Blog-o! Notes from

Wed, 01 Jan 2014

I'm writing this a little late, as it's already 2014. I suppose this way I can be sure I'm not missing anything, as one never knows if 11:42 pm on December 31 might be the highlight of the year.

Well, it wasn't. But at about that time someone did ask me what the highlight of 2013 was, and I was stumped. I thought of our trip to Buffalo, but that was in December; not even a month prior. So to write this post I'm going to have to look at calendars, to-do lists, photos, old emails... Clearly my own brain won't suffice.

In January I wrapped up work on Shamans Among Us with Joseph Polimeni. I edited and typeset the book, as well as designing the cover and overseeing proofreading and website design. It was a fascinating book to work on; I learned a tremendous amount.

But after Shamans wrapped I set aside my editing work to join Greg Wilson at Software Carpentry. That's a big deal, really. It's my first regular, non-freelance job since Delphine was born. It's so nice to be part of a team, to be useful and wanted for something other than knowing where the clean socks are and what we're having for dinner.

We all did a lot of travelling this year, mostly by ourselves. Delphine went to a few Guide camps and week-long sleepover camp in summer, and Cordelia went to Brownie camp. Blake went to Pittsburgh, London, Brussels, San Francisco and Minneapolis, and I went to Portland OR, Boston, and London (but not at the same time as Blake). The girls and I went to Saskatchewan in June, and in December we all went to Buffalo, which sounds lame but might have been the best trip of all.

In June my first-cousin-once-removed Emily came to visit with her boyfriend Dan. I never met her before (I don't think? I feel like I should know this) so that was pretty cool, because she's awesome and Dan is too. The girls loved them because Emily is from New Zealand and that's pretty much Middle Earth, and because Dan played Lord of the Rings Risk with them. (Emily was also written up in the Huffington Post, which is more than pretty much anyone else I know can say.)

This is a pretty uneventful year in review, so I guess 2013 was a pretty uneventful year. I'm okay with that! I hope 2014 is also uneventful, and with some interesting trips. And maybe more cats.

[Posted at 23:32 by Amy Brown] link
Sun, 01 Jan 2012

Well, wasn't 2011 a piece of work? Lots of things happened, some great and some lousy. Let's start at the beginning.

In January we were taking Thomas the cat to the vet for excessive skinniness, strange loss of hair and general geriatric decrepitude. It turned out he had fleas, some kind of allergy which was giving him red spots all over, and lots of weird growths here and there: under his tongue, on his head, and probably in his bowel too. We treated him for fleas and gave him antibiotics for a while to clear up his skin problems, and put him on a permanent course of prednisone to treat his various tumours. (He's eighteen years old, so the growths are just because of old age.) We prepared ourselves for his imminent death; however, a full year later he's not dead yet, and indeed seems healthier than ever.

At the end of January Blake took off for Hawaii for work. I wasn't invited, which was particularly galling given that, you know, Hawaii in January. Not to mention, we hadn't been on a proper not-visiting-mum trip since before Cordelia was born. So come March Break I decided we should go to New York for the week. That holiday was more successful and fun than I expected it to be—the girls are at the perfect age to travel with. (Which is a bit ironic, now that I think about it, considering we won't have the money to go anywhere in the forseeable future.)

In May Greg Wilson and I published the paperback edition of The Architecture of Open Source Applications (Volume 1). In the process of publishing the book I learned an immense amount about TeX, typesetting, book production and publishing on, as well as getting a lead on a copyediting job. I enjoyed the whole process so much that I made it into a
business. So far I've had a handful of jobs and made some good connections, and I'm looking forward to growing the business this year.

February through June we were in reno upheaval. Our 80-year-old plumbing started leaking and we somehow decided, with impeccable North Toronto logic, that the only possible solution was to put a powder room in the basement and completely redo the upstairs bathroom. I've been meaning to post about that... It took a long time because our contractor usually runs much bigger jobs, and her trades were sneaking our bathroom in between other jobs. But when it was all finally done it was very satisfying and lovely.

In the middle of June one of the kindergarten students at the girls' school was hit by a car and killed. It shook up the staff and a lot of the parents pretty badly, and it's been on my mind a lot ever since. The little girl who died was the same age as Cordelia, and she was out with her mother when she was killed—actually her mum was hit by the car too. Imagine the fodder for rumination and imagination and nightmares that provided... It's a bit ridiculous that it would take something like this, but it made me understand that the continuing existence of my children is a gift. Anyway, that's a whole post on its own, really.

At the end of June I took a plane to Tokyo (by myself) to visit Dave. I'd never been to Japan, and it was a grand adventure.

By the time I got back from Japan the girls' summer vacation was well underway. The girls were at camp for a couple of weeks, then we went to Saskatchewan for a couple of weeks, then shortly after we came back the girls went to the cottage for a long weekend with Baba and Zaida. I felt like the real mooching-around-Toronto part of summer didn't start until the middle of August, but then we did manage to do our usual round of the Toronto Islands, High Park, Harbourfront, and a few trips to the park. I love summer.

I have to say I don't think anything terrifically interesting has happened since September. Greg and I have been working on the second volume of the software architecture book. (This time I'm actually going to copyedit the book, which will both be fun and educational, and improve the book.) Cordelia likes Grade One, Delphine likes Grade Three, Cordelia likes gymnastics and Delphine likes ballet. We're all pretty content to carry on into the new year as we've been carrying on.

[Posted at 22:08 by Amy Brown] link
Tue, 28 Dec 2010

Hey, it's the end of the year, time to send your friends and relations one of those letters detailing the accomplishments of your family. Since we're not very accomplished this won't take long.

This year Delphine turned seven (and had an awesome party) and accordingly, finished Grade 1 and started Grade 2. She loves school; it all comes fairly easily to her, and she loves having lots of things to do. She's had the same best friend since the start of Grade 1, which is cool except that the teacher is concerned that she only has one good friend. (She has a couple of other friends outside school, fortunately.) One of the things teachers concern themselves with these days is their students' social situation (which is great, I'm all for it). Ms Netley has been trying to fix Delphine up with another friend, but unfortunately there aren't any other girls in the class who are a good match for Delphine in terms of maturity and interests. It's no disaster, though, her one good friend is indeed a good friend: they are well matched and kind and helpful to each other.

Delphine's extra-curricular activities are piano and art. She's taking the usual weekly piano lessons and progressing nicely. Better still, though, she spends a good amount of time just playing at the piano: lately she's been devising scales and exercises, and picking out the notes to Christmas carols. The other day she transcribed the melody of Ode to Joy for fun. Lessons and practice are all very well, but any kindergarten teacher will tell you you learn more from play than you do from lessons. My brother played with music while I just did what I was asked to do, and he's a far better musician than I am.

Anyway, as I said, Delphine's other thing is art. She's been taking a great art class in the neighbourhood and having a lot of fun with it. She carries a sketchbook and pencil around and draws pictures when she has some spare time.

Delphine continued with gymnastics classes in January, but her future in gymnastics is severely curtailed by her refusal to ever go upside down for any reason. There's a lot of upside-down in gymnastics, as it turns out, and I imagine she won't be doing any more gymnastics.

In the little time that's left to her Delphine likes to read and sleep, and also teach lessons in various topics to her sister, friends, or PlayMobil people.

Cordelia's year was no less exciting. She turned 5 in September, and finished Junior Kindergarten and started Senior Kindergarten this year. She doesn't mind school, but would rather be home. She continues to be a bit of a Mummy's girl. I'm sure that will end sooner or later, but it's pretty nice to be her number one for now. Cordelia isn't as fantastically academically illustrious as her sister, but her teacher isn't the least concerned. She's doing just fine.

Outside school, Cordelia also took art classes at the same place as Delphine. She also took a couple of Music Together sessions with me. Outside of all that, she likes to hang out with her friends Otis, Zoey, and Scarlett, or with Delphine's friends. She likes to play with sets of things, like PlayMobil people or figurines, or rocks: she gives them roles and talks them through scenes. She gets quite lost in those games, as well as in crafts. If she gets engaged in something she will concentrate quietly on it for an hour or more. She's a child of contrasts: loud or silent, happy or despondent, bouncy or still.

This year I turned 35. Unfortunately that doesn't conveniently slot me into some grade or level or place in life, so I am still flailing. I think I'm getting better at it, though. I keep myself busy: I've been volunteering a lot, mostly at the school. I'm still the Eco-committee Chair, which mainly means I need to show up for meetings with the EcoSchool Auditor and make it look like the parents care about the environment. And maybe they do, but they certainly don't talk about it much. I also ran the Arts and Crafts room for the school's Winter Fair, which was fun(ish) but I won't do it again, because it means I have to hang around the Arts and Crafts room all afternoon and can't actually have any fun. Still, I've done it for two years, so I think I'm off the hook for a while.

My favourite volunteer job at school is working with the Junior Choir. I think I'm going to call myself a Rehearsal Assistant when I put it on my resume; I help the kids with their parts, I lead a warm-up or two, and I try and keep the kids focussed during rehearsal.

This summer I tried to help out a little bit with the campaign for a candidate for city council. Unfortunately all they really wanted was people to canvass, and I hate canvassing. I should probably have sucked it up and done it anyway, but I'm a bit of a whiny baby. I offered to do anything else — paperwork, phoning, writing, whatever — but they didn't go for it. I was about to be hurt and upset by that but my mum pointed out the existing team was probably used to working with each other and didn't want to put in the effort to figure out how to fit me in. Well, what Mum said was, "They're just being cliquey", but it amounts to the same thing. Anyway, the guy won, so all's well that ends well.

I also started some "real" (that is, for money) work: I formatted a three-volume book for publication, and helped midwife it though the printing process. I'm now working on formatting another book, and hope to do some copyediting and writing jobs next year.

My favourite extra-curricular activity was choir, of course. In February we performed John Stainer's Crucifixion, which I love unreservedly even though it's deeply cheesy. We accompanied it with a variety of Victorian sacred anthems, a sub-sub-genre of music I had never encountered before but absolutely love. Sadly we didn't record that concert, so I'm going to have to buy a few CDs to get recordings of all the pieces we did: some Parry, some Gardiner, and of course "The Lost Chord" by Arthur Sullivan which I adore. Our May concert featured two Mozart Masses in C: Minor and Major. And this December was our bi-annual Messiah, which might have been our best yet.

As usual, we didn't travel much. The girls and I went to Saskatchewan for two weeks this summer for our usual round of fishing, farm visits and general lazing around. Blake went to Mountain View, CA, and to Vancouver for work. Maybe I will join him for a business trip next year. I would really love to get out of town and go somewhere new.

Blake travelled to Winnipeg with his family later in the year to visit his sick uncle. Hershey was a jovial and loving man — truly avuncular — and one of the most loyal readers of this blog. He will be missed.

Some of our most exciting news didn't happen under this roof: the girls' first cousin was born this summer. Charlie arrived on July 30. He's still at the boring (and according to Delphine, smelly) baby stage right now but he's ridiculously cute and charming and I have big plans for lots of auntie-nephew fun. I may not have my own son but I can borrow someone else's! Fortunately Morgan is happy to share.

I could write so much more: about swimming lessons, about the Toronto Children's Chorus audition — but then this post will take a year to read. All in all, 2010 was a satisfyingly unexceptional year: no big changes, no renos, no disasters. We didn't get any further out of debt, but we didn't get any further in, either. I call that a tolerable win.

[Posted at 22:36 by Amy Brown] link
Fri, 27 Nov 2009

2009 started with a lot of snow. Delphine (then 5) was in Senior Kindergarten in the afternoons, so our days were punctuated by daily trips to and from school in the big orange stroller. Cordelia (then 3) caught a nap in between the drop-off trip and the pick-up trip, but I had to wake her up almost every day.

Blake had been laid off from his job in December, but rehired immediately as a contractor, working from home. It took a while to sort out a routine, but he eventually settled his "home office" into the big white chair in the living room. Needless to say this isn't ideal, but it's nice that he has a job, and it's nice for me to have a little extra company during the day. (Company, not help: he's not all that much more useful than Thomas the cat.) Working from home was leavened by occasional days spent at the University of Toronto working with a professor friend and his students.

Cordelia's mornings were spent, three days a week, in Nursery School, where she was much beloved by staff and classmates alike.

While the girls were off at their schools I occupied myself with the usual Mum stuff: looking after the other girl, baking, housework, and snatching time to read plenty of books and magazines. Monday evenings was devoted to choir practice: our February 2009 concert was Rossini's Petite Messe Solenelle and in May we performed Brahms' Ein Deutsche Requiem (my favourite oratorio ever).

Gradually the weather warmed up, Blake had his birthday, and March break rolled around. We didn't go anywhere special (travelling at March Break is madness) and we avoided all the museums (going to museums at March Break is madness) but instead spent the week around the neighbourhood, seeing friends.

Play Structure In April I enlisted the help of my father-in-law and a handy friend of his to help me buy and install an amazing play structure in the backyard. We have a giant backyard (for Toronto) but there wasn't a whole lot to do back there. Now there is!

Blake and his fixie Also in April, Blake finally got around to converting the $200 Bianchi he got at a garage sale for $30 to a fixie. Translations: a Bianchi is an Italian make of bicycle; a fixie is a bike with no gears—the pedals are attached directly to the rear wheel by the chain, so if you pedal faster the wheels go faster, if you stop pedalling the wheels stop (eventually) and if you pedal backwards the wheels go backwards. This style of bike is much beloved of bike couriers and other people who like a lot of control over their bike.

Rainbow Cake In May, Delphine turned six and I made her a rainbow cake. She had a little party with some friends at our house.

June was notable for the end of school, as always, and for the first real warm days of summer. I poked at the garden a little bit, put up a new composter and moved the vegetable garden (again). I think the garden ended up worse—messier, less organized—at the end of summer than at the beginning, but I have a better idea of what I want to do with it.

The Garden

Family at a wedding The beginning of July saw us at a lovely wedding. For the first few weeks of July the girls and I amused ourselves around and about the city: we visited the Ontario Science Centre and the lake, and went to the library a lot. Unfortunately the Toronto municipal employees were on strike, so the park bathrooms were closed and all the city classes and day camps were cancelled. It was disappointing—Delphine was really looking forward to going to camp at Riverdale Farm.

Girls at the cattle farm At the end of July the girls and I left Blake alone in the now-smelly city of Toronto (the garbage men were on strike too) and flew to Saskatchewan to visit my mother. We went fishing, visited a cattle farm, went swimming, walked through the woods, and celebrated my birthday. My mum and the children had a great time together.

As soon as we returned to Toronto, the girls' other grandfather picked them up at the airport and took them to their cottage for a few more days at the beach while Blake and I enjoyed some extremely rare alone time.

As August drew to a close we squeezed in a little more summer fun. we went to the amusement park on Centre Island where Delphine rode a pony and Cordelia and I went on a roller coaster. (I've decided I'm not a roller coaster person.) And I took the girls to their first IMAX movie, Under The Sea. Summer's last hurrah was a fancy afternoon tea at the King Edward Hotel.

First Day of School September brought big changes for the children: Delphine started full-time school, entering Grade One, and Cordelia started Junior Kindergarten. Big changes for me too: only one school to drop off and pick up at, and mornings to myself—bliss! Both girls are doing famously at school and adore their teachers.

Since September we have all been well-occupied: the girls with school, me with the Parent-Teacher Association and Blake with work. (He has just been offered a permanent full-time job with Mozilla.)

It's not yet December as I write this, and I suppose something terrifically exciting could happen in the next month, but I'm just anticipating a choir concert (Ralph Vaughan Williams' Hodie), some decorations, plenty of food, friends over to sing carols, far too many presents and a nice winter break from school. Who knows... we might even have snow!

[Posted at 21:49 by Amy Brown] link