Archive for the ‘books’ Category

Bye-Bye 2016

I have been doing year-end reflections on this blog, and really wanted to do it this year again (even though I haven’t been writing nearly as much). To start, here were my goals from the beginning of 2016:

  • I  would like to make progress toward a more stable work situation ✓
  • I would like to get back to spending more time doing (and enjoying) things I love like knitting, reading, and cooking ✘
  • I would like to move more and feel more energized ✘
  • I would like to enjoy the time with my family more ✘
  • I would like to either make our home more livable or move to a house that suits us better ✓


E started grade one and is learning how to read. C has entered his threenager stage. DH and I found two awesome babysitters who kids like, and we’ve been doing date nights more often (but not enough). We stayed at a hornet-infested cottage in the summer, but had some good times too!


After looking at our options, we decided that we’ll stay put. So, instead of looking at real-estate listings, we began thinking of how to improve our home. We added serious colour in our kitchen, DH built a mudroom area in the basement,  we replaced the huge bed & desk in the office with awesome Murphy bed/desk, and we took down hedges at front of our property.


I played soccer this summer, but have decided it’s just not the sport for me. I signed back up at the YMCA, and have been using it much more for swimming and yoga. I’d like to start playing badminton this year and get back to riding my bike.

Mentally, things really went downhill in the Fall, and I stopped doing all the things I know I need to do to have a happy life (eating/sleeping well, exercising, reading, knitting, time with friends). With my time off, I’ll be focusing on making this a priority.

One good thing with my long drive to work (1hr15min each way), I got through a LOT of audiobooks, and hit 13 books for 2016. Check out what I’ve been reading here.


I began the year by teaching at university/college levels, and I quite enjoyed it, but realized quickly it would not be a sustainable career option (low pay, limitations on how much I could work, nowhere to grow).

In the summer, I took 2 additional qualification courses to make me more marketable to public school boards. I got hired by one board as a supply teacher, but didn’t get on to the local board (which is the goal).

I did get my first public high school teaching position in September (what’s called a long-term occasional assignment, where supply teachers fill in for permanent teachers on leave). I was teaching grade 11 and 12 physics, and the contract was until the end of January. Unfortunately, I had to leave early due to overwhelming stress/anxiety. I’ll get back into the game when I’m ready, but will only be supply teaching.


There’s my 2016 in a nutshell! Stay tuned for what my hopes are for 2017.


Brief Book Blurb

I just finished my first-ever Stephen King book: The Stand.


  1. It was LOONNGG: 1153 pages (longest novel I’ve ever read)
  2. The story was engrossing and epic.

For those who have not read the book, it’s an apocalyptic tale where a deadly virus gets accidentally released and kills 99% of the population. There are two groups of people in the United States (those in the East and those in the West) who are brought together by two figure-heads (a 108 year-old black women in the East and very dark and shady man for the West) through dreams.

The first 600 pages were a bit slow, but the cast of characters were interesting enough to keep me reading. Then things picked up and I whipped through the last 500 pages really quickly.

Even though this book had a lot of religious themes (which is usually a big turn off for me), I really enjoyed it, and give it a 4/5.

Have you read Stephen King before? If yes, what is your favourite book of his?

Book Review: Leaving Time

I “read” Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult by listening to it in the car on my 30-minute commute (one-way) to the college I teach at.

The book has a couple plots that are woven together, but tell parts of a common storyline. One voice is the 13-year-old Jenna, who is trying to find out what happened to her mother, Alice, who is another voice in the book. Two other (minor) voices are Virgil and Serenity, the detective and psychic Jenna hires to help her find her mother – dead or alive.

The backdrop for the book is an elephant sanctuary, where Alice went missing from when Jenna was just 3 years old. There was a constant sub-story (for lack of a better word) woven into the book about Alice’s academic work on elephant behaviour, especially how they form relationships and grieve the loss of family members.

The elephant research aspect was very interesting – in both a scientific way and how it added to the plot line. However, one downside is that it tends to make the reader empathize more with the elephants, but perhaps that was the point?

I very much enjoyed reading this book, but the big “twist” at the end of the book got a little too out there for me and I think it could have focused more on reality rather than a paranormal explanation.

I give this book a 3.5/5.

Stroke of Insight: Review

I recently read Stroke of Insight by Dr. Jill Bolte-Taylor. Cath recommended it to me right after my stroke, and it took me a long time to be emotionally ready to read Jill’s stroke experience without darkly replying my own.

In the first part of the book, Jill tells of her pre-stroke life and goes over some of the basic science behind the brain, cognition, and stroke.

The middle portion focuses on her experiences from the moment she realizes she’s having a stroke, through her time in the hospital, recovering for her surgery, and beyond.

She closes the books with several chapters that go over what she learned from her stroke: neurologically, emotionally, and spiritually. She also include a couple helpful appendices about assessment questions to ask patients suffering from a stroke and a list of what she needed the most during her recovery.

I’ll admit to skipping a couple of the first few chapters dealing with brain anatomy & function (only because I am familiar with those topics), and I did lose some interest at the end as she delved more into the spiritual side of things. But, I did find the book to be very interesting overall, and found her knowledge of her experience thought provoking, which made me reflect on my own experiences.

I also think her list of things she needed during recovery is great, and anyone with a loved-one who has suffered a stroke should read it (I wish my family and friends had seen that list). The suggestions that resonated with me the most were:

  • Honour the healing power of sleep (this was lost on many of the nurses and other hospital staff)
  • Protect my energy, especially keeping visits brief (and only with people who will bring in positive energy)
  • Stimulate my brain when I have any energy to learn
  • Do not assess my cognitive ability by how fast I can do things
  • Speak to me directly, not about me to others (VERY common!)
  • Trust that my brain can continue to learn
  • Celebrate my little successes
  • I may want you to think I understand more than I really do
  • Focus on what I CAN do rather than what I cannot (again, very common with hospital staff)
  • Love me for who I am today. Don’t hold me to being the person I was before
  • Be protective of me but do not stand in the way of my progress

I give this book a 4/5 because I (obviously) related to her story on so many levels and it forced me to re-think my own experiences. Thank you, Dr. Jill Taylor, for sharing your story!


I’m in the midst of reading Stroke of Insight by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, and I’ve been asked to talk about my stroke experience at an upcoming workshop for local gifted students interested in aspects of the medical world.

Needless to say, I’ve been forced to think about my stroke & aftermath a lot lately. I have been taking stock of various aspects of my recovery.

One: it’s interesting that I have heard myself say at many times in the past that I thought I was about 90% recovered. Obviously that can’t be true at every step of the way since the stroke, but it’s always in hindsight that I realize how my recovery was really going. But, it’s as with everything that changes gradually, it’s hard to see changes in yourself.

This leads me to Two: Where am I now with my recovery? Well, I’m smart enough to say that I can’t say for sure. As Dr. Bolte Taylor says in response to this question in her book: “Physical recovery from the brain surgery  was minimal when compared to the task of rebuilding my mind…”. People seem to think that once someone is physically recovered (which is easier to see & measure) that the recover is completely.

Yes, I certainly have an easier time performing certain tasks (typing, reading aloud, multitasking, talking). I’m not nearly as fatigued as I used to be and my anxiety seems to be at bay. However, is that because I’m recovering from my stroke, or because my kids are older (& so sleeping better) and my work-life is less stressful?

That being said, there are deficits that, while less obvious now, are still hanging around. I still mix up word sounds when talking (an embarrassing one is “Harrer Potty” for “Harry Potter” – you’d be surprised how often this comes up!), and there are some words that I just can spell or say now, even though I used to be able to (deficit!!!). When I proofread my writing, it can take me a few times through to catch errors. I can’t think too quickly on the spot, especially when blindsided with a question or comment I wasn’t expecting – it’s like my brain is working in slow motion.

I’ll make the point here again: how do I KNOW that these are from my stroke, or something new that I’ve “learned”? It’s hard to say, but I’m sure it’s a combination of both.

This brings me to Three: what does it really mean to be “recovered”? Does this only mean “be the person I was pre-stroke”? Is that the end goal? Since that was 2.5 years ago now, wouldn’t it be expected that I would have learned new things, had experiences affect me, and I would have changed anyway?

One day, I will go to DH’s work and we’ll do an fMRI scan of my brain to see where certain tasks are mapping to in my brain & compare them to “normal” brain function. It would be interesting to see where my brain is compensating for the large whole left by the bleed.

The Martian

Wow. What a ride!

I just finished reading The Martian by Andy Weir, and it was flat-out amazing.

For those not aware of the book, it tell the story of Mark Watney, an astronaut left behind by his crew on Mars and his struggle to stay alive.

I was a bit wary of reading the book because 1) I  had heard that it was rather technical, and 2) sci-fi can be hit or (really big) miss. But, from the first line, I was hooked and I never wanted to put the book down.

My background in astronomy really allowed me to appreciate the scientific nuances in the book (and some of the jokes were particularly funny to people who know math and science – especially on Mars – well). But, everything else was done so well: the character development, the roller-coast plot, and the back-on-Earth story being woven in.

It was so exciting that I regularly literally laughed, gasped, and cried – VERY rare while reading!

I knew this book was a great one when I start being sad that it was going to end when I wasn’t even half-way through.

After a long time of “meh” books, it was so refreshing to read such an amazing story.

I give this book a 5/5!

The Learning Brain

2015 felt slow for reading books. I probably had time to read more, but between finishing my BEd, then teaching at a private school in the Fall, I didn’t have much time in the evenings.

I ended the year reading The Learning Brain, which is a review of neuroscience research behind how we learn.

It was an interesting read, with parts about how we learn to speak, write, and do math. There were also parts about how the brain develops throughout childhood, into adolescents, and up to adulthood, and how our capacity to learn changes. There were also parts about more specific neurological topics like ADHD, Autism, neuroplasticity, amoung others.

Though the content of the book was interesting in an academic sense, the book itself wasn’t all that entertaining to read. I had seen several reviews that it was accessible for any level. Though followable, there were a few parts that felt needlessly loaded with jargon (especially given its apparent broad target audience). If it wasn’t for my stroke experience and DH being in the brain-science world, I would not have been able to understand as much as I did.

One thing that I was disappointed with was there were very few concrete suggestions for pedagogical strategies to use to accommodate for the issues they were reviewing. In reading the summary of the book beforehand, I was expecting more of a connection in this regard.

Overall, the subject is interesting, and the writing was decent enough. Anyone wanting to know more about the neuroscience behind learning, it’s a good place to start.

I give this book a 3/5.

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