Books in July and August

It has been way too long since I did this, and I have read about a thousand books. I hope I don't miss any.

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell is a book I read before. Since we own a copy, and it seems to be a book that is still being referred to quite a lot (notably in Child's Play by Silken Laumann) I thought I would give it another whirl. It's still an interesting and thought-provoking book about the reasons why people do things, and I am glad I gave it another read.

It was alarming, though, to realize how little of it I recalled from the last time I read it. It made me realize again how little I actually absorb of the books I read. So I have started taking notes while I read, which is incredibly geeky, but it's such a waste of time to read so much and not really take any of it in. Plus it's an excuse to buy myself some cool notebooks and pens. (The real reason I had children is so I could buy school supplies every August.)

Porgy by DuBose Heyward. I got this out of the library because it was mentioned on the flap of the dustjacked of a wonderful picture-book rendition of the lyrics to Gershwin's "Summertime", and I was intrigued that Porgy and Bess started off as a novel. A few pages into the book I was tempted to give up on it because of the annoying phonetic handling of vernacular ("Yo' bes sabe yo' talk for dem damn dice.") which makes the book nigh-unreadable until you get used to it, and that creepy early-1900s racism ("Crown was crouched for a second spring, with lips drawn from gleaming teeth. The light fell strong upon thrusting jaw, and threw the sloping brow into shadow.") But for all that I kept going because I wanted to know what happened next, and I was interested in the characters, and it turned out to be an enjoyable and thought-provoking read, with a couple of excellent turns of plot.

When Anger Hurts Your Kids: A Parent's Guide by Patrick Fanning, Kim Paleg, Dana Landis, and Matthew McKay. I ordered this book from the library because I have some trouble controlling my temper, and when I get angry I tend to do the kind of mean things to my children which appall me when I see other people do them on television. Nothing terrible, and I don't think it is bad enough to do any irreparable harm, but I still don't like to be an asshole parent, even just on occasion. Especially since every mean thing I do to Delphine, she turns around and does to Cordelia. Nothing quite like the mirror of a child's mimicry to show you how you really are.

So this book had some useful advice, most of which I already knew. It covered a lot of information about what to expect from children at different ages — apparently a lot of people who get angry at their children do it because they have unreasonable expectations. That's not my problem, I have a pretty good handle on normal childhood development. There was also information about how to talk to yourself about a situation; instead of saying to yourself, "She's dawdling to get on my nerves, she knows we are running late and she is deliberately sabotaging me", you should say "she is at a stage where she doesn't like to be hurried, I need to give her lots of warning,..." But I don't see Delphine as vindictive or deliberately difficult, either. So that's not my problem, either.

My problem is that I get irritated when I ask her to do something and she doesn't, and that she is at a stage where she is defiant towards me specifically because I am her mother, because she is asserting her independence from me. So I tell her to do something, and she automatically says "no" because that is the stage she is in. Which is all well and good, but sometimes I am just not up to jollying her along and distracting her and offering reasonable choices, sometimes I just damn well want her to do what I tell her to, and now. So I shout at her. My problem is that I need to get more sleep and to not be in constant physical pain, or fear of it, so that I have the patience to deal with her. The better news is that she seems to be moving out of that defiant phase into something a little more reasonable.

Clean and Green: The Complete Guide to Non-Toxic and Environmentally Safe Housekeeping by Annie Berthold-Bond. I have been looking for a useful book on hippie housecleaning ever since the smell of my usual all-purpose cleaner started to make me feel ill. I read a couple that were useless, and then I got to this one, which is about perfect. It goes over all the ingredients you will need to make your own safe(ish) cleaning supplies, discussing what they are and how they work, and then offers about a million recipes for each application. I used to seek the one perfect recipe for each product (all-purpose cleaner, tub scourer, etc) but I think this way is better, since it allows you to tailor your cleaners to your needs.

Anyway, I liked this book so much that I went out and bought a copy, and it now lives in my kitchen for easy reference at any time. I like how making your own cleaning products brings an element of creativity to the cleaning process.

The only concern I have with this book is that it treats Borax as if it were as non-toxic as vinegar and baking soda, which it really isn't.

The Thinking Fan's Guide to the World Cup by Matt Weiland and Sean Wilsey.

This book is a collection of essays, one for each team in the World Cup finals, about football and the countries themselves and how they relate. Some of the essays are more about football, some of them are more about the country, some of them aren't really about either, but most of them are good and interesting and added another dimension to the whole World Cup experience.

I had this on order from the library months ago, but it only came in just before the end of the World Cup. I managed to squeeze in a couple of essays — Italy and France, of course, and Brazil and England — before the Final. The Brazil essay, by John Lanchester, has a wonderful description of why football is such a beautiful game, and so thrilling and hard to watch:

That's what you learn, as soon as you start to play and watch football: that football is difficult and beautiful, and that the two are related. Players kick the ball to one another, pass into empty space which is suddenly filled by a player who wasn't there two seconds ago and who is running at full pelt and who without looking or breaking stride knocks the ball back to a third player who he surely can't have seen who then, also at full pelt and without breaking stride, crosses the ball at sixty miles an hour to land on the head of a fourth player who has run seventy meters to get there and who, again all in stride, jumps and heads the ball with, once you realize how hard this is, unbelieveable power and accuracy toward a corner of the goal just exactly where the goalkeeper, executing some complex physics entirely without conscious thought and through muscle-memory, has expected it to be, so that all this grace and speed and muscle and athleticism and attention to detail and power and precision passion comes to nothing, will never appear on a score-sheet or match report and will likely be forgotten a day later by everybody who saw it or took part in it. This is the beauty and also the strange fragility, the evanescence of football.

Access All Areas by Ninjalicious is a book about urban exploration, which is the fine art of going places you're not supposed to go, mainly abandoned buildings or parts of buildings, construction sites, drainage systems, and the like. This book is very well-written; Ninjalicious (if that is his real name!) is funny, persuasive, passionate, and strongly moral, which makes it all the more miserable that he died (almost exactly a year ago) of some stupid liver disease. So donate your organs, people, you won't need them after you're dead.

Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic by John De Graaf, David Wann, and Thomas H. Naylor is a book which I'm sure I must have read years ago in my anti-establishment, screw-The-Man days, but which I don't remember at all. It is all about how Americans decided sometime in the fifties to put money and things before time, so now we (they) are all working their asses off to earn plenty of money to buy things they don't have time to enjoy, and how stupid is that?

They covered some very interesting material about philosophical insights into leisure time; the fact that this stuff is new to me suggests that I didn't actually read this book before, because I am all about the leisure and I am sure I would have remembered it if I had come across it. Apparently plenty of very intelligent people have thought long and hard about the need to take time away from work and walk around or read or garden or mess about in boats. I thought I was just lazy, but no, I was walking in the intellectual footsteps of some of the greatest thinkers in history.

The authors tend to profligately blame affluenza for all the troubles of our time, from obesity to pollution, which is mostly fair but gets a little hysterical after eight chapters. Anyway, thought-provoking, interesting, I give it two thumbs up.

Bringing Back The Dodo by Wayne Grady This is a collection of essays about nature and science, quite interesting although some of Grady's pet theories are pretty useless; the man desperately needs to read Guns, Germs and Steel. When he's not theorizing he's smart and readable.

Devil May Care by Sheri McInnis is a fluffy beach read which I actually read on a beach; possibly a lifetime first for me. (I didn't care much for beaches before I had children. Don't care much for them now, really.) A pleasant read with an interesting meta-physical twist and a surprisingly ambiguous conclusion.

Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood was more enjoyable than I thought it would be. (I just read it because I'm Canadian and I should and it's good for me, kind of like I eat Red River Cereal. Chew, chew, chew, chew.) It was a bit hard to read as the mother of girls — is this what they're in for? But I really (really, painfully) related to the protagonist's attitude to men and women, and after I decided not to read it at the cottage but save it for the city, I really got into it. (It's not really a cottage book; too depressing, too much thought required.)

A Thousand Barrels A Second: The Coming Oil Break Point and the Challenges Facing An Energy Dependent World by James Tertzakian. There's one of those self-explanatory sub-titles for you. This is the more sane version of that The Long Emergency book by James Kunstler I read last year; Tertzakian thinks we are coming to a break point in the oil economy — there is a limited supply of oil, and soon it will become too expensive to fuel our economy in the manner to which we have all become accustomed. Kunstler figures there is going to be some kind of post-industrial revolution, millions will die and the rest of us will go back to living in the Shire; Tertzakian thinks the change will be slow enough to allow us to adapt, with some difficulty, and that technology will ultimately save the day.

I am leaning towards Tertzakian's view, if only because it is a little less scary. I think life is going to become drastically different in the next few decades, and I think the twentieth century will be looked on as one of unparalleled energy consumption, but I think we will be able to make the transition to a less energy-intensive society without too much pain, at least here in nice stable Canada. I also think cheap, consumer airplane travel will sooner or later be history, so do your international trips now before the government gets smart and starts taxing aviation fuel like they should.

Blake and I are sitting pretty in this whole situation because we have, almost accidentally, made a life for ourselves which is much less oil-intensive than the average North American's. We don't have a car, Blake bikes to work, I can do all my errands without even using public transit. I buy local produce as much as I can, and lean towards organics where practical. We live in a multi-family dwelling, so we don't spend as much on heating as we would in a house. All in all, when the revolution (or evolution) comes, it is going to be much less painful for us than it will for the Joe Suburb family who live miles away from the grocery store and need two cars just to carry on their business.

How Not To Be The Perfect Mother by Libby Purves. I had to buy this from Amazon because the Toronto Public Library doesn't have a copy, except in Cantonese. It arrived yesterday, just in the nick of time because I needed a morale boost. Libby Purves is a mother of two who tells is like it is. Like it really is. On breast feeding:

Let nobody kid you that breastfeeding is not going to be hell at first. That mammary lobbyists are so keen to promote 'breast is best' (well, it is) that many of them have tended to slide rather dishonestly over the discomfort and exhaustion of the first weeks. Consequently, I suspect, a lot of willing mothers give up, convinced that they are rare cases who 'can't do it'. And indeed, anyone with throbbing, bleeding nipples, dreadful heavy swollen red bosoms, sharp needling letdown pains and a baby who still demands feeding every hour and a half at six weeks old, is entitled to any tantrum she cares to throw. I remember waking my husband up at 3 a.m. one painful morning with the words, 'Shall I tell you something? I hate bloody breastfeeding, that's what!' There are many paintings of the Madonna and Child, but in none of these has the feeding Madonna got her teeth clenched and her toes curled, as the dreadful infant mouth takes its first agonizing drag.

She makes mothering a baby sound like the cross between the appalling annoyance and the jolly adventure that it really is (often in the same hour,) and it's such a relief to know that I am not the only one who finds it so.

Another great advantage of handing new babies around to everybody ('The milk bill? Ah, yes, I'll just find the money — take the baby, would you?') is that new babies need to be talked to. And you may not feel like doing it. Next to the section on 'bonding' in the baby books, there is generally a paean of praise for mothers who talk all the time to their babies, maintain 'eye contact', allow infants to study their faces endlessly, and stick out their tongues to test reflexes. This is fine, when you have the time and if you are fortunate enough to have developed an instant adoration of the baby. If you are busy, or tired, or depressed at your life with this unsmiling little creature which gives nothing back and wakes you up four crippling times a night, the task of chatting to it may loom as unwelcome as all the other hundred jobs you have to do in your twenty-four-hour day. Despite underlying love, I hated talking to my second child for nearly two months; she never smiled until then, and I was exhausted, ill, and in constant jealous demand from the older child.

Just to read someone admit that other mothers sometimes feel this way is immensely reassuring and makes the whole business a lot easier to deal with. Babies are hard, dude. Okay, just one more quote (I love this woman; I would just retype this whole book if it wouldn't be faster to lend it to you):

When my son was four weeks old, he had only been to three places in his life: hospital, home and the Olympia Horse Show. We had friends with a box, and permanent guest tickets, and the baby's godfather John Parker was driving his coach-and-four in the final tableau and taking a team of Hungarian greys through an avenue of fire. So every single night I set off across London with the basket, wearing a loose-fitting lurex top to combine the constant feeding with a gesture towards glamour; and every night, in the box, Nicholas lay in state while friendly drunken Scotsmen lurched up to press lucky pound notes into his fist. He smiled at everyone, fed contentedly, and dozed off while Dorian Williams bawled his commentary on the show-jumping across the vast arena below. 'Thank God,' the baby seemed to be saying, his beady eyes swivelling busily around the scene, 'someone has at last understood my requirements.' All he had ever wanted, to keep him passably amused, was ten thousand people, four military bands, two hundred horses and a boxful of tipsy admirers.

Two and Ones

I'm into two and ones, two minutes of running and one minute of walking. I've been for two runs at that pace and they have been hard but not impossible. I had to consciously slow myself down so that I would be able to get through the two minutes a couple of times, and some of those one minute breaks seemed pretty short, but I've managed. I think I will do another couple of runs at this pace before I move to three-and-ones; so far I have only done two-and-one in the blistering heat and humidity, so I am curious to see how they are in reasonable weather.

Also next weekend my Learn To Run clinic (second attempt) begins; they will start back at one-and-twos so I will be in great shape for that.

I continue to shock myself with how motivated I am to run, but I know why. I usually exercise because I knew I should exercise, because it's Good For Me. I don't know what the human aversion is to doing things just because they're Good For You, but it definitely exists: I hated to exercise and would create all kinds of excuses not to do it.

But running has managed to elude being categorized as exercise in my brain; somehow it seems to have slipped into some kind of Hobbies and Activities category. I run for the sake of running, not for the exercise or because it's good for me or to lower my cholesterol or lose weight. I run so that I can run more, so that I get better at it, so that I can do a 5K in September.

So much so, in fact, that when I noticed my shorts were getting a little looser it took me a while to think that, yeah, it's probably because of the running. I actually thought, surely twenty minutes of running three times a week wouldn't make that much difference. But I haven't changed anything else, so that must be it. (Unless I do have some wasting disease, which was my first thought.)

Conversations with Delphine, Part X


We installed new compact fluorescents in the bathroom because the government told us to. Delphine, of course, doesn't miss a trick, and she said,

"It's all white!"

"Yeah, we changed the light bulbs."


"These ones use less power."

"Power like the genie [from Aladdin]?"

Okay, that's not particularly funny, I just love to watch her learn these new concepts and piece together the world. And her perspective makes me think; is electric power the same as genie power?

We're also working on homonyms (not really working on, I just happened to get a book called Did You Say Pears? by Arlene Alda out of the library, and it is about homonyms and homophones, so she's had them on her mind lately), and the other day she said "There are two mangoes! Mango the colour, and mango the fruit!" And I wasn't sure whether to correct her or not; it's not exactly a homophone because the two words are obviously related, but I hate to split hairs with her on something so esoteric. She's three!


Today we had everyone over for dinner. After we were all finished eating Delphine decided she had to use the facilities, which are unfortunately right next to the dining area, and she still does all her business with the door open. So she did her thing, which of course turned out to be pretty noisy, and we all laughed.

"Are you laughing at me? I just farted!"

"Farts are funny," I said, which provoked a short discussion about why it's not funny when Zaida farts. I said we're laughing on the inside.

Then Delphine said "I have lots of farts. I'm full of farts!"

And then she got off the toilet and assumed the "please wipe my bum" position so I had to excuse myself and take care of her business while trying not to pee myself laughing. Ah, parenthood.


Tuesday was my birthday, and I am finally thirty-one. Thirty-one is a bit more convincing than thirty, which sounds a bit like you're making it up, or at least rounding. And when you're thirty-one you're really, properly in your thirties, not just, thirty.

Delphine's daycare is closed this week, so I invited a bunch of her friends over and the day that worked for everyone happened to be my birthday, so we had Ursa and Tanya over, and Dexter and Ellen and Maxine. I was talking to Delphine about our plans for the day over breakfast, and I said, "Who's coming over today?" She said "Dexter." "Who else?" "Ellen, and Maxine."

I said, "Who else?"

She said, "Who?"


"Ursa?" She looked slightly alarmed. "Two friends?"

"Yeah, two friends! Is two friends too many?"

"Yeah. Why two friends?"

It turned out that two friends wasn't actually too many, but she didn't like the idea of it.

Anyway, we got some KFC (which I always have for my birthday), and Morgan and Kathryn came over too, and Morgan brought cake, so the house was noisy and full of fun for my birthday, which I love. I was absolutely exhausted by the end of it all, but it was a good exhaustion. I like my friends. And my friends' children.

Then tonight was the family dinner; Morgan and Erik and Baba and Zaida came over and we had steak and mashed potatoes and honey-spice cake which Blake made for me.

It has been a nice birthday, unambitious and simple and thoroughly enjoyable.

On Biking; or There and Back Again.

Well, that took a long time.

It would have been a lot shorter if I hadn't made three wrong turns. The first was missing the short turn South from Holland Landing Road onto Bridge Street, and instead going up Bathurst to the "No Exit" sign. (I'm very glad I decided to stop when I saw that sign, since the road got quite a bit worse after that.) The map I'm using makes it look like you can just continue along the Holland Landing Road, and it will turn into the Bridge Street, but you really do need to jog South.

The second was trying to take the North Simcoe Rail Trail, which turned out to be much like the Belt Line or the Don Valley Trail, in that it was unpaved gravel, but worse, in that it was overgrown by flowers, bushes, and grasses. It also turned out to not be a continuous trail, and at one point (between Golf Course Road and Hendrie Road) I came across an electrified fence, beyond which were six or seven cows. Now, there were warnings that some sections of the trail ran through private property, and because we're not in England, where there are Right Of Way laws which force people to let travellers through, some of the owners have decided to disallow access through their sections. I'm fine with that. Of course, since there was no way around, I had to backtrack to the last road. The thing that irks me is that there was no indication that that section of trail was a dead end, so instead of just cutting around it, I had to waste my time finding out for myself. Between that, and the slow pace I had to take while riding through the weeds, and the many road crossings, which slowed me down even further, I resolved to stick to paved roads for the rest of the trip.

The third was the longest inadvertent detour, and most disheartening of all. When I was heading out of Elmvale, I thought I was on Highway 6, which would take me straight to Balm Beach Road, but I was actually on Highway 27, which, if you don't take the Highway 6 exit, turns to the right, and heads off to Waverley after going up a huge hill. A nice couple asked me if I knew where I was, and I had them convinced for a second that we were all in Wyevale, because how could I be that far off course? But no, I was, indeed, that far off course, and had to backtrack to Highway 6 to continue my journey.

Between the extra mileage from the wrong turns, and the extra mileage from trying to avoid hills and traffic by heading up Leslie instead of up Yonge, and by trying to take the North Simcoe Rail Trail and the Tiny Trail, I ended up biking 172 km on the way there, making that my first Imperial Century (107 miles). (And I'm not just saying that so that I can have ridden more than Tanya.) For comparison, on the way back, starting and ending at the same points, I only went 131 km (81 miles).

Some more stats:

  There Back
Top Speed: 71.2km/h (44.2 mph) (37.4mph)
Average Speed: 23.7km/h (14.7mph) 24.6km/h (15.3mph)

Next up, some notes on the trip back to Toronto.

A Week At The Cottage

We just got home from a week at the cottage; at a cottage, I should say, a place we (or more accurately, Blake's parents) rented for a week up on Georgian Bay. The cottage was right on the beach, and we spent a restful week playing in the water, sitting on the beach, eating corn and ice cream and making sand castles.

The first day we were there Cordelia started standing on her own, and she spent the rest of the week practicing; she can stay up for about twenty seconds before she plops down onto her bottom. As soon as we got home we set her up with Delphine's old push cart thing, and she loves to zoom around with it (although she can't steer yet — she goes in a straight line until she runs into something).

Delphine spent the week basking in all the attention from her Baba and Zaida, and conquering her fear of the water. She's scared of pretty much everything these days, so it was great for her to have an opportunity to confront something scary with the support of such tireless cheerleaders. And she did great — by the end of the week she was happily walking into the lake by herself, jumping over waves and playing in the water.

Blake and I had a nice week too, as you can imagine with two extra sets of hands around to help look after the girls. We both got lots of reading done, and we fit in a romantic walk on the beach and a nice dinner as well.

Delphine also went through a lot of books; I packed a couple of Pooh books, a Stella and Sam book and another library book with a watery theme. Unfortunately the cottage we rented came ready-stocked with some crappy kids books which, of course, Delphine loved. (I have heard from a couple of sources that children will naturally gravitate towards quality books, but Delphine certainly doesn't; some of her favourite books are garbage and I have to "lose" them because I can't bear to read them any more.) Among a whole selection of lousy books (and a couple of good ones; a Robert Munsch and some Arthur books) at the cottage were picture-book-length adaptations of Disney's Aladdin, Disney's The Little Mermaid and Disney's The Jungle Book. (Spotting a trend here?) You can't really fit an hour and a half of movie into thirty paragraphs, so there was a lot of "Suddenly!" and sentences like "Aladdin tricked the genie into taking them out of the cave on a magic carpet," or "It took a lot of tricks for Baloo and Bagheera to free Mowgli from the monkeys!" I don't remember the movies, but something tells me that's at least fifteen minutes of film and no small amount of characterisation and action squeezed into one lousy little sentence.

Delphine's favourite of those three was Aladdin. Her favourite character was the genie, and her favourite line, which she repeated all week, was "Proceed! Touch nothing but the lamp!' which is a pretty great sentence when uttered completely out of any context in a very gruff voice by a three-foot-tall girl. "Proceed! Touch nuffing but da lamp!"

The girls each had their own bedroom at the cottage, and the result of that was that they both slept better; Cordelia was sleeping until 6:30 instead of 5:30, and Delphine started sleeping until after seven! I am pretty excited about buying a house now.

All in all, the week at the cottage was a success — we expect we will do it again next year, even Blake who hates the great outdoors. We will probably try and get a nicer cottage next year; this one was kind of, um, retro.

Alarming Things They Say

My daughter the goth: "I like to be dead." She talks about being dead a lot, but I don't think it means what she thinks it means, because apparently it can be cured by eating corn.

My daughter the lesbian: "I like chicks."

My daughter the... I don't even know if there is a word for this. We were reading a book with a picture of a skeleton, and Delphine said, "I have a penis." Me: "Really?" "Yes. It's in my bum. It's a bone. Seth said I do." (Seth is this really sweet tiny blonde boy in her daycare room. He is responsible for a fair bit of misinformation around here.)

The AIDS Walk for Life.

This year, my mother is walking in The Toronto AIDS Walk for Life, on Sunday September 17, and asked me to post this.

ACT is an essential & vital organization - I am proud to work here & I am proud of the work that we do: providing support, HIV prevention & education services for people living with & at risk for HIV/AIDS.
Please pledge what you can & thank you for your support.
Secure on-line donations can be made with VISA, MasterCard, and American Express. An electronic tax receipt will be sent to you immediately by email.

The Route.

A while ago, I mentioned that I was going to head up to Balm Beach on my bicycle. Well, the date has been set, and it's this coming Saturday. I've done a couple of successively longer rides after the 87km Musselman Lake ride, a 103km ride out to Holland Landing and back, and a 126km ride up to Keswick and back. I've planned out a route (see right), and think it should be a long, but do-able ride. It's a little bit longer than my longest ride (which was yesterday, up to Keswick and back), but I'm going to start earlier (8:00am from Steeles, instead of 9:00am from Finch), and I don't mind finishing later. (I finished the Keswick ride, including taking the subway home from Finch, at 5:30pm, but these days, it's light out until almost 9:00pm. I don't really want to be biking for 13 hours continuously, but it's good to know that the option is there, if I decide to stop for a really long lunch, or something.)

The cue sheet looks something like this:

At Dist Turn Location
a 0 (or 2.1) km R Steeles
b 1.1 (or 3.2) km L Henderson
c 2.8 (or 4.9) km R John
d 3.7 (or 5.8) km L Bayview
e 16.4 (or 18.5) km R Stouffville
f 18.6 (or 20.7) km L Leslie
g 37.6 (or 39.7) km L Mount Albert Road
h 41.6 (or 43.7) km L Yonge
i 42.1 (or 44.2) km QR Holland Landing Road
turns into Bridge Street
j 48.2 (or 50.3) km VL Holland Line West
k 48.9 (or 51.0) km R Barrie Street
l 50.2 (or 52.3) km L 8th Concession
m 53.4 (or 55.5) km R 10th Sideroad
n 81.9 (or 84.0) km L Burton Ave
o ??.? km ? A trail, or Highway 40
p ??.? km R North Simcoe Rail Trail
q ??.? km O Balm Beach Road

I'm not exactly sure what's going on at step "m", so I figure I'll wing it, depending on how the trail looks, or if there even is a trail there.