Wednesday, February 27, 2013

30 before 30

The countdown is on to March Break! Just 1.5 weeks to go. I can't wait. This semester continues to kick my ass.

My doctor's appointment went relatively well on Monday. There's some progress and a bit more frustration. I'll talk more about that on Friday. Today, let's talk lists. I love lists. And when it comes to reading, I keep many. There are lists I make of books that I'd like to read, and there are lists that I've found of books that I should read. I enjoy tracking my books and comparing them to those "best of" or "must read" lists.

Recently, I came across a list of the 30 books you should read before turning 30 (found via Miss Bibliophile). I turn 30 in three months so I was curious to see where I stood. Here's the list, with the books I've read bolded and books I own in blue:

30 Before 30
  1. The Iliad and the Odyssey: Homer
  2. The Secret History: Donna Tartt
  3. Jesus’ Son: Denis Johnson
  4. The Complete Stories: Flannery O’Connor
  5. Much Ado about Nothing: William Shakespeare
  6. The Sun Also Rises: Ernest Hemingway
  7. The Road: Cormac McCarthy
  8. Maus: Art Spiegelman
  9. Ender’s Game: Orson Scott Card
  10. Pride and Prejudice: Jane Austen
  11. Middlesex: Jeffrey Eugenides
  12. Ghost World: Daniel Clowes
  13. On the Road: Jack Kerouac
  14. Their Eyes Were Watching God: Zora Neale Hurston
  15. Cat’s Cradle: Kurt Vonnegut
  16. Lolita: Vladimir Nabokov
  17. The Lord of the Rings: J.R.R. Tolkien
  18. 1984: George Orwell
  19. The Catcher in the Rye: J.D. Salinger
  20. The Great Gatsby: F. Scott Fitzgerald
  21. Beloved: Toni Morrison
  22. Infinite Jest: David Foster Wallace
  23. Lord of the Flies: William Golding
  24. Don Quixote: Miguel de Cervantes
  25. The Trial: Franz Kafka
  26. To the Lighthouse: Virginia Woolf
  27. Fahrenheit 451: Ray Bradbury
  28. Invisible Man: Ralph Ellison
  29. To Kill a Mockingbird: Harper Lee
  30. Treasure Island: Robert Louis Stevenson
Read: 7

Yikes! Apparently, I'll be entering my 30s lacking a lot of literary enlightenment.

Another recent find is the Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge (also via Miss Bibliophile). I love Gilmore Girls and it's mind-boggling to see just how many books were referenced during its seven season run. This challenge lists all of them. There are around 250 titles on the list. So far, I've read 56 of them. Or possibly 46. I lost count somewhere along the way!

Other lists I use:
1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (64/1294*)
Modern Library Top 100 (11 from the Board list, 14 from the Reader list)
The Observer's 100 Best Novels of All Time (18)

*There have been two more editions of this list since it originally came out. The 1294 comes from combining all of the books that have appeared in all versions of the list.

Do you use lists to track your reading or to help you choose books?

Monday, February 25, 2013

Review: Cannery Row

Cannery Row, John  Steinbeck
Read for Book Club
Rating: 3.0/5.0

The description, from
Unburdened by the material necessities of the more fortunate, the denizens of Cannery Row discover rewards unknown in more traditional society.
Henri the painter sorts through junk lots for pieces of wood to incorporate into the boat he is building, while the girls from Dora Flood’s bordello venture out now and then to enjoy a bit of sunshine. Lee Chong stocks his grocery with almost anything a man could want, and Doc, a young marine biologist who ministers to sick puppies and unhappy souls, unexpectedly finds true love.
Cannery Row is just a few blocks long, but the story it harbors is suffused with warmth, understanding, and a great fund of human values.
Cannery Row is my third go-round with Steinbeck. I tried to read East of Eden when Oprah chose it for her book club. That didn't go well and I abandoned it a few chapters in. Later, I made it through Of Mice and Men and actually almost enjoyed it. On the advice of some lovely people from LibraryThing, I decided to try a couple more short novels before returning to East of Eden. Cannery Row was one of the recommendations so when it came up as a book club suggestion at our last meeting, I happily voted for it, thinking it a perfect opportunity to test the waters again.

As it turns out, Steinbeck and I are just not meant for each other. This is not to say that Cannery Row isn't good. Like Of Mice and Men, it has moments that are genuinely funny and moments that are terribly sad. Steinbeck conveys those scenes very well. Still, I didn't find it satisfying. Like my previous attempts with his books, I didn't connect with the characters. That's a bit of a deal-breaker for a character driven story like this one. Maybe I just don't "get it" and that's ok.

Friday, February 22, 2013

TTC Friday: Getting Some Answers

Another week, a few more almost positive OPKs, one actual positive OPK, and still no sign of ovulation. The fun continues. [insert sarcastises here]

The DH needed to order something from Amazon earlier in the week so I had him add a copy of Taking Charge of Your Fertility to the order. I had borrowed it from the library when I first read it and I've been wanting to refer back to parts of it ever since, so it was time to pony up and buy it. It arrived two days ago and I've been skimming through it for some insight.

Based on TCOYF, I'm 95% sure my issues are a combination of post-birth control regulating and a follicular cyst (or some other type, but follicular seems to be the most likely type for my situation). This is considered a "functional cyst," meaning that it usually doesn't cause serious issues and resolves itself over time. These types of cysts are more common in women whose hormones are starting to go haywire as they approach menopause so when they occur in someone my age (pushing 30), they can be a cause for concern, particularly when TTC.

The plan was to get this checked out over March Break, which is in another two weeks. In the process of trying to schedule that, I learned that my doctor is retiring and is already phasing in his replacement. If I want an appointment, a) none are available for physicals until April and b) I can't see him anymore. This is not good news. My family doctor has been amazing over the years and when I had a gyno issue a few years back, completely unrelated to any of this, he handled it wonderfully. He knows my history and my family history since he saw my parents too. He used to deliver babies. The man knows what he is doing when it comes to women's health, which is rare for a family doctor. There is no one else I'd truly be comfortable with going to about all of this.

In the end, he took pity on me and was able to fit me in this coming Monday afternoon. If he finds signs of a problem, he'll refer me to a gynecologist and that will be that. I'll be grateful to finally have something concrete to go on and maybe a plan. I'm also a bit overwhelmed by the prospect of having to change doctors when all of this is going on and by the prospect of potentially having a diagnosis. It's so much easier to speculate and talk to yourself into believing that you just need to wait it out a little longer, it's probably no big deal. Putting a label on it and having to deal with it is a whole other story. I will handle it, if there is something that needs to be handled, but I am still not sure that I'm ready to actually hear it.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Mid-Week Randomness

I have a review of John Steinbeck's Cannery Row in the works but don't have the brainpower to knock it out today. Initially, I was only teaching part time this semester but as of yesterday, I am back to full time. This would normally be good news but so far, it is kicking my ass.

One of my classes is a split, so there are two separate courses running together. This particular combination is not at all a good one but it is what it is and it's mine until June. The split class is last period and it is exhausting. I finish one lesson only to turn around and teach another to the other half of the class. Some days, there is overlap and that helps but most of the time, there isn't. Now that I have two other classes to teach before I even get to that one (I have prep in the morning then teach straight through the rest of the day), I am DONE when that final bell goes.

To tide you over, some random updates:
  • I started listening to the audio version of Little Princes by Conor Grennan. So far, I love it. I had held off on it because I thought it would be too similar to Three Cups of Tea, which I liked a lot. This may end up being even better.
  • I also started reading Alice Munro's collection, Something I've Been Meaning to Tell You. She's one of my favourite writers but I'm not feeling this one yet.
  • I did not get around to yoga last week. The plan was to do it over the weekend but I found out on Friday that I was getting those two new classes and spent the weekend planning...also being a bit lazy since it was a long weekend. I'm hoping to work it in this week.
  • Still haven't ovulated, though I think I did get an actual positive OPK two days ago. WTF, body?!
I'll leave you with my weekday anthem...

Monday, February 18, 2013

Review: Bossypants

Bossypants, Tina Fey
Rating: 3.5/5.0

In the mood for something lighter on the drive to/from work, I've been listening to Tina Fey's Bossypants. Since Fey reads it herself, it is very funny and entertaining. It does make a difference when the author does the reading. Case in point: Steven Tyler's memoir, Does The Noise In My Head Bother You?, was read by a guy who tried to sound like Tyler and that was funny at times for all the wrong reasons.

In Bossypants, Fey talks about various parts of her life, from her awkward teenage years through her days working at The Second City in Chicago, to her time on Saturday Night Live and eventually 30 Rock. I really enjoyed the Don Fey chapter, where she describes how badass her father is, and the chapter on her disastrous honeymoon cruise to Bermuda. Fey also details how she came to play Sarah Palin in the famous SNL parodies, which was a very interesting behind-the-scenes glimpse into how the media and politics come together during an election campagin. The book ends with Fey trying to decide whether or not to have a second child. I could relate to a lot of her feelings on that subect, though we are only trying for our first right now.

One of the most interesting parts of the book for me was the way that Fey discussed being a woman in a traditionally male-dominated field. She specifically mentions the institutionalised sexism she encountered at The Second City. If you're interested, zeteticat from Bookish Habits transcribed that part in her review, here.

As much as I enjoyed Bossypants, I only gave it a 3.5 because ultimately, it wasn't very satisfying. Fey would sometimes go off on tangents that were amusing (surviving photoshoots for magazines, the different writers on 30 Rock and their MVP jokes) but I would have rather heard more about her own life experiences. She gives snapshots about certain parts of her life but there is a lot that we don't hear about. Her response would probably be that it's none of our business, which is fair, but then how much of a memoir is it? As a result, I didn't come away from this book with as much insight into her as I'd expected.

I'd still recommend Bossypants but for now, Craig Ferguson's American On Purpose remains my favourite celebrity memoir.

Friday, February 15, 2013

TTC Friday: Stalking My Own Chart

Like last time, here's a warning for those of you who don't care to know what my lady parts are up to: potential TMI ahead. Come back next week to see my review of Bossypants.

Two weeks ago, I was dealing with unexpected spotting and speculating on potential issues. The spotting stopped after a couple of days but unfortunately, the speculation continues. Here's what my chart looks like for this cycle:

There are several things wrong here:
  • My period  is shorter and lighter than it has ever been, including while on birth control. It may not be a problem but it is unusual. On the plus side, I'm not spotting for days afterward anymore.
  • The spotting from CD14 - 17 (hasn't happened since that crazy long first post-pill cycle)
  • The crazy amount of fertile CM
  • The lack of +OPK and temperature shift (those crosshairs are lying)
  • If you could see the boxes with my symptoms, you'd see that I've checked off "ovulation pain" nearly every day since CD9. It's that weird pain I described before.
Taken individually, none of these things mean much but all of them in one cycle would seem to indicate an issue. In my last post, I was speculating about low progesterone and cysts. Since then, I've done a lot more reading and am pretty sure that I had the progesterone thing backwards. It's not a lack of progesterone that my chart is indicating, it's an excess of estrogen. I've had an estrogen dominant cycle before and this particulary cycle has some of the hallmarks of that one, so it wouldn't be surprising. As for cysts, I'm still not sure. My mom has a history of them so I'm not ruling that out yet.

The OPKs have been interesting this cycle. I started using them during my second cycle after birth control, when I hit CD30 again without a temp spike. I wanted to seee if my body was gearing up to ovulate multiple times before actually succeeding. So far, I'd only seen one surge and it's been followed by a temp spike just as it should. This cycle, however, the test line has faded in until it was almost positive once a week for the last three weeks, most recently just yesterday, and it has led nowhere. Where Fertility Friend has placed those crosshairs, CD21, coincides with one of the almost positive OPKs and the temp spike on CD23 had me excited until the next morning. Now, I don't know what to think.

All in all, this has just been a very messed up cycle. I don't know if estrogen alone could cause all of this. Maybe that combined with illness and the antibiotics that I took through the second half of last cycle? I didn't think antibiotics could wreak this much havoc. This certainly isn't the longest I've gone without ovulating yet, but it's so disappointing and frustrating to have thought that things were finally back to normal only to have my body decide to change things up again. 

A crazy newbie on The Bump recently posted, to those of us that were frustrated about this process, that it's all good because hey, the trying is fun.

In another two weeks, I'll be into month #8. I'll still be on cycle 5. My hormones will still be janked. This shit stopped being fun a long time ago.

[By the way, I did decide to talk to my doctor about all of this when I go for a physical, which I'm overdue for anyway. But actually getting an appointment has turned into a whole separate set of frustrations, which is another post for another day. Not a good time to retire, doc!]

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Working It Out

Since we started TTC, the husband and I have made good changes to our eating habits. Not that they were too bad before, but we have benefited from adding more fruits and vegetables into our meals, switching to whole grains instead of refined, cutting back on processed foods, and drinking more water (which I need to keep working on).

There's just one more little thing...

My body is in desperate need of exercise. Last year, I taught at a much larger school and had to climb three flights of stairs multiple times a day -- without air conditioning for most of May and June. It was not pleasant but my lower body looked awesome at the end of the semester! Then summer came and it all went to hell.

I swore I'd start working out in August, but it didn't happen. When I started teaching full time again in November, I got access to the school's weight room and swore I'd start then. It didn't happen. The new year...nope. In my own defense, I blame that last one on being really sick. The point is, something needs to change. I can't keep making excuses.

In terms of fitness goals, I don't necessarily want to lose weight, though I am currently 5-10 lbs over my ideal so that would be a bonus. Mostly, I would just like to get toned again. My muscles are lacking the definition they used to have and they're crying out for a good stretch.

My plan is to return to my old standby, yoga. I've been using this video (just The Joy of Yoga, not the other one) since high school and it's still my go-to workout. Every now and then, I throw this one into the mix for a more intense, longer set. In addition to the yoga, I'd like to try the Couch to 5K program. I've never been a big fan of running so it'll be a challenge, but I think that's a good thing. Ultimately, I'd love to be able to run a half marathon but for now, just the 5K will be a big accomplishment!

In the short term, I need to work on making time for this. The running is going to have to wait until the weather improves, but there's no excuse for skipping the yoga. So, my goal for now is to do yoga at least once by the end of this week. Just once. Baby steps, right?

Monday, February 11, 2013

One Day at a Time

One Day, David Nicholls
Rating: 4.0/5.0

One Day was one of's Best Books of 2010. That and its unique (to me, anyway) premise drew me in. Dexter and Emma meet on the day of their graduation in 1988. They spend the night together and go their separate ways, but that one night forges a lasting connection. Each chapter of the book gives us a snapshot of their lives on that same date for the next twenty years. Sometimes their paths intersect, sometimes they drift apart again, but they are never far from each other's thoughts.

I didn't get into the book right away; it took a while to warm up to the characters, especially Dexter. By the end of the second chapter, though, I was hooked. There were times when the book got a bit repetitive but it never dragged. There were many occasions where I didn't want to put it down. The ending was completely unexpected, too. I had to restrain myself from yelling "What?!" and only kept silent because my husband was asleep next to me at the time.

While I never did completely come around to liking Dexter, I did connect with Emma's character.Early on, Dexter accuses her of staying in a miserable job because she is scared to be happy; the crap job is easier. She stays in a less than satisfying relationship for similar reasons. I could relate to that and couldn't help but root for her as she developed the confidence to do what she needed to do.

The structure keeps things interesting. We only get to see Dexter and Emma one day a year, leaving us to read between the lines to figure out what happpened in the past year to lead them to their current point. I always respect an author who can show, rather than just tell.

One of my Reading Bingo goals for the month was to hit a new square. I think One Day is perfect for the "book you would have picked up as a teenager" category. I would have been all over this back then, thinking it the epitome of romance. Dexter wouldn't have been nearly as arrogant, immature, and selfish to me back then. No, he would have been misunderstood and Emma the one meant to save him because back then, I was naive enough to believe it was that simple. I would have liked the book just as much, but probably for different reasons than I do now.

This was a very good read. I gave it 4/5 for the slow start and for Dexter's character not being quite as developed as he could have been.

My husband I are planning to watch the movie this weekend. I think the trailer captures the spirit of the book pretty well, if you can get past Anne Hathaway's terrible accent:

Friday, February 8, 2013

Review Round-up: Books About the Baby Making

It's a snow day here in my neck of the woods. A perfect day for lounging on the couch, catching up on reading and blogging. I am loving it!

In keeping with the tradition that I have inadvertently started, it's TTC Friday. As promised, below are reviews of the books I've read since we started trying to make a baby. Not as mini as I'd planned (ok, not mini at all) but hopefully just as useful. Feel free to share any of your own thoughts or recommendations in the comments.

The Mother of All Pregnancy Books (Canadian Edition), Ann Douglas

This book lives up to its title. Douglas covers everything from deciding whether or not you're ready to start trying, all the way through to a birth plan. It's been helpful through the TTC process and I like that I'll still be able to use it once we are expecting.

Given the scope of the book, Douglas doesn't go into great detail in most sections but that wasn't an issue for me. As a reference, this book is perfect. When I wanted more specific details about something, I looked into other books that focused on that particular subject.

There are a few sections that I've found particularly useful over the last few months. The section that covers nutrition while TTC and during pregnancy discusses all of the required vitamins and minerals, the RDA, and what  types of foods to find them in. I especially love the charts: there's one for early pregnancy/PMS sysmptoms and their causes, various medications and their effects on early pregnancy (helpful when I had a cold in November), and several more. Another section I refer to frequently is the week-by-week guide to pregnancy. Obviously I haven't gotten very far with that, but I like knowing what's going on in my body during the 2WW.

Finally, the fact that there is a Canadian edition is great. Statistics and medical information that is actually based on Canadian numbers and the Canadian health care system was very helpful.

What to Expect Before You’re Expecting, Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel

The What to Expect books are not popular among my friends who have already had babies and my first impression of this one wasn't great. In fact, I wasn't even planning on finishing it at first. Eventually, I did pick it up again and read the whole thing. If you can get past the crappy writing style (think The Cosmo Guide to Getting Knocked Up, with a lot of puns that are not as clever as the authors think they are), there's actually some good information here. There are also sections specifically for men, which was different from the other books I'd read.

The format is very much like a magazine; it's split into chapters that are further split into shorter sections. This worked well for some sections, like the early chapters that cover some of the TTC FAQs. It seemed strange in others.

The portion of this book that stood out for me was the section on infertility and ART. It does a good job of describing the options available and what they entail. It even has a tutorial on how to correctly use a syringe for injectables. We're not at the stage where we need to worry about any of this but I do like having some basic understanding of the options.

Overall, this book wouldn't be my top recommendation for people TTC but it wasn't a complete waste of time either.

Taking Charge of Your Fertility, Toni Weschler
(Note: this cover photo is of an older edition not the current one)

When we first started out, I had no intention of charting. I will confess that I thought only the obsessed women did the whole temperature thing and I was determined not to become "one of those." Once I started reading about it, though, and learning how it works, I was onboard. Initially, it was meant to be more of a science experiment but as my cycles turned out to be irregular, it became a necessity. That's where this book came in.

TCOYF is the charting bible. It describes the Fertility Awareness Method for both pregnancy achievement and birth control. It is NOT the rhythm method, which is a common misconception. This is not about tracking dates and relying on averages. This is about learning to read and interpret the signs that your body is giving you. Frankly, this is information that all women should know, whether they plan to chart or not, planning to get pregnant or not. Sex ed doesn't cover it; instead, we get information that is incomplete at best and woefully incorrect at worst. It would be helpful if doctors were all properly informed but they are not, so it perpetuates.

Weschler doesn't just discuss fertile signs. She also covers reproductive health in general and the information she gives is good from puberty right up through menopause. I felt a lot better informed after having read this book and empowered to be more proactive about my own health. For example, I now make it a point to do a breast self exam around CD7 every cycle. Weschler explains why that time frame is ideal and provides step by step instructions.

One criticism is that I could have done without the constant digs at doctors and the testimonials about how charting is! I got it the first couple of times. After that, it set the wrong tone. Despite this,  the information is invaluable and should be required reading for all women.

The Impatient Woman’s Guide to Getting Pregnant, Jean Twenge

I'll admit it. I loved this book. After reading the previous three, there wasn't too much information in it that was new but Twenge's approach was refreshing. She goes a little Mythbusters on a lot of the information presented in other books about TTC, looking at the actual research (or lack of it, at times) to find out what is accurate and what is not. For instance, if you're over 35, your odds of conceiving drop drastically, right? Nope. Unless you're living in medieval France, which is where those statistics came from. And sex in the missionary position is best, right? Maybe. But despite advocating it in all the books, no one has actually studied which position is best so no one really knows. Shettles method for gender selection? Totally backwards.

I loved getting the background on all of the things I'd been reading about in the other books and Twenge's sense of humour made it entertaining. It felt like the book was written for me. I have two favourite sections of this book. The first is the chapter on healthy eating for fertility. It's a more condensed and easier to remember version of the advice that is in The Mother of All Pregnancy Books. The other is the chapter called something like "If Someone Tells Me to Relax Just One More Time...." In that chapter, Twenge looks at the research on the effects of stress and anxiety on TTC and shows that mild to moderate levels of stress are perfectly fine. It is "ruminating" and depression that can cause problems. That was comforting to me because I have a tendency toward anxiety and during the school year, stress is unavoidable. An added bonus: I actually read that chapter to my mother and haven't heard a single comment about not "trying so hard" or "don't think about it" since. [FYI: if you are someone who likes to advise people TTC to relax, please stop. It is not helpful. It is irritating and can actually be hurtful.]

A caveat: Twenge has a research background, as do I. When she talks about studies and data analysis, she does mention the limitations that some of the studies have. In those cases, you cannot read too much into her interpretation, especially if you are not familiar with data analysis. And you have to remember that a lot of her analysis IS just her interpretation of someone else's data; there is always room for error. I think the book sometimes gets a bad rap (on The Bump, in particular) because someone has misread or misunderstood the results and then spreads information that the book does not actually contain. The nice thing is that all of her sources are listed at the back of the book so that you can look at the original work. Like with anything, really, you can't take it all at face value.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

In Between

Reviews have slowed down for the time being since I'm still working on a couple of books. At the moment, I'm...

reading: One Day, by David Nicholl (about halfway through)
listening to: Bossypants, by Tina Fey (just started yesterday and really enjoying it)

In the meantime, I am planning a mini-review roundup of the books I read last year when the hubby and I started TTC. That should go up on Friday so stick around! In case you're curious, the books that will be discussed are:

The Mother of All Pregnancy Books (Canadian Edition), Ann Douglas
Taking Charge of Your Fertility, Toni Weschler
What to Expect Before You're Expecting, Heidi Murkoff
The Impatient Woman's Guide to Getting Pregnant, Jean Twenge

Monday, February 4, 2013

Gong Shows and Bingo

You know when people give you tips about presentations, they always say to check equipment in advance to make sure that everything will work for you? Today, I became the poster child for the importance of doing just that. It was the first day of a new semester and I had a great introductory lesson planned with two PowerPoint slideshows. They even had comic strips. I had to supply before my own class so there was no time to set up the room beforehand. No matter, I thought. It would be fine. The students were going to be inspired! Motivated! They were going to love me!

It was a gong show.

The first time I tried to turn on the data projector, it wouldn't work because I had forgotten that it's on the circuit that has to be turned on separately from the main power (it's a science lab; we have a master control over the gas, water, and power so that the kids can't blow the place up). Once that was up and running, the projector wouldn't detect a signal from the computer. No matter what I tried, all we got was the blue screen saying "no signal." Not exactly inspirational. So, I did a song and dance at the whiteboard and the kids got off easy. Thankfully, they are a very forgiving bunch and we'll try it again tomorrow. Another teacher and I spent some time fixing it after school and I think we've got it. Fingers crossed!

Last month, one of the ladies in the book club that I belong to sent us a link to Random House's Reading Bingo Challenge. The idea is to get people reading more and reading more widely. They have a printable bingo card that looks like this (go to the linked page for the full sized version):


It's a different and interesting way to track your books for the year and maybe get some ideas for what to read next. Here's what my card looks like for the month of January and below that, the books associated with each square:

1. China Road, Rob Gifford
  • a book I saw on TV
  • a book from the library
2. A Storm of Swords, George R. R. Martin
  • a book with more than 400 pages
  • a book I saw someone reading (I used to have to confiscate these books from one of my students two years ago)
3. The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Brian Selznick
  • a book from the library
  • a book with pictures
  • a book with more than 400 pages
  • an award winning book (Caldecott Medal)
 My goal for February is to be able to knock off at least one more square that doesn't repeat the ones already taken.
What would your Bingo card look like for the year so far?