Not only did he offer Hayley the part, he insisted on signing her to a six-film/seven-year contract. 

In Hollywood, Mills met many other current and former child actors who provided her with cautionary tales about the business. On the one hand, Mills was grateful to her parents for providing her with a relatively normal life in England between making movies for Disney;  on the other hand, she sometimes chafed at their well-meaning attempts to protect her and control her career. (She wasn't aware of just how much they were involved behind the scenes, or the errors in judgment they made, until much later in her life.)    

All of us struggle to some extent with growing up and learning to stand on our own two feet -- but Hayley had to do it on the big screen with millions of people watching. She clashed with her mother, a complex woman who descended into alcoholism and depression, and she struggled with shyness and feelings of inadequacy. She also struggled with her weight, which led her to develop an eating disorder. 

If you're a fan of Hayley Mills and/or Disney movies from the 1960s, or just enjoy a good Hollywood memoir, you will enjoy this book.  There's lots of name dropping and wonderful descriptions and anecdotes about the famous people she met along the way (Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh were neighbours and good friends of the family;  Noel Coward was her sister's godfather; Richard Attenborough was "Uncle Dickie"). Her paths crossed with the Beatles several times, and my favourite story in the book is probably about how her mother called up George Harrison, at the height of Beatlemania, and asked him to escort Hayley to a charity function (!). Despite being mortified by her mother's interference, and being pestered by autograph seekers all evening, she enjoyed George's company. They wound up back at her parents' home, with her dad making scrambled eggs for them at 4 a.m. :) 

My one quibble about this book:  it ends in the early/mid-1970s, when Mills was in her mid-20s, shortly after she gave birth to her first son, Crispian, and divorced her husband, Roy Boulting, who was 30 (!) years old than she was. The rest of her life since then is glossed over within a couple of pages. I'd like to have read more about her life between then and now. Perhaps she'll write a sequel someday? 

(Also: ALI/CNBC warning: near the end of of the book, Mills waxes rhapsodic about motherhood and being a grandmother. Mercifully, it's not for too long. She does admit to fearing that she wouldn't have children at all, having been told she wouldn't by an astrologer when she was a child.)  

4 stars on Goodreads.  

This was Book #9 read to date in 2022 (and Book #4 finished in February), bringing me to 20% of my 2022 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 45 books. I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 4 books ahead of schedule. :)  You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2022 tagged as "2022 books."  

Monday, February 14, 2022

#MicroblogMondays: Valentine's Day/Mid-February odds & ends (& rants!)

(Including a couple of rants/vents on various topics that have been bugging me lately...!) 
  • It's Valentine's Day -- and dh & I are marking our 40th (!!) Valentine's Day together.  :)  (We met 40 years ago last October, and had our first date 40 years ago last month.) 
    • It's never been a big-deal day for us... mostly we just exchange cards. We used to go out for dinner, sometimes, earlier in our marriage, but it was always so crowded and noisy and expensive, we gave that up. I've always told dh not to get me any flowers, because the prices are always SO ridiculous -- but he did pick me up a small box of chocolates when he was at the supermarket on Valentine's Day last year, which was a completely unexpected treat and a mid-February/covid winter pick-me-up.  :)  (I will NEVER turn down chocolate!  lol)  
    • I still have the first Valentine's Day card he gave me (and all the other ones since then too). 
    • Past Valentine's Day-related posts have been tagged, here
  • Recap: The Elton John concert that SIL & I bought tickets for, way back in November 2019 -- originally scheduled for March 29th, 2020, then rescheduled for Feb. 15th, 2022 -- was postponed again to March 13th. There was an option to ask for a refund within 7 days of the change in date -- and we decided to take it.  But then, on Feb. 1st, I got an email saying "Your event has been postponed," saying organizers were trying to reschedule. 
    • Update: Finally, on Feb. 11th, I got another email saying the event had been cancelled :(  and a refund would be forthcoming. I went on Ticketmaster and checked all the Elton John dates for Toronto, just to be certain, and sure enough, the March 12th & 13th dates (as well as the February dates) were all cancelled. It's a relief to finally have things settled, one way or another. 
    • There's a September date at the Rogers Centre/SkyDome stadium that's still on, but I'm sure most of the seats for that are long gone -- and even if there are tickets available, who knows what the covid situation will be by then?? -- I don't want to buy tickets for anything too far in advance right now...! 
  • BIL called dh early last week and invited us to come to dinner last Saturday night. Both nephews, their wives and (of course) Little Great-Nephew were all coming. (He didn't mention it, but it's his & SIL's wedding anniversary this week, and I suspect that may have been the reason for the family get-together.)
    • Then he called again a day or so later -- to UNinvite us. (!) He said to dh, "Don't get mad!" Dh said he knew he felt very guilty. You have to know BIL... he's got a huge heart, and he's very impulsive. Doesn't always think things through, and doesn't have a lot of filters. ;)  He told dh they wanted LGN to spend some time "bonding" with his aunt & uncle (Younger Nephew & his wife, who are LGN's godparents). They are even more paranoid about covid than dh & I are, and none of us have seen much of them over the past two years (even though we all live in the same area) -- so they haven't spent much time with the little guy, certainly not as much as dh & I have over the past year. They're also very, very covid-cautious, and would probably have been less inclined to come if too many people were around (even though we're almost as cautious as they are!). 
    • We weren't mad. (Dh actually thought it was hilarious -- so typically BIL.) BIL & SIL have always been so very kind about including us in things -- and they certainly have the right to be together as a family without us hanging around all the time. Especially right now, when family together time has been so limited.
    • But -- I have to admit -- it still stings a little. :(  
  • I had to mute yet another person on social media (and am debating whether to unfollow outright), over some comments they made about what's been happening here in Canada, in Ottawa and at several border crossings (including one right outside the border town where I was born). Not the first, and probably not the last...  :(  
    • I can't write too much about that whole situation (although I did, a little bit, in this post) --  I can't even watch the news right now -- because I am just so, SO angry about the whole thing -- about the "protests" and the people behind them, the politicians who are enabling them and hoping to cash in on it all, and the way things have been (mis)handled by the police and by all levels of government (municipal, provincial and federal)(and I know I am far from alone in feeling this way). :(  You can be damned sure that if these protesters were indigenous peoples or other people of colour, they would have been cleared out of there long, long ago (in fact, they never would have been allowed anywhere near Parliament Hill in the first place with that many trucks, etc.). My heart goes out to anyone living (or trying to live) in downtown Ottawa right now.    
  • In other decidedly not-good news this morning, our premier has announced our province will be dropping vaccine passports, as well as all remaining capacity limits, as of March 1st -- about two weeks away, and sooner than expected. (Mask mandates will remain for now -- and thank goodness for that!)  Numbers *have* been on the decline -- but they still remain high overall, if you look at the past two years to date. I think it's premature. (Could the fact that there's an election coming up on June 2nd have anything to do with this eagerness to embrace "normalcy" so quickly? -- hmmm....) 
    • I've never actually used my vaccine passport, other than to get through airport security at Christmastime. (Even then, they just looked at it, didn't scan it.) We haven't been in any restaurants or other venues where they are currently required -- but knowing that the mandate existed made me feel better about the prospect of going back, eventually. Needless to say, we are highly unlikely to do so for the foreseeable future, once those passport requirements are dropped (and most certainly once masks are abandoned).  The numbers will have to come down a whole lot more, and remain low for quite a while, before we'll consider doing that. 
  • This is an incredible story of siblings and half-siblings reunited through the miracle of modern DNA testing. It's also a heartbreaking tale of poverty, abuse and black-market adoptions in Quebec in the 1950s.  Worth a read! 
You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here

Sunday, February 13, 2022

"Mothering Sunday" by Graham Swift

After taking a while to get through my last book ("Chasing History: A Kid in the Newsroom" by Carl Bernstein, reviewed here), I deliberately sought a book that would be short and quick to get through. "Mothering Sunday" by Graham Swift fit the bill, in that respect -- it's 200 pages (or less, depending on what version you're reading and, if it's an e-version, how big you make the type and spacing, lol). It only took me a few hours to read. It's been on my TBR list for a while -- it caught my interest at the bookstore when it first came out in hardcover a few years ago (gorgeous cover design!). It's also been adapted into a movie that's coming out at the end of the month. 

"Mothering Sunday" -- the day, not the book -- is not a familiar term to those of us in North America. In the United Kingdom (and some Commonwealth countries), it's been celebrated on the fourth Sunday of Lent since the Middle Ages. It's a celebration both of mothers (the equivalent of North America's Mother's Day) and the "mother church," i.e., the church where you were baptized.  Traditionally, Mothering Sunday was a day when domestic servants were given the day off to visit their mothers/families and mother church.

There's not much action or plot in "Mothering Sunday" the book -- although there is a plot twist, midway through. It's Mothering Sunday 1924, a warm spring day in late March. Jane Fairchild is a 22-year-old maid at an English country estate. (Think "Downton Abbey" on a much smaller, reduced scale, after the devastation of the First World War -- Jane and Milly the cook are the only remaining servants, and most of the local young men are dead, their bedrooms preserved exactly as they left them. A melancholy air hangs over everything.) Several of the local families, including Jane's employers, the Nivens, are heading out to lunch together at a local hotel while the servants are off, and to celebrate the upcoming marriage of two of their children, Paul Sherrington and Emma Hobday.  

Jane is an orphan with no parents to visit -- but she has secret plans for the day. She and Paul have been lovers since shortly after she arrived at the Nivens' house several years earlier, at age 16, and they are taking advantage of the Sherringtons' empty house to make love one last time, in Paul's bedroom, before his marriage. Everything changes for Jane after Mothering Sunday -- although not for the reasons she (or we) might think... 

While the main story takes place on this one day, we also get glimpses of Jane's past and of what ultimately happens to her. (I don't think it's a spoiler alert to tell you that Jane never has any children.)  There's a lot here about books, about writing and storytelling, the power of words and observation and memory. 

I debated on how to rate this book, and settled on 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 -- it's a fast read, but slow moving and contemplative, if that makes sense. The writing is beautiful, but it's a bit dense at times. It won't be everyone's cup of tea, I'm sure, but it made me think, and I may need to do a re-read...! 

This was Book #8 read to date in 2022 (and Book #3 finished in February), bringing me to 18% of my 2022 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 45 books. I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 3 books ahead of schedule. :)  You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2022 tagged as "2022 books."  

Saturday, February 12, 2022

"Chasing History" by Carl Bernstein

Whenever people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would tell them I wanted to "be an author" -- i.e., write books.  The older I got, though, the clearer it became that not too many people were lucky enough to make a living doing that. 

But then, as a young teenager, I gradually became aware of the possibility of a different kind of writing career: journalism. We'd always subscribed to and read the newspaper at our house. Undoubtedly, I was also influenced by the buzz created around the Watergate scandal in the U.S., and role that journalism and journalists played in bringing it to light, eventually forcing the resignation of President Richard Nixon. Reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post, who broke the Watergate story, were elevated to hero status and influenced an entire generation of young aspiring journalists -- including me. I read (and re-read) their book, "All the President's Men," and my sister and I saw the movie version, two nights in a row. (I re-read the book again in the summer of 2017, and wrote about it, and the impact it had on me, here.)  I did wind up going to journalism school and worked briefly as a reporter at a smalltown weekly newspaper, before landing a communications job in the corporate world. 

Now, Bernstein has written a memoir -- but not about Watergate, or anything that came after it. "Chasing History: A Kid in the Newsroom" is an affectionate coming of age story about how Bernstein got his start in journalism -- at age 16 in the summer of 1960, as a part-time copy boy at the Post's long-gone rival, the Washington Star.  His dad arranged the interview:  "He rightly feared for my future — a concern that was based on hard facts, most of them having to do with the pool hall, my school report cards, and the Montgomery County Juvenile Court." He was instantly hooked, and even as he tried to finish high school (while rapidly losing interest), he gradually began taking on assignments to report on meetings of local civic organizations and to act as a "legman," providing details on events such as the Kennedy inauguration that were included in the stories written by more senior reporters (who, of course, got the byline). Eventually, he became a full-time staff member, taking dictation from reporters phoning in stories, and reporting on stories of his own. 

Bernstein has an incredible memory and eye for detail (which, I suppose, is one reason he's the legend he is).  This is a vivid and lovingly written portrait of Washington and suburban Maryland in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and of the newspaper business of the time -- a bygone era of copy boys (and they WERE all boys), linotype machines and typesetters, payphone booths and rolls of dimes, and libraries of clipping files -- when a 16-year-old kid could be sent to help cover a presidential press conference at the White House, and nobody would bat an eye. 

But even then, it was an era in its twilight days. Bernstein dropped out of college (before he was kicked out) -- which meant he was at risk of being sent to Vietnam -- and his days at the Star came to an end because, despite his already-considerable experience and fat scrapbook full of impressive clippings, he didn't have the college degree that, already, had become the prerequisite for a reporting job. A friend gave him a job at a newspaper in New Jersey and then, two years later, the Washington Post took a chance on him -- and the rest is history. 

But that's another story...  

I saw Bernstein interviewed about this book on CNN (where he's a regular commentator) by Brian Stelter of "Reliable Sources"  Stelter noted some reviewers have described it as a love letter to the newspapers of the time, while others describe it as a eulogy for them. "Which one is it?" Stelter asked. Bernstein said both -- and it is both. Much has changed since 1960 in how stories make their way to readers -- but the essential lessons Bernstein learned at the Star -- about what journalism is and should be, how the job is done, the importance of getting out of the office and talking to people and cross-checking your stories with multiple sources, and following the facts, wherever they might lead you -- are still relevant and important today. "The ideal was always to get as near to the truth as good reporting could take you, through persistence and listening and observing with an open mind, regardless of your own opinions," he writes in Chapter 18. And later, in Chapter 20: "I'd gotten it in my head that all good reporting was pretty much the same thing: the best version of the truth you could come up with. It wasn't just stringing together disparate facts, an approach that could actually undermine the truth... but it was also about finding a way to put context into a story." 
I enjoyed this book, and I think anyone with an interest in journalism and/or in life and events in and around Washington D.C. in the late 1950s/early 1960s will like it too. It's evocatively and lovingly written. 

That said -- I have to admit... while I enjoyed it, it didn't knock my socks off the way I thought (hoped) it would. I found it just a wee bit long and maybe almost a little too detailed. (There's a huge cast of characters, and it was sometimes difficult to remember who was who.)  It took me longer to get through it than I expected. (Of course, a lot of time I could have been reading recently has been spent watching the Olympics instead...!) 

So, not 5 stars, for those reasons, but still, a fun read. Four (4) stars on Goodreads. 

This was Book #7 read to date in 2022 (and Book #2 finished in February), bringing me to 16% of my 2022 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 45 books. I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 2 books ahead of schedule. :)  You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2022 tagged as "2022 books."  

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Questions about power, influence and authority

I recently became a paid subscriber to Culture Study, Anne Helen Petersen's Substack newsletter, after enjoying it for free for the past year or so.  Petersen is childfree by choice, and writes sympathetically about both motherhood/parenting issues and choosing a life without children (among many other subjects). To date, she hasn't had much to say about those of us who are childless-not-by-choice -- I would love to see her in a conversation with Jody Day of Gateway Women ! But essays like "Your Own Harriet" -- which I absolutely loved -- are relevant to all of us without children, no matter how we got here.   

Petersen is fascinated by the world of social media influencers -- "momfluencers" in particular -- and has devoted several recent newsletters to the topic. As she explained in a post last October ("The Ideological Battlefield of the "Mamasphere"): 

I’m not a mom but I like to know what the moms are up to. You should too, regardless of your identity, because “the moms” — meaning, the moms embodying and directing ideals of femininity and domesticity and parenting — have a lot of power, and power demands attention.

She's introduced me to two others who think and write extensively on these topics, and I now follow their newsletters as well:  Meg Conley of Homeculture (who wrote movingly about miscarriage last  year), and Kathryn Jezer-Morton of Mothers Under the Influence, who is actually doing a PhD on the subject (!) at Concordia University in Montreal. 

I had interesting reads in my inbox today from both Petersen and Conley. First, Petersen interviewed Conley (again), this time about "The Edenic Allure of Ballerinafarm." I'd never heard of Ballerinafarm before:  it's a working farm in Utah, as well as an Instagram account/brand, run by a ballerina/beauty pageant queen turned mom (of SIX children, soon to be seven)/homemaker/farmer. Explains Petersen: 

The Neelemans currently sell Ballerinafarm beef and pork, along with a cornucopia of Ballerinafarm-branded merch. But the real product is the lifestyle: pastoral, filled with beautiful moppy-haired children and their graceful, angel-faced mother. There is a lot going on here! And I am grateful that Meg agreed to unpack some of it with me, using a set of analytical tools and frameworks you don’t often see in influencer commentary.

Then I got a newsletter from Conley herself.  Last month, she wrote a lengthy, detailed piece about the influential Magnolia Network, and how her friend Aubry's life has been upended for the past two years by a home makeover (for Magnolia's Home Work TV show) gone very wrong. In this update, she writes about the fallout from the first article -- how she was tagged in a response from the program's hosts (the Merediths), which led to a flood of outraged DMs from their followers. I found this passage particularly interesting (and you'll understand why when you read it): 

...The reactions I got in its aftermath did not surprise me. The rancor I saw in response to Aubry’s story did kind of surprise me. Aubry is a single woman without children. She’s chosen her life and it’s a good one. Aubry is very, very upbeat. Meredith Blake called her IG account "relentlessly cheerful." Which made me laugh. Because...that's accurate! But in a lot of the commentary I saw, she was characterized as shrill, greedy and jealous. This was not how other married with children clients were characterized when they came forward with similar stories about the Merediths.

One homeowner is the mother of five children. While I saw Andy and Candis’s followers push back against her story, they still granted her the authority to tell it. In their online commentary, many framed it as a difference of perception, a simple misunderstanding or a shame that her experience didn’t work out. Her children and marriage somehow gave her the rights to make claims about what happened in and to her home. The Meredith’s reinforced this authority in their video by acknowledging her claims even while denying they were truly at fault.

In their video, the Merediths singled Aubry out as the person whose authority they were most eager to undermine. They did this with images and videos of her inside of her home. They repeatedly referenced their own children. For those looking for it, this created a story of a A Mother with Children Done Wrong by a Woman Without Children. This reinforced the narrative I saw spawning across the internet around the Merediths. The one that said, A single, childless woman lacks authority to correctly witness and relay what happens in her own home.

Well. F*** that, you know?

There's a lot more -- but this is all absolutely fascinating stuff.  It's all worth a read and worth pondering. 

Monday, February 7, 2022

#MicroblogMondays: Small pleasures & annoying things

Small pleasures: 
  • Stumbling onto reruns of "That Girl," one of my favourite TV shows from childhood (and groundbreaking for its day -- one of the very first shows -- even before "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" -- to feature a young single woman living by herself and trying to forge an acting career in New York City). 
  • Taking delivery of some pretty new sweaters that I ordered online, on sale. They fit -- AND the colours are PERFECT on me!! (Now to be able to WEAR them somewhere...!) 
  • Watching the figure skating team events at the Olympics (even if Canada wound up in 4th, after winning gold last time around). 
    • Watching our Canadian women's champion, Madeline Schizas, age 18 and under extreme pressure, absolutely killing it in both the women's short & long segments of the team competition (skating well enough in the short program to pull Canada into the finals, after the qualifying rounds). I was nervous about her prospects, but I think she has a great future ahead of her! 
Annoying things: 
  • When the same ads keep repeating over and over and OVER again on TV (even before the Olympics started...!). 
    • When the ad music is especially annoying but earworm-ish and you can't help but have it playing in your head over & over again. 
  • Discovering that the bottom sheet on our bed has shredded -- the second set of sheets ruined in recent years. (They weren't cheap, either!) Luckily I had a spare set!  
  • In my email inbox:  
    • Marketing email from national department store, titled "Something for you + your mini me" (a matching set of mother/baby slippers). 
    • And then, just a few minutes later: a New York Times newsletter, with the header, "Rihanna and the Art of the Pregnancy Portrait Shoot."  I mean, seriously??!
  • Zits on my chin and under my nose. You'd think I was 16 instead of 61...! 
  • The book I'm reading right now is taking more time to get through than I had anticipated. 
  • Not being able to think of anything more original for a #MicroblogMondays post. 
You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here

Sunday, February 6, 2022

"Misfits" by Michaela Coel

The February pick for my online Gateway Women/NoMo book club is "Misfits: A Personal Manifesto" by Michaela Coel -- a British poet, actress, screenwriter and producer/director, whose work includes the TV series "Chewing Gum" and "I May Destroy You."  I had never heard of her, but when I Googled her, I learned that "Chewing Gum" is available via the CBC Gem online streaming service, and that "I May Destroy You" has been shown on HBO and won her an Emmy for outstanding writing. (She was the first black woman to claim that prize.) We don't get HBO in Canada, but apparently the show is available via the Crave streaming service (which we don't subscribe to). 

I will admit I feel a bit guilty counting this as a book read. It's not even 100 pages long (well spaced, with large pullout quotes sprinkled liberally throughout), and took me about an hour to read. I did, however, pay the same price for it as I would for other, much longer books (which seems somewhat ridiculous -- and I bought an e-version on Kobo, which was half the price of the hardcover -- the paperback won't be available until this fall) -- so I will justify myself that way. ;)  The "book" is, in fact, a lecture she delivered in Edinburgh in 2018 before 4,000 people, with an introduction and epilogue added, explaining how she came to deliver the lecture and what happened afterwards.   

It did not begin especially auspiciously for me: Coel almost immediately launches into a story about her hatred of moths -- an image that she repeats throughout the book, both in words and graphics used to divide the sections of the book.  I shuddered as I remembered the "miller" moths that used to flit around my grandmother's old house, out on the screened-in porch and inside, around the lamps in the bedroom my sister and I shared. I could NOT go to sleep until every single moth had been hunted down, killed and disposed of (by my mother or grandfather -- certainly not by me!), and I still fly into a fit if one happens to get into our condo when the screen door is open. I will admit to muttering, "What do moths have to do with what she has to say, anyway??" In the epilogue, however, she makes a comparison between moths and butterflies, and "aha!" -- it all finally began to make some sense. (I didn't realize until later, reading others' Goodreads reviews, that this section is titled "The Aftermoth"...!) 

"The term 'misfits' takes on dual notions;  a misfit is one who looks at life differently. Many, however, are made into misfits because life looks at them differently," Coel writes. She describes her experiences as a black woman growing up in a social housing development in the middle of London, and later in the TV industry.  She makes an argument for greater honesty and transparency, diversity and inclusion, and breaking down all kinds of barriers, which many don't even realize exist. 

3.5 stars on Goodreads, rounded up to 4. There is some powerful content here -- but it's a little disjointed and ambiguous in parts. The points she's making are not always immediately clear. "I will do what I'm best at: tell stories, in the hope that you'll be able to connect the dots, find threads to tie together," she says in the introduction. (She says essentially the same thing at the beginning of her lecture.) But sometimes it takes a while for the patterns to emerge.  

(There's also a fair amount of references that left me, and no doubt other North Americans, scratching my head. I knew what Boots was and who Claire Foy is, but Kat Slater (who gets mentioned several times)?? -- But I had to chuckle, because several of these references were asterisked and, at the very back of the book, there's a page of notes explaining who Kat Slater is, among other things. Thank you, Michaela!  ;)  )  

I will be thinking about this one for a while, and I'm looking forward to our discussions about it this month in Gateway Women's private community. It's certainly worth a read -- but see if you can get a copy on sale or from the library. ;)  (Apparently the lecture is available to watch/read online too.) 

This was Book #6 read to date in 2022 (and Book #1 finished in February), bringing me to 13% of my 2022 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 45 books. I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 2 books ahead of schedule. :)  You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2022 tagged as "2022 books."  

Friday, February 4, 2022

Support networks (or the lack thereof)(an update)

Further to my #MicroblogMonday post about being prepared (re: covid) --while I addressed practical things like stocking up on food and medical supplies, I later realized I didn't say anything much about social support networks, which is what Mali was mainly talking about in her post. I did say in my post that being closer to dh's brother and our nephews, as well as other relatives, was a big reason why we moved here in 2016 -- and I know that, if we got sick and needed them to bring us some groceries, etc., they would be able to help us out.  (Unless they were all sick at the same time too...!) 

It's great to have family close by (and willing) to help, of course -- but family doesn't always compensate for having a broader social network of friends and neighbours. I wrote a long post a few years back (May 2018) about "Social capital, adult friendships & childlessness," which I searched out and dusted off while thinking about these issues. Most of what I wrote then is still valid. A few things I wrote near the end, though, had me thinking it was time for an update! 

We've been living here two years now -- and we really haven't met a lot of new people here either.  There are neighbours & other people who live in the building that we know by name & exchange pleasant chit-chat with, but nothing deeper. None of dh's cousins, local or otherwise, have come to visit & inspect our condo (which surprises me -- we're the first in the family to get a condo & I though the novelty/curiosity factor would bring them over, if nothing else...!). His aunt has been here, but only because we took her out for dinner and then back here later for coffee....

Well, it's been almost SIX (!) years now -- and while we have lots of acquaintances in the building (and their dogs! lol) that we know by name and exchange pleasantries with, we're still not at the point of inviting them over (or being invited over) for dinner or anything like that. There ARE a very few people (including our next-door neighbour -- one of the building "originals" and a current member of the condo board of directors) that I think I'd feel comfortable asking a favour from in an emergency now, which makes me feel a bit better and less isolated.

We still haven't had any family visitors, after almost six years (!) -- albeit, of course, two of those years have been consumed by the pandemic, when nobody has been socializing much. (We love dh's relatives, but we wouldn't want them here right now...!)  Not even BIL & SIL have been over since the pandemic began, although of course we have been over there (and up to Older Nephew's new house) to see them, many times, especially since we all got our vaccinations this past year. 

Back to the 2018 post: 

I keep saying I'm going to join a yoga class -- mostly because I need & want the exercise & the relaxation/mindfulness benefits it promotes -- but also because it would get me out of the house. I've researched a few places but haven't tried any out yet. Likewise, I would love to find a book club. Even if I didn't make any real friends there, I would love to discover new books and talk about them with other people. I went on in search of one hereabouts, but most of the ones listed there meet in the city proper and would be difficult to get to. I've even considered going back to church in an attempt to meet people (if not with an eye to my eternal salvation, as I sometimes joke).

Still haven't found a yoga class (not that I looked that hard...! -- and even if the yoga studios are operating -- which can be iffy, depending on current restrictions -- I wouldn't feel comfortable going to one right now anyway -- all that emphasis on deep breathing, etc...!).  

I did join a book club through the local library in early 2019, and very much enjoyed attending the monthly meetings for a year, until covid intervened...!  I didn't make any real friends there, but I was getting to know the regulars and their names and quirks, and there were several women who usually sat near me that I would chat with while waiting for the meeting to begin, and then as we were leaving. (We all usually wore nametags, which helped.) I've found some online book clubs since the pandemic began that have helped to fill that bookish gap, and I very much enjoy too, but if/when we ever get rid of covid (!) and the library club restarts in-person meetings, I will definitely return. 

Still haven't been to church here (let alone considering regularly...!).  Churches are open, but capacity is currently restricted because of covid. 

I also wrote about investigating the local Gateway Women meetups. Of course, these have all (or mostly) been online for the past  two years because of the pandemic. I've made connections with some local GWs & other childless women through other CNBC online forums -- there have been some Zoom calls, and talks about getting together for coffee or maybe a hike, etc. -- but the pandemic keeps making this difficult.  While some might be comfortable meeting face to face at this point, I'm afraid I still wouldn't, not yet. There's also the distance & transportation factor: the Greater Toronto Area is pretty far-flung, I don't drive, and public transit has its limits.  Still, it's something I'd be interested in, if/when we can ever get rid of covid...!  

Meanwhile (as Mali reminded me), I am very lucky that I have some awesome friends right here in my computer. :)  Thanks for being here!  :)  

Thursday, February 3, 2022

What's saving my life right now...

I recently saw that Modern Mrs. Darcy had posted her annual list of  "What's saving my life right now" as an antidote to the midwinter gloom (more important now than ever, as we endure our second February -- my least favourite month -- of living with covid)(third, if you count 2020, when covid was looming ominously and drawing ever-more closely, even if it hadn't made much of an impact on our lives yet).  

Then I saw that Turia had posted hers -- which reminded me that both had inspired me to post a list of my own last year, and got me thinking about what I'd put on my list for this year. 

I tried not to look at my last year's list too closely before I started writing this. Inevitably, there is some overlap, but I came up with a few new items too...!  

  • Dh. I've become very conscious in recent years (through the work of Jody Day & Melanie Notkin, and through the Gateway Women community) that there's quite a large number of women who are childless because they never met the right partner in time to have a family with. Dh has his shortcomings, of course, and we've had our ups & downs over the years -- but I've been reminded several times in recent months, as we passed the 40-year mark in our relationship (!!), of just how lucky I am to have him in my life. :)  He makes me laugh, he makes me dinner almost every night, he makes me tea every afternoon without me asking for it, he's been doing most of the grocery shopping for the past two years since covid (insisting on taking on that extra risk himself), he pitches in with the laundry & cleaning... I may not have children -- but I have him. I am lucky and I know it, and I am very, VERY thankful. 
  • Days that are clear & sunny (even if they're freezing cold!), versus grey & gloomy. I was born & raised on the Prairies, where it might be -35C outside -- but the sun will, more often than not, be shining! As I am sure I've confessed before on this blog, I find the damp, slushy, grey gloom of southern Ontario in mid-winter a little hard to cope with.  So I appreciate those bright, sunny days when they happen!  (I notice that MMD does too! -- see #2!) 
  • Visits with Little Great-Nephew. At this time last year, our first vaccinations were still two months away, in early April. Older Nephew, his wife and Little Great-Nephew were all still living with BIL & SIL, not far away, but because of covid, our visits were few, short and mostly masked.  Once we all got those first shots, though, we shed the masks around each other and began visiting more often -- especially once LGN's mom returned to work in May after maternity leave, leaving him in the care of SIL.  In the months since then, he's gone from hiding behind his grandmother's legs when we arrived to running to the door to greet us with a huge smile on his face. We never got to spend this kind of regular, quality time with our two nephews when they were little (we lived on opposite ends of the city, and we were working during the week), and we are loving this opportunity for a bit of a do-over.  We've often said that LGN will probably never know or appreciate just how much joy he brought into all our lives at a very dark time in the world. (But we'll probably tell him so when he gets older -- if only to embarrass him, lol.)  
  • Listening to music. The news these past 5-6 years has been hard to watch -- first, what happened in the U.S., politically, then covid, and some of the more recent events here in Canada. We still watch the news channels (CNN & CBC News Network), especially first thing in the morning, as well as the local CBC supper hour newscast and "The National" (CBC's nightly national newscast). But we've learned to turn them off during the day (unless there's something really important going on) and turn on a music channel instead (usually our favourite classic rock).  
  • "Bob's Burgers" reruns. If there's nothing else on TV at night that we want to watch, we know we can depend on Bob & family -- they're on every night on the Adult Swim channel here at 8 p.m. for an hour (two episodes), as well as new episodes on Sunday nights on Fox, and they rarely fail to tickle my funnybone, even if it's an episode I've seen a dozen times before. I've written about my love of this show before, most notably here.  :) 
  • The Winter Olympics. (The opening is tomorrow morning, but the team figure skating event starts tonight!)  It sounds like a rather joyless Olympics, to be honest, with the strict covid protocols being enforced by the Chinese government -- restricted audiences, no families present, no cheering (!) -- and the threats of both illness and politics hanging over everything. But there are always some great performances to watch and celebrate. (Go Canada!!) 
  • Online shopping. Obviously, I can't do this too often, for the sake of my wallet!  lol  And there's nothing like in-person shopping, and being able to see & feel what you're buying. (I miss our weekly pre-covid walking and browsing trips to the mall. We haven't even been back to the local mega-bookstore since before Christmas.)  But I've had fun ordering a few things online recently -- some I was running out of (essential oils), some because I had a birthday discount that I didn't want to waste (skin care from Sephora), some I just wanted (pretty jewelry, pretty sweaters)  -- and opening a box that was delivered straight to my door is always a nice little pick-me-up on a dreary day. :)  
  • Books. The five I read in January to start the year off were all great. In particular, I can heartily recommend Richard Osman's two books in "The Thursday Murder Club" series, if you're looking for something fast and fun. :)  
  • Tea. A nice big cup of plain old Tetley's orange pekoe (although I do have other varieties) with sugar and milk, in the morning after breakfast and mid-afternoon with a cookie. (Sometimes after dinner too, but I've tried to cut back on caffeine in the evening in an attempt at better sleep.)  Always soothing and relaxing! 
  • This blog.  I've been here for 14+ years now, and still haven't run out of things to say. ;)  Writing is so cathartic for me, such an outlet, and never more so than these past two years with covid, I think...!  
  • The knowledge that there are just 28 days of February to endure. ;)  
What's saving your life right now? 

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Midweek odds & ends

  • (Very) proud great-auntie moment today:  we went to visit Little Great-Nephew & his grandma this morning. And... he called me by my name for the first time!! I could scarcely believe my ears, but SIL said, "Did you hear that?" Dh heard it too. :)  His vocabulary is growing all the time, and he's getting clearer/easier to understand too.  
  • So -- you might remember that, back in November 2019, SIL & I bought tickets to see Elton John here in Toronto on March 29th, 2020... of course, covid intervened, and the concert was postponed, first to Feb. 15th, 2022, and then, more recently, postponed again to March 13th. There was a limited-time window to request a refund, and SIL & I decided to take it. I received a confirmation that my request had been received on Jan. 23rd. (Here's my most recent Elton-related post, with links going further back.) 
    • The latest chapter in this seemingly neverending saga: I haven't received the refund yet -- BUT, on Tuesday morning (Feb. 1), I received an email from Ticketmaster:  
Your Event Has Been Postponed. [My reaction: !!!] This is just a heads up — your tickets are still valid... The Event Organizer is still trying to reschedule your event; if they do, your tickets will remain good for the rescheduled date. Hang on to your tickets — we'll email you as soon as the status of your event changes or the new date is announced.  Please Note: Your Event Organizer is not allowing refunds at this time. [??] Event Organizers are constantly assessing the situation and making determinations regarding refunds. You can always check your Ticketmaster Account later, as this status may change. Just go to your order to see if a refund link appears, which would indicate that the Event Organizer has made your order eligible for a refund.

So -- they obviously haven't processed my refund yet. I'm assuming I am still getting one?? As I said in a previous post, "I figured that March 13th was still highly optimistic -- in fact, under the provincial government's current reopening plans (which are subject to change, depending on how things go...), capacity limits on large events venues (like arenas) will not be lifted until March 14th -- the day AFTER the concert!"  

It will be interesting to see how much further back they push the date? -- although the wording ("if they do...") suggests it might not be rescheduled at all. Much as the guy loves performing, he probably just wants to get off the road already -- I'm sure he never dreamed when he started his "farewell tour" back in September 2018 that he'd still be doing it well into 2023...! 

  • I was stopped in my tracks by this article, written by a woman whose chronically ill sister was determined to have a baby, despite warnings from her doctors. It cost her her life, as well as the life of her unborn child.  :(  "I fear I lost my sister to this idea that women’s lives are incomplete until they’ve been through childbirth," the author writes. If that's not pronatalism at work, I don't know what is...  
  • I found a lot of food for thought in this article from the Globe & Mail about the importance of rituals in our lives, how they help us process changes to our identity, how the pandemic has interfered with our ability to celebrate/mark these important milestones and (importantly for us as childless women) the importance of creating new rituals in the absence of the old ones. There are the usual pronatalist examples of life milestones/rituals (weddings, baby showers, etc.) -- which of course reminds us that one reason childlessness hurts so much is that we miss out on a lot of these established "rites of passage," as well chances for a do-over with the ones we missed out on or have regrets about in our own lives. In some ways, we find ourselves stuck in the liminal state/"identity limbo" the author mentions. But I think this is a good way to start thinking about these issues, and worth a read. 
    • I wrote about childlessness and the absence of rituals/milestone celebrations, back in 2016, here. ("Menopause parade," anyone??) 
  • "Want To Know Why Women Under 30 Don't Have Kids? Start Asking Men." Yes!! 
  • In the same vein -- I think this article is the first one I've seen (certainly in quite a while, if ever??) where a man owns up (kinda/sorta...) to his part in why women may not be having the children they wanted:  "Are men like me the reason young women aren’t starting families?" by James Innes-Smith in The Telegraph. (You may have to register to read it.) 
  • Finally, Pamela -- one of the first bloggers I discovered who was writing specifically about childlessness after infertility -- is celebrating Blogoversary #15 this week!!  Go over & congratulate her on this milestone!