Friday, January 30, 2015

Review: The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt 
Fiction, E-book

The Goldfinch was actually one of last year's books but I just got it back from the library to finish off the last two chapters. I read this one for my May '14 mom group's book club. My previous experience with a Pulitzer Prize novel wasn't great (The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, if you're curious) so my expectations for Goldfinch weren't terribly high. Thankfully, it was pretty good, although it didn't live up to all of the hype.

The main character, Theo, loses his mother in an explosion when the museum they are visiting comes under a terrorist attack. Theo is twelve at the time and the novel follows his progress into adulthood as he copes with the loss in various destructive ways. The title refers to a painting in the museum that Theo takes with him and that eventually causes him a great deal of trouble.

I sympathized with Theo at first and was somewhat reminded of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which I really liked. But as Theo kept making bad decision after bad decision, I had a hard time maintaining that sympathy. For much of the book, I didn't really like Theo or the majority of other characters. It boggled my mind that none of the adults in his life saw what was going on with him, especially when the action moved to Las Vegas. The book was difficult to get into at first and kind of uneven. Several parts were overwritten and I just wanted to skim my way through while other parts were written really well.

The one character that stood out the most and has stuck with me is Boris. I can't say I liked him either, not entirely, but he was complex and morally ambiguous, which made him interesting. Towards the end, he has a conversation with Theo that resonated with me and that ties in nicely with the book I'm reading right now (Ender's Game). I've chopped it up a bit but kept the relevant parts: 

"[T]he world is much stranger than we know or can say. And I know how you think, or how you like to think, but maybe this is one instance where you can't boil down to pure 'good' or pure 'bad' like you always want to do --? Like, your two different piles? Bad over here, good over here? Maybe not quite so simple."
 "Because, what I am trying to say -- what I was thinking in the car from Antwerp last night -- good doesn't always follow from good, nor bad deeds result from bad, does it? Even the wise and good cannot see the end of all actions...."
 "What if -- is more complicated than that? What if maybe opposite is true as well? Because, if bad can sometimes come from good actions --? where does it ever say, anywhere, that only bad can come from bad actions? Maybe sometimes -- the wrong way is the right way? You can take the wrong path and it still comes out where you want to be? Or, spin it another way, sometimes you can do everything wrong and it still turns out to be right?"
"What if all your actions and choices, good or bad, make no difference to God? What if the pattern is pre-set? No no -- hang on -- this is a question worth struggling with. What if our badness and mistakes are the very thing that set our fate and bring us round to good? What if, for some of us, we can't get there any other way?"
I love that last bit especially, the "What if we can't get there any other way?" bit. We all judge people, right? It's so easy to do. Sometimes, we write people off as jerks when we only know one side of their story. But what if there's another side? What if they can't get there any other way? 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Review: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce
Fiction, E-book

People were buying milk, or filling their cars with petrol, or even posting letters. And what no one else knew was the appalling weight of the thing they were carrying inside. The inhuman effort it took sometimes to be normal, and a part of things that appeared both easy and everyday. The loneliness of that.

I went into Harold Fry expecting a feel good story. Instead, I felt the weight of the above quote throughout most of it. It did have uplifting moments but overall, it was quite sad and heavier than expected. 

Harold sets out to mail a letter and ends up walking across England to deliver it in person, reflecting on his life as he goes. Harold's life has been one full of sadness and regret. On his travels, he encounters strangers burdened by their own personal tragedies. I could identify with Harold in some ways: the social awkwardness and anxiety, and especially his tendency to let his fear prevent him from doing what he'd like or, in some cases, what he should. I spend a lot of time thinking about the example I want to set for my daughter and this has been on my mind, especially because there have been times since she was born that I let my anxieties get the best of me and have ended up wishing I'd done some things differently. Her great-grandfather passed away when she was about two months old and they never met, even though we all live in the same city. That still weighs really heavily on our hearts. Both my husband and I are introverts, which is not a bad thing, but I want my baby girl to know that it's ok to put yourself out there and to take chances. I don't want her to be held back by fear. 

Getting back to the book itself, I enjoyed the writing and the way it was structured, for the most part. I liked that we got to see deeper into Harold's past as his journey progressed. It did get repetitive at times and I didn't really care for the group of "pilgrims" that join Harold at one point. Thanks to an inconsiderate Amazon reviewer, I was spoiled on some information that is revealed towards the end which changes the perception of a lot of what comes before so that part held less impact for me than it otherwise might have. Still, this was a satisfying read to kick off the new year.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Books of 2014 - The Attention Span Returns!

Last year wasn't all about birth and babies; there were some "real" books in the mix too. It was slow going until A was born and then got better. That sounds backwards but it's true; I read a lot more with a newborn than I managed to do in the 9 months before she arrived! My attention span returned, and between nursing around the clock and naps that only happened if she was being held, I had a lot of time on my hands.

These are the novels I read in 2014, not quite in this order:

When You Reach Me, Rebecca Stead
A good, easy YA novel.

Under the Dome, Stephen King
Not great. This was my first Stephen King and it was disappointing. The tv show was even worse.

The Inheritance of Loss, Kiran Desai
I don't remember much about this at all. Oops.

Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell
I started this in the weeks before A arrived and had a hard time getting into it. I really liked the parts I read afterward. Kind of wish I'd saved it for when I could fully appreciate it.

Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn
Started out really well then went downhill. Really unsatisfying ending. I am looking forward to the movie, though. I think it was perfectly cast.

The Luxe, Anna Godbersen
Turn of the century chick lit. It was ok. This is the first book in a series but I doubt that I will continue.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie
Loved this! Funny and poignant YA novel.

The Breadwinner, Deborah Ellis
Read this one for book club. Yet another YA novel. It was interesting but I was hoping for something with more depth. This is also the first in a trilogy. I'm not sure yet if I will keep reading.

City of Bones, Cassandra Clare
It was the year of YA, apparently. I was pleasantly surprised by this one. The writing was quite good and even though it was long, it was a fairly quick read. I may continue this series.

Life After Life, Kate Atkinson
I wanted to like this one but it was just meh. The jumping around in time got confusing and it didn't feel like there was much purpose to the way the story was told. I kept expecting it to lead somewhere and it didn't.

Kockroach, Tyler Knox
Really enjoyed it. It's supposed to be a take on The Metamorphosis, which I have not read. It was entertaining and had some thought provoking themes.

The Witch Doctor's Wife, Tamar Myers
Pretty good. It reminded me a little bit of The Poisonwood Bible, which is one of my favourite books. It didn't keep me engaged all the way to the end but that may have just been the Wonder Week/sleep hell I found myself in while reading it.

The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt
I actually still have two chapters left of this one, just waiting to get it back from the library. I will review it later.

2015 is kicking off with The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, which I am really liking so far. My only reading goals for this year are to make time to read a little bit each day and to enjoy it more.

Happy reading this year!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Books of 2014 - Pregnancy & Baby

Last year was a mixed bag when it came to reading. For the majority of the year, I read books related to pregnancy, birth, and babies. I tried to read novels too but they were a slog. It was hard to get into anything and maintain interest. In this post, I'm rounding up all of the baby related books and sharing my favourites.  

Pregnancy & Birth
I continued use The Mother of All Pregnancy Books as a reference (I discuss it in detail here). The "Complaints Department" chapter and chart of medications were the most useful. If I didn't already own that, I'd have bought the Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy. I borrowed that one from the library and really liked the section at the end of each month that broke down various symptoms and indicated if/when to report it to your doctor. Finally, though I am generally not a fan of Dr. Oz, I did enjoy YOU: Having a Baby. I didn't make it through the section on labour and delivery but everything up to that point was interesting. I liked that it wasn't the typical weekly or monthly guide. 

As we were gearing up for our baby showers, Baby Bargains was awesome for building our registry. That, along with the Lucie's List site helped us keep our registry pretty simple and focused on what we'd need.  It was helpful to have an idea of the different brands and what to watch out for.

In my birth story post, I mentioned that I had hoped for a med-free birth. To that end, I read Ina May's Guide to Child Birth and Husband Coached Childbirth by Bradley. If you are interested in going that route, I highly recommend Ina May's book. Initially, I was put off by the fact that the first half of the book consisted of birth stories; it felt too hippie dippy for me. By the end, though, I found it very empowering and increased my confidence a lot. The informational portion rubbed me the wrong way; it was biased, fear mongering, and not consistent with current research. The Bradley book had a lot of useful information but Bradley himself seems insufferable. 

Baby Care & Development
If I had to do it all over again, I'd spend less time focused on birth and more on what to do with a newborn baby. Many late night nursing sessions were spent googling various things I didn't know I would need to know. The books I have referred to regularly since A arrived are Baby 411 (by the same people who did Baby Bargains) and Dr. Sears' The Baby Book. My own parenting philosophy lies somewhere in between the two ends of the spectrum these books represent so I've found them to be a good combination. 

Thanks to the other moms in my birth month group on The Bump, I discovered The Wonder Weeks. I highly recommend this book and it's corresponding app. Everyone talks about the physical growth spurts but there are also cognitive ones, and those lead to predictable patterns of fussy behaviour. The book describes what baby is learning during each "leap" and how to help. I liked the suggestions for developmentally appropriate toys and games because my experience has been with older kids so I had no idea when it came to babies. The best thing about this book might be that it always reassures me that "this too shall pass." The app has a calendar that is customized to your baby's due date and describes each Wonder Week, along with some play suggestions. You could get by with just the app but it wouldn't hurt to check out the book from the library. It has a lot more detail and check lists.

At six months, we introduced solids. Since we are mainly doing baby led weaning, I read up on that as well. I definitely recommend reading this if you are interested in BLW because it provides information about choking vs. gagging, which is a common concern.

Infant Sleep
Oh, where do I begin with this one? Once the sleepy newborn stage wore off, we had nap issues galore. We could handle those because night sleep was going well. Around 4.5 months, that went to hell too. Two and a half months later with no end in sight, we were exhausted and reaching our breaking point. I read a lot of sleep books. I read a lot of blogs (Troublesome Tots is awesome). In the end, Ferber rescued us from the depths of sleep despair. Out of the many sleep resources I consulted and methods I tried, only a few were truly useful. These are my favourites:

The Happiest Baby Guide to Great Sleep, Dr. Harvey Karp - Similar to The Happiest Baby on the Block (we watched the dvd, it's good!) but more focused on sleep. I'm a big fan of Dr. Karp and the 5S's were a big help with our fussy newborn.

Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, Dr. Marc Weissbluth - While Weissbluth is best known for being an advocate for full exctinction sleep training (crying it out with no soothing), that's not all this book is about. There is a lot of solid, helpful information here about sleep and sleep issues. It covers newborns through adolescents and this is the only book that discusses how to handle colicky babies in any detail. The formatting isn't great and often gets a little too academic, but still worth it for the information.

Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems, Dr. Richard Ferber - Everyone's heard of Ferber but few have actually read the book, so there are a lot of misconceptions. Ferber recommends graduated extinction, or crying it out with soothing, but just like Weissbluth, that's not all that is discussed here. Lots of good information, though not as thorough as Weissbluth.

If you are giving me the side-eye right now for recommending Weissbluth and Ferber, consider yourself lucky that you were never desperate enough to need either of them. And if you haven't had kids yet but think this is awful, never say never! That's how we started out too.

And there you have it. In the next post, I'll list my favourite non-baby related books from last year. That will be a much shorter list!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Birth Story

When I last posted in 2014, I had just entered the third trimester of my pregnancy. Before returning to the discussion of books, I thought I'd share how things turned out.

The third trimester was tough, particularly the last stretch from 34 weeks onward. That's partially why I stopped blogging at that point; everything required too much energy and brain power! On the day I hit 39 weeks, I had an OB appointment scheduled for 11:45 am. Shortly after 1 am, however, I woke up feeling something wasn't quite right. Over the next few hours, the slow leak I'd felt turned into a gush and by 5 am, I knew it was baby time. So much for my plan to decline a cervical check that day! I had a light breakfast and a quick shower, and bounced on the exercise ball for a while. A few random contractions came and went but no regular pattern emerged. At 8:30, I started getting concerned that I wasn't feeling any movement so we decided to head to the hospital. 

At the hospital, triage confirmed that my water had broken and that I was barely a fingertip dilated. I was admitted and sent to walk the halls in the hopes of getting things moving, with the warning that if I wasn't in labour by 1:30 pm, they'd have to induce. Hospital policy is that once membranes have ruptured, baby needs to be out within 24 hours due to the increased risk of infection. They were willing to give me 12 hours to do it on my own but I was running out of time. All along, I'd been preparing to have a med-free birth so as I walked the halls, I was trying to make peace with the fact that it wasn't going to happen.

At 1:30, they started the oxytocin drip and we waited. I progressed steadily and labour was generally uneventful. I did have some awful back labour for a while and the nurse said my contractions were showing a couplet pattern, so they suspected that the baby may have initially been sunny side up (which could be why I didn't go into labour on my own). I was really disappointed that I couldn't use the tub in the birthing room that I'd hoped to labour in because of the continuous monitoring. I did get to try the ball and a few different positions, but the monitors made it awkward. After being checked at 4 cm, the contractions got really intense and started coming on top of each other. I was having a very hard time relaxing and breathing through them, and wasn't getting a break in between. That was the point when I decided to get the epidural. That was also the only time during the process that I cried because it felt like failure, or like giving in. I know that's not true but it was not what I'd planned or wanted beforehand, and in the moment, it was hard to accept that. 

Once the epidural was placed, I was able to relax and as much as I hadn't wanted it, I think it was the best thing in the long run. I needed the rest and wouldn't have been able to without it. Around 9 pm, I was fully dilated and they gave me an hour or so to labour down before pushing. During this time, they also turned off the epidural. I started pushing around 10:30...and kept on pushing. The baby was stuck and it seemed like no matter how hard I pushed, she just wouldn't budge. We were closing in on the 24 hr limit and they told me that if she wasn't out within three hours of pushing, we'd have to decide between the forceps or vacuum to get her out. I pushed for the full three hours and made it just in the nick of time. It was agonizing and I've never been more physically exhausted in my life, but I absolutely didn't want any more interventions. Our beautiful baby girl was born at 1:49 am, weighing 7 lbs 15 oz and 20 inches long.

My sweet girl at six days old.

It would be another three days before they let us go home because my bladder stopped functioning properly after delivery. I had a really hard time with the hospital stay; I was so exhausted from the pushing that I barely remember those first moments and hours with my daughter. During the four days in total that I was there, I barely slept and the bladder issues were more than a little uncomfortable. A lot of that time still feels like a blur and it took several months before I could think about it without sadness or anxiety. 

Seven months later, we've survived the roller coaster ride that is the newborn stage and it's starting it feel like we might actually know what we're doing! We have a little girl who adores her daddy, thinks peek-a-boo is the funniest game ever, gives wet kisses, and sits up like a champ. It's been so fun to watch her personality emerge. Our lives have been turned upside down and inside out, but it has been completely worth it. We wouldn't have it any other way.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year!

Another year, already! Holy smokes, does the time fly when you're not looking. 

One of my goals for 2015 is to revive and refocus this blog. I'm hoping to be able to keep up with posting at least once a week. There's so much to tell you about and I'm looking forward to catching up! 

For now, I'll leave you with the best thing about 2014: