Blog-o! Notes from

Mon, 31 Jan 2011
7 Reasons Today Sucks
  1. sinus infection
  2. Delphine fell downstairs
  3. I left the bacon my friend gave me unrefrigerated overnight
  4. minus 27°C with windchill
  5. both my children hate school and don't want to go
  6. I don't blame them (actually I'm glad they have the wit to realize what a scam school is.)
  7. all my usual boring existential angst

And two reasons today is okay:

  1. My children are creative and clever and interesting.
  2. The sun is shining.
[Posted at 08:17 by Amy Brown] link
Tue, 25 Jan 2011
The Things They Carried

The second book I read this year was the book for our first book club meeting. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien is a collection of stories about the Vietnam war, and coming home from the Vietnam war. (And trying to avoid going to the Vietnam war.) It's also about storytelling, cameraderie, belonging, and the slippery morality of war.

The book club had an interesting variety of reactions to this book. One of us said she couldn't relate to any of the characters in the book on account of them being men, but that she really enjoyed the writing. I thought the writing was compelling but I didn't really notice it. Which would normally be a good thing, but I feel like I should notice writing, pay attention to it, so I can improve my own writing. I guess that's what the second reading is for, but I'm too impatient to read anything twice. Something to work on.

Another book club member thought she didn't like it, but in retrospect realized that she liked that one part... and the other chapter... and that bit about... actually it was really sticking with her and that must be good. It's that kind of book — you may not enjoy reading it but it gives you lots of things to think about. I liked it — the characters were compelling, and I liked the ideas and questions it raised, especially the question of the difference between a true story, and something that really happened.

[Posted at 22:09 by Amy Brown] link
Mon, 24 Jan 2011
Cucumbers Suck

Right now, in Toronto, where I am, it is cloudy and -10°C. Right now, in Honolulu, where Blake is, it is mostly sunny and 24°C.

I saw my friend Julia at the grocery store this morning. She wanted to know what was new, and I told her my husband was in Hawai'i all week. She was outraged on my behalf: "What are you going to get out of this," she wanted to know.

"I get to stay in Toronto and look after my children!"

Blake didn't ask to go to Hawai'i, he didn't pay to go to Hawai'i, he didn't even want to go to Hawai'i. (Julia expressed some scepticism on this last point, but I saw how mopey he was the day he left. He's crazy, but he'd really rather be home.)

That, however, doesn't change the fact that I would really like to be in Hawai'i. (In fact, it kind of makes it worse.) I'd like to be in a hotel in Hawai'i with new neighbourhoods to explore, new food to try, new beaches to walk on, and no horrible freezing weather to endure. I haven't been anywhere new since I was in Las Vegas in 2004, and I haven't been anywhere I really wanted to go since I was in New York in 2003. And I'm so sick of this cold.

I don't know the answer. There's no way for me to go somewhere interesting for free, and it wouldn't be "fair" for me to spend a bunch of money we don't have to go on holiday somewhere just because I would really like to. I'm certainly not owed a holiday.

They did a study on monkeys: you can get monkeys to do tricks if you reward them with bit of cucumber, which they like. However, if they see that you're rewarding other monkeys with grapes, which they love, they'll stop doing tricks. They know it's not fair that the other monkeys are getting grapes, even though their cucumbers are pretty good and were considered fair reward until they noticed the grapes.

Right now this monkey is not too happy with her cucumbers.

[Posted at 14:48 by Amy Brown] link
Sun, 16 Jan 2011
I Read A Book!

My first book of 2011 was Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture by Ellen Ruppel Shell. I read her The Hungry Gene, about the physiology of fatness (whoo!) a while ago and enjoyed it, so I was excited to hear that she had tackled a topic which weighs (Oh! No pun intended!) on my mind quite often: cheapness. My concern is mainly that most things are now too cheap to mend: clothes, electronics, furniture, if something breaks, rips, or wears out there's no chance you can get a North American to repair it for less than you can get someone in Asia to make a new one, even though it's not a particularly good one and you know it's going to break in 2 to 5 years anyway. As a result, our homes and landfills are full of flimsy, disappointing crap.

This book is about exactly that. Shell covers all the whys and wherefores of what make things so cheap these days: discount retailers, the history of sales, globalisation and sweatshops, and the erosion of quality in mainstream goods. The book is informative yet readable, and covers enough ground that I had a pretty thorough understanding of the big picture of cheapness when I'd finished reading it.

Shell did try pretty hard to get me to hate Ikea, and never managed it. Yes, some of the stuff they sell is shoddy (caveat emptor — some of it is just fine) and they have giant stores out in the suburbs which force people to drive out there (I manage to shop at Ikea without driving, and anyway I only go once a year so even if I did drive it wouldn't be a disaster). Also they make everything cheap by passing on the assembly work to you the customer (again, caveat emptor: you know what you're getting into. Plus you can hire dudes to assemble your Ikea furniture, at least in Toronto.) She turns her nose up at their attempts to make sure their wood is environmentally and ethically sourced, and I agree that they could probably stand to, oh, quadruple their forestry oversight department, but hey, at least they have one. Anyway, I'm sure it's just that I've been brainwashed by the overall adorableness of Ikea, but I just can't hate them as much as Shell clearly wants me to. But I do shop there are mindfully as I shop everywhere else.

Apart from our minor disagreement about the evilness of Ikea, Shell convinced and entertained me with this book. I look forward to her next one.

[Posted at 22:18 by Amy Brown] link
Sat, 15 Jan 2011
Sled Fight: Sibling Fight Resolved Daddy-Style

"I want it back!"

"It's my turn!"

Delphine and Cordelia had both decided that the orange sled was the only sled worth using. We were out with their friend Ursa (and Ursa's two sleds, the green one and the blue one). There had been a horrible misunderstanding when Cordelia lent Ursa the orange sled for JUST ONE TURN, but then Ursa gave it to Delphine instead of back to Cordelia. Delphine refused to relinquish it, but Cordelia insisted she must have it back.

When I stepped in they were in the screaming-tug-of-war stage of the fight — I separated them and took custody of the sled, and then we talked. We talked about Cordelia's preferred resolution ("I want the sled!") and Delphine's preferred resolution ("I want the sled!"), we talked about how much Cordelia was willing to compromise ("She can't use it!") and how much Delphine was willing to compromise ("She can't use it!") We talked about the possibility of taking turns ("No!") and using the other sleds ("I want the orange one!") We talked and talked but neither girl would compromise and I had run out of ideas.

Then Blake made an excellent point. Both girls were under the impression that the orange sled was the best, but how could they be so sure? We should definitely do some experiments to figure out which sled was the best, just in case it turns out they were fighting about the wrong sled! They must pit sled against sled in a rigorous and methodical series of distance trials. First the orange sled with Delphine versus the blue sled with Cordelia, then the blue sled with Delphine versus the orange sled with Cordelia, next the green sled...

By the third round of these trials the girls had forgotten they were fighting, and by the fifth they had forgotten what they were doing altogether and they were just having fun.

The moral of the story is, sometimes you can't reason with them (because no-one wants to be reasonable) but you can usually distract them — the more byzantine the distraction, the better. Daddies are especially good for that.

[Posted at 22:19 by Amy Brown] link
Sat, 01 Jan 2011

We took a day off from awesomeness on Tuesday, but on Wednesday we were back at it with a visit to the Science Centre. (We're members there, so the day only cost us about $45 for food and transit.) We saw an exhibit about the Aga Khan Ismaili Museum, which is under construction just up the road from the Science Centre, we saw a demonstration about fire and explosions, we visited the rainforest (Delphine's favourite) and that hallway with all the soundproofing that's really quiet and makes you feel like your head is full of cotton wool — that's my favourite. We also went through a terrific exhibit about mythical creatures and the real-life phenomena which might have inspired them. Did you know there used to be a giant prehistoric ape in China? Delphine's favourite part of that exhibit was a poster about a boy who loves Pokémon. That seems like a weird thing to have in a show about mythical creatures, but I think their points were that some Pokémon monsters are inspired by mythical creatures, and that Pokémon are kind of their own mythology.

On Thursday we went down to the ROM, where we also have a membership. We saw the special exhibit on the Terracotta Warriors, which was nicely done. I'm sure I would have learned something if the show hadn't been crowded with everyone else in Ontario who decided to put off visiting it until the last week. Even so, it was impressive and well-organized.

We accidentally saw an exhibit of art by an African artist who uses found objects to make beautiful flowing sculptures. (Accidentally because we took the elevator up to the upstairs (fancy) restaurant to see what was up there, and then came down the stairs which deposited us into the exhibit.) The girls weren't really interested, except they thought it was neat that the sculptures were made of bottle caps and things. From there we stopped into the Textiles area, which I think is fascinating but the girls were bored by. Some of the little clothes held their interest for a while, especially the little yellow boy's dress. But there weren't any garments in their sizes: everything on display was either toddler size or adult size. I pointed out that Delphine was almost big enough to wear the adult dresses — people really were tiny back then.

We also spent our usual time in the Bat Cave, and in the hands-on kids' area. (My favourite thing is the super microscope hooked up to a TV — I like to use it to magnify my flaking, cracked cuticles and gross myself and the girls out.)

We had lunch at the ROM, in the basement cafe, and as usual it was cheap and delicious. We got a pizza, a burger, chili, poutine, and a smoked pork burrito, plus a brownie and a nanaimo bar, for $32. I would go there for lunch all the time if I worked nearby; they have more grown-up food than pizza and burgers, and it's all locally sourced and freshly made.

Thursday night we had our neighbours over for a drink — I had invited them to our Christmas Carol Jam but they were too sick, so this was their make-up drink. We chatted about New Year's Eve plans, and they said they were having some people for dinner and to play a karaoke game on their Nintendo. When I expressed my unholy love for karaoke they invited me over, so that's how I ended up going to my neighbours' at 12:10 am on January 1st (leaving Blake at home with the girls because he's so not into karaoke). They and their friends were friendly and welcoming, and I had a terrific time. I might have kicked some karaoke ass, too, even though the game is weird and picks the songs for you. I was out until 3:30, which is unheard of, and didn't fall asleep until 4:00. I might have been a teeny bit drunk, too. Not as drunk as my neighbours, though; it was like a university party!

Today, thankfully, was an easy day. In between catching up on sleep I did laundry and moved things around. Tomorrow we'll move things around some more, and go skating, and then out for Sunday Family Dinner, and then they holiday is over and everything goes back to normal. I'm not quite ready for this holiday to be over, but I'm excited about 2011 and the new things it will bring. Happy New Year!

[Posted at 23:07 by Amy Brown] link