Books Read in October and November

Since I last posted I have started making notes on the books I read in an old-fashioned paper-and-pen notebook, which is part of the reason I haven't posted about books; I feel like I've thought about the books quite enough between reading them and then making notes, I don't really want to face them again in the blog. So I am trying to decide if I should give up blogging about books at all. On the one hand I feel as if books are the only thing of substance I write about, and I sort of like putting my reading list out there and sharing the finds and the books to avoid; I know there is at least one person who gets ideas about books to read from my list. On the other hand I don't know if anyone else particularly cares what I read and what I think about it, so maybe it's not worth blogging about and I should stick to the paper book log.

Anyway, all that aside I would like to write about what I read in the rest of 2006, for completeness.

The Baby Project by Sarah Ellis is a young adult novel about a teenage girl who gets an unexpected baby sister, and how the new addition pulls the family apart and together.

SPOILER: Of course there is the obligatory tragedy which forces everyone to confront their demons and become better people. Tragedies in young adult fiction often seem to heavy-handed and morose and obvious. "We must have something terrible happen to these people to move the character development forward." As opposed to the tragedy happening because tragedies happen, which I suppose happens in life, but I feel like fiction should be a little more sensible. I don't know how an author finesses that fine line of having things happen to move the novel forward without it being obvious that this thing is happening to move the novel forward, but it's nice when they manage it. Which Ellis didn't here, but otherwise it's a good story with well-drawn characters.

Reading Series Fiction by Victor Watson seemed like a nice complement to the book about reading like a professor. It's about series fiction for children, which apparently is an under-studied genre in the world of children's literature. Watson gives a nice overview, with lots of analysis of various series, as well as effectively skewering Enid Blyton. This is a must-read for anyone who is interested in children's literature.

Confessions of an Organized Homemaker by Deniece Schofield is a book about how to get organized. I can't remember the layout or concept of this book, but I wrote down a bunch of good ideas from it, like keeping jigsaw puzzle pieces in big Ziploc baggies and getting rid of the boxes (which always fall apart, don't stack nicely and generally make life hard); keeping all dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, rice, etc) in Tupperware containers which stack neatly, rather than in the original packaging (of course I use cheap and cheerful Gladware instead). This was a useful book with lots of similar good ideas.

Johnny Kellock Died Today by Hadley Dyer is a young adult novel set in Halifax in the fifties. I don't remember much about this apart from a favourable impression and appealing characters, and another tragedy but a much more finely drawn and subtle one.

Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert is a book about what makes people happy. This is very nicely written; I enjoyed reading it not just for the content but for the author's voice. It's an interesting book about where happiness comes from, what makes us happy, how we deal with tragedy, and how to make decisions that will make us happy in the future. It's probably a good idea for everyone to read this book. Everyone who wants to be happy, anyway.

The Car and the City by Alan Thein Durning is an overview of how cars and cities work together, or rather how they don't work together, and how we can create cities which improve our lives and lessen our dependence on cars (which are pretty much synonymous in my mind). Useful book, easy to read.

The Children of Green Knowe by Lucy Boston and Autumn Term by Antonia Foster are both discussed in the aforementioned Reading Series Fiction book. Green Knowe is about a little boy who is sent to live with an ancient relative in a spooky old house, and the friends he makes there; Autumn Term is an excellent representative of the English Boarding School genre. Both are very good and I will suggest the girls read them when they are older.

I did not finish Allergy: History of a Modern Malady by Mark Jackson. I thought it would be more chatty, more lighthearted, but it turned out to be a dense discussion of the history of allergies in medicine, and I gave up after a couple of chapters.

Blue Shoes and Happiness by Alexander McCall Smith and Cold Moon by Jeffrey Deaver were good easy reading.

The March of Unreason: Science, Democracy and the New Fundamentalism by Dick Taverne is a really nice comparison of anti-scientific doctrines and beliefs with the old religious fundamentalism. Taverne discusses the role of the media and post-modernist thought in the mongering of fear of such diverse bugaboos as multinational companies, pesticide, genetic modification, and modern medicine. His arguments are sound and this book is very thought-provoking. It's also nice to think that one doesn't have to go around being scared and cynical all the time.

Kindred by Octavia Butler is an awesome book. It's about a modern (well, seventies) black woman who is sent back in time to the slavery-era South to save a white man who will become her ancestor. Imagine the best possible book with that scenario, and that's what Butler has written. I am glad to have found this author because she wrote a lot, and you know I am always running out of things to read.

I didn't read Blink by Malcolm Gladwell because I wanted to, but because every else in the world has read it and I felt left out. I'm glad I did, though, because it's interesting and Gladwell is always a pleasure to read. It's more of that same brain stuff like in Stumbling on Happiness and The Paradox of Choice, and the more I know about how the brain works the more in control I feel, and the more I understand about the world.

The Fourth Horseman by Andrew Nikiforuk was really disappointing. It's a book about plagues and pandemics, and I love a good plague. One of my favourite units in History was on the Black Death. But in my notebook I wrote "A discussion of various plagues and pandemics through the ages, fatally marred by the author's disdain for doctors, technology, and facts." It's a weird book; at one point Nikiforuk talks with disgust about how underwear was originally worn to protect more valuable outer garments from body soil. Isn't that why we wear underwear now? I mean, except Paris Hilton, for whom outerwear is underwear. He also goes into a wistful reverie about the good old days when half of children born didn't make it to age five, and old people were really respected because there weren't so many of them. He speaks with disdain about the "germ theory" of disease, the radical theory that microorganisms are the cause of many diseases. And a cornerstone of modern medicine. I think Nikiforuk is a kook in journalist's clothing; this book was a jarring contrast the The March of Unreason.

Little People: Learning to See The World Through My Daughter's Eyes by Dan Kennedy is a book by the father of a little girl born with achondroplagic dwarfism, about his journey to understand why she was born different and what that means for her future and for the world she will live in. It was an interesting book and a good read. It was also fun to read the bits about the Roloffs, because I know you watch Little People, Big World every week like I do. Or at least you should.

Break No Bones by Kathy Reichs is better than the last one — she's back to her usual formula and it's working. Although I hope she resolves this husband/boyfriend love triangle thing, it's starting to drag on.

So that was a lot of books and it took me a really long time to write about them; was it worth it? I don't know; I'm just really tired.

Cordelia is Fifteen Months Old

Cordelia is my little monkey. She is fearless and ambitious — this morning she was hauling the cat carrier around the house, dragging it behind her and bashing into every damn thing. She dragged it into the kitchen and before I could turn around she had climbed on it and was messing around on the counter. She does appalling things like that every day; I certainly didn't get any experience with this kind of behaviour from Delphine.

Last time I posted about Cordelia, she had just started walking. Well, she's been walking for four months now and she's pretty darn good at it. Mostly. The other day I put her down in the front yard and she took off like a flash down the path; there's a little step right before the path meets the sidewalk, and she stepped down it. Unfortunately the step is about four inches, and Cordelia's leg is also about four inches, and so after her foot made contact with the ground, her right hand did, then her left, and then... her head. She hardly cried at all, but I had to pick some grit out of her, and now she's walking around with a gnarly big scab on her forehead. She doesn't care; it makes her look fierce.

She says a few words now: cat, up, milk, ball, book, Mimi (which applies to all cats), Daddy, Mummy, duck, and of course, "no", with a little head shake. She always says "no" when you ask her a question; I think she just likes shaking her head. She had her eye on my tea — the child is always thirsty — and asked for it, but then answered her own question by shaking her head sadly: "no".

Fifteen months is the age Delphine was when we started putting her down to sleep alone; Cordelia has been sleeping alone for almost a year. She sleeps from six or six-thirty until six in the morning, and she goes down without a fight. Last night I was nursing her to sleep and she stopped nursing and looked around. I issued my usual ultimatum: "Boobie or bed!" Her typical response is to latch right back on in a hurry, but last night she said "Bed!", and sat up to be put in the crib.

She's down to one nap a day, mostly — she just suddenly stopped needing a morning nap one day. The catch is that when she's sick she still needs two naps some days, and I'm never sure whether any given day will be a one-napper or a two-napper. Makes planning ahead hard.

Being in the house with Cordelia is also really hard; if I want to go upstairs or to the basement, I have to pick her up; I can't work in the basement with her because there are too many hazards: cat litter, stairs, unexpected pointy things. Upstairs we don't have a baby gate for stairs, so I have to pick a room to work in, shut the door, and stay there. So mostly we stay on the main floor, which makes unpacking and doing laundry and any other multifloor pursuit very difficult. I do miss having everything on the same floor, but I have to remind myself that one day Cordelia will be able to handle stairs and being by herself, so I will be able to get stuff done much easier.

And in the meantime, she makes me laugh every single day.


People keep asking me if we're getting settled in, and until today I was getting pretty tired of it, because I really didn't feel all that settled. Today, though, we moved a bunch of boxes out of the living room and laid down the rug, cleared the upstairs landing, and unpacked a couple of big bins, and now it finally does feel like we're getting settled, like this is really where we live and not just where all our stuff is.

Of course we still have a million things to unpack, but we have been cleverly hiding boxes in the basement rather than face them, and we are managing quite nicely with the forty percent of our possessions that we have unpacked. I have a grand plan for unpacking the rest which involves a large box labelled "Garage Sale"; Blake and I will dig into that project in the New Year.

It's a crappy little house (in some ways, and in others it's wonderful), and sometimes I wonder why we bought it. The kitchen needs redoing, the bathroom needs redoing (not to mention there's only the one), the basement isn't done at all... this house is a money sponge capable of absorbing every spare penny for the next two decades. Why didn't we buy one of the shiny, renovated perfect houses with the dug-out, finished basements and the second bathrooms and the nice kitchens?

Money, for one thing; we didn't pay much for this place. But we're going to have to put more than the difference back into it to get it up to snuff. The burning desire to be knee-deep in plaster dust for the next five years? A passion to express myself through interior design? That can't be right.

I don't think that's the reason we bought the house. I think we fell in love with the oldness of it, with the perfect trim and the retro cabinets, and with the challenge of taking this beloved old house and bringing it up to date without erasing its character; deciding what to keep and what to take away. Taking what is in a sense a blank slate and making it our own.

We've got some pretty good ideas about keeping the character while still beating the house into twenty-first century submission. We're going to rip down a bunch of walls, but save the trim and cleverly use it elsewhere: we're going to use the trim from between the living room and the dining room to frame a huge pass-through between the kitchen and the dining room; we're going to use trim from one of the doors to create an archway at the end of the new front hall; we're going to use two doors to make a headboard, and another to make a mirror for the top of the stairs. We're going to salvage the doorknobs and line them up on a board to hang coats and hats on. We're going to patch the floors rather than refinish (or replace) the hardwood. And of course I want to do the kitchen in a style reminiscent of the fifties; I almost want the kitchen to look like it was installed in the fifties and impeccably maintained, rather than to look like a new kitchen with all the latest fashions and gadgets.

I think when we're done this first phase of renovations, the house will be modern and comfortable, with an open living space, lots of light and air, a large, usable kitchen, and new wiring and light switches in sensible places, but it will still retain the patina of age that we love.

Delphine is Three and a Half (and a little bit)

Delphine might be the only three and a half-year-old in North America who has never seen an entire movie. This week her Auntie Morgan tried to get her to watch Finding Nemo but it was too scary for her. I don't know if they made it all the way to the end, but they definitely skipped some bits in the middle.

Delphine is still on the delicate side of the sensitivity scale; she is reserved with new people, and she doesn't like scary or violent characters in movies or TV shows. Books don't bother her so much; we read her Little Red Riding Hood and Chicken Little, and she doesn't flinch at the devouring of grandmothers or the biting off of heads.

Once she gets past her initial reservations she rises to the occasion. At Hanukkah dinner she made conversation with Baba's friends, and just last night she very bravely petted a large, friendly dog. She can even put her face in the pool for three seconds! As long as she gets lots of cuddles and patience she faces her fears admirably.

She is very solicitous of others and loves to be the mummy. When I am scared of something, (or pretend to be) she comes up and pats me and says "It's okay Mummy, I will protect you." She has lots of baby dollies, and she takes great care of them, feeding them and putting them down for naps. We all have to be quiet when they are taking a nap.

She gets into these weird proto-Goth funks sometimes, where she goes all nihilistic: "I don't want any toys, I don't want you, I don't want anyfing! Go away Mummy! I want to be sad!" And then she has a big cry. It's almost like she's picking at a scab, emotionally, like she wants to experience the pain of sorrow in an environment she has created and controls. I'm never sure what to do but mostly I let her go through it and just stay around to administer cuddles when she's ready for them.

Delphine loves puzzles and accordingly got a whole pile of them for Christmas. She's fairly good at them; she needs a little help the first time through, but she can usually do them on her own thereafter. I am looking forward to when she's older and we can all do jigsaw puzzles together properly. For now they all have to be done high up on the dining table, out of the reach of Cordelia the Marauder.

Delphine likes sticking stickers, which is like drawing only not creative. And she spent literally hours playing with a pair of paper dress-up dolls my cousin sent her — you know, the ones with the clothes with little tabs on them? The old toys are still the best.

Delphine's getting better at reasoning, which means we have to have airtight reasons when we tell her to do (or not do) things. This morning she asked for a lollipop; I said she shouldn't have candy in the morning, but somehow she knew I had already had a cookie. She reasoned that a cookie is a treat, and a lollipop is a treat, so she should be allowed to have a lollipop. I couldn't really argue with that without getting into subtle, and frankly dubious, arguments like the presence of flour and egg in cookies rendering them slightly closer to actual food. So she got her lollipop.

The lollipops, incidentally, were also a gift from my cousin. They are little jellies in the shapes of Santa and snowmen and stuff, on a lollipop stick. Delphine is not a chewer of candies, so she sucks these little jellies and makes them last literally for hours, which of course drives Cordelia mad because she's not allowed to have jelly lollipops at all.

Three and a half is great. It's a little psychotic sometimes, but (just like all the other ages) often because she's tired or hungry. And mostly it's great; she can talk, she can think, she can go up and down stairs by herself, she has friends and ideas and opinions. She's a real person, and I quite like her.

December Slump

Today I ran for the first time in a month and a half. I signed up for the Resolution Run 5K on December 31 in an attempt to motivate myself to keep running through the winter, but I didn't count on the move joining forces with the cold weather to put me off lacing up my sneakers.

So between cleaning and packing and moving and unpacking and being busy and exhausted, I haven't been running. It seems there are things I give up on when I am very busy, and things I don't; the things I give up on are exercise, reading, baking and cooking complicated meals. The things I don't give up on are watching TV, sleeping, flossing, going to choir practice and seeing friends. And eating — I hear there are people who get so busy they forget to eat, but that's never been an issue for me.

I did, finally, go for a run today. After the collosal binge that is Christmas Day I was desperate to do something healthy, and I thought I should test the waters to see how well I can expect to do at the Resolution Run on the 31st. I did 2K today, and I didn't die; I made it through the first ten minutes okay, although I started too fast and almost wore myself out. I had to take a walk break in the second ten minutes, but only for half a block. I think I should be fine in the Run if I do five and ones or seven and ones.

Now that we are getting settled in and it's no longer imperative to spend every spare moment unpacking, I am going to try and go out for two 2Ks and one 5K every week.

We're In

We made it in, and back on the internet in record time (after the cable dude drilled a hole in our wall. All the way through our wall. With a really long drill bit.)

Moving day went pretty smoothly, all in all. It took way longer than I thought it would to move us over; we have a lot of stuff, which is funny because I hate stuff. I guess I don't hate it all that much. We weren't all moved until seven at night, and then we had a minor crisis because I wasn't smart enough to set aside pyjamas and toothbrushes and stuff, so we had to go digging through boxes before the girls could go to be. In fact they both went to bed in regular clothes because I gave up on their pyjamas.

Today Blake and I and Morgan worked hard building furniture and unpacking, and the place still looks like hell but we did manage to sit on our actual sofa and watch some actual TV this evening, and isn't that what it's all about?

Tomorrow the plumber comes to install our shower converter thing (not that exact one but something similar) and our super sexy bridge faucet (that exact one, I believe, although we didn't buy it from that supplier). Also the couch dudes come back to reassemble the huge couch in Cordelia's room, and then I think that's all for people coming to fix stuff. For a while, anyway.

I kind of love my little house. I knew I would. It seems to be holding all our stuff fairly well, even without buying new furniture and installing clever storage solutions and, you know, adding fifteen feet to the back. Although I am still trying to figure out how previous owners have managed without any kind of coat closet. I love the Deco fixtures, I love how it gets warm really quickly and stays that way (because it doesn't have a wall of eight-foot windows in every room), I love the neighbours, I love having rooms for the girls.

We are still getting used to the new noises. The floors upstairs are so creaky that our ten pound cat sets them off; last night poor Blake kept getting up because he thought Delphine was coming down the hall, but no, it was just Thomas. Tonight Blake and I spent some time figuring out the source of a weird pinging noise; turns out a floor joist in the dining room is attached to a duct, and every time you step in it it flexes the duct enough to make it ping. And now we think we can hear the neighbour's television.

Tomorrow is Monday; Blake is off work and Delphine is in daycare, so hopefully we can get a good pile of stuff done. Hooray!

Moving Day Minus One

Tomorrow we move. We move from a spacious tenth-floor condo to a tiny earth-bound house. We move from the longest street in the world to a tiny block in a sweet, domestic, leafy neighbourhood. From sky to ground, from noise to quiet, from city to... well, what used to be suburb, eighty years ago.

Everything is pretty well packed, apart from the stuff we will need today and tomorrow morning, and Delphine's toys which we left out to keep everything as normal as possible for her. We signed all the legal papers yesterday, and we should get our new house keys today.

The new house is going to be an adventure, perhaps more of an adventure than you necessarily want your primary residence to be. Between the no shower and the no dishwasher and the ancient stove... well, as my real estate agent keeps telling me encouragingly, "it will be like being at the cottage!" Without the beach and the ice cream stand.

Incidentally, yesterday I learned that "So are you all packed yet?!" is the "Still pregnant?!" of moving, and equally annoying and unhelpful. "No! Piss off!"

We're going to be offline for a couple of days; cable will shut down tomorrow and the cable guy isn't coming to set it up at the new place until Sunday morning. And I am frankly a little skeptical that he will be able to get it working; I don't think the cable company appreciates the depth and breadth of the non-cable-having-ness of the new house. (No cable. Ever.) We'll see. Anyway, the website will be down and we won't be getting email, so if you want to contact us you'll have to phone, except the phone will be shut off on Saturday morning. So you'll have to visit. We'll be somewhere on Davisville.

See you in the new house!

New Pictures Up

We are in this weird state in packing and moving where everything we can do a week in advance has been done, so today is kind of a quiet day. That means I have had a chance to sit down and post the two or three months worth of pictures that I was behind.

Things Delphine Says

Delphine, being only three and a half, still has lots of those little kid speech peculiarities which are so adorable that parents insist on talking about them for years, and even try and teach them to their grandchildren (ask Blake's father about "meemor" and "monsert" some time. Or don't.)

Delphine's most distinctive one is switching consonant sounds within words, for example "bastick" for "basket", or "bistick" for "biscuit". Our doctor's name is Dr Paquette, and Delphine calls her "Dr Pateck". Since she also has trouble with the word "protect" she decided that Dr Pateck is called that because she patecks us.

Delphine Tells A Joke

Yesterday Delphine received her first issue of the magazine Chirp, which is targetted to three- to seven-year-olds. That's a pretty big range, so a lot of the magazine is over her head, including the page of jokes at the end. I read a couple of riddles to her, but she remained characteristically stone-faced; however when I read her the knock-knock joke she laughed. Encouraged, I read it a couple more times, and then we practiced doing it properly, with me taking the lead:

"Knock knock!"
"Who's there?"
"Anita who?"
"Anita cup of hot chocolate!"
Peals of laughter from Delphine.

So I thought I would get her to go and tell Daddy the joke as a surprise. I coached her a little bit, and sent her off.

Here's how it went: "Knock knock! Who's there? Daddy! Daddy who? Daddy cup of hot chocolate!" And she laughed and laughed, and Blake was bewildered. Still funny, but not in quite the same way.

Calamity Jane

(Michelle, you should maybe skip this post in light of our conversation re: passing out during an episode of ER.)

Yesterday, as I was shuffling, shoeless about the house (as usual) I stabbed my foot on a splinter. Crap, I thought, that hurts; but I was in the middle of preparing supper for the girls so I carried on, and in a lull in the cooking I got my tweezers and tried to pull the splinter out so I could get on with my evening.

The splinter didn't come out; I couldn't get a good grip on it with my shiny red Tweezerman slanted tweezers while I was hopping around on one foot, so I brought a dining room chair into the kitchen (where the light is best) and sat down.

Once, twice, three times I pulled and somehow always lost my grip on the splinter before I got it out. Finally I really dug those pointy Tweezerman corners into my foot, pinched the splinter as tight as I could and pulled hard.

To my horror what I had thought was a little sliver turned out to be an inch-long spear of hardwood floor. I immediately started bleeding all over the floor, great big bright red drops, so I grabbed a tea towel off the stove (there's a good reason to make sure you get a fresh tea towel out every day; if you injure yourself at least you know there's at most a day worth of crap on the first towel that comes to hand) and applied pressure with one hand while calling for backup with the other. Fortunately Zaida was only a couple of minutes away so he came right over to help with the girls' supper while I bandaged myself up and cleaned the kitchen floor.

That was yesterday.

Last Tuesday, I woke up in the middle of the night with the most excruciating pain I had ever had (although bear in mind I didn't go through labour, so this could be nothing compared to that). It felt like someone was punching me all over my chest and back. It went on for ten or fifteen minutes and was gone as soon as it had come. It came again on Thursday morning (there's just something especially cool about lying on the floor in agony while your three-year-old tries to figure out what to do with herself -- Mummies aren't supposed to get sick!) so on Friday I went to the doctor. She thinks I might have gallstones, so I am getting an ultrasound this Friday to check it out.

While I was at the doctor she informed me that those red bumps on my belly which I thought were maybe bites or something are actually shingles, for which she gave me a prescription for a week's worth of blue horse pills, anti-virals, and an exhortation to rest. (I laughed, and offered to let her come over and look after Cordelia and pack while I rested.)

So to recap: gallstones, shingles, and a bloody great hole in the bottom of my foot. It made yesterday's application for life insurance a barrel of fun, for sure. Well, Blake laughed a lot anyway.