On Flying With an 8 Month Old

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Hutch and I are in Mesa soaking up the sun and the familials. I flew here with him all by myself and I don’t think I can express in words the level of anxiety I felt in planning the journey down here.

Before I had a baby (and even while I was pregnant) I could fly all day long and be perfectly fine. In fact, I loved it. I loved the challenge of the airport, the joy in a nice set of luggage, the smug satisfaction I took in navigating the lines and crowds more efficiently than the frazzled looking lady in front of me, all of it.

But the moment that little ten-pound bundle of joy popped out of my hoo-ha travel became immensely more intimidating—terrifying even. When Kyle and I were visiting over Christmas my parents offered to fly us out to Texas to see my grandma there, and I literally turned them down because I was too afraid of packing for all three of us and hauling all our gear (car seat, stroller, pack n play, etc.) through the airport. Not to mention the baby himself: a living breathing ticking time bomb. A loose cannon. (Why are so many baby metaphors related to explosions? Asked no one ever.)

So when I agreed to bring Hutchy down to visit this month, and to do it all by myself, I knew I had a big feat ahead of me.

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As with almost all the crises I face, I dealt with this one the best way I know: by planning/worrying obsessively, expecting epic disaster, and praying to prove myself wrong. (My mother would describe this with the very self actualized mantra, “Plan for the worst, hope for the best, and take what comes.”)

Here are the challenges my angst-addled mind decided were most pressing, and how I dealt with them:

MAIN PROBLEM: Kyle would not be flying with me.

SOLUTION: Spend as much money as necessary to make my life as easy as possible. See below.

SUB-PROBLEM 1: The stroller I bought (after hours of research and years of pining, yes I said years—I had picked out the stroller I wanted long before I even wanted to have a baby) was too big to mess with through an airport and too fancy to trust with baggage handlers.

SOLUTION: Buy another stroller. Cheaper, smaller, and better suited for quick trips through security and easy delivery at the gate. I bought it off Craigslist and saved about $60.

SUB-PROBLEM 2: I wouldn’t be able to push the stroller and two suitcases at the same time. (In the Calgary airport when flying to the US, we have to go through Customs *with* all of our luggage, even the luggage we’re checking on, and *then* we get to drop it at a conveyer belt to be loaded onto the plane. It’s a silly system.)

SOLUTION: Buy a baby carrier. Put Hutch in carrier, put the luggage on a luggage cart, fold the stroller and put it on the trolley until I got rid of the baggage. Realise that this makes the purchase of second stroller silly because it’s only being used to transport infant from *after* security up to the gate. Squelch buyer’s remorse by reasoning that the smaller stroller is less expensive and therefore necessary to take the abuse from the baggage handlers. Also buy new suitcases that roll better (and let’s face it: make me look more beautiful). (I’ve always wanted to be a chic traveller.)

SUB-PROBLEM 3: Car seats are a hassle to fly with.

SOLUTION: Make my mom buy one for me in Arizona. (Although she ended up borrowing one so don’t worry. So far my neurosis has only affected myself and Poor Kyle.)

SUB-PROBLEM 4: We are flying stand-by since my dad works for an airline and has procured us a buddy pass. This is great because it’s cheap, but bad because we could be bumped off the first flight, and potentially the second flight too, and there are only two flights a day from Calgary to Phoenix on his airline. It also means that I need to plan for potentially days at the airport before actually arriving in Arizona, because Calgary airport is 3 hours away from Mayberry and Poor Kyle would be dropping me off there, essentially stranding me should anything go even slightly wrong.

SOLUTION: Pack more stuff in carry on.

SUB-PROBLEM 5: Plane might crash, leaving us (supposing we survive) with only the supplies packed in my single carry on bag.

SOLUTION: Pack even more stuff in carry on, including at least a three-day supply of food and diapers for Hutch. I can wear the same underwear and starve but my baby cannot. Consider packing one cloth diaper in carry on in case we get seriously stranded in the bush and I have to reuse it over and over. Take great mental strength to talk myself out of it.

SUB-PROBLEM 6: Already-big diaper bag not big enough to carry 72 hour kits for both myself and my child, plus passports, wallet, spare outfits, laptop, iphone, and chargers for both.

SOLUTION: Buy a bigger carry on. Spend hours researching exactly what kind of carry on this should be, and finally decide on a backpack from Lululemon, much to Poor Kyle’s extreme disgust and disappointment. (He hates Lululemon with a thousand passions.)

SUB-PROBLEM 7: Said Lululemon backpack was not available in store, but a different (smaller) version was.

SOLUTION: Buy first-choice backpack from website and pray it comes in time for flight. Also buy less-desirable backpack from store. Return whichever one didn’t make the cut.

On and on it went in this neurotic fashion until the money we were saving by flying on a buddy pass had been spent threefold on preparing for every possible catastrophe that might stem from said buddy pass.

In the end, even though I had way overpacked my carry on, I can’t say I would’ve done it any differently. Did I really need to take 12 disposable diapers for one three hour flight? No, but there was a *chance* I’d be stuck there for longer than a day. Did I need to bring enough formula for 8 bottles plus enough pouches of pureed food for 6 solid meals? No, but again: starving baby was not an option.

And for all my planning and insane overspending, it worked out perfectly. We got to the airport at 4:30 a.m., had a minor hiccup at check in, breezed through customs, had a major hiccup at security, shed a few angry tears at the ineptitude of TSA agents, got over major hiccup, purchased a couple of 1-litre water bottles after security, grabbed a quick smoothie and made it to the gate just as the first call for boarding was announced.

Hutch and I lucked out with an upgrade to First Class PLUS a vacant seat next to us (I know, you hate me; I hate me for you). I’d timed his bottle almost perfectly so he was hungry at take-off and his ears didn’t seem affected by the pressure change at all. He pooped his pants almost as soon as the seatbelt light went off, so that was a bummer, but nothing I couldn’t handle in the tiny cabin bathroom. He snoozed for about thirty minutes, and chewed on random crap in my carry on for the rest of the flight.

He didn’t cry a single time, and the only close call came when he pooped his pants *again* the minute we landed, and we were stuck waiting for our gate with the seatbelt light turned on for about ten minutes. By the time we were free his diaper had leaked and his poop was very obviously seeping through his outfit, and also kind of smelling bad. I opted to stick him in the baby carrier and book it to the nearest airport bathroom where I used almost an entire case of wipes cleaning him up. I was very glad I’d taken the advice of a million parenting blogs and had packed a spare outfit and a bag for dirty clothes; otherwise he would have been cruising through Sky Harbor in nothing but a diaper.

Hutch and Me 7 Months

I am eternally grateful the experience was so painless, and that Hutch was such an accommodating little travel buddy.

And yet despite this all, I’m still dreading the trip back. Because each trip is different. Every day is new, and all the catastrophes I planned for this time around could just as easily happen next time.

Does this paranoid worrying ever end?

Posted in hutchface, motherhood, Travel | 2 Comments

What I’m Reading: Month 3

Whoops, March is almost over and I barely made posting this in time.

My reading volume slowed down a bit this month with the increased demand on my time from a few little projects I’ve been working on, but I still managed to meet my quota of at least one fiction and one non-fiction book before the first half of the month was through. After that I dwindled, having got sucked back into Facebook toilet breaks. I really need to work on that.

FICTION:

The Anniversary Waltz by Darrel Nelson

Anniversary Waltz

I know I sort of suggested that I might swear off sappy Mormon romance novels in my last book review post, but hear me out: this was a gift from my father, who came with my mother to visit a few summers ago and bought this book for me from the author himself. It is signed and addressed to me and everything. I don’t know why it took me so long to get around to reading it. (Oh yes I do: I was in school and as soon as school was done I was in work and I never read anything for fun ever again, the end.)

Why is it signed by the author, you asked? Because the author is from right here in humble little Mayberry, and he went out and got his book published and for sale on Amazon and everything. He’s legit.

Anyway, it’s another book that has been sitting on my shelf for far too long, so I finally dusted it off and read it.

Verdict? It was pretty good. I won’t say it was life changing by any means, but it didn’t make me want to poke my eyeballs out. The story was believable, if not a little predictable, and it was sweet.

As with most sappy romance novels, it did make me wonder where I failed in life to end up marrying a man who never built me an entire gazebo with his bare hands and then decorate it with giant bouquets of flowers and twinkle lights and hire a personal jazz band to serenade us as we waltzed together in the moonlight and then propose on bended knee…but it’s not Poor Kyle’s fault. The sappy romance novel industry holds men to impossibly high romantic standards these days. I’d hate to be one. A man, I mean. (Actually I think I would make an awesome man but I was trying to be nice.)

Final Score: 5/10 (Not more because it wasn’t any great beacon of literature, but not less because it was a good, quick read. And no typos. And: published. Unlike my books.)

•••••••

Non-Fiction:

Skinny Bitch by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin

SkinnyBitch_coverThis book is apparently quite divisive. Check out the reviews of it on Amazon—there are nearly as many one-star reviews as there are five-stars.

I myself really liked it…until I read all those one-star reviews. Then I felt stupid for thinking it was so good. I’m really impressionable that way.

But I DID make an effort to step back and really decide for myself, and in the end I concluded I liked it more than I disliked it. The majority of the one-star reviewers complained that 1) the book’s tone was insulting to its readers, 2) that it didn’t have enough proof to back up its claims, and 3) that it was really a promotion for veganism in disguise. However, when I read it I 1) didn’t feel insulted by the straightforward (and yes, sometimes vulgar) language; I am smart enough not to feel insulted by words of people who have never met me. What would you expect from a book called Skinny Bitch? And 2) even though the authors didn’t have volumes of proof for their claims, they cited their references thoroughly enough for me. I don’t need or want to hunt down every single resource they mentioned. Who has the time? As for 3), this part is true. The book’s description mentions NOTHING about veganism, but by the time I got a few chapters in I realized that’s exactly what it was promoting. Rather than incensing me, however, I felt excited. It was a surprise. I didn’t feel tricked; I felt excited.

So, was this a good book? By my standards of a good book being one that is life-changing, I would have to say yes. This book changed my life.

How?

It encouraged me to try being vegan, stop drinking pop, and cut out sugar and white flour/rice/pasta for 30 days. Which I did (my 30 days just ended yesterday, in fact). It was hard. I kind of hated it. But I lost 9 pounds in the process.

I have a lot more to report on that experiment but this post is already long so I’ll defer that conversation for another day. For now I will just say that, although this book will not be for everyone, I still recommend it. If nothing else, it should at least help you *consider* the *possibility* of *maybe* not eating meat or using animal products anymore. And if a book can even slightly improve the way you’ve always lived your life, even the tiniest little bit…

…isn’t that worthwhile?

I think so.

Final Score: 8/10 (Not more because even though it didn’t offend my hard-boiled disposition, they really didn’t need to be so crude; and not less because I lost 9 pounds.)

Posted in Book Reports | Tagged , | 3 Comments

On Nursing

After failing to quit drinking Diet Coke throughout my pregnancy I was already fairly well-acquainted with Motherguilt, but now that I’m formula feeding my baby as opposed to nursing, I’m pretty much an expert on it.

Logically I know it’s not my fault (though here I realise even the word “fault” implies that there is something wrong with not nursing, and I fully believe that women should be allowed to choose to nurse or *not* to nurse without feeling guilty; but I also believe that breastfeeding is scientifically, medically healthier for babies and I personally wanted to make it happen for our baby [once again stressing that I don't profess to judge women who choose otherwise]). I tried to nurse. My body didn’t make enough milk to sustain my baby.

When Hutch was four days old he stopped having wet diapers and became very lethargic and difficult to wake, and I panicked. I called the health hotline (available 24 hours a day here in Alberta) and the nurse on the other end of the line recommended we take him to see a doctor.

Hutch One Week

We took him. The doctor here in Mayberry recommended we feed him formula—just a tiny bit until my milk came in—and referred me to a lactation doctor in the bigger city about 30 minutes away from us. My appointment with her was a week later.

Kyle and I rushed to the pharmacy here in Mayberry to buy a small supply of formula. We decided to splurge on the pre-mixed liquid kind because we wouldn’t be using very much for very long, and we felt entitled to all the convenience we could get during those early days. Every three hours I nursed Hutch for 15 minutes—timed!—per side and followed up with a one-ounce bottle of formula. I felt the tension melt away when he started peeing again.

I kept waiting for the horrible breast engorgement I’d read about, but it never happened. My breasts sometimes felt a little fuller or heavier than normal, but never even remotely swollen or hard.

The lactation doctor recommended we clip his frenulum, which might be preventing him from latching successfully and getting enough milk. She gave me extremely helpful pointers on positioning (the best tips I got out of probably seven or eight doctors and nurses I’d seen since the moment Hutch was born). She wrote me a prescription for Motilium, a drug that’s not even legal in the US. She got me started on the maximum dosage for Fenugreek and Blessed Thistle supplements (16 of each per day…you read that right: 32 total herbal supplement pills per DAY). Start eating more oatmeal, she said, which I did for every breakfast for three months [and I hate oatmeal]. She recommended I rent or buy a breast pump and begin pumping after every.single.feeding. I had to trick my body into thinking it was making milk for twins. She gave me a recipe for lactation cookies and told me to quadruple my water intake. When my nipples got dry and cracked she wrote me a prescription for the end-all of nipple creams, the kind you can’t get over the counter. She suggested I buy this (ridiculously expensive) bottle to trick him into thinking he was breastfeeding when he was actually taking formula, which would supposedly help him to keep taking the breast. Make sure to eat a balanced diet, she said. Try raspberry leaf tea, too. Then I got thrush, but because I was already taking Motilium I could not take the other drug to treat thrush (at least not without an EKG from the hospital to verify that my heart could handle it—scary!), so I had to go the old-fashioned way and treat it with gentian violet. Also had to buy probiotics both for Hutch and for me, but no, not the cheap kind you can get at any pharmacy, they had to be the $60/bottle kind that only came refrigerated at the hippie health food store.

Aftermath of our gentian violet treatment. If you think this is bad you shoulda seen my nipps.
Aftermath of our gentian violet treatment. If you think this is bad you shoulda seen my nipps.

I did it all. I did it all without questioning.

Week after week I dragged my postpartum self out of bed and into the bigger city for our appointments. We weighed Hutch naked without a diaper and then we weighed him with one. Then I nursed him and we weighed him again. Week after week I sat there praying that *this* time he’d gotten enough to subsist on without having to supplement with formula.

One ounce here. Two there. But it was never enough.

I pumped like a dairy farmer, and the dejection after each measly bottle made me feel worse each time. Why couldn’t I just make enough to feed my baby?

We’d long since run out of those first few cans of formula. I started thinking it might be better to buy the cheaper powder kind, since this formula supplementing nonsense might take a little longer than I expected. We still bought the name brand stuff though. Surely it was worth it since it would only be a while longer.

At the peak of my milk production I got 80 mL (2.7 ounces) into my baby. That was at a time when he needed at least 110 mL per feeding.

Everybody touts how cheap it is to breast feed as opposed to formula feed. Here is how much it cost me to try (unsuccessfully) to breast feed:

$450 breast pump
$192 herbal supplements ($12/bottle of Blessed Thistle and Fenugreek, 4 bottles/month for 4 months)
$120 probiotics
$80 eight different refills of Motilium prescriptions (after insurance)
$50 random ingredients for over 8 batches of lactation cookies
$50 fancy “breastfeeding” nipples for formula supplementing
$35 More Milk Plus liquid supplement
$30 three different refills for prescriptions of Newman’s Nipple Cream (after insurance)
$20 extra pump shields to see if a different size might increase production
$20 raspberry leaf tea
$15 nursing pillow (used from Craigslist)
$10 gentian violet
_____________
$1,072 estimated total

And that’s not counting all the formula we had to buy on *top* of this because none of the above allowed me to produce enough to keep him alive on breast milk alone. I don’t even want to estimate that cost. It makes me too sad. (But because I’m a masochist I looked it up: the average formula-fed baby costs between $1,138 and $1,188 to feed for the first year according to this website).

Despite all this, I kept trying. I was encouraged by an article I read on Kellymom that basically said “If you simply can’t produce a drop, that’s one thing, but there’s no such thing as underproduction. If you can produce milk at all, you should be able to produce enough for your baby by following XYZ tips.” I followed them. Still not enough.

I read somewhere else that having thyroid problems might affect milk supply. Hypothyroidism runs in my family and though I’d already been tested for it, I went to get re-tested just in case. The blood work came back negative.

One week I even felt that Hutch seemed quite satisfied after each breastfeeding session so I cut out his formula supplements altogether for a few days, reasoning that even if it was a few millilitres shy, my body would supply more if I didn’t hinder the demand by giving him formula. I genuinely believed that at last I was producing enough. At my next lactation doctor’s appointment his weekly weight gain was so low that my doctor immediately asked me what I’d done differently and reprimanded me (gently) for making that choice. I felt horrible for semi-starving my baby.

When Hutch started refusing the breast almost completely at around 4 months old something snapped in me. I couldn’t keep riding this milk supply roller coaster. I started feeding Hutch full bottles of formula. Instead of considering the formula a supplement to my breast milk, I changed my mentality; formula was now the main food source and breast milk was supplementary. I still believed that whatever little bit of breast milk I could get into him was beneficial, but stressing about it anymore was simply not worth my time or energy. I had done everything I could. I had given it my all. I was a first time mother of a happy healthy baby and I needed all the energy I could muster to keep him—and me—that way. I was done wasting my time in lactation’s pit of despair.

That was when I started buying generic formula. In bulk.

But even though it’s been three months since I essentially gave up on breast feeding (I still nurse before every bottle possible but it’s only about five minutes total before the ol’ milk bags run dry, and there’s only one position he will nurse in [laying down next to me in bed, which isn't exactly feasible when we're out and about]), I still wonder what I could have done differently.

Of all the books, blogs and articles I read before giving birth, it never occurred to me to research breastfeeding. I was so consumed with how I would get him here I never thought to research how I would keep him alive once he was born. Despite hearing how painful it might be, and despite how badly the thought of nursing creeped me out, I assumed I would breast feed mainly because I was cheap and didn’t want to have to buy a bunch of formula. But I never considered that I wouldn’t succeed at nursing. So I never read about it.

And now that I have, I feel angry at myself for dropping that ball. What if we hadn’t given Hutch a pacifier his first night in the hospital? (Now that I’ve researched it I know we should have waited until at least a month to introduce it [although I did ask my ob-gyn when she came to check up on us in the recovery room and she said she always used pacifiers right from the start and never had problems, so at least I tried to be a little educated.]) What if I hadn’t let him sleep for seven hours that one night? What if I’d walked around topless for a week and let him latch on every single time he squawked? What if I drank 8 litres of water a day instead of 4? What if I pumped triple the recommended amount? What if I just stayed hooked up to the pump all day and all night? What if what if what if?

But I didn’t, and no amount of money we threw at the problem could buy me a better milk supply.

I have a feeling this will be just the first of a long history of parenting lessons for me, the moral of which will probably be: You Can’t Control Everything. You Can’t Even Control A Little Bit of Things. Not Your Body. Not Your Baby. Not Anything With Even the Remotest Mind of Its Own, Like the Weather or Your WiFi Connection. And the Sooner You Accept This Fact the Sooner You Can Move on With Your Life and Attempt to Find Some Semblance of Peace With the Way Things Are.

Because at the end of the day that’s all anyone can do.

So Motherguilt, be damned.

Posted in failures, hutchface, introspection, kid stuffs, motherhood, parenthood | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

What I’m Reading: Month 2.2

As promised, here are my reviews of the two non-fiction books I read this month.

NON-FICTION:

Camilla, a Biography of Camilla Eyring Kimball by Edward L. Kimball and Caroline Eyring Miner

Camilla Kimball Biography

I am ashamed to say that I have owned this book for 23 years and have never read it. My parents gave it to my for my 4th birthday (per the inscription by my mother on the inside cover) because she (the wife of the twelfth President of the LDS Church) was the woman I was named after, and by the time I was old enough to read it I had seen it so frequently on my bookshelf that I didn’t even really think about it anymore. It had just always been there, a feature of my room like the light switch or the ceiling fan.

After I moved to Canada my mom sent it to me as a birthday present again (the ultimate regift—smooth, Mom!) partly to clean out my old room and partly, I suspect, to nudge me into being a better woman. Finally I dusted it off and read it this month, and found myself sorry I hadn’t read it sooner. Camilla Kimball was a pretty cool lady, and I am honoured even more than ever to be named after her.

One of my favourite parts was this, an excerpt from her journal:

A woman, to be well rounded in her personality, needs many experiences in and out of the home. She needs to be concerned with church, school, and community. If she buries herself inside four walls, she does not reach her potential.

I reread that paragraph three or four times. For quite a while now I have smugly told myself that I don’t need friends to be happy, and I don’t need to leave my house for anything but groceries and the occasional intercontinental voyage. I felt somehow better than other people for being perfectly content to stay home and never leave except for food and toilet paper. I don’t need to socialize. I don’t need anyone!

But when I read this, it struck me that although I am perfectly content to “bury [my]self inside four walls” and never leave the house, I am actually missing out on quite a lot that way, and worse: I’m preventing Hutch from experiencing the world. There are people who I can help, places that I can visit, and knowledge that I can gain if I choose to stop being so self-centred and just get out and do things. Maybe don’t feel the need to leave the house, but maybe there are people out there who need me to all the same.

In other words, I need to stop being such a dadgum snob.

Another part that cracked me up was when it mentioned that on a cruise with her husband (not then the president of our teetotaling church) Camilla tasted liquor just to know what it tasted like (though the authors made a point to mention that Spencer W. Kimball refrained).

Also: Did you know Camilla Kimball is related to Mitt Romney? #imaginethat

Final Score: 7/10

•••••••

Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman

Bringing Up Bebe I was intrigued by this book several years ago but, as I had no bébés of my own, I refrained from purchasing it. Now that I’m a mother, I couldn’t resist buying it on account of my weakness for all things French, especially all things French that I might be able to adopt as my own. Any thing that promises to make me more chic is a thing I must have. That it boasted to divulge all the secrets of raising a happy, restful, and well-behaved child was just a bonus.

The verdict? I loved it!

But I will warn you, this is not a book full of bullet points on parenting. Instead, Druckerman shares her own personal journey of raising children in Paris. It is part parenting book, part memoir. But for me, the mix was perfect. I found myself reading it in every spare moment I had, even (ironically) neglecting Hutch to do so. (But good news! According to this book, letting my six month old baby scoot around on the clean floor happily gurgling to himself while I read a book only feet away and always within view is *not* neglect, as many American parents might believe, but instead just healthy parenting.)

I found the French parents’ theories fascinating and committed almost immediately to use nearly all of them for myself as Hutch gets older and begins to need actual parenting (as opposed to just the basic necessities of life). I also kicked myself for not reading it before Hutch was born, as apparently most French parents teach their babies to sleep through the night at three months or earlier, and I could have saved myself hours of sleep months sooner. But c’est la vie.

This book meets my standard of “life changing” not necessarily because I can’t stop thinking about it, but because it just made such perfect, clear sense that I have already come to view it as “my way of parenting.” In other words, I don’t feel like I need to think about it constantly because it was so simple and obvious that I’ve already got it in my head.

Also, in reading it I was constantly reminded of my time nannying for a French family in Belgium, and now I have the most intense craving to go back you can’t even imagine.

My one fault with the book is that Druckerman herself says she struggles to parent the way she claims the French do, despite the fact that their way is arguably more effective than hers (at least in the effect of raising respectful, well-mannered children). The concepts themselves don’t seem difficult, so I don’t understand why she struggles. If she likes the French way so much better, why doesn’t she just do it?

Final Score: 9/10 (minus one point for not following her own advice)

Posted in Book Reports | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

What I’m Reading: Month 2.1

I loved to read as a child/teenager/young adult, but once I became a full-time college student and majored in English Literature my daily reading load was so full I stopped reading anything extra (plus I enjoyed much of what I was reading so it was kind of like I was reading for fun anyway [the one great benefit of majoring in something that actually interests you]).

After I graduated and started working full time, I found my leisure hours even more taxed, and I ended up spending them on more mindless pursuits like laying in bed staring blankly at my iPhone until it was time to fall asleep. I was just too exhausted after work and housework to use my brain anymore. (That’s also why this blog fell to the wayside so majorly.)

And now. Now I have a baby and I’m staying at home to tend him. I am busier than ever before but it’s finally starting to occur to me that if I waste all my free hours vegging out then my mind is going to turn to mush. Not only will that make me a less-than-ideal parent, but also it just sounds lame. I don’t want to be a mush-for-brain. I want to be interesting and well-read.

So I set a goal to read more in 2014. Specifically, to read at least two books per month: one fiction, one non-fiction. Here’s what I read in January.

Well, I enjoyed my reignited reading so much in January that I upped my volume in February. I ended up reading three fiction and two non-fiction. But since five books seems like too many to review in one blog post, I’ll split it into two parts: fiction and non.

FICTION:

Time and Eternity by E. M. Tippetts

Time and Eternity by EM TippetsI hesitate to say mean things about books because someday I hope to be an author myself and I don’t want people to say mean things about my books; but I cannot lie. This book was bad.

It was pure fluff. It was a sappy Mormon romance novel, full stop. I knew that before I started it, but I was looking for something of a palette cleanser after the tenseness of Elizabeth Smart’s book, and this one was sitting in my bookcase on loan from a cousin so I decided to have at it.

I used to devour these kinds of books by the shelf full, but either the genre has gotten dumber or I have gotten smarter because this book was an epic waste of my time. The writing felt contrived, the characters’ conversations were awkward, and it was only a page-turner in the sense that I wanted to hurry and be done reading it.

Final Score: 1/10 (I gave it one point because hey, at least it was published which is more than I can say for any of my books.)

•••••••

Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

The Girl With The Pearl Earring

This book was just okay. It was another one I’ve been meaning to read for a few years at the recommendation (and loan) of my sister. I hoped to like it quite a lot because it combined two of my great passions: historical feminism and art history.

However, in the end it didn’t really do much for me. I felt like the story was just a bit too thin…I can’t really explain it other than it needed thickening up. The main character was unrelatable and kind of annoying.

Final Score: 3/10

•••••••

The Book Thief by Markus Zusask

The Book TheifBack when this book was published in 2007 I heard nothing but good things about it. I was intrigued by the idea of Death as the narrator, so I borrowed a copy and started reading it.

I couldn’t get past the first two pages (which is quite uncommon for me; I usually give books at least 50 pages before I give up, and even then it has to be really bad for me to give up because I still want to find out how they end).

I don’t know if I was just distracted or if I wasn’t in the right mindset, but seven years later I picked it up again (partly compelled by the trailer that came out for the movie based on this book, and partly just because it annoyed me that everyone else loved it when I did not), and I could not put it down.

I loved almost everything about it. I loved how it was laid out, how Death added snarky little asides every so often. I loved the chapter headings that kept me guessing, like “Three Acts of Stupidity by Rudy Steiner.” I loved how it said right from the start what the story was about: an attempt to prove that humanity can be good even despite all the horrible things we do to each other. I loved how even though I knew from page one it wasn’t going to end happily, Zusak still managed to keep me hoping for the best. Spoiler: the best didn’t happen.

But I don’t need a happy ending to love a book; I need to be moved, and The Book Thief was nothing if not moving. I felt like I was reading a poem on every page, and though in high school I professed to hate poetry of every kind (except limericks), in these my later years I have come to appreciate it (poetry) for the simple standalone beauty that it is, or at least can be. I have learned that I don’t need to understand what a poem “means” to appreciate it. I just need to understand how it makes me feel.

And this poem made me feel sad. But sadness is okay.

Just an example of my favourite bits:

A statue of the book thief stood in the courtyard….
It’s very rare, don’t you think, for a statue to appear
before its subject has become famous.

He could have just said that Liesel stood frozen like a statue in the courtyard, but he didn’t—he said it so much better!

I also liked that it reminded me of my poor grasp on world history. Obviously I learned the basics of World War II in school, but either I ignored or forgot many details of Hitler’s rise to power, which frustrated me while reading this book because I should have known (but couldn’t quite recall) several events mentioned throughout it. My gap in knowledge sent me down the rabbit hole of Wikipedia once I finished the book just to reconcile my spotty knowledge with what I’d just read. Once I finished re-educating myself I felt a lot better.

Final Score: 8/10 (Minus one point for finding a typo, and another because it wasn’t totally life-changing; I just really liked reading it.)

Posted in Book Reports, reviews | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

What I’m Reading: Month 1

I set a lot of goals for the new year back on January 1, and even though I forgot most of them already (I need to dig up the paper I wrote them on and post it on my bathroom mirror), the one I was most excited about has not been forsaken: to read more in 2014.

More measurably, to read at least two books each month—one fiction, one non-fiction.

It occurred to me that other than childbirth books and baby-calming books, the main source of my reading material for the past year (or more) has been Facebook. I’m not saying I’m going to cut myself off of Facebook (though the time for that might come sooner or later), but I do want to be more meaningful about the things that I read. I bemoan the fact that I never have time to read anymore, but that’s simply not true. I read all the time, probably for at least several hours each day. It’s just that the content of what I read is such fluff that at the end of the day my brain feels emptier than it was before. Do I really need to take this quiz to see What Kind of Mormon I Am? Does it really matter if I read this article that I Won’t Believe How it Ends? Do I really care to see 50 Of the Funniest Memes of 2013?

No. It doesn’t matter. And most of it is crap. (Some of it isn’t, of course. But as a self-governing adult I am challenging myself to become more discerning of the valuable texts and less tempted by the nonsense.)

So what did I read in January?

FICTION(ish): Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

IMG_4069I’m considering this book fiction even though the stories (originally conceived in blog format as seen on Brosh’s viral website) are technically true. But it’s riddled with cartoon drawings and the stories were so outrageous it felt like I was reading a popsicle—the pages melted away in quick deliciousness. I left it on the back of the toilet and finished it in four or five sessions, if you get my drift. I laughed out loud more than once. I cried a little bit too. I really liked it and highly recommend it.

Two caveats: 1) There is a fair bit of crude language, including F-bombs, so be warned. I personally think they add to the text and almost always found them quite funny. 2) The last story, “Identity Part Two,” got on my nerves. In it, Brosh is discussing how she likes to think of herself as a good person but deep down she knows she is sh*t, and it just goes on and on in this self-loathing way that just made me want to shake her and say “SO WHAT IF YOU’RE NOT GENUINELY GOOD, YOU’RE NOT KILLING PEOPLE SO JUST BE YOURSELF AND GET OVER IT!” What annoyed me most, I think, is that she seemed to think she was the only person in the world who is basically shiz inside.

A main part of the human experience is realising that true altruism is impossible to attain because even if we are doing nice things for no other reason than to feel good about ourselves, we are still doing nice things SO THAT WE FEEL GOOD ABOUT OURSELVES.  In other words, we are doing nice things for selfish reasons. But it’s still better than doing mean things.

Still a good read though.

NONFICTION: My Story by Elizabeth Smart

My Story by Elizabeth Smart

 

I actually bought this book for my mom for Christmas, but I got bored on our drive down to Arizona so I unwrapped it and read it from Great Falls to around Salt Lake, where I finished it. To say it was a page-turner is an understatement. I didn’t want to stop driving at midnight because I wanted an excuse to keep reading. (And okay, you caught me: I read this in December, but it was late December and I’m just getting started on changing my life so give me a break on this one. Plus January’s not over so I still might find something else to read before the 31st.)

When I read, I’m not very picky. The way I judge a book to be good is basically if I don’t want to stab my eyeballs out while I’m reading it.

But the way I judge a book to be life-changing is if I can’t stop thinking about it for weeks, months, or even years after putting it down. (David Foster Wallace’s Consider the Lobster is one of these for me.) And in this way, My Story joins the ranks of the few.

My heart broke on nearly every page as I read about the horrors that poor girl suffered at the hand of two very evil people. It made me cry to think that such a thing could happen to innocent children, and it made me sick to think of it happening to my own child or nieces and nephews.

But as striking as her story was, the way it affected me most was this: Smart’s homeless captor discovered her after her mother gave him money on a street corner and later hired him to do some work around their house. Months later he broke into that same house and kidnapped her at knifepoint. So how can I ever feel good about helping people in need again? How do I judge when a person is legitimately needy or just trying to kidnap and rape my child? I already can’t pull over to help people stuck on the side of the road for fear of being killed; how can I do *anything* nice for *anyone* ever again? It made me lose faith in humanity, in other words.

Unfortunately I don’t think that’s the message Smart meant to convey, as she ended it on the very positive note of how far she’s come and how she will never give another moment of her life to that man by wallowing in self-pity. If I ever get a chance to meet her I would like to ask her about my question and see if she can help me come to terms with it.

At any rate, I think about it all the time in the weeks since reading it, and I have a feeling the words will never fully leave me.

Another high recommendation from me.

 

 

Posted in Book Reports, introspection, self-actualisation | Tagged , | 5 Comments

On Snow

We just got back from a glorious two weeks in Arizona.

First Christmas with Hutchy
First Christmas with Hutchy

I love spending Christmas with my family. When Kyle and I first got married we thought our system would be to alternate between spending Christmas in Arizona with my people and Alberta with his. After one year of not being at home (my home) for Christmas, I decided that that was a stupid idea: we spend 11 months of the year in Canada every year, and we shouldn’t have to share Christmas too. Kyle didn’t argue—he loves Christmas in Arizona—so it was settled.

After that, the notion was tucked neatly away into the recesses of our minds and we’ve spent every Christmas in Arizona since.

It’s ironic, really, because as a kid I used to fantasize about white snowy Christmases, the kind you see in movies throughout November and December. I hated that Arizona was so bland and boring and un-wintery. Wouldn’t it be fun to go ice skating and wear mittens and drink hot cocoa? I would love to try sledding and snowshoeing and sleigh riding and wearing earmuffs. What would it be like to build snowmen and make snow angels and snow forts and feel cold? 

I’ll tell you what it’s like: IT’S WRETCHED.

A lot of people can’t fathom Christmas without snow, and although it seems pretty cozy on Christmas morning while you’re warm in your fuzzy socks and PJs with the white stuff out the window, the fact remains that it’s a miracle if you even make it to December 25th in a snowy place without losing your freaking mind. Running around like a crazy person with baking to do, presents to buy or make, and Costco crowds to fight is bad enough when the roads are bare and dry…but add slick and slippery streets to the mix and it’s enough to send anyone to the madhouse. You have to drive well under the speed limit everywhere you go to avoid disasters, and consequently arrive late everywhere you go. You have to slow down MILES ahead of a stop light so you don’t rear-end the car in front of you, or worse, slide through the intersection and get T-boned by traffic going the other way. You have to wear tons of layers to keep warm from the car to the store but then immediately swelter once you get inside either. You lose your mittens and freeze your hands. You slip on ice in a busy parking lot and almost get run down by cars who also slip while they’re trying to stop from hitting you. You track sludgy snowy slush into every room in your house unless you take your boots off every time you go inside, which makes unloading a truck full of groceries a real delight. And you probably deal with all of these miseries with a wicked runny nose, because the cold has a tendency to do that.

Yet through it all, there’s at least the joy of Christmas hanging in the future to look forward to. It makes everything worth it, at least a little.

But once the holidays are over the gloom really begins, because there’s nothing cheerful to inspire you anymore when you live in a snowy place.

After Christmas the only thing we snow people have to keep us going is the anticipation of that mid-February tropical cruise we’re taking to escape the drudgery…that is, if we’re taking any such cruise.

Which sadly I am not.

And which leaves but one solution: flip Canada the bird and power pop the Vitamin D until May rolls around.

Posted in Canada, snow, the great state of AZ | 2 Comments