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

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Top Ten Tuesdays: Top Ten Books in 2013

So it's the LAST Tuesday of the year and over at The Broke and the Bookish, we're looking at the best books read in 2013.  I just couldn't keep to the 10-book limit.  Here's the list of my favourite reads from this year:

1.  Les Misérables by Victor Hugo:  I had this on my list of most intimidating reads back in this post, and I am pleased that I finally got past my hesitation and read Les Mis.

2.  Me Before You by Jojo Moyes:  A total tearjerker.

3.  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith:  I started this shortly after grad school when I was working at Chapters book store.  Seriously, how did it take me almost 10 years to pick it up again?  So good!

4.  The Shipping News by Annie Proulx:  I loved how small-town Newfoundland came to life in this book.

5.  The Fault in Our Stars by John Green:  A favourite of bloggers and a moving read.

6.  Doomsday Book by Connie Willis:  Time travel is always big on my interest list, but this book also brought the middle ages to life for me.

7.  A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra:  Captivating book about several people experiencing the war in Chechnya.

8.  The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng:  A beautiful book that looks at the baggage of the Japanese occupation in Malaysia.

9.  A Mountain of Crumbs by Elena Gorokhova:  A beautiful memoir of growing up in the later years of the USSR as an English language enthusiast.

10.  The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy and Kathy Keller:  See my posts on this book here and here.

11.  Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World that Won't Stop Talking by Susan Cain:  I can't tell you how many times I was tempted to fist-pump and yell out, "Finally somebody understands me!"

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Top Ten Tuesdays: Top 10 Books for Santa to Bring Me

It's another Tuesday, and today at The Broke and the Bookish, we're talking about which books we'd like Santa to bring us.  Right now, I'm happy that Santa (AKA Toronto Hydro) brought us power and heat for Christmas, but if he wants to bring some books while he's here, I'd like:

1.  The Complete Worst-Case Survival Handbook.  Apparently I don't know what I'm doing in a power outage, let alone a "worst-case" scenario. :-)

2.  The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov.  My dad is a huge Asimov fan, and I'd really like to read more of him.

3.  Gold Mountain Blues by Ling Zhang.  I've had my eye on this one for a while.

4.  Babel No More by Michael Erard.  It's about people who are able to learn like 20 languages, otherwise known as my heroes.

5. and 6. Dreams of Joy and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See.

7.  Austenland by Shannon Hale.  The movie made me laugh until I cried.

8.  The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.  It seems like everyone has read this already, and I'm terribly curious.

9.  Salinger by David Shields.  I was a bit obsessed with J.D. Salinger in high school and find it fascinating that he managed to stay a hermit for so long.

10.  Margaret Thatcher:  The Authorized Biography by Charles Moore.  Just in case you needed more evidence that I am extremely nerdy...

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

Monday, 23 December 2013

But Baby It's Cold Outside

Gil and I flew home on Sunday morning, blissfully unaware that we were flying into a disaster zone.  Over Saturday night, Toronto was hit by a massive ice storm that has left at least 300,000 people without power.  (See here for more details.)  We came home to find our house dark and cold and it's still off as of this morning.  The hydro company says it may take until after Christmas for everyone to get their power back. 

Edit:  This evening, our power was back on!  Unfortunately, there are many in our neighbourhood that are still in the dark.

After moaning previously about how I had lost my Christmas spirit, I now feel a little silly.  There are worse things than having a husband working on a holiday and a lack of Christmas joy.  I'm lucky that my mom's house had power restored this morning, so I've been able to warm up here, but others have had to go to emergency warming stations to keep from freezing.

Ice-covered bush at Mom's house

All of this has made me more mindful of the first Christmas.  One of the pastors at my old church gave a sermon in which he said that "Do not be afraid" is one of the most repeated phrase in the Biblical account of Jesus' birth.  The real experiences of Mary and Joseph were much more emotional and tumultuous than the Christmas card glow depicts.  As I have had more and more friends with newborns, I have realized that new parents are usually stressed and tired, while new moms are also recovering from the birth.  I would imagine being a new mom in a stable or grotto was actually pretty uncomfortable and scary for Mary.  Why do we think Christmas should be about warm fuzzies and eating candy?

Anyway, I'm trying to be positive throughout this small trial in our lives.  We are so thankful to have family and friends with power to take us in, and for the house that our home and cars have not been damaged by the falling tree branches.  We are also thankful for a Saviour who came into this broken and cold world to take the burden of our sin from us so that we can spend eternity in a beautiful place with no mourning and death.

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.
For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9: 2, 6 

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Christmas and All That Jazz

Gil and I are on a short trip to Chicago this weekend.  He's attending a conference, and I'm tagging along to do some sightseeing.

I've flown through Chicago a dozen times, and have even spent a few days just outside the city to see family, but have never actually visited Chicago.  After two days here, I have to say it's a great city.  The Christmas decorations are lovely, the buildings in the downtown are SO cool, and there are a lot of interesting museums as well.

Being here has re-awakened my Christmas spirit.  This year, I've found it really difficult to get into the holiday mood.  I've had Christmas music on my car radio since November, I put the tree up weeks ago, and I have enjoyed a few festive parties thus far, but I haven't felt my usual joy this season.  Gil is working all next week, and it feels like another year is ending while I haven't accomplished anything yet.  Bah humbug.  :-)

Enter Chicago.  Having a few days in a lovely city without the pressure of working or buying gifts has allowed me to just enjoy the lights, the carols, the Salvation Army bell ringers, and get happy.  Today, I visited the Moody Church and there was a children's choir practicing in the sanctuary.  On Thursday morning, when I went down to the hotel lobby, there were four people in 1800s clothes singing "Carol of the Bells'.  I'm starting to feel Christmas creeping into my mood.

To make matters even better, I've found what is pretty much the holy grail to me at holiday time:  A genuine German Christkindlmarkt (Christmas market).  We have one in Toronto, but I checked it out recently and was disappointed.  The Chicago market, however, seems to have been transported here by elves straight from my dearest Deutschland.  It has German ornaments and candy, and all the Bratwurst, Pfeffernuesse, Kaesespaetzle, and Gluehwein you can ask for.  I loved it so much that after visiting on Thursday, I had to hightail it back on Friday for a Bratwurst.  (Okay, true confession:  I was tempted to go back again today, but it was the exact opposite direction from my intended destination.)

Anyway readers, I hope you're getting into the holiday spirit and enjoying the season.  Frohe Weihnachten! :-)

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten New (To Me) Authors from 2013

After a brief hiatus, I'm back linking up with The Broke and the Bookish.  This week's topic is "Top Ten New-To-Me Authors I Read In 2013".

1.  Rainbow Rowell.  I kept reading about her on blogs, so finally I picked up Eleanor and Park and Attachments from the library.   They were great!  I'm hoping to read Fangirl in 2014.

2.  Liane Moriarty.  A friend recommended What Alice Forgot, and I ended up plowing through it in a couple of days.  Such an interesting read!

3.  Tan Twan Eng.  I got this recommendation from Barefoot Med Student and really enjoyed The Garden of Evening Mists.  The added bonus was that I gained a better understanding of my husband's home country and its history.

4.  Ann Patchett.  Our book club read State of Wonder this spring, and I found it fascinating and really strange.  I'm not sure why I hadn't picked up any of her books until now.

5.  Christopher Buckley.  I picked up one of his books on CD for a drive to Ottawa, and it kept me entertained for about 9 hours of driving.
6.  Colm Toibin.  My book club read Brooklyn in March, and it was awesome.  I'll totally pick up more of his work in the future.

7.  Elena Gorokhova.  I had A Mountain of Crumbs on my to-read list for ages, because we all know I can't resist a Russian memoir.  So glad I finally read it this year.

8.  Kristin Cashore.  I devoured each one of her loooong books in a couple of days.  Write more, please!  :-)

9.  Connie Willis.  Time travelers from Oxford having adventures in the Middle Ages and Victorian England! 

10.  Jasper Fforde.  Time travel and jumping into literature all in one book series.  I thought moving to Hogwarts was my fantasy, but this series puts that to shame.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Medical Mondays: Coming Out of the (PCOS) Closet

I missed it last month, but I'm back now to link up with Medical Monday, hosted this month by Jane at From a Doctor's Wife and Emma at Your Doctor's Wife.

Today I'm getting very personal.  I try to avoid anything that brings you into the very centre of our private life, but as this issue is more about me than our marriage, I'm opening up.  In a way, I find writing about my issues is cathartic.  Disclaimer:  I'm trying not to overshare, but if you're freaked out by any mention of "lady issues", you may want to pass on this entry.

At 19 years old, I was diagnosed with Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).  I had really no idea what that meant, and as these were the days before Google, I accepted the doctor's statement that I shouldn't worry.  She put me on birth control pills to regulate my (barely existent) cycles, and I pretty much put it at the back of my mind.

Fast forward about 11 years.  When I was about to get married, I started researching PCOS, and found lots of scary stories from women who couldn't get pregnant or needed considerable interventions to have children.  (This is probably why most doctors (my hubby included) scorn WebMD and "Dr Google"!)  I became terrified that conceiving would be very difficult for us, but as we had decided to wait a year or two before trying, I again tried not to think about PCOS.

In the past few months, we've stopped using birth control to try to have a child, and my cycles have become more erratic. The last one was a full 6 weeks long.  I am becoming more and more afraid that conceiving naturally is unlikely and interventions are in our future.

PCOS is an endocrine disorder that is thought to affect 5-10% of women of reproductive age.  In layman's terms, your hormones are out of whack, which can cause anovulation (not ovulating) or irregular ovulation, acne, hirsutism AKA "excessive hairiness" (thankfully I don't have that!!), and even insulin resistance which can lead to obesity or diabetes.  I'm kind of angry that no one told me most of this when I was first diagnosed, especially the insulin resistance because it can lead to life-altering diseases.  I've found this to be a common thread in many PCOS women:  Doctors gave them the Pill to "fix things", and only later did they realize that the pills don't actually solve the problem, but only mask the symptoms.

The truth is, we don't really know how many women with PCOS are able to conceive without interventions.  Using Google or searching message boards will skew the results, since people who conceive on their own are less likely to blog or post about their pregnancy journey.  I am likely getting way ahead of myself in freaking out, but I also don't want to be taken unaware.

In the short term, I'm focusing on what I can do NOW to make my body as healthy as possible.  A good diet and regular exercise have been shown to regulate cycles, something I have definitely experienced in the past.  Because of the link between PCOS and insulin-resistance, avoiding sugar and complex carbohydrates can also have a positive link between regulating the hormone issues and increasing overall health.  (Seriously, I have the biggest sweet tooth in town; why did no doctor EVER tell me that sugar is especially bad for those with PCOS??  *Sigh*)  There are women who claim to have "cured" their hormonal imbalances just through diet and exercise.  I don't necessarily believe I can do that, but am definitely open to any change that could have a positive effect on my reproductive health.

If you have PCOS, I'd love to hear your experiences.  Has diet and exercise impacted your symptoms?  Have you had to use Clomid or Metformin to have children?