"There is no more lovely, friendly and charming relationship, communion or company than a good marriage."
--Martin Luther

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Top Ten Tuesdays: Topics That Make Me Instinctively Pick Up A Book

This week I am once again linking up with The Broke and the Bookish's Top Ten Tuesday list.   Today's topic is "Top Ten Words/Topics That Instantly Make Me Buy/Pick Up A Book".  I only managed to think of eight topics, and most of them reveal my not-so-secret identity as a history nerd.

1. Russia.  I have a life-long love affair with Russian history, literature, and culture that has taken me on many traveling adventures around Eastern Europe and to the rodina itself. I am unable to resist picking up Russia-related books.  The last one I almost bought as an impulse purchase was The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak. I've since picked it up at the library.

Me at the Smolny Institute, 2004
At the Kremlin.  What's up with my hair??

2. The Cold War.  Obviously this is related to the above.

3. Alternative History / Time Travel.  Ever since I saw Back to the Future, I have dreamed of traveling through time.  Until I invent a time machine (unlikely) or people from the future come to get me, I'll have to settle with reading time travel books.  :-)

4. Dracula.  Not all vampires, just Dracula.  Maybe it's because he's East European?

5. Dystopia.  I find this theme really fascinating.  My favourites are Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake and its counterpart, The Year of the Flood.  Reading through a lot of the Broke and Bookish links last week, however, made me realize there is a lot of dystopian YA literature that I've never heard of, so I'm in no means well-read in the subject. 

6. CIA/KGB/MI5.  I can't resist buying books about the history of intelligence agencies.  I do, however, seem to be able to resist actually reading them once they're in my collection....

7. Cats.  We all know how much I love cats.  I don't actually buy cat books, but I usually pick them up and laugh at goofy pictures.

8. Margaret.  When I was a kid, there weren't many kids called Margaret.  Most people with my name were grandmas or Margaret Thatcher.  As a result, I delighted in finding books where the main character had my name.  Two of my favourites are below; though the covers have since been updated, I've used the ones I remember from childhood.  To this day, if a book title has my name in it, I want to buy it.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Life Lately

This photo pretty much summarizes my life this weekend:

I am at T-2 weeks before my next major Mandarin exam (HSK Level V) so my days are a blur of working and reviewing vocabulary.  My husband says I can't complain as I chose to sign up for this... and truly I am not complaining.  I am do enjoy studying, but I am getting a bit tired of it.  Yesterday the weather was so lovely that I took some time to sit on my porch reading a book on the porch, which was lovely.

The Chinese is helping to distract me as I've been a bit sad lately.  After a year and a half in Toronto, I'm pretty much feeling at home in this life, but still have moments when I miss all my friends in Ottawa.  I found out a few weeks ago that my best friend is pregnant.  She and I lived down the street from one another for a few years; it's just hitting home that I am missing being a part of her life during this important period, and I won't be around to run to the store for her or stop in to watch the baby for a 10 minutes while she takes a shower, etc.  I won't be a part of the baby's life the way I would love to be.  I'm excited for her, but just feeling the loss of my former life a little more deeply this week.

Otherwise, Gil is back from Newfoundland and life is back to its normal pattern, except that I'm working a lot more.  We are still short-staffed since I took my boss's position which leaves my old one empty.  I will get to take part in interviewing potential staff, which will be a totally new experience for me.

Hope you are all having a wonderful weekend!

P.S. For the curious, the flashcards app that I use is called gFlashcards, and the card shown is 预订 (yù dìng), which means "to place an order, book ahead, reserve".

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Top Ten Tuesdays: Books I Liked MORE/LESS Than I Anticipated

Today I'm doing something a little different and joining up with a reading link-up.  The Broke and the Bookish has a weekly link-up inviting bloggers to list their top ten of something book-related.  This week's topic is books you liked more/less than you thought you would.  I couldn't think of ten of either, so I've divided the list in half.

Books I liked MORE than I anticipated:
Moby Dick by Herman Melville: I bought this for my Kindle on a whim because I thought it was one of those books I just “ought” to read some time, but it was surprisingly interesting. I skimmed through a few of the chapters focusing on whale biology, but I think I learned a lot nonetheless.
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell: Another Kindle purchase. I anticipated liking this book but ended up being unable to put it down. I just loved Margaret Hale and her steely spirit.
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova: I bought this on sale for the title only and it sat on my shelf for years. I finally forced myself to read it before one of my moves, and it was fantastic. I just can't resist a mystery that involves both nerdy scholars combing through archives and train travel through Eastern Europe.
The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis: My mom lent this to me and I had no expectations about it, but it turned out to be laugh-out-loud funny. Probably most entertaining to Canadians with some knowledge of the political system.
The Twilight Series by Stephanie Meyer: I read these because the girls at youth group were so obsessed, I had to see what the fuss was all about. They are certainly not the best books I've ever read, but did hold my attention through my vacation.  I even bought the third book at the airport in Honolulu and finished it by the time I got to Toronto.

Books I liked LESS than I anticipated:
2666 by Roberto Bolano: Someone recommended this one to me, but either I'm not intellectual enough or the entire book makes no sense.
Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy: Well, I knew it wasn't supposed to be uplifting, but I enjoyed Far from the Madding Crowd so thought I could handle it. I was wrong. So depressing.
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller: I didn't find this book nearly as hilarious as my colleague promised. Maybe it's military humour?
The Castle by Franz Kafka: One of those books I read in my teens to show how cultured I was. I thought it would fit in with my feelings of teen angst, but instead I got bored.  Maybe I should try it again one of these days...
The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro: Ishiguro is a master of stories where you don't really understand what's going on at first, but they gradually become clearer as you get deep into the story. Except in this one they never get clear. It's like a never-ending series of trippy dreams.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Alone This Week and New Beginnings

Sorry if this title is confusing.  I'm trying to convey two things at once.

My husband is out of town until Thursday doing medical work in rural Newfoundland.  For any new readers, this is something does 3-4 times a year.  Several years back, he had a job working at a rural hospital and fell in love with the people.  There is a serious doctor shortage in many rural communities, so people in his town have to travel hours and hours to see a specialist.  Gilbert travels back periodically to save them the trouble, and to see his buddies.  I'm proud of him for continuing this good work, but a little lonely as well!  Happily, I'll be able to accompany him on his next trip, but for this time, I'm spending his absence cramming like mad for my Chinese exam coming up in three weeks.

In other news, I was offered a new job today!  I'll be taking on the supervisory role at my current job.  So basically, before I was a part-time receptionist, now I'm the boss of all the part-time receptionists.  So far, that makes me the boss of one other person, but we'll be hiring someone new soon too.  I was really unsure of whether to apply, but I spent a lot of time seeking God's will and was encouraged by many co-workers that they'd love to see me in this role.  It's a bit daunting - I have never sought a role in any kind of management - but I'm excited to challenge myself.  Here's to new adventures!

In honour of new beginnings, here's some new visitors to our home.  I love spring!

This guy was right behind our kitchen window.

These birds were in the playground next door.

Friday, 19 April 2013

We Just Can't Stop Looking

I've been rolling these thoughts around in my mind all week.  I'm still not sure of them, or how they will come out.  I apologize in advance if there is a lack of clarity here.

On Superbowl Sunday, my husband and I were flipping channels during the (really boring) pre-game commentary, and ended up watching part of the movie Chicago.  I love the music from that show and have listened to the songs many times before.  This time around, however, it was the underlying theme that got my attention and coloured my watching of the Superbowl later on.  If you've never seen it, Chicago is about crime, prisons, and the press in the 1930s.  The accused are all women who are guilty of murder, but who catch the public eye because of their glamour and their enticing stories.  You get a picture all through the film of a public that is both intoxicated and disgusted by crime and criminals.  They feign horror, but they just can't look away.

This week, it's been all Boston, all the time on the news.  Of course, I believe that what happened in Boston was downright terrible, gut-wrenching, and disgusting.  This past year I've been realizing that whether it's been Sandy Hook Elementary School, Boston, or even Beyonce at the Superbowl*, it seems we just can't look away.  Every story is taken to the saturation point.  We are all saddened by the death of the elementary school children, but I don't know why we have to see the same images over and over again, or read the life stories of every person that died.  They died.  Let their loved ones mourn and let's stop staring at the TV. 

It's hypocritical since I just recently wrote all about my love for Facebook, but I can't stand social media during weeks like these.  Why must we all change our status to, "My heart goes out to Boston," as if that makes a difference?  Call or email your loved ones in the Boston area if you will, but there's no need to share it with everyone else.  Why do I feel heartless for not posting articles of the carnage that everyone already knows about? (Yes, I know I'm posting about it here, but this is where I process things and share my heart.)

It angers me that every tragedy gets skewed into sound/Twitter bites to support or decry a given cause or political movement.  Yesterday a sort-of-relative of mine posted a "quote" (very much out of context) from Justin Trudeau that made it sound like he was sympathetic to the Boston bomber.  I'm no big fan of Trudeau, but this seemed so disgustingly uncalled for that it made me temporarily want to quit Facebook altogether.  The death of innocent people should NEVER be used for political gain.  Sure, it may be a catalyst for change, but that's not the same as using it as fodder against your political enemies.

I don't know where I'm going with all of this, other than a call to common sense and decency.  Let's mourn with those who mourn without having it in our faces all the time.  Let's stop using death and carnage as a political tool.  And let's try to make the world a better place.  Thanks for "listening" and letting me process.  :-)

*I included Beyonce here because the whole Superbowl show saga fits in with this theme.  We all know Beyonce likes to dance and flaunt it.  It shouldn't surprise anyone that she did exactly that at the Superbowl.  Instead of just turning off the TV, a million people decided to tweet, post, etc., about how scandalous it was.  People are dying every day in Syria, while Americans (and Canadians) are more preoccupied with a racy dance show that they could have stopped watching at any time.  Sigh....

Monday, 15 April 2013

Sick :-(

This weekend I came down with a nasty cold, probably the worst I've had in a long time.  It was so bad that I had to skip out on a family dinner last night to lounge on the couch.  At least Gil was a sweetheart and made us dinner after a grueling day on call.

Back when I lived in Ottawa, I secretly enjoyed getting sick.  (Except for that time I had mono -- yikes!)  I had a stressful job and a busy life on top of that.  Getting a cold every couple of months gave me the chance to spend a day on the couch, cuddling with my cats and watching movies.  Note:  If you ever find yourself wishing you'd catch a bad cold in order to get a break, this is a sign that your lifestyle is not healthy!

Now that I am doing shift work, I can't really take time off unless I really can't function, and right now we are short-staffed so a day off is not an option.  I'm hoping that an easy morning in bed will convince my body that it's on the mend and can bear to work this afternoon.

So a question for you, readers:  What do you like to do when you're sick?  What are your favourite guilty pleasures to indulge in, or your favourite foods?  It's a bit embarrassing to admit this, but my preferred movies for a sick day are Freaky Friday (the remake with Lindsay Lohan), The Parent Trap (the original Hayley Mills version), and The Cutting Edge ("Toepick!").

My morning companion

Monday, 8 April 2013

Marriage Reading: The Five Love Languages

This is the second installment of my marriage reading series. This time, I picked up The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. This book was quite a change from the “heady” Tim Keller, in that it is very practical and easy to read. It is also full of personal stories, based on Gary Chapman's many years as a marriage counselor and doing marriage seminars.

If you're unfamiliar with the concept, Chapman looks at the issue of how we express love to one another. So often, we see couples that once were happy and in love suddenly start to come apart. She says he doesn't love her any more. He says that he's done everything he could, but she's never satisfied, and moreover, it's her who pulled away. What happened?

Chapman says that there are five basic “love languages”, and that each person tends towards one or two of them. The languages are: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Physical Touch, Receiving Gifts, and Acts of Service. These love languages come from our personalities, our upbringings, etc. We tend to express love in the way that we want to be loved. So since my love languages is quality time, I will want to express my love to a friend by setting aside time for them. The problem is that maybe my friend's love language is physical touch, so she expresses her love to me by hugging me every time we meet, but she doesn't understand why I am sad when she cancels on our plans. In friendship this is a pain, but in marriage, it can tear you apart.

The question is, why doesn't this issue come up when you're first dating someone? Surely, you would realize that you're not really compatible. Chapman says that when you meet someone and fall in love, you're overwhelmed with the euphoria of the feeling. You feel like you know that person intimately (even though often you don't), and since you're both in love, the relationship seems effortless. It's only when the “in love” feelings wear off that you start to feel unloved, and that's when it's important to know your love language and your spouse's. Chapman doesn't say this, but I would also argue that when you're first dating, you probably do ALL the love languages without thinking: You spend lots of time together, you hold hands, you give little gifts and do nice things for each other “just because”. Once you're settled into marriage, however, you stop dating your spouse, and putting the effort into the relationship becomes work. You have to actively choose to love your spouse, and knowing each other's love languages is a big part of that. Incidentally, I don't recall feeling euphorically in love with my husband or having the feeling of coming down from a high, but I still understand that this is a common situation. It may have because we were long-distance for so long that we were forced to rely on more than just emotions even in the early months.

This book wasn't as challenging to me as Keller was, probably because I knew the concept before and had already done the love languages test. What I liked the most, however, was that Chapman addressed questions like “What if my spouse doesn't try to speak my love language?” and “What if my spouse's love language is something I don't like doing?” And the answer is: You still do it. You still choose to love your spouse in the way that suits him or her, because that's what real love is. Just as I can choose to act in love even when I feel angry or upset, I can choose to do something that's out of my comfort zone, like giving Gil a backrub or hugging a friend (I like to hug my husband but I'm really not a hugger) if it will make that person feel loved. Chapman says this is actually a more true expression of love. If I'm just loving in my natural way, then it's about me just as much as it's about Gil. If I'm giving sacrificially, it's real love. He also makes a great point that we have no problem doing things that are unnatural to us if it benefits ourselves. We get up early even though we want to sleep because we need to go to work and make money. We exercise when we don't feel like it because we want to have better health. If I can do it for myself, can't I do it for my husband? Also, I can do loving actions for GIl when I don't think he's behaving in a loving way because I follow the example of Christ, who died for the unlovely. In this way, Chapman and Keller are on the same page; they both say that pursuing real love is about choosing to act for your spouse's good, but in the end, you will both benefit.

One further thing I liked about this book was that it didn't put people in a box. Before reading it, I thought somehow that people with the same love language like the same things, but of course that's not true. Chapman says we each have our own “dialect”, if you will. If two people both like “Acts of Service,” that doesn't mean that the same acts will have the same impact, so you really have to know your spouse and what they like and dislike.

Have you read this book? What were you thoughts? Also, tune in in June when I'll be discussing Creative Counterpart by Linda Dillow. And hey, if you want to read it along with me, feel free!

Friday, 5 April 2013

In Praise of the Internet

This week I fell in love with the Internet all over again.  Now I know the Internet has some drawbacks:  It makes it easier for criminals and terrorists to cooperate, facilitates the sharing of illicit material, is a huge temptation for time-wasting, etc.  But there are is at least one amazing up-side to the Internet, as I've re-discovered this week, and that's....


It's no secret that I have taken a while to make new friends and feel connected since moving here.  It's starting to get better, and now that I'm serving regularly and meeting new people, I feel like the day is breaking, so to speak.  Still, there are some areas that are lacking and that's where the Internet is rocking my socks.

The first area of lack has been missing my Ottawa friends.  While there is no substitute for being in someone's actual presence, I have to admit that I love Facebook as the best alternative.  Facebook gets a lot of criticism for allowing people to be lazy and rely on posted updates to see what friends are up to rather than actual contact, and it's true that sometimes you need to sift through a lot of cheesy memes and online gaming updates that you'd rather ignore.  (Except cute cat photos and hilarious dance videos.  Keep those coming!)  Phone calls are great when you can find a good time, but I love being able to check FB and see what my friends' kids are doing these days, and who is sick and which friend had a nice vacation.  It makes me feel like I see some of their day-to-day life, rather than just getting the highlights in an email now and then.  So friends, if you ever think no one wants to see one more update or photo of your child, I do.  (Unless it involves graphic descriptions of bodily functions.  Sorry.)

The second area of lack has been in connecting with women like me. Jumping into a medical life has been challenging, and it's not a coincidence that since I got connected with a medical wives group on Facebook and started reading similarly-themed blogs, I've felt a sense of relief.  There are people out there who get it.  This life is hard sometimes, but we can support each other so we can all get through it.  I was really hesitant to be vulnerable and post my struggles for the Medical Monday link-up, but the responses I've received to Monday's post have really touched me.  I exchanged a few emails with Amber from The Unconventional Doctor's Wife that really encouraged me.  Feeling connected in this way really changed my perspective over the past few days.

 Of course, I still need to be mindful of my screen time and of getting so invested online that I neglect friends "off-line", but today I'm just grateful for these means of connection.  Thanks to everyone who commented this week and took part in the link-up, and thanks to my friends from all over who keep me in the loop!