Monday, January 19, 2015

#MicroblogMondays: Six months

This week marks six months since I lost my job and effectively entered early retirement. Here are a few things I've learned or realized since then:

*  I LOVE sleeping in. ;) I do NOT miss the 4:50 a.m. wake-up alarm AT ALL.
*  I am grateful that I don't have to leave the house and stand on the commuter train platform on frigid mornings when the snow has piled up overnight (and the trains are delayed as a result... :p ).
*  I don't miss the stress of work. At all. 
*  I do miss my co-workers. (Well, some of them, lol.)  Not having kids ( = meeting other parents) and working/commuting 10-11 hours a day, we don't have a lot of local friends. And of course, most of the people we do know are working.
* We have saved a bundle of money in transit costs, lunches and coffee/tea alone.
*  I love having the freedom to do what we want, when we want.
*  It's great to be able to go to the mall on a weekday afternoon when it's not as crowded and busy.
*  I loved our daily walks during the summer and fall months (and I especially loved the 10+ pounds I lost as a result).
* I miss those walks now that the weather isn't cooperating. :( 
*  Daytime TV is a wasteland. :p
* I hate to admit it, but now with the busy-ness excitement of Christmas season and my birthday behind us, and sub-zero temperatures outside, we're going a bit stir crazy. 
* We're going to investigate the local rec centre, which includes an indoor track, swimming pool and fitness classes, including yoga (which I have missed). (And by posting this in my blog, perhaps I'll be more likely to follow through, lol.) 

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

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Recent (non-book) reading

Some good articles that I've come across recently:
  • I loved this piece in the New York Times about "Getting grief right."  There was some backlash in the comments over the author's contention that "the size of their grief corresponds to the depth of their love."  I don't necessarily believe that people who grieve less didn't love as much (or vice versa)... I prefer the statement earlier in the piece that "The depth of her sadness was simply a measure of the love she had for her daughter." -- i.e., the fact that we grieve is because we loved the one(s) we have lost.  I also love the Isak Dinesen quote near the end of the story:  “All sorrows can be borne if you put them in a story or tell a story about them.” Isn't that what we're doing when we blog? 
  • Amy Klein (who wrote a regular Fertility Diary for the NYT's Motherlode blog awhile back) examines "Fertility fog" and the average woman's woeful ignorance about her own fertility.  I found Amy's article via Andrew Sullivan's blog The Dish, which has been publishing follow-up comments from readers over the past few days. The entire thread, including the readers' comments, can be viewed here. (The Dish is a subscription site, but you can read a limited number of articles for free before you will be asked to pay up to see more.) 
  • The cover story in this week's Sunday New York Times Magazine featured Korean adoptees who are returning to the country of their birth in search of their identity and culture, if not their birth families. This may be a difficult article for adoptive parents & those considering adoption to read -- and there are no doubt many adoptees who have different points of view -- but I think it's important for us to listen and learn from their stories.  
  • Pamela at Silent Sorority recently wrote a piece for Medium, asking "When does the pursuit of pregnancy go too far?" in which she raises some important questions about some very complex issues.
  • The headline of this Purple Clover piece made me laugh (and the rest of the story is pretty good too):  "Alien Woman Has No Kids:  Why I always feel like a Martian when presented with one simple question." The author is childfree by choice, but I'm willing to bet there a lot of us can relate, particularly to the reactions she gets from parents.  
  • Telling stories -- our stories -- matters, as argued in "The power of story." 

Friday, January 16, 2015

Recent holiday reading


I always manage to get a lot of reading done while I'm on vacation, and this past holiday season was no exception. :) 

I actually read "The Wilder Life:  My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie"  by Wendy McClure before I left on Christmas vacation. I had been searching for a copy of "Pioneer Girl" -- a newly released annotated version of Laura Ingalls Wilder's original unpublished memoir, which served as the foundation for her Little House series of books -- but it appears impossible to get in Canada at the moment. :p  "The Wilder Life" has been in my to-read pile for awhile and recommended to me by other Wilder fans, so it seemed like a good compromise.

McClure rediscovered Wilder's books -- which she had loved as a child -- as an adult. Thus begins her obsession with exploring what she calls "Laura World" -- the world of the books as well as the world of the author and the sometimes jarring differences she finds between them. Not only does she visit every place where Wilder lived during her lifetime (in Wisconsin, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, South Dakota and Missouri -- as well as Almanzo Wilder's boyhood home in upstate New York, the setting for "Farmer Boy"), she learns how to do things such as churn butter and twist hay into sticks for burning (as Laura & her family did during "The Long Winter"). In one memorable chapter, she and her husband go on a rural "homesteading" weekend to immerse themselves in learning pioneer skills. They wind up leaving early when they realize their companions for the weekend are a cult-like group of apocalyptic survivalists.

As an stillbirth mother, I was reminded in this book that Laura's mother, Laura herself and her only daughter, Rose, all lost baby boys at birth or in infancy.  Rose never had any other children. None of Laura's sisters (Mary, Carrie and Grace) had children either, so the Charles Ingalls family tree ends with Laura's daughter -- just as the branch of the family I grew up in will end with me and my childfree-by-choice sister. I also felt a pang of recognition near the end of the book where, watching little girls in bonnets in Walnut Grove, Minnesota, McClure writes: 
Watching the girls with their families made me think about something else, too. I knew my decision to make this trip was  in some small way informed by the fact that Chris and I had decided not to have kids. In other words, I knew that if I wanted to see these places, I'd have to go for myself;  I wouldn't ever be sharing the experience with a daughter, the way Little House fans often do. A friend of mine who similarly lacks the childbearing instinct once said, "I don't want kids because I don't want kids," and it's always made perfect sense to me. I've never really regretted being childless, but it started to feel different after my mother died, in a way I couldn't describe.  
But here in Walnut Grove, I knew what it was:  I felt invisible sometimes. Not ignored, but anomalous and ghostly. I wasn't the girl anymore, and I wasn't the ma.
Despite these insights, I must confess, I wanted to like this book more than I ultimately did. I did like it, but I didn't LOVE it;  I would probably give it about three stars. There is some interesting stuff here, and a few tidbits I had not known or had forgotten about Wilder's life -- but between the back & forthing between the Laura of the books, the real Laura, and McClure's own story, the story rambles a bit, and the ending, where we (and McClure) finally figure out the real, underlying motivation behind her Laura quest, falls just a little bit flat.  Ultimately, I think I would have gotten more out of "Pioneer Girl."

If you are a fan of the Little House books or TV show, and want a bit of an introduction to the author and the truth of her life vs her writing, you might enjoy this book.

*** *** ***

I found "I Will Marry George Clooney (...By Christmas)" by Tracy Bloom on display with other holiday-related books just before leaving for the holidays. "There comes a time in every woman's life when the only answer is to marry George Clooney,"  the tagline reads. As a big fan of George myself, how could I resist, with a title & premise like that?? lol 

This is chick-lit with a British accent and a celebrity tie-in -- extremely light and silly, totally unrealistic at some points and completely predictable at others -- but sometimes, light & silly is what you want & need from a book. It was a quick and easy read and, overall, I enjoyed it.

The plot:  Michelle, 36, is a gourmet chef by training who once dreamed of a career in London, but became pregnant and now works at a dead-end job in a chicken factory in her hometown to support her rebellious 15-year-old daughter, Josie.  Josie has announced her plan to lose her virginity on her upcoming 16th birthday to her loser of a boyfriend, Sean -- which Michelle desperately wants to prevent.  This results in a bet between mom & daughter: Josie agrees that, if Michelle meets and marries George Clooney by Christmas, she will not sleep with Sean and she will go to university. Hanging over Michelle's head is the ghost of her older and more successful sister, Jane, who died 16 years ago in a car accident -- and the unexpected appearance of Jane's fiancĂ©, Rob, whose return to town creates more complications. The lingering impact of grief and its longterm effects on Michelle and her family was one of the things I liked most about this book.

Michelle's quest to meet and marry the desirable Mr. Clooney is more about a mother's love for her daughter and her desire to see her daughter live a better life -- to encourage her, by this outrageous example, to pursue her dreams -- than any huge celebrity obsession. (Also, other than the title and cover design, it really doesn't have a lot to do with Christmas.)  But it's fun to watch/read as (with the help of her loyal friends and coworkers) she confronts -- and overcomes -- one obstacle after another in pursuit of her goal.  Three stars.

*** *** ***

When I was in high school, I discovered the novels of D.E. Stevenson at my local library. Dorothy Emily Stevenson Peploe (1892-1973) was a cousin of Robert Louis Stevenson (Treasure Island, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, etc.), and wrote more than 40 novels of her own between 1923 and 1970. Seven million copies of her books were sold in both Britain and North America during those years. I adored her books, and when I was in university, I found a couple of dog-eared paperbacks by her in a used bookstore (including my personal favourite, "The Baker's Daughter").

Over the years, I have occasionally searched for more Stevenson's books -- sadly, without much success, as they have mostly gone out of print (and most of the used or older edition copies I've found online are horrendously priced).  They are perhaps a little old-fashioned, very much products of the time & place they were written -- but still, well-crafted and realistic stories -- funny, charming romances, comedies of manners and family dramas featuring engaging characters. As one recent cover blurb reads:  "There are no vampires, no faeries, no weird creatures, just a sweet story about real people living in a world I've always dreamed of."
 
"The Baker's Daughter," for example, is the story of Sue, an "old maid" who lives in small-town Scotland and keeps house for her widowed father, the village baker. Her father remarries and Sue, feeling like a third wheel, takes the bold step of leaving home and becoming the housekeeper for an eccentric artist and his wife who just moved to the area. When the bored wife returns to her glamorous life in the city, Sue stays on -- much to the shock of the scandalized villagers -- until (predictably) she realizes she has fallen in love with her employer.  It's a sweet little story that would likely never be written today -- and therein lies part of its charm, I think.
 
This past summer, dh & I were touring the home of the author Lucy Maud Montgomery in Leaskdale, Ontario (which I wrote about here), and noticed that several of the women in our tour group were wearing nametags with their names & locations. They came from all over North America -- Toronto, Tennessee, Missouri. "They must be part of an Internet group of some kind," dh guessed and, as we trooped upstairs to view the bedrooms, we asked them what group they were part of & how they had all met.
 
Turns out they WERE part of an Internet group (on Yahoo), and were in Toronto for their annual meetup. And -- in one of those weird, "small world" coincidences, they told me they were all fans of "a British author named D.E. Stevenson... you've probably never heard of her." 
 
I just about fell over. "You're kidding! I LOVE her stuff!"  I said, as dh rolled his eyes & shook his head in amazement.
 
They all just about fell over too -- what are the odds, right?? -- and invited me to join their group. :)  They told me that several Stevenson books have recently been reissued in new paperback editions, and since then, I have found five titles, in bookstores and online. The new covers have all been designed to show chic-ly dressed women in 1920s & 30s-era fashions (see one above). My theory is they're hoping to attract "Downton Abbey" fans as readers. ;) 
 
It's been quite a while since I last read a Stevenson novel, and I don't believe I had ever read "Miss Buncle's Book before. First published in 1934, it's about quiet, guileless, unassuming Miss Barbara Buncle, whose diminishing dividends (no doubt because it's the Depression) have forced her to look for ways to increase her income.
 
And so, Barbara writes a book -- a thinly disguised portrait of Silverstream, her hometown, and its residents (all using different names, but highly recognizable). To Barbara's surprise, an affable publisher agrees to publish her book (under the pseudonym "John Smith").  To her even greater surprise, it becomes a bestseller -- particularly in Silverstream, where the enraged residents immediately recognize themselves and set out to learn John Smith's true identity. Each chapter features a different Silverstream resident, his or her reaction to the book, and what happens to them after they've read it.
 
Among the new Stevenson editions in my to-read pile are two sequels:  "Miss Buncle Married" and "The Two Mrs. Abbotts."  I am looking forward to reading them soon! 
 
*** *** ***
 
I wish I had the funds to hand a copy of "WonderWomen: Sex, Power & the Quest for Perfection" by Debora L. Spar to every young woman I know, and to every naysayer who wonders whether feminism is still relevant or needed.
 
It's not that this book brings any hugely revolutionary ideas or insights to the table -- but it is a readable and well researched summary about how women's lives have evolved over the past 50 years, where we still have work to do and some possible solutions. My copy is full of dog-eared pages.
 
Spar is President of Barnard College (a prominent American women's college). She is roughly a year or two younger than I am, so her cultural references are mostly quite familiar to me -- e.g., the iconic ad for the 1970s perfume, Charlie (a huge bottle of which once adorned my dresser top). Her book is essentially a tour of the stages of her life -- and my life, and most women's lives of the past 50 years -- from childhood through establishing careers, marriages and families to aging -- and what lessons young women today can & should draw from our experiences. 

"Somehow -- without meaning to -- we became convinced... that having it all meant doing it all... And that being good meant being perfect," she says near the beginning of her book. (p. 50) The inflation of expectations, and the quest for perfection and control (versus the promise of liberation) is a running theme throughout the book (thus explaining the subtitle). 

Spar is the author of a previous book on reproductive technologies ("The Baby Business: How Money, Science, and Politics Drive the Commerce of Conception,"  which I have not read) who has experienced birth, pregnancy loss and adoption. She believes that pregnancy, birth and children remain central to most women's lives and are a core issue that make women's lives essentially different from men's -- and that we need to recognize and deal with this difference. As a result, the book includes some interesting discussions about the quest for conception, including ARTs, infertility and pregnancy loss, "pregnancy pornography" and the modern motherhood.

You may not agree with all of her prescriptions, but hers is a thoughtful and welcome voice in the ongoing conversation.  
 
*** *** ***
 
I have, as I have admitted in the past, a weakness for celebrity memoirs, particularly those rooted in Old Hollywood. "A Story Lately Told" by Anjelica Huston fits the bill perfectly.  The style is sometimes a bit disjointed, but there are some wonderful stories here, well told and full of familiar names.

Huston was born in Los Angeles but spent most of her growing up years in Ireland and in London (she was a teenager there during the Swinging Sixties). She was also a model in New York before moving back to LA in the early 1970s (which is the point where this book ends).  She is the daughter of legendary Hollywood director John Huston and granddaughter of actor Walter Huston -- the first three-generation Oscar-winning family in Academy Award history. Her mother, Enrica (Ricki) Soma, was a ballerina, and the fourth of John Huston's five wives. She died tragically in a car accident in 1969 when she was just 29 and her daughter was just 17. Huston writes movingly about her mother's death, how she and her siblings found out and dealt with the devastation. 

A second Huston memoir, "Watch Me," was released this fall, covering her Hollywood career, including her longtime romance with Jack Nicholson. I'm waiting for the paperback, but my understanding is she left Nicholson when she found out another woman was pregnant with his child. She eventually found love and marriage (but not children) with sculptor Robert Graham, who died in 2008.

I am not sure whether Huston is childless by choice or circumstance (or perhaps a bit of both), but hearing this story about her & Nicholson, I was reminded of Pattie Boyd's memoir (which I wrote about here), her struggles to conceive with both of her husbands (George Harrison & Eric Clapton) and how she left Clapton when another woman became pregnant with his child.

I'm looking forward to reading Huston's sequel (& possibly finding out more).
 
*** *** ***
 
These were books #17 through #21 that I read in 2014.

Since coming home, I've read one book (book #1 for 2015). 

I was happy to start the new year off with a new Flavia de Luce mystery by Alan Bradley (even happier that it was on the bookstore shelves several days before the scheduled release date, and even more so that I managed to get a discounted price on it). :)  Over the last few years, I've become very fond of Flavia -- a precocious 11-year-old would-be chemist (now about 12) -- and eagerly look forward to each new tale of her adventures, set in early 1950s post-war Britain. The last was published at this same time last year, which I blogged about here.

The 7th Flavia book, "As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust" picks up where the last one left off, with Flavia en route across the Atlantic to attend her late mother's old boarding school in Canada. But all is not quite what it seems at Miss Bodycote's Female Academy: Flavia has barely arrived when a charred, mummified body wrapped in a flag tumbles out of the fireplace in her room. Whose body, how did it come to be there, who put it there, and why?  (And that's just for starters...)

I have to admit, while I adore Flavia, and the book was as well written and fun to read as usual, it ultimately left me feeling unsatisfied. I would rank most of the previous Flavia books 3.5 or 4 stars out of 4;  this one would probably rate a bit lower, perhaps a 3 to 3.5.  In part, I think this is because the story takes place away from England, the village of Bishop's Lacey, and the family estate of Buckshaw, including Flavia's family and the other familiar characters we've come to know in the previous books. Flavia is homesick for Buckshaw in this book and, frankly, so was I. There is a new cast of characters, and new adventures to be had, of course -- but perhaps a few too many new characters to keep straight sometimes, and few that measure up to the ones we've come to know and love in the previous books.

(Also somewhat unsatisfying (**SPOILER ALERT!!**) -- I was taken aback when Flavia was sent off to boarding school in Canada. I assumed (as did many others, I'm sure) that this was a major shift in the arc of the overall story, and that the next several books, at least, would be set there. Instead, at the very end of the book, Flavia is on her way back to her family in Merrie Olde England, leaving me wondering, "So what the heck was THAT all about??")

While the main mystery of the book is, of course, resolved in the end, the reader is still left with a lot of loose ends and unanswered questions. Presumably (hopefully), there will be future books where more of the ongoing mystery will be revealed and questions answered. 

This is one book where, to get the most out of your experience, I think you should probably read the previous books in the series first. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

#MicroblogMondays: 54

So today's topic was an obvious one for me, one I couldn't really ignore (even though I might want to).

It's my birthday today. I am 54 years old.

Now how did that happen??

Of course, as my wise grandma once said in a discussion about aging, "Consider the alternative!"  ;) 

Realistically, more than half my life is over. I am a bereaved mother. I never got to have the family I wanted, and my childbearing years are (pretty much) over (STILL waiting to get through menopause...!). I lost my job this past year. Not exactly great for the ego (not to mention the pocketbook). :p

On the other hand, I have a wonderful family, including a husband I adore, I look younger than my age (notwithstanding the drugstore clerk who asked me recently if I was a senior)(!!!)(it was Seniors Day = extra discount -- maybe I should have said "yes"??), and I now have time to explore what else I want to do with the time on this earth that is left to me.

All in all, that makes me a pretty lucky girl/woman/old lady/whatever, I think. ;) 

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

Monday, January 5, 2015

2014 Year in review

It's that time of year again -- time for looking back on the year that's just ended, and looking ahead to the year that's now beginning to unfold. (I meant to have this posted on New Year's Eve or Day, but the best-laid plans, etc.... I'm 1/2 Ukrainian so let's just say I have until Jan. 14th, which is New Year's on the Uk. calendar, lol.) 

I started doing this year-end meme four years ago -- and, although I feel like many of the answers don't change much from year to year, it's still a great way to look back and keep track. Feel free to use the questions on your own blog (& let me know if you do!).

(I actually found another "year in review" template and was debating whether to use it instead this year. Maybe I will do it as well, if there's not too much overlap... we'll see!) 

1. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

As I have said in the past, I don't really make new year's resolutions anymore -- they tend to be pretty much the same ones, year after year. So here are the perennials, and the progress I made (or didn't) in 2014:
  • Lose weight.  I actually did lose about 10 pounds in the first few months after I lost my job, which made me very, very happy!  :)  I've kind of plateaued (sp?), but hopefully once the weather gets nicer & we can start walking again, more pounds will come off.  
  • Exercise more. (And hopefully lose more weight...!)  In the first few months after I lost my job -- since we now had more time for stuff like exercise (always a great excuse in the past) -- dh & I started taking walks together. We'd head out after breakfast and before taking our showers, for about 45 minutes, three to five times a week.  A nearby high school has a beautiful paved track, and we'd walk up there, do a couple of laps and then walk home again by a slightly different route.  It got to be something we both looked forward to doing (and of course, seeing the number on the scale get lower was a big incentive to keep doing it...!).  My scale is old and not entirely accurate, but between July and December, I lost somewhere between 10 and (not quite) 15 pounds.  I could obviously stand to lose more (much more...!) -- but, it's a good start!  ;)  However, since the advent of colder & wetter weather, we haven't been out at all (and I haven't checked the scale lately). I am hoping to look into yoga classes at the local rec centre in the new year to help bridge the activity gap until the nicer weather returns in the spring.    
  • Write more in my journal (blog??). Haven't written in my paper journal in years. Blogging: Being unemployed has been good for my blogging output as well as weight loss.  I wrote 96 posts in 2014, which was more than I wrote in 2012 or 2013 -- but not quite as many as the 99 I wrote in 2011.     
  • Read more of the books that have piled up around the house. (Need to do better at this... the faster I read, the more I buy, it seems... yikes!) I didn't do quite as well as 2013, when I read 26 books, or one every two weeks. I read 20 books in 2014 (21 if you count the one I started on New Years Eve & finished Jan. 2nd while still on vacation), 16 of which I have reviewed (so far!) on this blog. Of course, one of those books was Mark Lewisohn's opus about the Beatles, "All These Years: Tune In" which, at 803 pages, plus notes, I would argue, should probably count as at least 2 books. ;)   
  • Tackle some of the clutter that never seems to go away. ("Some" being the operative word...)  Since losing my job, I have substantially reduced the magazine pile in the corner of the living room, taken a couple of boxes of kitchen paraphernalia and bags of clothes to Goodwill, and have started taking baby steps toward culling some of our book collection (ouch!). I also threw out an embarrassing amount of old makeup and skin care products that had either dried up, looked or smelled "off" or that I knew I would never use (especially now that I am not working & putting on makeup every day), and have postponed buying new skincare products, bath gel, etc., in favour of using some of my vast collection of miniatures, accumulated through years of "gift with purchase" specials. But there is still lots of scope to do much more...!
  • Finally do something with the spare bedroom that was to have been the nursery (get new furniture & linens to replace dh's college apartment castoffs). Still on the to-do list... 
  • Set aside the nephews' scrapbooks for awhile, & start a scrapbook for dh & me (that will hopefully be finished in time for our 25th anniversary in 2010). And maybe (finally) start Katie's, too. Sadly, have not done any scrapbooking since fall 2009.  I have more time now (& still have a TON of supplies to use...!), so I am hoping to carve out some regular time for scrapbooking into my schedule in the new year.
2. What did you do in 2014 that you’d never done before?

Lost my job. :p :( 

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

Yes, Parents' Neighbours' Daughter gave birth to Princess #2 this fall. :)

4. Did anyone close to you die?

Thankfully (& knocking wood), nobody close. I did attend a couple of funeral home visitations for relatives of dh's cousins and for the (much-older) husband of a friend. 

5. What countries did you visit?

Spent the Victoria Day long weekend in May in the U.S. (Minnesota, specifically), celebrating my uncle & aunt's 50th wedding anniversary with my extended family. It was an expensive mini-vacation (made me feel very cosmopolitan, jetting off for the weekend with a carry-on in tow) -- the airfare was ridiculous -- but I am very glad I went.

6. What would you like to have in 2015 that you lacked in 2014?

More calm, less drama. :p  :( 

7. What date(s) from 2014 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

Valentine's Day, when Oldest Nephew proposed to his girlfriend (eeekkk!).

July 22nd, the day I lost my job.

Dec. 1st, the first official day of dh's early retirement (after he lost his job in April 2013).

The day this fall that Princess #2 arrived.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Surviving all the upheaval, both personally & professionally. Not crying in front of my senior VP as she told me I no longer had a job.

9. What was your biggest failure?

It's hard not to feel like I failed in some way by losing my job.  :(   I probably should have looked for another job within the company or even within the department years ago, but I was (mostly) happy with what I was doing (until right near the end, anyway), and I wasn't keen to take on any major new challenges at this point in my career, and hoping to hang on until I retired in another few years. Oh well.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Thankfully, no. A few minor colds & assorted aches & pains, but nothing that a couple of ibuprofen couldn't fix. 

11. What was the best thing you bought?

 New dishes this fall. :)    

12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?

Malala Yousafzai (again). So happy she finally won the Nobel Peace Prize. (Take that, Taliban...)

13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?

As usual, politicians continue to top my list. Although I don't live in the city of Toronto proper, it was a relief to finally be (more or less) rid of the Ford Brothers after this fall's elections! :p 

Also, while I'd heard rumours about the creepy behaviour of a certain well-known Canadian radio host & interviewer, the scandal that erupted this fall was still quite a shocker.

14. Where did most of your money go?

Beyond the essentials of daily living, and savings, our biggest indulgence is probably reading materials -- books & magazines.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

My Minnesota trip. :)  So glad to be able to share the occasion with my family. I have missed too many of these over the years.

Oldest Nephew's engagement.

The arrival of Princess #2.

The possibilities of life in retirement, post-work.

16. What song will always remind you of 2014?

 "Let it Go" from "Frozen" -- both because it was ubiquitous, but also because it was a bit of a message for me personally.  

17. Compared to this time last year, are you: (a) happier or sadder? (b) thinner or fatter? (c) richer or poorer?

(a) happier (b) slightly thinner (c) slightly richer.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?

While I got to do a lot of things this fall & Christmas season that I didn't have time for when I was working, there were still a few things I wanted to do that didn't get crossed off my to-do wish list (e.g., the Christmas market in the Distillery District, the Donny & Marie Christmas show). Maybe next year?

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Last year, I said, "Worrying. It never does much good anyway..." This proved true again this year. I was sooooooo incredibly stressed at work for the first six months of the year. I was trying so hard to "step up my game" as we were all told we had to do (and wound up making some really dumb mistakes, probably as a result of the stress). And I still lost my job anyway.

20. How did you spend Christmas?

In the usual way:  with my family (my parents, sister & her boyfriend), for a slightly longer period this year (because we could...!).  Mostly indoors (because it was damned cold most of the time we were there...!).  Entertained by near-daily visits from the Little Princesses.  ; )  Playing lots of cards & dominos.

21. Did you fall in love in 2014?

Never fell out. ; )

22. What was your favorite TV program?

My favourite continues to be The Big Bang Theory. : )  Of the new(er) shows, dh & I both get a kick out of "Bob's Burgers." Sad to see the end of The Republic of Doyle (series ended), and the rebooted Dallas (cancelled). :(

23. Do you hate anyone now that you did not hate this time last year?

I don't think so. Hate is a pretty strong word. There are certainly some people I think less of than others. 

24. What was the best book you read?

I read a lot of great books this year (& I reviewed all but the most recent of them at least briefly on this blog). The one that really stood out for me, though, hands down, was "The Beatles: All These Years: Tune In" by Mark Lewisohn. I cannot WAIT until the second volume is published!! I've heard possible dates as early as 2016 and as late as 2020 (noooooooo......!!!).  

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?

As in the past, I must admit, I don't listen to a lot of new music.

26. What did you want and get?

New dishes and new glasses (although I am still adjusting to them...!).  Early retirement (albeit a lot earlier than I had planned and not by my choice :p ).  Time to more fully enjoy the fall and Christmas seasons.

27. What did you want and not get?

Still waiting on that sunspot vacation. ;) 

28. What was your favourite film of this year? 

We saw 17 movies in 2014 and they were all pretty good.  I think my favourite was probably "Guardians of the Galaxy."  I'm not hugely into comic books or superheroes (although I did think "Captain America 2:  The Winter Soldier" was pretty good), but this one was a whole lot of fun. And I LOVED the 1970s soundtrack (for obvious reasons, cough cough...). ;)

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I was 53. It was a Sunday, so we went for dinner at our favourite steakhouse on Saturday night. On Sunday afternoon, my actual birthday, we went to see the movie "Inside Llewyn Davis" (as I wrote here).  54 coming up shortly...!

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

I had a hard time thinking of an answer for this one. Not losing my job?  Frankly, I'm not sure that continuing to work would have made my year more satisfying. It might have been nice if they had fired me BEFORE I planned & took my summer vacation (instead of the day after I returned)... a vacation which, by the way, I took at a time that wasn't my first choice, in deference to a colleague who was heading off on maternity leave. Had I known, I could have stayed longer and maybe headed to a big family reunion with my parents. Oh well.   Less stress generally would have helped a lot. Hopefully now that work is not an issue, stress will be less of an issue in 2015.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2014?

In the latter half: yoga pants & T-shirts, lol.  My new uniform!!

32. What kept you sane?

I have to say that while losing your job is not a pleasant experience, the stress I was feeling for the first half of the year was worse -- so while it certainly comes with its own associated stresses, losing my job probably did, ultimately, keep me sane. It gave me more time to take walks, read, spend time with dh, and generally enjoy life again.

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

This was another one I had to think about. I'm still an admirer of Malala, Col. Chris Hadfield and Pope Francis, as cited in last year's meme. Elizabeth Warren in the States is another name that popped into mind.

34. What political issue stirred you the most?

The centralization of power and extreme message control in Ottawa these days concerns me. Scientists, for example, are not only having their funding slashed but they are not allowed to tell the truth as they see it. (And if they do, the government ignores their advice anyway.)  When ministers and MPs do speak, it's almost Orwellian to listen to them. Time for an election, I think...!

35. Who did you miss?

As always, my daughter, and my grandparents.

The Princess (and now, her baby sister!) -- only getting to see her twice a year, and occasionally on Skype, sucks. :p

My childhood best friends. Don't get to see enough of them. :(

I miss some of the people I worked with. (Some. Not all, lol.)  I miss being downtown (although I do NOT miss the daily commute, and the 5 a.m. wake-up call that came with it...!)  and the daily interaction with the baristas at the Second Cup and Tim Hortons, the father and son who ran the newsstand and the husband & wife couple who ran the lottery counter. I sometimes wonder if they wonder what happened to me?

I miss the little salon near my office where I had manicures, pedicures and waxing done for the past 20 years. Alas, even if I still worked downtown, it's not there anymore. The owner retired and closed up shop this fall. I went to a local nail shop recommended by a former coworker, and they were pretty good (also reasonably priced), but my feet were just not quite as silky smooth afterwards as my old pedicurist got them.

36. Who was the best new person you met?

(I will have to think about this one.)

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2014. 

Keep your resume & list of accomplishments up to date. I hadn't dusted mine off in years, and trying to pull all those details from the recesses of my memory was an experience I would not care to repeat in a hurry. 

And on a related note, never keep anything at your desk at work that you couldn't easily leave behind. I was fortunate that my personal things (framed photos, coffee mugs, stuffed animals, etc.) were packed up & shipped to me at home. And, when I asked about them, they also sent along all of my performance appraisals & benefits files (with insurance receipts, etc.).  Not all companies might have done that -- I really should have kept copies of those kinds of things at home. (It was much easier to finish revising my resume once I had that information on hand!)  Fortunately, I did have copies of some (although not all) of the publications I had worked on at home.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

"Let it go.... let it go..." ;)

New Year's Eve 2007
New Year's Eve 2008
New Year's resolutions for 2009
New Year's resolutions for bereaved parents
New Year's Eve 2009
New Year's Eve 2010
Year in Review 2011

#MicroblogMondays: New year

Time flies when you're on vacation.  I always think I'm going to have all this time for blogging and catching up on blog reading & commenting when I visit my parents. It never works out. I drag my computer out of its case and set everything up... and then lunch or dinnertime comes and we have to clear the kitchen table to make way for plates & cutlery. Or my mother asks me to help her wrap some gifts or come with her to the grocery store. Or lectures me that I spend too much time on that thing (this after she herself has been immersed on Facebook on her own netbook for an hour ;) ).  Or people drop by to visit (including, almost every day, the two enchanting Little Princesses whom we love to spoil.)  Picking up & setting down a book is easier, so I tend to get more reading than blogging done while I'm there.

Anyway -- it's been a few weeks -- but I'm back. :)

Coming up (eventually):  the annual Year in Review meme, as well as reviews of the five latest books I've read (four on vacation, one before). 

Happy new year!

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

Monday, December 15, 2014

Pre-holiday whine (make mine chardonnay...)

SPOILER ALERT:  Last week was the series finale of Republic of Doyle, a CBC-TV comedy-drama series set in Newfoundland about a father-son private detective team. It ran for six seasons, and I probably started watching somewhere around season 3. The plots have sometimes been a bit silly and unrealistic (who knew there was so much crime on the Rock??), but I have loved the beautiful scenery (each episode is like an hour-long travel ad for Newfoundland), the dry humour, the sharp dialogue and the colourful characters, particularly the interplay between the father (Malachy) and Jake, his rogue of a youngest son.

Towards the end of the finale, Jake's romantic interest, Police Sgt. Leslie Bennett, lay unconscious in a hospital bed with a gunshot wound. Jake had just learned she was pregnant with his child -- and his stepmom, Rose, with a grave face, told him the doctor needed to talk with him. Cut to a commercial (of course).

Naturally, given my own personal history, my first inclination was to wail, "She can't be having a miscarriage, not with 15 minutes left in the show!!"  Then the obvious dawned on me. "No -- wait -- DUH!! It's twins! The doctor wants to tell him it's twins!"

And sure enough, in the final moments of the show, we see a happy (and very pregnant -- again!!) Leslie with Rose (and Jake nearby), each holding an adorable toddler (boy & girl). Television can be so predictable sometimes... 

*** *** ***

Friday afternoon, we headed to the mall for haircuts (and some colour & highlights for me). Generally, it's great to be at the mall on a weekday -- much preferable to weekend crowds, especially at Christmastime...! -- but being a Friday afternoon just before Christmas, the parking lot was noticeably much fuller, there were lineups outside the Pandora & video game stores, and our stylist was already running well behind schedule, swamped with women having their hair cut, coloured and styled before Christmas parties later that night.

My appointment was for 12:30;  I didn't get into the chair until past 1 p.m. while she worked on two other women ahead of me, and while we had been told that someone else already had the slot between me & dh, she worked on two other women before he finally had his turn (and my husband is NOT good at waiting around... if your appointment is for 12:30, he thinks your butt should be in that chair by 12:35 at the latest).

(She is the wife of an old friend of dh's, so no, we will not be switching stylists. She also does our hair really well, lol. And she's been flexible with us when we've been running late to an appointment because of commuter train delays, etc.)

It was not entirely poor planning or overbooking on her part or the salon's.  "Everyone showed up late," she complained to me later, "and then they all HAD to leave by a certain time to pick up their kids from school." While I could relate to demanding customers and holiday pressures (having worked in retail at Christmastime myself, once upon a time), as a childless-not-by-choice woman (not to mention a longtime customer), what I heard was that my time and hair was considered less important than a mom's. I don't have kids to pick up;  therefore, my time is more flexible (and less important) and I must take a backseat.

In fact, it's assumed that I WILL take a backseat -- that I will understand & be willing to accommodate them. Put up & shut up. And I usually will. But it would be nice to be asked, not just assume.  Or it would be nice if, just once, someone who was late (mom or not) was told something like, "Sorry, you're late, I'm behind schedule myself and I have another client whose appointment was ahead of yours and she's still waiting. I can get to you in half an hour, or you can reschedule with the receptionist." 

By the way, it's been an eye-opener for me to witness the whole afternoon pickup phenomenon firsthand. I had heard about it from others -- but dh & I drive past several schools going to & from the local mall, often just as school is letting out in the afternoon (which can be as early as 2:30 p.m.!!). The streets are lined for blocks with cars full of travel mug-toting parents, pecking at their cellphones as they wait, while others walk by with their young charges.  Cars pull up to & away from the curb, sometimes without signalling.

It's ridiculous. It's also somewhat dangerous.  I can see why parents are nervous about having their kids (particularly the younger ones) walk home by themselves with all those cars & buses around -- but at the same time, by driving to school to pick them up (and most of them probably live within a reasonable walking distance anyway), they become part of the problem and not part of the solution.

I always walked to & from school by myself or with my sister (once she started school too), starting in kindergarten. (Six blocks, across a highway) (albeit not a particularly busy one -- it was a rural community in the 1960s).  So did all my classmates (unless they lived on a farm outside of town, in which case they rode a bus). I only ever remember my mother dropping us off &/or picking us up if we were running late, heading to an appointment after school, or if the weather was really crappy.  One more sign of how much times have changed (and not always for the better).

*** *** ***

Over the weekend, we headed to BIL's to celebrate Oldest Nephew's 26th (!!!) birthday. SIL wrapped her arms around her son & hugged him, saying, "These boys are my greatest accomplishment."

She has every right to be incredibly proud. She & BIL have raised two fine young men.  They have both grown up to be tall, handsome, smart, thoughtful, kind, generous and funny, and have never given their parents trouble (aside from the usual kid complaints about messy rooms and money that presumably grows on trees, etc.).

But dang, that was an "ouch" moment if there ever was one. :(