Monday, March 20, 2023

#MicroblogMondays: Spring forward?

It's the first day of spring!  :)  

And last week's time change ( = "spring forward" an hour) has been kicking my butt. :p  I've been sleeping in late(r) almost every morning -- and still feeling groggy when I do get up. (Thankfully, I can sleep in late, because, retirement!  ;)  ) 

I know there are arguments about which time system is better -- standard or daylight savings time? I lean slightly towards preferring standard time -- but I wholeheartedly support making one or the other permanent.  Just pick one and stick with it, year round -- no more back & forthing! 

What do you think? Does the time change bother you?  Would you like to see permanent daylight savings time? Permanent standard time? 

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

Sunday, March 19, 2023

This week's odds & ends

  • I had a dream recently that I was babysitting Little Great-Nephew... he had one of those little motorized cars that you sometimes see kids in, driving down the sidewalk -- and he gleefully zoomed off into the distance. I was running way behind him, calling his name, calling him to STOP!  Someone stopped me, wanting to chat, and I said, "I can't talk, I have to get my son!"  I don't know why I called him my son?? (I did eventually find him, and all was well!)  
    • (The funny/ironic thing is, he HAS one of those little motorized cars -- a miniature Jeep, that BIL got for him -- and he REFUSES to have anything to do with it!!  lol  He won't even sit in it!)  
    • We are going to be babysitting him for a good chunk of the day, one day next week, when his grandparents (BIL & SIL) are out for a medical appointment/procedure -- and I was thinking my dream probably reflected my anxiety about that. He really is easy to stay with, generally no trouble at all -- he adores dh, who generally winds up doing most of the running around with him (lol) -- but it IS a responsibility! -- AND his parents are toilet training him right now  (lol) and I've been wondering how THAT's going to work??! 
    • But it also occurred to me, as I thought about it later, that it was also kind of symbolic, wasn't it? Chasing after "my child,"  watching him (her) disappear into the distance... 
  • The Dyson saga:  You'll remember that, back in mid-January, our new, very expensive Dyson humidifier/purifier conked out on us when I tried to carry out a deep clean cycle for the first time. Thankfully, it's under warranty for a year (until October), and -- after going in circles with Dyson customer service for a few frustrating days -- we were able to take it to a local warehouse for repair. (The story is recounted here, here and here.)  
    • It's worked fine since then -- but last weekend, I got a warning alert on my Dyson app that a(nother) deep clean cycle would be required soon.  (You generally need to do one about once a month, but we don't run the humidifier 24 hours a day -- plus I use filtered water versus straight from the tap = less limescale building up -- so it's been almost exactly two months since that last disastrous one.)  There's a setting on the app where you can check to see how many hours remain before the next deep clean cycle is needed (also when the air filters need replacing) -- and I watched the hours counting down over the next few days with a feeling of impending doom (lol). 
    • I estimated we'd reach zero (0) hours on Tuesday afternoon -- and we did -- but nothing happened. No alert to carry out the cycle (and believe me, I didn't want to try to do one, unprompted!).  
    • The machine continued to merrily humidify away -- and to be honest, I'd kind of forgotten about it -- until I got the "deep clean cycle required" alert message at 3:45 on Thursday afternoon. I followed the instructions in the manual (I was also able to call them up from the app on my cellphone) and held my breath as I pushed the "start" button and the timer started counting down from the 60 minute mark. In January, it stalled out at 59:50 and would NOT advance further, no matter what I did!  This time, it kept going! and finished the cycle an hour later, as it should!  Whew!!  
  • It's "Mothering Sunday" today in the UK (i.e., Mother's Day -- albeit it started out as something quite different and has evolved to become more like our North American celebration in May). Spare a thought for our sisters across the ocean who -- thanks to social media & the pervasiveness of (North) American culture -- will get barraged with Mother's Day hoopla all over again in May, along with the rest of us!  
  • Elizabeth Day (whose book "How to Fail" has long languished in my to-read pile) has an amazingly frank and articulate article in the Times of London this weekend:  "My fertility sadness — and what not to say to a childless woman." (This is actually an excerpt from her forthcoming book, "Friendaholic: Confessions of a Friendship Addict.") 
    • A lot of the Times's content is behind a paywall, but I think you get a certain number of articles for free. You may possibly have to register to read it.
    • Sample passage: 
We rightly talk about privilege in this era of social change — an era marked by Black Lives Matter and #MeToo — but hardly anyone acknowledges fertility privilege. Those of us who have had complicated journeys to parenthood are only too aware of its existence. I know how it feels to be the infertile one in a world of apparent abundance. I wouldn’t post about my glorious babies on social media in much the same way as I wouldn’t post about my expansive mansion or my fleet of Bentleys (not that I have any of those), because it’s thoughtless to those who don’t have these things. Forget the language of privilege for a second: isn’t it just lacking in basic empathy? Isn’t it just being a good human?

Thursday, March 16, 2023

"A Fatal Grace" by Louise Penny

"A Fatal Grace" (which also goes by the title "Dead Cold") is the second volume in the Inspector Gamache/Three Pines mystery series by Louise Penny.  It's been a little over a year since the events of the first novel in the series, "Still Life" (which I read and reviewed here). It's Christmastime, and Gamache is back in a very cold and snowy Three Pines to investigate yet another murder. The victim, C.C. de Poitiers, is a recent arrival in town and a thoroughly dislikeable character -- so there is no shortage of suspects! 

Back in Montreal, there's a second murder that Gamache gets involved in investigating -- of a homeless woman, outside of Ogilvy's department store (a real-life Montreal institution). And lurking in the background, "the Arnot affair," a perpetual cloud which hangs over Gamache and his future with the Surete du Quebec police force. 

As with the first book, things dragged a bit until the actual murder took place -- and Inspector Gamache appeared on the scene -- and then gained momentum as the book went on (leading to a couple of late nights when I found it hard to put the book down...!).  It was fun to revisit Three Pines, and many of the same characters and places we got to know in "Still Life." Once again, I revelled in the unabashed Canadian-ness of it all -- Tim Hortons, blizzards, toques (I prefer the spelling "tuque"), remote car starters and ice scrapers, snowmobiles, Hockey Night in Canada -- and curling! (which plays a key role in the plot).  (Warning: don't pick up this book when you're hungry. The food descriptions had my mouth watering, lol.)  

What I didn't like quite so much: the murder victim really is a despicable excuse for a human being, which makes it hard to feel too much sympathy for her, or feel as invested in finding out whodunnit as I might have felt for a different character. Also, prior to reading the book, I'd looked at a few reviews, and also seen a couple of discussions of Penny's books online which mentioned fat-shaming and fat-phobia, in this book in particular.  It IS noticeable, particularly in the first few chapters -- albeit some of it comes through the thoughts & words of the very disagreeable C.C.  It wasn't enough to put me off the book or the series, and I enjoyed the book overall, but I couldn't give it a an unequivocal 4 stars for those two reasons.     

3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 on Goodreads.  

Penny/Gamache fans who follow the Notes from Three Pines Substack will be discussing this book on March 22nd -- and I'm assuming the third book ("The Cruellest Month") will follow in mid-April. I already have my copy...!  :)  

This was Book #13 read to date in 2023 (and Book #3 finished in March), bringing me to 29% of my 2022 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 45 books. I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 4 books ahead of schedule. :)  You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2023 tagged as "2023 books."  

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Odds & ends & Oscars

  • Sunday was jam-packed: 
    • First, the time changed, which threw everything off a bit. 
    • We had lunch at BIL & SIL's along with Older Nephew, his wife & Little Great-Nephew.
    • Younger Nephew, his wife and our new Little Great-Niece arrived after lunch for a visit. All of us wore masks (except Little Great-Nephew).  We got home in the late afternoon. 
    • Made my usual Sunday afternoon phone call to my parents. 
    • Texted some photos from the afternoon to the rest of the family. 
    • Gobbled down a bite to eat (we'd had a big lunch, so neither of us was very hungry for supper). 
    • Then settled in with some junk food to watch the Oscars (while monitoring the conversation on an Oscars pool Facebook group I'm in, as well as the New York Times live commentary feed).  Didn't get to bed until after midnight (the broadcast ended after 11:30 p.m.). 
    • Needless to say, I was exhausted Monday morning...!  I was pretty groggy this morning too.  
  • Little Great-Niece was, of course, the centre of attention at our family gathering on Sunday -- which (as I had anticipated) did not sit entirely well with Little Great-Nephew...!  He seemed a little fascinated by this new cousin he'd heard so much about, but didn't seem to quite know what to make of her... especially when she started crying.  Little Great-Nephew does not like loud noises, and put his hands over his ears when she did. "That baby is LOUD," he flatly observed to dh (lol).  
    • At one point, he said in a small voice, "Aunt Loribeth, Uncle Dh, will you come downstairs to play with me?"  Of course we did.  (How could we not?) We missed out on some Little Great-Niece time, but I'm glad we were able to give him some of the attention he clearly needed just then. 
    • As the unofficial family photographer, I stayed busy taking photos of everyone. ("Hi sweetie, I'm your personal paparazzi! -- you'll thank me someday," I joked to Little Great-Niece as I snapped away. Both the nephews -- who grew up with my camera constantly in their faces -- chuckled at that one, lol.) 
    • I will admit that I had to swallow hard, seeing BIL & SIL proudly posing for photos with both their beautiful grandchildren. But thankfully, the feeling didn't last too long.  
    • Little Great-Niece was wearing one of the little sleepers we had bought for her and brought over when we visited her for the first time, earlier in the week -- white, with little pink and brown elephants on it.  :)     
  • Older Nephew's Wife is going back to her old job, starting next week -- the same one she had at this time last year. And so Little Great-Nephew will be back at his Nonna (Grandma)'s house again during the day on a regular basis, until he starts (gulp) school in the fall (junior kindergarten). :)   This time around, newly retired Nonno/Grandpa will be around (and maybe his new little cousin once in a while, too!).  Looking forward to spending more time with him again, while we still can!  
  • I enjoyed this year's Oscars. I thought it was pretty good as Oscars telecasts go, with some really heartwarming speeches and moments from the winners. 
    • Favourite moments:  seeing not just one but TWO kick-ass women in their 60s -- Michelle Yeoh & Jamie Lee Curtis -- win statues.  Bonus points to Michelle Yeoh, who is childless not by choice and has spoken about it in interviews, and mentioned her godchildren in her acceptance speech. I loved her comment: "Ladies, never let anyone tell you that you are past your prime."  Amen!  
    • Ke Huy Quan had me tearing up -- watching his hugely emotional acceptance speech, and then seeing him hugging Harrison Ford onstage after "Everything Everywhere All at Once" won Best Picture (as announced by Ford). "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" is my least-favourite movie of the series, but I loved seeing Short Round and Indy together again!  :)  
    • Canadians did very well at this year's Oscars. I was especially thrilled that Sarah Polley won for her adapted script for "Women Talking"! I grew up around Mennonites & Mennonite communities (and Hutterites and Hutterite colonies) -- some more old-fashioned/traditional and some more modern than others. My parents live near one large, predominantly Mennonite community, and you can still hear Low German dialect and see women in long skirts and head coverings in the supermarket there, usually with several small children in tow.
      • I may lose my Canadian/Manitoban citizenship for admitting this, but I have not read any of Miriam Toews's novels yet, although I have several of them in my to-read pile. The Globe & Mail ran a thoughtful story this past weekend about the complicated relationship she has with her hometown of Steinbach. Can I admit it made me a little homesick? -- not for Steinbach in particular (I've only been there a few times), but for my home province. Especially this part, near the beginning: 
It was a toe-curling minus 25 on arrival, late last month. Fields of snow created a world so hushed and horizontal and desolate that a ruby-red billboard welcoming drivers to Steinbach rose from the snow as jarringly as an exclamation point.

“Every single day I miss the skies – those blue, blue, blue skies,” said Ms. Toews. “I miss crunching along on the snow. I miss the quiet, and the bite of the cold – like needles in your face.”

(Okay, I don't miss the needles-in-the-face cold, lol. But the SKIES.  And the crunch of the snow underfoot -- snow in southern Ontario seldom crunches. Yes...)
  • Speaking of "home," dh has been glued to the TV set these past few weeks, watching... curling (!).  (I've watched a bit too,  but he's become a real fan!)  First the women's championship and then the men's (the Briar) -- and the world championships are coming up shortly The sports networks here carry wall-to-wall coverage. 
    • Both of my parents (and many relatives, on both sides of my family) curled when I was growing up (and my dad continued to curl into his 60s, before his knees started bothering him too much), but somehow my sister & I never learned. (I was never athletic, but I think I could have given curling a fair shot!)  In one small town where we lived, the skating and curling rinks were across the street from each other, just down the back alley from where we lived, and we spent a good chunk of our winters going back & forth between the two, for figure skating lessons and public skating sessions, to watch hockey games, and to watch our parents curl. 
    • Dh got interested in the game when it became an Olympic sport, some years back now (1998?). I've never really been a student of the game, but I was amazed at how much I had absorbed over the years and was able to pull out of my memory to explain to him! It's something he & my dad can talk about too.  :)  
    • I just started reading the second Louise Penny/Inspector Gamache/Three Pines novel, "A Fatal Grace" -- and what do you know?  There's a curling game that figures prominently in the plot!  ;)  
  • I'm not exactly sure who Nikki Glaser is?  (I gather she's a comedian?)  But the headline on a Salon interview with her caught my eye -- " "I'm actually not freezing my eggs": Nikki Glaser opens up about comedy, fertility and oversharing" -- and I wound up reading most of it (and skimming through the parts that didn't interest me so much).  I don't agree with everything she says (she envisions picking out an egg donor with a future husband as something "fun" they can do together??! hmm...), but it's still worth a read (that part of the interview, at least).  Here's a sample:  

I'm different than most women. I think most women do have a desire to have a baby and be a mother. There's a part of me that feels like there are a lot of people like me that don't. But the majority I would say, and a lot of my friends, do want it, so I just feel like I should too. I think I'm just embracing that part of myself that might actually know what I want, which I'm always questioning.

...It was just buying insurance, and that's what everyone said it's like. "It'll give you peace of mind." All I can say is it was not giving me peace of mind. There was no part of me that was like, "I'm in control of my body and getting ready to stab myself every day." It felt like I'm just doing this for a future man that I'm going to resent because he won't adopt with me.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

THREE YEARS -- plus odds & ends

  • Today marks THREE YEARS (!) since the World Health Organization declared we were in a global pandemic. 
    • Last year on this day, I wrote about "Two years of pandemic living," and what was good/better and what wasn't. In 2021, I relived March 12, 2020 -- i.e., what I called  "The Last Normal Day" -- one year later. 
    • I tried to come up with something new & original to write about to mark this day this year, but there's not a whole lot I could think of that I haven't already said (or that someone else hasn't said, better). 
    • I recently read that, by some measures (deaths and hospitalizations, I think), this has actually been the worst year of the pandemic to date -- the numbers (the ones being reported, anyway...) have not gone dramatically up over the past several months -- but they haven't declined a whole lot either.  And yet, covid is now a non-issue, completely off the radars of so many people (certainly our politicians). It's mind-boggling, and horribly discouraging. It does not bode well for the future, and certainly not for any future pandemics. :(  
    • And so onward we muddle, into YEAR 4...!  
    • (This is NOT how I pictured spending my retirement years..!)  
  • It's spring break here in Ontario this week. Even before the pandemic, our inclination has always been to stay close to home this week to avoid the mobs of parents & kids running amok everywhere...!  (And how much worse would it be if people didn't take off for Florida or the Caribbean or Mexico and just stayed home this week??)  This year won't be any different...!  
    • We don't normally go to the supermarket or drugstore on Saturdays (for the same reason), but dh needed to pick up a prescription and stopped at the supermarket across the street to pick up some snacks for Oscar-watching tomorrow night. He reported it was a total madhouse in there, so much so that he could hardly walk down some of the aisles because they were so crowded with people and carts. Yikes!  
  • A reader recently contacted me off-blog to let me know her comments didn't seem to be getting through. I have no idea why (sorry if this has happened to you!), but I was prompted to check my spam folder for the first time in a while. I discovered five comments there that should have been marked "awaiting moderation" -- three dating as far back as October, one dating back to 2014 (?! -- I've certainly checked my spam folder since then...!) and one from... ME (!)(my response to another comment). Weird!  
  • From Stephanie Phillips at World Childless Week:  "My Childless Identity Feels Under Threat." I particularly related to this passage, near the end. It's a pet peeve of mine and something I noticed when I first realized I would be permanently childless, 20+ years ago now (and something I've mentioned on this blog before) -- but Steph puts it so very well here.  [Boldfaced emphasis mine.]
...I have noticed a steady build up of pronatalism trying to eliminate our presence by encompassing the labels of childless and childfree into parenthood. 
No longer do the words solely dictate those who chose not to have children and those who had no choice in the matter. A parent can now be childless or childfree for the day or weekend, as they share their delight at the children being with the other parent, grandparent or convenient childless aunt. Childless has suddenly become a word of positivity when adopted by parents. What a clever way to turn childless grief on its head and hide away the pain; twist it and embrace it as a positive in the parent’s world. Parents shout about the joys of being a parent and equally the joys of being childless.
Just to underline and reiterate everything I have said, I am not saying parenting is not hard and I am not saying I understand what it is like to be a parent. I am not saying that you don’t deserve time away from the kids to relax or party or do anything in between. 
When I tell you I am childless I am sharing a part of my story; a part that represents a deep grief and a true love. I am sharing a really important part of who I am. I am not childless for the afternoon or the weekend, I am childless for the rest of my life.

  • Sara Petersen writes about "momfluencer culture" at "In Pursuit of Clean Countertops," and she recently wrote about the pregnancy of one particular "momfluencer" (unknown to me) and why we find momfluencer pregnancies -- and, by extension, pregnancy generally, both on & offline -- so fascinating. The content is heavy on moms & the shared experience of pregnancy -- but I have to admit that I, as a non-mom, found it (and all her writings) fascinating, because it explains so much about the mom-centric culture we as childless-not-by-choice women exist in and why we feel so alienated at times. (A large and growing chunk of the population will never have children, for various reasons -- so pregnancy and parenthood are not universal experiences, as some assume...)  If other moms find it difficult to live up to this stuff, how do they think it makes us non-moms feel??   Unfortunately, those questions never get asked -- I wish they would, because I think it would be a fascinating conversation and perhaps a lightbulb moment for some thoughtful parents... 

Friday, March 10, 2023

"Killers of a Certain Age" by Deanna Raybourn (re-read)

I don't do a lot of re-reading these days, let alone re-read a book that I only just read three months ago (in mid-December). There are just so many other books calling my name that I want to read...!  

But when the chosen book proved too difficult for people to get their hands on, my Gateway/Lighthouse Women book club decided that "Killers of a Certain Age" by Deanna Raybourn -- which I had suggested as a possible future pick -- would be the subject of our March discussion. And I couldn't resist the opportunity to revisit a book I had so thoroughly enjoyed (plus I wanted to refresh my memory on the intricacies of the plot before our discussion next week).  

The GW/LW book club has one ironclad main rule:  no miracle babies. :)  This book fits the bill:  all four heroines are childless/free. And any change in that status is highly unlikely:  they're also all now 60, menopausal, and celebrating retirement after 40 years of working together -- as an elite squad of highly trained professional assassins, whose job was to help rid the world of dictators, drug lords, arms dealers and the like. Their employer -- a secretive international organization known only as "the Museum" -- is sending them off in style on a luxurious Caribbean cruise. 

Then one of them recognizes a fellow operative on board in disguise -- and they quickly realize that the now-retired hunters have become the hunted. Someone from the Museum has put a hit out on them -- but who, and why?  

I wondered, as I opened this book again, whether it would prove to be as much fun the second time around.  

It was. I (still) loved it, and (as with my first read) blazed through it quickly. Not everyone will like it, obviously, and there are a few less-than-glowing reviews on Goodreads (albeit the average score is currently a pretty favourable 3.92 out of 5). The book unfolds from Billie's perspective (with some flashbacks showing how she was recruited in 1978, and how the four were trained);  it might have been nice to learn a little more about the others than we do.  (Besides tough-girl Billie, there's widowed Helen, the crack sharpshooter;  practical Mary Alice, who hasn't told her wife what she does for a living;  and flirtatious, much-divorced Natalie.)  And yes, there's a lot of killing going on (with the attendant gore), and some readers might find that disturbing.  

From an adoption/loss/infertility/childless content warning perspective, there are a few small potential pitfalls:  there is a pregnant women who makes an appearance near the end of the book (and complains about her pregnancy symptoms).  There's a younger female character who is clearly a surrogate daughter figure for one of the women.  

But quite simply, I (still) thought it was a whole lot of fun, with a lot of humour and some deft comments about ageism and aging, sexism, friendship, grief and loss, roads not taken, and the corporate world. As I wrote the first time around, I'm hoping for sequels -- and a movie adaptation. (I read an interview with the author who admits she had Diane Lane in mind as she wrote!)      

My original rating of 5 stars on Goodreads still stands. :) 

My original review here

This was Book #12 read to date in 2023 (and Book #2 finished in March), bringing me to 27% of my 2022 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 45 books. I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 4 books ahead of schedule. :)  You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2023 tagged as "2023 books."  

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

"Oscar Wars" by Michael Schulman

As I've written here many times before, Oscars night was always sacred in our house when I was growing up. My memories of watching the show go back to the late 1960s. As a pre-teen, I was allowed to stay up late ON A SCHOOL NIGHT to watch with my mother. (I haven't missed an Oscars ceremony yet -- although I did miss an hour of one when I was at my part-time in job in the late 1970s, and we had to set the VCR in 1989 when I bought tickets to "Phantom of the Opera" for the same night). 

Then -- as I described in this post from 2011 -- around 1972-73, when I was 11 or 12 years old, I found a paperback book at my grandmother's local drugstore (in smalltown Minnesota) that had pictures and profiles of ALL the major Oscar winners (plus lists of all the nominees & other winners), dating back to the very beginning of the awards. I read and re-read and referenced it so much that my copy eventually fell apart and had to be held together with rubber bands (it may still be lurking somewhere in my parents' basement). For a long time, if you asked me "Who won Best Supporting Actress in1943?"  I probably could have told you, and even today, 50+ (gulp) years later, I could probably hazard a good guess (although, curiously, I'm a lot hazier on who won the more recent awards). 

 I've bought and read many books about the Oscars and their history in the years since then, and while some got sent to the thrift shop when we downsized to our condo, I still have a few. (My favourite: "Inside Oscar: The Unofficial History of the Academy Awards" by Mason Wiley & Damien Bona. Unfortunately, the last edition was published in 1996, and one of the authors is now dead, so I'm not sure if/when there will ever be a newer edition.)  When I heard about "Oscar Wars: A History of Hollywood in Gold, Sweat, and Tears" by Michael Schulman, I knew I had to add it to my collection, and I downloaded an e-copy the day it became available, with the goal of getting through it before this year's Oscars show next Sunday (March 12th).  

It's a long book (the hardcover edition is 608 pages), and it took longer to get through than I thought it would -- but it's also well written and highly entertaining. "Oscar Wars" is not an exhaustive year-by-year history of the awards (try Wiley & Bona's book for that). It does, however, cover the 95+ years of their existence in 11 chapters, each one focused on a particularly theme or contest or year/period through a few, well-chosen, representative stories -- some I'd never heard before, or had, at least, forgotten -- that tell a larger story about the Oscars, about Hollywood and the movie industry, and about America.  We learn about (among many other things) how the awards were created and the early struggle between the studio moguls and the unions and guilds to control them; the McCarthy era and the blacklist; how Hollywood -- and the Oscars -- were forced to adapt to the social changes of the 1960s and 70s; how the 1989 "Snow White" fiasco unfolded (and how that particular show nevertheless led to some lasting changes);  the painfully slow progress toward diversity, as personified by the stories of Hattie McDaniel, Sidney Poitier and Halle Berry, as well as the #oscarssowhite years;  and the rise and fall of Harvey Weinstein. 

If you enjoy movies and the Oscars as much as I do, you will enjoy this book. And if you don't know a lot about the history of the Oscars, this might be a good volume to whet your appetite for more. 

4.5 stars, rounded down to 4 on Goodreads. 

This was Book #11 read to date in 2023 (and Book #1 finished in March), bringing me to 24% of my 2022 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 45 books. I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 3 books ahead of schedule. :)  You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2023 tagged as "2023 books."