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

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Christmas Ghosts

Merry belated Christmas, friends! I hope it's been a good one for you and your families.

I haven't blogged in a long time. It felt like I ran out of words to say. Sometimes I was busy, and sometimes I had too many balls in the air, and at other times I just had too many emotions and no way to put them on the page.

In some ways, you could say that I'm doing better than at this point last year. We moved through some of stormiest periods of grief. I put myself out into the world and had new adventures and new joys. We are probably healthier than we were at the end of 2016.

But.... it still hurts. When I look at my tree on Christmas morning, I see the shadows of the gifts that should be there, the pajamas and toys and books that my children should be opening. When I look at our stockings, I see the extra space where more stockings should be. I see my shadow life, the one we were 'supposed' to have, the one in which we have two kids and maybe a third on the way, and I feel the gut punch of knowing that will never be. I live with the awareness of that ghost life every day, but at especially at Christmas.

One of the saddest parts of our infertility is that very few people understand or share in our loss. It is unacknowledged, unseen. When I voice it, I am being 'too dramatic' or 'too negative' or I just need to 'have a little faith'. No one sees the deep wounds that I carry. People commend me for looking happier, but don't notice that I still walk a little differently because part of me is broken.  There is hole in my heart. These ghosts come with me every day. I think they always will.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Fall 2017 TBR

Hi friends! After a brief blog hiatus, I'm trying to get back at it, and today's TTT topic is a good one. Today on The Broke and the Bookish, we're posting our fall to-read lists.

1. Longbourn by Jo Baker: This has been on my list for ages (because Pride and Prejudice), so I'm hoping to finally pick it up.

2. Fairest by Marissa Meyer: I started reading the Lunar Chronicles series last month and now I'm addicted. This book tells the back story of evil Queen Levana.

3. Winter by Marissa Meyer: See above.

4. The Break by Katherena Vermette: I picked this up at Chapters on a whim and it look interesting, plus I try to read Canadian literature when I can.

5. SPQR by Mary Beard: To be honest, I have no idea why I bought this book on the history of Ancient Rome, but I do make an attempt to read some History books each year and I've been slacking in 2017, so I'll try to get to this over the fall.

6. The Wings of the Dove by Henry James: In 2013, inspired by the Classics Club blog, I made a list of 50 classic books to read in 5 years, which would take me to the end of June, 2018. I've got seven books left to read, and Henry James is on the list.

7. I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai: This young woman is so inspiring.

8. Resurrection Year by Sheridan Voysey: I saw a webinar with Sheridan and his wife in which they talked about their infertility story and the year or so that they spent processing the fact that their fertility treatments never resulted in a child. As I try to process my own infertility, I think this could be helpful.

9. The Enchanted Wanderer by Nikolai Leskov: This is another one from the Classics Club list.

10. March by Geraldine Brooks: A look at the father of the March family from Little Women.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Eight Years, Four Years, One Year

Oh July, bringer of hot, lazy days and summer adventures, but with heat comes the danger of being scalded,, seared, or simply consumed in the fire so that nothing is left.

Eight years ago this week, I waited awkwardly in a shopping mall entrance to meet a man for dinner. Shortly after this, I spent a weekend with my mother at our family cottage, and during a canoe outing told her, "I might have met someone. I think I like him."

Four years later, the man from the shopping mall meeting, now my dear husband Gil, said to me, yes, let's have a child. Four years ago today, full of hope, I wrote down that it was finally Cycle Day 1, our first month trying for a child. Filled with hope, I envisioned a winter pregnancy, a spring baby. My imagined spring due date pushed forward to summer, then, autumn, then winter, then spring again.

One year ago tomorrow, I got the call from the clinic. Our cycle had failed. Our last hope. The dream was dead.

I thought that one day it would get easier, that one day I would start waking out without grief or pain. It hasn't. The sharp knife point of grief has dulled slightly, but infertility is still the air that I breath, day in and day out. It envelopes me and consumes me. It is my constant companion. I am infertility and infertility is me. I cannot imagine a life when I will not be aware in every moment that I wanted to be a mother, and I never could.

How do I keep going to face another July, and another? I don't know. I live by putting one foot in front of the other. I enjoy the good moments when they come, and I let myself grieve. I am kind to myself and try to be kind to others. I pray and worship and try to find my way in this dark valley of my faith. I look forward to months that are not July.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Series I've Been Meaning To Read

Hey friends! This week's TTT is looking at book series that we've been meaning to start. To be honest, I'm often skeptical about starting a new series, because I often feel like once I've started, I have to read them all, even when I don't necessarily love the books. There are some like A Song of Ice and Fire that I am highly unlikely to read just because it's such a time commitment and I'm not sure the books are my cup of tea. However, there are a few series that I would like to try.

1. The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer: I've heard great things about these books.

2. Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan: I have the first book on audio just waiting for a long drive. I don't actually know that much about Greek mythology, so I might learn something along the way.

3. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld: The concept is intriguing to me.

4. The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini: The covers are so lovely! I'm not usually that in to high fantasy and dragons, but I have heard many good things about this series.

5. The Gemma Doyle series by Libba Bray: I remember being interested in A Great and Terrible Beauty back when it was relatively new and I worked at a bookstore, but I never got around to reading it. Since I've loved Bray's most recent series, I may have to give Gemma Doyle a go.

6. The Inkworld trilogy by Cornelia Funke: This seems like a booklover's dream: A character who can bring fictional characters into reality.

7. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon: This is a maybe for me. I have friends who are absolutely obsessed with it, and others that strongly disliked the books. The sheer number of volumes and length of them makes me hesitant to jump in, but I do love time travel, so maybe I'll grab the first book for a vacation and check it out.

That's all I could think of! Please let me know which series you think I've missed or I absolutely have to start reading!

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Diverse Books Added to my TBR

It's another Tuesday! This week's TTT topic is books of a given genre that we've recently added to our to-read list. I couldn't think of a genre, so I chose a theme instead. I've been making an effort recently to expand my reading and ensure that I was getting more diverse perspectives, with protagonists of various culture backgrounds, so here are some recent additions to my TBR that have themes related to cultural diversity.

1. Sour Heart: Stories by Jenny Zhang: I saw this posted on a blog (I can't remember where!) and it caught my eye. This book contains short stories about Chinese and Taiwanese immigrants in the United States.

2. What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons: This book looks really thought provoking and interesting.

3. A Dry White Season by Andre Brink: Since my 2010 trip to South Africa, I've been fascinated with the country and it's dark history. This book is well-acclaimed and discusses race issues during Apartheid.

4. Short Girls by Bich Minh Nguyen: A book about two sisters of Vietnamese origin in the United States.

5. When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon: This looks absolutely adorable. I've never met a book that looks at modern arranged marriage among young Indian Americans. And the cover! <3   

6. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas: An important look at police violence. There was a woman on my bus who was reading this for a while. I kept wanting to ask her how it was, but I chickened out.

7. The Break by Katherena Vermette: A novel taking place within a M├ętis community in Canada.

8. Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin: This is an important work on race in the American South during Jim Crow. It's been on my long list forever, but I recently added it on GoodReads.

9. You Can't Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have To Explain by Phoebe Robinson: This is supposed to be really funny as well as informative.

10. Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: I started reading Adichie a few years ago with Americanah, and since then I've enjoyed several of her books and learned a lot about Nigeria along the way.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Summer Reads

I've been a neglectful blogger lately. I've actually started a few TTT posts, but since my work life got crazier, I never finished them in time to post on Tuesday...BUT today I'm back. This week's theme is a summer freebie, which is nice because now that we've had Victoria Day, it feels like summer is on its way. I'm feeling uncreative in terms of picking topics, so I'll just post my summer list of books to read. This year, I'm participating in a summer reading challenge to read books in 25 different categories between May 15 and August 31. I'm already two books down, but here are some that are further down the list and I am to read after summer officially starts on June 21. I"ll post some of the categories and what books I plan to read for each one.

1. A book title with a location in it: A Passage to India by E.M. Forster.

2. A book set on a continent I've never been to: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See.

3. A book set on an island or body of water: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer.

4. A book about food or with food in the title: Chocolat by Joanne Harris.

5. A book set in an unfamiliar culture: Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

6. A book with an immigrant or refugee as a main character: Gold Mountain Blues by Ling Zhang.

7. A book based on time travel, world travel, space travel: Saga, Volume 7 by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples.

8. A book set in a country I'd like to visit: In A Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson.

9. A book set in the wilderness: The Break by Katherena Vermette.

10. A book originally written in a foreign language: The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

Friday, 28 April 2017

National Infertility Awareness Week: Listen Up!

This week is National Infertility Awareness Week, when bloggers, Facebookers, Instagrammers, etc., are encouraged to share their stories and raise awareness about the issues surrounding infertility. This year's theme is "Listen Up". I really like this theme as I've been extremely slowly making my way through a book called Living the Life Unexpected by Jody Day, which helps women come to terms with the fact that they will not have children (due to various reasons). One of the things Day says is that we need to be more vocal about our stories, because the stories of the involuntarily childless are often not heard. We hear all the miracle baby stories, but no one wants to hear the ones that don't end in pink lines or successful adoptions. Our stories make people uncomfortable, but it's precisely because of that fact that they NEED to be heard. We need to normalize the fact that some infertility stories don't have a happy ending.... Or maybe it's better to say: Some infertility stories end with a new and different definition of a happy ending, because I would say that learning to live on and find joy when your biggest dream has died is still a miracle story.

Why aren't we sharing our stories? Sometimes it's because we're embarrassed or ashamed, or because we think find it awkward to talk about something so personal, but other times, it's because we tried sharing and it didn't go well. We stopped sharing because when we said we were hurting and struggling, the response was "Parenting is hard, you know." We stopped because when we were exhausted from getting up at dawn for ultrasounds and anxiety-ridden sleep, we were told, "You don't know tired until you have kids." We stopped because when we had the flu, people said, "You're lucky you don't have kids, because moms don't get sick days." We stopped because when we opened up cautiously, needing love and support, we instead got every piece of advice under the sun and were peppered with questions about our choices like we needed to prove we'd tried hard enough to deserve pity. We stopped because when we sought empathy, we got one-upmanship. We stopped sharing because it felt like no one was listening. (In case you're wondering, all of these happened to me personally, and this is far from the most hurtful comments that I have experienced.)

So how do we change this? I believe many people want to be helpful, but their discomfort with pain and loss and sorrow leads them to say and do hurtful things. I think we start by LISTENING. Most of us like to think we're good listeners. It's not like we tune out all the time, or interrupt constantly, or just walk away, right? Right? I would say that a lot of people - myself included - are not actually that good at truly listening to our friends who are going through the deep water.

We're not really listening if we're jumping in to give advice all the time, or to tell stories of someone who we know - or maybe we know OF - who overcame infertility. Our friend needs someone to hear her story and love her amidst the pain. She doesn't need to know your Great Aunt Edna's tried and true pointers on how to get pregnant. She doesn't even need your Google search results, because she probably has done eons more research than you have.

We're not really listening if we're trying to find the silver lining for someone else. She will come to a point where she can find her own joys and silver linings, but they may not be the ones that YOU would choose. When we try to find someone else's silver lining, it often feels like we're making light of her struggles.

We're not really listening if we're talking a lot, plain and simple. The book of James says we should be "quick to hear, slow to speak", and the book of Proverbs says "Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin." Wise words from God's Word. It might seem like you're not doing much, but a physical presence, an impromptu card, or a "I'm so sorry" can often say what reams of well-meaning advice or miracle stories cannot. We know it's hard. We know you don't have the right words. You don't need to give me all the best words; just give me yourself.

I encourage you all: If you're infertile, feel free to be bold and share your story. We need to hear it. I need to hear it. If you're a family member or supporter take a page from Frasier Crane, call up your friend and say, "Hello Friend, I'm listening." And then just stop talking.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Unique Books

Today's Top Ten Tuesday topic is looking at the most unique books that we have read.

Unique Structure
1. All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda: It's written backwards, which plays with your head a little.

2. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner: I've read a number of books that jump around in terms of time and narration, but this was probably one of the most disjointed. I didn't actually like it very much, but it was certainly unique!

Unique perspective:
3. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak: The narrator is Death.

4. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold: The narrator is already dead and watching the story unfold.

5. My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me by Jennifer Teege: This is an autobiography that I read recently about a woman who found out her grandfather was a prominent Nazi. It was especially interesting as she is half-Nigerian.

Unique Themes:
6. Avalanche: A Love Story by Julia Leigh: I wrote about this book recently. It's Leigh's memoir of going through IVF. We don't have many infertility memoirs, and certainly few without a shiny happy ending.

7. None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio: This is a YA novel about a teenage girl who discovers she is intersex. I'd never read anything else on the subject, so it's definitely unique!

Just Plain Different:
8. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman: This book did a number on my head, but I enjoyed it. Gaiman certainly is a master of books that are a little weird.

9. The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey: This takes the traditional zombie novel and puts it on its head.

10. Maus by Art Spiegelman: Spiegelman tells his father's Holocaust story in a graphic novel format, using mice to depict the Jews and cats to depict the Nazis. It's very creative and different, and really started the trend of using graphic novels to tell serious stories.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

April 2017 Life Update

Hi friends! It's been a while since I just updated everyone on how our life is going, so I figured that was overdue.

Work: I don't even know if I mentioned this (oops), but I graduated last June with a Master of Information, and then started looking for work. In November, I was offered a part-time, one-year contract position working on a research grant at a hospital, and in February, I started a second part-time position, also in medical research. It's been an interesting journey and I am learning a lot! Working two part-time jobs is difficult because I will learn something and then not be back for days, so that has been a challenge, but I hope that by putting in the hours, I'll eventually get to a full-time position.


Writing: I took part in NaNoWriMo last November and I managed to hit my goal of 50,000 words! However, I didn't actually finish the novel and it's been on the backburner ever since because I started working that month. Maybe one day, I will pick it up again. I also have been contributing to my church women's ministry blog, which you can find here.

Travel: I have been struggling with this area. Between infertility treatments and school and Gil's schedule, we have not had a proper vacation in years. We went to Barcelona last June, but that was for a conference and it was a whirlwind trip. I'm going to push for a winter vacation next year, but we may be able to do a long weekend trip somewhere in Ontario in the next few months. Keep your fingers crossed, because we really do need that time away together! There is a chance that I may go on a summer mission trip with the church in August, but I will update more on that later when it's finalized.

Infertility: There is really no update possible. I am still grieving our journey and the child that will never be. There are days when I am okay, and other days when I see nothing but darkness around and ahead of me. I am learning to enjoy the good moments and ask God for the strength to survive the hard ones.

Neville: Is cute as always. I mean, look at this face! :) This little guy gives me so much joy. We have had so many downs since we adopted him, and his boundless energy and silly ways keep me laughing during the dark times.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Infertility Book Response: Avalanche

I've been reading a few infertility-related books lately, so I thought that I'd start giving a brief review/response to some of them in case readers are interested. I recently read Julia Leigh's Avalanche, a memoir of her experience going through IVF. You can find a thoughtful piece from the Guardian here. This piece is probably more of a personal response than a review, so read it accordingly.

For obvious reasons, I found it an emotional read. It's a strange book. Some parts are extremely personal - the story of her marriage collapsing, for example. Other sections feel very procedural; however, that's kind of the epitome of fertility treatment for me: You are going through what is potentially the most emotionally grueling experience of your life, and yet your body also feels like the clinical subject of a laboratory experiment. You weep on the subway and in the bathrooms at work, yet you calmly inject yourself twice a day as if measuring out Gonal-F dosages were just the way of things. In that way, I think Leigh really captured some of the absurd essence if infertility.

Leigh's lifestyle and character were so completely different from mine. I found it hard to relate to her impulsive and tumultuous marriage or some of her other choices. She had lovers and ex-lovers, even ones who were prepared to donate sperm for her. However, in some ways, I found her account refreshing. I've read too many infertility accounts that focused on the perfect, committed, loving couple facing the odds. You know, the ones who "deserve" to be parents, for whom everyone feels sad because "Any kid would feel lucky to have you as mom and dad." But who are those people? Not Gil and me. Okay, we rarely fight, and we are nothing like Julia and Paul, but infertility is grueling and tears apart even the most supportive of marriages. I liked seeing a real portrait of messy people in a heartbreaking situation.

I liked that Leigh conveyed the overwhelming amount of decisions that need to be made in infertility and the guilt that is associated with that: "If I don't do this test or that test or the embryo glue, will I always worry that THIS was the reason why I never had a child? I also liked that she questioned the odds she was given and asked for evidence.

Some of the critiques I've read of the book say that Leigh comes across as selfish and/or self-absorbed. Maybe so. It's easy to become obsessed and absorbed with the process when you're in it. Fertility treatment becomes your entire life. It's also easy to judge from the outside. I find that there is this pressure on those of us who are infertile to prove ourselves as deserving: of pity, of sympathy, of being parents. Regular people just get to have kids, but once you're infertile, you need to be a saint or else people shrug and imply that maybe your infertility is just the universe's way of saying you're not meant to be a parent. I've been interrogated about how many procedures we went through, and why we didn't do X, as though I don't get sympathy or grief until I've shown that I "tried hard enough", and only then will they be supportive. All that to say, maybe Leigh was selfish, but that didn't stop me from aching for her sad journey.

Would I recommend this book to others? Yes. In fact, I wish all my friends would read it, so that they could be better informed about the process and the odds. I've been told to "just do IVF", but I think Leigh's book shows both how difficult IVF is and how low the odds for success actually are. For my infertile sisters, I would say that this is a difficult book. I don't know if I could have related if I were still in the rose-coloured glasses stage when I was sure that I'd get pregnant eventually. Maybe it would have felt too disappointing. Now that I'm grieving what might have been, it's cathartic to know I'm not alone.

Some of my favourite quotes:
"I didn't want to tell people because I thought that unless they were involved in that world themselves they wouldn't want to listen. Or they would only half listen and so diminish my experience. Or they would ask questions that required explanations too complex for conversation. Or they would offer advice based on hearsay and a general theory of positivity. Or I would make them uncomfortable because of my proximity to the abyss. Hush, keep your voice down, don't mention it by name."
YES YES YES YES YES. This is my experience to a T.

"I'm an expert at make-believe. Our child was not unreal to me. It was not a real child but also it was not unreal. Maybe a better way to say it is that the unknown unconceived had been an inner presence. A desired and nurtured inner presence. Not real but a singular presence in which I had radical faith. A presence that could not be substituted or replaced."

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Read In A Day (Give Or Take)

Today's TTT topic is "one sitting" books. I love when you find a book so enticing that you just sit down and read it all, but that doesn't seem to happen as much these days, so I'm posting about books that I read within 24 hours or so. It's hard to compile this because I'm using Goodreads and I don't have the start and end date for all my past reads, so I'm partially going by memory.

1. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton: I did in fact read this book in one sitting, at the public library when I had a few hours to kill while my car got a new muffler. Just imagine me weeping in my corner of the library. What a great book.

2. The Giver by Lois Lowry: This is a book that I do remember clearly. I read the whole thing while doing the glucose test at my infertility clinic, because I had to wait a few hours after drinking the gross orange drink. I'm torn on this one: Great book; terrible memory.

3. The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan.: Truth be told, I'm not sure if I actually read this in 24 hours or just over a couple of days, but it's one of those books that I definitely powered through and could barely put it down.

4. To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han: I love this series. The books are light and sweet and excellent for reading in one shot.

5. Landline by Rainbow Rowell: This book drew me in with its original and strange concept, and I just couldn't put it down.

6. The Wild Princess by Mary Hart Perry: My friend gave me this highly romantic novel about the daughter of Queen Victoria, and I read it over Victoria Day weekend one year when my husband was working.

7. Roomies by Sara Zarr: A quick and easy, but surprisingly moving, novel about two college roomates.

8. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell: My favourite of her books.

9. Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer: This book I remember very clearly because I bought it at the airport in Honolulu and had finished it by the time I got home. I'd read the first two on holiday and then ran out of reading material. :P

That's all I could remember!

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Spring TBR

Hi friends! Wow, it's been a month since I last posted. TTT went on hiatus and some other stuff has been going on, but I never meant to be off for so long, so I apologize. We are finally back at it with Top Ten Tuesday, and this week's topic is books on our spring to-read list. Is it almost spring? Really? I'm writing this as I watch snow spiral past my window, but I know that the warm weather will be here soon. I have a few long books on my list for the spring, so we'll see whether I can accomplish this whole list in three months.

1. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt: I know, I know. This book is a brick. I've heard so many good things about it though, so I'm looking forward to reading my copy since I really liked The Secret History.

2. Avalanche by Julia Leigh: A heavy read about the author's infertility journey. As we continue to process our life, I've found it helpful to read the stories of other women who have been through this path. I feel like the world really only wants to hear the happy endings of infertility stories, and those of us whose do not end up with a bouncing baby in arms are supposed to stay silent, so I'm going out of my way to read those stories as I process.

3. Swing Time by Zadie Smith: I've enjoyed a lot of her books and am really hoping my library hold comes in ASAP.

4. The Patriots by Sana Krasikov: Oh, hey, more heavy Russian novels!

5. Victoria by Daisy Goodwin: I bought this novel about Queen Victoria on a whim the other day. It seems like a good vacation book for when we (maybe, hopefully) take a long weekend trip in May.

6. The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens: This is one of the books on my Classics Club list, so I'll be diving into this impossibly long novel soonish.

7. Postcards from the Edge by Carrie Fisher: I'm sad that it took Fisher's death to finally get me to read her books, but from what I've read thus far, they are great. RIP Princess Leia. *runs off to cry in the corner*

8. Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks: I really enjoyed People of the Book and am hoping to be wowed by this book about a woman in plague times.

9. Old City Hall by Robert Rotenberg: Some easy mystery reading for a holiday or long weekend.

10. Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman: I've had this on my list for ages, but have finally gotten around to putting a hold on it. I'm interesting to see how it compares to Rae Carson's Gold Seer series, since there are similar themes.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Top Ten Tuesday:Favourite (And Least Favourite) Couples From Recent Books

Happy Valentine's Day, friends! Here's a true Valentine's story from my life: One year in high school, some friends and I were in a coffee shop. I thought my friend Beverly was standing next to me because I caught a flash of her blue coat, so when I noticed some paper hearts decorating the walls, I turned, wiggled my eyebrows suggestively, and said, "It's almost Valentine's Day". Turns out it was a middle aged man. Oops. Now that you've lived through my shame of twenty years past, it's time for the weekly love-themed link up. Today we're posting TTT lists with a Valentine's theme, so I'll be writing about my favourite and least favourite literary couples. I decided to go with books that I read within the last few years rather than all-time favourites, because as much as I love Lizzie and Darcy, it may be time to give some other couples a chance in the spotlight.

1. Ove and Sonja in A Man Called Ove: Ove is the very definition of a curmudgeon, but Sonja loves him anyway. I loved this portrait of love over a lifetime, even and especially through difficult circumstances.

2. Rebecca and Nicholas from The Royal We: This book was a surprise hit for me because the characters were goofy and real. Yes, the idea of an average American girl capturing the heart of  prince seemed far-fetched, but the book was full of adorable and funny moments, and in the end I really loved Nick and Bex.

3. Marko and Alana from the Saga series: This story is kind of Romeo and Juliet set in space. What I love about Marko and Alana is that they flawed characters, but they are feisty and committed and passionate. Also, she has wings and he has horns, so that's pretty cool. :)

4. Leah and Jefferson in The Gold Seer series: This series plays with the old trope of the devoted guy who is in love with his unsuspecting best friend; however, Jefferson is kind and strong, and their romance develops as a quiet love story rather than fireworks and magic. I liked that they really respect and care about each other, both as friends and later as more than friends.

5. Beatrice and Hugh in The Summer Before The War: Maybe I just love period romances, but I enjoyed watching this one develop, especially as it wasn't the whole focus of the book. It was nice watching Hugh's eyes gradually open and the way that World War I showed them what was qualities were truly important in a partner and what wasn't actually such a big deal.

6. Lara Jean and Peter in P.S. I Still Love You: This series is candy to me. I laugh a lot and I get warm fuzzies, and I don't care if high school romances usually don't last. I love these two and I adore Lara Jean's family too.

Now I'll move on to a few couples that I just didn't like:
7. Elena and Nino in the Neapolitan series: Don't get me wrong; I really enjoyed this series and found it captivating, but so many times I just wanted to shake Elena and say, "He's a tool! Walk away from him!! Yes, you had a crush on him as an adolescent, but it's time to move on."

8.  Elizabeth Woodville and Edward IV in The White Queen: There was way too much insta-love in this historical novel.

9. Isabelle and Gaetan in The Nightingale: I loved this book, but the romance element annoyed me. I was thankful that it was less prominent than it seemed in the beginning, but the whole, "I've just met you in wartime and now I'm in love" aspect rubbed me the wrong way. Isabelle was a strong character on her own. She didn't need to be following a boy.

10. Pretty much every couple in The Mists of Avalon: I mean, half of them were related to each other, or cheating on each other, and if not, there was probably some kind of witchcraft involved.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books That Have Made Me Think

This week's TTT topic is a freebie, so we can write about whatever we want. I chose to pick 10 books that I've read over the past year that have challenged my thinking or given me more to ponder. It's a mix of fiction and non-fiction. I do try to vary my reading to include books for pleasure and others to help me learn and gain new perspectives, so here are some that stood out. Enjoy!

1. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi: This book covers several hundred years of a family in Ghana and the United States. It touched upon colonialism, slavery, and oppression. It gave me a lot to ponder and was a compelling read as well.

2. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman: This book made me laugh and cry, but it's also the story of an outcast who in some ways has a heart of gold. I don't want to give too much away, but the book made me think about the people around us who are going through great suffering, and how easy it is to dismiss someone as cold or grumpy when there may be more going on.

3. My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me by Jennifer Teege: The author of this book was adopted as a young age, and found out in her 30s that her grandfather was a Nazi war criminal. The book made me think about what family is and how we cope with the burdens of our past, both in our families and the collective past of our culture.

4. All Roads Lead To Austen by Amy Elizabeth Smith: Okay, this book wasn't super deep, but I enjoyed the reflection on how people with different nationalities and cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds reacted to the same books.

5. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah: I really liked this book about two sisters in Vichy France during World War II. The author made me think about how I would respond under occupation, and what is real heroism? Is it just the person who puts her life on the line who is a heroine? It's not always so easy to judge what is right and wrong.

6. The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander: A heavy and sobering book about the impact of the war on drugs on the African American community.

7. Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates: I listened to the audiobook of Coates' letters to his son about what it means to be an African American male, and I plan on reading it again this year. Lots of food for thought.

8. Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood: I had read this book in high school and picked it up again on a whim. It made me think about the treatment of the mentally ill in society, as well as at the idea of voices. Whose voice do we listen to, and whose do we disregard?

9. The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng: As with The Nightingale, this book made me think about the lives of those in extenuating circumstances (in this case, Japanese-occupied Malaya), and the idea of complicity and guilt. Some people had to cooperate with the the occupiers in order to save others. How do we determine whether that is heroism or guilt?

10. Joni: An Unforgettable Story by Joni Eareckson Tada: If you're not familiar with Joni's story, she was a teenager when she had an accident that left her as a quadriplegic, but has ultimately been able to use her story to inspire many. The book talks a lot about suffering and how it has the power to shape us. As someone who has gone through a major loss in the past year (though very different that Tada's), I appreciate her contemplative book about how we hold onto faith in the midst of disappointment, when He does not choose to heal us.

I'd love to hear what books have given you food for thought!

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

My Dirty Little Secret

I have a dirty little secret: My house is a mess. Not like "Oh glory me, I haven't dusted the baseboards in days!" kind of mess, but a real mess. I mean, you've probably seen dirtier. It's not like an ecological disaster zone quite yet, but it's pretty darn filthy.

In addition to the dirt, my house is cluttered. Part of this is not my fault; my husband has a bunch of bins of old stuff that he has no time to go through, including reams of paper, and he tends to leave his clothes in a heap but wants to do his own laundry. Part of the clutter is due to the fact that I was in graduate school and working for a while, and the paper just piled up. I can make a bunch of excuses for it, but there is just clutter all over.

Part of the problem is that I kind of, sort of, maybe hate my house. I'm thankful for it, of course. Shelter is good, and we're fortunate to have a house in a crazy market. However, I hate my house because it's a constant reminder of what should have been. It was to be our forever home, with three bedrooms, so we could fill them with kiddos. Instead, I fill those rooms with stuff so that I don't have to think about the what ifs. 

The worst part about my nasty house is that it shames me. Or rather, it adds to the shame that I already feel, and that becomes a cycle. My mind tells me all the time that I'm a failure. I'm a terrible wife and a terrible woman. I can't have a baby and I'm not a great cook, so what kind of wife am I? The logical part of my brain says that it isn't true, that my husband loves me for who I am and doesn't think less of me for my struggles, but it's hard to believe that. That same logical brain tells me to cut myself slack, that I've been dealing with depression and acing school and volunteering as well as working, and it's okay to focus on surviving some days. Then I look at my messy house and the words just ring through my head: "Failure. Failure. Failure." And instead of cleaning and decluttering, my instinct is to hide under the blankets and cry, because I can't face the reality that once I clear it all out, I'll have to come to grips with the emptiness of those empty rooms that will never belong to a child.

On January 1, I woke up as a woman on a mission. I wanted to clean out this house from top to bottom. I wanted to sweep out all the things that had built up and that were overwhelming me, to stop being embarrassed to have someone drop in. Maybe it was getting past the difficult holiday season or hitting roughly six months since our last set of infertility treatments failed, but suddenly I needed change. Since that day, I've been taking it one day at a time. I bought a filing cabinet to attempt to fix the paper problem. I went through boxes of old paper and tossed most of the sheets that I no longer need for school. I scrubbed floors and I dusted. It's a long-term project, and I may never have that pristine house from the magazine, but I'm getting a little bit proud of my progress. Maybe one day I will graduate to being a real adult with a proper home.

Why am I sharing this story? It's embarrassing, right? I don't want people to know how messy I am. I guess I'm sharing it because maybe there are other people who are stuck in shame and loss and grief and need to know that they aren't the only ones who haven't scrubbed the kitchen floor in a long time. I needed you all to know that this grief I'm in is real and painful and nasty and all-encompassing, but I'm ready to be very real about it and not live in shame. I also want to advocate for us hurting people. It's easy to watch an episode of Hoarders and feel sorry for those poor people in their mess. It's not as easy to walk across the street and hug the hurting person who is in front of you. People like me are everywhere. We are in your Bible studies and in your book groups and at your workplace. We are embarrassed and ashamed of the mess inside our homes and inside our minds. I've had people - even my own mother - chastize me for the messy state of my house, and it didn't help. Instead it just told me, "Keep hiding." What I needed was love. I needed to be told that despite the mess, I was worth loving. So readers, if you aren't in the mess right now, keep your eyes open, because it might be your turn to tell someone that they are enough.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: 2016 Releases I Didn't Get Around To Reading in 2016

Hello dear readers! Welcome to 2017! I haven't been posting too much lately. I've been deep in thought and trying to move forward in a variety of areas, so watch this space for some life updates; HOWEVER, it's time for another Top Ten Tuesday, and today we're talking about 2016 release that we didn't manage to read in 2016, so here are some that are still on my list.

1. Homegoing by Yaa Gyosi: I got this in the TBTB Secret Santa exchange from the amazing Katelynn over at Books and Bottles, so I'm stoked to read this very soon!

2. Up To This Pointe by Jennifer Longo: I have a lifelong fascination with ballet, even though I was rubbish as a dancer, so this really appeals to me.

3. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi: I feel like this book was everywhere in 2016, and yet I still managed not to read it. Soon!

4. Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer: I still have to read a few of his books, actually, but I'll get around to them at some point.

5. Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty: Sounds very intriguing!

6. Victoria by Daisy Goodwin: Historical fiction? Check. British royalty? Check. I'm in!

7. The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson: Okay, maybe I'm just obsessed with historical fiction...

8. I'm Judging You: The Do-Better Manual by Luvvie Ajayi: I didn't actually hear about this book until last week, so it's hard to say that I "didn't get around to it"; I've been trying to read more about race relations and open my eyes by reading more by people of colour, and this book was recommended. I'm really looking forward to starting it.

9. Swing Time by Zadie Smith: I've read a few of her books and found them interesting, so I'll be excited when my hold for this book comes in within the next few weeks.

10. Avalanche by Julia Leigh: I haven't done IVF, but infertility has been such a central part of my life over the past few years, so I'm looking forward to diving into Leigh's memoir.