Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Sweet 16 on Halloween :)

Sixteen (16)(!!) years ago, on Halloween night in 2007 -- 9 years after the stillbirth of our daughter, and 6 years after my last infertility treatment -- I hit "post" here for the very first time, and started my journey down yet another road less travelled: blogging.  

I'm not sure what more I can say about the past 16 years that I haven't said in my previous years of blogoversary posts. (And I will admit that this post is more or less an update of the ones I've written on this occasion in recent years!)  The blogging world has changed in a huge way since 2007 -- but blogging has been (and continues to be) a joy and a release and a comfort (and yes, sweet! -- as in 16, lol) --  and it has enriched my life in so, so many ways.  

This year hasn't been quite so prolific in blogging terms as some recent years -- 146 posts so far, versus 163 last year and 178 in 2022. Still, not too shabby...! ;)  Somehow, I still keep finding things to write about... and I am very glad that people keep reading and commenting!  

Whether you're new here or whether you've been here the entire time (and I know a few of you have!) -- THANK YOU!  ❤

*** *** *** 

Blogging stats, 16 years later:  
Number of years blogging: 16

Published posts (including this one): 2,348

Average # of posts per year: 147

Average # of posts per month: 12 

(So far in calendar year 2023, I've published 146 posts -- 147, including this one -- a minimum of 10 posts (in June) and as many as 19 in one month (January).)

Published comments: 12,211 

Page views (all time): 1,513,566 (!!) 

Followers (on Blogger):  153 

Past blogoversary posts here.

First blog post ever here! :) 

Monday, October 30, 2023

#MicroblogMondays: Plus ca change...

When my sister & I were little, the arrival of the Christmas catalogues from the big department stores -- from Eatons, Sears and, from the U.S., Sears Roebuck -- was a major event, eagerly anticipated. We would pore endlessly over the pages, jam-packed with toys of every description, and flag the ones we wanted -- one of us would use an X and the other a check mark, or a circle. (Hint, hint, Mom & Dad.)  The small rural towns on the Canadian Prairies where we grew up in the 1960s and 1970s were miles away (often hundreds of miles away) from department stores of any size, let alone dedicated toy stores, so the catalogues presented a spectacular display of riches, abundance and possibilities.  

Those thick, fat catalogues have mostly gone the way of the dodo bird (not to mention the department stores themselves -- RIP, Eatons and Sears Canada, among others).  So I was both surprised and amused when we walked in to BIL's house two weekends ago after dinner for coffee -- the kids and grandkids were all there too -- and were greeted by a very excited Little Great-Nephew, clutching -- of all things -- a CATALOGUE. From Amazon!  (Who else these days, right?)  It was far slimmer than than the gloriously fat catalogues of my childhood, but there were still pages and pages of toys to keep a clearly dazzled LGN preoccupied for most the time we were there. 

LGN was mesmerized, and insisted on sitting down with every adult in the house, one by one, to page through and show us all the toys he wanted. By which I mean pretty much all of them, of course, lol.  

It's nice to know that some things haven't changed -- that catalogues still exist (in some form), and that, in the age of the Internet and Amazon, they still have the power to enchant a young child.  :) 

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

"The Blue Castle" by L.M. Montgomery (re-read)

My L.M. Montgomery Readathon Facebook group spent the summer & early fall months immersed in 1920s era-Muskoka -- the "cottage country" region of Ontario -- as described in one of my very favourite books of all time,  Montgomery's 1926 "adult" novel, "The Blue Castle."  

(I currently own three versions of the book -- including my original 1970s Canadian Children's Classic edition, purchased in Regina, Saskatchewan, in 1973, when I was 12 years old, for a whopping $2.99!  :)  The gorgeous cover shown here is the recent Tundra Books edition, which I couldn't resist adding to my collection recently!)  

I've read and re-read this book many times over the past 50 (!) years since I first discovered it. Our group first read it together back in fall 2020, and this summer, our admin (a Montgomery scholar) re-ran all the posts from that time (chapter readings by members on YouTube, discussion questions and context posts) while taking a well-deserved break from creating and organizing new content. (She also got married! :)  ) 

If you've never read "The Blue Castle," you are in for a treat. :)  This is the only book Montgomery wrote that's set completely outside of her home province of Prince Edward Island. It was inspired by a 1922 vacation she & her family took in the area.  

Our heroine, Valancy Stirling, age 29, is an "old maid" who leads a dreary life with her oppressive mother and whiny cousin in the small, staid town of Deerfield. The two things that make Valancy's drab existence bearable are the books by nature writer John Foster that she borrows from the local library, and her dream life in her "Blue Castle" in Spain (complete with a Prince Charming, of course).  

Then she receives a shocking letter that changes her life.  With nothing left to lose, Valancy decides she will henceforth live her life exactly as she pleases, scandalizing her family in the process. And then she meets the mysterious, reclusive rogue Barney Snaith... and finds her real-life Blue Castle.

Some modern readers might find this novel a little contrived and fairy tale-ish in some respects -- but it WAS written almost 100 years ago, after all!  In many respects, Valancy is a heroine ahead of her time, who dares to defy her family as well as social conventions to live life on her own terms. There's a scene at a family dinner party that cracks me up every single time I read it. 

(Spoiler/ALI alert:  there's a secondary character who is the single, unmarried mother of a dead baby -- who winds up dying herself. Despite this harsh "punishment" for her sin of having a child out of wedlock, Montgomery -- herself the mother of a stillborn son -- presents her story with great sympathy & sensitivity.) 

Once again, 5 stars on Goodreads (again)(4.5 stars, rounded up).  :)  
(Previous reviews herehere and, from an earlier book-related post, here.) 

Our next Montgomery book is still TBA...  whatever and whenever it is, you are welcome to join us

This was Book #40 read to date in 2023 (and Book #4 finished in October), bringing me to 89% of my 2023 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 2023 tagged as "2023 books."  

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Odds & ends: Updates and some good reading

A couple of updates:  
  • First, an update to the Internet/TV saga that I posted about recently (in case you didn't see my later comment on the actual post).  After publishing huge long rants/vents -- here, on Facebook and elsewhere -- and having been told that it might be NEXT FRIDAY by the time we got our new receiver... guess what showed up on our doorstep at lunchtime the very next day?? -- less than 24 hours after we ordered it?? (Maybe after reading the critical comment I left on the survey, they sent out the word to put a rush on it?? lol) 
    • Once again the instructions bore no resemblance to the equipment/setup we had, but between us, dh & I managed to hook everything up. We did ultimately wind up calling for help, and I'm sure the young guy we spoke to was rolling his eyes (although he was very polite and patient) but WE HAVE TV AGAIN! Yay!! :)
    • (My dad saw my rather irate post on Facebook, and called me the next morning because he was afraid I was being scammed, lol.  It really was "Big Blue," Dad, although yeah, sometimes the ridiculous prices they charge really do feel like a scam...!) 
  • A not-so-happy update:  Older Nephew is back in the hospital :(  -- for the THIRD time since he served as his dad/BIL's organ donor in July. :(  He had a mild fever this past week, had his bloodwork checked on Saturday and his numbers were off, so he was advised to head back to the hospital, where he's awaiting yet another non-surgical procedure that will (hopefully!!) correct the problem once and for all. Sigh.  :(    
And now -- some great reading lately that I'd love to share with you! 
  • Dani Shapiro's essay in the New York Times, "Why My Fall Made Me Feel So Ashamed," gave me a feeling of deja vu. (Although my story turned out better than hers, I think!) 
  • I'm (obviously) not a parent, but this NYT opinion piece from Jessica Grose really resonated:  "Stop Micromanaging Halloween — Let Your Kids Be Free." (The "Switch Witch," anyone?  How about "Boo-ing" your friends and neighbours??)  Along with "holiday inflation," the post covers the high costs of "helicopter parenting," to both parents (mothers in particular) and children. 
    • As I read, I remembered other pieces I'd read about "holiday inflation" -- what Grose calls "the ever-encroaching parental project management of holiday madness" -- and a rant I wrote -- 10 years ago now! -- about the Elf on the Shelf. ;)  (Also the piece by Anne Helen Petersen mentioned/linked to in this post.) 
    • See also this Twitter/X thread by Helaine Olen of the Washington Post, referenced by Grose in her article. 
    • I was also reminded that (1) if this is what it takes these days to be considered a "good" parent, perhaps it's just as well that motherhood didn't work out for me...!  and (2) I am sooooooo glad that I grew up in the time & place that I did...! 
    • Says Grose:  "Every year, a holiday becomes just a little bit more labored, a little bit more controlled. It’s just one more party to monitor, just another fresh costume, just another gift bag, until all your free time and money are gone, and your children have no time or space to let their imaginations run wild, which I thought was the point of Halloween in the first place. If your kids are left to manage their candy harvest by themselves, the world will continue to spin on its axis."  (Amen!) 
  • In her Culture Study newsletter, Anne Helen Petersen recently asked subscribers "How has your Internet changed?"   A surprising number of people wrote that they missed blogs!  (Google Reader also came up!) 
    • I piped up to comment that blogs are still out there, and that I in fact was still blogging after almost 16 (!) years. One person asked me to send her my URL. I haven't, yet. I'm not sure she realizes just what KIND of a blog I write...!  ;)  
    • Other notable themes that popped up in the responses:  
  • More recently, Petersen asked "Are You in The Portal?"  She begins by relating how she'd been chatting enthusiastically with her mother about some of the projects she was working on. 
“What are you now, 42?” she asked. “I think that’s exactly when I started writing textbooks. I just had this huge creative surge.”

What an amazing way to reframe the energy I’ve been channeling this last year: energy to write another book, energy to figure out a Culture Study-related podcast, energy to dahlia farm. What if it wasn’t ambition pushing me forward….but a swell of creativity? And what if that swell of creativity was possible because I’ve become a whole lot less concerned with bullshit?

Earlier this year, I was flailing around after my dog Peggy’s death, trying to figure out what I wanted to write about next. On Instagram, Anja Tyson (follow her, she and her daughter are so great) suggested: “the weird spiritual / emotional / professional / transitional portal that women ages 37 to 45 are in.”

I became obsessed with this idea of a portal, and when I brought it up — on IG, but also in casual conversation — it seemed to resonate. Something was happening. Maiden-becomes-crone, sure. Destabilizing, yes. But it was also an experience of transformation, of refinement.

So I started talking to people about what this portal might be. And here’s what they told me.

Interestingly, I'd just been on a Zoom call that morning with a group of childless women. Many of them were in their 40s (some of them young enough to be my daughters -- GULP!) and had only recently, within the past few years, realized that motherhood was not going to happen for them. We all got talking about the moment when the door to parenthood closed for us -- slammed shut in some cases, closed quietly ourselves in others -- and yeah, it happened at 40 for me too -- and we had to begin contemplating "Okay, what next?"  In some ways, I think I'm still figuring that out...! But yeah, my early 40s was when I had to start rethinking and rebuilding my life. 

Warning: A lot of the stories Petersen's interviewees relate are parenthood/motherhood-related -- and one of them is actually a single mother by choice -- so, caveat emptor.  (The comments are better. Some mom-related, to be sure, but a few even mention pregnancy loss and hysterectomies!) 

  • On a related note, Lyz Lenz asked subscribers to her Substack, Men Yell At Me, "What happens after 40?" 
    • "How did your life change after 40?... What has pleasantly surprised you about getting older? What did you think about expiration dates? And have you blown past them? What did you wish you had known?"
    • In the comments, I recounted the story of my 40th birthday weekend and its aftermath (among other things)... and in one of those "believe it or not" moments, someone recognized the story and responded, "Hey this is random but I used to read your blog! Small world!"  Small world indeed!  :)  (And if you're back here reading again, hello!)  
  • Lyz also had a great rant about "The eternal allure of Engagement Chicken: Feminist backlash and the food of marriage."  (I remember Glamour magazine's "Engagement Chicken" very well, albeit I was already married by then, and I was amused to see it being reinvented as "Marry Me Chicken" in the NYT recently.) 
  • On her Substack "She Tried," the always-wonderful Nora McInerny reminds us that "Suffering is not self-improvement." Sample passage: 

The hard parts of our existence are not an aberration or interruption to our life, they are life.

This pressure to make lemonade puts an unreasonable expectation on us as humans, it perpetuates a narrative that says it’s all in your head, or at least in your control.

Um, it’s not...

When life gives you lemons, you do not owe anybody a glass of lemonade. [boldfaced emphasis hers] 

Saturday, October 28, 2023

"The Reason You Walk" by Wab Kinew

Several years back, I took note of a polished and personable young Indigenous journalist for CBC television, based out of Winnipeg, in my home province of Manitoba. (He also worked for CBC Radio.) His name was Wabanakwut (Wab) Kinew, and I was amused to learn that, pre-journalism, he'd been a rap/hiphop artist.  In 2015, he penned a memoir, "The Reason You Walk," which became a national bestseller.   

Since then, Kinew entered provincial politics. He was elected to the Manitoba Legislature in 2016 and chosen leader of the provincial (leftist) New Democratic Party in 2017.  He served as Leader of the Opposition and then, in a provincial election late last month, he became Premier, at the relatively youthful age of 41.  (Here's a CBC profile about him.)  He is Canada's first provincial premier of First Nations descent, and Manitoba's first Indigenous premier since Métis Premier John Norquay in 1887.  He was sworn in wearing a traditional feathered headdress that had belonged to his late father, Tobasonakwut. 

I already had a copy of "The Reason You Walk" in my gargantuan "to read" pile, and immediately moved it up in the queue. :)  

Kinew's relationship with his father forms the core of this book, which begins with his father's story. Tobasonakwut was born on a reservation/First Nation in northwestern Ontario, and was a survivor of the infamous residential school system (which I wrote about here). Although he later attended university and became a respected academic and politician, the anger and grief that still consumed him ultimately strained his relationship with his children, fathered by several different women, including Wab's mother, a white woman from Toronto. 

Young Wab followed in his father's footsteps, in more ways than one. He mostly grew up and attended school in Winnipeg, but spent summers in the forests of northwestern Ontario and travelling with his father to the U.S. to attend sundances and learn more about his heritage. Unfortunately, like his father, he learned to numb his pain and anger with alcohol and drugs, and had several encounters with the law (some that he writes about here and others he didn't) before he eventually turned his life around and came to terms with his father before he died. Their story is set against the progress made by Canada's Indigenous peoples over the span of their lifetimes. 

(Kinew's opponents in the latest election tried to make an issue of his past run-ins with the law. He chose to tackle them head on in a major campaign speech about crime prevention. And on election night, he spoke directly to the young Indigenous people in the audience:) 

I was given a second chance in life, and I would like to think that I've made good on that opportunity. And you can do the same — here's how. My life became immeasurably better when I stopped making excuses and I started looking for a reason.

And I found that reason in our family. I found that reason in our community. And I found that reason in our province and country.

...[But] you have to want it.

The book is written in clear, straightforward language. The pace is slow, but the story is moving -- especially the last few chapters. It would be a good choice if you're looking to learn more about Indigenous life and culture in Canada today (they have an expansive definition of family that I could appreciate, as a childless woman)(although I could have done without the detailed descriptions of what "piercing" ceremonies entail...!), about the lingering, multi-generational effects of the residential school system -- and/or about a rising young star in the Canadian politics. I sure learned a lot, and I will be watching with interest to see where he and his government take my home province -- and my country -- over the next few years. 

4 stars 

This was Book #39 read to date in 2023 (and Book #3 finished in October), bringing me to 87% of my 2023 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 2023 tagged as "2023 books."  

Friday, October 27, 2023

Free stuff! :)

In the fall of 2013, Lisa Manterfield and Kathleen Guthrie Woods pulled together a number of blog posts from Life Without Baby and put them together in one book, "Holiday Companion." Their intention was to give themselves -- and their childless-not-by-choice readers -- inspiration and encouragement to get through the tender holiday season between Halloween and New Year's Day.  

For the 10th Anniversary, they’re celebrating the good healing this book has provided by giving away FREE EBOOKS to anyone who wants one! From today through Tuesday, Oct. 31st, you can download yours at https://www.amazon.com/Life-Without-Baby-Holiday-Companion-ebook/dp/B00GR31WM4 . (If you don't have a Kindle e-reader, you can still read it via the Kindle app.) 

(I mean, who doesn't love free stuff?? -- especially books, lol.) 

Enjoy! -- and feel free to spread the word and share this offer with others. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Another service saga

(A different one than I wrote about for #MicroblogMondays this week...! -- or the ongoing saga of my scammed/suspended Amazon account....!) 

You know, sometimes I wonder why I ever try to do something different or buy something new and improved... supposedly the result is going to be something better -- but so often, it just creates a whole new set of cascading problems that needs to be resolved...!  

To set the scene:  If you're Canadian/Ontarian, there really are just two main players in the telecommunications services field -- let's call them "Big Blue" and "Big Red."  We have only ever had our home phone, then internet and (later) cellphones with Big Blue, right from day one (i.e., going back 38+ years). Big Red was our cable TV service provider at the house, but when we moved, Big Blue offered us a great package deal that included their fibre-optic TV service, and we took them up on it. Both companies have their pros & cons (many will tell you that both suck equally, lol) and both are horribly expensive (Canadians pay more for cellphone and other telecomm services than just about any country on earth), but we had a couple of really dumb run-ins with Big Red (including a sales rep who called the house once and was so rude to me that I wound up filing a complaint!).  To their credit, I've always found the people I've dealt with at Big Blue, on the phone and in person, to be unfailingly helpful and polite. 

Our building, completed in late 2014/early 2015, I think, was built with the very latest in fibre optic technology (so we were told).  A technician visited the day we moved in (7+ years ago, in April 2016) to hook up our new services -- dh & I were out, but BIL let him in and when we returned, everything was up and running, including the TV. There's a panel in our front closet with a whole bunch of wires, etc. He hooked them up to the modem we brought with us from the house -- how old THAT was, I'm not sure -- and provided a receiver box for the TV (which was a relatively new -- i.e., November 2015 -- 48-inch Samsung TV). 

We've been happy with the service we've received, for the most part, but lately I've had issues with some Zoom calls I've been on -- my screen freezes up, or the connection drops altogether, etc.  Then, earlier this month, I received an offer from Big Blue to upgrade our internet (which also runs the home phone & TV) to a faster speed (1 GB -- double what we already had) -- at no additional charge. 

The offer was only good until Oct. 31st -- so on Monday, I called to enquire and decided to take it. I was told they would send me a new modem/hub;  we'd get it in 3-5 business days and we could install it ourselves (directions included) and just return the old modem to any of Big Blue's retail outlets. 

Early this morning, we heard a "clunk!" outside our door -- the new modem/hub had arrived!  The instructions outlined how to switch from the old modem to the new one. Unfortunately, the "old" modem in the brochure was NOT the old modem we HAD -- it was a much newer model -- and it was not at all clear how the setup pictured translated to the equipment we had. I called Big Blue's help line, and after trying a few things suggested by the rep I spoke with, I wound up begging him to send someone to our condo. Surprisingly, they agreed -- and even more surprisingly, they said someone would come between 12 noon and 5 p.m.!  

A nice young man arrived at our door around 3 p.m. He immediately clued in to the fact that Big Blue mistakenly thought we had a later version of our modem, and also that the wiring in our panel was not set up to allow easy installation of our new modem/hub. (He walked away with a bundle of obsolete/now-unnecessary wires and plastic boxes, as well as our outdated modem.)  

Moreover, he immediately realized that the receiver box for our TV was not compatible with the new modem/hub he was installing.  (For one thing, it's not wireless.)  Bottom line:  No TV until we get a new receiver.  : (  He told us we could call and order one -- told us exactly what to ask for (because, he assured us, the newest model they would try to sell us on is "crap"). 

I called Big Blue as soon as he'd left and once they figured out what we needed, they agreed to send it out -- within 3 to 5 business days -- i.e., Monday at the very earliest -- but I was told it likely won't arrive until NEXT FRIDAY (i.e., Nov. 3rd!). (Which is obviously more than 5 business days, but by then I was too tired to argue.)  We actually got the bright idea to drive, after supper, to the closest Big Blue retail outlet that was open, at a mall in the area, but were told when we got there that the stores don't stock the necessary equipment. Well, we tried. 

So now we're without a TV for at least the next several days, and possibly a full week-plus.  The young technician who visited us assured us that we could watch TV on our phones or laptop in the meantime. I know younger people do it all the time -- but when you're a Boomer/early GenXer like dh & me (and having trouble reading the small type, lol -- yes, I admit it..!), it's just not something we're used to doing.  I did manage to figure out the TV app for the phone -- and then how to tune in from my laptop -- and 15 inches of laptop is definitely better than 6 inches of phone screen, I guess...! -- but it's still a far cry from the 48 inches we've been watching for the past 8 years...! or the 32" before that...! Plus, I'm used to working on my laptop and having the TV on in the background, and glancing from one to the other. Right now, I can look at one or another, but I can't easily keep an eye on both (although I can listen in). (What, no multi-tasking??) 

I got a customer service survey after the young technician left. I gave him high marks for his expertise and pleasant service, but added in the comments section that we're not happy that the story isn't over and that we're now without TV service. (I did add that it was clearly not his fault.)  I'm planning to send a letter/email when this is all finally resolved. I don't expect anything will come of it, but I feel like someone should know the hoops they're making their customers jump through. (Couldn't they have confirmed the equipment we had, and ensure the newer stuff is compatible, before sending out upgrades?)  Not everyone is comfortable navigating switches to new/different technology -- and not all of us have teenagers around to do this kind of stuff for us...! 

To be continued...!  :p  (Rant over! -- for now...)(lol)  

Monday, October 23, 2023

#MicroblogMondays: A service saga

When we owned a house, we had a regular HVAC guy who would come twice a year -- fall and spring -- to service our furnace, as well as in-between times when we were having issues. We found him by sheer luck, after trying a couple of other companies. He was a lovely Italian man -- on the verge of retirement by the time we sold our house, which made me feel somewhat less guilty about leaving him behind...! (lol) 

I know next to nothing about HVAC systems, but apparently our condo unit has an individual HVAC unit with a "fan coil" and a "drip pan" -- which we are responsible for.  We've been advised we need to have our coil cleaned & serviced regularly (as we did with our furnace at the house) and to be sure to check and empty the drip pan, especially during humid weather. (If it overflows and causes damage to the unit below ours, we're responsible.) Someone told me "oh, you can just vacuum the coil off yourself" -- but when I open up the little door to where the unit is housed, all I see (besides the slot where the filter goes) is a wall of sheet metal and a dark empty space below it (that presumably goes down to the unit on the next floor?).  

We've been living here more than 7 years now, and I'm embarrassed to admit our HVAC unit has never been serviced. The building opened a year or so before we bought the place, and I doubt the original owners ever had it serviced either -- so we're overdue. Granted, we haven't had any real issues to date, and we've always been conscientious about changing the filter every 2-3 months.  And I did make an effort, a few years back, to call someone to come look at it. BIL had no recommendations to offer, so I just did some Googling and called round to several HVAC companies. Some never returned my messages. In a couple of cases, I did talk to customer service/sales reps who didn't seem to have any idea what it was I was talking about or what I wanted. (I think the condo thing confused them.)  One tried to sell me on a monthly service plan. (I'm not going to buy a service plan from you without sampling the service first...!)  Then along came the pandemic, and any thoughts of having service people inside our unit for quite a while...!  

As fall approached, I decided we really needed to have someone come look at the thing, for my own peace of mind, if nothing else. The name of the company that's responsible for the building's overall heating/boiler system is listed in the lobby, and I Googled them, but from what I could tell, individual unit systems weren't part of what they generally did.  I did some more Googling, and lo and behold, I found a company -- not too very far from where we are -- that specializes in serving individual condo unit  HVAC systems (as well as overall building systems).  I figured that they should know what they're doing, right? They were well rated on all the ratings sites too.

So last Monday, I called to ask for an appointment.  The girl I talked to took some information from me (the usual personal information and some information about the age of our building, etc.), and said someone would call me back. 

Lo and behold, about five minutes later, someone did!!  He asked me to text him a photo of our HVAC unit. (?? -- I guess so he could see what kind it was?).  Okay -- I took a photo of the outside of the unit and texted it to him. And then I waited to hear back from him. 

And waited some more. 

Finally, on Thursday, after consulting with dh about the best course of action, I decided to text him back. I said I was just following up and would like to book something soon. He texted me back a while later, apologized, said he just saw my text (! -- seriously?) and that he could come any day in November, 9 to 11 or 2 to 5. I said fine, how about 2 p.m. on Nov. 1st? 


Then the next day (Friday),  I got another text from him -- with a link, asking me to fill out an online form on their website. Basically all the information I'd already given him AND the original girl I spoke to (eyeroll), but, okay. I filled in the form -- once again, attached the photo I'd taken of our unit, as requested. Of course, by then it was Friday afternoon. 

Nothing happened over the weekend, but this morning (one week after I first called this company), I got an email, confirming my appointment for Nov. 1st -- for the 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. time frame (?! -- okay, whatever...). The name of the service person was a completely different guy from the one I'd been texting with. They encouraged me to upload any photos of our unit (seriously? -- again??)(this would be the third time).  And there was a link: "Click here to secure your booking."  

I clicked, and a window opened up asking for my credit card information to pre-pay the $180 (plus taxes) fee -- final total $203, plus change (!) (I don't remember what we paid at the house -- and I usually paid the guy with a personal cheque, which I know is getting to be rare these days -- and I know that was 7 years ago -- but I know it wasn't $200...!).  I consulted dh & we reluctantly decided we probably had to pay the fee. So we did, and I got an emailed receipt.  

All this, just to get an appointment...!  

And now we wait to see if someone actually shows up...!  

Why is it that getting a service person to come to your house these days (for anything!) is like pulling teeth??  I know these HVAC guys are busy at this time of year, but seriously?? 

Of course, I have the "advantage" of being retired and at home to make these calls and field the responses (such as they are), and wait around for someone to actually come do the work. It would be even more aggravating if I was trying to do this while working and/or taking care of small children. (Which is not to say I don't have other things to do as well...!) 

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

Thursday, October 19, 2023

"The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie" by Alan Bradley

I was first introduced to Flavia de Luce through "The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie" 10+ years ago, when it was a relatively new bestseller (published in 2009).  A member of an online book club I belonged to then suggested it for our next read. Alas, the book club petered out shortly after that, and we never did get to discuss it together, but I read the book in the meantime and I was hooked!  In the years since then, I've read (and loved) all 10 Flavia novels written by the author (Alan Bradley, a Canadian now living on the Isle of Man in the United Kingdom). I've reviewed all nine of those subsequent novels on this blog in some way, but never the book that kicked it all off -- until now!  

My Childless Collective (formerly Gateway/Lighthouse Women) Nomo book club is always on the lookout for books featuring strong, independent female characters (and NO "miracle babies"), and I thought Flavia definitely fit the bill. So I was delighted when we decided "The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie" would be our November book.  I'll be leading the discussion on this one, and since it's been well over a decade since I first read it (and 4+ years since I last visited Flavia in book #10), I downloaded an e-copy to start re-reading on my recent trip to Manitoba.  

The story begins memorably with 11-year-old Flavia de Luce bound and gagged in a closet (!) in a remote corner of Buckshaw, her family's crumbling ancestral home in early 1950s Britain. Flavia lives there with her father, Colonel Havilland de Luce;  two villainous teenaged sisters, Daphne and Ophelia;  and Arthur Dogger, the gardener, a veteran of the recent war who saved the Colonel's life and suffers from what we would now call post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from his time in a Japanese prisoner of war camp.  The girls' mother, Harriet, disappeared mysteriously on an expedition to Tibet years earlier, and her absence haunts the family.  

In many ways, Flavia is a typical 11-year-old girl, with pigtails and braces and a bicycle she calls Gladys -- but she's also highly precocious -- a budding chemist with a particular interest in poison (!) and a talent for telling fibs (as well as picking locks) -- and she's intrigued when, first, a dead bird turns up on the doorstep with a Penny Black stamp stuck through its beak -- and then the body of a man turns up in the cucumber patch. Colonel de Luce is arrested for murder, and the precocious Flavia promptly begins an investigation to prove his innocence.  

It was such a delight to be back in Flavia's company again. I was surprised by what I remembered from my original reading -- and what I'd forgotten. The first part of the book moved more slowly than I remembered, but the action (and tension) accelerates in the last part -- and the ending put a huge smile on my face. :)  (And now I'm tempted to start re-reading the other books in the series too...!) 

4.5 stars on StoryGraph, rounded up to 5 on Goodreads.  

*** *** *** 

The novel has an interesting origin story.  Says Wikipedia: 

When Bradley's wife heard author Louise Penny, a 2004 Debut Dagger award runner-up, on the radio talking about the British crime-writing competition, she encouraged her husband to enter... The competition, which is open to anyone who has not yet published a novel commercially, requires would-be novelists to submit the first 3,000 words (or less), along with a 500-1,000 word synopsis. Writing the draft of the first chapter "took Bradley just a couple of days, but he then spent weeks polishing it, only just sneaking the first pages of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie in under the final deadline."

He won the 2007 Debut Dagger "based on a chapter and a synopsis," and "signed a three-book deal with Orion for a crime series centering on 11-year-old sleuth Flavia de Luce." Through agent Denise Bukowski, he also auctioned U.S. rights to Bantam Books and Canadian rights to Doubleday Canada, securing three separate three-book deals for a proposed six-book series, based on a 17-page submission. Calling the submission fresh and original, Kristin Cochrane of Doubleday Canada admitted: "we've rarely, if ever bought fiction on so little material." Orion's Bill Massey agreed, remarking that "it was just a chapter, but it was so outstanding that it made me realise he is a real talent, and that he had an idea that could be a really terrific series." Massey further explained that "Flavia just seemed so alive on the page, and her voice was so distinctive and engaging." After Bradley picked up the Dagger award in London on his first trip to England, the Canadian author took a few weeks off and then "sat down and wrote Sweetness in seven months flat."

Besides the 2007 Debut Dagger award, the book won the Agatha Award for Best First Novel (2009), Barry Award for Best First Novel (2010), Macavity Award for Best First Mystery Novel (2010), Dilys Award (2010),  and Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel (2010); and was nominated for a Goodreads Choice Award for Fiction & Mystery/Thriller (2009) as well as an Anthony Award for Best First Novel (2010). 

If you're interested in this series, I'd strongly recommend starting at the beginning with this title, and working your way through in chronological order, since each book builds on the ones before it, with some overarching storylines that continue from volume to volume. 

And!  Good news for Flavia fans:  In April, on his Facebook page, Bradley shared the news that he's been contracted to write two more Flavia books, to be published in Fall 2024 and Fall 2025. The title of the next one will be "What Time the Sexton's Spade Doth Rust." 

AND!  There's a Flavia movie in the works too!! with Martin Freeman as Colonel de Luce, Toby Jones and Jonathan Pryce, and a young actress named Isla Gie in the role of Flavia. 

Here's Alan Bradley's website, although it's not up to date. (Did you know he's 85 years old??) His Facebook page has current news, though, and it's worth following -- he posts there personally and sometimes responds to comments.  :) 

This was Book #38 read to date in 2023 (and Book #2 finished in October), bringing me to 84% of my 2023 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 2023 tagged as "2023 books."  

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

I'm back! with more odds & ends...

  • I'm back from spending last week (the Canadian Thanksgiving long weekend and the week afterwards) with my parents and sister, who also had the week off work. Much of what I wrote in this post from last year still applies  ;)  although (happily) my parents didn't bicker quite as much on this visit, and we got to see more of Parents' Neighbours' Daughter and the newest Little Princess #3 (who was 7 weeks old by the time we left).  We didn't do very much, except eat and play a lot of card games (which made my father very happy!), but that's okay.  
    • We'll be back at Christmastime. (I saw another deal -- which, incredibly, actually applied to flights over the holiday period! -- and booked our flights while we were still there. The price was not as good as when we went this time around, but no doubt it was a lot better than it would have been, had we waited.)
  • I wrote about our flight home for my #MicroblogMondays post... after we got home and emptied our suitcases, I asked dh if he wanted to take them down to our storage locker, or leave them up here until Christmastime?  At the airport, he'd been adamant that next time around, we were going to bring ONE larger suitcase, and check it. But by then, he'd calmed down (and apologized), and said we'll try again -- if we can get them onboard with us, great, if not, well then, they'll have to be checked. (Famous last words??).  
    • He also said, "Next time, we should probably get in line to board earlier." I just about fell over.  DUH... that's what I was thinking while we were sitting in the lounge, watching the line get longer and longer. (Even if we were in the last zone allowed to board, we could have been at the front of the Zone 5 group instead of the middle, if we'd headed over earlier...!)  And I ASKED him, more than once, if he wanted to get into line now, and he said no!  
    • I reminded him of this, and he said I need to be more direct/explicit with him (like:  "Dh!  We need to get in line NOW if we're going to have any chance of getting our bags into those overhead bins." vs "Would you like to get in line now?")   
    • This happens with us a LOT... I will think something is the best option, or I'll want to do something, but instead of asking directly or stating exactly what I think we should do, I'll "suggest" or ask him if he'd like to do this or that -- and he doesn't get the hint. 
    • I don't think I'm the only woman in the world who does this either (especially of my generation)...!  It's hard to break a lifetime of conditioning -- don't rock the boat, don't make a fuss -- but I think I'm going to have to start trying...! 
  • Katy at Childless Collective did an Instagram reel/post that's well worth watching, about how some people will draw attention to the fact that someone is childless "as a way to discredit them or to portray them in a negative light." 
    • Case in point:  earlier this week, two senators in Australia's parliament were debating a bill related to child welfare, when this exchange took place:  
      • Senator Hanson: "Minister, do you have children?"
      • Senator Chisholm: "It's not really relevant to this discussion."
      • Senator Hanson: "Well, the answer to the question is, if you have no children, you have no heart. You have no understanding of what you're talking about."  
      • [She was reminded that personal comments were off limits.]  
      • If you want to watch the exchange, here's a link. It starts around 13.04.30.  
    • Says Katy:  "News flash: being a parent doesn't automatically give you a greater capacity for being empathetic, caring, or kind."  Amen!  
  • Has anyone heard the song "The Girl That Never Was" by James Blunt??  Someone mentioned it was about baby loss. I have not watched the video (so I have not linked to it here) but I Googled the lyrics and... Oh. My.  (Have Kleenex handy.)  
  • Sarah at Afterward Honesty Yoga is testing her new website and system via a free workshop on Sunday, November 12 at 2:00 pm ET, via Zoom: "Your Breath as a Resource: Using the breath to land in your body." 
    • Says Sarah:  "We’ll be sampling basic, gentle breath practices that can assist us in settling into our bodies.  Some simple (and always optional!) movement will be incorporated.  Talk and background on the subject of breath will also be included.  The aim is to explore tools to take with you and use on your own if you choose.  The breath has been one of my most useful - and favorite - things to turn to through involuntary childlessness (and a lot of other things too!).  So this is the workshop I just had to start with." 
    • To find out more about the workshops in general, and to check out Sarah's new website,  visit www.afterwardhonestyyoga.com .
    • Deadline: If you're interested in participating in the test workshop, please email Sarah at sarahafterwardhonesty@gmail.comno later than Nov. 1. 
  • This article ("Testing My Fertility at the End of My World") was flagged by someone on a childless forum I'm on. Blurb below the headline:  "The pandemic robbed Millennial women of peak years of fertility. The least we deserve is a space to process the grief—and reimagine what can come next."  The author's essay is followed by links to other articles about "people walking new paths."  Sample passage:  

Since 2020, so many of us have watched our plans slowly leak through tightly grasped fists. We’ve had to spill out the ideas we once held about relationships, family, and career, but worse yet, we’ve had to do it without a real space to acknowledge the loss. Why aren’t we discussing what happens when we lose years of living and fertility to pandemics, careers, and dead-end relationships? And why are we still, while living on a rapidly dying planet, asked to be so hyper-fixated on following an old script of love, marriage, and a baby in a baby carriage?

There is no clear way to have this conversation. No elegant script for talking about the unsavory feelings that come up when you have to accept that your life is going to look different than you thought it would. When you realize that the timeline you had for yourself might need reworking. When you know that you may have to accept the responsibility of building a new reality to exist within. But buried within that uncertainty, there is beauty. There are buds, poised to bloom. There is the possibility to change our minds about what we thought we wanted, to accept the grief about the loss of time, and to build new dream castles.

  •  The Globe & Mail had a great article about "Evolving the thinking on women who age alone." (Gift link.)  It's not specifically about women aging while single and/or childless, but there's still content to relate to and think about. Here's an excerpt from the introduction:  

The woman who lives alone has been not been viewed charitably throughout history, or today. If she’s divorced or widowed, she is pitied; if she’s chosen to live alone, defying traditional scripts of marriage and family, she’s a spinster condemned to loneliness in her latter years.

Unflattering depictions are numerous in popular culture. The Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby collects leftover grains of rice following a wedding and dies alone, her funeral unattended. Charles Dickens’ Miss Havisham parades around her dilapidated mansion in a wedding gown after being left at the altar. The cult documentary Grey Gardens follows the Beales, a mother and daughter duo who hoard feral cats and live in squalor at the edge of the wealthy East Hampton enclave.

Much less has been conveyed about older women’s actual experiences, especially those who thrive alone.

...new research on aging women is yielding a complicated picture of a significant demographic growing rapidly in Canada.

Although public health officials have been sounding the alarm for years on myriad health problems linked to loneliness in older age – depression, dementia, cardiovascular disease, shortened lifespans, even increased risk of death during heatwaves – more thinkers are beginning to challenge the narrative, drawing sharper distinctions between living solo, social isolation and loneliness, highly personal experiences too often treated as interchangeable, especially among elders.

Monday, October 16, 2023

#MicroblogMondays: To check or not to check??

Is there anyone who actually enjoys flying these days??  It feels like it's become more & more stressful, with more and more tasks that were once handled by agents offloaded onto customers (and extra fees charged for every little option, of course...!).  

I'm asking because dh & I just got back home from spending a week with my parents & sister in Manitoba over (Canadian) Thanksgiving. We'll be heading back again at Christmastime. 

Our trip to Winnipeg (via Air Canada) was relatively smooth and uneventful. Pearson Airport in Toronto can be crowded and chaotic at times, but there was hardly anyone in the security lineup, and we breezed on through in no time at all. 

Returning, however, was a different story. First, we woke up to a notification that our flight was delayed by about an hour & a half due to "operational issues."  We still arrived at the airport in plenty of time... and then spent a good half-hour waiting to go through security. I've never seen so many people in the security lineup there as I did yesterday. The waiting area at the gate was also crowded. We were sitting near the check-in desk, and I overheard the attendants telling people the flight was oversold. There were multiple pleas broadcast for volunteers to check their carry-on luggage, free of charge.  

Backtracking a little:  Last year, after hearing one too many horror stories about lost luggage, in airports all over North America but particularly at Pearson, dh & I decided to bite the bullet, pare down as much as possible and fly to Manitoba for Christmas with two small carry-on suitcases only (plus my purse and laptop case as our "personal items"). The limit on liquids & gels was challenging for me (my Ziploc baggie was stuffed to the brim), but I've been keeping some basic personal care items at my parents' house anyway, which helped some. I knew we could do laundry while we were there, and I could borrow items from my mother &/or sister if necessary.  My sister was doing a lot of the necessary Christmas shopping (and we've scaled that back a fair bit in recent years too). 

Still, our bags were pretty well stuffed (winter clothes tends to be a lot heavier/bulkier than summer stuff...!) -- and an eagle-eyed attendant pounced on them and made us try to fit them in the sizer as we were boarding. They wouldn't quite fit in, were tagged and set aside to be checked. If looks could have killed, I would have dropped on the spot from the ones dh (who gets extremely uptight when flying) was giving me then (because of course it was MY fault...!). (It all happened so fast that we were on the plane and in the air before I remembered the bags were not locked.)  Fortunately, both bags arrived on the carousel in Winnipeg, with contents intact (including Christmas presents!). They were considerably less stuffed for the return trip home and all went smoothly then. 

This time around, our bags were not so stuffed, and (as mentioned above) we had no issues on the trip to Winnipeg. Returning to Toronto yesterday, however...!  The tradeoff for the great deal we got on the airfare was that we were in the last "zone" (group) of passengers allowed to board the plane -- and by the time we entered the cabin and found our seats, there was not an empty space in the overhead bins to be seen. We weren't the only ones in this predicament, of course:  the aisle was crowded with people trying to board and people trying to find a spot for their luggage. By some miracle, the flight attendants managed to find spaces for our two bags (plus several others) -- one a couple of rows ahead of where we sat, and one WAY at the back. We had to wait until nearly everyone else had left the plane in Toronto before dh could make his way to the back to retrieve it. 

It feels like a crapshoot:  do you check your luggage (often for a fee, of course) and then pray/cross all the crossables/etc. that it arrives when & where you do?  Or do you go with a carry-on only and pray/cross all the crossables/etc. that there's room for it in the overhead bins by the time you get to board (and that you don't wind up having to check it anyway)?? 

(Pronatalism alert:  Parents travelling with small children, of course, have an advantage:  they get invited to board early, no matter what zone they're in.)  

What do you do?  

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

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

"Over the Top" by Jonathan Van Ness

I hadn't watched "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" since its initial season starring Carson Kressley, etc. (which Wikipedia helpfully reminds me was back in 2003 -- yikes!). 

So I had no idea who Jonathan Van Ness was until my co-host for the book club within the Childless Collective (formerly Gateway Women, then Lighthouse Women) private community suggested his memoir, "Over the Top," for our next discussion.  

That didn't bother me, since I wasn't familiar with Retta or Grace Dent either before I read their memoirs for the same  group, and I enjoyed both of those books (Grace Dent's especially). I hadn't heart of Viv Albertine before a friend raved to me about her book -- with the irresistible title of "Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys" --  and it turned out to be one of the best books I'd read that year. 

I knew I was going to like Jonathan right off the bat when he announced, in the author's note at the beginning, that 

Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals. In those instances, original names have been replaced with Russian aliases because I'm obsessed with the Romanovs, thanks to the animated classic Anastasia. And don't even get me started on Russian gymnastics.

Then, a few pages later, he confessed to another obsession: figure skating. :)  As a kid, he made up his own skating routines on the living room carpet.  I did the same thing when I was as a kid. Longtime readers of this blog will know that I have been a figure skating fan for most of my life -- it's the one sport I will watch for hours on end on TV.  (But I am not sure I have confessed to a similar lifelong obsession with the Romanovs, fuelled by reading the book "Nicholas and Alexandra" by Robert Massie when I was about 11 -- first the Reader's Digest Condensed Books version and later the paperback that was a tie-in to the 1971 Oscar-winning movie.)  I was amused when I realized that many of the pseudonyms Jonathan uses here are the names of Russian figure skaters and coaches. ;)  

There are a lot of laughs in this book -- but also a lot of pain. As a pre-schooler, Jonathan was molested by a teenaged male babysitter. Growing up in Quincy, Illinois, in a prosperous family, he was bullied relentlessly by his schoolmates because he was (as he describes himself in the initial pages) "extremely flamboyantly jubilant and oh so gay." His parents divorced when he was a young boy, and then his mother, who he describes as his best friend, got married again, to her high school crush. As an adult, his pain and self-loathing manifested itself in addictions to sex and drugs. He dropped out of college and eventually wound up in beauty school. His connections as a hairdresser in upscale salons in Los Angeles eventually led him to acting, comedy and the reboot of "Queer Eye" in 2018. Along the way, he learned how to love himself.      

I found myself shaking my head a lot while reading this book, as I often do when I read about the excesses of addiction -- but I also loved Jonathan's exuberant spirit and sense of humour. (And as a figure skating fan, I LOVED the epilogue! lol)  

Overall, I enjoyed this book, but yes, it might have meant more to me if I'd seen Jonathan on "Queer Eye."  Maybe I'll dust off my Netflix subscription and check it out! 

4 stars on Goodreads and StoryGraph. 

This was Book #37 read to date in 2023 (and Book #1 finished in October), bringing me to 82% of my 2023 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 2023 tagged as "2023 books."  

Monday, October 9, 2023

#MicroblogMondays: Grateful

It's Thanksgiving Day (a long weekend Monday) here in Canada. I'm at "home" in southern Manitoba with my parents, sister & her partner, for the first time since last Christmas. It's not especially warm (12C = 54F) -- but hey, it's not snowing either!  ;)  and the sun is shining. Fall colours are still in evidence. Salads have been made, the turkey has been stuffed and is now roasting in the oven (and it sure smells good). There will be a card game later tonight. :)  

I'm grateful to be here. Grateful that our trip here went smoothly. Grateful that my parents (aged 82 and 84) are still hanging in there, and that I can spend some time with them. Grateful for our extended families. Grateful for my dh, and that our marriage has survived loss, infertility and the transition to permanent childlessness (among other challenges...!). 

Grateful for this blog, and for all of you who read it, comment and support me. Thank you! 

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

Friday, October 6, 2023

Friday odds & ends

  • It's the Thanksgiving long weekend, here in Canada!  I am, as always, grateful for so many things -- including this blog, and all of you here.  :)  
  • (Speaking of grateful...)  Older Nephew was discharged from the hospital (again) earlier this week -- hopefully for good this time!  (And hopefully if he notices something is awry in the future, he'll get it checked out sooner!)  
  • Covid seems to be everywhere again.  :(  Within the last week or so, my childhood best friends' parents (both of them, both around 90), dh's cousin's sister-in-law and several coworkers, two blogging friends and an online book club friend have all tested positive, several of them for the first time. Yikes!  (Even dh, who has been a little lax on the masking front, is willingly wearing his more often again!)  
  • Annoying thing:  I'm having problems syncing my Kobo e-reader (an Aura H20, about 5-6 years old) to my account, and downloading books that I've bought to it -- both over wi-fi, and when I hook my e-reader up to my laptop with a USB cable. (I can see the books I've bought, but I'm having trouble downloading them to actually open up and read.)  Once in a while, I get lucky and the sync/download works, but not very often lately. I tried using dh's USB cable instead. Nada.  I'm hoping my parents' wi-fi might do the trick once we get there?? and if not, that maybe my sister (who is something of an expert on all things e-books & e-readers) can help??  
    • I had the same issue earlier this year -- and then suddenly, it started working properly again. Here' s hoping the same thing happens again soon...!  
    • I thought this e-reader was about 5 years old -- then I dug up the receipt (yes, I tend to keep these things...!) and it turns out it's actually 8!  So maybe I can justify buying a new one, if that's what it comes down to...??  
    • I still have my original Kobo reader too. It's not the original-original model (which came out in May 2010 -- so Wikipedia tells me!), but probably the second model they made & sold.  I bought one each for me & dh for Christmas 2010 (12+ years ago). That one actually malfunctioned fairly soon after I bought it, and the store replaced it. So the one I'm using right now is actually my third reader.   
  • More annoying/unnerving technical stuff: A while back -- at least a year ago -- I'd noticed, when I tried to log in to the airline website with my frequent flyer number, a strange email address popped up as part of my personal information. Also a strange phone number (a southwestern Ontario area code). 
    • Happily, I was still able to book, simply by exiting out of the account and booking without one, adding in my personal information later (instead of having it pre-populated) -- but I made a mental note that I needed to check this out further & get my information corrected. 
    • (Obviously, I should have done something as soon as I noticed something was amiss...! -- but, out of sight, out of mind...)  
    • I was looking at the airline app yesterday, for the first time in quite a while, checking out my personal info -- and there was that strange email and phone number again, associated with my name & frequent flyer number in my profile. (!) I went into my profile and tried to change it -- and got a message that they'd sent a code to my email to verify my identity. 
      • Of course they were sending it to the WRONG ( = that other!) email!!  
    • I started panicking, got on the phone, and (of course) got bogged down in automated menus and voice response systems.  
    • I FINALLY managed to get into a queue to speak to a real live person. I was prepared for a long wait -- and was pleasantly surprised when I actually got through within just a few minutes' subjugation to horrible muzak (lol). I wound up speaking to two different reps (both very pleasant), explained the situation (more or less coherently, I think -- by then, I was in quite a panic...! -- especially after being scammed so recently!) -- got my personal information corrected and updated, a call centre PIN set up and a new frequent flyer program card ordered (mine is so old, the number on it is typewritten!), and was reassured that this would NOT screw up my upcoming travel booking. (Later, I also changed my password.) 
    • I apologized to the one woman for being a bit freaked out -- especially when I kept running into one unhelpful automated system after another, when all I really wanted was to speak to a real live person for help (knowing that getting this mess straightened out was more than likely going to require human intervention). "I'm not even THAT OLD!"  I said, and she chuckled and said she understood totally (sounded like she was probably of a similar age...!).  
    • It's not often I'm inclined to say this about an airline lately (lol), but it wound up being a mostly good customer service experience. :)  
    • I'm still not sure how this happened (which is somewhat disconcerting -- and I don't suppose I'll ever know), but now I feel like I can breathe again...!
  • Mrs. Spit is saying goodbye to her blog, after 15 years (!) of beautiful writing and wonderful insights. Go thank her for her contributions to the conversation about childlessness after loss.  :) 
  • A wonderful article from the Globe & Mail about a special camp for grieving families. (Gift link.)   
  • Podcast listening:  Irina Vodar was Christine Erickson's guest on New Legacy Radio on Oct. 3rd, talking about her new documentary film, "Anything You Lose."  More details on the film and how you can attend the Los Angeles premiere on Oct. 7th, on Pamela's Silent Sorority blog
    • After listening in live,  I went back and listened to an earlier episode I'd missed, from Sept. 5th:  "How Pronatalism is Weaponizing Fertility Decline & Childlessness" with Nandita Bajaj, Executive Director of Population Balance, and Therese Shechter, director of the documentary "My So-Called Selfish Life" and founder of Trixie Films. Their eye-opening discussion covers "the immediate and long term implications of pronatalist extremism for our community... the ways pronatalist propaganda has weaponized fertility decline, in an effort to control reproductive choice and healthcare, and how the childless community specifically, is being targeted in the pronatalist agenda." Well worth a listen!  

Monday, October 2, 2023

#MicroblogMondays: Does anybody really know what time it is?*

*  with apologies to the band Chicago for stealing their title, lol. 

(I mentioned this incident in my recent "Right Now" post for October -- but I realized, even as I posted it, that this would make a great (short!) #MM post too! -- so here it is, again, slightly expanded...!)  

I realized, at dh's cousin's cottage, late on Friday afternoon, that my watch had stopped, sometime just after 3 p.m. (I have another watch -- which was at home, in my jewelry box -- but its battery also ran out a while back!) 

I just took off the watch & put it in my purse -- no point in having it on when it's showing the incorrect time every time I look at it -- but I feel really weird -- oddly incomplete -- without it.  I know a lot of younger people don't wear watches anymore -- they just look at their cellphones to check the time -- but I've worn a watch more or less every day since I got my first wind-up Timex from my parents for my 8th birthday in 1969. :) 

I tend to keep my watches for a long time, too.  (I think I still have that Timex, in a drawer somewhere.)  After the Timex, I wore a nurse's watch for years that my grandparents had given my mother for her high school graduation in 1959. (I did get a new band for it at one point, and had it serviced a few times. I haven't worn it in decades, but it's still in my jewelry box too.)  Dh gave me a watch for Christmas, early in our marriage, and I wore that for years too (and still have it). Then I got two more watches as long-service awards from the bank I worked for -- a Seiko on my 20-year anniversary in 2006, I think, and then a Michael Kors (which turned out to be much larger than it looked on the computer screen...!), as a retirement gift when I "officially" retired in February 2016 (after being laid off & on severance pay since July 2014).  I'm still wearing the Seiko regularly, with the Michael Kors as a backup. Time to get to the mall and get a new battery(s, for both watches)...!  

I do have another watch -- a really cheap, sparkly one that I bought to accessorize a dress I wore to Older Nephew's wedding. I suppose I could dig that one out & see if it still works while I'm waiting to get the others fixed?  

I also had a watch that had belonged to dh's mother, which his dad gave me before we got married. I wore it on our wedding day in 1985 (as my "something old") -- and I passed it on to Older Nephew's Wife before THEIR wedding, 7 years ago (this past weekend, in fact!), and she wore it then too.  (I wrote about that particular watch in this post.) 

How about you? Do you wear a watch?  

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

Sunday, October 1, 2023

Weekend update, plus some odds & ends

It's Sunday afternoon, and I'm not supposed to be home right now.  

On Friday morning, we headed up to dh & BIL's cousin's cottage/lake house for the weekend, with BIL & SIL, as we have around this time of year for the previous two years. This time, Older Nephew, his wife and Little Great-Nephew came along too (in a separate car).  :)  We've always had a great time there, and we were SO looking forward to spending time with LGN and introducing him to things like fishing off the dock, boat rides, toasting marshmallows over a fire pit, and looking for deer.  

We did do all those things and more, and had so much fun... while it lasted.   

Friday afternoon/evening, Older Nephew confessed that he was running a bit of a fever -- and had been, on & off, for the past MONTH (!). :(  His eyes also had a slightly yellowish/jaundiced cast to them. 

You'll recall that Older Nephew was BIL's organ donor back in July. Unlike BIL -- who really had the more major operation -- his recovery has, unfortunately, been a little more bumpy. He had a setback (which I wrote about here), which necessitated a non-surgical procedure (inserting a stent to correct a leaky valve).  He was due to head back to work shortly.   

Dh's cousin's wife produced some Tylenol, BIL plunged into an immediate funk, and we all urged Older Nephew to get himself checked out, ASAP.  Yesterday (Saturday) afternoon, he got in touch with the transplant clinic and they told him he needed to come to emergency at the hospital (in downtown Toronto -- about 2 & 1/2 hours from the cottage), ASAP. They started packing, and they were on the road before 5 o'clock. (They admitted him for tests, and he's now waiting for a(nother!) remedial procedure to replace the stent. He should be home again in a couple of days' time.)  

BIL wanted to go with them. (At first, he suggested he should take Older Nephew himself.  Naturally, he feels a lot of guilt because Older Nephew is only in this situation because he stepped up as a donor when BIL needed one.) Older Nephew's Wife insisted she was going with him (they were taking LGN to her mother's first before heading to the hospital), and that they could handle the situation themselves. (She privately told dh she has enough anxieties of her own to deal with;  she didn't feel like she could handle BIL's anxieties and dramas on top of that too.) (Adding to the "Seriously??"  aspect of the whole episode -- they were celebrating their 7th (!) wedding anniversary that weekend!)  

The house was very quiet after they left. I settled on the couch with a book while BIL & his cousin watched sports on TV. There was a ham in the oven for dinner (the wife sliced off a bit & made sandwiches for Older Nephew & family to take & eat on the road);  we had potatos and squash roasting in the embers of the campfire. It was almost ready, and everything smelled WONDERFUL. I was already hungry! 

I should have guessed what would happen next. :(  Dh was in our bedroom (supposedly having a nap, but in reality fretting about Older Nephew).  I was in the living room reading, with BIL & his cousin on the couches watching sports on TV. After a while, BIL disappeared (his & SIL's room was downstairs).  

Then, the cousin's wife comes upstairs from below, and tells him, "They're leaving." Cousin started to object ("why??")  and she just shook her head said, "You know he's not going to be happy staying here now." (Yep.)  

I closed up my book, went into the bedroom & told dh, "Apparently we're leaving. You'd better go talk to your brother, I'll start getting our stuff together."  

Dh started tearing our sheets off the bed & stuffing things into bags, willy-nilly. I was trying to pack with some semblance of order, and he's telling me to hurry up. He grabbed the bags to take out to the car as I filled them. When I came out of the bedroom, they were all outside already.  I didn't even think to go to the bathroom before we left. BIL was already in the car and the trunk was already closed. We climbed in & off we went. It wasn't even 6 o'clock yet, and I'll bet less than half an hour (max) had gone by since Cousin's Wife walked into the living room to drop the bombshell.

The car was HOT from sitting out in the sun all day -- but the roads around the cottage were all gravel and we were kicking up tons of dust -- so we couldn't open the car windows until we got into town and onto pavement, and the a/c was taking its time to kick in. I was sweltering, and I was starving -- the ham in the oven smelled SO good (I kept thinking, "Couldn't we at least have stayed for dinner??" It was almost ready...! -- would another hour or so there have made any difference??).  Cousin's Wife had thoughtfully made some sandwiches for us too, and they smelled good too -- but I was NOT going to be the one to bring up food just then!  I did open up a can of ginger ale she had included in the bag, because I was so thirsty. (Dh helpfully dumped all the water out of our water bottles before we left...!)  Of course that meant I really needed to go to the bathroom by the time we finally got home...!  

It was a pretty quiet trip home. BIL drove like a maniac;  I think the speed limit was 100 km/ph (about 60 mph) & he was doing 120 most of the way (70+). We were home before 8:30 p.m. 

SIL told us to take two of the sandwiches when we were getting out of the car, and we ate them when we got home (the ham was SO good!).  We started doing some laundry, and it was at that point I realized I'd left my towel hanging on a hook behind the door in our bedroom -- then a while later, I realized a pillowcase was also missing too. (Cousin's Wife found the towel and I've asked her to look for the pillowcase -- I'll get them the next time we see each other.)  If I'd been able to pack properly myself, I don't think this would have happened, but dh was just throwing things into bags & then taking them out to the car and I had no idea what was where. (eyeroll)  

All this aside...!  We had a good time (as usual! -- until it all fall apart, anyway...!).  We get along very well with these cousins, and (fortunately for us!), they love to entertain  (and they're very good at it too!), and their cottage/lake home is gorgeous, especially at this time of year. The weather was great -- a little cool, but clear & sunny. The fall colours were just amazingly beautiful, and seemed to get even more so overnight while we were there. LGN was so cute, and he was having so much fun -- he adored their teenaged son and followed him around like a puppy, lol.  (Fortunately, the teenager didn't mind, lol.)  

I'm just sorry it had to end, and end in the way that it did.  :(  

LGN & dh, fishing off the dock at dh's cousin's cottage.
(You can see some of the fall colours starting to emerge, 
across the lake.) 

*** *** *** 

Other stuff from the past week:  
  • The son of one of dh's cousins turned 25 last week, and the family WhatsApp group exploded in birthday wishes for him ("Happy quarter-century!").  I normally leave at least a perfunctory "happy birthday" (and have for him, in other years) -- but this time around, I couldn't bring myself to do it. No offense to the birthday guy -- it's nothing personal -- but -- well, YOU all know. I can't help but think of the young woman who would also be turning 25 in November, and whose special day (like all the others) will go completely unmarked, except in my heart & dh's.... 
  • I spent the weekend before this last one (into last week) wild with jealousy, seeing all the posts & photos from the Storyhouse Childless event in Chester in the U.K.  :)  (Which -- once again -- reinforces my gut feeling that the Brits are MILES ahead of North Americans, when it comes to progressive thinking & action on the childless front -- as well as pregnancy loss, (in)fertility, menopause, and other such issues!)   
  • It seem to be the topic du jour lately:  In her "Terrible, Thanks for Asking" Substack (she has a podcast by the same name), Nora McInerny and "Team Terrible" asked childless and childfree people (and the distinction between the two terms is made clear!) "What do you wish your parent friends would do differently?"  ("I'm still allowed to be tired:  And other thoughts from your childfree/childless friends.") 
    • Nora recently recorded a podcast episode ("Still a Family") with a childless-not-by-choice couple. I haven't listened to it yet, but apparently the response was HUGE.  
    • She also suggests several books -- mostly from the childfree perspective -- and invites readers to add to the list. 
  • Sara Petersen from "In Pursuit of Clean Countertops" also commented on the recent article from The Cut. Unfortunately, most of her post ("Kids as Friendship Bombs") is paywalled -- and (erk!) I actually wound up coughing up a subscription because I was so curious about what she had to say. (My Substack subscriptions now outnumber my paper magazine subscriptions, lol.) Happily, this was the sort of piece I've said several times that I wished she'd write, making the connection between the idealization of motherhood and how that affects those of us who aren't mothers (for whatever reason). 
    • I emailed her, saying essentially what I said above, and got a very nice response from her, thanking me for writing and for engaging in her work "so thoughtfully." 
    • A couple of excerpts (boldfaced emphasis my own):  
Did we all read the essay in The Cut on friendships between people with kids and people without kids?

Before I even read it, I knew it would be polarizing simply because it is about people with kids and people without kids, which means it's at least in part about motherhood. And in the US, motherhood is always polarizing; it's both an identity and an occupation. It’s a gender marker, a labor of love, and an integral component of capitalism. And (in addition to marriage) it’s also proof of “good womanhood,” which is the biggest problem of all.

...The problem is a lack of structural support for caregivers AND the toxic expectation that motherhood is every woman’s “natural” destiny. Women without children have every reason to feel a certain level of alienation and resentment towards a culture which still views them as selfish aberrations, and mothers have every reason to feel a certain level of alienation and resentment towards a culture which tells them they’re doing the most important job in the world without providing them any structural support for that job. 

Motherhood is indisputably difficult. But so is choosing a life as a woman that deviates (in any way!) from culturally ingrained gender assumptions. My hot take about the piece in The Cut is that yeah, of course, people without kids feel like shit when their parent friends assume they should be content with whatever friendship scraps are left over after all the diapers have been changed and the soccer practices have been attended. And of course parents (mothers in particular) feel like shit when they feel excised from adult-only social networks because one of the worst parts of becoming a mother is the potential erasure of self. 

...the fracturing of friendships between parents and non-parents is often less an individual choice (although sometimes individuals make unthoughtful choices!) and more often a reflection of a society that doesn’t make room for any kind of woman.
  • In the New York Times, columnist David French muses on loneliness, loss of belonging, friendship and the value of just "Being There." (Gift link.)  Some thoughtful comments, too. 
  • In a recent "Links I Love" post, Modern Mrs. Darcy shared an article from Esquire: "Inside Richard Osman's Mystery Empire."  (Spoilers included for "The Last Devil to Die," the latest in his "Thursday Murder Club" series.)  Sarah Weinman -- who is, she reveals, from Ottawa! -- perfectly captures Osman's charm and what makes the books so very readable. Sample passage:  

...Enduring characters are what keep me coming back to authors and their mystery series.

When I first read Osman's debut, The Thursday Murder Club, a year after it had already stormed best-seller lists in England and elsewhere, I felt the same zing! as I did with those formative favorites and various subsequent crime novels in the two-plus decades since. I was catapulted back into reading purely for pleasure, which has become a rarity when so much of my time is devoted to reading for research, work, or critical purposes.

Authors who can reconnect people with the primal emotion of pleasure reading are worth our close attention. Commercial success doesn't just happen in a vacuum, after all—it takes a whole life, sometimes several iterations of that life, to get there, even as it often boils down to a simple idea: if you write what you want to read, and you enjoy doing so, others will want to read and enjoy what you write, too. Richard Osman knows this better than almost anybody.

(Here's my recent review of "The Last Devil to Die.")