Books Read: August 2015

You can read about why I decided to start doing this here.

For January, see here.
For February, see here.
For March, see here.
For April, see here.
For May, see here.
For June, see here.
For July, see here.

* denotes a book that I had already read at least once before

*The Virgin’s Lover (Philippa Gregory)

An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination: A Memoir (Elizabeth McCracken)

MaddAdam (Margaret Atwood)

The Bone Clocks (David Mitchell)

*Over Sea, Under Stone (Susan Cooper)

*The Dark is Rising (Susan Cooper)

*Greenwitch (Susan Cooper)

*The Grey King (Susan Cooper)

*Silver on the Tree (Susan Cooper)

Shadow Work (Craig Lambert)

Trust No One (Paul Cleave)

The “Me, Me, Me” Epidemic: A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grounded Kids in an Over-Entitled World (Amy McCready)

The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed (Jessica Lahey)

The Girl on the Train (Paula Hawkins)

August looks like a particularly busy month, with fourteen books read, but five of those were Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series, so the real total for the month is closer to nine. The series is one of my all-time childhood favourites. I first read them when I was exactly the same age as one of the central characters, and I imagined for MONTHS that I could be part of their quest (even though that would disrupt all of the prophecies and verses in the books). My love for them has never faded. I read them pretty much every year, and when I picked them up this time I sped through them in less than 24 hours. I’ve read them so often I don’t need to read carefully. They’re like a good cup of tea or a knitted blanket- they warm my soul.

I started by rereading yet another Philippa Gregory, but was then able to stop myself before I started taking the ones I don’t own out of the library to reread those. I had too many other holds coming in. I’ve stayed clear of her since, so I think I’m probably satisfied for the next year or so.

Then I had a run of library holds, beginning with Elizabeth McCracken’s memoir of her stillbirth while living in France. It was a powerful read. I find myself drawn to writers who write about their experiences of infertility and loss, as well as those who write about parenting, and those who write about deciding not to parent.

I then finished Margaret Atwood’s MaddAdam trilogy and immediately moved on to The Bone Clocks. I very almost didn’t read this book. My sister recommended it to me (in the same email where she recommended All the Light We Cannot See and Station Eleven– I read both in July and loved them). The sticking point for me is that The Bone Clocks is written by David Mitchell, who also wrote Cloud Atlas. I HATED Cloud Atlas. I tried four times to read it and could never get past page twenty or twenty-five. It is very rare for me to have such a visceral loathing for a book. I would have never read anything by him ever again, except that when I told my sister this, she insisted the The Bone Clocks was nothing like Cloud Atlas and that she thought I would like it. So, against my better judgment, I took it out. And I devoured it. It’s very hard to explain the plot, but I loved it. It was one of the highlights of my summer.

Pairing it with MaddAdam, however, proved to be just too much near-future dystopian fiction, so that’s when I went for my comfort reading of The Dark is Rising, which provided much needed relief, even if I still find the final ending impossibly unfair.

Shadow Work, by Craig Lambert, is meant to be an exploration of all the unseen, unpaid jobs we have taken on as individuals. Things like doing your own travel bookings, rather than going to a travel agent, or paying bills online. Lambert’s general premise is that this is not a change for the better, because it weakens the bonds of our society to have everyone doing everything individually instead of communicating with other people and forming relationships. I can see his point, but he put me off side with his argument that pregnancy tests fell into this category. Before, he suggests, the moment of discovery was shared between the woman and the health professional who called to give her the results of her blood or urine test. Now, a woman can find out on her own, in a bathroom. I think he means for this to be a somewhat pathetic, isolating image, but it just made my blood boil, because I cannot see, in any possible way, how the ability to choose both when to find out if you are pregnant and who to share that knowledge with, is anything but a positive for women. And since I LIKE booking my own travel and doing research online, and I LOVE that I can pay my bills online whenever it is convenient for me instead of having to work around the bank’s hours, and I am possibly the biggest introvert I know, I was never able to warm to his premise.

I read two thrillers this month, Trust No One, which is about a murder mystery writer who has Alzheimer’s and who can no longer tell the difference between truth and fiction, and The Girl on the Train, which has been wildly popular (which is why I read it) and is about a woman on a train who witnesses something (or thinks she does) and then falls deeper into a mystery. Both of them were disappointments (although Trust No One is much more interesting). I solved the mystery very early on with both books and then spent most of the rest of the time thinking, “Surely that’s not the answer, is it? But that’s too obvious. There must be another layer.” only to discover that there wasn’t another layer. I think I need to avoid reading thrillers. I just get too frustrated and there are too many other books I’d like to read. It was a reminder that I need to be careful where I get my book recommendations. From my sister, yes. From the subway advertising posters, probably not.

I finished the month with two books I was considering reviewing for the parenting website I occasionally write for. Ultimately neither of them struck enough of a chord with me to inspire me to write a review, but I liked aspects of both. The Gift of Failure was my favourite of the two, because E. is a perfectionist who is afraid to try anything if he thinks he will make a mistake, and I tend towards being an interfering, fussy parent (of the sort who struggles to bake with her kid because flour goes on the floor). So there was some much needed perspective for me, and some strategies to take forward to help E. become more willing to take the odd risk.


Filed under Books

PCOS and Dairy: Just Say No

Readers, this is a game changer.

If you recall, after ovulating on day 21 in my third cycle, last cycle I didn’t ovulate until day 27. That was the cycle where I had been eating ice cream on a daily basis for well over a week (yes, I know that’s embarrassing).

So I set myself a goal: with cycle #5, I was not going to eat ANY dairy, other than Greek yoghurt at breakfast, until after I ovulated. I wanted to see if it would make a difference.

Oh, and I also eased back on the whole carb/protein ratio issue, because I was so convinced dairy was the major culprit.

Oh, and my metformin ran out right before I ovulated in cycle #4 and I didn’t go and get more because I couldn’t stand the thought of going into the clinic and possibly running into my new doctor (or, worse, my old doctor) and having to explain where I had been when we were supposed to have done an IVF cycle by now.

Not exactly perfect scientific conditions with no fewer than three variables at play. What can I say. I’m a historian.

So cycle #5 started, and I stuck to my plan. No butter. No cheese. No milk. No ice cream UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES even if it looked delicious.

I still ate Greek yoghurt at breakfast most mornings. And there was some milk used in cooking now and again.

And I ovulated on day 18.

DAY 18!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Once I knew the high temperature wasn’t a fluke, I immediately tucked into the cheese.

I am still in my luteal phase (7dpo), so I’m still eating dairy occasionally. But I will cut it all out as soon as my temperature drops, and we’ll see if we can repeat this next month.

I cannot cut it out entirely, but cutting it out (except yoghurt) for half the month, and then only eating it when it’s something that I really love, that is a situation I can live with.

It boggles my mind that my “cereal and milk” breakfast habit (that has been a habit for my ENTIRE LIFE) could fundamentally be the problem behind my PCOS and my total lack of anything resembling (even remotely) a menstrual cycle before this summer.

Yes, I wish I had known about this earlier.

Yes, I wish I had made these dietary changes a couple of years ago.

Yes, I wish things could have been different with our family.

But right now, I am excited for the future, because for the first time in my life I have a way to manage my PCOS. Truly manage and live with it, not just hide it with birth control pills.

THAT is better than ice cream.


Filed under Cycle Madness, Food, PCOS

Clarity (Part Two)

One of the books I read this month was Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision NOT to Have Kids.

I have quite a lot I’d like to say about the book, but right now I only want to look at one sentence. In her essay “Babes in the Woods”, Courtney Hodell describes the point in her life when she did attempt to get pregnant, only to discover that it wasn’t easy after all, and ultimately decides not to continue trying.

Of that moment, Hodell writes, “I wasn’t relieved, but I wasn’t sorry either.”

That sentence resonated with me. It has burrowed down into my soul.

The last two cycles, I have had moments where I thought I could be pregnant.

It is theoretically possible, after all. I am tracking my temperature. I know when I ovulated. I’m not in a sexless marriage.  I know when these events overlap.

I’m not very good at recognizing what my body normally feels like post-ovulation, because I am not yet used to this entire concept of having a luteal phase that isn’t supported by progesterone and Fragmin and prednisone and the rest of the chemical cocktail. (It still boggles my mind that I can just write the words “the last two cycles” because I now HAVE cycles.)

So I have had points where I’ve wondered.

And then my temperature takes a nose dive one morning, and I know I am not, and Hodell managed to so perfectly encapsulate how I feel in that moment.

I am not relieved.

But I am not sorry either.

I am content in my life.

I will always, in some way, miss the baby we lost, but it is harder and harder now to imagine any family that is not my current lived reality.

I think I would welcome that most unlikely of situations, a natural pregnancy. I think I would rearrange my head and my heart to make sense of such a world. I think I would be able to adjust my vision of our future.

But it would no longer be easy.

We are complete.

We are happy.

And I think I can say this now and really, truly mean it:

I don’t want a second child enough to ever go back to the clinic.


I never thought I’d reach it.

But I’m here now.


Filed under Choose Happiness, Cycle Madness, Second Thoughts, Three's Company

Clarity (Part One)

It has been hard for me, this past year.

Hard to be unemployed without paid work (for, as Q. pointed out to me, over and over again, I did have a job, just not one that society values).

I have had a lot of time to sit and think. Probably too much time to sit and think given my natural propensity for thinking/fretting/planning.

I went round and round and round in my head.

My thoughts were a maelstrom.

A vortex.

And then, at last, there was stillness.

I still don’t know what I’m going to be doing this year.

I still don’t know what I’m going to do in the future.

I don’t know whether I will have a ‘job’ or a ‘career’.

But I realized the only thing I really needed to understand in order to be able to move forward.

Absolutely nothing is more important to me right now than having control over my time.

Not salary. Not the type of work. Not the opportunities for promotion.

I do not have to work in an office for eight hours a day.

And I am choosing not to.

I don’t know what’s coming next.

But now I know I’ll recognize the opportunity when it happens.

Because finally, finally, I know what I want.

Leave a comment

Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Life after the PhD, Who am I really? (Career Angst)

Books Read: July 2015

You can read about why I decided to start doing this here.

For January, see here.
For February, see here.
For March, see here.
For April, see here.
For May, see here.
For June, see here.

* denotes a book that I had already read at least once before

*The Other Boleyn Girl (Philippa Gregory)

*The Boleyn Inheritance (Philippa Gregory)

A Year at the Races (Jane Smiley)

Station Eleven (Emily St. John Mandel)

*Oryx and Crake (Margaret Atwood)

The Year of the Flood (Margaret Atwood)

Children Learn What They Live: Parenting to Inspire Values (Dorothy Law Nolte and Rachel Harris)

All the Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr)

*The Queen’s Fool (Philippa Gregory)

When I wrote about June’s books, you may remember I had this to say about Philippa Gregory’s works:

And I find that once I start reading Tudor novels I need to read them all again to feel satisfied

Exactly so. I own most of her older ones, which makes it easy for me to pick one up (or two) in a moment where I’m between books from the library, like I was at the start of July. I’ve read them all so frequently it takes me very little time to get through one. I’m not skimming it or speed reading, per se, but I definitely read faster than usual just because the story is so familiar to me. I read another one right at the end of the month (when I once again found myself with a day or two before I could get to my latest bunch of holds at the library).

A Year at the Races and Station Eleven were the two books I brought with me on our annual cottage vacation.


Such is life after children. When we rented a cottage back in 2009 (admittedly for two weeks rather than one), I read around twelve books while we were away. I read so many I couldn’t even keep track of them all.

Back to 2015. I actually thought two was ambitious, but it turned out I could have brought one or two more along with me, because we had grandparents with us at the cottage and this left us with much more free time than would normally be the case. This wouldn’t usually be a problem, because I’m happy to read the books kept at the cottage. One of my favourite things to do at a cottage when we first arrive is find the bookshelf (because there is always a bookshelf) and see what the owners have chosen to leave there. Bonus points if there are field guides (birds, butterflies, plants).

This cottage didn’t have ANY books. And it had a whopping big jet ski parked on a trailer near the driveway.

Not our kind of cottage folk.

But their cottage itself was lovely, and sitting down on the dock reading was glorious, and I really enjoyed A Year at the Races, which is about how Jane Smiley found herself owning and racing Thoroughbreds, and I loved Station Eleven, even if it did weird me out (being set, among other places, in a dystopian near-future Toronto).

Station Eleven has a pandemic at its centre, which reminded me that I never finished Margaret Atwood’s Maddaddam trilogy (which also features a dystopian near(ish)-future society after a pandemic). I very much liked how she switched perspectives between Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood so that everything you thought you knew about the world turned out to be otherwise. And then it took a while for my hold on the last part of the trilogy to come in, so I read a couple of other things.

Children Learn What They Live is based around the famous poem written by Nolte (“If children learn with criticism, they learn to condemn”, etc.). Each chapter starts with a line from the poem and explores how to apply it. It’s a decent enough read, but I still like Between Parent and Child and How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk better when it comes to respecting your child through your parenting.

All the Light We Cannot See was the second of three books recommended to me by my sister (who knows I am always looking for something to read- the first was Station Eleven). It’s received a lot of attention. Deservedly so, in my opinion. I had real trouble putting it down once I started reading it.

1 Comment

Filed under Books

Cycle #4 recap

38 days this time.

Fertility Friend and I are disagreeing about when I finally ovulated (which happened pretty much as soon as I stopped eating ice cream on a daily basis- coincidence, I think not). FF says Day 25, but I think it was Day 27.  My chart has three earlier points where my temperature plummeted one morning before popping back up to the normal range for a few more days. I think my body was trying to ovulate and just couldn’t quite manage it.

Luteal phase was somewhere between 11 and 13 days, depending on who was right about the ovulation. Spotting started late on the last day, just like last cycle, and af started in full force overnight.

Even if I’m right about the date I ovulated, that still makes my luteal phase one day longer than last time. And if FF is right, it’s practically textbook in length.

This cycle, I’m determined. I am NOT going to eat any dairy, other than my Greek yoghurt at breakfast, until I’ve ovulated and we’ll see what kind of results I get. I am more and more convinced dairy is the major factor. So we’ll see.

This is kind of fun. I like puzzles. I am intrigued by the possibility I could actually understand what is going on in my body and how to affect it.


Filed under Cycle Madness, Food, PCOS

The First Day

Q. and I walked E. to the school.

Q. kissed E. and headed off to work when the first bell rang.

I waited with E. until his teacher appeared.

“Go with Mr. J.,” I told him.

I gave him a gentle push in the direction of his teacher.

Clutching his lunch bag, wearing his backpack, E. followed him into the school.

He didn’t cry.

He didn’t look back.

And I didn’t cry until he was far enough inside the school that he wouldn’t be able to see me.

My baby.

A schoolboy now.

HOW did that happen?

1 Comment

Filed under Anxiety Overload, Blink and you'll miss it, Brave New (School) World, JK