Monday, August 26, 2013

Review: Black Swan Green

Black Swan Green, David Mitchell
Rating: 3.5-4.0/5.0

If you are a sucker for a good coming of age story like I am, this one's for you!

Black Swan Green is a novel but it's structured more like a short story collection. Each chapter is a month of thirteen-year-old Jason Taylor's life in the English village of Black Swan Green. We follow Jason as he navigates the bullies at school, the disintegration of his parents' marriage, and his own budding identity. While many of the chapters could easily stand alone, there is definitely continuity and a plot.

The novel is well written; Mitchell really captures the tween mentality. It's funny and poignant in the right places. There are also some shades of John Irving: Jason's speech impediment, the older woman who teaches Jason about himself (in a non-sexual way, so not entirely Irving-like). Being a big Irving fan, that was a good thing.

There were two chapters that really resonated with me. My favourite was "Solarium," in which Jason meets Eva Crommelynk. She is the only person in Black Swan Green who knows that Jason writes poetry, which  is published in the parish newsletter under a nom de plume. Their meetings give Jason a new perspective on art and his own identity. Crommelynk's character was interesting and entertaining. Apparently, she also appears in Cloud Atlas, one of Mitchell's much more famous novels that I have not gotten around to yet.

The other chapter that stood out was "Maggot." This one really got to me, I think largely due to the timing. I was dealing with some behaviour issues in one of my classes and was quite frustrated by the things I was observing at school. There are several parts of the book that describe obnoxious teenage behaviour, but this chapter in particular features some quite cruel bullying. For starters, the title of the chapter refers to the name Jason's classmates like to call him. Though I have never experienced what happens in the book (and hope not to), it just hit a little too close to home emotionally at the time.

This year has been shaping up to be a pretty lacklustre one so far in terms of books. Black Swan Green is one of the few that I'd recommend and that I think I'll still remember having enjoyed at the end of the year.

Friday, August 23, 2013

TTC Friday: The Ball, It Is Rolling

On Wednesday morning, we had our first appointment with the REI (Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility) specialist. We spent more time sitting around waiting than we did actually talking with the doctor, but things went well and we're now on the path to IF testing.

Before we met the doctor, we met one of the fellows who works with him (the clinic is at a hospital) and she took both of our histories, including details about my cycles. She took that information to the doctor, they reviewed it together, then both came back to discuss with DH and me. I was expecting to get a pelvic exam or ultrasound as well but they didn't ask. I don't know if it was because they already had that information from when I had them done in Feb/March (they did make reference to the u/s results at one point), or the timing, or if they just don't do that during consults at all.

The doctor told us the same thing I'd read in one of my TTC books: after trying unsuccessfully for one year, 40% of the time, it's a male issue and 40% of the time, it's a female issue. He said that based on my history over the past year, he suspects PCOS, but won't say for sure until after all of the testing is done. I had thought that the fact that I'm still ovulating each cycle would be significant but it didn't seem to be. I got the impression that egg quality could be an issue given the delayed ovulation in most cycles, though the doctor didn't explicitly say that. He did say that based on all of the information he has so far, the goal will be to get me ovulating properly. I'm totally onboard with that!

As I had suspected going into the appointment, the timing wasn't ideal for any testing this cycle. The plan is to wait until next the next cycle begins, then go in for CD3 bloodwork, an HSG somewhere around CD7-10, and 7dpo bloodwork. The DH also got a requisition for a semen analysis, which is all the lucky bugger needs to do and he was able to schedule that for next week. Once all of the results are back, the doctor will bring us back in and we'll discuss where to go from there. I'm hoping, though, that I'll be able to call and get the results of the individual tests before that meeting. It would be nice to have a rough idea of where we're at without having to wait that long! The semen analysis results alone could eleminate 40% of the worry.

We both came away from the appointment feeling good about it. We both liked the doctor, Dr. P, who was very friendly and very empathetic to our situation. One of the things I'd been concerned about was what happens if we were to conceive again before we were actually getting treatment. The family doctor doesn't typically see people very early and they don't do anything beyond a urine test, but I'd like to know what's going on given what happened last time. Before I could even ask about this, Dr. P said that if I should happen to get pregnant again before we made it to the testing, to call and ask for a beta draw so that they could monitor it. When I told him that this was the exact thing I'd been wondering, his response was, "Of course we'll look after it. You're a part of the family now." I don't think we could have asked for better than that.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Working On My Fitness Part 2: Let's Get Physical

Note: You can find Part 1, discussing mental health, here. I promise that today's installment doesn't ramble as much!

Ok, I may not be as bad as Liz Lemon but my arms do need some serious work. Among other parts.

In terms of physical fitness, the original plan was to do a combination of yoga and Couch-2-5K. Both of those turned out to be a lost cause while school was still on. Once summer holidays began, we had a brutal heatwave and there was no way I was leaving the comfort of central air for that mess. Thanks to youtube, this became Plan B:

Keaira Leshae is fabulous. And that body! Damn, girl. This dance workout is pretty intense and I'm still not coordinated enough to get all the moves right, but it's fun. I've never really gotten into running on past attempts anyway, so I think I'm going to stick with this. Keaira has a bunch of other workouts that I'd also like to try at some point.

For most of July, I was alternating the above workout one day with yoga (still doing The Joy of Yoga by Crunch Fitness) the next day. This combination has been great for my abs, butt, and thighs - the major areas I am looking to tone up. Unfortunately, it doesn't work my upper arms the way I'd like; it hits the triceps but not the biceps, which is what I really need. We have some free weights at home so DH has been giving me suggestions for exercises I can add to my routine to help fill in that gap.

Before the cruise, I was just starting to see some tightening and muscle tone forming. I had more energy and was feeling good about my body. While we did a lot of walking on port days, I didn't end up mainting things as well as I'd hoped during the trip so the current goal is to get back on track. Once I'm back into the routine, I'll start incorporating DH's suggestions for the biceps.

If you have any suggestions for for workouts that might be fun to try, let me know!

PS: Over the next little while, I'll be giving the blog a makeover and updating/organzing the blogroll. Sorry if things start to look a little wonky!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Working On My Fitness Part I: Staying Sane

Note: This was originally intended to be one post discussing what I've been doing to manage both mental and physical health this summer. As it turns out, I'm a little longwinded so I've broken it up into two seperate posts. This one covers the mental health and Part 2 will discuss the physical. 

Remember way back in February, when I was trying to get motivated to exercise again? I had set a goal of doing yoga at least once a week and that didn't happen. I made it all the way to the end of the school year in no better shape than when I'd started. Combined with all of the emotional and physical stresses of the year, I was in considerably worse shape all around by June.

One of the things I've been doing to get back on track is something I've already mentioned: Circle + Bloom. This is a guided meditation that has been really helpful in managing stress, and getting my mind and body on the same page. I haven't really been doing it lately, just haven't felt the need, but I'm sure that once school starts again, I'll get back into it. My cycles have been more regular than ever since I started C+B but there's really no way to know that it's responsible, obviously. It has helped me stay relaxed and at the end of the day, that's the most important thing as far as my own sanity goes.

Aside from TTC, work had me really burned out this year. When you get classes that are well-behaved and everything runs smoothly, teaching is a great job. More often than not, it doesn't turn out that way. I had a couple of really challenging classes this year (grade 9s that were below grade level, behaviour issues all around, a split class that was basically two different courses in one period) and as a school community, we were hit hard by various issues (a threat right before Christmas break, a few suicides) that had to be managed very carefully. By the end of the school year, I didn't want anything to do with it anymore. Naturally, that meant it was a good time to dig myself deeper.

Right after the school year was over, I began taking an online course. It was an Additional Qualification course in special ed. It was more intense than I'd expected it to be and at first, I thought I'd lost my mind going straight into that when all I wanted to do was stop thinking about work! In the end, though, it turned out to be exactly what I needed. The discussions with other teachers put some of my own issues into perspective, made me feel better about some of what I was doing in the classroom (it can feel very isolating at times so it's always nice to hear that others have had the same issues), and gave me strategies to try in the future. I've also been participating in the Facebook group for teachers in my region, which has had a similar effect. Spending this time reflecting on work and building up resources has actually been a very good thing. I can't say I'm going back to school completely rejuvinated and inspired, but I'm certainly going back feeling a lot more prepared and capable than I felt in June.

One positive aspect of work and my course was that they served as an effective distraction from TTC troubles. Now that both are over, I'm trying to make an effort to fill my time with other things so that I don't end up on the couch, just ruminating. Deep cleaning parts of the house and organizing all of my teaching materials should take me through the rest of the break. I also gave in and created a Pinterest account yesterday, which has been filling my head with all kinds of inspiring ideas I'll probably never get around to.

So, for now, it's all about knocking some projects off the To Do list, getting inspired for future projects, and using C+B as needed to help keep the anxiety and stress levels in check. Blogging and having a good support system offline has been helpful. I still lurk on The Bump occasionally but there are times when I just need to avoid it, and that's ok. Once the new school year begins, there will probably be some more juggling until I find another new balance but so far, so good.

Friday, August 16, 2013

TTC Friday: Still Chugging Along

The good news on the TTC front is that I've now had two normal length cycles in a row - this last one was the shortest so far, at 33 days. The bad news is that I'm still not pregnant. And I'm still not convinced that my body is totally fine either. Back in the fall, I had two cycles that were on the shorter side and I got my hopes up, but it all went to hell again from there. Nothing has been a reliable predictor, unfortunately.

In the meantime, DH and I have our first appointment with the REI specialist next Wednesday. How I feel about it changes multiple times a day. Part of me is nervous about it and dreading having to go through all of the testing. There, too, I'm torn between being afraid of the results and being afraid of an "unexplained" diagnosis. Part of me is disappointed that we're at this point in the process; it feels like a failure, or like giving up. Yet another part of me just wants to get this show on the road and get a plan in place, to start making some kind of progress. It's a strange, confusing, frustrating place to be.

The cruise we took last week was a fantastic getaway and helped us unwind from all of the stresses of the past year, which was the whole point, but the last couple of days were bitterwseet. Just the fact that we were on the cruise in the first place was a bit of a kick in the pants. We had gone on an Alaskan cruise last summer that was intended to be our last big trip before we started TTC and we naively expected to be either pregnant or with a new baby by now. Instead, I woke up to a couple more BFNs on Thursday and Friday morning, and we sat in our lounge chairs figuring out how to get DH out of work for the REI appointment. It also became evident those last couple of days that this process is really starting to wear on DH, too. I think that the longer it takes, the more he starts to worry that he is the problem. He's also getting tired of the endless waiting and the emotional roller coaster of each cycle, which I completely understand.

Despite all of the worries and fears, I think it will be a good thing to have a sense of direction and some kind of plan in place. At the very least, it will be great to finally talk to a doctor who doesn't need me to explain to him why androgen levels in my blood might be useful to check and that androgens are not actually progesterone (my new family doctor and I are not destined for a long-term relationship). There will probably be a lot more waiting - I'll be on CD11 so blood work will likely have to wait until next cycle - but this kind of waiting feels more productive and less like we're drifting in the wind.

For those three short days back in June when I was pregnant, I had this sense of happiness and peace that I can't explain but that I desperately want to get back. If all of this will get us there, then it's worth it. I just have to keep telling myself that.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Back at it

Oh. Hi there. You're still here? Thanks for sticking around. If you're wondering where I've been for the last month and a half...

First, I was doing a lot of this:

Once that was over, I started a summer online course so I was doing a lot of this:

And last week, I finally got to start enjoying the summer break properly. Hubby and I were away doing a lot of this:
This is the Carnival Liberty at Half Moon Cay, Bahamas. It was glorious.

We're back home now and  I've got three more weeks of freedom to enjoy before the school year starts up again. I've got a lot to write about over the next little while: I'm way behind on book reviews, I actually have some fitness updates since I did manage to squeeze in some progress on that front this summer, and TTC Friday will continue as we prepare to see the REI specialist next week. So, stick with me a little longer and we'll get this show back on the road!