Sunday, September 21, 2014

What a crock!

For years, I heard friends, online & "in real life," rave about their crockpots (slow cookers). Pop your ingredients into the pot, turn it on and when you arrive home at night, voila, there's dinner for the whole family.

At first, I didn't think a crockpot was for me. To be honest, I thought of it as a "mom" thing -- a timesaver for busy moms, who needed to make big dinners for an entire family.

Then I realized that *I'm* a busy person too, even if I'm not a mom -- and there are such things as reducing portions, leftovers and freezers. ;) 

So I asked for a crockpot for Christmas one year -- and I got one. Unfortunately, I didn't realize just how big or HEAVY those things can be. I probably could have hauled it home with me if (a) I left everything else that had been in my suitcase behind, & (b) paid the airline extra fees for overweight baggage. I was also afraid of cracking or breaking the ceramic insert in transit.

So I asked my mom to return the crockpot. She gave me a gift card instead & when I got back home, I went shopping & bought my own crockpot.

Unfortunately, dh balked at the idea of leaving stuff cooking on the counter while we were out of the house for 11 hours (!), working & commuting.  And we always seemed to find something else to make for dinner on the weekend.  So the crockpot sat in my cupboard, unused and forlorn.

Fast forward to the present:  both dh & I are now unemployed/early-retired. We have more time now to cook, and to think about dinner and menu planning, and to try new recipes -- to expand our repertoire beyond the fast & convenient foods we'd come to rely on while we were working.

So I suggested dusting off the crockpot.

About two weeks ago, we made a pot roast for Sunday dinner that turned out beautifully and gave us enough leftovers that we were able to feast on hot roast beef sandwiches for the next few days for lunch.

Tonight, we tried beef stew, which also turned out well. 

Crockpots -- not just for moms. ;) 

Do you have & use a crockpot? Any favourite recipes or recipe sites you can recommend (keeping in mind that I have a tomato allergy = no tomatos, tomato sauce or paste or barbecue sauce). 

Friday, September 19, 2014

One of those moments

When dh & I first met (over, GULP, 30 years ago...!)  and began comparing musical tastes, we discovered we were both Billy Joel fans, with several of his albums each in our collections. "Just the Way You Are" was a monster, monster hit when I was in high school, and one of the songs we considered for the first dance song at our wedding (we eventually went with "You & I" by Crystal Gayle & Eddie Rabbitt -- which seems oddly appropriate, in retrospect...). We didn't even think about what song we should dance to LAST, before making our exit -- so we wound up dancing to the DJ's pick --  which was "This Night,"  from Billy Joel's then-recent album, "An Innocent Man." 

The lyrics might have been a little odd for a wedding (it's about a one-night stand that is turning into something else) -- but it's a wildly romantic song, based on a Beethoven melody, with lush, 50s-style doo-wop harmonies I've always loved. I'm so glad it was included in our wedding. :) 

 


Yesterday, we tackled the weekly housecleaning & put on a CD of Billy Joel hits to keep us moving along and make the chores go by faster. 

After we finished, dh was upstairs taking a shower & I was catching my breath when "Lullaby (Goodnight, My Angel) from the "River of Dreams" album came on.

I've heard it before, of course, before & after Katie. But I don't think I ever really LISTENED to the lyrics before.

And the tears rolled down my face.



Goodnight, my angel
Time to close your eyes
And save these questions for another day
I think I know what you've been asking me
I think you know what I've been trying to say
I promised I would never leave you
And you should always know
Wherever you may go
No matter where you are
I never will be far away

Goodnight, my angel
Now it's time to sleep
And still so many things I want to say
Remember all the songs you sang for me
When we went sailing on an emerald bay
And like a boat out on the ocean
I'm rocking you to sleep
The water's dark
And deep inside this ancient heart
You'll always be a part of me

Goodnight, my angel
Now it's time to dream
And dream how wonderful your life will be
Someday your child may cry
And if you sing this lullabye
Then in your heart
There will always be a part of me

Someday we'll all be gone
But lullabyes go on and on...
They never die
That's how you
And I
Will be

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Odds & ends

  • I missed Microblog Mondays this week. :(  Hoping to get back into the groove next Monday.
  • In case you missed it, one of the authors of the book "Mastering the Art of Quitting," which I recently reviewed here, dropped by to comment on my post. :)  Thank you, Peg. :)  
  • Peg said she never thought of her book in terms of infertility.  You never know just when or how your message is going to touch someone, do you? 
  • Speaking of authors & books, Lorraine Ash recently guest blogged at Life Without Baby. I read Lorraine's beautiful memoir, Life Touches Life: A Mother's Story of Stillbirth and Healing, shortly after it was published in 2004 -- seven years post-Katie but still a few years pre-blogging. I donated a few copies to our perinatal grief support group, and it's one of the books I have constantly recommended to newly bereaved parents over the years.
  • Lorraine's story was especially meaningful to me because it paralleled mine in so many ways. We are of a similar age, both became pregnant after 35, both lost our only babies (girls) within a year of each other (my Katie in 1998, her Victoria Helen in 1999), and both have opted to remain childless/free since then. We both come from journalism/writing backgrounds, and (we discovered) we're both January girls. I sent her an email to tell her how much I loved her book (something I don't often do) & we traded emails for a while -- something she remembered when I commented on her guest post at LWB!  
  • Lorraine has written a sequel/followup book, Self and Soul:  Creating a Meaningful Life, which I will look forward to ordering online soon.
  • Saw this great article online recently about the emotional and physical benefits of writing. We bloggers are definitely doing something right. :)
  • I got on a scale the other morning. In the two months since I was laid off, I have lost 5-6 pounds. :) (I was about the heaviest I have ever been at that point. :p ) Dh & I have been walking 30-45 minutes, 3-4 mornings a week and I guess that's helped. The Catholic high school near us has a beautiful paved track. We walk up there after breakfast (while the kids are in class), do a few laps & then walk home again. We figure it's 1.5-2 miles, depending on the route we take and the number of laps (usually 2-3). I could certainly stand to lose a lot more weight, but it's a step in the right direction. :)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Infertility, childlessness and mental health

The article from TIME magazine popped up on my Facebook feed tonight, bearing the provocative headline "Why Not Having Children Makes Some People Crazy."  (And of course we all know that "some people" = women, right?) (Gateway Women, which shared the article, helpfully added the hashtag #notcrazybutgrieving.)

The Daily Mail's headline was better, albeit still "duh" inducing:  "Infertility really does cause heartache."

Despite the groaners, these articles do highlight an interesting new study about infertility and childlessness that was published this week in the journal Human Reproduction. I'd encourage you to read the abstract and/or full text of the study itself (about 9 PDF pages), which followed up with 7,148 women who underwent fertility treatment 11-17 years earlier at one of 12 IVF hospitals in The Netherlands. Here are a few of the highlights: 
  • The study suggests that it's not so much how badly you wanted children that affects your mental health, but how successful you are at letting go of that dream (whether you have children or not).
  • Women who already had children but wanted more had worse mental health than women who wanted children, didn't have them, but were able to move on with their lives.   
  •  Infertility patients need to be better informed about all possible treatment outcomes -- including possibility of failure -- and better supported with non-treatment options, coping strategies and other resources when treatment ends. "An anthropological study focusing on daily practice in reproductive care suggests that currently this does not happen," the study says.  "...Indeed, childless couples coping with ending treatment express the need to find new role models who can help them realize how to live a life without children." 
  • "It is easier to let go of a child-wish if women find other things in life that are fulfilling, like a career,"  says Dr. Sofia Gameiro, one of the chief authors of the study.
The TIME article concludes (and I totally love this):   
The paper, which was published online on Sept. 10 in Human Reproduction, recommends sustained psychological counseling for people who did not conceive after fertility treatments and a lot of frank talk about the possibility of failure during the treatments. The author also throws some shade on those “I-can-do-anything-if I-try” types (cough, Americans, cough). “There is a moment when letting go of unachievable goals (be it parenthood or other important life goals) is a necessary and adaptive process for well-being,” said Gameiro. “We need to consider if societies nowadays actually allow people to let go of their goals and provide them with the necessary mechanisms to realistically assess when is the right moment.”
This fits entirely with the book I recently read & reviewed here, "Mastering the Art of Quitting."

I also liked some of the stuff in this article/video clip from the Today show about the study (even though -- spoiler alert & warning -- it ends with a stereotypical "miracle" pregnancy after adoption story).

Thoughts?

"Lucy Maud Montgomery: The Gift of Wings" by Mary Henley Rubio


Following our recent visit to Leaskdale, I finally dusted off & started reading the biography of L.M. Montgomery that I had bought & wrote about waaayyyyyy back in (gulp) the fall of 2008.  

I've read books about Montgomery before, as well as all but the last volume of her published journals (and, as you might guess, all of her novels -- except I think "A Tangled Web" which I just couldn't get into... I was a preteen at the time, perhaps I should try again). So I knew the basics of the story of her life.  

But there was still so much that I didn't know -- that so many people didn't know -- before reading this book. 

The journals, of course, are an important source for this definitive biography of one of Canada's best-known and best-loved authors -- and Rubio was one of the editors who worked, over a period of some 20 years, to bring them to publication. But as she points out in this book, the journals only show us one side of Maud (as she was known) -- and they were carefully written (and possibly rewritten) with a later audience firmly in mind.  There is always more than one side to any story, and Rubio does an excellent job of delving into the many facets of this very complex woman, her life and times, and the people around her.  

Before he died in 1982, Montgomery's youngest son, Dr. Stuart Macdonald, tasked Rubio with editing his mother's journals for publication. Besides Macdonald, Rubio spoke with many others who knew Montgomery and her family, including relatives, friends, neighbours, members of the parishes where Montgomery's husband, Ewan Macdonald, preached, and several of the family's maids. She sheds new light on a number of important people and events in Maud's life, including Ewan Macdonald and his mental illness, her relationship with her sons, her youthful passion for handsome young farmer Herman Leard, and her midlife friendship/rumoured extramarital romance with another minister from PEI, Edwin Smith.  She also writes about each of Montgomery's novels and how the characters and themes reflect what was happening in the author's life at the time the books were being written.

For all the joy that she brought (and continues to bring) to millions of readers, Montgomery's life was not a particularly happy one. Her mother died when she was very young;  her father left her in the care of her strict grandparents and headed west, where he remarried.  Like her heroines Anne & Emily, young Maud knew the sting of not being wanted or valued, particularly because she was a girl, and a longing for home and family is a theme that runs through most of her novels. 

She finally got a home and family of her own when she married Macdonald -- but she struggled to deal with his mental illness, her wayward older son, her unscrupulous American publisher, an overly zealous female fan, and a male-dominated Canadian literary community and critics who dismissed her work in the modernist years after the war (even as she worked tirelessly with the Canadian Authors Association to promote Canadian books, authors & themes) -- among other issues. (And, as previously noted, she knew the tragedy of stillbirth with the loss of her second son, Hugh, in 1914.) 

The constant struggle to keep up appearances in the face of these mounting problems took their toll (although she did an excellent job -- when her journals began being published in the 1980s, many who had known Montgomery as a cheerful, jovial minister's wife were shocked by some of the revelations -- about her husband's mental health and her own inner turmoil --  as well as her sometimes nasty opinions about family members, friends & neighbours). Throughout her life and especially toward the end, both Montgomery and her husband took copious amounts of barbituates and other prescription drugs (as did many people at the time) to help them cope with their various ailments, not realizing their addictive properties and damaging side effects. Montgomery was found dead in her bed in April 1942 with several bottles of pills on her night table, along with what may very well have been a suicide note. The story wraps up with an epilogue in which we find out what happened to Ewan, Chester, Stuart, and some of the other characters mentioned throughout the story.

The title, "The Gift of Wings," refers to a 1920 passage from her journals, which Rubio feels serves as a good epitaph for Maud's life: 

"One cannot have imagination and the gift of wings, along with the placidity and contentment of those who creep on the earth's solid surface and never open their eyes on aught but material things. But the gift of wings is better than placidity and contentment after all."

This was not a particularly happy book to read, and it still leaves us with a number of questions (many of which may never be answered fully).  But it is extremely well researched and written, and a "must" for any Montgomery fan who wants to learn more about the author. (And hefty -- 700+ pages!!)  Montgomery and her novels have been touchstones in my life ever since I read "Anne of Green Gables" at age 8, and reading this book made me realize all over again the profound impact they have had on me.

This is book #12 that I've read so far this year.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Clothes make the (wo)man

There are many women (& perhaps a few men) who are far more obsessed with clothes and their appearance than I am.  I've never been overly obsessed with following trends, and when my office adopted "everyday business casual" back in the late 1990s, I eagerly embraced it. 

That said, while I gleefully abandoned wearing skirts & jackets (and -- especially -- pantyhose!) every day -- I care about my appearance. I like to look good, because when I think I look good (or at the very least, presentable), I feel better about myself, more confident and capable of facing the challenges of the day. I drive dh nuts sometimes, standing in front of my closet, debating what I should wear today: What would be appropriate for the occasion (even if it's just a brief run to the store to get milk)? This outfit or that one?  Do I feel more like purple today, or black?  V-neck or crew? Should I wear a cardigan? (Check the weather.) Which earrings to go with it?  Would adding a bracelet be "too much"?  Can I get away with wearing my comfortable (albeit beat up) shoes? 

Packing for a trip of any sort is an exercise in anxiety, because I feel like I should be prepared for any eventuality -- and how do I know what I'll feel like wearing on any given day? (Yes, you make do with what you have, and six days out of seven, it's usually just fine, but there are days when I put on my grey sweater while thinking longingly of the much more appropriate red one sitting in my armoire back home.)  And for a special occasion -- our nephew's recent engagement party, for example -- I will obsess over finding the perfect outfit to wear, weeks in advance. Once I have the key pieces, I turn to jewelry & shoe choices, as well as nails & makeup.  (As I was applying my eyeshadow that day, I realized that the blue I pulled out of my collection, to match the navy blue of my top, was actually more of a violet. Horrors!! And it was getting too late to remove it all and start again with a more appropriate shade.)(Needless to say, I survived.) 

(Whereas dh happily throws on the first thing his hand touches in the closet, and will wear (& re-wear) the same thing over & over -- not to mention committing fashion faux pas such as wearing a red T-shirt with green shorts. "You can't wear that for Christmas Eve -- you wore it five years ago," I will say as I search his closet for a more appropriate outfit. "How do you remember these things??"  he says, no doubt privately thinking "and why should I care?")

That's why Heather Mallick's column in last Saturday's Toronto Star resonated with me so strongly.  "For every dress and shirt, there is a reason," the headline reads. Mallick was promoting a new book by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits and Leanne Shapton, called "Women in Clothes." The authors surveyed more than 600 women (famous & not, including Mallick) with a detailed questionnaire (which you can also fill out) about what they wear and why. Questions such as: “With whom do you talk about clothes? What is your cultural background, and how has that influenced how you dress? Do you notice women on the street? What sort do you tend to admire?... Can you recall some times when you have dressed a particular way to calm yourself or gain a sense of control over a situation that scared you?” And on and on. The responses make up the book. 

"I now realize," Mallick writes, "that I had been subjected to either a skilled police interrogation or the therapy session of a lifetime." (My own reaction, reading the list of questions -- now more than 80 (!) -- was that each one could provide fuel for an entire blog post.) 

I found and bought the book later that night. :)  I will let you know what I think when I finally get around to reading it -- although I suspect this is the kind of book you can dip in & out of at leisure. 

Does this book sound like something that might interest you? What sort of a relationship do you have with your clothes?

#MicroblogMondays: Rolling the dice

Dh thinks I spend too much time on the computer (now whatever gave him that idea??).  He recently pointed out that, now that we're both basically retired, we need to get into some good habits right from the start, and find some new ways to spend our time -- i.e., not sit on our respective sofas all day with our heads in our laptops.

I realized he was right. 

So I challenged him. To a game.

Of Yahtzee. :) 

I hadn't played Yahtzee in years, let alone just the two of us.  We spent Saturday night playing six rounds -- and in the sixth & final round, I rolled Yahtzee not once, not twice, not THRICE, but FOUR TIMES.  In all my years playing Yahtzee, going way back to my childhood, I have never seen that done before. Once or twice, maybe, but FOUR TIMES in one game??! 

Needless to say, I won. ;) 

It was fun. :) 

Sometimes you just need to roll the dice and shake things up a little. :) 

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