Monday, September 18, 2017

#MicroblogMondays: Childless/free living odds & ends

  • Last week was the first World Childless Week, which was created to raise awareness and support for/about people who are childless not by choice. I didn't write anything about it here before, partly because I didn't learn about it the week was underway, and partly because I am still wading my way through the abundance of great related reading I found online. 
  • Through my reading and by following links, I discovered a few new childless/free blogs & sites, which I've added to the blogroll & resources links on the right-hand side of this page. Check them out! 
  • While in general, the ALI blogosphere seems a lot quieter than it used to be, I have noticed an absolute explosion of blogs & other writing (news articles, etc.) related to childless/free living over the past few months/year or so. When I started blogging almost 10 (!!) years ago, I could count the number of childless-not-by-choice bloggers (who blogged with any regularity) on the fingers of one hand, and only one of them (Pamela) still blogs with any regularity -- so this is incredibly heartening to witness.  In fact, all the blogs featured in the Stirrup Queen's most recent Friday roundup came from this corner of the ALI community (as Mali noted in the comments there). 
  • One good piece that I found this past weekend, from the Guardian: "What's it to you if some people don't have kids?"  
You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Autumn anxiety?

(This is another half-finished post from two years ago that I pulled from my drafts folder.)

Someone in an online loss group I frequent recently commented that she's been having a difficult time with panic attacks lately, and she wasn't sure why. Another member suggested it might be the changing of the seasons -- and several people confessed they too often felt their moods changing, as Labour Day signalled the unofficial end of summer. (The official end, of course, is coming soon enough...!)

And then I saw this article in the Huffington Post online. Apparently "autumn anxiety" is a thing. "Autumn is full of new things: new schedules, new jobs, new schools, new assignments," the article points out. (It also has suggestions for coping strategies.)

I don't think I have "autumn anxiety" (at least, not at this point... not yet...!). But, for the sake of this post ;)  let's say I did/do.  What's my excuse??  None of these "new" things apply to me at this point of my life. I no longer work or go to school, and I don't have kids who do either. We've been in our new condo in our new community for more than year now, and while we're still getting used to some things, we've developed a basic familiarity with the area and have developed some new routines.

And there's always a lot that I look forward to in the fall. I'm not into pumpkin spice lattes ;)  but I welcome the end of stifling heat & humidity (although that wasn't as much of a factor this year), the advent of the beautiful fall colours, and fewer people crowding the malls, etc., as kids go back to school and life returns to a more normal routine. I'm sad to give up my capris & sandals -- but there are certain long-sleeved T-shirts and sweaters that I'm always glad to dig out of the armoire again too. ;)

Many of us have heard of "seasonal anxiety disorder," or SAD. I always tended to associate it with the winter months -- say, November through February/March -- but it makes sense that it might begin or have its roots in the autumn.  Think about it:  the days are getting shorter/darker again. The weather is starting to get colder, which makes it harder to get outdoors. (When the capris & sandals go back into the closet and the long pants and sweaters come out, you know it won't be long before the heavy winter coat, boots, hats & mittens do too...!) A lot of people have seasonal allergies that kick in during the fall months and make them miserable. And even if we're not going back to school ourselves (or sending kids off to school), September is generally when groups, recreational classes and other activities that went dormant during the summer start up again. It's easy to get caught up in the atmosphere of busy-ness, if we aren't careful.

From an ALI perspective, autumn can certainly be a tough time of year.  Several childless-not-by-choice friends have confessed they find the "back to school" hoopla on social media (which tends to drag on for more than a month, starting in the States in early/mid-August and going on through early/mid-September) just as difficult to get through -- or even more so -- than Halloween or Christmas. Another reminder of what we don't have, the life we wanted but didn't get, what might have been, time passing by, etc.

For me personally, autumn does carry some sad reminders, beyond the back-to-school stuff. I spent most of August, all of September & the first few weeks of October 1998 at home, off work, recuperating from the physical, mental and emotional effects of stillbirth.  What should have been the last few months of my pregnancy (my due date was mid-November), a time of excitement and sweet anticipation, became the first few months of my new life -- a life I never wanted and certainly never expected to have. Could my annual "I hate November" blog rants be viewed as the last gasps of "autumn anxiety??

Right now, I'm feeling fine. :)  But if my posts start taking on a more melancholy tone over the next while (the closer we get to November...??!), autumn anxiety just might be a factor. ;)

Do you experience "autumn anxiety"? 

Monday, September 11, 2017

#MicroblogMondays: Friend??

Someone unfriended me on Facebook last week. I know, because I noticed my friend count had dropped by one.  Really, I'm not obsessed with the number of my FB friends (or accumulating more, more, more!!) -- but the number doesn't change much, so when it does, it's noticeable. I have no idea which friend it was or why they dropped me, and it's been driving me nuts. (Was it you??  lol) (I keep meaning to do a printout of my friends to refer to at times like these, but it never gets done.)

I've been unfriended a couple of times in the past (that I've noticed), and I always wonder what I did that prompted that person to drop me. (I've never been told I was being unfriended -- and I always assume that it's my "fault," of course...!)  I think I mentioned a while back that I realized I was unfriended earlier this year by a Trump supporter, directly after the U.S. presidential inauguration/Women's March. :(  The link there was pretty clear.  There are some people on my friends list that I wouldn't miss if they unfriended me -- but for many reasons, this one hurt. :(    

Sometimes I notice the number of my FB friends magically increases again. In at least one case, I learned that one of my friends hadn't really unfriended me;  she'd just been taking a social media break and suspended and then activated her account, which was a bit of a relief. (One of dh's cousins does this every year -- she gives up Facebook for Lent!) Sometimes a friend's disappearance has nothing to do with you and everything to do with what's going in their life at the moment. Or they're just tired of dealing with social media. A good lesson to learn...!   

I have never unfriended anyone myself. I HAVE "unfollowed" a few people whose posts I found offensive, or overwhelming (because of their sheer volume...!).

Have you ever "unfriended" anyone on Facebook, or been unfriended yourself? Does being unfriended bother you? 

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

Saturday, September 9, 2017

"Some people get what they want and some don't"

I am reading another book by D.E. Stevenson for my Stevenson group on Yahoo.  It's called "Five Windows," and if I read it when I was a teenager (when I initially discovered Stevenson) I don't remember it. I am only a few chapters in, and I will (of course ;)   ) provide a full review when I'm done, but I already read something that struck a chord with me that I wanted to share here.

The novel's protagonist/narrator is a young Scottish boy named David, a keen observer of the people around him. David's friend, Freda Lorimer, wishes she was a boy;  her father (described as a "difficult" man) wanted a son, but got three daughters, including twins (!). David's mother fusses over the twins when they come to visit, prompting David to ask if she wishes he’d been a girl.
"Oh Davie, you mustn't be jealous! There's more misery caused by jealousy than anything else in the world. Jealousy is wicked and foolish too. It's like a disease," said Mother earnestly. "It's like an awful creeping disease. It's like ivy strangling a tree."  
Having said this, David's mother admits she would have liked a girl – a sister for him. Like David, she was an only child, and feels she missed something valuable in life -- but as she points out:
“...we can't choose.  Some people get what they want and some don’t… They say it’s bad for you to have everything you want but some people can’t bear to be thwarted. Nethercleugh (the Lorimer farm) would be a happier house if there were a laddie in it.” 
"Some people get what they want and some don't."  This line reminded me of Ariel Levy's book, "The Rules Do Not Apply" and how she asks New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd about having children. Dowd tells her, "Everybody doesn't get everything."

Life can disappoint us in ways big & small -- this is certainly something we learn when it comes to adoption, loss, infertility and coming to terms with childlessness. There will always be "what ifs?" and speculation about the life we might have had, if only... I think that learning to make the most of the hand we're dealt -- acknowledging our disappointment, but then making our peace with the life we wanted and learning gratitude for the life we have -- is the key to a (reasonably?) happy life (whether you have to deal with infertility & loss, or not). It can be a lifelong struggle, of course, and some of us do better (or worse) at it than others -- but the point is to keep trying. We can let our grief and disappointment eat away at us and sour us on life, as with Freda's father -- or we can try to enjoy the life that's in front of us. There are some choices we don't get to make, as David's mother observes -- but that's a choice that we do have.

In the immortal words of Sheryl Crow (lol), "It's not having what you want/It's wanting what you've got."  :)

I think that, if I've learned one key life lesson from these past 19 years, this would be it.

What do you think?

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Expand, contract

(I started this post two years ago (!), after I lost my job in July 2014 but before we sold our house & moved into a condo in April 2016. I recently found it in my drafts folder, updated/reworded and expanded on the theme before hitting "publish" now. ) 

Noemi had a interesting post a while back about "Restriction vs intention" -- what she can't do versus what she is trying to do.

This struck a chord with me and made me think about my own life. In some ways, I feel like my life has been shrinking, becoming more restricted, over the few years:
  • I lost my job = my income has shrunk (and so, hence, has my spending).  
  • My social circle (never very big to begin with) has shrunk. I can go for days without carrying on a meaningful, non-transactional conversation with another adult besides dh (most store clerks don't count). I have lost touch with almost all the people I used to interact with during the work day. I've stayed in touch with a few of my former coworkers through social media, but rarely see or socialize with any of them. We used to live closer to one retired coworker and she & I would get together now & then, but since the move she's a lot further away. Another friend I occasionally socialize with will be moving to another province soon. BIL & SIL and several of dh's cousins live close by, but most of them still work during the day, and are otherwise busy with kids & their activities, aging parents to look in on, etc. 
  • I downsized my possessions, even my precious book collection!! (maybe not enough, but still by a significant amount, lol), sold our house (which, at about 1200 square feet, wasn't huge to begin with) and moved into an 874-square-foot condo.  
  • I lost access to the great public transit we enjoyed (well, better than what we have here at the moment...!) -- & with it, my sense of mobility and freedom (particularly since I do not drive). There's road construction going on around our condo building at the moment that makes it difficult just to get out of our building's driveway, nevermind actually drive anywhere...!  
  • I'm losing people that I knew (and who knew me) during my growing-up years -- relatives, friends of my parents (including one just last week). I'm also obliged to attend funerals/visitations for people I don't necessarily know, or know well (but it's still a funeral, right? ...!) -- friends of dh's family, cousins' inlaws, etc. (I was reorganizing the paper in the slots on my desk recently and was startled by how many funeral cards I've accumulated in the past several months...!)  
  • Even the musicians who scored the soundtrack of my youth have been dropping like flies lately, it seems:  Glenn Frey of the Eagles, David Bowie, Prince, Kenny Shields of Streetheart, Skip Prokop of Lighthouse, to name just a few.  
I know that this happens to most of us as we age -- we retire, move into smaller homes or even seniors' residences, eventually give up our drivers' licenses and our annual trips to Florida (out-of-country travel insurance skyrockets once you're past 75), friends start to pass away... but for most people, that doesn't start happening until their 60s or 70s, at the earliest.  At this point in my life (mid-50s), most of my peers still have lives that are busy and full.  They have jobs, houses (some have cottages too, or houses or condos in Florida), children, grandchildren (or the prospect thereof), and friends & social activities that they've become involved with (some through their children). I've heard about some retirees who are actually buying LARGER homes, to accommodate their visiting children & grandchildren (or those adult children who are still living at home because of the tight job market & lack of affordable housing options).

I’ve been trying to “reframe” things in my mind -- focus less on what I might be losing vs what I'm gaining.  Example: I lost my job -- and with it, some of my income, my old daily routines & social interactions -- but also a LOT of stress -- and I've gained more time and freedom to do other things. I lost square footage, possessions and familiar surroundings when we downsized into our condo -- but I gained the opportunity for more travel & other experiences, closer proximity to our extended family, including our nephews (and maybe, in the future, some great-nephews & nieces??).  We lost many of the headaches that go hand in hand with home ownership -- lawns to mow, weeds to pull, sidewalks to shovel after snowstorms... And I gained a MUCH happier husband (which is definitely worth a lot!).  :)

But it's hard. It's hard to let go of the old familiar life & stuff.

Don't get me wrong. My "new" life is a good one, overall. Like my old life, it has its advantages, and its painful moments. But sometimes it's hard to stay focused on the positive, and not dwell on what you've lost or what you miss.

Do you feel like your life is expanding? Contracting? In neutral gear??

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

"The House by the Lake" by Thomas Harding

My family has never owned a cottage (or cabin, or camp, or summer house, or whatever you want to call it) -- but I have spent time at cottages belonging to friends over the years, and I understand their allure and the emotional power they can hold. Here in Ontario, "the cottage" holds a sacred place in the lives of many families, passed down from one generation to the next. On summer Friday afternoons, the highways are jammed with people heading north (and east) to "cottage country" (and then back to the city again on Sunday night). (These days, of course, some cottages are as big as houses, built to operate year-round, with all the modern amenities -- and just as expensive as a "regular" house, too... but I digress...!)

I love stories about old houses and family history, and about how people lived through the First and Second World Wars. So I was predisposed to enjoy "The House by the Lake: One House, Five Families, and a Hundred Years of German History" by Thomas Harding. I first saw it in hardcover in the bookstore last summer, but resisted temptation until the paperback was published this July.

As the subtitle would suggest, the book covers (more than) a century of German history.  But it's so much more than a recitation of historical facts. This is not just the story of a country, but also the story of a house on a lake (Gross Glienicke Lake) near Berlin, and the families who lived there -- and loved it,
  • The property was originally owned by a family called von Wollank, who purchased it as part of an entire estate in 1890, and then leased lakefront lots for development as a way to make money in the lean years of the 1920s.   
  • While the von Wollanks continued to own the land, the lake house of the story was originally built in 1927 and owned by Alfred Alexander, a prominent Jewish doctor. His family enjoyed most weekends and summers at the lake house, swimming, boating, playing tennis and tending to their garden, until the growing restrictions on Jews under Adolf Hitler forced them to flee to England in 1936.  
  • Eight months later, in 1937, the Alexanders' lawyer leased the lake house to Will Meisel, a prominent composer and music publisher, and his wife, Eliza Illiard, a music-hall singer and film actress. By 1940, the Alexanders' property had been seized by the Third Reich, which continued to own the land, but sold the lake house at a fraction of its true worth to the Meisels. 
    • In 1943, the Meisels went to Austria to avoid Will's conscription, leaving the house in the care of his business associate, Hans Hartmann, and his Jewish wife, Ottilie Schwartzkopf. They too left the house at the end of the war, when Soviet troops began arriving in the area and terrorizing the villagers. 
    • The Meisels returned to West Berlin in the fall of 1946, and purchased the land the lake house sat on from the village of Gross Glienicke in 1947 -- but bad roads, petrol shortages, and the numerous British and Soviet checkpoints made it difficult to access the property. In 1948, the Soviets erected a blockade around West Berlin, and in 1949, Germany was formally divided. In May 1952, the border was closed between the two Germanys.  
  • Unable to visit the lake house after the border closed, Will Meisel asked a local widow and mother of two, Ella Fuhrmann, if she would like to stay there as caretaker.  Although the house had not been insulated against the winter cold, the Fuhrmanns lived there for the next six years. It soon became clear the Meisels would not be returning.  
  • In 1958, the local council decided that another family should share the lake house with the Fuhrmanns -- Wolfgang and Irene Kuhne and their two children. In August 1961, construction began on the Berlin Wall -- directly behind the lake house, cutting off the families' view of and access to the lake. The Furhmanns moved out in February 1965, leaving the Kuhnes as the sole tenants for the next 30+ years. After the Berlin Wall fell in November 1989, Wolfgang and his step-grandson Roland hacked a hole in the wall behind the lake house, and stepped through to see the lake for the first time in more than 25 years. (The rest of the local wall was dismantled in the summer of 1991.)  
In 1993, Elsie Alexander Harding, whose family had built the lake house, brought several of her grandchildren -- including the author -- to see her "soul place" for the first time since she left Germany in 1936. Wolfgang Kuhne was still living there, but died in 1999. Roland continued to live -- and party -- in the house with some of his friends, until 2003, when he was evicted by the City of Potsdam, which planned to redevelop the site.

When Thomas Harding returned to Gross Glienicke in 2013, 20 years after his first visit, he found the house still standing but abandoned, derelict and about to be torn down. Could it be saved? Should it be saved?

I won't give any more away -- but I thoroughly enjoyed this well researched & written book -- its unique perspective on the events of the past 100+ years, on life behind the Iron Curtain, and the personal stories of the families who lived in the house -- and I was a little sad to see it end. Even the notes section is worth reading for the additional details it contains, as well as the closing acknowledgements, where we find out what has happened to some of the people in the story.

For more information on the book, the house and its future, visit AlexanderHaus.org .

*** *** ***

Reading Harding's author profile on Goodreads, I learned he was the author of several other books, including one called "Kadian Journal." A title with the word "journal" in it almost always piques my curiosity, and I clicked over to find out more about the book. Imagine my surprise when I read:
In July 2012 Thomas Harding's fourteen-year-old son Kadian was killed in a bicycle accident. Shortly afterwards Thomas began to write. This book is the result. 
Beginning on the day of Kadian's death, and continuing to the year anniversary, and beyond, Kadian Journal is a record of grief in its rawest form, and of a mind in shock and questioning a strange new reality. Interspersed within the journal are fragments of memory: jewel-bright everyday moments that slowly combine to form a biography of a lost son, and a lost life. 
It is an extraordinary document, and several things at once: a lucid, raw, and startlingly brave book: a powerful and moving account of a father's grief, and a beautiful tribute to an exceptional son. 
Another book to add to my wish list (and from there to my immense to-be-read pile...!)!

*** *** ***

Another book by Harding: "Hanns and Rudolf," about how Hanns Alexander, a German Jew in the British Army, hunted down Rudolf Hoess, the Kommandant of Auschwitz, after the war, and brought him to justice. Hanns Alexander was Harding's great-uncle, the younger brother of his grandmother Elsie. Hanns briefly visited the lake house in 1945 as the war was ending, the only member of the family to see it between 1936, when the family left for England, and 1993, when Elsie returned with her grandchildren.

This was book #14 that I've read so far in 2017, bringing me to 58% of my 2017 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books.  I am currently 2 books behind schedule to meet my goal. :p  ;)

Monday, September 4, 2017

#MicroblogMondays: Labour Day

It's Labour Day. :)  I choose to ignore the double meaning of the term, with its reminders of pregnancy and babies, and am striving mightily to ignore its most familiar association hereabouts -- i.e., Labour Day = the (unofficial) end of summer, the last day before school starts again tomorrow.  

"Back to school" time has lost a bit of its sting in the last few years.  Obviously, it's been more than 30 years since I darkened the door of a classroom, and even if Katie had been here, she would have graduated high school two years ago and most likely would be in her second year of university or college (gulp).  Although we regularly drove by several schools in our old neighbourhood, we would have to go out of our way to pass by a school, living where we do now.

Still, there's a fall chill in the air these days, and I feel a bit of melancholy descending upon me. It's really not the end of summer, yet -- we still have a couple of weeks to go before fall officially kicks in, and I do enjoy the changing colours and cooler weather (and I am hearing predictions that it will be a milder-than-usual fall) -- but the summer has seemed far too short this year.

On a happier note, the malls will be a lot less crowded this coming week....!  ;)

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