Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Book: "A Fine Romance" by Candice Bergen

When the paperback version finally came out in the late 1980s (early on in my marriage), I eagerly pounced on Candice Bergen's well-reviewed 1984 memoir, "Knock Wood." Back then, Bergen was best known -- to people of my generation, anyway -- as a stunning, cool blonde model and actress in movies such as "Starting Over" and "The Wind and the Lion."

But to my mother's generation, she was better known as the daughter of ventriloquist Edgar Bergen who, with his wisecracking dummy, Charlie McCarthy, was a major radio star (!). "Knock Wood" describes Bergen's somewhat bizarre Hollywood childhood, where she appeared on her dad's radio show and was known as "Charlie's little sister" (!).  Not surprisingly, she resented the dummy, who had a bigger bedroom and closer relationship with her emotionally distant dad than she did.  I thoroughly enjoyed "Knock Wood" -- Bergen can write as well as (perhaps even better) than she can act -- and I still think of it as one of the best celebrity memoirs I've ever read (and I've read a lot of them, lol).

Now, some 30 years later, Bergen has finally returned with a sequel.  "A Fine Romance" picks up where "Knock Wood" left off in the late 1970s/early 1980s, when Bergen meets and marries French film director Louis Malle.  They spent five mostly blissful years splitting their time between her Central Park apartment in New York and his country house in southern France before their relationship was interrupted by the arrival of two different women:  their daughter Chloe, and Murphy Brown.

Ambivalent about pregnancy right up until Chloe's arrival in 1985 (by C-section, three weeks overdue!), when she was 39, Bergen threw herself wholeheartedly into motherhood. (I'll admit there were parts of the book where she's in full-throttle mommy mode that I found difficult to read, even now, many years post-loss. Caveat emptor.)  The title of the book actually comes from the classic Jerome Kern song, which Bergen used to sing to Chloe -- who is now an editor at Vogue and getting married in France this summer.  

Much as Bergen loved being a mom, she recognized the role of Murphy Brown was just too great an opportunity to turn down. (Amazingly, the network wanted someone younger -- specifically, Heather Locklear (!!). Writer/producer Diane English insisted on Bergen for the part.)  As Murphy -- an abrasive investigative reporter on a "60 Minutes"-style news show, who belts out Motown anthems off key and can't keep a secretary (one of the series' best running gags, with some great guest stars filling in as Murphy's secretary of the week) -- Bergen became one of television's biggest stars between 1988 and 1998.  A journalism school graduate myself, I absolutely loved the show and Bergen's portrayal of such a strong female character, and I loved reading her behind-the-scenes stories about the show and the people who made it. (Curiously, I learned in an Entertainment Weekly interview Bergen did recently that "Murphy Brown" is very difficult to find these days -- it's not available on any streaming service, and only the first season is available on DVD. What a pity!!)   

If Bergen waxes on a little too much about motherhood for my liking, I forgive her, not only because she really has led an interesting life and writes about it so well, but also because she knows a little something about grief and loss and tragedy. Malle died in November 1995 at age 63, after being diagnosed earlier in the year with an incurable inflammation of the brain. It's hard to read about how this brilliant, cultured man, who sent Bergen such exquisite love letters throughout their relationship (some excerpted in the book), loses his ability to walk, speak and feed himself, and Bergen is frank about the toll his illness took on her and their daughter, who was just 9 when her father died. 

Bergen also admits that she has been extremely fortunate in her life. In 1998, she met Marshall Rose, a widowed, wealthy New York real estate developer, and married him in June 2000. I enjoyed reading about how she navigated midlife romance and remarriage to someone so completely different from her first husband:  she & Malle spent a lot of time apart during their 15-year marriage;  her new husband wanted to spend every waking moment together, which she found excessive and claustrophobic. Eventually, they both adapted.  

She's also charmingly frank about aging (she will be 70 next year!), cosmetic surgery (she admits to having had some in the past, as well as botox & fillers) and the 30 extra pounds she's carrying these days. "Let me just come right out and say it: I am fat," is how Chapter 30 begins, probably the most-quoted line in the whole book.  

As you can probably tell, I hugely enjoyed this book. :)  It's a worthy successor to "Knock Wood."

It was book #8 that I've read so far in 2015.

Monday, April 27, 2015

#MicroblogMondays: Good to the last drop :)

I'm not exactly sure how or when I became a tea drinker, vs a coffee drinker. Perhaps it was the influence of my mom.  Although she came from a long line of Scandinavian coffee aficionados in one of the most Scandinavian communities in Minnesota (there was always, always a pot of Folgers percolating on the stove in my grandmother's kitchen -- I actually like the smell of coffee brewing, because it takes me right back there), she preferred tea (perhaps her Irish/Scottish genes?), and still does. She claims she lost her taste for coffee after her second pregnancy with my sister. (Back then, of course, caffeine was not verboten for pregnant women, along with cigarettes, wine...!)  She would sometimes make me weak tea when I was a kid and feeling sick.

I can remember going out for "coffee" with some of my friends in high school, but it wasn't like it is today, with a Starbucks or Tim Horton's on every street corner. We'd drive to the restaurant adjoining the local Co-op store or the gas station out on the highway, but we'd be just as likely to order a Coke as a cup of joe. 

Perhaps it was the influence of my first year university roommate. who would brew different flavours of loose-leaf tea for us in a teapot. For years and years, we gave each other tea-related gifts for birthdays and Christmas -- teapots, teacups, trivets, Christmas tree ornaments, books, boxes of tea... 

When I first met dh's Italian family and had dinner with them, I was offered a tiny cup of espresso coffee along with my dessert -- something totally foreign to this Irish-Swedish-American/Ukrainian-Canadian girl from the Prairies. I accepted to be polite, took a sip -- and then almost choked -- it was so strong.  Most of his relatives didn't even have tea in the house;  if they did, it was often chamomile, used only in the event of a stomach ache. Some of them started buying a small box of teabags, specifically for when I visited. :) 

Eventually, a few cousins on his dad's side married "English" (i.e., non-Italian) girls who also preferred tea. We'd sit together at wedding & baby showers and have fun watching the waiters' reactions when we asked for tea instead of coffee, then took bets on how it would be served and whether the water would be hot. (I give points to any restaurant that serves tea in china pots versus those awful metal things that inevitably leak all over the place as you're trying to pour.)

(I finally tried a latte at a coffee house in Seattle that my cousin took us to when we visited there in 1993 -- appropriately -- when in Rome, etc. etc. -- and that was more to my taste.  I will have one of those now & then at Starbucks.)

(I find that I have to remember to specify "hot tea" when I'm in the States;  otherwise, I'm liable to be handed a glass of iced tea, and it will be anyone's guess as to whether it will be sweetened...)

When I started working as a small-town newspaper reporter, I found a kindred spirit in a fellow reporter at the local radio station who also preferred tea. Invariably, most of the town council and school board meetings and other events we covered only offered coffee as refreshment -- with Coffeemate instead of milk or cream on the side. Yuck. I'd sometimes drink it if I was desperate (or trying to stay awake, lol), but I disliked the lingering taste.  We joked about starting a "Tea drinkers have rights too" movement.

When I started working in downtown Toronto, I got into the habit of stopping to buy a tea as I headed into the office (usually at the Second Cup) -- and then heading down to the food court in the concourse on my breaks to refuel.  Some days I felt like I was living from one coffee break to the next (I had two 15-minute breaks per day, morning and afternoon, as well as a lunch hour). Yes, I could have made my own tea in the office kitchenette for much less money, but getting away from the office, if only briefly, was probably as important as the tea itself, if not more so. 

My coworker/office best friend & I would usually take our breaks together, especially in the morning. It got so that I would turn up at her cubicle, wallet in hand, just as she was reaching into her drawer for hers (or vice-versa). "Cuppa?" I remember asking her once. "Yuppa!" she responded, and both had a good laugh. We always talked about skipping out of work early someday and going to the nearby King Edward or Royal York hotels for their formal afternoon tea (with scones, little sandwiches and other goodies), but of course, time flew by and we never did... until the week before she retired. As my retirement present to her, I got permission from our boss for both of us to leave work early, and we headed over to the Royal York for the royal treatment, which we both enjoyed thoroughly. :)  (I've also enjoyed afternoon tea in some other lovely settings -- including the Chateau Lake Louise in Alberta with dh on our honeymoon, the Empress in Victoria, B.C., with a high school girlfriend, and the King Edward in Toronto with my mother. Pricey, but a wonderful occasional treat.) 

Now that I'm retired/unemployed, I enjoy starting my day with a leisurely cuppa after breakfast, as I peruse the morning paper and e-mails. I'll usually have another cup mid-afternoon. Sometimes dh & I will head to the local Tim Hortons just to get out of the house, and no visit to our local mega-bookstore would be complete with a stop at the adjacent Starbucks first (where my standard order is a tall non-fat English breakfast tea latte).  When I was younger, I enjoyed trying different flavours of tea;  these days, I prefer to stick to plain old black tea -- orange pekoe, English breakfast or perhaps Darjeeling. Served with sugar and lots of milk, please and thank you.

Are you a tea or coffee person? What's your usual order?

(I guess this wasn't quite a "micro" post -- but at least it's a post...!)

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

Sunday, April 26, 2015

A stroll down Memory Lane

Last week, a terrible tragedy occurred in a small town in northern Saskatchewan: a woman and three of her small children were murdered by her estranged boyfriend, who then took a fourth child (his own child with the woman, an infant) to his parents' home in another town about an hour away, where he committed suicide. 

My family & I lived in that town between 1966 and 1969 -- from the time I was 5 until I was 8, kindergarten through Grade 2. Kindergarten back then was private & optional;  my mother paid for me to attend. Although the small school where I went for Grades 1 & 2 was directly across the street from where we lived (both houses where we lived, in fact), kindergarten was held in the basement of the Catholic church. (On days when there was a funeral being held in the church above us, the teacher would admonish us that we must be quiet, and we would talk in whispers and walk around on tiptoe all morning long.)  It was a six-block walk from our house, across a highway, and most days, I walked there by myself (as did most of my classmates)(which is why I find it so bemusing when parents today agonize over letting their 10-year-olds walk much shorter distances to school solo).

I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I've been back since we moved away. The last time was the summer of 1976, when I was 15 and heading into high school (although my parents have returned at least two or three times since then).  And yet I still think about it often, particularly with all the discussions lately about free-range kids. It was a much more innocent time, and my sister and I and our friends had so much freedom. We'd pack a picnic lunch and, with our best friend A., we'd head to a nearby park to play for a few hours. We'd play hide and seek in the bush that separated our house from the one next door, and explore the outbuildings on our rental property (a large piece of land with a huge garden, which was near the edge of town and was likely a farm 20 years earlier).  On Saturdays, we'd get our allowance (originally 35 cents, then raised to 50 cents), which was enough to cover the cost of a matinee movie ticket and a small bag of popcorn. (We'd walk there, of course, by ourselves.) This is where my love of cheesy Beach Party and Elvis movies was born :) although we saw plenty of Disney too. I could still picture the streets and the houses and the buildings and the school so clearly.

With the town so much in the news this past week, memories came flooding back. And then I had an idea:  I went onto Google Maps in Street View. I found the neighbourhood where we had lived almost immediately. The first house we lived in is still there (and it looks so tiny!!); the second one was torn down long ago and there are now at least three houses where our house and garden once stood. The school I attended is now a regional health office. I scrolled up & down the street, and then down the main street to the downtown area, as if I was walking there the same way I did when I was 7. My friend S's father's general store, where we'd sometimes stop on our way home after kindergarten, does not seem to exist any more -- but the movie theatre, incredibly, has survived, and is still there and still showing movies. The bank building where my father worked is gone, but the bank is still there, in new premises. The drug store seems to be in a different location than I remember, but it's still there under the same family name. The "civic centre" is still there (and looks incredibly tiny) but it's unclear whether the library where I got my first card is still housed in the building. The church with the prominent "Jesus Saves" sign is still there (and so, incredibly, is the sign -- I think it's actually new sign, but it still says "Jesus Saves" and is still visible from at least a block away). 

Google Maps is really cool this way. I have looked up other towns and houses where I've lived on it, and the houses of distant friends. I've even looked up the street addresses of places in Scotland where my ancestors lived, more than 150 years ago, and while I don't have an exact address, I've zoomed up & down the streets of the small town in Ireland where my great-great grandfather was born.

Am I the only one? Do you ever use Google Maps to look up your old haunts, or places you've never been?

Friday, April 24, 2015

Around my house

 

(as inspired by Brooke)

In my fridge you'll always find:
Milk (1%), yogurt (various fruit flavours), baby carrots, and a Brita pitcher with water chilling  
 
Favorite family recipe:
My mother makes a snack that involves a butter & brown sugar, melted together & poured over a cookie sheet lined with graham crackers, topped with nuts (chopped walnuts or slivered almonds) and baked for a few minutes. It's so simple but people just go ga-ga over it;  they disappear very quickly. The recipe came from my grandmother's neighbour and has been around almost as long as I have. I've seen a variation on this recipe that includes a layer of chocolate too. :)
 
Favorite junk food:
Popcorn or potato chips  
 
I'll do anything to avoid:
Mopping the floors. I even bought one of those electric steam mops after a friend raved about hers, thinking it might be incentive to do the floors more often. Ummm, nope. :p  
 
My secret cleaning weapon is:
Vinegar and baking soda -- one or the other works on just about everything. Also, I love my Swiffer duster. :)
 
Before company arrives, I hide:
The pile of books and magazines sitting beside the loveseat where I sit. And close the door to the front room/office, where I have piles of scrapbooking supplies (sadly unused for some time now...).
 
I love to shop for:
Jewelry, makeup & skincare products (although I don't wear much makeup these days!). The day I walked into my first Sephora, I thought I'd died & gone to heaven. ;) And, while there was a time I never thought I'd write this, I love shopping for cute outfits for the two little Princesses.
 
I hate to shop for:
Bras (which is why I put off doing it for so long... I finally got some new ones last summer. I won't tell you how old the old ones were...!).
 
Bad habit:
Procrastination
 
I just learned:
I have a fourth cousin who is married to a famous Canadian author, and another fourth cousin who is a Canadian country singer. :)  Never knew they existed until this week and they wouldn't know me either, but it's stuff like this that makes genealogy fun. :)
 
Stuff I can't live without:
Chocolate, a supply of mints in my purse, my Filofax, yoga pants (and did I mention chocolate?).
 
Weird housekeeping compulsion:
I finish off each housecleaning session by taking a Lysol wipe & using it on all the light switches, door knobs, computer mice & keyboards, and remote controls in the house. I've been doing this for a couple of years now, I think since the big avian flu scare about five years ago, and I've noticed that both of us have been sick a lot less. 
 
On bed making:
I remember Mel polled her readers awhile back about whether they make the bed every day. I have to admit I was SHOCKED by how many people said they do not make their beds daily. I mean, I know some people don't (my sister, for one, probably hasn't made a bed since she left home, lol), but I was honestly surprised just how many people admitted to it. Dh & I always made our bed in the morning right after breakfast, before we got dressed & headed out for work -- and while we're not heading out to work anymore, we still make the bed in the morning. The house just looks neater, and as Brooke noted, it's just so nice to pull back the sheets and climb into a neatly made bed at night.
 
Personal motto/mantra:
Life is what happens while you're making other plans. (John Lennon)
 
I wish I could tell my younger self:
Lighten up a little.  :)
 
What's always in your fridge? What advice would you give your younger self? Spill it.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

E-book: "The Mother Within" by Christine Erickson

I heard about "The Mother Within: A Guide To Accepting Your Childless Journey," a new e-book by Christine Erickson, via the Gateway Women page on Facebook earlier this month. A Kindle version of the book was being offered for a limited time, free of charge, via Amazon UK. 

As a Canadian, I was unable to download the book from Amazon UK -- but happily, I soon figured out that it was also on Amazon.com and I was able to download it from there -- and while I don't have a Kindle (my e-reader is a Kobo), I was still able to read the book on my laptop after downloading Amazon's free Kindle software. Unfortunately, the free deal is over, but the price is a very reasonable $2.97 US.

It's a fast read, just 91 pages, but packs a lot of wisdom, some astute observations, and questions at the end of each chapter that will get you thinking. The book is structured in three parts, focusing on Self (acknowledging your childlessness and moving toward acceptance), Other (coping with external perceptions of childlessness in a baby-mad world), and World (how to express yourself and begin a new conversation that influences the environment around you).

"We are part of a new history for women and we must not wait for our roles to be defined, but rather participate in creating spaces for our greatest impact," Erickson says, near the end of the book. "...We have the power to define our needs and to shift what is not working. To do this, we need to be visible, and we need to be able to recognize one another. It is time to take our power back."

Says Jody Day of Gateway Women in an Amazon.com review:  "As Erikson exhorts us... we can 'come out' together as a 'tribe' and change the conversations and assumptions by learning to live our lives and truths fearlessly, shamelessly and unapologetically. We have done nothing wrong; we are nothing wrong because we are not mothers."

Worth a read, and would be a great introduction to some of the basic issues and questions related to childless/free living if you're considering or new to this road less travelled.

You can find out more about the author and the book on her website.

This is book #7 that I've read so far in 2015.

Monday, April 20, 2015

#MicroblogMondays: Waiting for a shopping spree

Dh & I are in semi-desperate need of a new mattress, and some new bedding to go along with it -- a comforter set, sheets & pillowcases, bedskirt & window valance.  I'm afraid to admit just how old our current stuff is. Let's just say that we bought everything at Eatons (which, if you are Canadian, you might remember went out of business in (gulp) 1999). It was a Springmaid pattern called "Bridal Bouquet" (I actually found a photo via Google!) -- creamy white background with pink, blue, green & rust flowers & ribbons. Very Laura Ashley (which was very popular at the time).

Needless to say, the mattress is starting to sag a bit in the middle, the comforter is getting a bit yellowed and the sheets are starting to wear a little thin (even though I bought three sets that I rotate). Plus (much as I tend to cling to the familiar), I just feel like it's time for a change.

So I've been keeping my eyes open for something I like. I tend to be a bit picky... but (as you can tell) I usually hang onto things for quite awhile;  I might as well make sure I like it, right?  And I've found a few potential candidates recently. 

So what's holding me back? Blame Aunt Flo. A few years ago, when I started thinking some new stuff might be in order, I decided I should wait until she had made her final exit from my home and my life, and I was officially in menopause ( = one year from the date of my last period). Why ruin perfectly good new stuff, right? (especially if the stuff I wanted was white or light coloured...!)  And buying a whole new bedding set seemed like the perfect way to celebrate Aunt Flo's departure.  I figured it couldn't be that much longer. (Could it??)

Yet here I am, 54 years old and counting, the mattress keeps sagging further, and Aunt Flo still sashays in every month or so, almost like clockwork. :p   Wouldn't you know she's the one part of my reproductive system that has never failed me?? 

How often do you change your bedroom d├ęcor? 

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

Friday, April 17, 2015

900??!

Would you believe this is my 900th published post??!

(OK, it's not much of a post, but I had to mark this milestone, lol.)