Monday, January 29, 2024

#MicroblogMondays: Odds & ends

(I don't particularly like combining an "odds & ends" post with #MicroblogMondays, but it's what I have today so... here it is!)  
  • I don't remember exactly where I found Ryan Rose Weaver on Substack, but I think it was in a response to another Substacker's post where she mentioned her pregnancy loss.  This interview she did with Jess Van Wyen, who has chosen to remain childless/free after loss -- not a miscarriage or stillbirth but a termination for medical reasons (TFMR -- in plain language, an abortion) -- and has since become an advocate for reproductive rights -- is truly inspiring and says so many of the things many of us as childless women are thinking, feeling and wishing we could tell other people about our lives.  **Content warning: Given the sensitive topic, this may or may not be a good fit for you as a reader. Also, pregnancy & baby loss photos are included.** 
  • Lyz Lenz at "Men Yell at Me" has a new book coming out soon about divorce, "This American Ex-Wife." (She also has a new podcast by the same name.) In a recent discussion thread,  she asked her subscribers (which includes me) to weigh in on "the moment when you knew it was time to quit."  
    • Said Lyz:  "I want to expand this beyond marriages. I want to know the moment when you knew it was time to quit — your job, your relationship, your friendships. Let’s talk about our moments of breaking." 
    • I posted about the moment when I knew it was time to quit infertility treatments and accept a permanently childless life (which I've written about on this blog). Another woman posted something similar not long after I did, too.  :)  
    • So far, my comment has received 37 (!) "likes" as well as a couple of replies.   
  • I'm a big fan of my fellow Manitoban Dr. Jen Gunter :)  and I am looking forward to picking up a copy of her latest book, "Blood" (about menstruation), which was released this past week. Here's a great review from The Guardian
  • Totally non-ALI-related, but I thought it was worthwhile passing along:  I'm a (non-paid) subscriber to Chris Cilizza's Substack, "So What?"  Chris writes primarily about U.S. politics, which is what he did when he was at CNN and (before that) the Washington Post. But he's also written a lot about the experience of losing his job at CNN -- including this piece here.  
    • Been there, done that, bought the T-shirt.  I can relate, and I know I would have appreciated his words back then. 
    • (In July, it will be TEN YEARS since I got my own marching papers!! Can you believe it?? Yikes!!)  
    • All of my job loss-related posts are tagged "job loss,"  here
You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here

    Tuesday, January 23, 2024

    No grandkids? (Welcome to my world...)

    Last weekend's Globe & Mail had a really interesting -- and intelligent -- article ("Baby boomers are adjusting to a new retirement normal: No grandchildren") and accompanying 21-minute podcast about the growing numbers of would-be grandparents and their childless/free adult children, and the grief some of them are feeling about their lack of grandchildren. (You can find the podcast at the link above, or on any of the major podcast platforms -- it's called The Decibel, Jan. 19th episode.)  The reporter, Zosia Bielski, describes herself as childfree by choice, and has written other interesting articles about population and generational issues. 

    I didn't realize it at the time, because I'm a digital-only subscriber, but the article was featured prominently, with the feature photo taking up most of the front page of the Saturday/weekend edition. It's generated a huge amount of reader comments (now closed to further responses).  (As usual, BEWARE THE COMMENTS!) 

    The focus is on adult children choosing to be childfree, and their (Boomer) parents' reactions to that choice. There's no mention of the fact that not all boomers are parents to begin with (and thus will never be grandparents either). (Ahem!)(Late-stage Boomer/early GenXer here...!)  

    But (surprisingly! and happily) our "not by choice" segment does get mentioned in both the article and the podcast. Laura Carroll, who literally wrote the book on pronatalism ("The Baby Matrix" -- which I read & reviewed here) and Therese Schecter, who filmed the wonderful documentary "My So-Called Selfish Life" (both childfree by choice), are among those interviewed. 

    Part of me was rolling my eyes as I read, thinking, "Oh, boo-frickin'-hoo -- welcome to our world! -- At least you got to be a parent!" -- right? 

    But there's a LOT here that will) sound familiar! 

    *** *** *** 

    There was also a live Q&A with the reporter earlier today (Jan. 23rd). (Beware some of the comments there too...!) 

    One reader asked "How are baby boomers who were expecting to fill their time being a grandparent figuring out what to do in their senior years instead?"  I thought Bielski's response was really interesting (particularly the part that I've highlighted in boldface): 

    I think baby boomers, as boomers, are primed to change the script and chart their own course. This is an active cohort, a fit cohort, with disposable income and ample opportunities to fill their retired time. It's an adjustment, to be sure, but a necessary one if caregiving for g-kids is no longer in the mix.  

    I think it's a uniquely North American question: how do we fill retirement time? Can we imagine Italians grappling with that question? (by the way, Italy registered its fewest babies since 1861 in 2022). 

    We have to question why we invest so little in our off time, in the years post-career. Why does retirement terrify so many North Americans -- the "filling of time"? And why is it even more terrifying without grandkids to fill the void? 

    These questions are even more relevant as birth rates decline and grandkids aren't a guarantee.

    (Dh & I often get asked, "What do you DO all day??"  Dh came up with what I think is the perfect response:  "Whatever we want!"  lol)   

    Bielski was also asked (in part)(and I'm itching to correct the spelling errors in the original...! lol):  

    I think we have to accept that a new normal has evolved - get married later- decide on the question of children , while consciously deciding if that is the right individual/ couple choice. Looking at other's in our social group, those with adult children who have chosen not to parent are bothered - inflicting their values on their kid's. There are lots of opportunities to use one's grandparenting energy on other youths , why not direct oneself there?

    Bielski's response (in part -- boldfaced emphasis mine):  

    You're pointing to other opportunities to nurture -- other people, other children. And I think that is gradually coming to pass, in some families. The question is whether the rest of us can expand our thinking, our notions of family and fulfillment, and allow these people their ways of adapting to "new normals."


    Monday, January 22, 2024

    #MicroblogMondays: Busted?

    Yesterday, I finished a year-long group read & discussion of Jody Day's classic book for the childless-not-by-choice community, "Living the Life Unexpected" (reviewed slightly more fully on this blog in my most recent post, here).  After I wrote the review here, I posted abbreviated versions on both Goodreads & StoryGraph, as I do with all the books I read. 

    I was, by turns, taken aback, somewhat amused -- and then touched -- to see that a family member -- not a close one, but a relative by marriage -- someone I've known since they were a baby, from the younger generation (who does not have children themselves -- at least, not yet) -- had left a comment -- and so had obviously seen & read -- my Goodreads review. 

    I had to dig around to find the comment. It was simply a heart icon. :)  Awwww.  

    Knowing that someone I knew "in real life" had seen something as personal as this would have sent me panicking 10 or 15 years ago (as it did here) -- but I do have a couple of family members among my followers on Goodreads. I know it's possible they'll see when I post reviews of books that are obviously about childlessness (in which I sometimes mention my own experiences, albeit not in quite as much detail as I do when I review the same books here on my blog). 

    I know it's also possible this person might tell other family members what they saw.

    I'm (still) not sure I'd be quite so blase if I knew this person (or another family member) was reading my blog...! But I've decided I'm okay with a Goodreads review. ;)  

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

    Sunday, January 21, 2024

    "Living the Life Unexpected" by Jody Day (re-read)

    "Living the Life Unexpected" by Jody Day, founder of Gateway Women, is essential reading for women like me who are learning to live without the children we always thought we would have someday.  I own and have read both paper and e-book copies of all three editions of the book (including the original "Rocking the Life Unexpected," crowdfunded by childless women from around the world and self-published by Jody in 2013).  

    Over the past year, I've been re-reading the book (again!), chapter by chapter, working through (many of) the exercises (something I hadn't really done on earlier readings) and discussing them at monthly Zoom calls in the company of a small group of other childless women from around the world. All of us are members of the private online support community that Jody founded more than a decade ago, now hosted by Katy Seppi under the name Childless Collective

    This is the second year in a row that I've participated in the "LTLU" book discussion group there, working through the book at the pace of one chapter per month.  And each time I've read the book, I've noticed things I hadn't before and gained new insights about myself, my childless life and the world around me.  

    There are many more books out there now about life without children than there were a decade ago -- but this one continues to be an invaluable resource for involuntarily childless women (and men), worthy of multiple re-reads.  It contains a mixture of personal stories, history, statistics and guidance, as well as questions and exercises designed to get you thinking in new ways about childlessness and what your life might look like, going forward. You don't HAVE to do the exercises, of course -- there is still plenty of benefit to be gained from reading the book without doing them -- but they're a great way to explore your thoughts and gain new insights -- and working through the book with other childless women, as I've been doing over the past year (the past two years, actually!), is a fabulous way to gain new perspectives (and get to know some wonderful other childless women better, too!). 

    We recently completed all 12 chapters in a year-long exploration of the book, so I am counting this as a(nother) re-read. My original rating of 5 stars on Goodreads still stands.  :)  

    You can find my previous reviews of this book here (2023) and here (2020), and my 2014 review of the original "Rocking the Life Unexpected" here

    For more information on Jody Day, Gateway Women and "Living the Life Unexpected," check out the Gateway Women website, which includes a link to the introduction and the first chapter of this book. There's also a link there to the private Childless Collective online community. A new round of LTLU member discussions is expected to start there shortly! 

    This was Book #4 read to date in 2024 (and Book #4 finished in January), bringing me to 9% (!) of my 2024 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 2024 tagged as "2024 books." 

    Wednesday, January 17, 2024

    "Bel Lamington" by D.E. Stevenson

    If you've read any/many of  D.E. Stevenson's other books, the plot of "Bel Lamington" (published in 1961) will sound familiar. Orphaned at age 3, Bel (Beatrice Elizabeth Lamington = BEL) was raised by a kind aunt who died two years ago and left Bel penniless, just as she was entering young womanhood. Now working hard as a secretary in a London shipping firm, Bel impresses her immediate boss (one of three partners), but is less popular among the other secretaries and typists.  She knows nobody in London and has no social life. Her only outlet is the rooftop garden she creates and tends, outside the window of her flat. 

    Then one day, she comes home to find a strange young man sitting in her garden -- and that encounter becomes the catalyst that changes everything for Bel, as her life begins to take some unexpected twists and turns (ending up in Scotland!). 

    This book is a favourite among the "DESsies" in my Stevenson group, where we will begin reading and discussing it, chapter by chapter, on Jan. 18th. (I'll count this as a re-read when we're done, later this spring.)  It contains the usual DES elements of well-drawn, kind and thoughtful characters (with a dash of selfish & nasty supporting players for contrast and dramatic tension!) and lovely descriptions, particularly of landscapes. (Reading Stevenson's books always makes me want to buy a plane ticket to Scotland, lol.) There are ties here to Stevenson's earlier "Drumburly" trilogy ("Vittoria Cottage," "Music in the Hills" and "Winter and Rough Weather" -- also known as "Shoulder the Sky" -- all of which I've read & reviewed on this blog), and we get to catch up with some of our favourite characters from those books here. 

    Detracting slightly from my enjoyment of the book was Bel's friend Louise, the privileged and (frankly) rather air-headed daughter of a doctor. I found her simplistic world view and pronouncements ("Daddy will fix everything"... "How naughty!" etc. etc.) rather annoying. 

    On the other hand, Louise provided an interesting contrast to Bel, who has overwhelming (and well-founded) anxieties over her precarious life situation. As I read about Bel's lonely life in London,  I couldn't help but think about all the single childless women who struggle to make ends meet and maintain social connections as their friends marry and get busy with children (particularly during the pandemic lockdowns). The office politics she endures also sounded all too familiar!  

    (Unsurprisingly), there is a traditional happy ending for Bel -- although (to the author's credit), I was unsure until the last several chapters as to just which male character she was going to wind up with. :) 

    ALI note:  The loss of a baby (both baby & mother unseen, but discussed) is mentioned. Bel and Louise also discuss the lasting impact the loss of their parents/mothers has had on their lives. 

    3.5 stars, rounded down to 3.  

    This was Book #3 read to date in 2024 (and Book #3 finished in January), bringing me to 7% (!) of my 2024 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 45 books. I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 1 book ahead of schedule. :)  You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2024 tagged as "2024 books." 

    Tuesday, January 16, 2024

    New year odds & ends

    • Well, I did it... I started the "chapter-a-day readalong" of "War & Peace" on Jan. 1st -- AND the Cromwell Trilogy readalong as well, which goes by the nickname "Wolf Crawl" (lol) and follows a weekly schedule.  It's still early days (still time to join in yourself...!), but so far, so good. 
      • W&P has a HUGE cast of characters, some with the same names (!) -- but there is a wiki-style list to refresh your memory as to who's who, a great reader chat to follow, and the chapters are generally short in length -- and much more readable (and funnier!) than you might think. And it's all available for free! (Paid subscribers get bonus posts.) 
      • "Wolf Hall" is much more dense, both in terms of subject matter and prose style -- but still absorbing, in a different way. In one of the early chapters, Thomas Cromwell's wife tells him why the king (Henry VIII)'s plan to divorce his wife (Catherine of Aragon) -- who, now in her 40s, has only produced a princess and not the male heir Henry craves -- matters:  
    If he tries this … then half the people in the world will be against it… All women everywhere in England. All women who have a daughter but no sons. All women who have lost a child. All women who have lost any hope of having a child. All women who are forty.

    (Author Hilary Mantel, of course, was childless due to severe endometriosis.)  
    • My 63rd (!) birthday was last Friday. We marked the occasion with a trip to the nearby art gallery where I have a membership -- which is also what I did on my birthday last year!  I thought about having lunch at the cafe there, which has lovely ravine views, but it was already pretty busy -- plus the menu is limited and it's rather pricey. So I opted for takeout lunch from the nearby supermarket, with a pasta takeout dinner later from one of our favourite restaurants. After dinner, we had cupcakes from the supermarket for dessert (red velvet with cream cheese frosting). :)
      • In between, I treated myself to a couple of new books at the mega-bookstore (aided by a gift card from my sister, plus my regular cardholder discount, plus a birthday discount!).   
      • Younger Nephew & his wife both texted birthday greetings; Older Nephew, his wife and  Little Great-Nephew called, and LGN treated me to a boisterous rendition of "Happy Birthday to You" via speakerphone,  lol.  
    • I spent most of Saturday on my laptop, watching the livestream of the Canadian National Figure Skating Championships from Calgary.  CBC, which had the broadcasting rights, chose to show hockey all day Saturday instead -- the new Professional Women's Hockey League games in the afternoon, and NHL in the evening (the NHL has ALWAYS ruled Saturday nights on CBC TV, since it began broadcasting in the early 1950s...!).  
      • I don't begrudge the PWHL some airtime -- goodness knows it's been a LONG time coming...!  -- but I have been watching figure skating for more than 50 years (!), and the nationals (or at least, highlights from it) have NEVER NOT been shown on one network or another...! :(    And it would have been nice to be able to watch on something larger than my 15" laptop...!  
      • The (not large to begin with) arena was only about half full.  :(  I can speculate on a number of reasons why: continuing fallout from the pandemic, the brutally cold weather out west, pricey tickets (at a time when people's finances are tight), the lack of star power among the current crop of skaters (compared to years past), the current ban on Russian competitors in international competitions -- well deserved, but admittedly makes things less exciting to watch -- plus we're right between Olympics right now, when interest is always at its lowest -- etc. etc.  But! -- you're never going to grow interest in the sport by making it more difficult for people to watch...!  :(  
    • Monday/Last night, we had dinner at Younger Nephew's, along with BIL & SIL.  Between pre-Christmas busy-ness, being away over Christmas, and BIL & SIL coming down with covid, we hadn't seen Little Great-Niece (now 10 months old) in two months, and she was great entertainment.  :)  She was wearing an adorable outfit I'd given her for Christmas -- is now sporting a few tiny teeth, scoots across the floor on all fours, and pulls herself up on the furniture. She was fascinated by my watch, bracelets and cellphone camera (I let her take a few selfies), and exchanged raspberries with a delighted dh. (But of all her visitors, she clearly loved her Nonna/Grandma the best!)  Needless to say, we had a good time.  :)     
      • Since they live nearby, and visitor parking at their townhouse complex is scarce, we decided to walk. It didn't take us very long -- only about 5 minutes, maybe a little more -- but it was about -12C/ -19C with the windchill (11F and -2F, respectively) -- and we were walking straight into the wind!  Dh -- normally a brisk walker anyway -- was walking even faster to make the trip shorter -- and holy cow, am I ever out of shape...! :p  Regular walking is definitely going back on the schedule, once better weather returns...!  
    • I subscribe to a lot of Substack newsletters (which, to me, are just blogs in another format!). Ohio journalist Connie Schultz (incidentally, married to U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown) has become one of my favourites there. Her most recent post, "How a Tweet Became a Children's Book," will show you why. (Warning:  have kleenex handy.)  
    • From the Oldster Substack, edited by Sari Botton, a gorgeous personal essay: "The Golden Seed."  Tagline:  "At 52, while teaching music in a preschool, Starina Catchatoorian is confronted by her grief over missing out on motherhood." 
    • This piece, from "Hey Reprotech" by Alison Motluk, is an eye-opener, about the costs (monetary and non) of infertility treatment in Ontario, especially when you live outside an urban area: "What I learned from looking at one Ontario woman's $100,000+ expenditure on fertility treatment." 
    • I know many of us struggle with the idea of legacy and what kind of a mark we're going to leave on the world, if we don't have children. There was an article about legacy in the Washington Post recently (gift link). Children are mentioned, but NOT having children is also mentioned! and some of the examples given are things we can do whether we have children or not.  
    • Many of us also struggle with who's going to help us out as we age without children (and, often, without partners and/or extended family members nearby). Jody Day of Gateway Women flagged this article about a consultant based in St. Paul, Minnesota, who is working for systemic change in this area. 

    Monday, January 15, 2024

    #MicroblogMondays: Blue Monday

    It's "Blue Monday," that day in January (the third Monday) deemed (by marketers, if not scientists, lol) the most depressing in the year. I've written about Blue Monday several times in the past -- in fact, I did a search for past posts and thought, "I've written about this enough, I should create a hashtag/label for it." Then I realized I already did! (lol -- check out my other Blue Monday posts there). 

    I was reminded that it was Blue Monday when I spotted an article in The Toronto Star this weekend: "6 science-backed ways to brighten your Blue Monday" (No gift links available, sorry -- so I hope that works!) In summary (in case the link doesn't work for you), the advice is:  

    • Enlist the power of awe: The feeling of being part of something much larger than you are has tangible physical benefits. (Even just reading a good book can do the trick.) 
    • Get moving: The link between exercise and well-being is firmly established.
    • Do something fun with people you like:  Social connection is important. 
    • Use warm light to improve sleep. 
    • Take a dose of (very) dark chocolate:  Cocoa can boost your mood. 
    • Put down the pinot:  Cutting out booze can lift the spirits. (Dry January, anyone?)  
    How are you feeling today?  

    (It's pretty cold here -- albeit not quite as cold as it is in western Canada and the U.S. Midwest! It was -13C/-18C windchill this morning, which works out to 8F & 0F, respectively.  But the sun is shining, and I even see a bit of blue sky peeking through the clouds, which makes a HUGE difference for me!)  

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

    Thursday, January 11, 2024

    "Anne's House of Dreams" by L.M. Montgomery


    The next novel under discussion by my L.M. Montgomery Readathon Facebook group, starting Jan. 15th, is "Anne's House of Dreams" (originally published in 1917).  The book opens with the long-awaited wedding of Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe at Green Gables. He's a newly graduated doctor, taking over his great-uncle's practice in the small seaside community of Glen St. Mary, and he and Anne set up housekeeping in a small white house in nearby Four Winds Harbour.  There's a memorable cast of neighbours, many of whom turn out to be "kindred spirits" -- including Captain Jim Boyd, retired sailor, storyteller and keeper of the Four Winds lighthouse;  Miss Cornelia Bryant, sharp-tongued spinster with a heart of gold;  and the beautiful, mysterious, prickly, tragic Leslie Moore. 

    I hadn't read AHOD in many years when my Katie was stillborn (in 1998) -- and I had forgotten -- until someone reminded me -- that Anne & Gilbert lose their first baby here, a girl they name Joyce (Joy for short), shortly after birth.  (Montgomery herself was a loss mother:  the second of her three sons, Hugh Alexander, was stillborn in 1914.)  25+ years after my loss, more than a century after it was written, this chapter still packs a powerful punch.  Anne's emotions, post-loss, are completely relatable to any mother who has lost a child. And anyone who has longed for a child they fear they will never have will relate to Leslie's jealousy and bitterness, when Anne first tells her she's pregnant. Anne's fear during her subsequent pregnancy (briefly mentioned) also rings true. 

    There might be a few points I could quibble about:  for example, Miss Cornelia's dislike of men and Methodists -- voiced multiple times throughout the book -- doesn't seem quite so funny as it did when I was younger (although Miss Cornelia remains one of my favourite secondary characters in the series).  And there's a subplot involving Leslie's husband that's kind of a cliche/trope. But overall, I love this book, and it's one of my favourite entries in the series. (Have kleenex handy.)  

    4.5 stars, rounded up to 5.   

    I will count this book as a re-read when our group finishes its chapter-by-chapter group read and discussion, later this spring. 

    This was Book #2 read to date in 2024 (and Book #2 finished in January), bringing me to 4% (!) of my 2024 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 45 books. I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 1 book ahead of schedule. :)  You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2024 tagged as "2024 books." 

    *** *** *** 

    A related (and timely) anecdote: In Chapter 16, Anne, Gilbert and some of their friends spend a memorable New Year's Eve at the lighthouse, where Captain Jim opens the door just before the stroke of midnight to "let the new year in."  I first read this book when I was about 11-12 years old, and -- Anne-like -- thought this sounded SO romantic!  

    At the time (early 1970s), it was traditional for my sister & I to spend New Year's Eve having a sleepover with the three sisters who lived across the street from us, while our parents attended the dance at the local community hall together.  Most of us had read all the "Anne" books, and after playing cards, listening to records (Partridge Family, Osmonds...!) and staying awake until midnight, we decided to open the front door of our house and "let the new year in," a la Captain Jim.  

    Unfortunately for us, we didn't quite close the door properly. It was a VERY cold (well below zero degrees, Celsius OR Fahrenheit!)  and blustery night, and our parents arrived home to find the door blown wide open. Not only that -- one sister had taken offense at something another sister had said, and stomped off to sleep in another room -- so when our parents took a head count, only four sleeping girls could be seen. AND -- one of the neighbour sisters was known to sleepwalk.  

    Their panic was, thankfully, short-lived -- but our parents imposed a moratorium on sleepovers for several months after that!  Happily, some or all five of us went on to spend many more New Year's Eves together, even after my family moved away in 1974 -- right through university, up until we all started getting married in the early/mid-1980s and I moved further afield.  

    I told this story to the Readathon group on Facebook when someone posted a meme with Captain Jim's quote about letting in the new year, a couple of New Years ago.  Everyone thought it was hilarious!! -- although, obviously, it wasn't very funny at the time...!  I also got to speak to one of the sisters during the Christmas holidays and reminded her not to leave the door open if she let the new year in, lol. After we both stopped laughing (!),  I told her about the group's reaction to the story when I told it there. She'd totally forgotten the connection to the Anne novel! 

    Monday, January 8, 2024

    #MicroblogMondays: Hello out there...

    Melissa at Stirrup Queens has reminded us that it's International Blog Delurking Week. :)  Says Mel: 

    "It may or may not be International Blog Delurking Week. The first full week of January (January 7 – 13, 2024) is when we’re supposed to slither out of the reading closet and check in with an “I’m here” comment. I don’t know if anyone does this anymore. In the olden days, people would pop out of the woodwork. Nowadays, not so much.

    "So let’s see what happens."

    I've taken part in Delurking Week on & off during the 16 (!) years I've been blogging (related posts now tagged here), and it's always fun to see old friends, occasional commenters and previously silent lurkers come out of the woodwork to say hello. 

    So -- who is here?  

    Come out, come out, wherever you are -- say hello (at least) and, if you like, tell me/us something about yourself. As always, I'm curious -- how did you find me, & how long have you been reading (if you remember)? 

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

    Friday, January 5, 2024

    Holiday rehash

    My parents' old-fashioned Christmas tree. 
    Some of the ornaments are older than I am! 
    How was your holiday?  Mine was mostly okay. I always tell people that my time is not my own when I'm visiting my parents -- and that was definitely true this time around too.  We never seem to do very much while we're there -- but the time simply zooms by...!  

    We got there on Dec. 16th, and spent the next week prepping for Christmas (and then the week afterward recovering...!).  My sister had already set up the Christmas tree and even put the lights on it, during an earlier visit, but it was my job to decorate it. Dh & I took my mom to a massive local greenhouse company to pick out some pointsettias as part of our Christmas gift to her.  They are gorgeous (and cheap!), and she always has a few around the house at Christmastime.  

    On the one hand, we ate pretty well while we were home. On the other hand, we wound up with a LOT of leftovers to eat up...! (which got a bit monotonous after a while).  Dad had already cooked one ham before we got there, and did another during just before Christmas.  We also ordered several meals from the provincial government-subsidized local congregate meals program -- my parents get meals from there several times a week now. They deliver (like Meals on Wheels), but Dad prefers to pick theirs up, and dh went with him to help carry everything. (We all qualified to get them, all of us being 55+...!)  They were nutritionally balanced (meat/protein, starch, veggie/salad, dinner roll and dessert), filling, tasty -- and CHEAP ($7.50 per person!).  

    We also had lots of the usual holiday goodies. Sister & I baked butter tarts, my mom made nuts & bolts to snack on, and they had already baked brown sugar shortbread cookies a few weekends earlier.  I spent the morning of Christmas Eve making a coleslaw salad that's always on the holiday table, and chopping celery & onions for the turkey dressing/stuffing, to save time the next morning. Parents' Neighbours' Daughter & her family -- including her parents (who actually haven't been my parents' neighbours for years -- but I'm not changing the label now, lol) -- came over for a while on Christmas Eve, so it was about 11 p.m. before we (finally!) opened out presents (tradition from the Swedish side of my mom's family). 

    My sister & I had the turkey prepped, stuffed and in the oven before my mother even got up on Christmas morning. (Which, granted, is not a hard thing to do, lol -- my mother prowls around teh house half the night and rarely gets up before noon, if she can help it...!)(We wound up opening our stockings at 3:30 that afternoon (!) -- my sister observed that we would NEVER get away with that if there were small children around...!)  

    We played cards almost every night we were there (which my dad loves), including on New Year's Eve (we got Chinese takeout for dinner that night). Parents' Neighbours' Daughter joined us a few times with the Littlest Princess (now 4 months old) in tow, and brought her older two sisters over a few times as well. Princess #2 was a big help in finishing off the jigsaw puzzle that consumed the better part of two days (and a good chunk of the dining room table, lol.)  

    Of course, being stuck in a smallish house for two weeks in the middle of winter (albeit one of the mildest ones in years) with five other people, including aging parents, there were a few "ouch" and "arrrrghhhhh" moments...!  (Many of the "annoying things" outlined in this past post still apply...!)  
    • My sister, who lives an hour's drive away from my parents (versus 2 & 1/2 hours by air and then an hour by car for me) told me she & her partner are fed up with our parents, their increasing need for support, the long to-do list they hand over with every time my sister visits, and their utter refusal to do much of anything much to help themselves. Sister & her partner may not have kids to occupy their time (by choice, in their case) -- but both of them are also in their 60s now themselves;  they have their own house that needs upkeep (as well as some extensive renovations), and they're both still busy working. She told me she's not planning to retire anytime soon, not only because of the money, but also because she knows the moment she retires, my parents will expect her to be at their beck & call, 24-7...!
      • Sister told me she'd recently told my parents she wants them to give some serious thought to selling the house and moving -- not necessarily into a care home or even assisted living, but at least to a smaller house with a smaller yard that will require less upkeep, because she & her partner simply can't be there to help them every weekend.  I think my dad would be receptive to a move (the town where they live has a good reputation as a "retirement community" and has lots of different options available) -- but my mother has dug in her heels. Sigh... 
      • Sister also informed my parents that she & her partner will not be digging up &/or planting &/or cleaning up a garden for them this year. My dad has kept a backyard veggie garden for years -- and my mother adores the fresh produce from it, particularly the new potatoes -- but Dad handed over half of it to a neighbour last year because he just can't keep it all up (and Sister & her partner wound up doing most of the work).  Sister's partner has local farm connections and says he can get them all the fresh produce they want, and there's a good weekly farmers' market in the summertime, but no.... 
      • My dad has had some help with the yardwork (mowing the lawn, raking leaves, etc.) over the past few years from the teenaged son of a couple who attend my mother's church -- and at a very reasonable rate too -- but he's off to university this fall. 
      • My parents also rely heavily on one of their neighbours for help -- but this man has told Sister & her partner that he can't do it much longer either. He's getting close to 80 himself and has his own house & yard to keep up. We didn't get to see him at all while we were there because he had pneumonia.  :(  
    • Partly in retaliation for my sister laying down the law, I think, my mom made a jaw-dropping crack one night while we were playing cards. Our of the blue one night, in the middle of a card game, Mom said, "I should have had two or three more kids."  Us:  "Ummm, WHY?"  Mom:  "Well, maybe ONE of them might have stayed in town to help me out!"  (!!!)  You can imagine the expression on my sister's face...!  
      • I gave my mother a "look" and said, "You're lucky [Sister] is here as often as she is!" -- leaving unspoken the fact that neither she nor I will have someone at OUR beck & call to do things for us!!  She kind of changed her tune after that. 
      • After dh & I took mom to the greenhouse to get poinsettias, I offered to set one up in a hanging plant holder that she has -- but she told me to leave it for Sister to do,  because "it's tricky" and "[Sister] did it so nicely last year."  (!) I told my sister this and she rolled her eyes and said, "Maybe she should get one of her hypothetical two or three more children to do it for her!" (lol) 
    • When we got to my parents' house at the beginning of the holidays, my mom told us that her younger brother/only sibling/my uncle & godfather (who just turned 80 this year) was in the hospital. He's not been in overall good health in recent years, and got taken by ambulance to a hospital, which sent him to a facility for evaluation and some physical rehab for his mobility issues. 
      • Somewhere along the way, he contracted covid (for the first time), and had to be readmitted to the hospital. :(  He is not vaccinated. :( The doctors put him on antivirals, and thankfully he's doing well. 
      • My cousin told us he's hopeful that this is the kick in the butt his dad needs to make some positive and long-overdue changes in his life. (Fingers crossed.) 
      • Prior to this, my cousin's wife had taken my aunt to see a new apartment building geared to retirees/seniors. Spurred on by my uncle's health emergency, they made the decision to take an available studio suite, and put their names in for a two-bedroom unit, when one comes open. 
      • My mother approves of the move:  she has long fretted over the stairs at my uncle's house (which is a bungalow, but built into the side of a hill, meaning there are a few stairs to climb from the driveway to the front door, plus some stairs from the entryway up to the main floor or down to the basement, where the garage entrance is located.  (She's conveniently ignoring the fact that it's not any/many more stairs than she has to navigate in her own split-level house...!).  But of course, just try suggesting that she & my father should do something similar...!  
    • I overheard a conversation my mom was having with one of my aunts, exclaiming over the fact that one of my aunt's granddaughters turned 25 this year. (Yeah, I KNOW... someone ELSE would have turned 25 this year too, remember??)  
    • After I spent a couple of hours on a Zoom call with "some online friends." Mom's curiosity was piqued:  "So who were these people?  What was the theme?"  I told her bluntly:  "We're all women who don't have children." Mom:  "Oh."  (No further questions...!)  
    Yes, they drive me nuts sometimes...!  


    Sitting in the departure lounge on the morning of Dec.16th, en route west, I received a message from my high school bestie:  her dad had passed away the day before, while she was still en route to be with him. He was 85 -- a year older than my dad. "Hug your parents when you see them," she advised me.  

    I did.  

    Wednesday, January 3, 2024

    "The Christmas Orphans Club" by Becca Freeman

    "The Christmas Orphans Club" by Becca Freeman was irresistible reading over the Christmas holidays, for several reasons. First, it was a Christmas read at Christmastime, which is always fun. :)  Second, it was recommended by the wonderful Nora McInerny of "Terrible, Thanks for Asking," whose chose it for her "Terrible Reading Club" podcast/Substack in December (haven't listened in yet).  Third, while I'm not a Christmas "orphan" -- at least, not yet! -- I am very aware that many people feel that way at this time of year, for many different reasons. And fourth, I'm always on the lookout for suitable books for the Childless Collective Nomo Book Club (where I'm one of the hosts), and this seemed like it might fit the bill. And, for the most part, I think it does. :)   

    "Christmas Orphans" is a lighthearted rom-com with some serious underlying themes/messages/life lessons. If you liked "Friends" and their "Friendsgiving" episodes, you will probably like this book. 

    The book is narrated in turn by best friends Hannah, whose parents both died when she was a teenager, and Finn, whose family cut him off he came out to them as gay. They've spent every Christmas together since they met in college. Now living and working in New York City, they've been joined for subsequent Christmases by Hannah's one-time roommate Priya, and the rich and handsome Theo (son of a Richard Branson-like British airline billionaire). 

    But now Finn is moving across the country to start a new job in L.A. -- and Hannah's boyfriend David is pressuring her for a commitment she's not sure she's ready to give him. Hannah is determined to spend one more last, special Christmas with her friends before Finn leaves. David will understand... won't he? 

    While it's possible some of the main characters -- generally all around the age of 30 -- may go on to become parents someday -- and David's annoying uber-mom sister pops up as a peripheral character -- pregnancy & parenthood are not major themes here.  It's about "chosen family" and the importance it assumes in our lives when our traditional family structures are lacking and holidays make us feel like we're on the outside looking in. And what happens when situations change and our friends start going places where we can't follow. In that way, it's very relevant to those of us without children. 

    The ending is the stuff of Hallmark movies (I was casting in my mind as I read, lol).  

    3.5 stars on StoryGraph. I debated whether that should be rounded up or down on Goodreads. I settled on 4 stars there.  Hannah can be somewhat clueless/annoying at times, and hey, not all of us have mega-rich friends like Theo who can produce a limo on Christmas Day when every car in the city is booked, or buy up every room at a boutique hotel in Mexico, or save your fledgling podcast by handing over the hottest Taylor Swift-style pop star in the world as your initial guest. 

    But it was a fun read overall, I appreciated the Christmas orphans theme -- and hey!  It's (still!) Christmastime!  :)  

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

    Some good things to start the new year :)

    A couple of not-so-small pleasures to start off the new year. :)  (A post of annoying things that happened during the holidays still to come, lol.)

    • I've been under the weather for the past week now -- scratchy throat, drainage, cough -- and while I didn't think it could be covid, I knew covid is a sneaky SOB and we couldn't rule it out either.  We were careful to mask in stores, etc., while we were visiting my parents, and other than my family, we only saw Parents' Neighbours' Daughter and her family as well as one of my parents' neighbours during the holidays. Two of the Little Princesses had colds -- their mom said it was NOT covid -- but I assumed that whatever this was, I got it from one of them.
      • I finally got up the nerve to do a rapid test first thing this morning. Negative. That put my mind at ease. (Even if I still don't feel 100%...!). 
    • You may remember that I got scammed back in late July, and as a result, my Amazon account has been suspended for the past FIVE MONTHS while my bank/credit card provider wrangled with Amazon. (Most recent update here, with links to previous posts explaining the whole saga...!) 
      • I called my bank/credit card provider on Dec. 11th to check on the status of my case -- and was informed that it had been resolved -- in my favour -- and I would not be charged the $500.  I had checked before calling, and Amazon was still blocking access to my account, offering me a screen with two choices/buttons to click on:  pay up ($500!), or disagree with the charges. I mentioned this to the (very helpful) guy I spoke with at the credit card company, and he suggested I should get in touch with them. 
      • Yeah, but HOW??  I searched the site (as much as I could, with access to all but basic/homepage functions blocked), and there was no easy or obvious way to ask for help -- no 1-800 number to call, no email address, no chat window.  
        • I did not want to click on either of the two choices offered without knowing what would happen next (i.e., what the consequences would be).  
        • I did have the email that Amazon sent to me on Aug. 6th, informing me that my account was suspended. I decided I could try the email address that message came from, or another one mentioned in the text. 
        • Failing that, I was prepared to take my case to Twitter/X. 
      • I sent an email to the one address later that day  (Dec. 11th), outlining everything that had happened. I apologized for not contacting them sooner but said I did not want to interfere in the process that was set in motion when I first called my credit card provider (which I initially assumed would resolve the matter quickly).  I pointed out that I had been told the dispute was resolved in my favour.  And I asked them nicely for their assistance in restoring access to my account. 
      • Three weeks went by (and I was busy with Christmas anyway). I knew they were probably busy with Christmas too, but I decided three weeks was plenty long enough for a response (!), so last night I sent essentially the same email to the other address I had.  
      • Lo and behold, this morning!! I received an email informing me that my account had been reinstated!!  (And thanking me for my patience!)(!!)  I opened my Kindle app on my phone and signed in, and there were all my books. 
      • HALLELUJAH!!  :)  :)  :)  

    Tuesday, January 2, 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.)

    Pandemic diary/update: December was month #45 (going on FOUR YEARS...!) since the COVID-19 pandemic began. While I did develop a cold during the week between Christmas & New Year while at my parents' house (which I still have...), we remain covid-free (knocking wood, loudly...), and continue to mask in most stores and other public places, especially where there are a lot of people. Hard data is difficult to come by -- but anecdotally, we know that case numbers are on the rise, and we continue to hear about others -- including friends & relatives, and friends & relatives of friends & relatives -- who have recently tested positive, many of them for the first time.  Among them:  my sister and her partner had covid for the first time in mid/late November, and BIL & SIL in mid-December. More than a month later, my sister still has a nasty cough. 

    December was a blur.  It was a mad dash to the finish line, i.e., the airport on Dec. 16th, to head west to spend Christmas with my family.  We never seem to do a lot while we're there, but somehow, the days just go whizzing by...!  My online time was minimal, especially while we were there -- I am sooooo far behind on blog & Substack reading and commenting, and my inbox is overflowing with unread emails...  (Getting a better handle on all my to-do/want to do lists and regular routines, etc., will be one of my goals for 2024...!)    

    Among other things this month, we: 
    • Went with BIL & SIL on Saturday, Dec. 2nd, to visit a cousin who recently got the "all-clear" following surgery & treatment for cancer. Her brother also stopped by when he heard we were all coming, and a good visit was had by all. :)  
      • Four days later, on Dec. 6th, we got a text from the cousin:  her daughter (a junior kindergarten teacher, who lives at home and was present for part of the time we were there, including hugs in greeting and goodbye) just tested positive for covid. :(  
      • BIL & SIL also tested positive, 10 and 12 days after our visit (so not sure they picked up there from her, or from somewhere else in the meantime?). 
    • Returned to the mall on Dec. 5th to return some things to Old Navy and do a bit more Christmas shopping. 
      • Had an unmasked early lunch in the food court. 
    • Headed back to our old community on Friday, Dec. 8th:  brought some holiday decorations to the cemetery for Katie's niche, got haircuts, and then headed to the local mall for a little more Christmas shopping. En route back home, stopped at the supermarket to pick up some takeout soup for lunch. 
    • Went to the drugstore on Dec. 11th to pick up some prescriptions, buy some stamps at the postal outlet there and pick up a few other things I needed (including a few stocking stuffers for dh). 
    • Flew west from Toronto to Winnipeg on Dec. 16th to spend Christmas with my family. 
      • While in Manitoba, we made a few (masked) trips to the grocery store, drugstore, chicken restaurant for takeout, and a wholesale greenhouse operation for (gorgeous, CHEAP!) pointsettias for Mom. 
      • Saw Parents' Neighbours' Daughter & one of more of the three Little Princesses almost every other day, including Little Princess #3, who is now 4 months old and adorable.  :)  (She's the likely source of my cold...! -- or possibly her next-oldest sister, Princess #2.)  
    *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** 

    Also right now:  

    Reading: I finished 4 books in  December (reviewed on this blog, as well as Goodreads & StoryGraph, & tagged "2023 books").  
    This brings me to 48 books read in 2023, 107% of my 2023 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 45 books. :)  

    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. ;)  
    A few recently purchased titles (mostly in digital format, mostly discounted ($5-10 or less) or purchased with points):  

    *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** 

    Watching:  I can't think of anything memorable that we watched during December...??

    • To a lot of April Wine songs, following the death of its lead singer and guitarist Myles Goodwyn on Dec. 3rd, which I wrote about here
    To Heardle Decades: Stats as of  Dec. 31st:  
    • Heardle 60s:  76.9% (349/454, 152 on first guess), down slightly from the same as last month. Max. streak: 15.
    • Heardle 70s:  81.3% (161/198, 91 on the first guess), about the same as last month. Max. streak: 18. 
    • Heardle 80s:  45.2% (33/73,  15 on the first guess), up slightly from last month. Max. streak: 4. 
    • Heardle 90s: 32.6% (61/187, 13 on the first guess), down from last month. Max. streak: 4. 

    Eating/Drinking:  All the Christmas goodies that I only get once a year at Mom & Dad's, including  pickerel (walleye pike to you Americans), turkey, stuffing/dressing, gravy, cabbage rolls and perogies, nuts & bolts, shortbread, and those Canadian delicacies:  Nanaimo bars and butter tarts (gift links). :)  

    Buying (besides books, lol -- and Christmas gifts!):  Not much! 

    Wearing: Holiday-themed waffle-weave PJ tops from Old Navy. :)  And I pulled out my heavy winter jacket and boots to wear "home" to Manitoba -- but I didn't really need them, as they're having one of the mildest winters in years (so far...!), with barely enough snow to make it a white Christmas. 

    Noticing:  How much milder/less snowy this Christmas season was, even in Manitoba, where (I've always told people) a white Christmas has always been practically guaranteed. Closer to home, Older Nephew built a backyard skating rink for Little Great-Nephew, but so far, it's mostly been just a pool of water... 

    Enjoying:  Spending time with Parents' Neighbours' Daughter and the Littlest Princess (now 4 months old), who came to visit almost every day we were there. Also enjoyed the nightly card games (and even won a few...!).    

    Trying:  (and failing!) To gently convince my parents (and my mother in particular) that they need to move from their overstuffed split-level  house with the big yard, into something smaller and more manageable (and less costly) to keep up. 

    Appreciating: The comfort of my own bed!!   

    Wanting: A return trip home this summer to celebrate my dad's 85th birthday -- which would be the first time we've made it there in the summertime since 2019!  

    Wondering: What to do to celebrate my upcoming birthday...?  (I have a few ideas. Nothing elaborate!)    

    Prioritizing: A trip to the supermarket today, to restock our fridge and cupboards, and visits this week to BIL & SIL's house:  Little Great-Nephew doesn't start school again until next Monday, and his parents had to return to work after being off over Christmas week, so he's there all this week!  

    Hoping:  To wade through all the emails that have piled up over the past two weeks and weeding out my inbox...! 

    Loving:  Being at Mom & Dad's and spending time with my family -- but also being back in my own space! 

    Feeling: Glad to get 2023 behind us.  Hoping for better things in 2024.  

    2023 Year in Review

    I'm trying something a little different this year from my usual "Year in Review" format (which got to be a little lengthy & repetitive from year to year...!). :)  I found this format/list of questions in the long-gone scrapbooking magazine Creating Keepsakes January/February 2013 issue (!). 

    *** *** *** 

    1) What was the coolest thing you did or that happened to you last year?

    Getting my DNA analyzed was pretty cool. :)  

    2)  What major milestone(s) did you or a loved one experience last year?

    First and foremost, my brother-in-law had a transplant, with his son (our Older Nephew) donating part of his liver to save his dad's life. That's pretty major!  

    Younger Nephew & his wife also welcomed our Little Great-Niece in February.  :)  

    And Little Great-Nephew headed off to school this fall (junior kindergarten)!  

    3)  What was your favourite celebration last year?

    It was great to get together with small and large groups of dh's cousins (on both sides of the family) on several different occasions -- and NOT for funerals!!  (Too many of those in recent years!)  

    4)  What was your most memorable holiday of last year, and what made it special?

    Christmas with my family is always memorable. I am well aware that my time with my parents is not unlimited, and so I appreciate the opportunity to spend time with them while I can.  (Even when they drive me nuts sometimes...! lol) 

    5)  What family vacation or activity was the most memorable, and why?

    We had a lovely weekend at dh's cousin's cottage with BIL & SIL, Older Nephew, his wife & Little Great-Nephew -- until Older Nephew revealed he wasn't feeling well, and we had to make a hasty departure.  :(   

    6)  What big goal did you or a loved one achieve or work toward last year?

    I guess keeping BIL alive and getting him to, through and beyond his transplant operation, was our family's main goal of last year! and I'm so glad that we achieved that! (SIL asked his doctor if he would have survived the year without the transplant.  His answer was "No."  :(  )  

    7)  What's something that changed in your life last year?  (something new, a loss, etc.)

    We got a new great-niece in February!  We got to spend a lot of time with Little Great-Nephew (providing fill-in child care while SIL took BIL for his various medical appointments). Then he started school (junior kindergarten) in September, and we haven't seen as much of him since then. We miss him!  

    8)  What was your favourite movie, book, album or song from last year, and why?

    Haven't been to the movies since before the pandemic  :(  and I don't follow music the way that I used to either. I just posted my 2023 Reading Year in Review and as I said there, it's hard to pick one favourite book. A few of the standouts included: 
    • "In Memoriam" by Alice Winn 
    • "Tom Lake" by Ann Patchett 
    • "Lessons in Chemistry" by Bonnie Garmus
    • "The Last Devil to Die" by Richard Osman 
    • "Surrender:  40 Songs, One Story" by Bono 
    • "Spare" by Prince Harry 
    • "Wintering" by Katherine May

    9)  What world, national or local event or news story affected you most?

    The ongoing war in Ukraine, plus the renewed conflict in the Middle East. I am not Jewish nor Muslim/Palestinian, but who can read those stories or see that footage and not be horrified by what has happened??   

    The ongoing political instability south of our border (and its effect on the political atmosphere in my own country) is unsettling. I am NOT looking forward to the coming year in American politics...! 

    Closer to home, I am sickened by our provincial government's determination to raze and move the landmark Ontario Science Centre (where dh spent hours & hours as a kid), and to redevelop the prime parkland/public space of Ontario Place, including moving a downsized version of the Science Centre there and adding a luxury spa with a massive underground parking garage (!). Dozens of trees, carefully chosen & planted by the original site developers more than 50 years ago, have already been removed.  In general, the indiscriminate destruction of designated greenbelt lands, heritage buildings and well-established neighbourhoods in the pursuit of growth (and development dollars) was a disturbing feature of the past year.  

    10)  What life lesson did you or a family member learn and take to heart last year?

    Life is short, and tomorrow is not promised. I am more aware of this with each passing year...!