Monday, May 25, 2015

#MicroblogMondays: They paved Paradise...

I was trying to think of something I could write about for this week's post, when I read Mali's post at A Separate Life, about her love of nature. One person commented, "Perhaps in order to appreciate nature we need the contrast of urban life?"

I can relate. I grew up in small, rural communities -- and like many kids from similar backgrounds, couldn't wait to leave. :)  Over time, though, I've learned to appreciate the merits of the country too. In a lifetime of moving around, I've come to realize that there is good & bad to be found everywhere, advantages and disadvantages in every situation. It's up to us to make the most of things, wherever we wind up.

Right now, we're living in a small town turned bedroom community -- part of what's known as the "Greater Toronto Area" or "Golden Horseshoe" -- an almost continuous string of towns & cities along the shores of Lake Ontario, stretching from St. Catharines/Niagara Falls in the southwest to Oshawa and beyond in the east. While I enjoy living where we do, and having so many amenities at our disposal -- downtown Toronto is a half-hour's train trip away -- I also love that by driving north about 10 minutes, we're out in the country, amid farmers' fields, riding academies and forests.

But urban sprawl is slowly creeping in. Over the weekend, we drove to visit a cousin who lives on an acreage "out in the country" -- and marvelled at how less & less far away it seems these days, as shopping plazas, housing developments and condo towers have started to line the route we drive.

Closer to home, one of the routes we take to the cemetery to visit Katie has been mostly farms and forests for the past 17 years. However, there have been rumblings about development for more than 40 years -- specifically, plans for both residential and commercial development that will expand our local population by 70,000 people. 70,000!! That's basically adding a whole new town to the area.  Eventually, there may even be a major airport built in the vicinity.

We've been hearing about it for so long, it seemed like something distant and far off -- perhaps a bit of a pipe dream.

But last winter, development signs went up along the road -- and over the last few weeks, heavy equipment has started to bulldoze trees and level farmers' fields. 

I suppose you can't stop progress. But it does make me feel a little sad. (And gave me this earworm for today, lol.) 

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

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Letting go

Did you ever see the movie "Almost Famous"?  It's based on the real-life adventures of writer and movie director Cameron Crowe, who was touring with rock bands and writing for magazines like Creem and Rolling Stone when he was still a teenager. There's a scene near the beginning, when William (the Cameron character)'s sister leaves home and leaves her record player and collection to her little brother. There's a close-up of the needle dropping onto the vinyl disc, and that wonderful anticipatory hiss before the music  (The Who's "Tommy") kicks in.

I love that movie. I started crying when I first saw that scene. It made me homesick.

Once upon a time, music was at the centre of my life. It was at the centre of most teenagers' lives, when I was growing up in the 1970s.  I'm not sure kids today feel quite the same way, as viscerally, about music as we did back then. The music itself and the musicians who created it meant so much. It was the soundtrack of our lives.

Of course, we had far fewer distractions back then -- only a few channels on TV, no video games (at least until I was almost out of high school -- i.e., Pong, and a bit later, at university, Galaga, Donkey Kong and Pac-Man), no Internet. We would listen to the radio late at night, dialling around to hear our favourite songs, calling in requests to the DJs -- and we'd buy albums. My sister & I used to pool our allowance to buy ones from our favourite bands. Most of those shared albums are still in my parents' basement (!), but over the years, I accumulated a fair collection of my own. My parents had one of those huge cabinet stereos that took up half a wall in the living room, and we'd lay in front of the speakers or (if our parents were around), plug in gigantic headphones.

I missed the stereo desperately when I went to university. I listened to the radio, but it wasn't quite the same. I envied some of my dorm friends -- mostly guys -- who had huge, towering stereo systems with gigantic speakers -- the bigger and louder, the better!  (Pioneer was a coveted label.)  I begged and pleaded and hinted for a stereo -- knowing it was a hugely expensive item and I might as well be wishing for the moon.

While I was at university, my parents moved to another town, and my dad had a good year in his business. That year at Christmas (1982, when I was 21, on the verge of 22), I got sent on a scavenger hunt. Hidden behind a roll of carpet in an unfinished shower stall in the basement sat a stereo. A Zenith all-in-one -- turntable, cassette player and AM/FM radio -- with two big speakers. I cried.  It was the best and most memorable gift I had ever received. (Maybe even still!)

I had to leave the stereo at home when I went away to grad school, and then when I got married (in 1985), but my parents brought it & my record collection with them when they drove out to visit us a year later. After we moved into our house a few years after that (1990), the stereo sat in what was supposed to be the dining room. The records themselves were upstairs on a bookshelf. Not particularly convenient, so they got played less and less. Of course, by then, vinyl was well on its way out, replaced first by cassette tapes and then by compact discs (and, much later, by digital audio files).

Then I had my piano shipped out from my parents' house, and there was no room for it upstairs anymore. We had (finally) recently gotten a CD player anyway, and were now playing most of our music on CDs. (In some cases, we had LP, cassette and CD versions of the exact same albums...!) So into the basement it went. I would occasionally turn on the radio or put on an album when I was down there cleaning or doing laundry, but both stereo & records have been (sadly) mostly untouched for quite a long time.

Fast-forward to the recent present.  Oldest Nephew (age 26) was telling us about his newfound passion for classic rock music. On vinyl. (Who'da thought, right??) He has a tiny little record player that closes up like a suitcase -- like the first record player I had when I was 6. 

He was going to pay $70 -- SEVENTY DOLLARS!!! -- for a vinyl LP by Pink Floyd!!! 

"For Pete's sake," we told him, "do NOT buy any more vinyl!! Call us first!! Because the record you want is probably in our basement!" 

For the record (no pun intended), I looked, and unfortunately we didn't have any Pink Floyd in the basement (although I know my sister had "The Wall.")  But we did have the Eagles, Bruce Springsteen, Peter Gabriel, The Police, The Cars, The Clash, Cheap Trick, Boston, Bob Seger...  (and albums by umpteen Canadian bands that most Americans have probably never heard of, like April Wine, Trooper, Prism, Triumph, Queen City Kids and Harlequin, who used to play at my high school dances).  Over 180 albums, mostly from the 1970s and early 1980s -- some of them dh's, but most of them mine -- gathering dust, along with my old stereo, down in the basement.

Now, I am a packrat. I don't give up my things easily -- especially stuff like records & books.

But I could NOT watch our nephew spending $70 on an album that we probably had in our basement (and paid maybe $7 for).

Besides which, we are talking (again) about condos. If/when we ever move, we will not have room for bulky stereos & album collections. And I would much rather hand my records over to the nephews than to Goodwill. (In a perfect world, I would have been passing this stuff along to my kids... but... well, you know... So this is the next-best thing.) 

So we packed up (almost) all of our vinyl collection, along with the cassettes and my stereo, & and this afternoon, we're taking them to a gathering of the extended family. Nephew will likely not be there, but we'll hand them over to his parents to pass along. 

He was THRILLED when we offered him the records, and the stereo to boot. (And dh -- who is NOT a packrat -- was thrilled to get a few more things out of the house, lol.) I know not everything in the collection will be to his tastes. He may wind up trading some albums with his friends, or selling them.

But maybe he'll listen to a few bands he hasn't heard of before, make some new discoveries, broaden his musical tastes a little. An old auntie can only hope. ;)

I did set aside a couple of special LPs to keep, for now -- including "The Best of Herman's Hermits, Vol. 2," which was one of the very first records I ever got, for my 6th birthday. (I've scoffed at the idea of bucket lists in the past, but if I had one, one of the items on it would definitely be to attend a Peter Noone concert & try to get him to autograph it for me.  ;) )

I feel a bit wistful letting it all go -- the stuff itself, the visceral reminders of my youth, my dreams of handing everything over to my own kids some day.  But I know it's the right thing to do.

(Next: to pare down some of my gargantuan book collection....!)

Monday, May 18, 2015

#MicroblogMondays: Victoria Day

It's the Victoria Day long weekend here in Canada.  Apparently we are the only country in the world which still celebrates Queen Victoria's birthday -- a hat tip to her role in our country's history. It's also known as "May Two-Four" -- not only a nod to the traditional celebration date of May 24th (Victoria's actual birthday -- these days, the holiday is celebrated on the Monday before May 24th to give us a long weekend, if May 24th itself is not a Monday) but also to the copious amounts of beer traditionally consumed on this weekend. It's considered the kickoff to summer, the weekend when cottage owners head north to open up their cottages for the season.

Growing up on the Prairies, I don't think I'd ever heard the term "May Two-Four" -- possibly because beer only came in cases of 6 and 12 bottles (that may have changed since then -- or maybe we were just too broke as kids/university students to buy more than a case of 12?? lol). I also don't remember much in the way of backyard fireworks, another staple of the May long weekend in Ontario.  I don't think they were legal in Manitoba in the 1970s. That may have changed too. Here, anyone can & does buy them from the back of a truck in shopping mall parking lots in the days leading up to the holiday. We watch from inside the house, delaying our bedtime until after the explosions have died down, nervously eyeing the trajectory of the light flashes and praying that a glowing ember doesn't land on our roof....! :p

Growing up on the Prairies, the "summer kickoff" connection was also a bit tenuous, because the weather could still be pretty cold. My parents would rarely, if ever, plant their garden (another Victoria Day weekend staple activity here in Ontario) until late May, because the risk of frost was still very real.

Of course, it's been pretty cold here in southern Ontario some years too. I can remember attending a first birthday party some years ago on the May long weekend for one of dh's cousins' kids. There were far too many people to hold the party indoors, but it was so cold (there were snowflakes in the air) we wound up huddled around the barbecue to keep warm.

And tomorrow will mark 25 years (!!!) since we moved into this house on the May long weekend. It was sunny but got quite cold overnight.  And we couldn't turn on the furnace even if we wanted to, because dh's uncle (our real estate agent) discovered that the previous owners had (for some unexplicable reason) removed the filter. By the time we figured this out, it was late on Saturday -- this was before the advent of Sunday shopping in Ontario, a few years later (!) and stores were also closed Monday for the Victoria Day holiday. So we just threw another quilt on our bed that night. :)

At any rate, even if summer is not quite here, this weekend is a sign that it's on its way. Finally.  Thank goodness!!

I'm not a huge Rush fan... but I love their song "Lakeside Park" -- especially the very end verse & musical coda (starting around the 2:30 mark), which references Victoria Day. It brings back great memories of teenaged summer evenings spent around a bonfire on the beach (on Lake Manitoba) with my friends. (I always thought they were singing about the Exhibition Place in Toronto, home of the annual Canadian National Exhibition -- but apparently Neil Peart wrote it about a lakeside park near his childhood home in Port Dalhousie, St. Catharines, Ontario.)

Everyone would gather
On the twenty-fourth of May
Sitting in the sand
To watch the fireworks display
Dancing fires on the beach
Singing songs together...
Though it's just a memory
Some memories last forever

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

Friday, May 15, 2015

Book: "Not My Father's Son" by Alan Cumming

As an avid genealogist, I am a sucker for TV shows like Henry Louis Gates's "Finding Your Roots" on PBS and "Who Do You Think You Are?" on TLC. The shows follow a predictable format -- celebrities in search of their ancestors, with some jaw-dropping revelations along the way. There is much grumbling among us amateur genealogists about how much WE'd like to sail into an archive & have someone waiting for us with a ready-made family tree going back umpteen generations, and a pile of intriguing documents that answer our questions and shed new light on our ancestors' lives. ;) 

Scottish-born actor Alan Cumming -- who has stolen just about every movie and TV show I've ever seen him in -- was invited to appear on the British version of "Who Do You Think You Are?" in 2010. He was curious to find out more about his grandfather, Tommy Darling -- barely remembered by his daughter, Alan's mother, Mary Darling -- who never returned to England after the Second World War and died in a mysterious "gun accident" in Malaysia in 1951.

But just as Alan embarked on this emotion-packed journey into the past, he received some shocking news about another figure from his past:  his long-estranged and now dying father, who brutally abused Alan and his older brother, Tom, as they were growing up.

"Not My Father's Son" goes back & forth between "then" -- Alan's memories of growing up on an isolated Scottish estate -- "now" -- and 2010, where two stories rapidly unfold at the same time:  the filming of WDYTYA, with some stunning  revelations about Tommy Darling's life and death, and Alan's reassessment of his troubled relationship with his father.

It sounds complicated (and it is) -- and the abuse that he describes is hard to read about.  As several Goodreads reviewers put it, there were several points in the book where I just wanted to give the guy a hug.

But I'm very glad I picked this up.  It was riveting reading -- an amazing story, and very well told. I read it in three days & probably could have finished it sooner if life hadn't intervened. ;)  Cumming can definitely add "writer" to his long list of distinguished credits. 

There are many episodes of "Who Do You Think You Are?" available on YouTube;  alas, Alan's doesn't seem to be one of them. If anyone finds a working link that's viewable in Canada, let me know. ;) 

This was book #10 that I've read in 2015.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

E-book: "Finally Heard: A Silent Sorority Finds Its Voice" by Pamela Mahoney Tsigdinos

When I first started reading blogs some 7-8 (!!) years ago (and eventually screwed up the courage to start my own), the childless/free corner of the ALI community was a pretty small and lonely place. 

That's why I was so thrilled, early on, to find another blogger whose situation so closely matched my own -- and not only that, wrote about it so very well.  As I once described it, finding Coming2Terms by Pamela Jeanne (as she was then known) "was like stumbling into an oasis in the middle of a desert."

In the years since then, Pamela has continued to write about, inspire and advocate for "infertility survivors."  In 2009, she published her award-winning memoir, "Silent Sorority." And now, we have "Finally Heard: A Silent Sorority Finds Its Voice." It's a short read, an inexpensive e-book available through Amazon, and readable on a Kindle e-reader, or on your computer or other device using Amazon's free Kindle software.

Much of the material covered in "Finally Heard" will be familiar to regular readers of Pamela's blog and other writing, but presented here in one cohesive document, it gains new impact. The topics she discusses in this e-book include:
  • the transformative impact of infertility (one that most of us are completely unprepared for), including the effect it has on our relationships with friends and family members;
  • the "blind spots" and hidden biases we all subscribe to, often unconsciously, which set us up for the culture wars that pit parents against non-parents;
  • the pitfalls of the fertility industry, which remains highly unregulated in many countries while raking in money from desperate couples, despite ART failure rates in the range of 70 to 77 per cent;
  • the social stigma faced by those who leave fertility treatments without a baby; 
  • the "indescribably delicious" feeling of connecting with others in the same situation (often through the Internet) -- "kindred spirits" who help create a healing environment that allows many to move forward; and 
  • the weirdness of being a childless woman in a culture where, "if you're not a mother, you don’t rate... For the benefit of all in our society, we need to rethink how we value and characterize the contributions of those who are not parents."
There are also some questions at the very end of the book to prompt classroom or book club discussions. (They would also make great journaling or blogging prompts.)

During her post-IVF "coming to terms" journey, "I craved a mentor or role model who could show me that my life wouldn’t be ‘less than’ or empty for never having walked the well-worn parenthood path – for releasing a cherished dream," Pamela confesses.  But over time, as she encountered other women struggling to answer the question "what's next?" after unsuccessful infertility treatments, she realized, "When no obvious role model exists why spend all my time looking for one? Why not, instead, try to become one?"

Thank you, Pamela, for being such a great role model and mentor, for me and for so many others!

This was book #9 that I've read so far in 2015.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

"Make Your Own Kind of Music"

I was reading & writing online tonight while "The Middle" (starring Patricia Heaton of "Everybody Loves Raymond") played on the TV in the background. I can't say I'm a huge fan of the show, but we often have it on in lieu of anything else more interesting. To be truthful, I find most of the characters annoying -- and the character of Sue, the awkward but eternally enthusiastic middle child/only daughter, downright cringeworthy at times. (Perhaps because she reminds me just a wee bit too much of another awkward teenaged girl I knew a few decades ago? ;) )

Well, in tonight's season finale, Sue graduated from high school. And while disaster loomed (as usual), everything turned out all right in the end, and we were treated to a Sue montage -- set to a very familiar (to me) song.

I remember it as the theme song (& title) of The Carpenters' summer replacement TV series back in the early 1970s... but this wasn't Karen Carpenter singing. A quick search (what on earth did we do before Google??) revealed that it was written by Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil, first recorded in 1968 and popularized a year later by Mama Cass Elliott (of the Mamas & the Papas -- the singer I was trying to identify). 

Next, I Googled the full lyrics. And I smiled. (Remember, this was the late '60s/early '70s...!)

Make Your Own Kind of Music

Nobody can tell ya
There's only one song worth singing
They may try and sell ya
Cause it hangs them up
To see someone like you
But you gotta make your own kind of music
Sing your own special song
Make your own kind of music
Even if nobody else sings along
You're gonna be nowhere
The loneliest kind of lonely
It may be rough going
Just to do your thing's the hardest thing to do
But you've gotta make your own kind of music
Sing your own special song
Make your own kind of music
Even if nobody else sings along
So if you cannot take my hand
And if you must be going, I will understand
You gotta make your own kind of music
Sing your own special song
Make your own kind of music
Even if nobody else sings along
You gotta make your own kind of music
Sing your own special song
Make your own kind music
Even if nobody else sings along
For the record -- I was singing along, lol.  And it struck me that, while the lyrics were certainly appropriate for the character of Sue -- a one-of-a-kind character if there ever was one -- they also fit the situation of those of us who are on this "road less travelled:" "They" may try to tell us that there's only one song worth singing (i.e., parenthood) -- and seeing people like us who flout convention certainly seems to "hang up"/bother some people, doesn't it?

It's lonely, it's rough, doing our own thing, being different from the majority (especially when it's not what we wanted in the first place). But we have to do what we know is right for us. (And it's so nice that more & more people like us are finding their voices and singing along, isn't it?) 

Here's the late, great Mama Cass: 

Monday, May 11, 2015

#MicroblogMondays: Voldemort Day 2015

I survived.

This year's Voldemort Day (The Day That Shall Not Be Named) wasn't incredibly painful, as it sometimes has been in the past.  It was just... exhausting. By Thursday, I was complaining to some online friends that I had reached the saturation point:  all the pre-weekend hoopla -- the incessant media ads & store displays, the mounting crescendo of Facebook posts and photos, even the ones directed at ALI-ers -- was starting to get to me, and I just wanted to crawl under a rock (with a carton of Haagen-Dasz) until it was over.

In addition to the lead-up to Voldemort Day, I was recovering from the lack of accumulated sleep while the Squirrel Saga played out (all quiet overhead this week, thank goodness (& knocking wood)....!); increasingly warm & humid weather (which always makes me feel lethargic); the onset of tree pollen and related seasonal allergies (ditto);  and an impeccably well-timed (not -- as usual) visit from Aunt Flo to cope with :p , among other factors.

My usual preferred method of dealing with Voldemort Day is avoidance -- specifically, hiding out in a dark movie theatre. But there weren't any movies right now that I wanted to see (that I hadn't already seen).  I didn't really have any alternate plans in mind -- but in the end, the day unfolded in a pretty nice way.  Dh & I went for our usual morning walk around our neighbourhood, and as we headed home, we talked about what we should have for lunch. We often have eggs for lunch/brunch on Sundays, but we didn't have any in the house. Then the idea popped into my head that if we postponed our post-walk showers (!), we could head to Tim Hortons & treat ourselves to breakfast sandwiches before the breakfast menu expired at noon (Tim Hortons being a far less loaded place, emotionally, than brunch at a nice restaurant would be).  Dh offered to go himself and bring them back home while I cooled off from our walk, and I happily accepted.  After lunch (still in our walking clothes), we headed down to the waterfront for another walk. (We were amused to observe more than one grim-looking dad in the nearby playground, coping with a toddler in full meltdown mode, screaming, "Mommy!!!"  Presumably Mommy was at home, enjoying some much-needed quiet time without the kids, lol.)  And then, since we'd worked off some extra calories ;)  we swung by Dairy Queen for ice cream, before heading home to shower. 

It turned out to be an OK day after all.  But -- TGIO (Thank Goodness It's Over). ;)

How did you cope this weekend?

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