Blog-o! Notes from

Sat, 31 Jan 2009
Two Picture Books We Love

Peepo by Janet and Allen Ahlberg is my absolute very favourite picture book ever. It's a rhyming story about a baby's day and all the things he sees. He wakes in the morning and sees, from his crib, "his father sleeping in the big brass bed, and his mother too, with a hairnet on her head." Later in the day "he sees a bonfire burning, pigeons in the sky, his mother washing windows, a dog going by". (I'm doing these from memory so they might be a bit off. I'm tired.)

The book is set in World War II England and the illustrations are exquisite. Janet Ahlberg researched them meticulously and each picture is rich with period detail. I took this book with me last time we went to visit my Mum, who was a child during the war. Mum loved the book so much I bought her a copy of her own to pore over. Repeated readings are rewarded with new details, and the text is so charming and evocative of everyday family life that it is no hardship to read it over and over (and over and over). I buy this book for every new baby I know.

Also by the Ahlbergs is Each Peach Pear Plum, a simpler book for younger babies with two lines on each page: "Each Peach Pear Plum / I spy Tom Thumb." And then, "Tom Thumb in the cupboard / I spy Mother Hubbard." The smallest listeners will enjoy the rhythms and rhymes and pretty pictures, and older children can find Tom Thumb, or finish the lines for you. This book introduces lots of characters from nursery rhymes, fairy tales and folk tales which children will be delighted to encounter later: Bo-Peep, the Three Bears, Baby Bunting, and others.

Apparently this book has fallen out of favour because the Three Bears go hunting, and Baby Bear is prone to tripping over and accidentally firing his gun. I say pish.

Each Peach Pear Plum gets bundled with Peepo in my baby shower gift bag (along with "Breastfeeding Made Simple" by Nancy Mohrbacher and Kathleen Kendall-Tackett). There goes the surprise if I ever come to your baby shower.

[Posted at 21:51 by Amy Brown] link
Conversation with Cordelia

This morning Delphine was reading Cordelia one of those "Baby Genius" alphabet books with the questions that are supposed to help you talk to you kid about the picture, because they assume you're not capable of having a conversation with your child about a picture in a book.

So they were on "I", and Cordelia's job was to locate the "ice skates". Last time we read the book she only found the skaters, so Delphine was very pleased when, this time, she successfully identified the ice skates. She shouted across the room, "Mumma, she found the ice skates this time! Last time she only found the skaters!"

Cordelia grinned, bounced up and down on the couch and shouted, "I'm smarter than usual!"

I need that on a t-shirt.

[Posted at 21:27 by Amy Brown] link
Fri, 30 Jan 2009

I looked on the internet for some kind of career counselling or guidance and I came across Career Joy. I got them to send me one of their FREE 15-Minute Career Test which promises to help me identify my key strengths and find the right career for me! Well, I've taken the test and I still don't know the right career for me. I think that might take a bit more work. But I did figure out a couple of interesting things. Here are my results.

Step 1 - Personal Inventory

1. Talents. What am I good at? What do others say I am good at?

  • reading
  • writing
  • organizing
  • baking/cooking
  • talking to people
  • making people feel comfortable
  • understanding what people know, explaining things to them
    • explaining things verbally
    • explaining things in writing
  • proof-reading
  • spelling
  • typing
  • looking things up / research
  • managing the household:
    • finances
    • activities for four people
    • food - nutrition / purchasing / cooking
  • singing
  • dealing with children
  • understanding and using computer software
  • understanding concepts / smart ("I'm clever!")
  • visualizing / spatial / math

(This is going to sound a bit weird, but if there's anyone reading who can think of anything I'm good at that I've missed, or if you think I'm not actually good at something that I listed, please comment. I'm supposed to know what others say I'm good at.)

2. Passions. What do you love? What do you read about? What do you get angry about?


  • family
  • science and ideas
  • facts / truth
  • music
  • children
  • books
  • food (Shut up, I do love food. I would marry it if I could!)

Angry about:

  • climate change / sustainability *
  • justice: hunger, human rights, health care

(I put a star by climate change because it's really, really important and if I'm to be any use to the world it should probably be my first priority.)

Read about:

  • childhood development and parenting
  • memoirs/other people's lives
  • climate change
  • science
  • sociology -- how people and systems work
  • psychology / happiness

3. Values - what do you value in other people? What do you believe strongly in?

  • truth / honesty
  • conscientiousness -- doing what you say you will / ought to
  • fulfilling your responsibility as a person or citizen / being a grown-up
  • kindness and consideration for others / taking care of the earth
  • being good and moral

4. Lifestyle - what do you want from your lifestyle?

  • right-size house (3 br, 2 bath, 2 office areas, lr/dr, den, backyard, shed)
  • short / bikeable commute from midtown Toronto
  • time to be with family
  • time to read
  • you know what I would really love? I would love a job where I could read the newspaper as part of my job! That would be cool!
  • two children (I already have those but I'd like to keep them if it's all the same to you.)
  • no additional property
  • no car
  • occasional vacation

5. Ecosystem/Environment - what atmosphere/environment do you work best in?


  • clean
  • organized
  • quiet
  • indoors
  • personalized (my pictures, etc. around)

(I'm a real princess, eh?)


  • friendly
  • cooperative, not competitive or political

(And a delicate flower, too, apparently.)

STEP 2: Measuring Your Career Joy

This is the step where you measure your current or previous career according to what you determined about yourself, on a scale of one to ten.

How well did software technical support utilize my best and most important talents? 7/10

How well did software technical support engage my passions? 2/10

How well did software technical support meet my values? 4/10

How well did software technical support meet my ideal lifestyle? 9/10

How well did software technical support meet my ecosystem desires? 9/10

TOTAL: 31/50

This is where it gets like one of those quizzes in Seventeen, because they tell you what your score out of fifty means. My score gets "Needs improvement. What is your lowest score? What action(s) do you need to take to make improvements?" Which is a little unhelpful - aren't you supposed to tell me that? Well, clearly my lowest score was in the area of Passions, which I knew, but what is interesting to me is that the software career scored so high in Lifestyle and Environment, which is probably why I stuck with it so long.

Well, it was enlightening to think all this stuff through and write it down, but I am going to need more help to sift through this information and decide which direction to go in. Onward.

[Posted at 22:15 by Amy Brown] link
Thu, 29 Jan 2009
What's On The Fridge?

I have a friend who says he would read my blog if I posted the minutes of our family meetings. Now, I don't necessarily want this friend to read my blog because I'm scared that he'll figure out I'm not as smart as he thinks I am, but it is kind of a neat idea. The family meeting minutes are on the fridge, along with all kinds of other household ephemera: kids' artwork, of course, and Delphine's weird written creations; the week's dinner menus and resulting shopping list; back when we had a regular income, our budget was up there; invitations to upcoming events (usually for Delphine)... Basically all our dirty laundry is aired on the fridge.

So here are some highlights:

This week's dinner menu:

chicken jambalaya
ham, mashed potatoes and peas
oven-roast root vegetable fries & grilled cheese sandwiches
fiesta chicken soup with tofu instead of chicken
teriyaki beef on rice

So far it's all been pretty tasty. I ended up using ham for the jambalaya because there wasn't as much leftover chicken as I thought there would be from the weekend's roast. Kat was here for the oven fries and grilled cheese and she loved it. I like feeding Kat, she's always happy with what I make.

Minutes For The Next Family Meeting

  • rules for video games
  • how to prevent fighting every evening
  • bedtime: Mum's responsibilities and girls' responsibilities
  • we need some rules about touching the computer
    • let's set up an account for Delphine

New Rules

  • Underpants must be worn at all times (except in bed)
  • No TV during the week
  • No candy before lunch
  • No complaining about people or situations within the home.

(The underpants rule has since been modified by my pedantic children to include the bathroom as well as bed. The TV rule has since been changed to allow two shows during weekdays and four shows a day on weekends. The complaining rule came about because certain people were expressing their concerns by whining rather than constructive requests: "I can't reach the bread!" rather than "Can someone pass me the bread." I think it's a good rule for life, actually.)

Delphine's List of Foods For Each Month

No, I don't know why each month needs a food. No, I don't know what it means: do you have to eat the food every day that month? Once that month? Can you eat the food any other month? She just demanded we devise this list. Translations in parentheses.

J pie (January: pie)
F horts (February: hearts of any description. I so want to bring home a package of chicken hearts.)
M Fiddld (March: fiddleheads. She was quite impressed when she realised fiddleheads has three d's in it.)
A tost (April: toast. Complete with backwards "s")
MAY cace (May: cake! It's her birthday.)
JUN schobaires (June: strawberries. She goes crazy with the spelling sometimes)
JL pechs (July: peaches)
O iescrem (August: ice cream)
S Apples (September: apples!)
N rodabaga (November: rutabaga)
Oct Pamkns (October: pumpkins)
D Pudine (December: pudding. "I don't even like Christmas pudding, Mama, I just put that in for you." Awww.)

[Posted at 22:24 by Amy Brown] link

So Blake keeps asking me (why he asks me I don't know, maybe he thinks I need practice looking stuff up) why mirrors reverse left and right, but not up and down. Well, uuuh, I dunno, but I thought I would look it up for him since he hasn't bothered to do so himself. (It's called enabling.)

I found this page which is notable not so much for its comprehensibility (I actually couldn't figure out what the hell they were talking about, not that I tried very hard) but for its patient explanations of basic social rules. "It's not nice to treat people like they're stupid by deliberately misinterpreting their questions, even if it is lots of fun."

A better explanation is this socratic treatment, if you're interested.

[Posted at 21:01 by Amy Brown] link
Running in the Snow

Since my last run on Tuesday the weather has taken a turn for the snowier. We got 15 or 20 cm of snow yesterday. Most people have shovelled, but today's run was more adventuresome than usual as I tried to figure out how to get over and through all the slush.

I did 3K in 2-and-1s. There were a couple of times I was really glad to get that walking break, and one time in a very snowy block I just ignored the "start running" beep and took an extra few seconds of walking, but otherwise it was a good run. It was -8°C, but I was warm enough in my usual gear, until I stopped to chat with a neighbour at the end.

Now I've gone and woken up Cordelia. Hopefully she will go back to sleep because I still want to have my afternoon reading break, and I have to stretch, and empty and load the dishwasher. And do laundry. God my life is lame sometimes.

[Posted at 14:19 by Amy Brown] link
Wed, 28 Jan 2009
Where To Begin?

The other day I was talking to the head librarian at the library, about the options for someone who wanted to be a librarian when she grew up. I've been toying with taking a one-year library technician course at a local college, but the website says something like, "With this diploma you can find work at public libraries outside Toronto." But not inside Toronto. If I want to work at the TPL I have to either get a Masters or work my way up the ladder for decades. Well heck. If I go into library work, do I want to work at a public library or do I want to work for a law firm or a corporation? I'd like to at least keep the option of public library work open. We talked about the Masters of Information Studies at U of T, which would be great if I can get in, apart from being pretty expensive.

So I went to the U of T website where I found this:

Applicants who graduated five or more years ago but without achieving sufficiently high standing for admission to the School may be considered for admission if, since graduation, they have done significant, intellectual work and/or made a significant professional contribution which can be considered equivalent to a higher academic standing. This contribution and its impact on the profession must be detailed and documented (e.g., publications, research, professional advancement, development of new skills, responsibility, etc.) and presented as part of the application.

I haven't actually checked to see whether my BMath marks are sufficiently high, but since they are best described as dismal I can only assume they won't be. I spent ten years in a field which I hated and so I wasn't exactly a stellar employee, and then I stayed home to take care of my children, and last I checked they don't actually give out awards for that. So maybe, just maybe they will let me into this program with a lot of sweet talking, more likely I will have to take a few undergrad courses (which would be fine) or worst case, I would have to take a whole new undergrad degree. Which will take years and cost a billion dollars which I don't really have because we're in debt and we haven't saved a penny for the girls' educations.

If I could give a high school graduate one piece of advice, it would be to take an undergrad program that is easy enough for you to graduate with good marks in, because not having a four-year degree with good marks closes off so many career options. I wish I had known, I would have switched into English like I thought about doing in 1A. That is my one Erica Strange-style regret. I should have listened to my gut and not stayed in math to try and impress the boys. You have one opportunity to be shiny and if you blow it, it's over.

That's not true. I could start afresh and get a whole new undergrad degree, and I guarantee I would kick ass because I would choose something I'm passionate about (not math). But man... the years, the money. Am I just making excuses? Should I bite the bullet? You hear all the time about people who go back to school when their kids are little, and work jobs at the same time! Why can't I be awesome like that? I'm always looking for the easy way. Maybe if I want to do this properly, to live this life as fully as I should, I shouldn't look for the easy way. Maybe the easy way will lead to regrets. Maybe the easy way will lead to a life of mediocrity distinguished only by the nagging sense that I could have done better.

Or maybe I will make myself and my family miserable by spending too much time and money on a degree that won't actually fix my life. Maybe I should just get some tech job that I hate and spend the money renovating the house. Or try and get a good job without getting a bunch more education.

So whatever. Do I even want to be a librarian? I have no idea. I really want to do something useful and meaningful, which sounds so idiotically idealistic and adolescent, but I'm not speaking as an adolescent, I'm speaking as a mature adult who sees what is going on in the world and who can't tolerate the idea of being away from hearth and family simply to earn money and further the ends of some CEO. If I'm going to work, I want the work to be worth doing.

Anyway, the time has come when I have to make a decision. Cordelia is going to start kindergarten this year, and in 2011 she'll be in grade one. I need to start thinking about what I'm going to do so I can take some evening courses, or think about how to make money in the meantime. Can I even justify any further education when we're so in debt? Or does it make more sense to get me all educated up so I can earn more sooner?

I just don't know. I'm a muddled, confused mess and all these questions are ricocheting around my head all the time making me frustrated and exhausted. I hate not having a direction, and I have never been as directionless as I am now. The only thing I'm sure of is that I need to think about what I like to do and what I'm good at, and make an appointment with a career counsellor to figure out what the hell I am going to do when I grow up. Because I'm really ready to grow up now.

[Posted at 22:52 by Amy Brown] link
Best Book Of 2009 (so far)

Everyday Survival: Why Smart People Do Stupid Things by Laurence Gonzales is a book about life. It's a book about the origins of life, about how (and why) life on earth developed, about how humans got to where we are today and our purpose in the world, about mindfulness and mental models and behavioural scripts.

As such is it one of the most woefully misbilled books I have ever read. I figured I was in for a discussion about how humans' evolutionary history causes us to make mistakes in the modern world. And yea, that is what I got. In the first six chapters. The next ten follow Gonzales in his search for the origins of life, for answers about why we are here. Along the way I learned about energy and entropy, about fractals and self-organizing systems, organic chemistry, vortices, tornadoes, the fact that life thrives in every nook on earth, even in the cores of nuclear reactors, about giant caves, Murray Gell-mann's theory of life ("The earth is rotting, and life is the waste."), and about why humans have such expressive faces. And a hundred other things, all of which Gonzales manages to pull together in a sensible (if not necessarily linear) way to make his point.

Which point, by the way, is that climate change is the stupidest thing of all, and that it is well within our capabilities to stop it, if only we can manage to get out of the behavioural script, the vacation state of mind, that we are living in now, the script which says everything has been going fine until now, so I will keep doing what I have been doing. Gonzales doesn't beat the climate change drum very often, but it's a theme that reoccurs at key points throughout the book.

If I were to nominate a book to be an Atheist Bible, this might be it. Gonzales describes the origins of life (as far as we know about them) and the origins of humankind, and explains why life came about and what our place is in the universe. He even takes a stab at explaining how we can fulfill our potential as human beings. It is at times an intensely spiritual, moving book, whilst always being completely rational.

Lawrence Gonzales is a genius. The way he digs deep and deeper into a problem and synthesizes dozens of different areas of knowledge is breathtaking. I had to read this book with a notebook by my side to keep track of all the new facts and ideas, and try and join them up like Gonzales did. But he's such a good writer that it all goes down as effortlessly as ice cream. Anyone who is interested in thinking, who likes a good idea, who loves a eureka moment, or who wants to know what our place is in the universe should read this book. Everyone should read this book.

[Posted at 14:46 by Amy Brown] link
Tue, 27 Jan 2009
Fat Girl Running

Kat has inspired me to get my running shoes back on; she is training for an as-yet-unspecified 5K, so we're going to egg each other on. She runs on the treadmill at her condo and I like to run outside (because I don't have a treadmill and I'm too poor to join a gym, and because running on a treadmill is boring) so we probably won't actually run together until spring. But we'll talk about running!

We talked about running last night before choir, and as Kat wisely pointed out, if you want to do something you should do it as soon as possible after you've determined to do it, so I ran this afternoon after I dropped Delphine off at school. Since Blake is "working" from "home", he can make sure Cordelia doesn't catch fire or something while she's napping, and so I can leave the house in the afternoon. Plus it was sunny and warm (only -5!) - too good to pass up.

I did 3K in 1-and-1s. 1-and-1s is pretty lame, but I haven't been out for a long time, and it's cold and when I run in the cold my lungs get wheezy and I get that coppery taste in my mouth, so I thought I would go easy on myself. And it was a pretty easy run. There were times when the one minute of running seemed too short, and only one time when I was really glad of the break, so next time I will do 2-and-1s.

My plan is to run three times a week, on Tuesdays, Thursdays and the weekend. I'll do 3K for the next two runs and then up the distance a little bit and also increase intensity to 3-and-1s. I just hope it doesn't stay so cold for weeks and weeks. I don't know if I can motivate myself to run when it's horribly cold.

I went for a couple of runs over the winter, before it got so cold. I tried something new: listening to music instead of timing my intervals. (I have to choose because I time intervals by the beeping of my watch and if I'm listening to music I can't hear the beeps. I'm sure there is some technological solution to this problem.) Listening to music is fun, but I missed the satisfaction of being able to measure and manage the ratio of running to walking. (I'm a geek.) Plus it's kind of nice to have time to just let the thoughts roll through my head. Apparently that kind of unstructured daydreaming time is very important. So I'm going to stick with timing intervals.

And now I should go stretch.

[Posted at 14:21 by Amy Brown] link
Fri, 23 Jan 2009
Friends to Make Maps With

Delphine and I were walking to a playdate a few weeks ago. As we walked she asked me about the names of the streets we were on, and which way they all go. I said, maybe sometime we can make a map of the neighbourhood. "Maybe," I said, "you could do it at your playdate, and your friend's mother could help."

"That would be fun." said Delphine, "But my friend will only want to play fairies!"

Then she paused and said, "No-one ever wants to do what I want to do." (She is prone to these gloomy generalizations.) "None of my friends like what I like."

I explained to her that she has only met thirty people her age at school, plus a handful more at daycare and around. I said as she goes through school she'll meet more people and maybe one day she we meet someone who wants to make maps instead of playing with fairies. Sooner or later we all find our people.

[Posted at 21:15 by Amy Brown] link
Thu, 22 Jan 2009

Our house is pretty chilly in winter, and it's quite clear that one of the weak links is the windows. You can tell from the avalanche of freezing cold air that rolls off the windows as soon as you open the blinds*. So this winter we decided to try that plastic wrap stuff that you tape around the windows and then blowdry to tighten it up and make it all smooth. It's kind of ghetto but we can't afford to replace the windows, so it will have to do, and I was determined to do it right -- there is a house nearby with plastic on the windows and they didn't prep it properly so the tape has come off and it's hanging down and it looks really ghetto.

There were two brands at the store, 3M and another brand from Quebec. This whole post would be much more useful if I remembered what the brand of the other stuff was; anyway, it comes in a blue box and it's from Quebec. We bought the two-window kit by 3M and the five-window kit from the other company; both kits were about $35, so you can see that the 3M stuff would have to be much better to be worth the extra money.

Here were the differences between the two products:

  • the 3M stuff had slightly wider double-sided tape, and the tape backing had red text printed on it - that doesn't seem like a big thing but our window frames are white so the white-only backing on the other tape made it a little harder to find the end of the tape. 3M advertise that "the difference is in the tape", and indeed that's one of the things they are known for, but apart from the slight difference in width and the backing, I couldn't perceive a difference in the tape. Maybe the other brand will start peeling off in February or something.
  • the instructions on the other stuff were more thorough. At first Blake interpreted that to mean that the other stuff was harder to install, but installation was identical for the two products, it's just that 3M tried to make it sound easy.
  • the non-3M film was thinner. I suppose that would make it more fragile but I didn't have trouble with it breaking, and it heat-shrunk better. I doubt the width of the film makes much difference to insulation; I expect insulation is mainly furnished by the air between the window and the film.

So this is what you do:

  1. Clean the window frame. I used a solution of water, dish soap and vinegar, and a cloth diaper. (I cleaned the window too because I'm not going to get at it for a few months.) Then I wiped it with rubbing alcohol - that's what the non-3M stuff said to do.
  2. Put the tape on the window frame. After the first couple of pieces I figured out that you need to peel a couple of inches off the backing paper before you put the tape up because it's really hard to start it when it's up on your window.
  3. Cut the plastic film to size. We ended up with lots of extra film, but I'm not sure how much extra they give you. Our windows might just be small. Anyway, give yourself three or four extra inches on each side just to be safe.
  4. Peel the backing paper off the tape. This is kind of fun.
  5. Adhere the film to the tape. You can actually stick it on fairly gently to start with, and then pull it off, stretch it and restick it until you have it as tight and smooth as possible. Then press it firmly onto the tape once you're happy with it.
  6. This is the fun part: use a blow dryer to heat the plastic so it shrinks like a giant shrinkydink and pulls all the remaining wrinkles out.
  7. Trim the excess film. Carefully. I was very conservative and left lots of extra because I didn't want to risk puncturing the film. Your mileage may vary.
  8. Stand back and admire your work. I'm really happy with how ours turned out; you can't see it at all from outside, and it's barely noticable from inside.

It took me about half an hour for each window, and I did it over a week or so. Kind of a big production and pain in the ass. I think it's helping with the cold thing though. Our big problem (apart from the aforementioned avalanche of cold) was condensation, and there's much less of it now, so clearly that cold is being stopped. I'm not sure if it's going to save us $70 in utility bills, though. But we'll probably do it again next year just for the increased comfort.

Anyway, so that's what I learned about insulating window film. Hopefully this is helpful to someone somewhere.

* Incidentally our blinds are awesome. We have honeycomb blinds from Hunter Douglas and they block a heck of a lot of cold. We saved a bunch on natural gas after we installed them, which is good because they were about a million dollars. I expect another brand of the same product would be equally effective, but the Hunter Douglas ones are very well made. I'm happy with them. (I wish we had got the top-down/bottom-up mechanism on all the blinds, though; the only window we didn't get it for was the living room, and sometimes I would like to open just the top of that, like in the morning in summer when I'm not dressed yet.)

[Posted at 22:29 by Amy Brown] link
Poems By Delphine

Delphine has written one poem and and two, um, prose pieces which might be poems. Here they are, preserving random capitals:

me you we
A soiN. A Bote.
Me AND You tRNiNg
iN toWe.
Musis togetheR

tAte i LiKe

AND SEahors too.
thosoR the thiNgs iN the SEa

[Posted at 21:01 by Amy Brown] link
Wed, 21 Jan 2009
Y'all Should Watch This

I mentioned briefly in my last post that Blake and I have started watching a show called Being Erica. It's about a 32-year-old Toronto woman who gets a chance to travel back in time and revisit some bad decisions from her past. We're really enjoying it; the characterization is good, the scripts are funny, the music is AWESOME, and of course it's perfectly our age group so everything is sometimes painfully close to home. And it's SO Toronto and so Canadian: lots of location shots, Molson Canadian, sex in a canoe.

So Blake said, "I should totally tell Morgan to watch this, with the graduating in '94 and the trips to Muskoka." And I said, "Yeah, I want to tell Kat about it, too." Kat and Morgan and I are all '75ers, and I think Kat would really enjoy this show and relate, too.

And finally I wonder if my New York friends Sascha and Leontine would like it -- they love Canada and Toronto so maybe they'd get a kick out of it, if they have time to watch TV.

Anyway (I think) all those people read this blog, so consider yourselves notified. (Kat, we have them downloaded if you want to watch them here.)

[Posted at 23:03 by Amy Brown] link
State Of The Nation

Part III: Me

Seems like even though this is my blog (well, half mine) I don't post about myself very much. I post about the kids, I post about what I read, I even post about my husband sometimes, but I don't post about what's going on with me. Lucky for you, but today your luck has run out: this post is all about me.

It's still January, and January is still kicking my ass. I've been so tired and so disinclined to do anything since the Christmas decorations came down. I haven't vacuumed, I haven't tidied; I am just barely getting through the absolute necessities. I read awhile ago that when you get depressed there's actually some kind of blockage in the system which takes messages from your brain to your muscles, so you lie there thinking, "I'm going to get up and pick up all that Lego" and... nothing happens. That's how I feel. Plus, as discussed earlier, it's so bloody cold.

Yesterday I had a little breakdown because there's crap all over the downstairs: dolls, stuffed animals, books, random miniature backpacks, board games, the usual detritus of small children. Since I have been more disinclined than usual to tidy up, this stuff has been accumulating in the corners and nooks like giant, brightly coloured dust bunnies, and it finally tipped me over the edge yesterday. Blake's solution was: "Get the girls to tidy up." Bwah hah hah, yes, I'll get right on that. I'm sure that will be much easier than doing it myself. Then he got mad at me for being sarcastic. So we had a big fight. Le sigh.

Unfortunately Cordelia is still too small to really understand how to tidy up, so if I want to continue to allow her to own and play with stuff, I need to pick up after her. Normally I'm okay with doing that, but see above re: January. Not only do I lack the energy to clean up but I'm more emotionally fragile than usual so the mess bugs me more. Double-whammy, POW, BIFF!

Whatever. Out of the dust a phoenix rises, or at least a good idea: we're going to get each girl a giant bucket (I like these) and every day before dinner everyone has to load their shit, er I mean their prized possessions into their bucket and take it upstairs. Once there, Delphine can do whatever she wants with her stuff and I will help Cordelia put hers away in her room. Result! Hopefully.

Anyway, so that was my large digression regarding the state of the house as it pertains to my state of mind, which is not great right now but I'm sure will improve as the days get longer and the snow melts.

Apart from the usual Mum stuff of cooking, cleaning, reading out loud, playing and taking people places, mainly I spend my time reading and watching TV. In addition to the books I read, I also get through most of the Saturday Globe and Mail, (excepting the Sports, Report on Business and Travel sections which I recycle first off). I also get New Scientist every week (well, it's supposed to be weekly; it seems to come in spurts), and Today's Parent every month. I used to get Canadian House and Home but I don't have the money to decorate or renovate so it just depressed me.

We cancelled cable a while ago and now we download all our TV, which is working really well. I'm pretty happy with the stuff we watch; life is short and there are lots of books to read, so I try and only watch shows I really like. I just dumped 90210 because it wasn't good enough to squander precious hours of my life on. That doesn't seem to set a really high bar, does it? This is what I do watch: The Daily Show, Chuck, Battlestar Galactica, Dirty Jobs, Mythbusters (mainly because Blake watches it), Doctor Who, and Torchwood. We also just started watching a show called Being Erica which looks like it's going to be pretty good.

Extra-curricular activities are limited by time and the goodwill of the various people willing to look after my children so I can leave the house. I have choir practice once a week from September to May. Every month or two my book club meets for dinner on Friday night in a restaurant. (Ooh! A restaurant! Shiny!) Every month I go to the school Parents Association so I can stay in the loop with all the juicy school gossip. That's about it, I think. Housebound much?

So here's an interesting thing. (Interesting if you're me.) When I graduated from high school I was the most boring, unmotivated, uninterested, extrinsically motivated person imaginable. I didn't know what I was interested in because I wasn't interested in anything -- the only thing that motivated me was pleasing other people, and other people don't have the first clue what's right for me -- so off I went to university and did Math for some very bad reasons, none of which had anything to do with genuine interest. But I forged through. (And now that I think about it was pretty damn good to get a degree in Math from a such a hard school when I wasn't the slightest bit interested in it.) Anyway, so I got the degree and I worked in computers and every day was horrible because I just didn't care.

The last five years, since I haven't been working and since I have been reading, have been like an Independent Study. I've been free to read whatever I want and explore my own interests. If I don't want to read something, I don't have to. If I do want to, I can, and then if that book leads me to one or two or three other books I can read them, too. (Funny thing: in all that time I don't think I've read a single book about math.)

So oddly enough, being a stay-at-home mom has been a very rich time for me, intellectually. I've exposed myself to lots of ideas, lots of novels, lots and lots of facts. And the more I read and the smarter I get, the more I know that I must change careers and that I need to spend some time and effort figuring out what's right for me. Fortunately I have read plenty of books about finding happiness and satisfaction in life, so I can use them for guidance. But more on that later. That's a whole 'nother set of posts and I still have lots and lots of thinking to do. (For some reason I have time to read but not time to think.) Stay tuned.

Now it's time for bed - tomorrow is Thursday, and it's going to be warm so we might go play outside. Apparently Delphine told Blake she didn't want Mummy to be crabby any more, so he wants me to figure out what I need to feel better. I thought about it a little bit and I think I need some time to myself, to get away from everyone's needs. I don't get a lot of that, and usually I can deal but, well, January. So I'm going to take some Me Time tomorrow afternoon and go window shopping on Bayview while Delphine is at school. Delphine has French after school, then home for supper and then I might go downtown and see if I can get a good deal on a winter coat. Dunno -- maybe I shouldn't blow all my Me time on one day. Or maybe I should!

[Posted at 22:45 by Amy Brown] link
Sun, 18 Jan 2009

We call Cordelia: DeeDee, Boo, Bootle, Bootle Bumtrinket, Doodlebug, Cordoodlebug, Babalou, Bubbles.

We call Delphine: Feenie, Feen, Fee, Delly, Foo, Delphine Elizabum, Jellybean, Jelly.

We call Blake: Daddy, Daddily, Daddy-a, Blake, Husband (that's me), George (mainly Andy). Yes, the kids call him Blake. They think it's cute.

We call me: Mummy, Mama, Mummy-a, Mummily, MA! (usually Cordelia), Amy, arbrown (Andy again), Amily (Blake calls me that and it makes me feel all cute).

[Posted at 20:59 by Amy Brown] link
Sat, 17 Jan 2009

Part II: Blake

There's something slightly weird about me posting about the other writer of this shared blog, but whatever. This is the wifely perspective on Blake's life.

So Blake is in some kind of between-job limbo, fortunately punctuated by contract work which we assume will be lucrative once he gets paid. There's a vague job offer in the offing but nothing has been signed yet. Limbo indeed.

The working from home is going pretty well, I think. We don't have a home office, per se, in that our house has six rooms (three bedrooms, bathroom, kitchen and living/dining) so he's set up in the bedroom, on Baba's antique sewing machine. It's a pretty sad state of affairs and it wouldn't work in the long term, but it will do for now. He also takes breaks in the living room, and sometimes gets out of the house and works at U of T (where he Knows People) or Starbucks (where he Spends Money).

Apart from the working he spends what seems to be a lot of time on his own programming projects and on open source projects. (I say "what seems to be" because for all I know he was spending the same amount of time on that stuff when he was at the office and I just didn't see it). He also reads lots of books (but not as many as me because he's not insane) and listens to a lot of podcasts. A huge number of podcasts. Mostly really geeky ones about programming languages, comics and role-playing games.

Despite Blake being laid off in these Trying Times, we're pretty optimistic. Our spending habits are pretty sensible, and the future looks bright. And like Blake says, we have a lot of available credit. Hah.

[Posted at 22:22 by Amy Brown] link

Part I: Our Routine

It's the middle of January, and January sucks. It goes on and on forever and ever, and it's bloody fracking cold this year. I mean really cold, and I'm tired of it. I know it gets cold and it snows every year - this is Canada - but I hate it. I hate the bundling up and the having to hurry everywhere outside, but mostly I hate the sheer discomfort of being cold. I am a big baby.

The girls and I are still doing what I like to call Der grosse Schlep on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. We take Cordelia to school for nine, pick her up at 11:30, have lunch and then take Delphine to school for 12:40. When Delphine is at school Cordelia takes a nap, and then we pick Delphine up at 3:20. This massive to-ing and fro-ing was supposed to be a little easier this year because Baba and Zaida bought a condo halfway between Delphine's school and Cordelia's, which was to be our waystation and lunch room. However, the condo is still (still!) not finished. I am hoping it will be done before the end of the school year, but my breath is not held.

On the other hand Blake's quasi-employed status is proving to be very helpful. I can leave Delphine at home while I take Cordelia to school, and pick her up, and after lunch he puts Cordelia down for her nap while I take Delphine to school. This makes for much less putting on and taking off of snowsuits, and of course I can travel much faster alone. Hopefully by the time he gets back to work, snowsuit season will be over.

Apart from the main schedule, which revolves around school, we have some other stuff going on too. In the fall both girls had gymnastics, and now we're in Music Together on Saturday mornings. (In order to keep our schedule manageable we do an annual rotation of activities: gymnastics in the fall, music in winter, swimming in spring.) Delphine also has Sparks on Wednesday evenings at 5:30, which let me say is an insanely bad time for an activity. We have to leave at 5:15 and we're not home until 6:45, which (when bedtime is at 7:00 is far too late for dinner.)

The other regular rhythm to our life is that after school the girls watch two (2) TV shows. I was pretty hardline on the TV thing for a long time, but an essay in that Alfie Kohn book convinced me that TV isn't inherently evil, and Delphine's getting to the age where TV is a significant part of her peer culture. And Blake and I watch and enjoy our TV shows - I try not to be too much of a hypocrite.

That's our routine these days. It's going to be like this until the end of the school year, and then next year life will be significantly easier because Cordelia will be in JK at the same school as Delphine. Hooray!

[Posted at 21:57 by Amy Brown] link
Thu, 15 Jan 2009
Book book book... b'gawk!

Village Life in England, 1860-1940: A Photographic Record by Johnathan Brown and Sadie B. Ward is a collection of early photographs of life in rural England. The book includes hundreds of pictures accompanied by descriptions, and divided into categories: school, work, domestic matters... It was just there on the shelf, it looked neat so I picked it up. Lots of interesting pictures, if you like this sort of thing, and the text taught me a lot about the fate of village life as more and more people moved to the cities: basically the villages became either bedroom communities, or theme parks for town folk looking to get away on the weekend. My favourite picture was the one of two village lads wearing their work clothes, with their sleeves too short, tiny pockets up high on their waistcoats, exactly like the hobbit costumes in Lord of the Rings. (I guess those costume people know what they're doing.)

You Know What They Say: The Truth About Popular Beliefs by Alfie Kohn. Debunking and Alfie Kohn, two of my favourite things together in the same book! Kohn takes on dozens of common misbeliefs and aphorisms: do birds of a feather flock together or do opposites attract? Is it never to late to learn, or can you not in fact teach an old dog new tricks? Are no two snowflakes alike?

The book is pretty old, which means on the one hand it hasn't worked because most people still believe the stuff he tries to clear up, and on the other hand a couple of the beliefs he discusses have been further researched and the latest research actually supports the belief. Specifically, there has been more research on whether being cold causes you to catch cold, and it seems that being cold, or at least having cold feet, can increase your susceptibility to cold viruses. That's the great thing about science, you never know what's gonna be true tomorrow.

A couple of the chapters I just didn't believe, like the one about PMS which scientists apparently don't (or didn't) have any evidence for. I'm pretty sure the misery I feel before my period comes is materially different from the misery I feel the rest of the month. It's the difference between soul crushing depression and, say, the disappointment I feel when they're out of sour cream glazed at Timmy's. It just feels different. Hopefully they've done some better research since the book was published, but I expect the pharma companies just decided to declare PMS an official disease so they could sell us crap to cure it.

That apart, I really enjoyed reading the book, because I love to get the story straight on everything, and also because I like Alfie Kohn so very much. He's smart, he's funny, he's a skeptic and a thinker and a humanist. I might even send him some fan mail, I like him so much.

Oh, and I think it's kind of funny that two of the popular beliefs were "Rewarding people makes them do better work" and "Competition builds character", both of which he then expanded into entire books of their own.

[Posted at 22:30 by Amy Brown] link
They're Insane

It's Thursday morning, which means no-one has to go anywhere until Delphine's school starts in the afternoon. This is good news because it's minus ninety-five outside and I don't want to go out, but it's bad news because the girls have to negotiate each others' company all morning.

This morning they were doing Arts and Crafts. Delphine is miffed because there's an Arts and Crafts afterschool program and I didn't sign her up for it, but fortunately she's pretty sensible so she deals with it by doing Arts and Crafts (you can hear the capitals when she says it) on the dining room table with Cordelia. This goes well for a while until Cordelia doesn't comply with some requirement of Delphine's and the yelling begins. Delphine is quite bossy: "You have to draw a face on this person or I won't make you another person!"

Cordelia is very stubborn: "I don't want to draw a face!" Except Cordelia's voice is very high and loud, and she isn't so good with consonants, so it's more like "I DON WAN DRA FAY!" Which is enough to get anyone's ire up, and Delphine has a short temper as it is, so Delphine crumples up whatever it was that needed a face and declares that she doesn't want to play any more.

I point out that if they don't want to play together they each have their own bedroom, so Delphine goes upstairs. Cordelia starts to follow her. "Don't follow me! I don't want you!" Delphine slams her door. Cordelia tries to open the door and then yells "I can't open the door!" Well, "I CAN' OPE' THDAH!"

I yell up "If Delphine has her door closed she can have some privacy!" and Cordelia starts up with her heart-rending sobs. When this kid cries she puts everything into it and you'd have to be made of granite to not feel bad. She collapses on Delphine's door. "I love you Delphine!", she wails.

And then the door opens. "I love you too, Cordelia." And they hug, and now they're making worlds out of buttons and Lego and cotton balls.

Friends, enemies, friends, enemies. I think the only thing harder than parenting sisters is being one.

[Posted at 10:03 by Amy Brown] link
Wed, 14 Jan 2009
The Ac Is Back

About six years ago I received in the mail a small tub of NeoStrata AHA cream with 10% glycolic acid. It was sent to me by a friend who had tried it to cure her acne with no success. To my surprise, shortly after I started using it, my skin cleared up. The clogged pores that made my forehead into a shiny billboard of braille nonsense disappeared, along with the pimples which had been with me since high school. I never had terrible acne, but I always had one or two or three pimples on the go at a time, and I always made it worse by picking. Pick pick pick.

But once I started using the new cream, for the first time in my adult life I had clear, smooth almost-alabaster skin. It's a small thing and I feel like I shouldn't be so vain about it, but it was nice to walk around and not be self-conscious about my skin. Before the acne went away I thought I would feel prettier if I didn't have these spots, and as it turns out, I was right. I felt prettier and more confident.

So every time I ran out of the glycolic acid cream I went for a few days without it, just to make sure that I wasn't wasting my money, and sure enough within a couple of days the clogged pores would pop up on my forehead, a sure harbinger, I thought, of the pimples to come. So off to the store I would go to spend another $35 on the magic cream.

But now the pimples are back, just like before. I have a scar on my chin where I picked one last week, I have a scab on my forehead and another at my hairline, and I have a new pimple brewing on the other side of my chin. Exactly the same as before: same kind of pimples, same places. My skin is doing the time warp. I actually wore makeup the other day. I never wear makeup!

So what changed, I asked myself. I am using exactly the same beauty routine as I was three months ago: plain soap and the glycolic acid stuff. What changed?

Then I realized: Cordelia stopped nursing. Yeah. I started using the glycolic acid cream when I was a few months pregnant. Then I had Delphine, then I nursed her, then I got pregnant with Cordelia (without giving up nursing), had her and nursed her, until a couple of months ago. And then the acne came back. But not the clogged pores! Apparently the cream cured them but wasn't actually having an effect on the acne.

It's almost funny (haw haw) how much time and money and grief I spent between the ages of thirteen and twenty-seven, trying to get rid of these pimples. All I needed to do was get knocked up! Ha!

So next time I go see the doctor I will ask her about trying one of those birth control pills which cure acne as a "side effect". Since pregnancy cured it, perhaps something which feigns pregnancy will have the same effect! We'll see. In the meantime I will try and stop picking.

[Posted at 16:11 by Amy Brown] link
Tue, 13 Jan 2009
Okay, this is cool.

I found myself downtown today, with nothing really to do between 3:30 and 6:30. I suppose I could have headed over to U of T, but it seemed like sort of a long way to go just to connect to the internet and come all the way back again. So instead of making the trek, or wasting two tokens, I took advantage of the 2 hours of free WiFi that comes with my Starbucks card, and stayed near Yonge, drinking green tea with a little honey, and investigating a few bugs for work. After it runs out (in another 31 minutes), I think I'm going to pack up, and walk north to my next appointment, grabbing some dinner on the way. If I'm right, that should put me right where I need to be, right when I need to be there.

Ah, if only everything in my life could fall into place this easily. (The upgrade to Aquamacs 1.6 that I just did also worked out really well. Maybe today is just my day for doing stuff!)

[Posted at 16:49 by Blake Winton] link
More Atheism

So (obviously?) I've been thinking a lot about my beliefs (or lack thereof) lately. I came across this good quote today from Dale McGowan, the guy who wrote the book about raising children without religion:

Though I’m sure they exist, I have never yet met an atheist delusional enough to say he or she knows God does not exist. Atheism simply means “I don’t think God exists.” It is a statement of belief, based on the evidence as we see it, not one of certainty. But agnostic is too often misunderstood as a 50-50, “dunno, don’t care” position. That not really an agnostic, it’s an apatheist. I said that I am a teapot agnostic, then explained what that is.

Actually the whole post is really good. Anyway, I think I might lean towards apathetic agnosticism, except that I find this stuff quite interesting to think about. And I quite enjoy not believing in stuff, which isn't very apathetic of me.

[Posted at 14:35 by Amy Brown] link
Fri, 09 Jan 2009
Things on my mind.

I was chatting with a friend and former co-worker of mine today, and asked him why I was never a part of the group guiding where the company was going. (Okay, I actually asked why I was never a part of the management, but in retrospect that was the wrong question, for reasons detailed below. I should have asked the question I said above.) His answer basically boiled down to “You never wanted to be.” One of the things he mentioned was that when I traded salary for extra vacation days (something I was fairly proud of thinking of, since it makes me an easier sell to the CFO, and the two are pretty much equal, if you’re allowed to cash out unused vacation days), it indicated that my priorities lay more with my family than with the company, with the unspoken implication that that attitude isn’t one that will lead to a position of power within the company. That initial assumption led to a series of misunderstandings, and miscommunications, until I was effectively shut out of helping to guide the company.

I guess that’s fair enough, kinda, but it’s a shame that people think that having interests outside of the office means that I’m somehow less interested in the success of the company. Particularly since I didn’t take the vacation days, and was always intending on cashing them out. So, for my next job, I think I’m going to take that option off the table, since I didn’t use the vacation days anyways. (I had 27 days built up when I was laid off!)

I also asked him what I could do to get into management next time, but I’m not really sure that’s really where I want to be. I know a few people who have moved into management, and then found it hard to get a job when they were laid off. Along the same lines, I still believe I’m a far better architect and coder than manager, and so it’s sort of foolish for a company to hire me for my managerial skills when my coding skills are far superior. And I really really like programming. Really. With the spare time I had after I was laid off, I wrote code for an iPhone game. For fun I read up on programming languages I haven’t seen before, and solve Project Euler problems with them. But I don’t know if there’s a way to parlay my architecture and coding prowess into the ability to help guide a company, since that seems to be the exclusive province of people who manage other people. (Of course, my work on Basie last term also has me wondering if I’m actually a mediocre manager, or if I may be better at it than I always thought I was.)

I suppose there’s always one way to find out how good a manager/team lead I am, and I expect I’ll start moving that direction in my next job. I can always write code on evenings and weekends, right? Well, either way, it’s not something I’ll worry about until I get another job. And certainly not something I should be worrying about this late at night.

[Posted at 22:22 by Blake Winton] link
Thu, 08 Jan 2009
Three Books

Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden. This was my over-New Year's Day book. Joseph Boyden is kind of shiny here in Canada these days because he just won some award, I think for his next book. Okay, okay, I did some research: he won the Giller Prize (sorry, that's the Scotiabank Giller Prize) for Through Black Spruce.

This book is about two Ontario Cree who sign up to fight in WW I. Actually the book starts when one of the men returns, and it's told mostly in memories, the soldier's memories of war and his elderly aunt's memories of her life.

I would have to say this was a very good start to a year's reading. It's a good story, I learned a whole lot about World War I (which isn't saying much because I know next to nothing about World War I anyway) and got lots of insight into Cree culture, another embaraassingly large hole in my knowledge, considering I claim to be from Northern Saskatchewan, some of the time. The book is beautifully written. I'll have to check out Through Black Spruce too.

Ja, No, Man: Growing Up White in Apartheid-Era South Africa by Richard Poplak. Poplak was born in 1973 and lived in South Africa until he was sixteen, and ended up in Toronto. I was born in 1975 and lived in South Africa until I was seven, and ended up in Toronto. So I thought this book would be a cool read and might fill in some holes in my memory and my understanding of my childhood. The Globe and Mail loved this book, and I too love the book. It's hilarious and again, very educational (apparently there are no limits to my ignorance). Poplak crams in a lot of South African history among his droll tales of corporal punishment and weird racism. This book made me really thankful we got the hell out of dodge when we did. It also made me laugh out loud. (Dave, you should totally read this too.)

It's All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuff by Peter Walsh. I'm not sure exactly why I keep reading organizing books, because it's not like I'm drowning in clutter. I can have close friends and family over almost without notice, and visits from less-close friends only call for maybe half an hour of picking up and cleaning the bathroom. So it's not like I'm a giant household screw-up. But it's true that it wasn't always like this. Our apartment was pretty hideous, and it has taken me a long time to recognize how much ongoing effort it takes to keep a house clean and tidy.

The other thing is I like is to have less stuff, and to only have the right stuff, and that's what this book is really about. Rather than just dig in to all that stuff Walsh insists that first you think about what you want from your life, what your dream life really looks like. Then he gets you to think about what you want from your home, and then he gets you to break it down by room. For each room in your house Walsh asks you to make a list of desired functions in the room, and get rid of everything in the room which doesn't meet one of those functions. Once the room is clean, you designate a physical area for each function, and then put everything away in the appropriate area.

This is a good notion and something I might implement sometime, to some extent, but I think the best thing about the book is the yearly schedule of stuff to do to keep your place in line once you have sorted it out.

Two other nice things about this book: lots of anecdotes. I love anecdotes. Second Walsh has a bunch of neat tricks for figuring out whether you use stuff: turn all your hangers inside pointing out, and only turn them back when you wear the item outside of the house. At the end of the year, get rid of the clothes which are still pointing the wrong way. Or: masking tape all your Tupperware closed and only untape it when you use the Tupperware. After six months (preferably six months including Thanksgiving and Christmas) get rid of all the Tupperware that is still sealed shut. Or, move all your kitchen gadgets and utensils to a cardboard box and only put them away in a drawer when you use them. If you don't use them in four weeks, toss them. I don't agree with that time-scale; I have useful kitchen tools that I use less often than four-weekly, but then I think I'm more of a cook than his target audience, who apparently can't find their kitchen counters under junk mail and clothes that don't fit.

Anyway, this is a good book; I enjoyed reading it and it's helpful too. I'm slightly embarrassed that I have so much to say about this rather unsophisticated book and apparently no more than a paragraph or two to say about the real books I read. I'm tired! And I have rather more hands-on experience with domestic organization than I do with apartheid or Cree culture or WW I. Not much excuse, I know. Maybe I need to work on being smarter. Some more.

[Posted at 22:27 by Amy Brown] link
Sun, 04 Jan 2009
Christmas Retrospective, 2008

First off let me say I got one of my wishes: a computer of my own! To be sure, it's an ancient Toshiba laptop with no mouse, running XP, but beggars can't be choosers. It's a computer, and it's so gnarly no-one else will want to use it!

Today is the last day of Christmas holidays. At the beginning of the two weeks off school, Delphine was pretty miserable. She likes school better than home, probably because school notably lacks an annoying little sister. Also school is thick with structure and full of activities: she never has to wonder what to do next at school. So she and I both were a little nervous at the start of the holiday.

The first weekend we attended the annual Party Across The Street, the party the whole block goes to. All twelve houses worth! Delphine was feeling sick, though, so she only stayed for a little while. Sunday she was feeling better and good thing too, because it was the first day of Hanukkah and we had my friend Kat over for latkes and cabbage soup and some Doctor Whos. We scared the crap out of her with Blink and that one with the gas mask kid.

On Monday Delphine and I left Blake and Cordelia behind and went downtown to do some Christmas shopping. Delphine has only been downtown a few times, not counting swimming lessons on Bloor and Riverdale Farm, so it is still a big adventure for her. We went to the Eaton Centre, shopped in vain for a winter jacket for Zaida, got some presents for Daddy and had sushi and ice cream. Delphine ooh-ed and aah-ed at the Swarovski crystal Christmas tree, and at the fountain. I told her the secret to finding a nice clean, empty bathroom when the mall is busy (go to the top floor of one of the department stores), and we bought me some underwear. Yay!

On Tuesday we went tobogganing with friends, which is to say we all went to the park and then I peeled off to do some errands. I meant to be back in time to toboggan, but by the time I was finished shopping everyone had retreated to our friends' place for lunch. (It was the book store, the book store always takes longer than you think.) Then Delphine stayed at said friend's house for the rest of the afternoon for some getting-away-from-little-sister time.

The next day was Christmas Eve. Due to in-law difficulties (not with my in-laws, though) we had decided to have Christmas Dinner on Christmas Eve, at Baba and Zaida's house. (I know, there's just something weird about Christmas Dinners at Baba and Zaida's house. We're a modern family.) However, I'm obviously the big Christmas maven (heh) around here and Christmas Dinner is my baby, so I sent over three giant bags of food and equipment in Zaida's car in the morning, then drove myself and the girls crazy cleaning our house while Blake worked. It was a pretty rotten morning but it was the only time this whole Christmas season when I got stressed and overwhelmed, which is a big improvement over last year when pretty much all of December sucked. After the house was clean enough I shoved the girls over to Baba and Zaida's in a very unseasonable rainstorm, and Baba took over childcare/napping while I cooked away. I did prime rib (part of our quarter cow), roast potatoes and Yorkshire puddings and gravy, and Baba did green beans. For afters we had Christmas pudding (I made five Christmas puddings this year! That might be too many!) with brandy butter and whipped cream, and some of the vast selection of cookies baked by Baba's friend Bob. Bob starts baking in September or October and bakes, like twenty different kinds of cookies and bars, and then disseminates his handywork to all his friends. Hooray for Bob!

After dinner we headed home and did all the Santa juju, with the cookies and port (no milk for Santa at our house, we do it English-style), and stockings hung on doorknobs (Delphine) and dining chairs (Cordelia. Don't ask me, it wasn't my idea) with care. Delphine declared she was going to stay up and wait for Santa, but Delphine couldn't stay up if there were a real live pony in it for her, and within ten minutes she was gone. Then I got down to the real hard Santa work and finally crawled into bed by ten thirty or so.

The nice thing about having children who wake up really early normally is that you're used to it, so when they wake up really early Christmas Day it's not such a shock. We had coached the girls that they should open their stockings before waking us up, so we got to sleep until 7. Christmas Day unfolded as it should, with some stocking opening, a light breakfast, opening some presents. The whole family and a friend came over for brunch, catered by Morgan and Erik, and there was ample sitting around talking and eating more cookies and the traditional Terry's chocolate orange and giant Toblerone bar. Finally everyone left, and there was more present opening. Delphine declared herself to have received too many books and activity books (and to be sure, she did receive plenty of both) but I think she ended up pretty happy. Her favourite thing was a sewing kit I put together out of some sheets of felt from the dollar store, some fine yarn, actual grown-up needles and actual grown-up scissors. Actual grown-up stuff is a huge deal when you're five. I think Cordelia's favourite thing was the baby doll she got from Baba and Zaida (technically a Hanukkah gift).

Boxing Day was officially my day off: the house was clean, the fridge was full of leftovers, and everyone was amused with their new toys and books and activity books. I had nothing to do! So I read my Christmas book (that collection of short stories) in the morning and in the afternoon Tanya and her brood came over and we ate more and compared schwag.

The next day we had Cordelia's friend Henry over for a playdate and lunch. Henry was a little sick and had a minor meltdown and he and his Mom had to leave without really enjoying their lunch, but the kids did get to play a little bit. Morgan came over for lunch too, and we gave her her birthday present. Later we had more latkes with Kat and Baba and Zaida. After the kids went to bed Kat and Blake and I watched Juno, and I made Kat cry. Christmas is hard.

Sunday no-one came over and we didn't do anything. Delphine was happy; I told her on Saturday the Baba and Zaida were coming over and she said "I don't want any more company!" She has very specific needs, that one.

Monday my friend Ellen and her million children (actually three but two of them are louder or more rambunctious than average) came over. I love Ellen. We always have fun when she and her kids come over, but after this visit we decided that we should try and get Dexter and Delphine together sometime without younger siblings so they can play properly.

Tuesday we all went out together up Mount Pleasant to the drugstore and the library and the toystore. Delphine spent her Christmas money, all five dollars of it, on a pocket sized one of those little magnetic drawing pads. She said "it's just like Daddy's little computer!"

Wednesday, New Year's Eve, we all slept in until 8. Normally that would be great, but I had hoped to head down to the AGO early. I always like to get places early because usually they're less busy, and so that we can get home in plenty of time for Cordelia's nap. In reality we didn't get downtown until 11:00. However, an hour at the art gallery is really all Cordelia's good for. Delphine is at an awesome age for the art gallery - she is becoming interested in how to draw things "well", and we can talk about what colours the artist uses, whether pictures are pretty or not, whether we like them or not. With Cordelia it's more, "Don't touch that, Cordelia. Please don't run, Cordelia. Could you be more quiet, Cordelia?" We went for lunch at the food court I used to go to when I worked downtown, and I had a number 4 at New Thai Food: cashew chicken with sticky rice and papaya salad.

Blake and I stayed up late on New Year's Eve, but it was pretty lame. We ended up watching George Strombouloupoulos's interview with Sarah Palin because there was so nothing on, and that's ten minutes of my life I'd love to have back.

New Year's Day Delphine had a friend over, and the next day we went skating! I hadn't been skating since I was a kid, and Delphine and Cordelia have never skated before. Before we went skating we went to the local skate shop and spent $200 on skates, mainly for me. I got some of these new comfort skates. Comfort skates! They're purple! Skating was very much fun; I was surprised by how quickly I picked it back up again. I wasn't up to speed by any means, but I figured out how to go forwards, how to go backwards, and how to stop. Delphine got pretty good too, in an hour or so. She isn't quite skating properly but she can keep her balance. Even Cordelia did quite well, although when you're that short and enshrouded in a snowsuit it's hardly catastrophic when you fall over. Kind of fun, actually.

That brings us to yesterday and today, which was a fairly regular weekend. I had taken the tree and decorations down on Thursday and Friday, so the house is all back to normal and tomorrow is just an ordinary Monday: Cordelia is back to school, Delphine is back to school, I expect Blake will dig back into work again and I will be back to my usual, busy, slightly lonely and boring life. Hmph, there's got to be something to look forward to. There's choir. I have a book club meeting on Friday. Music class starts on Saturday. At some point in the future it will get warm again. I guess it's not so bad. I think I just have the Sunday blues.

But it was an awesome holiday! I love Christmas.

[Posted at 22:30 by Amy Brown] link
Sat, 03 Jan 2009

Here is the last pile of books I read in 2008. Since it's now 2009 I can be reasonably sure I won't add anything to this list.


Restoration Home by Mark Bailey, Sally Bailey, and Debi Treloar is an interesting decor porn book with a salvage bent. These people take shabby chic way beyond rumpled slipcovers and distressed coffee tables. They like chipped paint and missing patches of plaster. I liked the ideas about using industrial light fixtures and other fittings, and about reusing found objects. I also like the aesthetic of not having everything perfect and flawless. Some of the examples in this book go a little too far for my taste, though, into that crack-house look. To each their own.

(parts of) Character is Destiny by John McCain and Mark Selter This is a collection, written for a young adult audience, of short biographies of various historical figures chosen by the authors to exemplify various character traits and support their theory that "character is everything". I picked it up partly because I had (previously) quite liked and respected John McCain, and because there's a chapter on Roméo Dallaire, who I love. I also ended up reading the chapters on Elizabeth I, Winston Churchill, Sojourner Truth, and a couple others I forget now. I learned a lot about the people, which was the main point.

This book made me wonder what happened to John McCain that made him stray so far, during the 2008 campaign, from the decent person he used to be. I'm sure he's still decent, but something made him act all crazy. This probably ties into the fact that character is indeed not everything and that how people behave is actually very strongly affected by the situation they are in (see The Lucifer Effect.)

Non-fiction books that are pretty good but that I don't have a lot to say about

  • Why Women Should Rule the World by DeeDee Myers
  • David Suzuki's Green Guide
  • Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt
  • Mindfulness by Ellen Langer


The Road by Cormac McCarthy was one of the best fiction books I read this year, but in the same gruelling "I just want this to end" way as A Thousand Splendid Suns. I don't know what the connection is between gruelling and really good, but if I ever come up with a happy and uplifting book which is really good I will be sure to post about it. This book hit a few of my hot buttons: post-apocalyptic, small child, Viggo Mortenson (okay, he's not in the book but I knew they cast him for the movie version so that's what the protagonist looked like in my head).

Children of Men by P.D. James was really good. I didn't know P.D. James did speculative fiction. This is another book I read instead of seeing the movie.

What I Was by Meg Rosoff was a pretty decent young adult book about a boy who is sent to a miserable boarding school in Norwich (can there be any other kind?) and meets a wild boy who lives on the beach. They fall for each other and hang out, there is some tragedy and a surprise ending. Nice book.

The Landing by John Ibbitson is yet another young adult book, about a boy living in Muskoka in the twenties. He plays violin but when you're poor in rural Canada you're not going to get very far with that kind of artsy nonsense. Then he meets a woman who introduces him to classical music and encourages him to pursue his playing. Tragedy, rebirth, blah blah blah. Actually a really good book.

Only You Can Save Mankind by Terry Pratchett; I mentioned this earlier — I read it as a companion to Ender's Game and like I said earlier, while I don't have as much meaty substance as the other book it is funnier and equally well-written.

Home for Christmas and other stories by Scott Young is a collection of short stories, the old-fashioned kind with a beginning, middle and end which don't involve lots of weird allusions or great revelations or moments of truth. The kind of short stories that I and Michael Chabon like. They're all about Christmas, too.

The Other Boleyn Girl by Phillipa Gregory is our next book club book, and while it's not great literature it was a good read, quite educational (assuming the historical detail is accurate; I always wonder about that with historical fiction) and will provide lots of things for us to talk about.


Schuyler's Monster by Rob Rummel-Hudson. Well, the cover of the book says "Robert Rummel-Hudson" but I've been reading Rob's journal since Schuyler was just a baby, and he's always been Rob. It was cool to read Schuyler's story in book form, and I liked that Rob kept his smart-assy voice in the book. I've always enjoyed Rob's writing and I find it very hard to be impartial about the book because I already liked it before I even read it. I'm looking forward to reading something of Rob's that I haven't read before.

The Alchemy of Loss by Abigail Carter is a memoir by a woman who lost her husband in the 9/11 attacks. It's about her grieving process and how she dealt with taking care of her two little kids, her family and husband's family, and with her loss being part of a much bigger loss. I picked this book up because I have a fear of losing Blake, sparked in fact by 9/11, and I wanted to read about how someone else had grieved and then gone on with her life. This book is beautifully written, very honest, and hopeful.

Parenting and Child Development

The Unschooled Mind by Howard Gardner is about how kids learn about the world, and how educators really need to take into account children's existing models of the world when teaching them new things. Apparently often what happens is that kids learn two models of the world, the "real" one and the "school" one. The "real" model is the model they kluged together through their observations back when they were little kids, and the "school" model is techncially correct but because they were never shown (not told) the errors of their real-world model they only learn the school model by rote and never understand it well enough to take it out into the real world. So teachers have to know how to delicately dismantle children's models — or rather help the children do it — in order to make room for the new, subtler models. Very interesting, although Gardner is pretty dry. More anecdotes please!

The Homework Myth by Alfie Kohn. I love Alfie Kohn. He's just so convincing. In this book he convinced me that most homework is a useless waste of time, which I'm sure will go over really well with my kids' teachers. Whatever, I'm not going to squander my kids' precious free time doing busywork. If the teachers can come up with valuable interesting homework we'll do it.

Of course Delphine will do her homework anyway because she will be too scared of getting in trouble not to do it. Maybe Cordelia will come onboard with my homework rebellion, though.

How to Talk so Kids Will Listen And Listen so Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlich. Everyone has said everything there is to be said about this book. If you deal with kids and you haven't read it yet you'd better get on it.

What to Look For In A Classroom and other essays by Alfie Kohn. More Kohn cleverness. He's an interesting and intelligent man. This book covers diverse topics in education, from standardized testing to the subtle racism of middle-class mothers. (Don't get me started on that one.) Great book.

Oh my, I think I'm done book blogging for 2008. Better start book blogging for 2009!

[Posted at 21:42 by Amy Brown] link