Blog-o! Notes from latte.ca

Sun, 19 Jan 2014

I know. It’s a bit late. I meant to post this earlier, but then life…

(And I realized that the reason you post your New Year’s Resolutions as soon as you can is that it’s embarrassing to post them after you’ve already broken them.)

Here they are:

1. Increase my machine time at the gym from 20 minutes to 30 minutes.

My gym routine is almost literally the least I can do: twenty minutes on a machine, usually the elliptical, and then fifteen minutes or more of stretching. I’m really there for the stretching, because if I don’t do it regularly sooner or later my back goes into spasm.

But I figured another ten minutes can’t be too hard to come by, and a bit more cardio three or four times a week can’t be a bad idea.

2. Double-veg

Another simple one: whenever I have fruit or vegetables, have twice as much. I like fruit and vegetables, and it’s really only habit which stops me from eating more of them.

3. Write more.

This is your classic poorly-planned, doomed-to-fail resolution. There is no plan here, no list of steps, no schedule, just a vague intention to “write more”.

Nothing specific, not a novel or poems or a book on the history of quick breads, but more little things: more book reviews on Goodreads, more blog posts, more letters to family, more entries in my journal.

Needless to say, this one needs more work. I don’t want to give it up, though.

[Posted at 09:28 by Amy Brown] link
Sun, 17 Nov 2013

Early Thursday morning our sweet Thomas died. He was twenty-one years old.

For the last day or so he'd been wheezing a little bit, and at about three in the morning he was making so much noise with every breath that he woke us both. He was curled up on the foot of the bed, his head bobbing up and down and his abdomen sucking in with with the effort of every breath. There was a puddle of urine on the floor; he had been too weak to go down to the basement, but was still sweet and well-mannered enough to get off the bed to pee.

I realized he would have to go to the vet right away, and I was pretty sure this was it for him. Blake woke up the girls to say goodbye while I got dressed and called a cab.

The receptionist at the vet called the triage nurse who took Thomas into the back straight away. I was asked to wait in a examining room. After a few minutes the vet came out -- she was short, pretty, youngish, a little plump, with a pierced lip.

She said Thomas had fluid around his lungs --- pleural effusion. It might be caused by heart disease, a tumour, or it might be idiopathic --- caused by nothing in particular. Heart disease, after being confirmed by a cardiologist, could be treated (with an unpredictable degree of success) with medicine. A tumour could only be treated with surgery, and the only treatment for idiopathic pleural effusion would be to drain it, keep Thomas in the clinic for twelve hours, and see how long the fluid took to come back.

Surgery was out of the question, and I didn't see much point in putting Thomas on yet more medicine. Draining and waiting would be torture. I asked for a minute to talk to Blake on the phone, and we decided it was time.

The vet agreed that this was a sensible course of action, and the nurses brought Thomas into the little examining room and gave me a few minutes to say goodbye. They brought a tank of oxygen so he wouldn't have to work so hard to breathe, which was wonderful except it made him seem like his old self again; he was breathing so easily, I didn't know if we had made the right choice. It wasn't until he had his face away from the oxygen for a few minutes that he started to wheeze again and I remembered how miserable he'd been.

I gave him lots of scratches, and whispered to him what a good cat he was, what a handsome boy, how much we loved him and how much we would miss him. At first he lay there, but soon he half-stood and start to nose around the examining table. The vet had put in an IV line in his left foreleg, taped with blue tape, and he shook his leg in irritation. I kept wanting to say "It's okay, it will be off soon," but I couldn't. He gently head-butted me one, two, three times. He was never very affectionate, but the awkward head-butt was his quiet way of showing love.

Finally, after a lot of tears, the vet came in and talked a little bit about what would happen. She let me stroke Thomas as she injected the drugs. He didn't die as quickly as Mimi had -- she was gone before the syringe was half-empty, but Thomas took a little longer. Not much, though; within seconds his head came to rest chin-down on the table and he was still. His eyes were open but empty, like the eyes of an Egyptian statue. He was still beautiful.

The vet let me have another moment alone with him; I kissed him on the head and told him again that I loved him, then started to go out the door. I was about to close it behind me but changed my mind and went back in for one more stroke, one more kiss, one more look at my beautiful grey boy.

[Posted at 22:28 by Amy Brown] link
Sun, 04 Aug 2013

It's time for another birthday post. I'm not sure if I manage to write one every year, although I always feel I should. It seems as good an opportunity as any to catch up on everything, sitting here on my back deck on a cool summer day, enjoying the dappled shade of the silver maple.

I should be hanging a load of laundry that Blake washed.

I should be working. I think. Should I be working? It's Sunday, but then I don't work full time the rest of the week, so maybe Sunday is a good time to catch up? I worked a couple of hours today already, but there's still plenty to do, and if I don't do it today I will only have to do it tomorrow while facing an onrush of new work as everyone gets to the office.

So, I don't know if I should be working.

Time dismays me. This blog knows that, for one thing because I hardly ever post — I just don't have time — and for another because when I do post it's often about time. I have so much that I have to do, and so much that I'd like to do, and I don't know where to find the time.

This is what I do now:

I work. I have a regular job with an organization now (as opposed to a freelance publishing gig), although only part time. It's supposed to be two hours a day, but my boss keeps casually referring to it as half-time, which it really should be because I have so much to do. This summer, especially, I'm having a hard time keeping up. At least once a week I get a worried email from a workshop host or instructor asking if I've had a chance to put up that website or set up that registration page or process those receipts. Right now I have eleven emails which I have flagged to remind me that they're Urgent and should be Attended To With Haste. Then there are the other forty-four emails which can wait, although if I leave them long enough they may well become the other kind.

I parent. This means that I spend time with the girls, of course. It's summer and they have only been in one two-week day camp, so we've gone on a few adventures and worked on a big jigsaw puzzle. (Conclusion: "I don't really like jigsaw puzzles, Mummy.") They're still good fun, although they're having a fractious summer in each other's company. Neither of them seems to have the social skills to tolerate the other's foibles, or to de-escalate disagreements. Sibling rivalry is supposed to teach this kind of thing, but so far it doesn't seem to be working. Maybe they need to be older. But when they're not fighting they're good friends, and they love each other even if they wouldn't admit it.

The other side of parenting is management. I never realized how much management there is to being a modern parent — I don't think it came up in any of the books or magazine articles I read. Spending hours researching extra-curricular activities and school programs, filling in registration forms, buying clothes and equipment, organizing calendars, emailing babysitters, scheduling playdates — none of that was part of mothering as I understood it.

You may think: But you've been a mother for over ten years, why is this bothering you now? The thing is, the paperwork side of mothering only seems to grow as the children's needs and challenges become more complicated (and expensive). As the nitty-gritty side of diapers and snacks and bloody knees diminishes the administrative side inflates.

But I was relieved to come across a passage in Rumer Godden's Home is the Sailor about the children setting up the mother doll at a desk with piles of paper, where she would spend most of her days ordering things and organizing the children's lives. Even in 1964, apparently, mothers had lots of paperwork to do.


I also look after the house and the finances and the cat.

The house needs the usual upkeep (although I am supported in that by a biweekly house cleaner) as well as identification and resolution of various old-house problems. We're still dealing with the leaky bathroom situation; also a chunk fell off the outside dining room windowsill; also the paint is peeling on the window frames outside. There are problems with chattels, too: the dryer is broken, the couch is ready for the landfill, and the cushions for the deck furniture need new covers. It's true that the more you own, the more it costs, in time and money.


I also do things for myself, a little bit. I read, not as much as I'd like to. I go to the gym most mornings, which isn't fun per se, but it's the only time I let myself read New Scientist, so that part is fun. Also fun is how flexible and energetic and, I admit, smug I feel after the workout is over.

Lately I've been amusing myself with nail colour. My friend Karen D, who used to be into quilting, is now into nail polish, and her thoughtful posts and juicy pictures made me want to paint my nails too. It seems like a fairly harmless pleasure: it's not expensive, it doesn't take much time (okay, I do manicures while I'm working — I can type without smudging wet polish) and it gives me inordinate pleasure.

And I indulge myself with plenty of social time. I don't go on many organized outings with friends, apart from book club and the odd lunch, but I don't begrudge myself a nice chat when I bump into a friend on the street or at the start or end of a playdate. Apart from how good it makes me feel (I'm an extrovert), I know that having rich social connections is as healthy as working out.


I don't think I waste a lot of time. I have a somewhat, I think, precocious sense of my own mortality. It came upon me a couple of years ago when I realized that my to-be-read list was getting longer at a greater rate than I was reading books, leading to the obvious conclusion that I would die before I was done reading. (A slight digression: I don't understand people who "don't know what to read next". Do they not have hundreds of books waiting for them in lists or piles? Why don't they?) This awareness leads me to a somewhat panicked fear of wasting time. I've come to realize that some things which might seem like a waste of time, like walking places or hanging out with friends or just sitting thinking, are not a waste of time but rather essential to happiness and long life. But I'm constantly on guard against time misspent.

I'm somewhat heartened by the fact that life seems to go on for a long time. I'm often surprised to realize that people who were grown-up and doing things when I was a kid are still active and doing things now. The books of Judy Blume were already dated when I read them (Sanitary pads with belts? Wha?) but she's now active on Twitter and overseeing movie versions of her books. Hal Johnson and Joanne McLeod made my childhood miserable with their shame-inducing Body Break segments, and now they're on Amazing Race Canada, still fit and chipper as ever. (I suppose I can be thankful that Slim Goodbody isn't on Survivor.)

What I'm saying is, even though it may seem that being almost-forty and having done basically nothing useful with my life is an unrecoverable failure, the fact is I probably have at least another forty years ahead of me, and I don't have to waste twenty-two of this batch in growing up and going to school.

And now I'd better go hang that laundry while there's still enough daytime for it to dry in.

[Posted at 16:04 by Amy Brown] link
Sat, 29 Jun 2013

(Probably Not Actually Everything)

Boston

This week I went to Boston for a two-day work thing, which I will not discuss at length lest this gets linked as some kind of relevant post and too many work people start reading it, which I don't mind but makes me feel weird about posting boring crap about my kids and my hair. Anyway, yeah, Boston. I didn't get to do much interesting touristy stuff but I had fun and would visit again.

(I should point out that I wasn't ever in Boston, except when I was at the airport — I was in Cambridge.)

I got there on Sunday afternoon and right away went to BJ's with my infinitely patient Boston friends to get snacks for the boot camp. After we unloaded the snacks at the B&B we went for dinner at Cambridge Brewing Company, which my friends kept confusingly referring to as CBC. I had the cheese plate (cheeeeese) and I want to say a salad but I don't recognize any of the salads on the menu. It was tasty and satisfying. I also had the HefeWeizen (which I now realize I was pronouncing wrong, for shame, haven't I sung enough Bach?) which hit the spot.

We walked over to Toscanini's Ice Cream where I had Ovaltine, and Peanut Butter and Honey. Ovaltine ice cream is a wonderful and necessary thing. The Tosci's ice cream was good, but I have to say it's no better than the good ice cream places in Toronto. Sorry, I know that's kind of a jerky thing to say.

Then I said goodbye and many thanks to my friends, and oddly enough went back to CBC, where I met up with some boot camp instructors and helpers, and drank more beer (a Saisonniere, which I did pronounce properly).

I worked the next two days. On Monday night we had a catered dinner at the boot camp, so I didn't even eat out. (Catered dinner is good too! Such a treat to have someone turn up and make everything right, with wine!) Tuesday morning I had to go to a supermarket and buy another cartload of snacks because apparently people are way hungrier than I thought.

The boot camp ended on Tuesday afternoon and I went for a drink at Catalyst with a couple of instructors and helpers. The bathrooms were fancy! Then I went walking around Harvard with a new friend before a late dinner at The Kebab Factory (goat curry! gulab jamun!). We talked about the supposed advantages of name-brand universities, and national identity, and immigrant identity, and walkable neighbourhoods. It was one of those great conversations.

The B&B was fabulous — clean and beautiful, and the proprietors and staff were delightful company. If I ever go back to Cambridge I will definitely stay there.

First Day of Summer Vacation Didn't Go Well

Friday — yesterday — was the first day of summer vacation. Well, as a friend kindly pointed out, yesterday was technically a PA day, and Monday is a statutory holiday, so the first day of summer vacation is Tuesday. This is good because it gives me a chance to not foreshadow a terrible summer.

I woke up with a hideous headache and a mild but nagging nausea. Like a hangover without the fun. I took some ibuprofen and drank some tea, but it didn't get better so I gave up and went back to bed while the children did I-don't-know-what. When I woke up at 11:30 I felt mostly okay and what was left of the headache seemed vanquishable by drugs, so I took some and dragged the girls downtown to the office; I needed to talk to Greg about the boot camp and some other stuff.

The office was the best part of the day. We had lunch there and saw some people, and the girls got to play with Post-it notes and the white board.

As we left the office it started raining, and after we went to Winners for a failed attempt to buy socks for the girls everything was quite soggy. On the way into the subway at St Andrew I warned the girls to be very careful because the stairs were slippery. And then I fell down them.

You know the part in Lord of the Rings where Legolas slides down the stairs at Helm's Deep on a shield? It was like that, but instead of a shield, my butt. Apart from that it was the same, with the rain and the orcs. Or maybe those were commuters.

Somehow I righted myself at the bottom of the stairs, accepted sympathy from friendly orcs and limped on. No serious damage, I think, but some nasty bruises, and new pains every time I move. I seem to have done something clever with my left arm on my way down, although I'm not sure what. I was trying very hard to stop falling and apparently my left arm wanted to help. And failed.

The exciting news is that my back is not busted up. So far.

School

As pointed out above, school's out for summer. I guess we had a pretty good year. C's teacher was fantastic and just right for her: sweet and gentle but insistent and with high standards. C's reading has improved and so has her stick-to-it-iveness and focus, and most importantly she enjoyed school despite her moaning.

D's year was harder, although not catastrophic. Not even terrible. I've already blogged about the problems she had, and the good news is there's a change coming: she's been offered a place at a new gifted program. Well, kind of — she was offered an opportunity to express interest in being offered a place at the new gifted program, supposing that there are enough other kids expressing interest to make it worth starting up said program.

We were only given one evening to decide (though really we had had weeks to think about the idea of going to a gifted program, I didn't want to dwell on it too much until we had a more concrete offer, so we hadn't made a decision yet). D didn't know how to decide, so she sat on the kitchen garbage can with a sheet of paper and we listed the pros and cons of each decision while I made dinner. And finally, tearfully, she said she would go to the program so long as she could have two playdates with her best friend from her old school every week.

I'm pretty excited to be joining a new program. For some reason there has been a surge of applicants to the gifted program this year, and I'm hoping that that means that a) the new program will be mostly filled with new applicants, and b) the new applicants will have a better proportion of girls than the existing gifted population. That's kind of an optimistic assumption, because I have no idea why there have been so many applicants this year. I suppose it could be that there has been a surge in insufferable gifted boys and the teachers want to get rid of them all. Either way, it will be nice to be there for the first year of a new program — at the very least D won't be joining a crowd of kids who already know each other.

I'm a bit sad that she won't be able to walk to school and back with C next year, and that she won't be able to be in the school choir that I volunteer with. Okay, I'm very sad about that. But it didn't seem like enough reason to keep her from this opportunity.

I'm bad at wrapping up blog posts. The End.

[Posted at 23:43 by Amy Brown] link
Sat, 24 Nov 2012
Frog sculpture

Sydney's Playground is the new natural(ish) kindergarten playground at Maurice Cody Elementary school. It's named for one of our kindergarteners, who was killed in a traffic crash while we were in the process of planning the playground. (This post isn't about Sydney, but it seemed weird to write about the playground without mentioning her.)

This post is about the process of designing and building a natural playground in a TDSB school. When we embarked on the process of building a natural playground at Maurice Cody there was very little guidance on how to go about building a playground, so I am writing this in the hope that it will help someone else.

The caveat is that your mileage may vary: I am not sure how consistent the TDSB is in terms of policies and processes, and for all I know your experience will be completely different. Even if it is, I hope this post gives you some idea of what's possible and what's likely to happen. But first...

A Little About Natural Playgrounds

A natural playground is a playground built with natural elements instead of artificial play structures. They are desirable for various reasons:

  • Being in a natural environment has been shown to improve concentration and learning

  • Unstructured play elements are better for imaginative play in much the same way that plain Lego blocks are more demanding than Lego kits with funny shaped blocks and instructions

  • Natural elements like logs and rocks are theoretically less expensive than manufactured play structures

What The TDSB Will Do For You

Our school is one of the few in the TDSB that's growing, and a couple of years ago the school board built a second playground for the nine kindergarten classes. When I say "built" I mean they fenced off an area, built some stairs and put down some mulch. You may not realize this — I certainly didn't — but the TDSB is not in the playground-building business. Despite having your 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds in their care for six hours a day, and despite the massive importance of outside play and gross motor activity for early childhood development, the TDSB does not build playgrounds. They do landscaping, hence the fencing and mulch, but they don't do playgrounds.

That's up to you, the parents. You have to decide to build a playground, you have to guide and help manage the consultation and design process and you have to raise the money.

So there we were with the outline of a playground, and since I was eco-committee chair at the time I suggested we should take the opportunity to build a natural playground. The idea was greeted with various degrees of enthusiasm; I think mostly people were just glad someone was doing something about what the kids had named "the nothing playground".

I'm going through the years — literally — of emails on this topic and I think I had better give you the condensed version. (I sent my very first email about the natural playground in January 2010, and we finished the playground in August 2012.)

So here's the compressed, idealized process, with advice.

1. Get Your Ducks (And Your Dollars) In A Row

First you need to decide you're going to do it. You'll have to sell your parents, your administration and your teachers on a natural playground. (I didn't have any trouble with that up front, although there was some pushback later when people realized what a natural playground actually meant, and I had to explain the concepts over and over.)

Next you need to meet with your community — teachers, parents, staff — and talk about what you want from the playground. Both from a high-level, philosophical angle and also about the specifics of what you want: A slide? An outdoor classroom? A sand box? Make sure everyone has been included and that you all roughly agree on what you want. You have to do this before you come to the table with the TDSB playground designers.

This was one of the most frustrating parts for me, because I didn't feel we were in any position to make these decisions: we didn't have either a landscape architect or a playground designer on our team and we had no idea what was possible or desirable. But the TDSB wants you to have met, discussed and agreed before you come to them.

They also want you to have $10 000. Or at least, that's the sum we had to pony up to prove that we were serious about funding a playground.

Once you have expressed your interest in building a playground, there will be a meeting with the TDSB groundskeeping staff, the school administration, and representatives of parents and of teachers. This meeting tripped us up because the kindergarten staff just sent whichever random teacher was available, and that teacher hadn't been to any of our previous meetings. So she had no clue what the concept of a natural playground was and I spent half the meeting explaining it to her and telling her why we didn't actually want those bouncy spring toys or another playhouse. As a result we looked like we hadn't consulted at all, and we got a stern talking-to from the TDSB designer. She didn't want to hear from us again until we had consensus on what we wanted.

Don't make the same mistake. Make sure everyone involved understands what you want.

2. Get To Know Evergreen

You know Evergreen: they're the people behind the Brickworks, where you go for fresh organic produce (or waffles and French fries, if you're me) at their Farmer's Market, to fix your bike, and where your kids can look for turtles and make stuff in their natural playground, Chimney Court.

But Evergreen also works very closely with the TDSB to do schoolyard greening and playground development. I'm not sure exactly how their relationship works, but several people we worked with seemed to be employed by both Evergreen and the TDSB.

Evergreen is also a source of grants, through their Toyota Evergreen Learning Grounds School Ground Greening Grants, which is available to pay for plants and certain playground elements.

3. Be Flexible

Once you have furnished the $10 000 and convinced the TDSB you have some consensus on what you want, they will assign you a landscape architect (no, you don't get to decide who your landscape architect is) and you'll meet with them. By now I think a few schools have attempted to build natural playgrounds, so you shouldn't have to spend too much time explaining what you want and why. But when you're going through the design process, keep in mind what a "natural playground" means to your team, and be prepared to be flexible about what yours will include.

Rope climber

For example, a playground needs a climbing structure, to help develop balance and upper-body strength. Some natural climbing structures are, for example, really large rocks and trees. There is no way we could afford really large rocks, and trees freak out teachers. So we ended up looking for a manufactured climbing structure. At one point during our design meetings we had to choose between an abstract rope climbing structure and a "fort". Neither are natural, but we chose the rope structure because it satisfied our requirement of being abstract and, for want of a better phrase, narratively neutral. It can be a tent, a rocket, a tree... The fort might be a castle or a house but it's always a building — a manufactured simulacrum of a manufactured structure.

Even after we had been working with the concept of a natural playground for a long time, some members of the team didn't get it. At one point the quote for the playground came back much higher than we anticipated, and we had to look at cutting some elements. One of our team members was very put out that we would only have "two pieces of equipment" in the playground, meaning the slide and the climber. Those, of course, were the two manufactured elements. She was overlooking the retaining walls (a.k.a., balance beams, fortresses, tightropes), the log benches (a.k.a., balance beams, dragons, mountains, blast shields), the sand box, the rocks (a.k.a., icebergs, dinner tables, space ships, go-carts), and everything else that didn't come in a big box labelled "fun play equipment".

4. Think Long-Term

One important consideration was the expected lack of maintenance. Basically with a TDSB playground, it gets installed and that's it until it's time to take it down and put up something else. Of course the staff will repair things when they break, but you can't include a cool willow tunnel or anything that needs a lot of attention as it grows, and if you put in planter boxes you'd better be damn sure someone is committed to maintaining them. Bear in mind that even if the current community of parents is committed to maintaining the playground, the next generation may not be. You don't want to install something that's going to become a liability or an eyesore.

5. Try To Keep Your Patience

Working with the TDSB was frustrating at times. It's such a large, cumbersome organization that there doesn't seem to be good communication even within it, let alone with the rest of the world. Three examples of this:

  1. It's hard to figure out which playground equipment suppliers you can use. At one point we tried to get a list of TDSB-approved suppliers, and it seems there is no such list. But you can't purchase equipment from just anyone. What we ended up doing was giving pictures of stuff we liked to the landscape architect, and she sourced similar elements from providers she knew were approved.

  2. We had one really fantastic meeting toward the end of the design process. All the interested parties were there: designer, grounds staff, administration, parents, teachers, and Sydney's father. It was the meeting where we made all the final design decisions, including the specific elements and colours we wanted. We had two design principals: to keep the playground visually natural, and to incorporate pink, which was Sydney's favourite colour. We chose a pink slide and complemented it with a green frog sculpture. We also chose red for the climbing structure (because red is kind of like pink?), and tan for the rubbery safety surfacing around the slide and climber. Lovely, right?

    Red climber, red surface, clashy clashy

    Well, it turns out the TDSB only uses a brick red colour for the safety surfacing, at all their schools. We didn't find that out until they installed it. You can imagine how great brick red looks with a pink slide and red rope climber. If we had known that — if the TDSB staff who was at the meeting had known that — we would have made different choices for the colours.

    (Incidentally, when the frog arrived she wasn't green, she was grey. I don't know where the screw-up was: was she ordered wrong? Was she manufactured wrong?)

  3. I wanted logs. Logs are such an obvious element in a natural playground. But the TDSB Grounds Team Leader didn't like logs. He said they attract carpenter ants and wasps, they're a liability and no-one wants to pay to have them removed when they rot. I had visited a playground which was built 15 years ago and had no problems with their logs, but he was quite adamant that logs were not an option. We ended up looking at fake logs made out of cement.

    Logs, bark still on, not on gravel

    And then suddenly, after months of no logs, logs were an option. I'm not sure what changed, but at that same meeting when we decided on the colours, the Grounds Team leader said that he had a source for nice hardwood logs that wouldn't rot. He said they remove the bark from the logs, and if they install them on gravel so they're well-drained there's no concern about rotting. Great! Let's have logs! I was really happy about the logs.

    And then the logs were installed. As you can see, they do not have the bark stripped from them, and they are not installed on nice, well-drained gravel. I have no idea what went wrong there, but obviously the Grounds Team leader's specifications for logs were either not communicated, or not met. I'm not even sure if the logs were from the same provider he was thinking of.


So did we end up with a natural playground? Kind of half-and-half. The playground has lots of natural elements, including the trees which were already there, some new shrubs we planted, the problematic logs, rocks, wooden landscaping elements like retaining walls, stone seating, and a slide built into a natural slope in the playground. We also have some unnatural elements, like the surfacing, which is required around the slide according to safety regulations (even though the slide is at ground level!) and the climber. And we have the frog, which is kind of emblematic of nature and just really sweet.

Slide

Between the safety considerations, the limitations on providers, the lack of maintenance, and the lack of understanding of the concept of natural playgrounds, it would be very hard to have a truly natural playground in the TDSB. But if you communicate the concepts behind a natural playground clearly to your school community and convince them it's a good idea, you can get pretty close, and you can definitely install a playground which provides a rich, natural environment for your children to learn and grow in.

Please feel free to contact me if you want more information about building natural playgrounds or if you would like a tour of Sydney's Playground.


[Posted at 23:42 by Amy Brown] link
Sat, 11 Jun 2011

I cleaned my purse out today. It had been getting heavier and heavier, and I was quite curious as to what was in there.

Crap from my purse

Some highlights:

  • vast quantities of paper napkins (only some of which were used)
  • Chinese restaurant flyer
  • pirate eye patch
  • pirate map
  • plastic telescope
  • plastic shark
  • yoga studio brochure
  • Ontario Science Centre flyer
  • four lip glosses
  • Licemeister™ lice comb

I've been doing a lot of work-work lately, and not finding time for life maintainance. The state of my purse, before I cleaned it out, was much like the state of my wallet, and the state of my desk, and the state of my yard, and indeed the state of my house. When that much of your life is in disarray it makes you feel like a bit of a failure. I was really glad to get a chance to clean out my purse, and I hope I can get to some of that other stuff soon.

[Posted at 22:26 by Amy Brown] link
Sat, 25 Dec 2010

Christmas this year started a little earlier than usual with the screening of Tafelmusik's Sing-Along Messiah documentary in mid-November. They screened it at a theatre nearby, and I was invited because I'm friends with one of their marketing people. I invited Kat and Tanya as my plus-one, and we had a lovely evening out.

More Messiah ensued a couple of weeks later with my choir's performance thereof, which went fantastically well. We've done Messiah so many times I think people are actually starting to relax and enjoy singing it.

Our first Christmas party was at a friend of the family's. I'm sure he'd like to stop inviting us because we never talk to anyone we're not related to, and we eat like crazy, but we always enjoy ourselves.

Around mid-December I went to a free choir and organ concert at Roy Thomson Hall, with the Elmer Iseler Singers. Another good concert, and they had a couple of sing-along numbers. One of the sing-alongs was the Hallelujah chorus, but I was the only person in my area who sang along with any enthusiasm — it's a bit of a funny choice for a sing-along, really. I belted it out anyway.

That week was the last week of school, so we were invited to Cordelia's class party, and I went to the school Holiday Sing-Along assembly. Then on that weekend I went to a free concert at Yorkminster in aid of CHUM Christmas Wish — admission was free but they asked for a donation of a toy. It was a fantastic lineup: True North Brass, High Park Children's Choirs, Richard Margison and Isabel Bayrakdarian. For free! I went for Isabel Bayrakdarian (and the sing-along Christmas carols), but she gave a rather predictable performance of Oh Holy Night. Richard Margison sang some vaguely familiar Disney-esque duet with his pop-singing daughter Lauren, but then she left the stage and he treated us to a toe-curling rendition of Nessun Dorma. I admit I've never really been into opera, but this particular performance reached all the way up to the balcony and grabbed me. I couldn't stay for the whole concert, but I believe I was there for the best bit.

I had to leave early because we were on our way to a party at our old/new friends the Theysmeyers'. It was terrific to meet their neighbours but best was reconnecting with old friends from university, some who I hadn't seen since well before Delphine was born. Delphine and Cordelia had a great time as the senior kids at the party — the host's kid is four and everyone else was that age or younger, so my girls took charge.

Thursday night we had some people over to eat cookies and sing some more carols, and then Friday (Christmas Eve) we had nothing to do — the house was clean, the fridge was full of party food. (I actually got some work done.) Later in the day David Wolever came over for a quick visit and dropped off an Arduino for Blake and a clickety IBM Model M keyboard (with USB converter cable!) for me. So awesome! So we fed him cookies.

And today was Christmas. Delphine was sick last night and stumbled out of her room at 10 pm all miserable and damp and sore. I fed her some ibuprofen and tucked her back in, but not before she noticed her stocking was full. I feigned ignorance. Maybe Santa came in through the bathroom exhaust vent?

Delphine being sick meant that she didn't wake up at the crack of dawn to open her stocking, so at around 7:00 I and the girls went downstairs and the girls investigated their stockings while I experimented with making cinnamon buns with biscuit dough. (Hypothesis: yum! Result: hypothesis confirmed!) We ate, then everyone got dressed before we dug into the presents.

Blake was very happy with The Calculus Diaries by Jennifer Ouellette, a iPhone holder for working out with, and a Cybertool Swiss Army knife with about a billion tools which will be very useful when he's messing with his new Arduino.

I got a ceramic figurine of a little girl standing by a bucket — the bucket doubles as a candle holder — from Delphine, and an iHome alarm clock from Blake, as well as some chocolate, earrings and stationery (-ary?) from my cousin, who always buys me unambitious but excellent gifts.

The girls loved their Playmobil, Quadrilla marble run, books, playdough (for Cordelia) and colour-in-able purse (for Delphine). Delphine was pretty happy to spend the day convalescing on the couch and reading her new Magic Tree House books from Cordelia.

We had all the usual suspects for Christmas Dinner, as well as Auntie J'Anne and a co-worker of Morgan's who needed a loaner family for Christmas. She fit right in. Our very special guest this year was baby Charlie, who was celebrating (but not really enjoying) his first Christmas.

Dinner was pretty good. I did two roasts (I have to ask them to leave the prime rib in one piece the next time we order cow), roasted potatoes, and Yorkshire puddings, and Morgan brought salad. (Baba brought wine and appetizers.) The beef was fine, the potatoes were okay but not crispy, and the Yorkshires were fine. Part of the problem was that there were no drippings from the beef, so we had to do the potatoes and Yorkies with canola oil, which I think we didn't heat up enough. Still, it was well-received. The Christmas pudding with brandy butter and whipped cream seemed to go down pretty smooth too, but just in case, we served a giant Toblerone and a gingerbread house as well.

For after dinner entertainment we tried to teach Morgan's friend how to do cryptic crosswords, and I made everyone play "Twinkle Twinkle" on the pitched whistles from our Christmas crackers. (Everyone got a numbered note, and I yelled out each person's number: "1 1! 5 5! 6 6! 5! 4 4! 3 3! 2 2! 1! 5 5! 4 4! 3 3! 2 2! 5 5!..." and so on.) $25 well spent, I believe.

Then we all sat around and digested and played with the children's toys until it was (their) bedtime. Now that everyone else has either gone home or is tucked in, Blake is watching a video about dragons and I'm drinking sherry and listening to Christmas music. A fantastic day all 'round (unless you're Delphine).

[Posted at 23:01 by Amy Brown] link
Mon, 18 Oct 2010

Just because I can (i.e., am technically competent to) do something doesn't mean I can (i.e., have time to) do it.

Just because something should be done doesn't mean it should be me who does it.

Just because something would be fun doesn't mean I have time for it.

[Posted at 13:29 by Amy Brown] link
Wed, 22 Sep 2010

Here's a story from my mother.

She used to be in the Stoke-on-Trent Choral Society, and one year they did Bach's St Matthew Passion. There was a doctor on staff at the hospital (North Staffs Infirmary? – I have a very vague idea of the timelines of my mother's pre-me life) nicknamed "Deadly Earnest" who loved Bach – that might have been all he ever listened to. (He was from Leeds, my mother's from North Staffordshire, so you'll have to imagine the accents if you know them.) So she said to him,

"Are you going to come out and hear the St Matthew Passion, then?"

"Oh, I dunno. You'll prob'ly muck it up."

"Oh, go on!"

So he did come out and hear it, and afterwards she asked what he thought.

"Wunt bad."

High praise indeed.


I know that's not a funny story or anything. But my mother tells millions of these little, pointless but telling slice-of-life stories (most of them for the fourth or fifth time) and I've just been letting them wash over me all my life. But it's starting to set in that, like fossil fuels, my mother's stories are a non-renewable resource and I had better start saving them.

[Posted at 21:28 by Amy Brown] link
Sat, 18 Sep 2010

Thomas is our cat. We got him – can it be? – in 1999. He was four then, so some rudimentary arithmetic suggests that he's 15 years old, which is about a hundred and fifty in cat years. Or people years – however that works. Anyway, he's old.

He's starting to show his age, in a variety of ways. He's very, very thin, and his fur is dull. He smells a bit peculiar. He has become strangely affectionate; he'll hang around when you're in the kitchen, stretching up and wrapping his arms around your legs. He also comes around when we're eating and reaches up to gently paw Delphine or I on the side. Today I picked him up and he settled uncomfortably on my lap for a few minutes – he wants to be near us but he's not sure how to enjoy it when it happens. He's never been a lap cat before.

At fifteen years, and so obviously fading, we know Thomas isn't going to be with us for long. I don't know how he's going to go. I suppose he'll get more and more infirm until he can't manage any more and we take him to the vet to have some of that alarmingly purple liquid injected into him. Or maybe we'll just come downstairs one morning and he'll be dead. I just hope it isn't messy or painful.

[Posted at 21:39 by Amy Brown] link
Fri, 17 Sep 2010

I totally forgot to do a blog post yesterday. I was aiming for one every day through September. I don't think anyone noticed though...

Yesterday was a full day – full of what, I'm not exactly sure. No one big thing.

I've been having trouble cramming enough work hours into my days day, so yesterday I was determined to devote most of my kid-free six hours to working, to catch up on my hours for this week. But then I realized I had to go grocery shopping after I dropped the girls off at school. Then I put away the groceries and by then it was past ten. Then I worked, had lunch, worked some more, did email and some chores because my eyes were crossing, worked some more and it was time to pick up the girls. Then they played while I puttered, or sorted through the vast piles of paperwork they come home with this time of year. At five I made dinner, at six we ate, then I put Cordelia to bed, then Delphine, then went out for a walk at eight. I got home at nine, filled in the paperwork, paid bills, and went to bed.

In the midst of all that I worked for two hours and 35 minutes. That's twenty-five minutes short of the three hours a day I would like to work, that on a day I had intended to work tons and catch up. I'm having more trouble than I thought I would squeezing three work hours from the day. And it's not screwing around, either, I swear. I spend maybe twenty minutes on Twitter, and I don't read blogs at all.

No, it's all the other stuff: housework, errands, School Council stuff, social stuff, and the endless administration of being a parent of middle-class 21st-century school-age children: forms to fill out, activities to research and sign up for, birthday parties to plan, and on and on. Hopefully it will taper off now that the initial rush of forms and signups is done.

And I will have to work on outsourcing, downsizing, postponing and streamlining, so I can fit in that three hours of work, else I can't even pay for Cordelia's daycare.

[Posted at 21:53 by Amy Brown] link
Thu, 09 Sep 2010

Now that I have a walking-around camera (ie, the camera in my phone) I don't have to look at random plants and say, "hey, that's cool, I wonder what it is." I can take pictures and post them here and ask everyone!

So what is this stuff with the little round pink and orange flower heads?

How about this red flower with big leaves?

I've seen this squashy-looking thing with white trumpet-shaped flowers all over the place:

I also like this grass with flat seedheads:

Here it is with Cordelia:

[Posted at 21:03 by Amy Brown] link
Mon, 06 Sep 2010

Tomorrow's the start of the new year. No, not Rosh Hashanah (that's Wednesday), although Shana Tova to those of you who are into that kind of thing. No, tomorrow is the first day of school.

For Cordelia that means Senior Kindergarten with a new teacher and a whole new batch of friends. Kindergarten in Ontario is arranged as a two-year deal, and class groupings generally stay the same—which is to say all the JKs stay together when they move up to SK. However, Cordelia is so advanced (or more likely so used to hanging out with older kids) that all her friends last year were in SK. So they're all happily off to Grade One and she doesn't have any friends in her class yet. However, I'm sure she'll work something out.

When I asked her at dinner, she said she was most excited about meeting her new teacher. When I asked her what she was most scared about she said, "There's nothing scary about school!"

Cordelia's other new big thing is that she's starting daycare. I'm thrilled that she's in daycare, not just because it means I can have six uninterrupted hours to myself five days a week (although I am nearly light-headed at the thought), but because I love the activities, I love the structure, and I love the fact that she'll get a healthy lunch and snacks. Frankly if she were home with me she'd be playing video games while I fold laundry or nap on the couch—at daycare she'll be doing music and crafts and all kinds of wonderful things. Cordelia's also excited about daycare. They have "pretty good centres", she says.

For Delphine, the start of school means Grade Two in a new classroom in the basement, as part of a Grade Two/Three combined class. Her teacher is someone I've met briefly and really liked, and she is in the same class as her best friend. She's more than ready to go back to school—she and Cordelia have been needling each other for the last week.

I can't remember what Delphine was most excited about, but she's scared there will be spiders in the classroom because they were using it as a storeroom before. I said they'd probably clean it before the first day of school.

For me this is also a time of great change. I'm starting work in earnest now that I have those six uninterrupted hours five days a week. I'm working on a publishing project at the moment, then after that I have another editing gig lined up (I was just offered it the day before yesterday—whoo!)

I'm looking forward to working, but at dinner I said the thing I was scared about was that I wouldn't have time to work and do all the other things I do: volunteer with the school, do housework and household maintenance, exercise (I want to start training for a walking ½-marathon), reading. I said I'm worried I will let someone down or mess something up or find I don't have time for something.

But really, I'm not all that worried. Since having children I've become way more efficient, and six hours is really a lot. Six hours is a lot for one day; I literally can't imagine six hours to myself for five days in a row. Let alone for five days in a row for forty-two weeks! I'll be swimming in time! I could rebuild Rome!

Blake says he isn't scared about anything.

[Posted at 21:14 by Amy Brown] link
Thu, 02 Sep 2010

I posted new pictures from our trip to Saskatchewan and the rest of summer.

[Posted at 22:17 by Amy Brown] link
Tue, 15 Jun 2010

Delphine's birthday party, or How To Throw The World's Best Party.

[Posted at 22:41 by Amy Brown] link
Wed, 28 Apr 2010

I was once again lured by the siren song of Flick'r, and posted pictures from December, January to April, and Ursa's birthday party there. I thought it would be easier than posting on the local page, but in the end I got tired of editing and saving all the caption text, picture by picture. Next time I'll go back to posting pictures on the local page.

[Posted at 21:16 by Amy Brown] link
Sun, 04 Apr 2010

Blake and I went for a bike ride today while the girls were out swimming with Baba and Zaida. I didn't really want to go, but Blake does so love to ride his bike, and I don't mind biking. So off we went, and went up some steepish hills and down a slightly scary one, found some nice nature to bring Delphine to, and lost contact with my butt. And that was, as they say, all well and good, but the interesting thing happened later.

I felt great.

My back didn't hurt, my foot didn't hurt (I've had plantar fasciitis for, like, months), and I had enough energy to run up and down the sidewalk flying a kite with Cordelia. I didn't realize how bad I'd been feeling lately until I stopped feeling bad, and clearly part of the problem is the utter lack of aerobic exercise I've been doing lately. I'm not exactly sure what I'm going to do about that...


Cordelia and I fought today. Not the screamy angry kind of fighting, but silly punching kicking fighting. She was hitting me as hard as she could, and of course I was just play hitting. It's never come up before, so I have no idea of the etiquette of playfighting. I suppose it's not done to playfight at all any more, but she's just so cute when she snarls at me with her perfectly straight tiny teeth, and thumps me with her tiny ineffectual fists. It's like being menaced by a chinchilla.


We watched Prince of Egypt today, admittedly a week late for Passover. I had forgotten how great that movie is. We bought it, so we can watch it as often as we like. Every Passover! We don't do anything else for Passover, apart from eat a lot at Baba's house, so why not create our own traditions?

[Posted at 22:10 by Amy Brown] link
Thu, 01 Apr 2010

I used to have a blog here, but lately I've been busy with this paying job thing and haven't been blogging much. I have about eighteen million books to blog about, and everything else. This is going to be the everything else post.

Delphine

Delphine is nearly seven and she's become all happy and patient and agreeable. Well, not all, but more than before. She sometimes doesn't respond when Cordelia tries to fight with her; she sometimes goes along with me when I ask her to do stuff she doesn't want to; she is usually happy after school and she seldom complains about her day. She's no Pollyanna, but she's not quite as emo and gloomy as she has been through most of the last year.

Delphine had her first piano lesson last Saturday. Piano lessons now are so much cooler than when I started playing: instead of starting with "this is a staff and this is a quarter note" it starts with "these are your fingers and this is the keyboard" and you plunk away, and notation is introduced as needed and no sooner.

So Delphine loves piano. She couldn't wait to get home to practice, and she has practiced every day this week.

Cordelia

Cordelia is still happy, sweet Cordelia. She tells me she loves me eighteen million times a day and she does little dances. She loves her friends, too—she and Anna won't go into the kindergarten playground without the other.

I wonder, sometimes, if Cordelia's always going to be the sweet, frivolous contrast to Delphine's darker personality. No, that's not quite right. What I wonder is how Cordelia's bubbliness will make the transition to adulthood. Where is she going to get that gravity that surely adulthood demands?

For now it seems like along with gloominess, Delphine also has a lock on scepticism, bookishness, and intellectualism (inasmuch as a six-year-old can be intellectual). Cordelia's only "things" are that she runs really fast (and a lot) and sings well. I guess I worry that Delphine's going to be "the clever one", leaving some other identity for Cordelia. I suppose even if she isn't "the clever one" she'll still be clever and she can always leverage that in whatever she ends up doing with herself.

Anyway, there's nothing so sure as that they'll be what they'll be and I have much less control over what they'll be than I'd like to think.

Me

As for me, I have got myself a paying job. I'm copyediting and laying out a non-fiction book for self-publishing. A while ago I said that I didn't think copyediting would be a great job for me because it's so picky-picky; as it turns out it's a lot more fun than I thought it would be. I do love to proofread things, and even the totally anal stuff is kind of cool. I like knowing what kind of dash to use (even if I don't always bother to use the right one) and whether "BCE" has periods or not. And the meticulousness you need to employ to keep track of the style decisions you've made is right up my list-making alley.

I do need to reread Strunk and White, and some other writing books, just to clarify what makes good writing good, and I feel like I should put my hands on some style guides. (I wonder if people buy those on paper or just, I dunno, subscribe to them online or something.)

This working gig is going to have to get a lot more real in September. I signed Cordelia up for daycare when she was just over a year old, and as it turns out she got in. She starts in September at the daycare at the school. I won't have Delphine in daycare ("It's not FAIR!") but I will send her to school with a lunch, so my work day will be from 9:00 until 3:00. My plan, such that it is, is to work a twenty-hour week, leaving me ten hours a week for such frivolity as housework, exercise, reading and getting my nails done. Maybe I'll skip the nails and read more.

I'm reading a rather intense (but very useful) book about starting a home-based writing business. The author is quite intent on my making a business plan, planning further education, budgeting, marketing, and all that sensible, grown-up stuff. I almost feel like I can't waste my time doing that stuff when I could be doing billable work—kind of like the kid who runs his bike all the way to school because he doesn't have time to get on. I'm also resisting doing all that business stuff because somehow I can't take myself that seriously as a professional freelance writer and copyeditor. Clearly I'm going to have to get over that, but fortunately I have a few months to do it.

[Posted at 22:09 by Amy Brown] link
Sun, 10 Jan 2010

Back in November I talked about those women who do a million and one things—have a career, have a nice house, do charity work, volunteer at school—and how I'm going to be more like them. So far it's going pretty well—I helped with a fundraiser at school, I'm chair of a somewhat underachieving Eco-committee (part of the problem being that whenever we think of something eco to do it turns out the school is already doing it), and so far my children haven't starved to death or sickened due to the filthy state of the house. One thing did falter: I missed a few notes in the Christmas concert because I wasn't at the dress rehearsal. Lesson learned.

But I digress. The reason I bring this up is that I realized that this ambition, to Do Lots of Things, is a subset of a bigger ambition which I have just put into words: Be More Awesome.

As I have discussed before, I see myself as a veritable well of unfulfilled potential. Sure, I have a rather lame math degree and two lovely children, but other people my age are running for city councillor and writing books and,well, being awesome. I want at least a little piece of that.

Let me digress again for a moment. The school is getting a second kindergarten playground, and the eco-committee wants it to be a natural playground, one of those jobbies with logs and rocks to play on instead of metal and plastic playstructures. Great idea, very eco. We (mostly I) came up with this idea ages ago, but I wasn't sure where to start, who to talk to, how to broach the subject. So I didn't do anything.

And then last week I busted up my back (You know why? Because in my last post I was all "I haven't hurt my back for over a year!" Stupid.) and I was stuck on the couch all week. Rather than be completely useless I did some research on natural playgrounds and then I emailed the principal. I was all, "The eco-committee is exploring the idea of a natural playground for the new kindergarten playground", and I went on to briefly describe a natural playground, and explain why we (I) thought it would be a good idea. I cc'd the vice-principal, our trustee, and the rest of the committee, and hit send.

Three minutes later the trustee replied saying he would be happy to attend a meeting about this proposal. Proposal! It was just an idea, a whim! But by writing it down and sending it to some people, it became a proposal. Thirty minutes later the principal responded with a five-paragraph email, cc'd to about a billion more people, saying that they had considered a natural playground, we should meet soon and what was my thinking? We're meeting on Tuesday.

That's it. That's all it took: an idea, some Googling and a judiciously cc'd email, and now we have a proposal and a meeting. Obviously I'm going to have to prepare for the meeting, and there will be other jobs coming down the pipeline, but all it took to get the ball rolling was one email message.

What I have learned from this is that the path to awesomeness is paved with tiny baby steps. This a truth neither profound nor abstruse, but it has been a long time coming to me. I don't like to act on things unless I know how they're going to turn out. And not just the first step, I like to know what's going to happen four or five steps down the line. I like to think things through and anticipate problems, and prepare for them. This is a wonderful trait if you're going camping, or taking two small people downtown, or going on vacation, but it has its limits. When I'm contemplating something complicated or new, or that involves other people, I can can always think of nine or ten ways stuff could go horribly wrong. Thus, paralysis. Inaction. Failure to be awesome.

A while ago I read a book called Feel the Fear... And Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers and as you can see from my discussion of it, a) this blog post is well overdue and b) I am a broken record. The good news is that I've taken the lessons I learned from the book on board—the ideas that were new to me back in 2008 are a comfortable part of my daily coping repertoire now. So, odd as it seems, these realizations, that I am scared to act if I don't know I will succeed, and that it only takes a small step to start getting things done, actually represent progress in my quest to be more awesome.

[Posted at 22:25 by Amy Brown] link
Fri, 01 Jan 2010

I got a great email newsletter from David Allen (of Getting Things Done fame) about taking stock of the year's accomplishments and completions. He included a list of categories to focus on, which I am going to use to consider how 2009 was for me and what I'm going to change in 2010.

Physical

After a c-section in 2003, another in 2005 and gallbladder removal in 2007, 2009 was refreshingly free of major or minor surgery. I don't think I had a single episode of major back pain, either, so maybe I have finally figured out how to deal with that (mainly stretching, and strategic use of ab muscles). I did some running after school started in September, but a bout of H1N1 in November sapped my motivation and I haven't run since.

I recently went to the doctor for my irregularly scheduled annual checkup and everything checked up fine, but I have gained twenty pounds I wasn't entirely expecting. (I don't weigh myself at home so the pounds have lots of time to creep on between doctor visits.) I will be addressing that situation in the new year, along with everyone else in North America. I've been very self-indulgent with my eating habits lately—I need to be more sensible about that, and I'm going to switch from running to walking in the hopes that I can slip it into my daily routine easier. I also think that doing yoga regularly would cure most of my mechanical problems.

Emotional

I have to admit this has been a difficult year for me, emotionally. I have been pretty unhappy about a couple of things—doing all the housework myself, for example—and have felt almost entirely alone with that unhappiness. Blake and I are rubbish at confrontation so I tend to never try and resolve problems with him. And they fester. As if that's not bad enough, I don't have an extra-marital emotional support system to listen and offer support and suggestions. I used to have my brother, then I had Sascha and my BF-as-it-turns-out-not-F Janet. My brother and Sascha got lives and Janet dumped me, and then Delphine was born, and I guess I haven't had any real emo needs since then, until this year. This year has been very emo but I've mainly dealt with it on my own, mostly in the basement while folding laundry. That sucks. Kat is a good ear, but I can't drop everything and cry on the phone to her whenever I'm unhappy. The laundry needs folding and she has a job.

Obviously in 2010 I have to do that a little better. What do I do? Make a new friend? One without a job or any children? Get a therapist? Start a private journal? Go to a marriage counsellor? I will have to figure something out.

Mental

Mentally I think I have held my ground this year. As I mentioned in my book blog, this year hasn't been terrifically intellectually rigorous, but I read a few thinky books and I've been keeping up with my Walruses and New Scientists. I'm happy and excited with my decision to pursue writing as a career. I love to read and think and write, and if I can possibly make some kind of money at it that would be awesome.

Next year, obviously, I have to kick the writing into a higher gear. It's very hard to get anything done in the two hours that Cordelia is at school, so I have to figure out how to focus my efforts in that time (less twitting and housework, more actual writing). I have both girls on a list for daycare starting in September, but of course paying for daycare demands that I earn an income. This is more terrifying to me than perhaps it should be.

Spiritual

I think I'm in the same place spiritually that I was a year ago. I don't think about it much. I don't believe in the supernatural but I derive a feeling of wonder from the immensity of the universe, from the magical unlikeliness of our existence, from my children. I try to be good. In 2010, more of the same.

Financial

We paid off our line of credit! Of course, Blake was on contract and he didn't pay taxes all year, so come April we may be in debt again, but for now we are debt-free. Hopefully a year from now we will be debt-free for sure.

Family

My family is awesome. The girls are going through an utterly charming patch, and I'm happy with our parenting. I haven't yelled in ages! Next year, I hope that will continue. Five and seven are both supposed to be pretty charming ages, so that looks good.

Further afield, I would like to be closer to my brother. He just moved in with a girl who I know next to nothing about, and I have no idea what's going on with him generally. I should also call my mother more often. So should you, probably.

Community Service

Before this year I wouldn't have had a lot to say in this category, but this year I did a ton of work for my kids' school, and did it ever open my eyes to the amount of free labour the school boards of Canada get from parents. I worked in the library, volunteered in the classroom, helped run a craft room for a fundraiser, went on a field trip, was class parent for Delphine's class, and signed up to head the Eco-committee.

This year I hope to actually do something as head of the Eco-committee, and I'm going to try and pursuade our School Council to donate some money to a school without so many deep-pocketed parents. I suppose I'll be roped into running the craft room again next Christmas, too.

Fun / creativity / recreation

You know, I've been thinking about fun lately, specifically in the context of play. The children play most of the time and work hardly at all—Delphine works a little bit at school, and she has a couple of jobs at home, but most of her time is free time. Cordelia is four—she plays at school and she plays at home, and her only job is feeding the cat.

But when do I play? On the one hand I'm in the very lucky position of rarely having to do something which I'm not intrinsically motivated to do. I look after the children because I love them, I take care of the house because I want my house to be taken care of. I read and write because I love to do so, I have fun volunteering for the school. There is almost nothing I do that's pure drudgery. And a lot of what I do is pure fun: most of my reading, choir, my friendships, and watching TV are all things I do for myself.

In 2010 I would like to read more, and keep singing and seeing my friends. I'm even happy with the amount of TV I watch, or rather with the quality of TV I watch. I should try and use my time more mindfully, so I don't fritter it away. I have too much fun stuff to do to spend time doing things which are merely diverting.

That's that. It's 12:21 am on January 1. I hope everyone has a wonderful year in 2010!

(By the way, you can subscribe to David Allen's Productive Living newsletter here. I've only received one, so I don't know how good they generally are, but since I used the latest one to inspire this post I figure I should at least point you to the source. I do use the Getting Things Done system and find it very effective and comprehensive.)

[Posted at 00:33 by Amy Brown] link