Monday, July 25, 2016

#MicroblogMondays: Some thoughts from the road

*  We left home almost two weeks ago on our summer road trip, heading through southern Ontario into and across Michigan, Indiana & Illinois to eastern Iowa, where we met up with my parents, aunt & uncle and other relatives for our biannual family reunion. Then north through Minnesota, with stops to visit more  relatives, celebrate my dad's birthday at his favourite casino (!) and touch base in my mother's hometown, before crossing back into Canada again and heading to my parents' house.
* So far, it's been a mostly positive experience and fun time. :)
*  My recently-discovered 4th cousin from Scotland and his wife also joined us in Iowa. (We share a set of great-great-great grandparents;  our great-great grandfathers were brothers.)  To say it was a thrill to meet him and reunite the two branches of our family, more than 150 years after my great-great grandparents (born in Ireland) left Scotland to come to North America, was an understatement.  
*  We were warned about the traffic around the southern edge of Chicago. Either we were lucky, or the people who warned us have never tried driving the highways around Toronto, lol.
*  If you think that whining noise you heard amid the thunder and lightning and pounding rain at 6:15 a.m. is a tornado warning siren -- you're probably right. (Yikes!!) 
*  GPS is great to navigate through strange cities -- BUT it's not much help when you run into roadwork and detours. And I didn't have a paper map for backup. Luckily, I did have my new smartphone with Google Maps and a roaming plan with data for the States, and we eventually made it to our hotel. (My parents, who are smartphone-less, didn't arrive for almost two hours after we did!) .
* If you think you're going to arrive at your hotel past 6 p.m., make sure your reservation is guaranteed with a credit card. (We learned this the hard way -- although my mother insists the hotel had her card number.)
* Ozone machines don't do much to clear the air in a smoking room. (The only rooms left after the reservation debacle were designated smoking.  I didn't think any hotels still allowed smoking in rooms, but this was at a casino hotel on an Indian reservation, where they have their own rules.)  We made a point of only taking in as many clothes as we felt we needed for our brief stay, leaving the rest in another suitcase in our car -- and they all went into the washer when we reached my parents house. Ugh!!
* Definitive "we're not in Canada anymore, Toto" moment: seeing a sign advising that handguns were not permitted inside our hotel. (Like you need to TELL people??!) (Dh actually saw a guy with a gun, plainly visible in a holster, in a Perkins restaurant we were eating at. I'm glad he didn't tell me until after the fact. Highly unnerving.) 
* There's nothing like new potatos and yellow wax beans fresh from Dad's garden. :) 
* There's no place like home.
* Home may be where the heart is... but unfortunately, it's also where the mosquitos are too. :p  ;)  (lol) Pass the Benadryl cream, please... :p 
* We've been very busy, everywhere we've been. I've barely had time to keep my online photo album current, let alone read or comment on many blogs. (My apologies.)
* Taking care of two preschoolers can be exhausting, even when it's just for a few hours, and even when there's six adults in the house to share the responsibility and keep them entertained.
* I think we may need a vacation from our vacation when we get back home, lol.

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

Monday, July 11, 2016

#MicroblogMondays: Odds & ends & followups

* The bridal shower yesterday went very well -- but I am exhausted, lol.
* I made six pans of graham cracker treats on Friday for the sweet table at the shower -- which worked out to more than 160 square pieces -- and they ALL disappeared. The bride's aunt came to my table, wide-eyed, & said, "WHAT IS THAT?? HOW did you do it??" I wrote out the recipe for her on a paper napkin, lol. (After six pans, I know it by heart!) 
* I was trying not to think about Katie too much, and mostly succeeded. It was an emotional enough event to deal with as it was. So proud of my nephews. :)  But how did they get to be so grown up???
* I had what the dr agrees was likely a gallbladder attack about a week ago, & have been trying to watch what I eat since then. The shower yesterday probably did not help matters. Did I mention we are leaving shortly on a road trip??  And of course, everyone knows the healthiest eating is always found on road trips... :p   Healthy vibes appreciated... I so want to enjoy this vacation.   
* It seems Andrea Leadsom, the UK Conservative politician who caused a kerfuffle by implying her motherhood made her a better candidate than her childless (also female) rival for the party leadership (& prime ministership)(as I blogged about here), has resigned (after apologizing for her remarks), thus making Theresa May the default winner.
*  And so Britain has a female prime minister (again). I well remember Margaret Thatcher, and I know that being a woman is no guarantee of good leadership. But it's still (sadly) uncommon enough to be a thrill, and while I really don't know anything about the woman, I can't help but think that she won't do any worse than the men already have. And I can't help but think that now that the men have mucked everything up (e.g., Brexit), they've all taken their marbles & gone home (case in point: David Cameron, Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage...) and left the mess for the women to clean up. Typical...!! ;) 
* Not to add to the female cattiness flying around re: these two women, but Leadsom, at 53, is two years YOUNGER than me, and May, at 59, is four years older. I look at the photos of both of them and think "I don't look THAT old, do I??!"  :p  ;)  (Of course, political life is not exactly a great anti-aging strategy, is it??)
*  Two good blogposts about the controversy, and why it was so problematic: here and here

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

Friday, July 8, 2016


I don't know much about British politics, or about the two contenders to succeed Prime Minister David Cameron as leader of the Conservative Party, except that both are women in their 50s. I suppose it was (sadly) inevitable, then, that the motherhood question would come up.

Last week, I saw an interview with Theresa May, which lasered in on the fact that she does not have children (apparently not by choice).

Then tonight, headlines started popping up in my newsfeed that the other contender, Andrea Leadsom, gave an interview suggesting that she would make a better leader than May because she has children, and therefore has a stake in the future of the country.

I was reminded of similar kerfuffle in Canadian (Alberta provincial) politics a couple of years ago, which I blogged about here. In this case, it was an underling who made some nasty comments;  both of the then-leaders involved handled themselves with dignity (thank goodness!!).

It seems ludicrous to me to imply that mothers (or fathers, for that matter) are somehow better qualified for roles in public life, simply because they are parents. Of course, mothers who enter politics also get harangued by the press about whether their husbands support their ambitions and how they will juggle the demands of both work and parenting. (You don't generally see men being asked the same kinds of questions, do you?)  Either way, it seems, women in politics are screwed. :(  No wonder people are reluctant to run for public office...

C is for cookie

Growing up on the Canadian Prairies, the bridal & baby showers I attended (although I'll admit I didn't attend many before my own wedding & move to Toronto) were simple, homespun affairs -- a dozen or two women gathered in someone's basement rec room or church hall, some veggie & fruit trays with dip and/or maybe a few salads, little sandwiches and punch, and then a few platters of squares or "dainties," as we'd call them, along with cake, to have with your coffee or tea. 

(I had two showers before my own wedding. The first was hosted by my aunt in her basement rec room. There were about 20-30 women there, mostly relatives, who all chipped in to buy me several place settings of my chosen china. (Stephanie, by Royal Doulton, for the record -- now discontinued.)  The second was a surprise come & go luncheon, hosted by my mother's neighbour on her spacious deck. About 20 neighbours, coworkers and people I'd met through my work, came by on their lunch hours (it was a weekday & they had to get back to work) to wish me well. They'd all chipped in to buy me some towels, a hamper, toothbrush holder and accessories for our bathroom. My family had only lived in the town for a little over a year and I was tickled and touched.) 

So my mind was completely blown when I moved to the Toronto area & began attending showers for my Italian-Canadian in-laws. I've been to a few basement or (in the summer) backyard showers, but these tend to be the exception, not the rule. It's not uncommon to hold showers in a banquet hall (often the same banquet hall where the wedding reception will be held), or in an (Italian) restaurant. Nor is it uncommon for the guest list to number between 50 and 100 women, or for the menu to run several courses, almost as elaborate as the wedding meal itself.

I was also introduced to a new (to me) tradition/phenomenon: the cookie table.

Italian bridal (& baby) showers and weddings hereabouts traditionally feature a massive sweet/dessert table, with hundreds of dozens of cookies baked (often over many months, and stored in the freezer) by mothers and aunts and other friends and relatives. These are mounded onto trays and sprinkled with confetti (not the paper stuff that you throw at the bride & groom, but sugar-covered almonds) and sometimes Hershey's Kisses or other tiny chocolates. Not only are the cookies for guests to feast on while they're at the party, but everyone lines up with a paper plate (which gets covered in aluminium foil) -- or a Styrofoam clamshell container or a Chinese food takeout container -- and fills it up with cookies to take home too. Dh would happily pounce on the container I'd filled specially with him in mind, munching on the goodies he remembered his mother & aunts making from his childhood.

After 30+ years of living here and going to Italian showers and weddings, I was reminded of the uniqueness of this custom when I went to a shower earlier this spring, where the groom's family was not Italian, and were clearly bewildered when everyone started lining up, clamshell containers in hand. "What's happening? What are we doing now?" I heard one puzzled woman ask. And then the explanations started.

An online friend from the Pittsburgh area expressed surprise when I mentioned the cookie table to her -- she thought it was a Pittsburgh thing. Guess not (although several of the articles I found online about cookie tables specifically mentioned it as a western Pennsylvania thing -- even a local GTA-based newspaper!).

Do the showers and weddings where you live feature a cookie table? 

*** *** ***

So -- when Oldest Nephew announced his engagement, I told SIL that I would be happy to contribute cookies for Fiancee's bridal shower, if needed. I don't have any traditional Italian recipes for biscotti or amaretti or pizzelles in my repertoire, but (as I posted here), I do bake cookies now & then. ;)

I'd made some simple graham cracker snacks recently for the nephews that my mother has made since my sister & I were kids. (The original recipe came from one of my grandmother's neighbours.)  They went like hotcakes.  And SIL told me that Fiancee asked her, "Do you think Aunt Lori would make some of those for my shower?"

"Seriously??!"  I said. "It's not exactly traditional Italian cookie table stuff." 

"I don't want traditional," Fiancee insisted, when I made that comment to her.

Well, whatever the bride wants...! 

And so, this is what I did earlier today:

Six pans, 28 cracker squares each... you do the math. Needless to say I was pretty tired by the time the last pan came out of the oven. But hey, isn't this what aunties are for??  :) 

Graham Crispie Bars

Preheat the oven to 350F. 

Grease a cookie sheet & cover the pan with graham crackers in a single layer, side by side (about 24-28 cracker squares, depending on the size of your pan).

In a saucepan on the stovetop, over medium-low heat, melt 1/2 cup of butter & stir in 3/4 cup of brown sugar until thoroughly dissolved and slightly bubbly. Spread the mixture over the crackers & sprinkle with nuts (I used slivered almonds;  we've also used walnuts in the past -- about 1/2 cup).

Pop in the oven and bake at 350F for 10 minutes.  Cool & break apart.

That's it! So simple. If you like sugar, you'll love this. ;)  I have friends who make a similar recipe with soda crackers, the brown sugar/butter mix, and then a layer of melted chocolate on top. One friend makes it at Christmas & calls it "Christmas crack." ;) 

*** *** ***

A few articles about the cookie table tradition:

The wedding? I'm here for the cookies (New York Times)

In Pittsburgh, the wedding cookie table is a peculiar and wonderful local tradition (National Post)

An Ode to the Italian Cookie Table – how would we celebrate without it? (An Italian Canadian Life blog)

What's a Wedding Without Cookies?  (NPR)

Wednesday, July 6, 2016


Today is our 31st (gulp) wedding anniversary. Reading back over previous anniversary-related posts,  I was struck by the references to challenges, upheavals, changes -- especially over the past three years. 2013 -- dh's job loss. 2015 -- mine.

This past year was no different. Condo hunting & bidding, decluttering & putting our house up for sale, and selling it -- all in the space of less than three weeks (!) -- and then moving, and all the upheaval related to that -- yeah, it's been challenging, to say the least.  In fact, I would say the first few months of 2016 rank right up there with the turbulence of infertility treatment, in terms of stress and misery.

Long story short: we're here. We survived.  And things have been looking up again. Most importantly, dh is happier than he has been in a very long time. That makes ME happy -- makes all the upheaval worthwhile. (Well, that, and my glorious new kitchen, lol.)

So here's to new beginnings. :)  Here's to happy memories from 31 years ago.  And to surviving 31 years of ups and downs, and ups again, in between. And hanging in there, for better or for worse, through thick and through thin. And staying best friends, as well as partners. And here's to at least 31 more. :)

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

"Sex Object: A Memoir" by Jessica Valenti

I seem to be on a feminist reading kick lately. ;)  "Sex Object: A Memoir" is a slim but powerful volume by Jessica Valenti, a prominent member of the new wave of younger feminists, who co-founded the website Feministing and writes for The Guardian, among other publications.

"Sex Object"  traces Valenti's experiences growing up female in New York City and, in particular, as an object of male attention -- some of it wanted, but a lot of it definitely not. What does it do to your psyche to be exposed to relentless, pervasive sexism, day in and day out, for a large part of your female life?   This is something that I don't think most men realize or understand, and that I don't think a lot women really think about in-depth. (Maybe because it's too depressing?)

"Laugh it off... don't pay attention... don't let it bother you," we are told. How can we not let it bother us? As Valenti writes:

Pretending these offenses roll off our backs is strategic -- don't give them the f***ing satisfaction --  but it isn't the truth. You lose something along the way... even subversive sarcasm adds a cool-girl nonchalance, an updated, sharper version of the expectation that women be forever pleasant, even as we're eating sh**.  
This sort of posturing is a performance that I requires strength I do not have anymore. Rolling with the punches and giving as good as we're getting requires that we subsume our pain under a veneer of I don't give a sh**.  This inability to be vulnerable -- the unwillingness to be victims, even if we are -- doesn't protect us, it just covers up the wreckage.  
But no one wants to listen to our sad stories unless they are smoothed over with a joke or nice melody. And even then, not always. No one wants to hear a woman talking or writing about pain in a way that suggests it doesn't end. Without a pat solution, silver lining, or happy ending we're just complainers -- downers who don't realize how good we actually have it. [emphasis mine]
(That last paragraph gave me a jolt of recognition -- ALIers, she's singing our song, isn't she??)

This book made me think about my own personal experiences with unwanted male attention and sexist treatment. I've never been flashed or groped on the subway, that I remember (thank goodness -- and knock wood), but I've got my own war stories to tell. (Don't we all?)  Back around the time of the horrendous 2014 murders in Isla Vista, California (which Valenti wrote about here), there was a hashtag going around -- #YesAllWomen -- where women described online their own experiences with sexism and harassment. I started (but never finished) a blog post into which I poured memories of my own experiences. Such as:
  • The elementary schoolboys who took great delight in snapping the elastic straps on my training bra.
  • The catcalls.
  • The leers.
  • The slurs scrawled across the door of my high school locker.
  • The nights I would speedwalk home from campus by myself, avoiding the shrubbery and constantly looking over my shoulder. (How many guys do you know who did that?) 
  • The nights I spent money on a cab I could ill afford, so that I wouldn't have to walk home in fear.
  • The anonymous phone call, in which some jerk described what he wanted to do to me. (It was probably just a "prank" call -- but I hung up and then locked myself in my bedroom, shaking in fear for the next few hours. My roommates weren't home; I was alone in the house. Did he know that?) 
  • The drunken idiot who used to hang around me at college parties, refusing to take a hint. It was funny for awhile (until it wasn't).  The truly hilarious, ridiculous thing is he could never get my name right. I was waiting at a bus stop across from the dorm once, when I heard him screaming, "Linda, I love you!!" out a window. "MY NAME IS NOT LINDA!!" I yelled back, trying to stifle a giggle. 
  • The rejected suitor, who tried to penny the door of my dorm room shut, with me sleeping inside of it (I woke up with a start & started yelling "Who's there??" loud enough to wake my next-door neighbour -- he fled, mission unaccomplished, leaving a few pennies lying on the floor in front of my door). (I knew it was him, because he'd told me about how he and some of his floormates had done the same thing as a prank to someone else.) 
  • The scruffy young panhandler who, when I politely declined to hand over some change, started following me down the street, screaming unprintable things at me. (To add insult to injury, this happened right outside of the clinic where I used to go for ultrasounds during my infertility treatment days.)
  • The man who approached and then grabbed my sister as she, a friend & I strolled through a park across the road from my grandparents' home in early 1970s sleepy smalltown Minnesota. (She gave him a sharp jab to the ribs with her elbow & he let her go. We ran home, sobbing. My grandparents called the sheriff -- a high school classmate of my uncle's -- but by the time they got to the park, the man was long gone.)
#YesAllWomen. #YesMeToo.

Some reviewers have called this book depressing. It is, in a way (particularly the final chapter, which is simply a mind-numbing sample of the ridiculously misogynistic comments Valenti has received through email and social media) -- but it also makes you think -- about your own experiences, about how pervasive this kind of behaviour is (still! today!! despite the many great strides women have made over the past 50 years), how long it has been going on, what it will take to inspire change, and what kind of world we are leaving to the next generation.

Valenti dedicated this book to her daughter, Layla.  ALI alert! -- Layla was born prematurely by emergency C-section when Valenti developed pre-eclampsia and then HELLP syndrome during a difficult pregnancy. Layla spent several months in the NICU;  her mother developed post-traumatic stress disorder. These are painful chapters to read, but I so appreciated Valenti's brutal honesty in writing them.

This is book #11 that I've read so far in 2016.

Monday, July 4, 2016

#MicroblogMondays: Never the (mother of the) bride

You know the old saying:  always the bridesmaid, never the bride? (Believe me, I thought of that saying more than once during my infertility journey, especially whenever I had a baby shower to attend. Always the attendee, never the honouree..) 

Well, I HAVE been the bride (which some women want but never get to be)(and I've been a bridesmaid, once, for SIL). But I will never be the mother of the bride. :(  (Or the groom, for that matter.)

I will soon, however, be the (very proud) aunt & godmother of the groom -- and while that's certainly not the same thing, it IS pretty damned exciting, on its own merits. :) 

I spent several hours over the weekend, helping the mothers of the bride & the groom (my SIL) put together centrepieces, raffle and game prizes, party favours, etc., for Oldest Nephew's Fiancee's upcoming bridal shower. Were there some painful moments? Yes. I sat silently, stuffing candy into tiny boxes and tying & curling ribbons while the (deservedly) proud & excited mothers talked about their children, compared parenting notes and swapped old war stories. As usual, I seemed to be the only adult woman there (excluding the bride) who wasn't a mother. (Of a living child, anyway.)

But it was also fun. And it was nice to be asked, to be included, to feel like I was even a small part of things. I will never get to do this for my own daughter --- this is as close to the mother of the bride (or groom) experience as I'm ever going to get. (At least until Younger Nephew's wedding, a couple of years from now...!) And I'm determined to savour every minute of it.

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