Blog-o! Notes from

Sun, 29 Jan 2006

The sub-title says it all. This is a book of value both to those both looking for advice on child-rearing and looking for guidance on how to live according to Jewish teachings.

The thing that strikes me, as a secular Christian, about Judaism is that it provides so much guidance on how to live daily life. Judaism takes the sacred out of the temple or the church and puts it in the home, it takes the worshipping out of the hands of the priests and shamans and puts it in the hands of the mothers and fathers. (I guess that's what comes of centuries of persecution -- you spread your faith around so it always survives. Kind of the distributed computing of religions.)

Conveniently for the rest of us, Jewish teachings with respect to the home and the raising of children are eminently sensible and time-tested. This book has advice about how to appreciate your children, how to get them to appreciate (that is, respect) you, how to teach them gratitude, get them to do chores, discipline them. The author is a psychiatrist and a mother, too, so she puts the teachings in a modern perspective. She's also pretty funny.

This is a useful book and an easy read, and has lots of good recommendations for other books -- in fact, I might get this out of the library again just for the bibliography (some of the books she references aren't applicable to my children just yet). You will also learn lots of useful Hebrew words like yetzer hara. (Maybe that's Yiddish? She doesn't say.)

[Posted at 14:05 by Amy Brown] link
Fri, 27 Jan 2006
More January Books

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro is a science fiction book by a non-science fiction author. As such it's kind of implausible from an sf point of view because Ishiguro isn't trying to create a rigorous, believeable universe to satisfy nerds like me, he's creating an allegory to make a point. So I guess it's not really science fiction; I'm not sure what you would call it. Anyway, it's very good and quite sad. And I guess it's not all that unbelieveable. It depends how pessimistic you are feeling.

Race Against Time by Stephen Lewis

This is a collection of essays originally delivered as the 2005 Massey Lectures. Stephen Lewis is the United Nations' Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa and boy, is he pissed. Basically we are all screwing over Africa because we can't be bothered to spend the few bucks it would take to treat and prevent AIDS and thereby rescue an entire continent from tragic poverty and remove from the world yet another hatching ground for un-parented proto-terrorists. (He doesn't say that thing about terrorists, that's mine.)

Africa is full of child-led and grandmother-led families and it's heartbreaking and sickening how we continue to turn our backs on it. Africa is a magical land rich with resources and cultures and the rest of the world has metaphorically hit it over the head, stolen its lunch money, kicked it in the ribs and is now walking away. Call your representatives and tell them it is time to look after Africa.

Also Stephen Lewis is smart and strong and noble and brave, even if I did make fun of his daughter-in-law here a while back.

American Backlash: The Untold Story of Social Change in The United States by Michael Adams

Michael Adams is the head of a polling company which has done extensive polling of Americans and discovered that the true divide in American values isn't between Republicans and Democrats but between politically engaged citizens and those who couldn't give a rat's ass. And it's the values of the non-rat's-ass-givers which are leading the trajectory of social change in American from respect and independence to hedomism and individualism. So he says. He also talks about how the two parties can reach undecided voters, and why the Democrats are having their asses whupped so bad lately.

He makes some pretty compelling arguments, but now I am more interested to read Fire and Ice, which compares Canadian values to American values.

I think Jon Stewart should read this book, except he probably already has. Although maybe not, because I'm not sure this book has been published in the US.

How to Simply Cut Children's Hair: A Step-by-Step Guide to Cutting, Perming and Highlighting Children's Hair by Laurie Punches

This book seemed pretty useful and I might get it out again once Delphine is old enough to sit still while I try and cut her hair. And before she gets old enough that she is too cool to have a home haircut. So that will be a, what, two week window? The book blurb says "Exploration is part of the adventure" -- let me assure you that an eleven-year-old does not want you having any adventures with her hair.

Incidentally I should look up books on how to cut my own hair -- I am meeting more and more people who cut their own hair and I think I should try it. Fifty bucks every six weeks is just too much money.

Leading a Software Development Team: A Developer's Guide to Successfully Leading People & Projects by Richard Whitehead

Like it says in the title, this book is written for developers so it sometimes left me wondering whether I can make it as a software manager. Whitehead talks a lot about design and architecture, saying that it's important to take the time to come up with a good design before you begin coding. I understand that that is important but I am not sure that I would be able to tell if my team had come up with a good design. Actually, no, I think I would be able to tell if we had a lousy design, but I'm not sure I would be able to convince my team that I'm right. Perhaps the only problem is one of confidence.

Anyway, because the book is written for developers it leaves one with the impression that the only good team lead or project manager is someone who started off coding; I don't think that's true but I need to read "A Non-Developer's Guide to Successfully Leading Software People and Projects" or some such book to get an idea of my career trajectory. I need to decide how much time to dedicate to being in development before I can move into project management -- none? Five years? Ten? Or maybe I will go through testing instead.

Did I really just say that? Am I insane? How passionately did I swear that I would never ever do testing again? Can I really go back into a job I hated and love it and make a career out of it? Has my attitude improved that much? I just don't know.

Still, this is a very good and useful book that covers many areas of project management, from technical issues to decision making to managing team members to dealing with lousy bosses. Blake is going to read it too. The only worrying thing is that the author photograph very flatteringly makes the author look about 32 so I'm not sure I trust him.

[Posted at 16:14 by Amy Brown] link
Sun, 22 Jan 2006
Morale is Low

I have too much stuff in too little space, and I don't have the resources to reduce the stuff or increase the space. My hair looks like hell and is constantly, annoyingly in my eyes. I have a premobile baby whose every physical need is my responsibility, and a stubborn toddler whose emotional upheavals are severely trying my already limited patience and empathy. I have so many things to do and I haven't any idea how or when to start.

My skin is so dry that every time I move my bra feels like sandpaper on my raw back, and my hands make me cry to look at them. My feet are revoltingly calloused and I haven't painted my nails since before Christmas. All my clothes are old and ill-fitting, and I couldn't make myself look respectable even if I had the time and space to do so.

But instead of dealing with any of these problems, or just waiting for them to pass, I bake. Please, come over and eat my cookies and carrot cake and banana bread. And while you're here you can help me get rid of some crap. Or maybe just hold the baby while I fix my toenails.

[Posted at 12:29 by Amy Brown] link
Fri, 20 Jan 2006

Has it been a month already? I guess it has. Tan Quach, I know you've got stuff to say because you bother me with trivialities every day over IM. So comment here, and tell me about your new house, and your fancy job, and the Bodog girls™.

[Posted at 11:02 by Amy Brown] link
My Life in Point Form

This is a nice metaphor, actually: I feel like I only have time for myself in the form of short bulleted statements.

  • I just called for an NDP sign for the balcony window.
  • I am reading books about software project management but I am concerned that my lack of programming experience will hinder me.
  • I am not losing weight as quickly as I would like, but
  • I am also not eating as healthily or getting as much exercise as I should.
  • I made and then cancelled an appointment to get my hair cut very very short.
  • Cordelia is crying and I am ignoring her because I want to post this.
  • (Okay, I got her a soother.)
  • It's warm enough (eleven degrees) that I have the windows open to air the place out. It's JANUARY!
  • My back is kind of sore and I have a chiropractor appointment and a massage booked for next week.
  • I am going to relearn how to skate so I can teach Delphine (she got bob-skates for Christmas) because I think all Canadian children should know how to skate.
  • I am looking forward to getting back to yoga because it makes my back stronger, it's relaxing and it helps me go longer without taking a breath when I sing.
  • I rejoined the choir -- I can still sing a high B-flat (or higher, but no-one writes higher than that for choirs).
  • I watch a lot of TV: The Daily Show, Miami Ink, What Not To Wear, Everybody Hates Chris, Veronica Mars, Battlestar Galactica, The Hour on CBC Newsworld, Dead Like Me, American Idol, and assorted emergency room and decorating reality shows. I don't watch Desperate Housewives, Lost, 24, or The Bachelor, so even though I watch a lot of TV I still can't talk about it with other people.
  • I like having the window open and being able to hear the city. I feel more like I'm a part of it. I will miss living on Yonge Street when we move.
  • We probably won't move for another eighteen months or so.
[Posted at 10:37 by Amy Brown] link

Cordelia's almost four months old. It seems like longer, somehow; it seems like she has been with us for a long, long time. But it also seems like she's developing faster than Delphine did, because we have been down this route before. You know how the first time you go on a journey it seems to take a really long time, because you're not sure where you're going or when you will get there, but after that first time the trip seems much shorter? That's what's happening here. I'm enjoying this slightly boring and annoying helpless-baby stage because I know from experience that it does end some day, so it's easy to brush off the annoying parts and appreciate the sweet, squishy, fun parts. Everyone should have two children: a practice one and a fun one.

She has an astonishing smile; her cheeks puff out and her eyes crinkle and she shows all her gums and it's like you are sharing the most wonderful joke ever. It makes you feel like you are the most splendid person she has ever met; if she keeps this smile all her life she will break hearts and win votes left and right.

She still hasn't rolled over the other way more than a couple of times; she ends up on her belly and stays there until she gets mad and someone responds to her protests by rolling her back over.

I tried to put her to bed at bedtime yesterday, but it didn't work; she didn't sleep. I think she's still too young to have developed the two-naps-and-an-overnight-sleep pattern yet. She does sleep from eleven until seven, with us, though. Sometimes she wakes up in the middle for a nurse, but most often not these days.

She's learned how to grab things and stick them in her mouth -- she loves to chew stuff. I think she might be cutting a tooth. I remember it seemed like forever before Delphine learned to grab things, and now I'm shocked at how soon Cordelia can do it. Right now she is mowing down on a rubber elephant chew toy and making satisfied grunty sighing noises.

[Posted at 10:19 by Amy Brown] link

How many times have I publically declared that we will start potty training TOMORROW here? Three? Four? Guess what we still haven't done?

I think I have overloaded myself with information on this matter because I flip-flop, literally every day, between (in a deep, gruff voice) Being The Boss and telling Delphine it's time to start using the potty, or (in a light, floaty, slightly mocking voice) Waiting until She Is Ready. The consensus in modern theory seems to lean towards letting her decide, with vague handwaving talk of Negative Consequences if I force the issue. At this point I am leaning towards going with the consensus on the basis that if it turns out to be the wrong decision I can pull out the "everyone was doing it" defense. That's not a defense I have a lot of respect for, though.

This is complicated and irritated by the fact that Delphine has decided to stop pooping. Pooping is unpleasant and smelly and generally beneath someone such as her. However her body didn't get the memo, so at around 4:00 every day (her body would like to be regular) I am faced with a two-year-old frantically waddling around, penguin-style, moaning "My bum hurts! My bum is sore!" Every third day or so her body wins.

Altogether this means I am spending much more time than I would like to thinking about, talking about, and reading about poop. (Did you know Everybody Poops? I have a book that says so.) I am done. I need a poop holiday.

Everything else is going okay, though. We are reading more and more meaty books (I even got a picture-book version of The Secret Garden!) together. We just discovered Curious George, which I don't remember reading as a kid but quite like now. I gather there is a movie coming out -- we will be sure not to go. (I think two-and-a-half is too young to sit through a whole movie. She can hardly pay attention through a 20-minute Baby Einstein DVD.)

We still don't watch much TV with her. She gets one or two 20 minute DVDs a week, and we almost always watch with her. Actually, she watched TV by herself for the first time yesterday, while I did a Grocery Gateway order. I felt strangely neglectful and inclined to crack open a can of cheap beer and light a cigarette.

(Actually I think I might buy some beer this weekend. Maybe some popcorn too.)

She has lots of dollies now: a Cabbage Patch baby named Phoebe from Baba, a homemade rag doll (with no fixed name that I can ascertain) from my mother, and her first dolly, a rag doll named Boy which Auntie J'Anne gave her. She also has a variety of stuffed animals, which rotate in and out of her favour. My favourite is a purple and orange orangutan-type thing named George. She likes to put her babies to sleep, and push them around in her push cart, and generally leave them underfoot for me to step on and swear. (I am turning into my mother.) Phoebe and the rag doll are both naked at all times, as were my dolls when I was a child. The only reason Boy has clothes is that they are stitched on.

She also likes to play with the Fisher-Price Little People house I got her for Christmas, and to draw and colour. Her drawings are getting more representational, they are no longer just scribbles. Now they're circles and lines which are arbitrarily (probably not to her) assigned meaning: this blob with lines coming out is a mouse, and this smaller blob is a banana. She likes to help in the kitchen too; she stirs things. That's about all I let her do so far, since she's clearly too young for fire and sharp things.

She's cute; she's lovely; she's funny and interesting and I like her very much.

[Posted at 10:17 by Amy Brown] link
Tue, 17 Jan 2006
Conversations with Delphine, Part IV

I went to pick her up after her nap. She seemed quite pleased, and said:

"I yike dis."

She rolled something around in her mouth and said:

"I yike dis fing in my mouf."

"What do you have in your mouth?"

"A booger."

Ah. A booger. "Where did you get the booger?"

"I got it out of my nose."

My friend Kathryn broke her ankle, and we went to visit her over the Christmas holiday. Yesterday Delphine said, "My ankle hurts."

"Your ankle hurts?"

"Yeah. I was walking, and I slipped."

That's what we told her happened to Kathryn, so I said, "Oh, like Kathryn!"

"Yeah, yike Kafryn. Yike my beautiful Kafryn."

Okay then. You want me to get her number, maybe set up a date?

Delphine talking to Morgan: "Daddy can hold two girlies! He is big and strong. Yike Zaida. Yike your Erik."

[Posted at 13:36 by Amy Brown] link
Sun, 15 Jan 2006
2005 Books Overview

(This is going to be kind of boring for anyone who isn't me. Precisely the kind of thing one shouldn't post on one's website.)

Last year I apparently read around forty-five books -- those were the ones I remembered to log, anyway, and I think I remembered just about all of them last year. I read eight of them from January until May, and the other thirty-nine from June on -- yay, first trimester fatigue. Twenty-two since Cordelia was born -- yay, breastfeeding! I read fifteen fiction and thirty-one non-fiction, and two collections of short stories. I'm really into non-fiction these days; I find non-fiction books to be more rich with ideas than novels are, and I'm very keen on thinking about the world lately. There's a lot to think about...

I'm glad I started reading again -- for a while, starting in high school, I hardly read at all, but I have learned so much in the last few years from reading books written by clever people. I shudder to think how boring and ignorant I would be if I hadn't read the books that I have read.

In short: books, good. News at eleven.

[Posted at 21:29 by Amy Brown] link
Fri, 13 Jan 2006
Books for the New Year

Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash by Elizabeth Royte. This is like the garbage version of the corpse book -- what happens to garbage when we throw it out. I have only two things to say: Royte is not as funny as Mary Roach, and people who deal with garbage are much less keen to talk about it than people who deal with bodies.

Long Way Round: Chasing Shadows Across the World by Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman. This was pretty good -- about the authors' motorcycle trip from London to New York, overland (apart from that awkward Bering Strait bit). Perhaps not surprisingly (being that they are both actors) they seem like emotional types; I certainly wouldn't sign up to bike around the world with either of them.

Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door by Lynne Truss. Truss is a grumpy woman, and I can't say I disagree with her that people could stand to be more courteous, but I think this book makes a lot more sense in England than it does here -- Canadians are in general polite and friendly to each other, just like the stereotype suggests. Whereas the English... not so much.

Also Truss's Internet bears no relation to my Internet. She seems to conflate her technical problems with computers and her problems with the culture of the Internet. Anyway, some of my best friends are from the Internet, so there. (I had a more reasoned response to this earlier, but it's been a while since I finished the book and now I've forgotten what I was going to say. Hmph.)

Incidentally, this book references a book which is also referenced by the book I am currently reading (American Backlash by Michael Adams) which I selected independently of the Truss book. The referenced book is called Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam. Does that mean I should read it? Probably. God, this reading will be the death of me. Maybe I should give up watching TV so I have a chance in hell of keeping up with my own "to be read" list.

With One Lousy Free Packet of Seed by Lynne Truss. Funny and a little silly. Kind of Douglas Adams-ish, although that might just be because it's an English comedic novel. Also kind of Jasper Ffordish, but without the annoyingly clever literary references.

I'll be the Parent, You Be the Child by Paul Kropp. I got this from the Gender book, and I wasn't sure what to expect, whether it would be a conservative, spare-the-rod kind of thing, but to my pleasure it turned out to be by a Toronto writer who wrote for my favourite parenting magazine. It's a common-sense overview of various parenting issues, reviewing the available evidence and giving the bottom line according to Kropp. Very sensible advice. It made me think that I probably don't want to work full-time until my children are grown -- that the best thing I can give my children is my time. But since I would like to buy some new clothing before I am fifty, I will be working part-time.

And now Cordelia would like some of that time, so I can write no more.

[Posted at 17:23 by Amy Brown] link
New Year's Resolutions

1. Take more pictures. More pictures of the girls, and more pictures of the people in my life. My sister-in-law has a million pictures of her friends grinning at the camera, taken at every event she ever has or goes to, or just for the hell of it. I didn't used to see the point of having all those pictures of people, but looking back I wish I had more pictures of the people in my life, and I wish my parents had taken more pictures of their people; I have no pictures of my Aunt Delphine, and only one of my maternal grandparents, and none of my paternal.

2. Read Pere Goriot and King Lear. If I'm going to be all snotty and literary about my children's names the least I can do is read the damn books. I am such a poser.

3. Learn to read better. Oh, I'm fully literate, but the stuff I read tends to bounce out of my head soon after it goes in. That's why I have the book log, so that I am forced to think about each book at least once after I read it, and so that I can refer back to the list and remember what I have read. But I need to learn to read more deeply, to think more about what I'm reading as I read it, and to remember it better. To this end I would like to read this book. (I tried reading that How To Read and Why book but it didn't help -- it was all "why" and no "how".)

4. Learn to do the Asian Squat. I spend a LOT of time squatting, talking to Delphine, helping her with her boots and coat, feeding the cats. But I can't squat properly -- my heels lift off the ground and I am left balancing on my toes, which is very precarious. I need to learn to do a proper squat, and I don't understand why I can't. I am going to talk to my chiropractor, who is an absolute genius when it comes to anatomy, about what I need to stretch and strengthen to be able to do this. And perhaps I should watch this movie too.

5. Finish laundry the day I start. I'm pretty good at housework -- the place is generally fairly clean, the kitchen gets cleaned once a day, I vacuum weekly, I tidy up Delphine's toys every day or two, but I can't seem to get a handle on laundry. I wash and dry it in a day, but then it sits unfolded in the living room for a couple of days. I finally fold it, and then it sits, folded, in the living room for another day or two until I finally put it away, usually because I need the baskets to do more laundry. I don't think there is any trick to this, I think I just need to fold and put away the damn laundry the day I wash it. It's a matter of self-discipline. I hate that.

[Posted at 15:03 by Amy Brown] link
Thu, 12 Jan 2006
Remind you of anyone?

I was chatting with both Tan and Kate recently, and they each mentioned how much Delphine looked like me. I completely agree, and have the photo to prove it.

No, that's not actually my sister and my daughter. That's my mother and I, circa 1976(-ish. I'm guessing that I was three in the photo).

[Posted at 10:04 by Blake Winton] link