Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Poem for #YEGlongnight

Between the ages of 11 and 19 I wrote a lot of "poetry". I was so excited to submit a portfolio for, and to get into, Write 393 during my undergrad. That course killed any passion I had for writing. I haven't written anything resembling poetry since - well maybe a random haiku but that is just because they are fun.

So it is with great hesitation that I post this for you, a "poem" inspired by #YEGlongnight - you can read more about the project celebrating the longest night of the year here.

A Poem for #YEGlongnight
My baby calls out
I go to her
Nurse her in the dark of the early morn
Normally the weight of today
This longest, darkest day
Would be too much
It would keep me in bed
Buried under covers
But not today
Today the warmth of my nursing babe
Her sweet milk drunk smile
Her bright shining eyes
Are light
She pushes back the shadows
As we wait for the sun
This day of the longest night

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Biittner's Book Review: Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson

Our book club tries to select a memoir every year. I had no idea what to expect with "Let's Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir" by The Blogess Jenny Lawson but heard it was "funny". It was! I made the mistake of bringing this book along when I was invigilating the final exam (three hours!) for my summer session course. It was a mistake because I actually laughed out loud at one of the stories and got the nastiest look from my students who were trying so hard to focus on the task at hand. So the book is a collection of stories, "mostly true ones", about her life; some are downright bizarre (her dad is one kooky character), while others deal with some very real and tough situations. I probably laughed the hardest at the "diaper at the swimming pool incident" and the story of what she got her husband for their anniversary. I really connected with her awkwardness in social settings, especially with other women and in party scenarios (I swear I have similar odd/inappropriate dialogues run through my head but luckily I have a strong filter in place that has mostly kept the more ridiculous comments from spilling out my mouth). She does love to swear and I quickly got tired of it (but get that it is just part of who she is). It's a great pick up and put down book to have on hand. It is not something I'd re-read (the shock of the punchlines is part of the fun), but is something I'd recommend.

We'll pick our selections for next year at our next book club meeting. Can't wait to see what we come up with.

Biittner's Book Review: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Our October book club selection was one of my picks: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater. I selected it as it was listed by Veronica Roth (the author of the wonderful YA Divergent series) as something she had read that she really enjoyed. I agree with her assessment that the writing and the characters were "TO.DIE.FOR". Well maybe not "to die for" but they were exceptional. In particular, I really appreciated the adults in this book. Too often YA writers (not necessarily the good ones) tend to write their adult characters as if all adults are total idiots who have no idea what is going on around them or are so concerned with being the compassionate and caring adult in the life of a troubled youth that they are incapable of functioning as a normal human being *end rant* Actually all the characters are well written; I liked the dynamics that were set up between them. The plot is really solid and engaging; my only critique is that it felt like the first book in a series - many story arcs were established and you could tell very quickly that few would come to conclusion by the end of this book. I would highly recommend this book, and am looking forward to reading the next in the series. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Biittner's Book Review: The New York Trilogy by Paul Aster

Our September book club selection was from our 501 Must Read Books list: The New York Trilogy by Paul Aster. It is a collection of three short stories - "City of Glass", "Ghosts", and "The Locked Room". I did not know much about these stories other than they loosely fell into the detective genre. I'm not sure how exactly to describe them - a post-modern blend of science fiction and detective with a twist of satire/black comedy/the absurd - but I can say that I really enjoyed them. Because they are short stories I do not want to go too much into the plots of each one to avoid spoilers, so will instead describe them fairly broadly and vaguely. "City of Glass" is the closest to a detective story but has a strange bent to it with a really neat connection to Don Quixote. "Ghosts" was my favourite by far. It has a really neat premise and quickly takes a dark turn. "The Locked Room" is really "meta" as it almost has a story within the story. I'd highly recommend reading all three stories back-to-back as it is the best way to see why the three stories have been published as a trilogy. The Trilogy was an excellent read. I really enjoyed the quirky, dark themes in all three stories and how they fit together. It is easy to read and I think most readers would appreciate it. I highly and readily recommend it.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Biittner's Book Review: An Assortment of Young Adult Fiction

Our book club took the month of August off so I do not have a book review for you. To make up for it I thought I'd make a few comments about some of the fantastic Young Adult (YA) fiction I've read. I've started with the ones I've read most recently and then ended with a few classics that I always mention when asked for some recommendation for young but eager readers. I won't really address plot or content, rather just provide some overall thoughts on each.

The Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins
This five book series was written by Collins pre-The Hunger Games. I picked it up for a steal figuring that I enjoyed The Hunger Games so much that it was worth the risk and it most certainly was. The series covers the incredible adventures of Gregor, a young boy who finds himself in the Underland after following his sister through a grate in their laundry room. I really don't want to give too much away other than he encounters an amazing world of bats, bugs, and other beings who live below the surface of our world and gets wrapped up in some prophecies that seem to foretell of his arrival there. The characters are all really well written; Gregor is so likeable and Collins captures the essence of all two year olds in his sister "Boots". I actually laughed out loud at some of the adorable things Boots does and says. Collins does not shy away from some pretty intense situations though and she does a great job of creating some high paced action sequences. I would highly recommend these books, especially for the 9-12 set, as the themes of family, perseverance, and keeping your head up in times of struggle will resonate with anyone.

Also you should read The Hunger Games trilogy if you haven't already. The film adaptation of the first book (The Hunger Games) is actually pretty decent (plus has Lenny Kravitz as Cinna *heart flutters at his gorgeousness*), and Catching Fire looks like it is going to step it up quite a bit.

The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare
I have just started the fourth book in this series and am hooked. I picked up the first four books again for a steal mostly because the film adaptation of the first book just came out and Lena Headey is in it (I love her!). This is a series for the slightly older crowd (13-17) but, again, is worth a read by anyone. There are some "typical" YA themes (girl caught in the middle of two boys, girl struggling to find out who she is, etc.) but with some really neat interpretations of the supernatural world. So yes there are angels, demons, werewolves, vampires, and fairies but Clare has created a refreshing take on them and their interactions; her secret/invisible world hidden in ours is cleverly done. I actually really liked the characters; much of the teenage angsty parts really spoke to thirteen year old me. It is part of a larger collection of series called The Shadowhunter Chronicles. I am definitely going to check out the "prequel" series to The Mortal Instruments, called The Infernal Devices, as it is steampunk (or at least steampunk inspired) and sounds pretty cool!

The Divergent Series by Veronica Roth
The third book in this series Allegiant will be published shortly - to say that this makes me very, very excited/giddy would be a huge understatement and never mind that the movie for the first book Divergent will hit theatres next year! *squeeeeeeee*. I love this dystopian series. The momentum that Roth builds with each books is heart pounding. I love the whole concept of the factions devoted to particular virtues and how they are each identified in terms of manner and dress. The characters are solid and interesting.

The Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan
My husband bought this series for me as he knows I love YA fiction and ancient Egypt. What I really appreciated about this series is the amount of research Riordan did into ancient Egypt. This is not your typical pop culture interpretation of ancient Egypt - Riordan draws from solid archaeological evidence; he actually mentions the Narmer Palette! Of course it is a YA fiction series so there is a whole lot of fantasy going on in the books (the character of Horus drove me crazy).

I've recently picked up his Percy Jackson series but haven't had read it yet. If Riordan has drawn from the archaeological/historical evidence for this series as much as he did for the Kane Chronicles I do not think I'll be disappointed. I also want to note that I really dig Riordan's website; it has some great "Explore Mythology" and "Resource for Students and Teachers" resources.

A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
This is a YA series tailored for adults. I cannot tell you how many times I laughed out loud at some of the wickedly clever things in these books. So much of the book drips in condensation and sarcasm. Kids will love them because of how silly they are at times and for some of the incredible situations the Baudelaire siblings get (or are forced) into. Adults will love the wry sense of humor and the whole backstory of the "author" himself. I really haven't read anything quite like them before. There is an element of the absurd similar to that in the works of Roald Dahl in them but they really are unique. There are 13 books in the series; all of which the author will encourage you to not read.

The Redwall Adventures by Brian Jacques
I have been reading the Redwall books since I received the first three on my 18th birthday but need to pick them up again as I've fallen behind. Jacques has written almost one book a year for this series since 1986. I love so many things about the adventures of the animal residents of the Redwall Abby: the detailed and delicious descriptions of the feasts, the wonderful poems and songs, the brave and heroic deeds of the smallest mice to the largest badgers, the fearsomeness and horrific deeds of the weasels and stoats. A warning: Jacques does not shy away from dark themes and events in these books. I was surprised at how quickly a lovely little picnic with mice and rabbits can be destroyed by death and fire.

Finally I'll wrap things up with a list of must reads that many people will already be familiar with:
- the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling (I'd be shocked if you haven't read them; if you are holding out only because you don't believe the hype then just get over yourself as they are as wonderful as you have heard over and over again).
- His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman (Man I love this trilogy. It almost serves as the antithesis to C.K. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia).
- The Chronicles of Narnia by C.K. Lewis (I'll never forget bawling my eyes out in the wee hours of the morning when I read the final book - devastating!).
- The Chronicle of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander (forget the horrible Disney adaptation of The Black Cauldron and read the whole series instead).
- The Dark is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper.
- The Time Quintet by Madeleine L'Engle.

I'd even venture that The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit can be undertaken at a relatively young age if you have a really keen reader; I think I first picked them up around 11 or 12 and was read The Hobbit by my fifth grade teacher (last thing every Friday - he did voices for all of the characters!). Even A Song of Fire and Ice (a.k.a. The Game of Thrones series) could be picked up by a mature YA; I was reading Stephen King and Anne Rice at 11 and they both include a lot of sex and violence (to say the least) so it depends on your kid. Otherwise I'd, of course, highly recommend these even if they don't quite fit the YA category.

I cannot wait to share these books with my daughter as she grows so I can experience these wonderful tales again through her.

Let me know in the comments if I missed any!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Academic "Project" To Do List

I recently posted a Creative Projects To Do list to help motivate me to get them done. I realized that I need to do the same for some academic projects I have had sitting on the back burner as well. You'll note that most of these relate to writing, which is something I have always struggled with (*six years to do my PhD ahem*). I plan on tweeting my progress as a way to try to be accountable.

The (Academic) Projects:
- Update my World Prehistory (Anth219) course. I start teaching this again in the Fall so this needs to be done as soon as possible. Deadline: August.
- Update personal website. I would like to make all my conference posters and presentations available on my website. This requires some additional small projects: I will need to record my 2012 CAA Pecha Kucha style presentation, update course syllabi, update CV, etc. I do not need much time to do this so am setting myself a short deadline. I will also be scheduling reminders to update monthly. Deadline: End of September.
- Paper for the African Archaeological Review. This paper will also be based on my PhD work but will focus instead on the implications of my research for Africanists. Deadline: End of October.
- Research what it would take to get all of my lithic characterization data online. Deadline: November with goal of making this happen by this time next year (would like to coincide the launch of this for shortly after I publish).
- Paper for the Journal of Archaeological Science. Based on my PhD research, this paper will focus on the lithic characterization (mineralogy, petrography etc.). Deadline: End of January.
- Update my Introduction to Archaeology (Anth206) course. I will be teaching this in Winter 2014. Deadline: End of December.

I will be going back to work part time in February, once my parental leave is up, so I need to have all of these completed before then as I just don't think I'll have the energy to really crank out any significant work until that new work/stay-at-home mom routine is well established. Wish me luck! 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Creative Project To Do List

I am not super creative but I do enjoy taking on simple knitting and sewing projects. Before I had the babe I was constantly knitting and had even sewed a few projects for her nursery. I definitely do not have as much time for projects as I did before the babe arrived but I do have a number I am determined to get done. I am hoping by making my To Do list public I'll actually follow through on them. I will also try to post on their progress and maybe even do a tutorial or two (if I remember to take photos during the process).

The Projects:
- Baby blanket and matching sweater. My brother and sister-in-law are having their second at the end of September/beginning of October. I knit blankets and sweaters for all the babies in my family so this is a must to-do. However, I'm giving myself a little slack on this one. Sweater Deadline: September 21st. Blanket Deadline: December 25th.
- Knit dolls x 5. I also try to knit dolls for the babies in my life. I have been doing a Batman series for my nephew so have another one to do for him. I would also like to knit a doll for my daughter - I'm leaning towards Indiana Jones for hers. The new niece or nephew will also get one as will two other family babies that have not yet received theirs. I'm giving myself two deadlines to correspond with birthdays and Christmas. Deadlines: November 12th December 25th.
- Birthday Banner. Inspired by my dear friend The Deliberate Mom I would like to sew a Happy Birthday banner for my babe. Deadline: February 2nd.

I may add additional projects as I go but the ones currently listed are definitely my top priorities. I have a closet full of yarn and a giant bin full of fabric - all I need it the motivation to crank out some projects.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Biittner's Book Review: Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris

This was an odd read. I'd read Sedaris' work before. I describe Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk in my 2012 books read post as "kind of silly", which is not a negative thing for me, so was interested in his latest book. It is a collection of story stories or "essays". Honestly I cannot figure out if I liked it or not. I get that it is really tongue-in-cheek at times and outright sarcastic and/or nasty at others, which is usually something I can appreciate, but for this book the overall tone just did not do it for me. I am thinking that this is because I read the whole thing over a single afternoon. I think I might have been able to appreciate the subtle nuances between each essay had I read only a couple a day. All the essays just started to feel the same by the end of the book. I definitely did not pick up on the "common thread" of each essay being a "love story" as described on the book jacket. So it is not that I did not like the book, maybe I just read it wrong.

Some of the essays are just better than others though. I quite liked "Understanding Understanding Owls"; it is dark and funny and lovely at the same time. "#2 to Go" and "Rubbish" are also really good. The ones about his father and siblings just fell flat for me. Some of the essays felt out of order; the last couple are probably the weakest and I was hoping for a strong finish.

In terms of recommending this book I would but with some hesitation. Not everyone is going to like it. Again I'm not sure if I even liked it. I am very curious to see what the rest of my book club has to say about it and may post an update after we've had the chance to discuss it. 

Biittner's Book (and Film) Review: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

A little late on this one (again!) but I really wanted to write a bit about this book and the recent film adaptation. I actually saw the movie first and enjoyed it enough that I wanted to read the book so put it forward as one of my book club selections.

 I was curious with how the book dealt with the multiple story-lines versus how they were interwoven in the film. The book creates a wonderful narrative arc (or rainbow as it were). It starts with the "oldest" story-line and by midpoint has reached the one that takes place, presumably, in the most distant future, then works its way back through the various stories to connect/tie them all together. Overall Mitchell is very successful in crafting a very wonderful, descriptive, and complex lesson in redemption while still managing to keep everything very clear. This was one of the major criticisms of the film: that it was confusing. I think part of this is that in the book you are provided with the characters names, which clearly lets you know who you are dealing with, while in the film the names of the various characters are often "lost". I failed to catch many of them but for me this was not an issue. I actually found the threads that link all the stories together easier, in some ways, to detect in the film because of how each actor played their various incarnations throughout all the story-lines. I found it really compelling and, honestly, just plain fun to figure out who played each character in each story. The make up to transform the actors was really cool and you must watch the credits to really appreciate how many characters each actor played.

What this all means is that I think the film and the book go really well together. I am actually glad I saw the film and read the book. They each made me appreciate the other, which I think is a first! I am curious if I would feel the same way had I read the book first then saw the film. In any case, I highly recommend the book and encourage those who enjoy it to check out the film too. 

Friday, June 7, 2013

Mommy & Baby Must Haves

My baby is now four months old (!!!) so I thought I'd share some of the "must have" items that got us through those first few months.

For Mommy:
- BioOil: I have very sensitive skin. I use Aveno products almost exclusively but during pregnancy BioOil was the only thing that would truly sooth my dry and very itchy skin (our cold and very dry Edmonton winters did not help). I still ended up with some pretty good stretch marks so I cannot say it was a successful product in reducing those, but again it did provide some much needed relief.
- Lansinoh Lanolin: My baby is exclusively breastfed. I was lucky - the babe latched on easily and took to it very well. However, a lack of sleep during those first few nights meant I wasn't always as diligent in making sure that she latched on correctly. This led to some pretty sore nipples. Our Public Health Nurse recommended this product and it was amazing. 
- Johnson's Nursing Pads: I tried out a number of different types thanks to some friends giving me their leftovers but found that these ones are by far the best. They are soft and smooth (don't look crinkly). 
- Cover Boo Couture Nursing Scarf: I love my Cover Boo scarves! I did not want to wear something that looked like an apron or over-sized bib when breastfeeding but did want to use some sort of cover. The Cover Boo scarves definitely satisfied everything I was looking for! They provide excellent privacy when feeding; I love how they cover not just my front but also my sides and back. They are easy to wear and use with baby. I find I can comfortably hold the babe on either side and switch sides with no problems or "slips", and the babe can move her arms and fidget without risk of exposing more than I am comfortable with. Plus they are extremely fashionable and are available in tons of great fabrics, colours, and patterns. A gorgeous one just came out in this year's colour (emerald!) and I'm tempted to buy it! I'll seriously continue to wear mine as just a scarf after I'm done breastfeeding as I get tons of compliments when I wear them. Finally, they are designed and manufactured in Canada (by a local yeg mom extraordinaire)!
- Baby's First Journal: I bought one of these from Glowbaby. It is such a great tool for keeping track of feedings, diaper changes, and naps. I found it was really helpful because you will be asked questions about these at appointments. 

For Baby:
- Penaten cream: Many of my mommy friends, my mom, and my mother-in-law all recommended this product and I totally get why. When my poor babe had a diaper rash caused by a bad diaper brand (too perfume-y and plastic-y for her sensitive toosh) I used some penaten and the rash cleared right up. We continue to use it at the first sign of a rash (many use it at each diapering) and will continue to keep it around in the future.
- Kushies Change Pads: We have two deluxe flannel change pads and think they are excellent. They are soft, durable, and easy to wash. Unlike other brands we tried, these did not lose their integrity after many washings (the "waterproof" backing on one brand cracked after just two washes even though we followed the instructions). They are large (20" x 30"); our four month old comfortably fits on one so we do not have to worry about her having an accident while we are changing her. I know we will continue to get good use out of them until she is out of diapers.
- Jacque the Peacock by Lamaze: My babe loves her Jacque! She received it as a gift and it is her "go to" toy. It has so many different colours, patterns, and textures. It is crinkly, rattles, and has a squeeker. She loves to grab onto his wings and chew on his beak. It is super cute to see her "wrestle"with him.
- Fisher Price Discover 'N Grow Kick and Play Piano Gym: This is our babe's other favourite toy. She loves it when we sing along to the songs as she "plays" them and loves grabbing and pulling and sucking on all the dangling objects or just staring at the beautiful girl in the mirror. The mat is easy to wash and durable.

Some general tips:
- Spit up cloths: Buy tons! There is no such thing as too many spit up cloths. I keep them in every room.
- Diaper "station" basket: I filled one of the baskets I brought back from Tanzania with spit up cloths and diapers. This basket goes with me and the babe as we move around the house. I have boxes of wipes and Kushies change pads in the rooms we frequent the most. I find this is really convenient as I can change the babe right then and there rather than having to move her to a change table in another room (or even on another floor).
- Newborn clothes: This is more of a tip than a "must have". We were given a bunch of clothes before the babe was born. I assumed because we had some outfits that were 0-3 months that they would fit my babe at birth; I was wrong. At 6lbs 9oz my babe was too small for all most all of the 0-3 month pieces we had. We ended up having to buy a bunch of newborn (6-8lb) clothing and some of it was pretty big on her. I would highly recommend that you have at least a sleeper or two on hand just in case you have a small babe; make sure you go shopping for this well in advance as we found it pretty hard to track down this small clothing.

I hope you find some of these recommendations useful. Any others I missed?

Please note that all of these recommendations are my own. I did not receive any compensation for them.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Biittner's Book Review: 419 by Will Ferguson

Our May book club selection was the 2012 Scotiabank Giller Prize winner "419" by Will Ferguson. This was an excellent read. On the surface this seems like a story about a daughter trying to find answers following her father's death. However, it is much more complex than that. The story shifts back and forth from Calgary to Nigeria (and other parts of West and Northern Africa), and shifts between the perspectives of various characters on both continents. Ferguson crafts some elegant parallels, the two major ones are the rich Oil fields of Nigeria and the big business Oil capital of Canada (Calgary), and two women who have isolated themselves from their kin for very different reasons who both eventually make their way to Nigeria.

It was really interesting to learn more about how the "419" scam works - who hasn't received a spam email message from an individual seeking aid and offering great financial reward? - including the reasons a young man may become a "Yahooboyz" and the contempt that is felt towards the "Mugu".

As a side note: I loved the references to Nollywood; Nollywood films were quite popular in Tanzania when I was last there, and my friends all had their favourite actresses and directors.

The overall tone is very melancholic. It is a bleak story of lies and loss, which seems to offer no happy resolution for any of the characters. That said, I would highly recommend this fantastic read by a great Canadian author.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Biittner's Book Review: The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window & Disappeared

I'm a little late on this one but I did want to post a quick review of our April book "The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared" by Jonas Jonasson. The back of the book indicates that this story is very similar to Forrest Gump and in many ways it is - it follows the life of an eccentric fellow who over the course of his 100 years had very odd and close personal encounters with famous (political) figures. Both Forrest and Alan, the 100 year old man, stumble into these encounters innocently ignorant of the consequences; both seem to care little about the world around them other than those people and events directly affecting them at that specific moment in time. Alan isn't quite as lovable as Forrest though. Honestly Alan, although the main character, is far from the most interesting character in the book. The friends he makes after he climbs out the window, including a dog and an elephant, are really what keep you reading. I constantly found myself asking "who will he meet next ?" and "how will they get out of the situation they've created?". Without giving anything away, Alan and his friends do get into some ridiculous situations and I found myself rushing through the "Alan in the Past" chapters to get back to the present. Overall it is an enjoyable book - it is a light-hearted read that doesn't take itself too serious. I'd recommend it.

Friday, March 15, 2013

My Labour & Delivery Story

I can honestly say I had a fullfiling labour and delivery. Not everything went as I had hoped but overall I am happy with the experience especially because my daughter was born healthy. My labour began on Friday February 1st although I was not entirely convinced at the time that it was the real deal. Up until a week before I didn't even realize that the sensation I had thought was the baby pushing against me oddly was actually Braxton Hicks contractions (I had one during a prenatal visit with my delivery doctor and he pointed out that that was what they were). At about 5 am on the 1st I noticed that I was starting to feel more cramp-like sensations and noticed other changes as well (I won't go into details to avoid crossing into "too much information" territory. I didn't really think much of them as I knew I should expect some changes with less than a week until my due date. So on February 1st I went for a pedicure and lunch with my Mother-in-Law as we'd planned weeks before. She mentioned that my stomach shape had changed and asked how I was doing but again could only say I'd noticed some "false" contractions over the past few days.

I'd also been at the doctor the day before and was only dilated 1-2 cm so again wasn't thinking it was the real thing quite yet. At that appointment my doctor mentioned that he wouldn't be there for my delivery if I went into labour over the next week as he'd be on holidays, and further that because of my glucose intolerance he wouldn't let me go much over my due date by very much. He said that if the doctor covering for him did not decide to induce me at my next appointment (booked for my due date) then he would on the 11th or 12th.

At 1 am on Saturday February 2nd I woke up sure that the contractions were the real thing. I kept track of them for about an hour and then woke Chris up to say we should head to the hospital as they seemed to be about five minutes apart and had been for almost that full hour. We arrived at Grey Nuns and after monitoring me they decided to send me home. At that point the contractions were really not that bad; I was easily able to breathe through them. We got back home and I went back to sleep. Fast forward to 5 am and things had definitely changed. For an hour I barely kept it together experiencing incredible back and leg pain; the contractions were on top of each other and I was shaking uncontrollably. I woke Chris up again and told him to grab a towel (I was terrified my water would break in our new car). On the way back to Grey Nuns we hit every single red light; I was not impressed to say the least and even told Chris to run the light at one point (he wouldn't because the cop station was right there).

I barely changed into the hospital gown when my water broke (in a big gush like a movie). I knew then I would not be sent home. I also at this time decided to get an epidural even though I had wanted to have a natural labour and delivery with as few interventions as possible. The pain (back labour likely caused by the baby being in a posterior position) was too much - I could barely focus and don't recall even opening my eyes - and I was only 4-5 cm dilated so had a long way to go. I knew if I was going to have the strength, energy, and focus to push the baby out that I would need to be able to breathe and focus. It was the right decision and I'm happy I made it.

I received the epidural around 7:30 am. At around 8:30 am our nurse was told to go get breakfast so I asked her to check me before she went as I hadn't been checked since we arrived around 6:30 am and I'd been feeling some pressure. Turns out it was a good thing I asked - I was ready to push. Pushing was not easy nor was it intuitive. I had some great coaching and at 9:55 am our baby arrived safe and sound (the umbilical cord was around her neck but it was quickly unlooped and the baby was breathing just fine).

The baby was delivered onto my chest and it was amazing to finally hold and touch the little one I'd carried for 39 weeks. I'll never forget the doctor asking if we knew what we were having. When we said no, she unceremoniously lifted the babies leg and announced it was a girl. We couldn't have been happier. Our baby girl was/is healthy and just perfect! Our girl was small at 6lbs 9oz and 18 3/4 inches long.  The only complication I had in the whole delivery was that the doctor had to deliver my placenta by hand as my uterus had stopped contracting. This resulted in me being on an IV for the next 12 hours, which was fine.

We had 18 visitors that first day - it was a good thing we ended up having a private room. It was a blur of visitors, learning to breast feed, and just pure amazement at the little one we'd created. Since then so much has happened. She is growing so fast...but that's for another post. I'm looking forward to sharing more of our journey as she continues to grow and as I try to figure this motherhood thing out.

 One of our first photos together. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Biittner's Book Reviews: The Woefield Poultry Collective by Susan Juby

Our March book club selection was The Woefield Poultry Collective by Susan Juby. It was a great read! I really enjoyed it. I loved how each chapter moves the story along as told by one of the four main characters: Prudence, the well-intentioned but kind of useless and mostly clueless twenty-something, Earl, the elderly farm hand who seems to want nothing more than to be left alone, Seth, the alcoholic blogger who has lost the ability to deal with people offline, and Sara, an eleven year old aspiring chicken breeder/shower who seems to have her act together more than the adults in her life. I love how the characters evolve and grow together as the story progresses. There is a great supporting cast of animal characters - Bertie, the ever suffering sheep, and Alec Baldwin, the cocky but not show-worthy chicken.

Juby does a great job of balancing the humor with melancholy. There are some painfully brutal and realistic moments when the real world intrudes upon the struggling, absurd, but mostly happy life of the residents of Woefield.

I really don't want to say much more in fear of giving something away as I highly recommend this book. It is a wonderful read and Canadian to boot (it takes place on Salt Spring). I'd recommend it to anyone.

Biittner's Book Reviews: King Solomon's Mines

A little late on this one but it is a book worth writing a quick review for. King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard was our February book club pick and one of the titles on our 501 Must Read list. I really enjoyed it and would highly recommend it. It is such a great adventure novel. I was surprised to learn that it was the first of it's genre as it really stands the test of time. The characters are great: Quartermain is the classic adventurer, Umbopa is an intriguing "side-kick", and Gagool is an unforgettable villain. The landscape descriptions are vivid and you can easily imagine the perils they face. It is fast paced, great read. Upon finishing it my first thought was that I greatly preferred it to Treasure Island (which was hard to get through) and Heart of Darkness (which is less fun and more political).

Friday, January 25, 2013

My Pregnancy Story

With just two weeks (or so) left in my pregnancy I thought I'd take a minute to reflect back on the last nine and half months. Finding out we were pregnant was one of the most incredible moments of my life. I'll never forget that rush of pure emotion and adrenalin. I knew I'd been feeling off for over a week when it finally dawned on me that I might be pregnant. When I'd purchased the pregnancy test I spent what felt like hours staring at the various kits trying to decide which one I should get and wondering if I should buy just one or get the two pack. It was such an odd experience - I had this really strange mixture of guilt and excitement, which I imagine would be similar to what a guy must feel like the first time he buys condoms. I wondered if the cashier would say anything to me when she rang through my purchase (she didn't but I still felt my cheeks grow hot). Even with the symptoms I tried to not get too worked up when I took the test but that quickly failed. My knees and hands were shaking. Then the positive result appeared and I had to wait until my husband got out of the shower to tell him. I ran a hundred scenarios through my head of what to say but in the end just said it - I'm pregnant.

The next few weeks were like being in a dream (cliché maybe but true). Knowing that something special was happening but wanting to still keep some emotional distance until we hit that twelve week mark. We remained cautiously optimistic, went to our doctor's appointments, and counted down the weeks then days until we felt it was ok to share the news with our families (although my husband did spill the beans to a couple of people one late night out...). I'll never forget hearing the heartbeat, so strong, that first time...

The first trimester did go well. It was a mixture of nausea and exhaustion but really nothing I feel I can complain about compared to some of the brutal sickness some of my friends and family have experienced. I was still able to eat but didn't put on any weight. I was so tired but mostly because I was working full time and teaching a night course twice a week for three hours and doing landscaping every weekend. But keeping busy was good.

We threw a big backyard BBQ to tell our families. Part of me wishes we could have come up with a more exciting way to tell everyone with some sort of big reveal but ultimately it didn't matter - hearing the exclamations of happiness, getting all the hugs, seeing all the eyes shiny with tears of joy really made it a special day.

Our next major event was the ultrasound. It was so incredible to see all the little developing bones. I have no words to describe what it was like when the technician switched over to the live view and we got to watch the baby, affectionately called "Itty" as in Itty Bitty baby, move and breathe and suck its thumb. Pure magic.

The second trimester was really great. I ate like crazy and felt good. My belly grew and yet for the first time in my life I loved my body. I was still working full time and teaching a class during the day but again had nothing to complain about. Actually my skin has sucked the whole pregnancy, and my hair never got that luscious texture, but these are so minor in the grand scheme of things.

Unfortunately I did "fail" the dreaded glucose tolerance test and the fasting one as well around 26 weeks. I don't have full blown gestational diabetes but have its precursor of glucose intolerance. I've had to test my blood sugars four times daily and follow the gestational diabetes diet and snack plan. My goal was to stay off of insulin and to keep myself and Itty healthy. Luckily through watching my diet and by walking after every meal I've managed to stay off the insulin as I wanted to avoid having too big of a baby or to try to avoid having to be induced or even have a c-section (chance of these happening increases significantly once you go on insulin).

Dealing with the glucose intolerance was still a tough mental and emotional situation for me to work through. Initially I felt like I failed myself and my baby. I agonized over every food decision I'd made up until that point. I recognize now that this is just the way I'm built (and actually I may be glucose intolerant period) but it took some time to work through it. Sometimes the responsibility of caring for and doing right by this little one inside can be overwhelming.

Having to go to the metabolic clinic in addition to my doctor's appointments has been tiring at times. I've spent so much time spent waiting to be seen but it's been a good way to get some extra reading in. Luckily my workplace has been extremely accommodating (they even threw me a lovely surprise shower!) so I've had little stress or worry from that end.

Now we are in the home stretch. Itty is doing great and seems to be running out of room even though my doctor says he/she is a little small (just under the 50% percentile but perfectly healthy). I still monitor my blood sugar levels just to ensure that Itty doesn't have a sugar crash at birth, but have been discharged from going to the clinic. I'll need to go do a glucose tolerance test in 2-6 months to see if I am actually glucose intolerant or if it was just brought on by the pregnancy. I'm physically tired but emotionally content. I've been nesting like crazy but am already starting to miss being able to get a solid night's sleep.

I'll miss feeling Itty moving around, even the hiccups that wake me in the wee hours of the night. I'll miss loving the changes in my body and am not looking forward to my post-pregnancy body. But I'll have Itty to hold in my arms. We can't wait to find out who our little one is. We didn't want to find out the sex so are eager to see if we have a son or a daughter. Hopefully we'll have settled on some names by then. In just a few weeks I'll be able to share my birth story, and introduce you to our Itty.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Biittner's Book (& Movie) Review: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

Our January book club read was Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. We deliberately timed it so we could read it over December and then go see the new feature film. First, the book...

I must admit getting through the book was a little bit of a struggle for me (I read the unabridged version). This was mostly because of all the sidetracking or contextualizing Hugo does; there are pages and pages of descriptions of neighbourhoods or battles or people that are only marginally connected with the main story line. Now I'm sure some would argue this makes the story, that this is what makes Les Miserables a piece of literary history, but in my opinion it is all this extraneous description that makes the book a difficult read. That said, the storyline glorified on screen and on stage as "Les Mis" is excellent, and Hugo's detailed descriptions of the characters and their back-stories is what makes Les Miserables great. I found myself hurrying through the extras to get back to the main story. I really liked the following the interweaving lives of the characters over time. I would recommend this book but suggest that most readers stick to the abridged version.

Now for the film...with a confession...

I have never seen Les Mis on stage. It's not because I haven't wanted to; I've just never gone. I love musical theatre. I love going to see plays and performances. So when I went to the film I only had the book for context and was only familiar with some of the more famous songs from the soundtrack. Honestly I am a little lukewarm on the film. Some parts were fantastic - I loved the sets and costumes (especially the "ladies of the nights" with all their scabs and sores). I hated all the close ups when the leads were singing; I loved the ensemble cast numbers. I liked Hugh Jackman at the beginning of the film but grew tired of him towards the end (I think he would have made a more intriguing Javert as Jean Valjean just seemed too easy for him). I think many reviewers were too hard on Russell Crowe, that he held his own for the most part. I think Anne Hathaway is over-rated; she sang a great song but her minimal screen time is not award worthy. Samantha Barks was amazing and deserves the kudos that are being sent Anne's way. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter were ridiculous and over the top and, as such, were absolutely perfect; they stole ever scene and I just adored them. The film was also too long (a current trend in Hollywood!). If you are a huge fan of Les Mis then go see the film and take your tissues.

In sum:
- Les Miserables (the book): recommended in abridged version.
- Les Miserables (the film): for fans of Les Mis and who want to see all the Oscar buzz is about.