Wednesday, April 10, 2024

"The Improbability of Love" by Hannah Rothschild

"The Improbability of Love" by Hannah Rothschild (who is, apparently, one of THE Rothschilds), is the April pick for the Nomo Book Club within the Childless Collective private online community

The heroine is Annie McDee, a 31-year-old chef who lives in a small flat in London, recovering from a broken heart after splitting up with her longtime partner. (Warning:  Do NOT try reading this book on an empty stomach! ;)  ) She buys a painting in a junk store for $75 (that she can't really afford) as a gift for a new love interest  -- who ghosts her before she can give it to him. She decides to return it, only to find the store -- and the man who sold it to her -- went up in flames in a suspicious fire, just hours after she left. 

At a London art gallery, trying to learn more about her painting, Annie meets Jesse, a tour guide and artist himself.  As they investigate the mysterious painting's origins together, they are drawn into the murky, cut-throat world of art collectors, dealers and thieves -- many of whom would love to get their hands on the painting, for various reasons. Unbeknown to Annie, this includes the father of her current employer -- an elderly Holocaust survivor and ultra-wealthy art dealer, who rules both his family and his company with an iron fist. 

The story picked up for me midway through the book, when Annie's boss, the old man's daughter, Rebecca, discovers her late brother's hidden notebook, setting off a chain of unexpected events... 

I don't want to give too many spoilers away, but here's one:  "The Improbability of Love" is not only the title of the book, it's the name of the painting itself. (I had to check:  the artist is real;  the painting is not.)   The painting is actually a character in the book who narrates some chapters (!), where we gradually learn more about its history, who painted it and who its previous owners were. (Over time, the painting was often given as a token of love to wives, lovers and beloved mistresses.)  When I started reading the first chapter where this happens, I was hearing a certain voice in my head, and I couldn't figure out where this was coming from?  Then I realized...! I was thinking of an episode of The Simpsons (lol!) -- "Moe Goes From Rags to Riches" -- where Jeremy Irons provides the voice of an ancient tapestry that winds up as a rag at Moe's bar, and then gets adopted by Santa's Little Helper -- i.e., the dog, lol.  

As I read, I was also reminded of a couple of other art-related books I've read in the past -- "The Goldfinch" by Donna Tartt, for one, as well as certain scenes in "Killers of a Certain Age" by Deanna Raybourn. 

Overall, I wound up enjoying this book more than I thought I would.  It's a little long, and the multiple characters are hard to keep track of (albeit colourfully rendered).  It took a while to pick up some momentum -- but I absolutely tore through the last third of the book. 

3.5 stars, rounded up to 4. 

ALI alert:  Annie reflects on her longing for a child versus her partner's complete lack of interest in fatherhood... and her grief when she learns he's had a child with his new partner (and has now become a doting father, of course...!) Sound familiar?  

This was Book #10 read to date in 2024 (and Book #1 finished in April), bringing me to 22% of my 2024 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 45 books. I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 2 books behind schedule to meet my goal.  :(   You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2024 tagged as "2024 books." 

Monday, April 8, 2024

Post-eclipse update!

Update to this morning's pre-eclipse post!  As feared, much of southern Ontario was blanketed in clouds today -- just in time for the eclipse -- after a glorious weekend of blue skies and sunshine (of course...!). I guess it did clear slightly and briefly at Niagara Falls -- one of the prime viewing spots for this event -- where CBC News Network was hosting a live broadcast, with links to reporters in other parts of the country.   

We watched the light changing outside our condo windows, gradually getting duskier and duskier. We were expected to reach peak eclipse -- 99.13% -- at around 3:18 or 3:19. I slipped on some shoes and a jacket, grabbed my phone/camera, and headed out onto our balcony around 3:15 PM, and took a video and a few photos (something I wish we'd thought to do when I saw a total eclipse back in 1979 -- but we didn't have handy cellphones with cameras back then -- cameras generally weren't that great, unless you could afford an expensive 35 mm model, and people just didn't think to take photos of every little thing back then in the same way they do now... plus, film, flash bulbs and photo developing were expensive, kids!  lol).  I noticed the temperature had dropped significantly since we'd been out a few hours earlier -- it was pretty chilly out there!   

It wasn't ideal conditions, and it wasn't a total eclipse. But it was still pretty cool to observe!  :)  

Taken from our balcony around 3:20 PM this afternoon
(peak eclipse at 99.13% totality). 
It was actually a little darker than this photo shows. 
If you look closely, you can see the street lights are on, 
as well as the solar lamps in the parkette area behind our building. 

(Annnnndddd two hours later -- blue skies and sunshine. Go figure...!)  

#MicroblogMonday: Eclipse!

So in case you haven't heard, there's an eclipse happening later this afternoon that will be visible, in total or in part, across a broad swath of North America. It's being billed as a once-in-a-lifetime event.  

Already been there, done that. ;)  I got to see & experience a total eclipse back in February 1979.  I was 18 and in my final year of high school, and my family was living in a town west of Winnipeg, one of the prime viewing areas in the world for the big event. 

(Someone posted a thread on my graduating class's Facebook group last week, asking where we were then and what we remembered about it, and where we'd be and what we'd be doing today. One classmate remembers our English teacher including the eclipse in his speech at our graduation ceremony that June:  he said, "Only this group would conspire to arrange something like a total eclipse to get a day off school." lol!!) 

People came from all over the world to southern Manitoba (and this was in FEBRUARY!!  lol), and were lined up along the main street of town and all along the Trans-Canada Highway west of the city to watch.  There was no Internet back then, of course, or even 24-hour cable news networks like CNN, but there was still a lot of advance hype, and special live broadcasts on TV that day.  We all got the day off school -- presumably the school board did not want to be responsible for whatever we did or saw on that day. We did not have the special protective glasses to safely watch the progress of the moon across the sun-- they were available, but not as readily as they are today (no online shopping!) -- but we could see it getting darker outside, to the point that the street lights came on! -- and when the TV announcer told us we were now in totality and it was safe to go outside and have a brief look with the naked eye, my sister & I did so, heading out to the sidewalk in front of our house. (I couldn't remember my mom being out there with us, so I asked her about it when I spoke to her yesterday. She said she came out onto the front step, turned around and went back inside! lol.)  It was chilly (it was February!) and kind of eerie -- and it WAS pretty cool! 

There was also a partial eclipse here back in August 2017, a little over a year after we moved into this condo. I think we only reached about 70-75% of totality then. It didn't get completely dark, but it did get increasingly and strangely dim and shadowy outside for a while. I took a few photos from our balcony then. (See one below.)  

This time around, we're JUST outside the path of totality -- I found a site that calculates we'll reach 99.13% where we are -- so it will not get completely dark this time either. (Close, but no cigar.) But I'm expecting it will still be darker than it was in 2017.  Niagara Falls, about 1.5-2 hours away, population just under 100,00 (and busy enough on an average summer day), will be a prime viewing area, and is expecting up to ONE MILLION PEOPLE. Officials have already declared a state of emergency, and are warning visitors there WILL be traffic chaos, and to bring plenty of food, water and necessary medications.  (There aren't a lot of main roads going in and out of the area -- look it up on a map -- it's hemmed into a small wedge of land between lakes Ontario & Erie, along the Niagara River and the U.S. border). 

No thanks. I'll be happy to view the effects of near-totality from my condo balcony. (We don't have the proper eyewear this time around either -- and in any case, I have enough issues with my vision as it is, so I'm not going to risk it!)  

How about you? Will the eclipse be visible, in total or in part, where you live? Are you planning to watch or mark the occasion in some way?  (If it's already over by the time you read this, what did you do today?)  Have you seen one before? 

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Related tangent:  All the eclipse talk stirred up a hazy memory for me, of reading a Bobbsey Twins book that had belonged to my mom & uncle when they were kids in the 1940s/50s (and then to me & my sister), which a band of gypsies (!) who were convinced they were going to lose their sight if they do something the bad guys wanted them to do... not knowing that a total eclipse was on the way.  

I had to do some Googling and digging around, but I finally found a discussion that helped me identify the right book!  -- "The Bobbsey Twins on the Pony Trail" (1944).  "In it, a group of gypsies are being cheated out of their land. A speculator claims he will remove their vision if they don't sell. He knows about the upcoming total eclipse in the area where the story was set. Mr. Bobbsey helps to prevent the injustice."

The Bobbsey Twins were a staple of my early childhood reading. I haven't read any of those books in years & years, but some of the stuff in the older volumes that belonged to my mom & uncle would never past muster these days. Another example (ALI alert!): in "The Bobbsey Twins and Baby May," first published in 1924 (!),  a baby girl is mysteriously left on the Bobbsey family's doorstep (!).  (No wonder people have so many misconceptions about adoption, right?)  I don't think I ever read the revised version published in 1968, but from what I understand, the story was completely rewritten except for the title, and Baby May became... a baby elephant, lol.

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

The eerie half-lit sky outside during the solar eclipse of August 2017,
which reached around 70-75% max hereabouts.
(The crane, partly visible, left, is from another condo building nearby, then under construction.
Also under construction then: the townhouses behind us, partly visible, right.) 
Our balcony doesn't get the direct afternoon sun
(and we didn't have the proper eyewear to view the eclipse directly anyway)
but I took a few photos from the balcony to record the effects. 
I'll probably do the same this afternoon! 


Saturday, April 6, 2024

Saturday night odds & ends

  • It's still more than a month away, but the onslaught has begun...!  I remember thinking, while out shopping during the week before Easter that, come Monday, all the Easter displays and paraphernalia would be replaced by Mother's Day stuff.  
    • I was right. On Tuesday, we were at our local mega-bookstore -- which, these days, has as many tchotchkes for sale as books, it seems...! -- and, even though I had predicted it, it was kind of like a slap in the face to see... 
  • Sara Petersen unpacks the fine art of "momfluencing" in her Substack "In Pursuit of Clean Countertops."  In a recent entry, "Who do these jeans think I am? A Very Serious Investigation,"  she dissects an Instagram ad for "mom jeans." The top-rated comment asks "why any adult woman would willing buy a pair of jeans called Mom Jeans," (and -- naturally! -- pointed to the infamous Saturday Night Live sketch...!) 
    • My response to that comment:  
Especially when something like 20% of adult women are not mothers and never will be (and that number is growing). The ones who chose that life will likely not be happy to have the "Mom" label slapped on their jeans; the ones who wanted to be mothers and couldn't (for whatever reasons -- and that includes me!) don't need that reminder of what they wanted and didn't get. 20% and growing is a big chunk of your market, jean manufacturers...
    • I was pleasantly surprised to see it's been "liked" half a dozen times to date, including by Sara herself, who also commented (in all caps!), "GREAT POINT."  Thank you, Sara!   
  • I'm about 80% of the way through Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, following the "slow readalong" at Foonotes and Tangents. (We'll finish by the end of the month -- then move on to the next book in the series!)  In Chapter 14, "Devil's Spit," Lady Jane Rochford (married to Queen Anne Boleyn's brother George) comments to Thomas Cromwell (the main character of the book):  
"Have you ever observed that when a man gets a son he takes all the credit, and when he gets a daughter he blames his wife? And if they do not breed at all, we say it is because her womb is barren. We do not say it is because his seed is bad."  

(Of course, these words were written in 2009, when we know the truth of Lady Rochford's words.  Yet the stigma still persists, doesn't it?) 

The passage goes on. Cromwell speaks: 

'It's the same in the gospels. The stony ground gets the blame.' 

The stony places, the thorny unprofitable waste. Jane Rochford is childless after seven years of marriage. 'I believe my husband wishes I would die.'  She says it lightly. He does not know how to answer. He has not asked for her confidence. 'If I do die,' she says, in the same bright tone, 'have my body opened. I ask you this in friendship. I am afraid of poison...'

(!!) 

(Mantel -- as I've pointed out previously -- was childless herself.)    

  • There was an interesting article in the Globe and Mail recently about a new chain of fertility clinics, backed by venture capitalists, with offices in Vancouver and Toronto (so far), that focuses on "improving the patient's experience while driving superior outcomes... The ultimate goal is to ensure it takes less time to have a baby, and it costs less to build your family.” Gift link:  "Twig Fertility aims to close the gaps in care for Canadians trying to conceive." Excerpt:  
Twig’s approach includes using technology, as well as staff recruited from complementary industries, such as the hospitality sector, to minimize wait times for patients, while allowing doctors to focus on procedures rather than paperwork. The company is using AI technology, including software designed by an Israeli company, to support decision-making and operational efficiency.

Twig takes a luxury hotel-style approach to treatment, with soft touches such as robes and slippers to slip into when a patient arrives at the clinic.

(No word on whether their success rates to date are any better than at other clinics...!)  

In 2024, it should not be seen as an affront if people lead a slightly different life from the narrow confines of what is expected: other people’s choices are not a judgment on your own. Reproducing is one of the biggest, life-altering decisions we can make, with a profound impact on our time, freedom, career and finances. We should all be thinking carefully about whether it is right for us on an individual level. Even among those who do want to start a family, the costs are prohibitive: more and more young people are being priced out of parenthood. Last month, the birthrate fell to a record low.

Yet having children is so societally ingrained that non-parents continue to face stigma and are expected to justify their lifestyles in a way that parents are not. The main objections to dinks appear to be that they post smug social media updates, and that they travel too much. But do parents not post proudly about their bundles of joy? And isn’t having children the worst possible thing you can do in terms of CO2 emissions?

At the heart of this judgment is an insulting insinuation that some lives are worth more than others (commenting on tragedies “as a mother” does not make your viewpoint more valuable, as writer Amy Key has pointed out). Being a parent, or not being a parent, is not intrinsically more or less moral. This is not a battle of parents versus non-parents, childless versus childfree. Instead of entrenching ourselves further into camps, we should be moving towards a future where all choices are seen as equally valid – with highs and lows, regrets and joy – and that it is simply not up to other people to judge.

Monday, April 1, 2024

Right now

Right now...* 

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

March showed glimmers of spring!  There were even a couple of days when the temperature reached 18C (about 65F) and we were able to go outside in our shirtsleeves! But there were also (lots of ) days when it was grey, rainy and bitterly cold.  We had several days where it snowed -- which is to be expected in March in Canada! -- but always seems to surprise people when it happens. We got more snow on March 22nd -- about 10 cm, or 4 inches -- than we had the entire winter to date! 

Case in point:  Early in the month, there was an article in the Toronto Star noting that the city had experienced the warmest winter ever recorded (thanks to El Nino as well as ongoing climate change).... followed by another article noting that "This winter was warmest in Canadian records by a huge margin" (ditto). Sigh...

Pandemic diary/update: March marked FOUR YEARS (!) -- 48 months -- since the COVID-19 pandemic began -- and people around us still getting sick, many of them for the first time. :(   Mid-month, Older Nephew's Wife/Little Great-Nephew's mom came down with it, for the second time (they all had it around Christmastime 2021). We remain covid-free (knocking wood, loudly...), and continue to mask in stores and most other public places, especially where there are a lot of people (although there were a couple of exceptions this month).  

Among other things this month, we
  • Attended Little Great-Niece's FIRST birthday party on March 2nd, at her (maternal) grandparents' house, along with BIL & SIL, Older Nephew, his wife and Little Great-Nephew, and Younger Nephew's wife's sister and her family (18 people total).  
  • Had a consultant from Blinds To Go visit us at home on March 8th to help us pick out new window coverings (fabric vertical blinds), take initial measurements, provide an estimate and take a deposit from us. 
    • An installer came by briefly the following day to take exact measurements. The blinds are now on order. The material we chose was on back order, but we should have them ready for installation by early/mid-April.  
  • Spent the day with Little Great-Nephew at his grandparents' house on Monday, March 11th -- he was off school for the week on spring break. Fun, but tiring!!  lol  
  • Picked up LGN's grandparents (BIL & SIL) at the airport later that night, as they returned home from a well-deserved week's holiday in the Caribbean. 
  • Dropped by the house the next day for coffee (and to spend more time with LGN!)  and see vacation photos. 
  • Saw my longtime optometrist in midtown Toronto on March 13th for a regular checkup. He can see traces of the nodules that were surgically removed two summers ago, but assured me there's nothing to worry about, and he will continue to keep an eye on things. Otherwise, my eyes (and dh's) are fine! -- my prescription has changed very little -- I am still wearing the same glasses I got almost TEN YEARS AGO!! -- and I don't have to come back for another two years (after my 65th birthday -- GULP!) -- after which the cost of my eye exams will be covered by the provincial health plan. (Dh, at almost 67, is already covered.)(They used to be covered for everyone, but the government reduced funding in 2021. Boo, hiss...) 
  • Drove to our old community the next day (Thursday, March 14th) to see my family doctor & follow up on the red patch on my left cheek -- which is better than it was when I was there in February, but (annoyingly) still THERE. I also told him the topical gel he'd prescribed last fall for the rosacea in my T-zone really hasn't done much -- so he gave me a different prescription for a cream ointment to try for a month. It's two weeks later and the redness is still there, although it's a little better than it was before I started this latest regime. I'll give it another two weeks and then see if I need to make a follow-up visit. (The doctor said the next step would probably be a referral to a dermatologist.)  
    • Before heading there, we stopped at the cemetery to change out the decorations on Katie's niche from Christmas decor to an Easter/springtime theme.  :)  
  • Went for a browse at Chapters (bookstore) on March 19th, and picked up at tea latte for me & coffee for dh at the in-store Starbucks cafe on the way out. ($9+??! -- the same order would have been about $7, pre-pandemic...!).  
  • Had lunch in a restaurant at the nearby mall on March 21st with a high school friend who was in town for a few days.  (No masks involved!  But it was (surprisingly, and thankfully) not too busy, in both the restaurant and the mall generally.) 
  • Lost heat early on the morning of March 22nd and had to call in an HVAC technician to diagnose the problem. Fortunately, he was able to come later that morning, and managed to get it restarted (yay!). A replacement part is now on order and he (or one of his colleagues) will be back to install it when it comes. 
  • Returned to the mall on March 26th to walk around, shop and have an early lunch in the food court. Stopped at the drugstore on the way home to pick up a prescription. 
  • Spent the Saturday of Easter weekend (March 30th) at BIL & SIL's house with the nephews, their wives and the kids. A good time was had by all.  :)  
I also mourned the loss of my uncle & godfather, mid-month -- my mother's younger brother and only sibling, not long after his 81st birthday.  :(   

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Also right now:  

Reading: I finished 3 books in March (reviewed on this blog, as well as Goodreads & StoryGraph, & tagged "2024 books").  
This brings me to 9 books read so far in 2024, 20% of my 2024 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 45 books.  I am currently 2 books behind my goal.  :( 

Current read(s): 
Coming up: Most of my book groups have their next reads plotted out for a few months in advance -- and listing them here helps me keep track of what I should be reading next. ;)  
  • For the Notes from Three Pines (Louise Penny mysteries) Readalong: The last discussion was for book #3, "The Cruellest Month," posted June 7th -- no further posts/books since then.  I've continued dipping into the series on my own, between other book club obligations. Book #6, "Bury Your Dead," is the next one on my list! 
A few recently purchased titles (mostly in digital format, mostly discounted ($5-10 or less) or purchased with points): 

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Watching
  • Season 10 of "Finding Your Roots" on PBS. 
  • The World Figure Skating Championships from Montreal, the week of March 18th.  Broadcast coverage was limited (boo, hiss), but fortunately, I was able to watch just about everything I wanted to see on livestream on the CBC website! (I didn't get much else done on those days, but hey, it only happens once a year...!)  
  • Dh has been watching the world curling championships! -- the women's earlier this month, and now the men's, which just started this weekend. I've been watching a little with him too.  Curling is very popular in Canada, and Canadians have always done very well at the world level of the sport.  Both my parents (& especially my dad) used to curl, and they watch a lot of curling on TV. We started watching when curling became an Olympic sport -- I've never curled myself, but I was amazed at how much of the game I had absorbed through simple osmosis, and how much I could explain to dh about what was going on. These days, I'd say he was more knowledgeable about it than I am!  ;) 
Listening: We've been listening for -- but thankfully not hearing -- any more dripping/tapping noises from the bathroom since the last incident about two weeks ago. Fingers crossed!  The property manager suggested she could have a plumber cut a hole in the drywall wall and/or ceiling of our bedroom walk-in closet (!) to have a look and see if there was any visible water or water damage coming from the tub/shower drain directly above ours in the unit upstairs. Granted, that would be a lot easier than going directly through the tiled ceiling of our shower! -- BUT!!  Needless to say, we're not really keen to have to take everything out of the closet, clean up all the drywall dust and debris afterward, and then wait for it to be patched up again before we could put everything back in the closet! -- even though the building would pay for the exploration and for the drywall repair. 

To Heardle Decades: Stats as of  March 31st:    
  • Heardle 60s:  75.9% (413/544, 173 on first guess), down from last month. Max. streak: 15.
  • Heardle 70s:  82.2% (287/236, 128 on the first guess), down slightly from last month. Max. streak: 18. 
  • Heardle 80s: 44.7% (71/159,  26 on the first guess), up from last month. Max. streak: 4. 
  • Heardle 90s: 28.0% (76/271, 15 on the first guess), down from last month. Max. streak: 4. 
Following:  I've followed Connie Schultz on Facebook for a few years now. She's an Ohio journalist and the wife of U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown. A few months ago, I learned she has a Substack newsletter (doesn't everyone these days, it seems??), "Hopefully Yours," and I'm now a (free) subscriber. I just love her writing. :)  

Eating/Drinking:  There was a yummy catered dinner for Little Great-Niece's first birthday party, including two kinds of pasta (red & white sauces -- because of my tomato allergy, I could only eat the tortellini with alfredo sauce), porketta, fingerling potatos, veggies and caesar salad, as well as lots of pastries and fruit -- and cake, of course! (And we all took home a box full of leftover pastries, including ricotta & chocolate chip cannolis. Yum!)  

My mom mentioned they'd enjoyed chicken tetrazzini for dinner from the subsidized communal meals program where they get meals several times a week now. My sister found them an easy recipe and now my dad is making it at home too!  That prompted me to look up an easy recipe for us to try out., and it turned out pretty well! -- albeit, warning, it is pretty rich/gooey -- definitely not for the lactose intolerant and/or calorie-conscious...!  We used leftover Swiss Chalet rotisserie chicken. I would probably use a little more chicken than what we had left over -- also, probably more peas/veggies and more garlic seasoning.  

We had Easter dinner at BIL & SIL's last Saturday (March 30th) with the family:  they ordered in veal cutlets & pasta in tomato sauce (and made pasta with garlic & olive oil and a chicken breast for me). There were also grilled veggies, salad and fruit, and traditional Italian Easter sweet bread to go with coffee/tea, and SIL & I both indulged in a glass of white wine. The company was the best part of the meal, though!  

Takeout dinners this month included wood oven pizza, Swiss Chalet rotisserie chicken, and California Sandwiches (veal cutlet with tomato sauce for dh, chicken cutlet for me). 

Buying (besides books, lol):  
  • New vertical blinds for our three floor-to-ceiling/wall-to-wall windows, from Blinds To Go. 
  • New tires for our 8-year-old car. (BIL got dh a good deal from some friends who run a garage.) 
  • A couple of new T-shirts for myself from Lucky Brand. 
  • Goodies for Little Great-Nephew & Little Great-Niece's Easter bags.  :)  They both got books and bunny ear headbands (lol). LGNephew got a new colouring book and some assorted chocolate (including a big KinderEgg with a toy inside, which he loves);  LGNiece is too little for chocolate yet, so she got a few new T-shirts instead. 
    • I wasn't sure how the bunny ears would go over with LGNephew -- too babyish/girly? But he was thrilled!! (-- and thus, so was I!  :)  )
  • (and enjoying! lol)  Easter chocolate for us!  (lol)  We're partial to Lindor milk chocolate eggs and Cadbury Mini Eggs.  :)  
Wearing: It's frequently been chilly inside as well as outside this month -- so long sleeved shirts (often under a cardigan), socks and slippers have (still) been a must! 

Noticing:  The number on the scale going up again... .grrrr.... 

Trying:  To be at least a LITTLE more active, especially as warmer weather arrives...! (Note "Noticing," above... also "Eating" and "Buying" re: Easter chocolate...!)  

Worrying:  About my elderly parents, and (right now) especially my dad, who is having hernia repair surgery done soon.  I know it's a very routine operation and (assuming all goes well) -- because it's considered a "day procedure" -- he'll only be in the hospital for a few hours (which my mother thinks is horrifying) -- but he IS almost 85.  Luckily, my sister is able to take a few personal days and can then work remotely from their home while he recovers. As I've mentioned before, my parents live in a split-level house, and there are no bathrooms on the main level (where the kitchen, living room, laundry room & entryway are) -- and (so far, anyway) my mother has absolutely refused to consider moving. I guess we'll see what happens...!  

Prioritizing:  Family. My sister thinks she'll be able to handle Mom & Dad herself (on top of working remotely from their house) after my dad's upcoming surgery... but I've told her if she needs me to let me know, and I/we'll be there as soon as I/we can. 

Wondering:  How much longer Mom & Dad will be able to stay in their split-level house (despite my mother's refusal to consider moving)?  

Appreciating:  Our condo, the more I think about my parents' situation...! (Even with mysterious noises coming from above!  lol -- after all, plumbing emergencies happen in houses too...!)  

Wanting: More hours in the day (and more motivation!) to get things done...!  

Waiting:  To hear back from the HVAC technician about the new part for our HVAC unit, and for our new blinds to be ready for installation. 

Hoping: That my cousins will be able to arrange a Zoom link for my uncle's Celebration of Life service, so that those of us who can't make it there in person can still be there virtually. 

Loving:  Spending time with family (and especially the great-niblings) this month (at LGNiece's birthday party and for Easter).  

Feeling: Happy that spring is here! -- officially, anyway (lol).  But it looks like the weather is finally starting to change too, the skies are brightening up a bit, and that makes me very glad. :)  

#MicroblogMondays: Easter goodies

We spent this past Saturday of the Easter long weekend at BIL & SIL's with the nephews, their wives, and Little Great-Nephew and Little Great-Niece. It was a very nice day -- busy and chaotic and a whole lot of fun. Lots of food and lots of laughs. 

(We spent yesterday/Easter Sunday recuperating!  lol -- There were a lot fewer emails in my inbox over the weekend, and I was happy for the chance to catch up on those, and on my other reading!)  

I will admit to a moment or two of wistfulness, looking at those two tall, kind, handsome young men (where have the past 35 years gone??), and their two beautiful children, knowing they're not my kids or grandkids -- and knowing that that is something we'll never have. I'll never be a mom, or a grandma. But I do get to be an aunt and a great-aunt. (And I've been able to dote on these kids in a way their other aunts & great-aunts, preoccupied with their own kids & grandkids, never have and never will.) That is pretty special too!  And I'm very grateful that BIL & SIL, and now the nephews, have almost always, right from the start, included us in their special holidays and celebrations. 

Two standout moments made the day extra-special for this very proud great-auntie: 
  • Among the stuff in the goodie bags I brought for LGNephew & LGNiece:  they each got a headband with bunny ears from the dollar store. :)  I was a little worried that LGNephew might think that was "for babies" -- he's gotten SO grown-up since he started school last fall! -- but he was THRILLED!  (And so was I!)  "BUNNY EARS!!"  he shouted gleefully as he pulled them out of the bag, and immediately put them on -- AND let me take his photo! :)  
  • LGNiece was wearing the Easter outfit I'd bought for her and included in her goodie bag for Valentine's Day. She looked adorable. (Of course she'd look adorable in anything, right?)  You can see part of the outfit in the photo below.  

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

Little Great-Niece, age 13 months. :) 
Easter ensemble courtesy of Great-Aunt Loribeth. :)
(If you look closely, you can see little bunnies & carrots on the skirt. 
There's also a bunny on the front of the shirt.) 

Friday, March 29, 2024

"No One Talks About This Stuff" edited by Kat Brown

Although things have improved since loss, infertility and permanent childlessness entered my life 20-25+ years ago, there's still a cloak of silence when it comes to public discussion of these matters in the broader culture.  

"No One Talks About This Stuff: Twenty-Two Stories of Almost Parenthood" is a welcome addition to the growing body of literature shedding light on these difficult subjects.  The collection was spearheaded, crowdfunded and edited by British journalist Kat Brown. "This is the book that I wish I'd found in the bookshops when my husband and I were trying for a baby," she writes in the introduction. 

The 22 writers -- women and men, mostly British -- who contributed personal essays (including some names familiar to me, such as Jody Day, Yvonne John and Stella Duffy, as well as others new to me) form a diverse group covering a broad range of reproductive experiences. If pregnancy loss, abortion, infertility, disenfranchised grief and/or childlessness are part of your story, you will find something here you can relate to!  I loved them all;  it would be very hard to pick a favourite, although I did think that Jody Day and Stella Duffy's essays, coming first and last, were the perfect bookends for the rest of the content. One (very) small quibble: I would have liked to see the two essays written by a wife and husband about their lost pregnancy placed back to back in the book --  but as I said, that's a very small quibble.  :)  

Content warning:  Some of the writers already had living children before the losses they write about here, and some of them did eventually become parents.  

Brown has helpfully included a "trigger index" at the back of the book -- covering everything from abortion to trisomy 2 mosaicism -- that readers can consult if there are particular scenarios they might find difficult to read about. There are also lists of resources (albeit most of them are U.K.-based).  

Disclosure(s):  I was among those who contributed to crowdfunding the publication of this book, and my name is included in a list of "Supporters" at the back.  In exchange for my contribution, I received an e-copy in early March, and a paperback copy a week or so later. :)  It was published in the U.K. and Australia on March 21st, with e-versions available in Canada and the U.S. via Kobo and Amazon on that day as well. Paper copies will be out July 2nd in the U.S., and July 12th Canada. 

Also,  it was a pleasant surprise to see Jody Day mention me in her essay (along with Pamela Tsigdinos and Lisa Manterfield) as a childless blogger who supported her own early blogging efforts on Gateway Women.  :)   

5 stars 

This was Book #9 read to date in 2024 (and Book #3 finished in March), bringing me to 20% of my 2024 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 45 books. I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 1 book behind schedule to meet my goal. :)  You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2024 tagged as "2024 books." 

Monday, March 25, 2024

#MicroblogMondays: Odds & ends

Since I don't have a #MicroblogMonday post prepared (again!), here are some odds & ends I've been gathering over the past week or so for your reading pleasure:  
  • As if I needed a reminder that I'm getting older (lol), I had lunch recently with a friend from high school. 
    • First, I realized that it will be (gulp!) 45 YEARS in June since we graduated -- which means she & I have known each other almost 50 YEARS (since we first met in Grade 10, in the fall of 1976). 
    • Second, she told me her YOUNGER sister's GRANDSON is getting MARRIED this summer!!  (Just let THAT one sink in!)  Her younger sister was in my younger sister's class, a year behind us;  she was pregnant at graduation, and the daughter she had then also had a baby shortly after SHE graduated from high school.  Who is now getting married...!   
  • Speaking of age -- Deanna Stellato-Dudek is my hero. :)  At age 40 -- 33 years after she first hung up her competitive skates -- she just won the world figure skating championships in the pairs event, with her partner Maxime Deschanps. (She's an American who is now skating for Canada, and is seeking Canadian citizenship in time for the next Winter Olympics in 2026.) This is a sport where most women are considered washed up at 25.  And, oh yeah, she does not have children.
    • I spent most of this past weekend watching the skating, both livestreamed online and on broadcast TV, i.e., CBC and NBC. The event was held in Montreal, four years after it was originally scheduled and then cancelled at the last minute when covid descended upon the world. It was a fabulous competition, and worth the wait! 
    • If you can find a video, watch American skater Ilia Malinin's program in the men's final (as well as Stellato-Dudek and Deschamps's program). What he achieved was absolutely jaw-dropping -- and I've been watching skating for a LONG time! (lol)  -- SIX quadruple jumps in his program, including a quad axel (he's the only person in the world right now who's doing it).  And he's hinting that QUINTUPLE jumps may be in his future. 
  • Helen Davenport-Peace is really hitting it out of the ballpark lately with her Substack, The Antidote. Case in point:  "You said nothing (and I wish that you had)." 
  • Anne Helen Petersen had a long, thoughtful post on her Culture Study Substack about how the founding American myth of "rugged individualism" inhibits the development of community. Don't skip the comments -- if you look at the "top first," some of the first ones there delve into the divide between parents and childless/childfree people. 
  • The Atlantic had a great article recently on "America's unprocessed covid grief" ( = why so many people are in a funk right now). (Gift link, accessible for the next 14 days.)  There's a slight political angle, but overall, I think they're absolutely right, and I found it really interesting.  Excerpt:  
Four years ago, the country was brought to its knees by a world-historic disaster. COVID-19 hospitalized nearly 7 million Americans and killed more than a million; it’s still killing hundreds each week. It shut down schools and forced people into social isolation. Almost overnight, most of the country was thrown into a state of high anxiety—then, soon enough, grief and mourning. But the country has not come together to sufficiently acknowledge the tragedy it endured. As clinical psychiatrists, we see the effects of such emotional turmoil every day, and we know that when it’s not properly processed, it can result in a general sense of unhappiness and anger—exactly the negative emotional state that might lead a nation to misperceive its fortunes.
  • Medium posts are often paywalled (and you have to pay for an extra subscription if you want to send gift links!  :p  )  -- but if you can access it, Ali Smith's post on "Bridging the Gap Between Parents, the Childfree and the Childless" is well worth a read (and she's a great writer to follow on childfree/childless issues generally!).  (Subhead:  "Friendships can survive and thrive when we take different paths, but only if we validate each other.")  All three groups are dealt with compassionately. Excerpt:  
Whether childless or childfree, all non-parents experience the weight of pronatalism.

We are othered, shamed and excluded.

Governments, religious leaders and even Elon Musk lead this resistance toward non-parents.

And yet, the same groups that are trying to lead the stampede against non-parents are, in fact, wolves in sheep's clothing. They do not provide adequately for parents and children....

I’m begging you, please don’t allow the ulterior motives of conservative people to widen the chasm between parents and non-parents.

And:  

I was recently on Newstalk, an Irish national radio show. We were discussing how children can change friendships.

In my experience, the friendships that survive are the ones that incorporate reciprocity.

Sometimes, the pendulum swings one way and stays there for a while, but it needs to return to the equilibrium at some stage.

I will happily go to soft play and listen to endless anecdotes about my friends’ kids. And I will delight in this because I love my friends and want to be a part of their lives.

But I need the same courtesy extended to me.

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

Monday, March 18, 2024

#MicroblogMondays: Sad things, annoying things & small pleasures

Sad things:  

  • My beloved uncle & godfather passed away recently, not long after his 81st birthday. He was my mom's younger brother and only sibling -- my only uncle on that side of the family. He'd just turned 81. His health had not been good in recent years and, as my cousin/his son told me when I messaged him, "he kind of ran out of gas."  :(  I hadn't seen him since summer 2016, but we've talked on the phone and I've kept up with him & his family through social media and through my mom, who spoke/speaks with them regularly. I am going to miss him. :( 
    • I told my mom I like to think he's joined my late grandparents and other family members (including my Katie, of course) at that big kitchen table in the sky (which looks suspiciously like my grandmother's old kitchen, only bigger), where the coffee pot is never empty and the laughter just keeps on going.  :)  ❤

Annoying things:  

  • Waking up (AGAIN -- 4th time in two weeks) at about 7:15 a.m. to a tapping noise coming from the bathroom walls (or ceiling?).  Dh went upstairs a while later and tapped on the door of the unit above ours, hoping to speak to the tenant (we know it's rented) and find out if she'd been in the shower or???  but no one answered the door. :(  
    • The property manager came by last week, notified the unit's owner and was able to go in and run some water through the pipes, and while we could hear the faint sounds of water running (as we sometimes do -- and that's to be expected, I think), we didn't hear any tapping/dripping noise this time. There's not much she can do until/unless we actually see signs of water damage. (And the ceiling of our shower cubicle is tiled, so it may be quite a while before anything shows up, if this is what's happening.)  Sigh... 
  • Knowing that I need to tackle cleaning the shower cubicle again, soon...!  (One of my least favourite chores! -- although I always appreciate how it looks when it's done!) 
  • Certain politicians (on both sides of the border...!).  :p   
  • Unrelenting grey skies these past several months (including this morning). 
    • Small pleasure:  The rare days when we see blue sky & sunshine! 
  • Not being able to think of something more original/interesting for a #MM blog post.  ;)  
Small pleasures:  

  • Spending a full day last week with Little Great-Nephew, who was on spring break from junior kindergarten.  Exhausting, but so much fun!  :)  
  • Seeing BIL in a good mood, and more like himself than he has been in a very long time.  :)  
    • Knowing that he & SIL had a nice holiday with his & dh's cousin and her husband in the Caribbean.  :)  
  • A trip down Yonge Street in Toronto last week, from the 407 to our optometrist's office midtown. The traffic can be miserable (and it wasn't great), but it was a gorgeous day outside (18C!! -- I left my jacket in the car for the short walk from the parking lot to the office), we had the windows rolled part way down, and it was fun/interesting to see all the changes that had taken place even just since our last trip along the same route a few months ago.  
    • (Annoying/sad thing:  SO. MANY. CONDO BUILDINGS!!  going up!! =  entire blocks of stores and other small businesses being demolished...!)  
    • No significant changes in my vision since my last visit!  :)  
  • Taking Easter/spring decorations to the cemetery for Katie's niche. 
    • Driving around our old community afterwards (to kill time before an appointment nearby). We didn't go past our old house, but we did drive down some streets we hadn't been on in quite a while. 
  • Easter chocolate. :)  I bought some for Little Great-Nephew's Easter goodie bag (Little Great-Niece is still too little for candy) -- and some for us to nibble on too.  Both Lindor milk chocolate eggs, and Cadbury mini-eggs.  :)  
  • The prospect of lunch with an old friend later this week. She messaged me on the weekend that she'll be in town and did we have time to get together on Thursday? 
    • Annoying thing: I responded yes, proposed lunch and a place to eat -- and still haven't heard back from her. :p  
  • Looking at my cellphone wallpaper:  a photo from Little Great-Niece's recent first birthday party,  of her sitting on the couch beside Little Great-Nephew (her cousin), who is playing a game on his tablet and studiously trying to ignore her (lol!!)  as she leans over to see what he's doing.  I think it's one of my favourite photos I've ever taken. 
  • Trying a new recipe for dinner last night:  easy chicken tetrazzini (using Campbell's soup for the sauce!).  Very gooey and very rich (definitely NOT low-cal!!), but pretty good!  :)  (Lots of leftovers too!)  
  • The first day of spring is tomorrow!!  
You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here

Sunday, March 17, 2024

"Things I Don't Want to Know" by Deborah Levy

Since I'm (cough!) already behind pace on my Goodreads goal for the year, I thought I'd try a shorter book for a change, since the ones I've been reading lately have been pretty long ones, both book club/readalong selections and my own picks. "Things I Don't Want to Know:  A Living Autobiography" by Deborah Levy is, in hardcover, just 163 well-spaced pages with generous margins and a large type size (also easy on my aging eyes, lol).  

I don't remember how I learned about Levy's "Living Autobiography" trilogy -- I probably read a review of it somewhere -- and then I saw all three volumes at the local bookstore and was captivated by the bold cover designs.  Eventually, I bought all three, and they've remained on my bookshelf since then (until now). (Books 2 & 3 in the trilogy are "The Cost of Living" and "Real Estate.") 

I'll admit the first chapter had me wondering just what was going on here. It starts with Levy crying on escalators in train stations, which leads to a solo getaway trip to Majorca, where Levy encounters Maria, the single, childless proprietor of the hotel she's staying at, remembers a 1988 trip to Poland, and winds up chatting in a bar with a Chinese shopkeeper acquaintance.  

But when I got into chapter 2 -- in which the author recounts memories of her childhood in South Africa, during the 1960s (i.e., the era of apartheid), it got much more interesting -- and I started seeing certain themes being repeated and developed, as Levy discovers her voice, as a young woman and as a writer.  

The writing throughout is absorbing, and the reason why I'm rounding up my 3.5 star rating on StoryGraph to 4 stars on Goodreads.   

ALI note:  I was under the impression that Levy was childless (not sure why?) -- but she mentions her son early on, followed by a fairly lengthy passage about the lives of mothers and motherhood generally.  

This was Book #8 read to date in 2024 (and Book #2 finished in March), bringing me to 18% of my 2024 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 45 books. I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 1 book behind schedule to meet my goal. :)  You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2024 tagged as "2024 books." 

Friday, March 15, 2024

Lots of odds & ends!

  • The nightly CBC television newscast, "The National," had a lengthy feature report on Feb. 27th about IVF in Canada and the barriers some people face in getting treatment (financial, geographic, etc.). It focused on one woman, currently on her 7th cycle, who has already spent more than $100,000 (Canadian) and regularly drives four hours (one way) from Sudbury to a clinic in Markham, outside of Toronto (and then another four hours back home again). (I remember chatting with a woman from Sudbury in the waiting room at my own RE's office when I was going through fertility treatments, 20+ years ago!)  
    • I don't know if the video is available to view outside of Canada, but here's the link
  • The province of British Columbia recently announced it will join several other Canadian provinces by funding one cycle of IVF, beginning in April 2025. The Globe & Mail featured a B.C. couple who estimate they spent $80,000 on 16 cycles of IUI and IVF, four of which ended in miscarriage, before their son was finally born in 2018. (Gift link.) Quote: 
Ms. Santos called B.C.’s announcement “incredible news,” and said it would have made a world of difference to her family had their first IVF cycle been covered.

“If we had had funding, that would have taken so much stress off at a time when everyone says all you should focus on is not stressing,” she said. Her husband could have come home [from working a higher-paying job in northern Alberta], she added. “We would have had more opportunity to work on our mental health, to not feel so guilty to take a day off if we needed it. It would have been invaluable to have that peace of mind.”
According to some delightful people out there, women who can’t conceive need to just accept that it’s “God’s will” they remain child-free.

In their words, IVF isn’t natural, so we shouldn’t be doing it.

OK Steve, let’s see how well you fare without medical intervention the next time you need an operation. No anesthetic or scrubbed-up surgeon for you, my friend....

We’re happy to accept modern comforts, science and medicine in almost every other part of our lives. No one thinks it’s weird to live with electricity or a car or to receive anesthesia during a vasectomy.

Which leads to just one conclusion.

The rhetoric about “natural” childbirth and conception isn’t pro-nature.

It’s anti-women.

I found this bit somewhat shocking (and depressing): 

...whilst the perception of IVF has improved in recent years, there are still devastating stats about what some people think of IVF babies.

A recent study revealed that 41% of people think IVF babies are “normal but not natural.”

Twenty-two percent do not think IVF babies are legitimate.

And even more shocking, 13.5% of respondents do not think IVF babies should be welcomed by society.

The Vatican (which represents 1.3 billion Catholics across the world) doesn’t accept assisted reproduction, and now — whether this was their intention or not — neither does the state of Alabama.

And there's this: 

I don’t need people to tell me I’m an infertile failure

I already think that myself.

And it’s not just online trolls or Republican politicians that make me — and women like me — feel like this.

It’s society as a whole.

Not only do we live in a pronatalist world, we live in a pronatalist world where we are expected to a) quickly get pregnant, b) love pregnancy and c) have a natural birth.

And as someone struggling with fertility, I’m told I’m not natural. Because if you’re natural, you’re fertile, right?

This messaging comes from everywhere.... 

One comment read: "'Have more babies.'  'No not like that.' "  Touchez!   

Sisson’s analysis gently coaxes the scales from our eyes. If adoption is a heartwarming practice, why are birth mothers wracked with feelings of grief and betrayal that do not abate over time? If every aspiring parent deserves a baby to love, who are we willing to exploit to meet that demand?

...This book may be a tough read, especially for current or aspiring adoptive parents. It feels much better to rescue an unwanted baby than to take one from a mother who would parent if she could only afford a car seat. But, as Sisson writes, if adoption is intended to meet the needs of children and not the “dreams of would-be parents,” then adoptive parents’ feelings can’t drive the future of adoption. 

  • Also on the topic of adoption: a great article (with a first-person perspective) from the Atlantic:  "No One's Children: America’s long history of secret adoption."  (Gift link, accessible for 14 days.)  
  • Related:  a fabulous, must-read post from Mali at No Kidding in NZ:  "No Kidding Voices Count" -- when it comes to adoption, as well as other aspects of the adoption/loss/infertility experience. Excerpt (and key message): 
Why should we feel that our comments on a process that did not work for us should be disparaged as “bitter” or “sour grapes” compared to those who are considered the “success” stories? Answer = we shouldn’t. Our views are just as valid, and perhaps more so, because we are evidence that the processes are not infallible, that they don’t work for everyone, and in many cases, they don’t work for the majority. Everyone needs to understand why that is. Our voices count, and should be heard. 
  • Mali's post didn't specifically mention the recent court ruling in Alabama that has virtually shut down IVF treatments in that state, but I was thinking about Alabama when she said: 
It’s not a contradiction to both be pleased that there are paths to parenthood for the infertile, and to want to ensure these paths take care of those prospective parents during and after this process, as well as act in the best interests of the children who may emerge from this. That’s not sour grapes. It is in fact much more holistic. 
  • Also re: the Alabama ruling:  Pamela's Silent Sorority blog/website is currently under renovation, but she's still advocating for fertility industry reform and patient rights, including recent opinion pieces in the Boston Globe and Newsweek specifically related to the events in Alabama. 
  • Jess recently posted about how the Alabama case has resulted in increased interest in/media coverage of IVF. Unfortunately, the coverage demonstrates that people (still!!) aren't using the correct terminology when discussing the process. (No wonder there are so many misconceptions....!) 
    • Mel highlighted Jess's post on today's Friday Blog Roundup, pointing out that she wrote the New York Times about "implant" vs "transfer" ....back in 2009!  The NYT responded that they understood, BUT "we made the conscious decision to use the word implant. The average reader doesn’t understand what a ‘transfer’ is.”  "...[So] frustrating that I was writing the NYT in 2009 about this, and it’s now 2024, and nothing has changed,"  she says.  :(   Grrrrrrr indeed. 
  • In her Substack "The Antidote," Helen Davenport-Peace ponders "The anatomy of an announcement:  Pregnancies that aren't ours, but theirs."  
  • Henri Copeland eloquently reflects on the very different reactions she and her family are getting after the loss of her father, versus the lack of support she's had for her grief as a childless woman.  
  • At "In Pursuit of Clean Countertops," Sara Petersen spoke with Lyz Lenz of "Men Yell At Me" about her new book (about divorce), "This American Ex-Wife."  Unfortunately, it's behind a subscriber paywall, but I wanted to share a couple of particularly brilliant passages that I thought had some application to women without children (even though both Lyz & Sara are mothers)(boldfaced emphasis the author's):  
...even if you're not going to get divorced, we have to stop thinking of parenting as this all-encompassing thing because children will leave you one day! You being okay can’t be predicated on them being okay. At some point, they won’t be okay. And you have to find a way to be a person in the midst of all of that....

...if our senses of selves and wellbeing is no longer dependent on relationships like motherhood and wifehood (because life is long and complicated and full of tragedy, we could live happier lives. 

  • There was some great commentary on the recent State of the Union address in the U.S. -- and, in particular, on the Republican response provided by Senator Katie Britt. Lyz Lenz dubbed her "Dingus of the Week,"  lol. I also liked Monica Hesse's take in the Washington Post -- although I do wish she had taken her rhetoric one step further and made the leap from "moms aren't a monolith" to "not all women are moms" -- sigh....
    • I particularly wanted to note Jill Filipovic's take on her Substack, titled "The Two Americas of the State of Union."   Unfortunately, I think it's behind a subscriber paywall... fortunately, I am a subscriber ;)  and I can share this especially relevant excerpt with you:  

The word “mom,” by the way, shows up in Britt’s speech more times than the word “women.” This is despite the fact that more than half of American women do not have children, and roughly one in six reach the end of their childbearing years without having them. Many women who are mothers also do not see motherhood as their sole defining characteristic. “Woman” and “mother” are not identical categories. And yet the Republican Party talks to us as if they are — or as if they should be...

 

The message from Britt and the GOP was clear: All women are or should be mothers; women and mothers should be fearful of the big scary world around them; and they should probably stay in the kitchen.