Blog-o! Notes from

Sun, 30 Aug 2009
Summer's End

It's only August 30 but it was cold today—it didn't even break 20 degrees. Between that and the impendingness of back-to-school, I'm feeling that Fall urge to do something new and interesting. Where is my new backpack, my textbooks and paper, my list of classes with unfamiliar room numbers, my anticipation of learning something and meeting new people? Oh, that's right, overwhelmed by my children's lives. Which is fine, for a while. Cordelia, at least, has a new backpack. Delphine doesn't have any new school supplies because the school, curse them, provides everything she needs. Don't they know how much I love to buy school supplies? Although I did buy myself two pairs of pants and three pairs of shoes on sale at Lands' End!

I applied to take a Toronto Civics course offered by the City of Toronto, but I wasn't accepted. They were trying to achieve a high level of diversity in the participants, and I guess someone had already filled the straight white female spot. Boo. Sometime, not this term, I would like to take a writing course somewhere (if they turn out to be worthwhile), but this fall my only New and Exciting things will be Momming a Grade One-er and a Kindergartener, and midwifing my writing career. Which, come to think of it, is fairly huge, although entirely self-directed and so less fun than taking a class.

The girls and I had plenty of fun last week. On Wednesday we went to Centreville, an amusement park on Toronto's Centre Island. Delphine was petrified by the Bee Ride, and chose a stationary horse (not an up-and-down one) on the carousel. Cordelia loved everything and went on the (baby, but still scary!) roller coaster with me. Delphine's favourite thing was the pony ride, although she lined up for it for about twenty-five minutes and I swear the ride was only a minute and a half long. Lucky for me, I didn't line up with her—the heroic Kat did, while fending off a gaggle of badly raised little hooligans who were trying to cut ahead. Kat also took the girls on the Annoying Swan Ride, so I owe her big time.

Thursday we stayed in the neighbourhood; we went into the school to meet Cordelia's new teacher. I love her already—I'm so pleased she opened her classroom to us a few days before the start of school, because Cordelia has gone from being scared of going to school to being thrilled by the idea. It took Cordelia about thirty seconds to feel at home in her new classroom, and to make friends with her new teacher.

On Friday I took the girls, plus Ursa, to see the IMAX movie Under The Sea at the Science Centre. We were only going to stay for a while but we ended up spending the entire day there (and freaking out Ursa's parents). We visited a special exhibit on reptiles, and a special exhibit on spies (Delphine's favourite), and spent some time in the little kids' area. We capped it all off with the obligatory visit to the rainforest, and were home by five.

It was a genuine pleasure to spend the day at the Science Centre with the girls. Now that they're older, for one thing, and I've decided not to worry about them so much for another, I really enjoy being with them, and watching them enjoy themselves. Delphine and Ursa seemed to get a lot more value out of the Science Centre together than they do when they're alone—being able to talk over the exhibits and play off each other while they experimented really added meaning and depth to their experience. It was a real-life demonstration of the power of collaborative learning.

Next week we have more fun in store: tomorrow a friend is coming over with her brood to enjoy a belated birthday KFC feast; Tuesday I am looking after Ursa and her little brother Otis all day while their folks move—we will probably go to the library; Wednesday we have a playdate with Delphine's BFF. Delphine's BFF has a little sister for Cordelia to play with, and a mother for me to chat with, so it's a whole family playdate. Those are the best. Thursday Blake is taking the afternoon off and we are going to take High Tea at the Royal York, just because. And Friday the girls have their back-to-school haircuts at the Fiorio Academy.

Oh, and we're having a no-TV week. The girls have been watching way too much TV, so we cut them off for the week. Out of some misguided notion of fairness, Blake and I aren't watching TV all week either. I expect to do plenty of blogging, reading, and sleeping. Hm, that doesn't sound so bad.

[Posted at 21:36 by Amy Brown] link
Mon, 24 Aug 2009

Here's how I feel: I'm nervous. I'm embarrassed. I'm insecure. I'm excited.

Here's why: I'm going to be a writer.

I feel so stupid typing that. I was tempted to say, "I'm going to start a writing career", or "I'm going to try writing for money", but those are just mealy-mouthed ways of saying, "I'm going to be a writer." Why not go for the gusto?

I'm nervous because what if it doesn't work out? What if it turns out no-one wants to pay me to write? (Answer: I'll just keep trying. Sooner or later somebody will pay me to write something.)

I'm embarrassed because it seems so presumptuous to be all, "I'm going to be a writer!" because what makes me so special? Then mad at myself for not thinking I'm special enough to be a writer. (As if being a writer is some kind of impossibly cool and unlikely job, like being a rock star. I have this idea that if a job is cool enough for me to want to do it, automatically I am not cool enough to do said job. Before now I've only ever seriously considered jobs that I secretly think are kind of lame. Or at least very safe.)

Insecure, obviously. Very. The little voices in my head which tell me I can't do stuff are having a field day with this one.

And excited, too, when I manage to squeeze it in amongst all that other nonsense.

I'm not sure when I'm going to fit Being A Writer in amongst all the other stuff, but the plus side is I can do it without having to add much: I have a computer, an Internet connection, a phone and a roof. I also have two hours every day. At some point I would like to add a computer of my very own (rather than the shared family computer) and maybe a writing course or two, but Blake looks askance at spending any money on this endeavour before I've "proven" that I can earn money at it. (Which I take, of course, to be a vote of non-confidence, even though it's actually perfectly sensible.)

I'm going to kick it all off by working on three projects (yes, three): a non-fiction children's book or article, an article (subject TBD) in a parenting magazine (which one TBD), and an article on science and society in, again, some unspecified publication. I know, this all seems insanely vague, but this whole "let's be a writer!" thing is still insanely vague. I just decided to pick three things I would like to write, so I would have something concrete to work towards. My first tasks for all three pieces are basically: "research publishers" and "research topics". Once I have been working on those for a few weeks I will also start sending out feelers for business writing gigs, which I expect will be my bread and butter. I'm not so choosy about what I write, I just love the idea of getting paid for it.

So there. I said it. Out loud. My writing alter-ego is @arbrownwriter at Twitter and arbrownwriter at gmail. Drop me a line if you need me to write something for you!

[Posted at 21:41 by Amy Brown] link
Fri, 21 Aug 2009
Cordelia The Brave

Cordelia, as you know, has been having trouble saying goodbye to me when I drop her off at day camp this week. This morning, again, she cried at breakfast, saying she didn't want to go to camp, she wanted to stay with me. We agreed that I would read her a book at camp before I left her.

So indeed, we sat down and read a book together at camp. After the book was over, Cordelia looked at me and asked, "What now?" She was on the very edge of tears. I said, "Now we say goodbye and I go home and you have a nice day at camp." Well, I have never seen someone so small try so hard not to cry. She squeezed up her face and said "Okay mama" with a voice full of tears, but she didn't cry. She was so brave, it just about broke my heart, and it was all I could do not to cry myself.

The thing of it is, I know just how she feels. (I almost always know just how my children feel.) She loves me so much right now, and wants to be near me all the time, so it's almost a physical ache when she isn't (at least unless she's distracted by something else). So I will pick them up early tonight and we can all be together again.

[Posted at 09:20 by Amy Brown] link
Thu, 20 Aug 2009

It's been ages since I've posted, and I have so much to talk about I don't know where to start. I want to talk about what we've done, what we're planning, and how everyone is doing right now. Perhaps chronologically is the way to go.

When I last wrote it was mid-June. The girls were supposed to have swimming lessons for the first two weeks of summer vacation, and then Delphine was supposed to go to day camp at Riverdale Farm for a week, but both things were cancelled on account of the Toronto city workers' strike. We couldn't spend long, lazy days at the park because the bathrooms were closed (city workers' strike) and we couldn't take the ferry to the Island and go to Centreville (city workers' strike) so we tried to find fun other ways. The library remained open through the strike, and we could go to the park for a couple of hours at a time. We went to the ROM and the Science Centre, and Cordelia and Delphine played with friends and neighbours. Honestly, the three of us are pretty good at just kicking around together. Blake joined us for some fun—one of the perks of freelance work is that you can spend odd weekdays with your family and make up for it by working on the weekend.

One Friday in June, Delphine hosted a t-shirt party. She had received a "sticker club" chain letter, which I didn't let her participate in for various pedantic reasons. She was disappointed, but after a conversation with Blake she decided she would host a party where each guest brings a t-shirt (or two). At the end of the party, each guest gets to take home a different t-shirt. Some of the guests were perplexed, some were really into it, and one girl took home the same t-shirts she brought, but everyone had fun and they all went home happy.

The girls and I went on big Expedition to the lake one sunny Tuesday. We took the bus, then the subway, and then a very long streetcar ride all the way to Woodbine and beyond, to the beach at Kew Gardens. The girls spent a merry morning playing with pebbles and water, and befriended a little girl while I chatted with her dad. We were all getting along famously so we headed over to the playground together, then took a walk to an ice cream shop before heading home, grimy and exhausted, at about four in the afternoon. We ended up getting together with that same little girl and her dad the next week, but then they went back home to Calgary.

Just as the Toronto city workers' strike ended the girls and I headed out to visit my mum in Saskatchewan. We were there for two weeks, and had a grand time. The children love being at Granny's house, where there are lots of things to look at, and unlimited television and cookies. (Although even my mother was getting sick of kids' TV by the end of it.) Thanks to the indomitable Shirley, my Big River fixer, we went to a beach at Nesslin Lake, visited a cattle farm, and went fishing. Cordelia caught a fish and Delphine learned how to hold a fish up to have your picture taken with it. (You have to stick your thumb and finger into its eyeballs, which she did with aplomb. She is not squeamish and she's quite pragmatic about the fact that things have to die if you want to eat them.) I caught a few fish, too. I rather enjoy fishing. One day I'll have to try and fish around here.

I think my favourite thing in Big River, apart from the fishing, was walking in the woods at Nesslin. We went for a walk in a beautiful moist forest, rich with fungus and moss and berries. The forest floor was dense with life, and made me realize how sterile a traditional garden is, with its empty brown strips of soil between plants. I would like a garden with the ground alive with fungus and tiny vines and mosses.

We also got to visit a real straw bale house at Ness Creek, which seems to be some kind of hippie retreat (with wireless internet!)

As soon as we landed in Toronto, Andy met us at the airport to take Delphine and Cordelia to the cottage for a few days. (Blake and I weren't invited.) A fine time was had by all—the girls played on the beach for three days (getting nut-brown in the process) and ate corn on the cob for supper, while Blake and I played at being childless. We went for coffee, we went for lunch (it was supposed to be brunch but apparently no-one in our hard-working neighbourhood serves brunch during the week), we saw a movie, and Morgan treated me to a pedicure. I spent quite a lot of money on used books, as you've seen. I also bought a tube of lip gloss and some hair dye, which was more fun than perhaps it should have been. It's unspeakable luxury to be able to go to a store, be it a book store or a drug store, and spend as much time as you want browsing, considering, reading labels and jackets, without having to hurry up and pick someone up, or rush because the children are getting restless. Twenty minutes considering lip gloss! Can you imagine?

We had the girls back last Friday morning, and spent the weekend not doing much, to everyone's relief. This Monday brought more excitement with the start of day camp. It's not a fancy, themed camp, just a week at the child care centre where Cordelia went to nursery school. It's all day, though, which is the longest Cordelia has ever been in the care of someone outside the family. Delphine has been having a fantastic time—one of her best friends is also enrolled in the camp—but Cordelia continues to be very sticky. She's been a mummy's girl for at least six months now and this week has been especially pathetic. She cries at breakfast: "I wannoo stay wif you! I don' wannoo go to camp!" Then when I drop her off she won't let go of me. Once I extricate myself and leave the room she collects herself within a matter of seconds, apparently, so I'm not concerned for her long-term mental health. And I have to agree with her that six or seven hours is a long time to be away from your Mummy, especially later in the day when you start to get tired and grumpy and the organized activities peter out. Kindergarten will be much easier since it's only two and a half hours. That's barely enough time to miss me.

Tomorrow is the last day of day camp, and then we have two weeks of not-very-much before school starts. I'm not expected to buy school supplies for either girl, and they both have plenty of clothes, so we don't need to go shopping. We are scheduled for trips to the optometrist and the hair salon, and I want to go to Centreville, and see an IMAX movie at the Science Centre, before the end of summer. Between that and catching up with friends we haven't seen for ages, the next couple of weeks will be agreeably busy but not frantic.

[Posted at 22:01 by Amy Brown] link
Tue, 18 Aug 2009

Herewith find a list of all the books I bought with my birthday money. (I shopped at second-hand stores for the most part.)

  • Death's Daughter by Amber Benson
  • A Handful of Time by Kit Pearson
  • The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen
  • On Writing Well by William Zinsser
  • 12 Books That Changed the World by Melvyn Bragg
  • The Evolution of Useful Things by Henry Petroski
  • Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough and Michael Braungart
  • Heat by George Monbiot
  • Dead Men Do Tell Tales by William Maples and Michael Browning
  • The Drunkard's Walk by Leonard Mlodinow
  • A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
  • The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

...and two for Delphine:

  • That Scatterbrain Booky by Beatrice Thurman
  • Jacob Two-two Meets the Hooded Fang by Mordecai Richler

If you wait long enough I'll review them all, except for the last two.

[Posted at 21:33 by Amy Brown] link
Wed, 12 Aug 2009

Some shovelware for you—we are reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay in my book club this month. It was my pick, and so far two people have emailed me to say they couldn't finish it, so we'll see how it goes. Anyway, since it was my pick I was responsible for finding or getting discussion questions. Here are the questions I devised on my own. Discuss amongst yourselves:

  1. On page 286, George Deasey says that the boys' comics are "powerless" and "useless", but Joe Kavalier thinks to himself that he believes "in the power of [his] art". Do you believe in the power of popular culture to steer the course of public opinion or political events? Can you think of any current or recent art which affects politics?

  2. Several characters in Kavalier and Clay change their names as a means of reinventing themselves. Does it work? How does knowing the person's original name affect the way others relate to them? Have you ever changed your name? Did your identity also change?

  3. Do you read comics? Did you ever? (Did you ever try to write one?) Do you appreciate them more having read Kavalier and Clay?

  4. Several characters in Kavalier and Clay identify as both Jewish and as atheists. Discuss how their Judaism is manifested in the absence of belief in God. Do you practice the rituals of your ancestors and if so to what extent do you share their beliefs? Is it possible to be Christian without believing in God?

  5. When I was reading Kavalier and Clay I came across a few words I didn't know. Do you enjoy it when a writer uses unfamiliar words, or do you find it annoying, or pretentious? When you come across a new word do you look it up and try and learn it, or just carry on?

  6. The theme of escape recurs throughout the book: escape through changing one's name, escape through disguise, literal escape from bondage or from danger, and escape through literature. On page 575, Chabon writes: "...the usual charge leveled against comic books, that they offered merely an easy escape from reality, seemed to Joe actually to be a powerful argument on their behalf." Why is escapist entertainment frowned on by some? Do you agree? Do you use books or TV as an escape or reprieve from reality?

[Posted at 23:23 by Amy Brown] link
Mon, 03 Aug 2009
That can’t be good.

I don’t know what happened there, but it doesn't look quite right to me. WTF? Well, it’s fixed now, so I guess no harm, no foul, right?

[Posted at 12:42 by Blake Winton] link