They're Insane

It's Thursday morning, which means no-one has to go anywhere until Delphine's school starts in the afternoon. This is good news because it's minus ninety-five outside and I don't want to go out, but it's bad news because the girls have to negotiate each others' company all morning.

This morning they were doing Arts and Crafts. Delphine is miffed because there's an Arts and Crafts afterschool program and I didn't sign her up for it, but fortunately she's pretty sensible so she deals with it by doing Arts and Crafts (you can hear the capitals when she says it) on the dining room table with Cordelia. This goes well for a while until Cordelia doesn't comply with some requirement of Delphine's and the yelling begins. Delphine is quite bossy: "You have to draw a face on this person or I won't make you another person!"

Cordelia is very stubborn: "I don't want to draw a face!" Except Cordelia's voice is very high and loud, and she isn't so good with consonants, so it's more like "I DON WAN DRA FAY!" Which is enough to get anyone's ire up, and Delphine has a short temper as it is, so Delphine crumples up whatever it was that needed a face and declares that she doesn't want to play any more.

I point out that if they don't want to play together they each have their own bedroom, so Delphine goes upstairs. Cordelia starts to follow her. "Don't follow me! I don't want you!" Delphine slams her door. Cordelia tries to open the door and then yells "I can't open the door!" Well, "I CAN' OPE' THDAH!"

I yell up "If Delphine has her door closed she can have some privacy!" and Cordelia starts up with her heart-rending sobs. When this kid cries she puts everything into it and you'd have to be made of granite to not feel bad. She collapses on Delphine's door. "I love you Delphine!", she wails.

And then the door opens. "I love you too, Cordelia." And they hug, and now they're making worlds out of buttons and Lego and cotton balls.

Friends, enemies, friends, enemies. I think the only thing harder than parenting sisters is being one.

The Ac Is Back

About six years ago I received in the mail a small tub of NeoStrata AHA cream with 10% glycolic acid. It was sent to me by a friend who had tried it to cure her acne with no success. To my surprise, shortly after I started using it, my skin cleared up. The clogged pores that made my forehead into a shiny billboard of braille nonsense disappeared, along with the pimples which had been with me since high school. I never had terrible acne, but I always had one or two or three pimples on the go at a time, and I always made it worse by picking. Pick pick pick.

But once I started using the new cream, for the first time in my adult life I had clear, smooth almost-alabaster skin. It's a small thing and I feel like I shouldn't be so vain about it, but it was nice to walk around and not be self-conscious about my skin. Before the acne went away I thought I would feel prettier if I didn't have these spots, and as it turns out, I was right. I felt prettier and more confident.

So every time I ran out of the glycolic acid cream I went for a few days without it, just to make sure that I wasn't wasting my money, and sure enough within a couple of days the clogged pores would pop up on my forehead, a sure harbinger, I thought, of the pimples to come. So off to the store I would go to spend another $35 on the magic cream.

But now the pimples are back, just like before. I have a scar on my chin where I picked one last week, I have a scab on my forehead and another at my hairline, and I have a new pimple brewing on the other side of my chin. Exactly the same as before: same kind of pimples, same places. My skin is doing the time warp. I actually wore makeup the other day. I never wear makeup!

So what changed, I asked myself. I am using exactly the same beauty routine as I was three months ago: plain soap and the glycolic acid stuff. What changed?

Then I realized: Cordelia stopped nursing. Yeah. I started using the glycolic acid cream when I was a few months pregnant. Then I had Delphine, then I nursed her, then I got pregnant with Cordelia (without giving up nursing), had her and nursed her, until a couple of months ago. And then the acne came back. But not the clogged pores! Apparently the cream cured them but wasn't actually having an effect on the acne.

It's almost funny (haw haw) how much time and money and grief I spent between the ages of thirteen and twenty-seven, trying to get rid of these pimples. All I needed to do was get knocked up! Ha!

So next time I go see the doctor I will ask her about trying one of those birth control pills which cure acne as a "side effect". Since pregnancy cured it, perhaps something which feigns pregnancy will have the same effect! We'll see. In the meantime I will try and stop picking.

Okay, this is cool.

I found myself downtown today, with nothing really to do between 3:30 and 6:30. I suppose I could have headed over to U of T, but it seemed like sort of a long way to go just to connect to the internet and come all the way back again. So instead of making the trek, or wasting two tokens, I took advantage of the 2 hours of free WiFi that comes with my Starbucks card, and stayed near Yonge, drinking green tea with a little honey, and investigating a few bugs for work. After it runs out (in another 31 minutes), I think I'm going to pack up, and walk north to my next appointment, grabbing some dinner on the way. If I'm right, that should put me right where I need to be, right when I need to be there.

Ah, if only everything in my life could fall into place this easily. (The upgrade to Aquamacs 1.6 that I just did also worked out really well. Maybe today is just my day for doing stuff!)

More Atheism

So (obviously?) I've been thinking a lot about my beliefs (or lack thereof) lately. I came across this good quote today from Dale McGowan, the guy who wrote the book about raising children without religion:

Though I’m sure they exist, I have never yet met an atheist delusional enough to say he or she knows God does not exist. Atheism simply means “I don’t think God exists.” It is a statement of belief, based on the evidence as we see it, not one of certainty. But agnostic is too often misunderstood as a 50-50, “dunno, don’t care” position. That not really an agnostic, it’s an apatheist. I said that I am a teapot agnostic, then explained what that is.

Actually the whole post is really good. Anyway, I think I might lean towards apathetic agnosticism, except that I find this stuff quite interesting to think about. And I quite enjoy not believing in stuff, which isn't very apathetic of me.

Things on my mind.

I was chatting with a friend and former co-worker of mine today, and asked him why I was never a part of the group guiding where the company was going. (Okay, I actually asked why I was never a part of the management, but in retrospect that was the wrong question, for reasons detailed below. I should have asked the question I said above.) His answer basically boiled down to “You never wanted to be.” One of the things he mentioned was that when I traded salary for extra vacation days (something I was fairly proud of thinking of, since it makes me an easier sell to the CFO, and the two are pretty much equal, if you’re allowed to cash out unused vacation days), it indicated that my priorities lay more with my family than with the company, with the unspoken implication that that attitude isn’t one that will lead to a position of power within the company. That initial assumption led to a series of misunderstandings, and miscommunications, until I was effectively shut out of helping to guide the company.

I guess that’s fair enough, kinda, but it’s a shame that people think that having interests outside of the office means that I’m somehow less interested in the success of the company. Particularly since I didn’t take the vacation days, and was always intending on cashing them out. So, for my next job, I think I’m going to take that option off the table, since I didn’t use the vacation days anyways. (I had 27 days built up when I was laid off!)

I also asked him what I could do to get into management next time, but I’m not really sure that’s really where I want to be. I know a few people who have moved into management, and then found it hard to get a job when they were laid off. Along the same lines, I still believe I’m a far better architect and coder than manager, and so it’s sort of foolish for a company to hire me for my managerial skills when my coding skills are far superior. And I really really like programming. Really. With the spare time I had after I was laid off, I wrote code for an iPhone game. For fun I read up on programming languages I haven’t seen before, and solve Project Euler problems with them. But I don’t know if there’s a way to parlay my architecture and coding prowess into the ability to help guide a company, since that seems to be the exclusive province of people who manage other people. (Of course, my work on Basie last term also has me wondering if I’m actually a mediocre manager, or if I may be better at it than I always thought I was.)

I suppose there’s always one way to find out how good a manager/team lead I am, and I expect I’ll start moving that direction in my next job. I can always write code on evenings and weekends, right? Well, either way, it’s not something I’ll worry about until I get another job. And certainly not something I should be worrying about this late at night.

Three Books

Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden. This was my over-New Year's Day book. Joseph Boyden is kind of shiny here in Canada these days because he just won some award, I think for his next book. Okay, okay, I did some research: he won the Giller Prize (sorry, that's the Scotiabank Giller Prize) for Through Black Spruce.

This book is about two Ontario Cree who sign up to fight in WW I. Actually the book starts when one of the men returns, and it's told mostly in memories, the soldier's memories of war and his elderly aunt's memories of her life.

I would have to say this was a very good start to a year's reading. It's a good story, I learned a whole lot about World War I (which isn't saying much because I know next to nothing about World War I anyway) and got lots of insight into Cree culture, another embaraassingly large hole in my knowledge, considering I claim to be from Northern Saskatchewan, some of the time. The book is beautifully written. I'll have to check out Through Black Spruce too.

Ja, No, Man: Growing Up White in Apartheid-Era South Africa by Richard Poplak. Poplak was born in 1973 and lived in South Africa until he was sixteen, and ended up in Toronto. I was born in 1975 and lived in South Africa until I was seven, and ended up in Toronto. So I thought this book would be a cool read and might fill in some holes in my memory and my understanding of my childhood. The Globe and Mail loved this book, and I too love the book. It's hilarious and again, very educational (apparently there are no limits to my ignorance). Poplak crams in a lot of South African history among his droll tales of corporal punishment and weird racism. This book made me really thankful we got the hell out of dodge when we did. It also made me laugh out loud. (Dave, you should totally read this too.)

It's All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuff by Peter Walsh. I'm not sure exactly why I keep reading organizing books, because it's not like I'm drowning in clutter. I can have close friends and family over almost without notice, and visits from less-close friends only call for maybe half an hour of picking up and cleaning the bathroom. So it's not like I'm a giant household screw-up. But it's true that it wasn't always like this. Our apartment was pretty hideous, and it has taken me a long time to recognize how much ongoing effort it takes to keep a house clean and tidy.

The other thing is I like is to have less stuff, and to only have the right stuff, and that's what this book is really about. Rather than just dig in to all that stuff Walsh insists that first you think about what you want from your life, what your dream life really looks like. Then he gets you to think about what you want from your home, and then he gets you to break it down by room. For each room in your house Walsh asks you to make a list of desired functions in the room, and get rid of everything in the room which doesn't meet one of those functions. Once the room is clean, you designate a physical area for each function, and then put everything away in the appropriate area.

This is a good notion and something I might implement sometime, to some extent, but I think the best thing about the book is the yearly schedule of stuff to do to keep your place in line once you have sorted it out.

Two other nice things about this book: lots of anecdotes. I love anecdotes. Second Walsh has a bunch of neat tricks for figuring out whether you use stuff: turn all your hangers inside pointing out, and only turn them back when you wear the item outside of the house. At the end of the year, get rid of the clothes which are still pointing the wrong way. Or: masking tape all your Tupperware closed and only untape it when you use the Tupperware. After six months (preferably six months including Thanksgiving and Christmas) get rid of all the Tupperware that is still sealed shut. Or, move all your kitchen gadgets and utensils to a cardboard box and only put them away in a drawer when you use them. If you don't use them in four weeks, toss them. I don't agree with that time-scale; I have useful kitchen tools that I use less often than four-weekly, but then I think I'm more of a cook than his target audience, who apparently can't find their kitchen counters under junk mail and clothes that don't fit.

Anyway, this is a good book; I enjoyed reading it and it's helpful too. I'm slightly embarrassed that I have so much to say about this rather unsophisticated book and apparently no more than a paragraph or two to say about the real books I read. I'm tired! And I have rather more hands-on experience with domestic organization than I do with apartheid or Cree culture or WW I. Not much excuse, I know. Maybe I need to work on being smarter. Some more.

Christmas Retrospective, 2008

First off let me say I got one of my wishes: a computer of my own! To be sure, it's an ancient Toshiba laptop with no mouse, running XP, but beggars can't be choosers. It's a computer, and it's so gnarly no-one else will want to use it!

Today is the last day of Christmas holidays. At the beginning of the two weeks off school, Delphine was pretty miserable. She likes school better than home, probably because school notably lacks an annoying little sister. Also school is thick with structure and full of activities: she never has to wonder what to do next at school. So she and I both were a little nervous at the start of the holiday.

The first weekend we attended the annual Party Across The Street, the party the whole block goes to. All twelve houses worth! Delphine was feeling sick, though, so she only stayed for a little while. Sunday she was feeling better and good thing too, because it was the first day of Hanukkah and we had my friend Kat over for latkes and cabbage soup and some Doctor Whos. We scared the crap out of her with Blink and that one with the gas mask kid.

On Monday Delphine and I left Blake and Cordelia behind and went downtown to do some Christmas shopping. Delphine has only been downtown a few times, not counting swimming lessons on Bloor and Riverdale Farm, so it is still a big adventure for her. We went to the Eaton Centre, shopped in vain for a winter jacket for Zaida, got some presents for Daddy and had sushi and ice cream. Delphine ooh-ed and aah-ed at the Swarovski crystal Christmas tree, and at the fountain. I told her the secret to finding a nice clean, empty bathroom when the mall is busy (go to the top floor of one of the department stores), and we bought me some underwear. Yay!

On Tuesday we went tobogganing with friends, which is to say we all went to the park and then I peeled off to do some errands. I meant to be back in time to toboggan, but by the time I was finished shopping everyone had retreated to our friends' place for lunch. (It was the book store, the book store always takes longer than you think.) Then Delphine stayed at said friend's house for the rest of the afternoon for some getting-away-from-little-sister time.

The next day was Christmas Eve. Due to in-law difficulties (not with my in-laws, though) we had decided to have Christmas Dinner on Christmas Eve, at Baba and Zaida's house. (I know, there's just something weird about Christmas Dinners at Baba and Zaida's house. We're a modern family.) However, I'm obviously the big Christmas maven (heh) around here and Christmas Dinner is my baby, so I sent over three giant bags of food and equipment in Zaida's car in the morning, then drove myself and the girls crazy cleaning our house while Blake worked. It was a pretty rotten morning but it was the only time this whole Christmas season when I got stressed and overwhelmed, which is a big improvement over last year when pretty much all of December sucked. After the house was clean enough I shoved the girls over to Baba and Zaida's in a very unseasonable rainstorm, and Baba took over childcare/napping while I cooked away. I did prime rib (part of our quarter cow), roast potatoes and Yorkshire puddings and gravy, and Baba did green beans. For afters we had Christmas pudding (I made five Christmas puddings this year! That might be too many!) with brandy butter and whipped cream, and some of the vast selection of cookies baked by Baba's friend Bob. Bob starts baking in September or October and bakes, like twenty different kinds of cookies and bars, and then disseminates his handywork to all his friends. Hooray for Bob!

After dinner we headed home and did all the Santa juju, with the cookies and port (no milk for Santa at our house, we do it English-style), and stockings hung on doorknobs (Delphine) and dining chairs (Cordelia. Don't ask me, it wasn't my idea) with care. Delphine declared she was going to stay up and wait for Santa, but Delphine couldn't stay up if there were a real live pony in it for her, and within ten minutes she was gone. Then I got down to the real hard Santa work and finally crawled into bed by ten thirty or so.

The nice thing about having children who wake up really early normally is that you're used to it, so when they wake up really early Christmas Day it's not such a shock. We had coached the girls that they should open their stockings before waking us up, so we got to sleep until 7. Christmas Day unfolded as it should, with some stocking opening, a light breakfast, opening some presents. The whole family and a friend came over for brunch, catered by Morgan and Erik, and there was ample sitting around talking and eating more cookies and the traditional Terry's chocolate orange and giant Toblerone bar. Finally everyone left, and there was more present opening. Delphine declared herself to have received too many books and activity books (and to be sure, she did receive plenty of both) but I think she ended up pretty happy. Her favourite thing was a sewing kit I put together out of some sheets of felt from the dollar store, some fine yarn, actual grown-up needles and actual grown-up scissors. Actual grown-up stuff is a huge deal when you're five. I think Cordelia's favourite thing was the baby doll she got from Baba and Zaida (technically a Hanukkah gift).

Boxing Day was officially my day off: the house was clean, the fridge was full of leftovers, and everyone was amused with their new toys and books and activity books. I had nothing to do! So I read my Christmas book (that collection of short stories) in the morning and in the afternoon Tanya and her brood came over and we ate more and compared schwag.

The next day we had Cordelia's friend Henry over for a playdate and lunch. Henry was a little sick and had a minor meltdown and he and his Mom had to leave without really enjoying their lunch, but the kids did get to play a little bit. Morgan came over for lunch too, and we gave her her birthday present. Later we had more latkes with Kat and Baba and Zaida. After the kids went to bed Kat and Blake and I watched Juno, and I made Kat cry. Christmas is hard.

Sunday no-one came over and we didn't do anything. Delphine was happy; I told her on Saturday the Baba and Zaida were coming over and she said "I don't want any more company!" She has very specific needs, that one.

Monday my friend Ellen and her million children (actually three but two of them are louder or more rambunctious than average) came over. I love Ellen. We always have fun when she and her kids come over, but after this visit we decided that we should try and get Dexter and Delphine together sometime without younger siblings so they can play properly.

Tuesday we all went out together up Mount Pleasant to the drugstore and the library and the toystore. Delphine spent her Christmas money, all five dollars of it, on a pocket sized one of those little magnetic drawing pads. She said "it's just like Daddy's little computer!"

Wednesday, New Year's Eve, we all slept in until 8. Normally that would be great, but I had hoped to head down to the AGO early. I always like to get places early because usually they're less busy, and so that we can get home in plenty of time for Cordelia's nap. In reality we didn't get downtown until 11:00. However, an hour at the art gallery is really all Cordelia's good for. Delphine is at an awesome age for the art gallery - she is becoming interested in how to draw things "well", and we can talk about what colours the artist uses, whether pictures are pretty or not, whether we like them or not. With Cordelia it's more, "Don't touch that, Cordelia. Please don't run, Cordelia. Could you be more quiet, Cordelia?" We went for lunch at the food court I used to go to when I worked downtown, and I had a number 4 at New Thai Food: cashew chicken with sticky rice and papaya salad.

Blake and I stayed up late on New Year's Eve, but it was pretty lame. We ended up watching George Strombouloupoulos's interview with Sarah Palin because there was so nothing on, and that's ten minutes of my life I'd love to have back.

New Year's Day Delphine had a friend over, and the next day we went skating! I hadn't been skating since I was a kid, and Delphine and Cordelia have never skated before. Before we went skating we went to the local skate shop and spent $200 on skates, mainly for me. I got some of these new comfort skates. Comfort skates! They're purple! Skating was very much fun; I was surprised by how quickly I picked it back up again. I wasn't up to speed by any means, but I figured out how to go forwards, how to go backwards, and how to stop. Delphine got pretty good too, in an hour or so. She isn't quite skating properly but she can keep her balance. Even Cordelia did quite well, although when you're that short and enshrouded in a snowsuit it's hardly catastrophic when you fall over. Kind of fun, actually.

That brings us to yesterday and today, which was a fairly regular weekend. I had taken the tree and decorations down on Thursday and Friday, so the house is all back to normal and tomorrow is just an ordinary Monday: Cordelia is back to school, Delphine is back to school, I expect Blake will dig back into work again and I will be back to my usual, busy, slightly lonely and boring life. Hmph, there's got to be something to look forward to. There's choir. I have a book club meeting on Friday. Music class starts on Saturday. At some point in the future it will get warm again. I guess it's not so bad. I think I just have the Sunday blues.

But it was an awesome holiday! I love Christmas.

Books Read Since Mid-November

Here is the last pile of books I read in 2008. Since it's now 2009 I can be reasonably sure I won't add anything to this list.


Restoration Home by Mark Bailey, Sally Bailey, and Debi Treloar is an interesting decor porn book with a salvage bent. These people take shabby chic way beyond rumpled slipcovers and distressed coffee tables. They like chipped paint and missing patches of plaster. I liked the ideas about using industrial light fixtures and other fittings, and about reusing found objects. I also like the aesthetic of not having everything perfect and flawless. Some of the examples in this book go a little too far for my taste, though, into that crack-house look. To each their own.

(parts of) Character is Destiny by John McCain and Mark Selter This is a collection, written for a young adult audience, of short biographies of various historical figures chosen by the authors to exemplify various character traits and support their theory that "character is everything". I picked it up partly because I had (previously) quite liked and respected John McCain, and because there's a chapter on Roméo Dallaire, who I love. I also ended up reading the chapters on Elizabeth I, Winston Churchill, Sojourner Truth, and a couple others I forget now. I learned a lot about the people, which was the main point.

This book made me wonder what happened to John McCain that made him stray so far, during the 2008 campaign, from the decent person he used to be. I'm sure he's still decent, but something made him act all crazy. This probably ties into the fact that character is indeed not everything and that how people behave is actually very strongly affected by the situation they are in (see The Lucifer Effect.)

Non-fiction books that are pretty good but that I don't have a lot to say about

  • Why Women Should Rule the World by DeeDee Myers
  • David Suzuki's Green Guide
  • Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt
  • Mindfulness by Ellen Langer


The Road by Cormac McCarthy was one of the best fiction books I read this year, but in the same gruelling "I just want this to end" way as A Thousand Splendid Suns. I don't know what the connection is between gruelling and really good, but if I ever come up with a happy and uplifting book which is really good I will be sure to post about it. This book hit a few of my hot buttons: post-apocalyptic, small child, Viggo Mortenson (okay, he's not in the book but I knew they cast him for the movie version so that's what the protagonist looked like in my head).

Children of Men by P.D. James was really good. I didn't know P.D. James did speculative fiction. This is another book I read instead of seeing the movie.

What I Was by Meg Rosoff was a pretty decent young adult book about a boy who is sent to a miserable boarding school in Norwich (can there be any other kind?) and meets a wild boy who lives on the beach. They fall for each other and hang out, there is some tragedy and a surprise ending. Nice book.

The Landing by John Ibbitson is yet another young adult book, about a boy living in Muskoka in the twenties. He plays violin but when you're poor in rural Canada you're not going to get very far with that kind of artsy nonsense. Then he meets a woman who introduces him to classical music and encourages him to pursue his playing. Tragedy, rebirth, blah blah blah. Actually a really good book.

Only You Can Save Mankind by Terry Pratchett; I mentioned this earlier — I read it as a companion to Ender's Game and like I said earlier, while I don't have as much meaty substance as the other book it is funnier and equally well-written.

Home for Christmas and other stories by Scott Young is a collection of short stories, the old-fashioned kind with a beginning, middle and end which don't involve lots of weird allusions or great revelations or moments of truth. The kind of short stories that I and Michael Chabon like. They're all about Christmas, too.

The Other Boleyn Girl by Phillipa Gregory is our next book club book, and while it's not great literature it was a good read, quite educational (assuming the historical detail is accurate; I always wonder about that with historical fiction) and will provide lots of things for us to talk about.


Schuyler's Monster by Rob Rummel-Hudson. Well, the cover of the book says "Robert Rummel-Hudson" but I've been reading Rob's journal since Schuyler was just a baby, and he's always been Rob. It was cool to read Schuyler's story in book form, and I liked that Rob kept his smart-assy voice in the book. I've always enjoyed Rob's writing and I find it very hard to be impartial about the book because I already liked it before I even read it. I'm looking forward to reading something of Rob's that I haven't read before.

The Alchemy of Loss by Abigail Carter is a memoir by a woman who lost her husband in the 9/11 attacks. It's about her grieving process and how she dealt with taking care of her two little kids, her family and husband's family, and with her loss being part of a much bigger loss. I picked this book up because I have a fear of losing Blake, sparked in fact by 9/11, and I wanted to read about how someone else had grieved and then gone on with her life. This book is beautifully written, very honest, and hopeful.

Parenting and Child Development

The Unschooled Mind by Howard Gardner is about how kids learn about the world, and how educators really need to take into account children's existing models of the world when teaching them new things. Apparently often what happens is that kids learn two models of the world, the "real" one and the "school" one. The "real" model is the model they kluged together through their observations back when they were little kids, and the "school" model is techncially correct but because they were never shown (not told) the errors of their real-world model they only learn the school model by rote and never understand it well enough to take it out into the real world. So teachers have to know how to delicately dismantle children's models — or rather help the children do it — in order to make room for the new, subtler models. Very interesting, although Gardner is pretty dry. More anecdotes please!

The Homework Myth by Alfie Kohn. I love Alfie Kohn. He's just so convincing. In this book he convinced me that most homework is a useless waste of time, which I'm sure will go over really well with my kids' teachers. Whatever, I'm not going to squander my kids' precious free time doing busywork. If the teachers can come up with valuable interesting homework we'll do it.

Of course Delphine will do her homework anyway because she will be too scared of getting in trouble not to do it. Maybe Cordelia will come onboard with my homework rebellion, though.

How to Talk so Kids Will Listen And Listen so Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlich. Everyone has said everything there is to be said about this book. If you deal with kids and you haven't read it yet you'd better get on it.

What to Look For In A Classroom and other essays by Alfie Kohn. More Kohn cleverness. He's an interesting and intelligent man. This book covers diverse topics in education, from standardized testing to the subtle racism of middle-class mothers. (Don't get me started on that one.) Great book.

Oh my, I think I'm done book blogging for 2008. Better start book blogging for 2009!

Hello 2009!

It's the last day of 2008. To celebrate, Blake and I are watching the last episode of the latest season of Canada's Worst Driver, and hopefully going to bed early. Last night we stayed up too late and ended up sleeping in, which made us late to go to the Art Gallery, but more importantly made Blake hurry through his morning routine and miss his cup of coffee, so I had to deal with his bad mood all the way through the gallery. It was like dragging a recalcitrant donkey around.

But I digress. This here is my New Year's Resolutions post. I meant to make one of these a year ago, but I never got to it, which leads me to my first resolution:

Blog more. As you might have guessed from my frantic book blogging of the last few days, I have a lot more to say than I actually get around to saying. Whether that's a good thing or not is a matter of opinion, but there's no point in having a blog if you don't post to it. Now that the girls are a little older, and now that we have two computers (maybe three if we get the new router and the old Toshiba set up) I hope I can post at least once at week. That should allow me to, at least, keep on top of the books.

I alluded to the necessity of my next resolution above: try to sleep from 11 until 7. I know, eight hours a night for a mother of two seems a little princessy, but really the whole family is better off when I've had my beauty sleep. It also seems to me that I feel most well-rested when I wake up at 7, and I have a pretty good alert period in the late evening which I could take advantage of if I stayed up until 11. I read an article in New Scientist a few years ago which said that everyone has their own natural "time zone" (and so some people's time zone doesn't fit into the 9-5 world, which gives them a kind of societally-inflicted jet lag). I think 11 to 7 works best for me — I'm just a little too cranky when I wake up before 7. Fortunately the girls sleep that late most days.

(This might be my last year of sleeping until 7 for a long time, since next year Delphine starts Grade One and I'm not sure if we can get out the door in time waking up at 7.)

Next, I'm going to try and schedule more playdates for Delphine. She's a really social little kid and I know she would love to play with her friends more — I know I would have when I was her age. The only reason she doesn't is that I don't get around to scheduling playdates for her. So I'm going to try harder and get her out there (or someone over here) maybe once a week or so.

This one is a bit embarrassing, but here it is. I have a problem keeping my cat's water clean. I tend to fill it up and then leave it for days while it gets gnarlier and gnarlier until Thomas is obliged to drink the leftover water in the bathtub. To be sure, Thomas contributes by doing everything in his limited power to drown pieces of kibble in the water bowl, and by inexplicably flicking the water out of the bowl and mucking up the tray his water lives in. Anyway, I need to just suck it up and pick up Thomas's gross water bowl every day and replace it with a clean one. How hard is that?

I need to talk to my mother more often. Before my dad died I talked on the phone with my mother maybe every couple of weeks, which isn't often enough. I should talk to her every couple of days at least, just to touch base and chit chat. Part of the problem is that I just don't make the time to call, and part of the problem is that my mother is incapable of ten minute phone calls; every call turns into a hour-long extravaganza. However, maybe if I called every day my Mum wouldn't feel the need to keep me on the phone forever? Anyway, I make stupid excuses, like I have two little kids and I'm tired and I have other stuff to do, but of course those excuses won't hold much water when my Mum is gone too and I've missed a thousand opportunities to talk to her. That would be stupid.

This is a gimme: I'm going to give up on houseplants. I just can't do it. My house is too dark and I never remember to water them at the right time, and I just don't care that much. I have enough trouble keeping three people and a cat alive. The houseplants are toast.

I have a million books on hold at the library, but I have to catch up on my Neal Stephenson. I read Cryptonomicon but I haven't read any since then, and my geek cred is severely suffering as a result. I don't know if I'm going to plough through The Baroque Trilogy or just skip straight to the latest one. We'll see.

Memoirs Read in 2008

I read The Greek for Love: A Memoir of Sorrow and Joy by James Chatto because it was favourably reviewed in the Globe, and because it's set (is it called "set" when it's non-fiction?) in Corfu, a part of Greece I have some memoirish familiarity with due to my obsessive childhood love of Gerald Durrell. I thought it would be interesting to read a different, more modern perspective on the island. Also this book is about someone losing a child. Like most parents I am consumed with fear that I will lose (nice euphemism, as if I'm going to put them down in a restaurant and forget to take them with me, like a pair of gloves or an umbrella) one of my children and my life will be destroyed. I know I can't reasonably be assured that both my children will survive me, but the matter of whether or not I can go on with my life in the event of a tragedy is much more in my control. So I rather like to read about people surviving and carrying on after the death of a child.

This book provided admirably on both counts; it's an evocative sketch of Corfu in the seventies (? I think it was the seventies): the weather, the landscape, the crazy locals and the lovely ones. It was also a beautifully written story of loss and how the author and his wife dealt with it and moved through it.

So funny story. It was coming up to Blake's birthday and as usual I had no idea what to get him. Mostly Blake wants arcane pieces of electronic equipment that usually cost a few hundred dollars. So I buy him socks and underwear, and chocolate-covered marzipan. Well, he's a reader too so this year I went to the local second-hand bookstore and stood gormlessly in front of the SF/Fantasy section, apparently mistaking him for my first boyfriend who would read pretty much any SF or fantasy. After a few moments I came to my senses and remembered that if 80% of everything is crap, 99% of genre fiction is crap and likely Blake had already read the 1% of SF that isn't. So I shuffled disconsolately around the store until I got to the non-fiction section, which as you might guess is my favourite place.

Now the problem with buying books for another reader, especially when your interests overlap somewhat, is that it's hard to tell whether you have picked up a particular book because you think the other person would enjoy it, or because you want to get your own hands on it. (We actually have a convention in our family that it's fine to read a book, carefully, before you give it to someone as a gift.) So there I was standing in front of the non-fiction books trying to figure out what I could give to Blake that wouldn't be too transparently something I wanted to read myself, when a peculiar thought came to me:

"I wish Dave were here, he would know what to get."

Now why my brother, who lives on the other side of the planet and who hasn't seen Blake for years, would know better than I who spend every day with the man what Blake would like to read I don't know, but just then my eyes lit upon the Bill Bryson books and I remembered that Dave had said something favourable about Bryson recently in his blog. I also remembered that Blake had enjoyed another of his books, and so for Blake's birthday I got him The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America by Bill Bryson. And then read it. Well, I let Blake read it first. And it was very good, and I enjoyed it. Bill Bryson rocks, I should read more of his stuff.

Incidentally Blake really liked it too — I had forgotten that Bryson also wrote The Mother Tongue, a book Blake really enjoys. So apparently Dave actually is the go-to guy when I need a gift idea for my own husband. This is what happens when you marry your brother.

Dreams from my Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama came to me in a package from my mother, who had received it in turn from my brother. I believe Dave either got it from a friend or lent it to a friend before sending it to Mum, so our copy has been read by four people on two continents. Right now it's stuck on our bookshelf because Blake wants to read it but hasn't gotten to it. If anyone reading this would like it let me know and I will send it on, because it's a fantastic book. (Blake can get it from the library if he really wants to read it.)

A while ago I posted about why I was happy that Obama won the election, and a large part of that post was informed by what I know about the man from this book. It's wonderfully well-written and Obama is clearly a very intelligent person who isn't satisfied with just seeing the surfaces of things or with simple explanations. This book is about identity and personal history and I found it particularly interesting because I related to issues of constructing identity from family, of being an immigrant, and of having a mobile, unsettled childhood. It was a wonderful read and I am looking forward to reading The Audacity of Hope, and anything else Obama has the time to write.

Long Way Down: An Epic Journey by Motorcycle from Scotland to South Africa by Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman is the companion book to the reality series of the same name, about McGregor and Boorman's motorcycle ride from John O'Groats to Cape Town. Good book, pretty much like Long Way Round which I read in 2006. I liked reading a new perspective on Africa.

Morgan secured her nomination for Sister-in-law Of The Year when she gave me Slash by Slash and Anthony Bozza for my birthday. (And now that I think of it, she borrowed it as soon as I finished it. I guess my new family is more like my old family than I sometimes realize.) I loved this book. This is going to sound odd, but it gave me new insight into the roots of the Guns N' Roses sound. When I started listening to them in 1988 or 89 I was basically coming to rock music cold, with a listening history of almost exclusively pop music. I've gained a clue or two since then but never re-examined GN'R, just maintained my uncomplicated love for their music. So it was very interesting to put that music into the context of the glam and punk scenes it was born from, scenes I didn't have Clue One about back when I was a pimply Good Girl teenager in northern Saskatchewan.

This book also gave me a more subtle appreciation for the contributions of the non Slash/Axl members of the band, who I had previously largely disregarded. Especially Steve Adler; I used to think he was pretty much an interchangable Lego-piece drummer, but Slash convinced me that his casually hyper rock style contributed significantly to the sound of Appetite for Destruction.

This book also made me appreciate just how much crap you can throw at a human body and have it survive. Well, more or less survive, if you have a pacemaker anyway. Slash had a weird, undisciplined childhood and a crazy life but he is grounded and disciplined and seems like a decent (in the "honest" sense if not the "proper" sense) guy. Fun book.

I took out The Vanished Landscape by Paul Johnson because I was looking for books about Staffordshire, where my mother is from. The subtitle of the book is "A 1930s Childhood in the Potteries", which is exactly what my mother had. Funnily enough, my mother's childhood and Johnson's couldn't have been more different. Johnson is the child of middle-class parents, his father an art teacher and his mother one of those women who does nice things for poor people. They moved from Manchester to Stoke when Johnson spent his early childhood.

My mother, on the other hand, is the child of working class parents and she grew up in a small town near Stoke, one of those pastoral Shire-like English towns, with hedgerows and sheep and little walls made of stones. The little towns that no longer exist because they've turned into exurbs of nearby cities. Anyway, Johnson is a beautiful writer and describes Stoke wonderfully, especially the "vanished landscape" of the title, the old potbanks and wastelands born of the pottery industry. His father taught him to see the Burtynsky-esque beauty in that kind of landscape. I also loved Johnson's descriptions of his family and other people, and his stories of a much more unfettered childhood than today's children are allowed.

My mother read this book, too, and it got her blood boiling because Johnson is an old-school English snob, going on about how the poor people (that's my Mum) are all dirty and ignorant and need charity. As it turns out Johnson (who I had never heard of before) came to America and was an advisor for the Republican party. No surprise there.

I will probably read more Johnson because I love how he writes, but I wish there were more memoirs of Staffordshire out there. Like Barack Obama, I am continually searching for my identity through my family history.