Shiny Happy People

This weekend Blake and the girls and I went to Greg Wilson's housewarming party. Wow. I have never in my life been surrounded by so many accomplished, interesting people. Scientists, professors, a guy who was writing a book, millions of PhDs. The woman who owns Bakka books was there, for Pete's sake. Everyone was very clever and cool and I, predictably enough, felt pretty boring and lame. I think I aquitted myself fairly well, though, mainly by not saying very much.

It was a weird situation. In a way I felt totally out of my depth, completely outclassed, but in another way I felt like I could fit in pretty well. For example, I read New Scientist magazine. I have never knowingly met anyone else who reads New Scientist. (Apparently my friend Dmitri reads it too but it's never come up when I've talked to him.) At yesterday's party, three of the people in one particular conversation all read it, not counting me. But does that mean that I'm in their league or does it just make me a wannabe?

I dunno. On the one hand I think I'm pretty smart. On the other hand, I have nothing to show for it. Maybe I'm like one of those people on American Idol who swear they're great singers because their friends all tell them so, and then they open their mouths and it sounds like someone's violating a corgi.

Anyway, I'm not particularly good with other people's parties at the best of times so I think I did pretty well yesterday. I talked to several different people about different things, and I didn't make too much of an ass of myself. I even made people laugh a couple of times. The children behaved themselves and were gorgeous. And I have serious appliance envy for Sadie's induction cooktop. Gas is pretty and all but that shizznit is fast.

One More Run

I did another 3K in 2-and-1s this morning. It was two degrees above, so mild I had to unzip my jacket to cool off, and sunny! I don't know what we have done to earn this nice day, and on a weekend to boot. (This is an anomaly, though, this afternoon it's going back to ball-freezing cold. But at least it's not January any more!)

It was a pretty rough run; two minutes seemed really long and difficult. I had a long day yesterday, though, and went to bed late and was awoken at 2 am to find a lost sippy cup. All these things make for harder runs.

Next week I'm going to forge ahead with 3.25 K in 3-and-1s and see how it goes. I realized this morning that I've already screwed myself with my schedule: I was planning to run on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, but then I forgot and offered to help in Delphine's classroom on Tuesdays. So maybe I'll run on Tuesday evenings. That way I'd get one afternoon run, one evening run and one morning run a week, which would provide some welcome variety.

Also I'm not going to blog every single run. It's just not that interesting. I'll try and check in every week, to keep me honest.

Two Picture Books We Love

Peepo by Janet and Allen Ahlberg is my absolute very favourite picture book ever. It's a rhyming story about a baby's day and all the things he sees. He wakes in the morning and sees, from his crib, "his father sleeping in the big brass bed, and his mother too, with a hairnet on her head." Later in the day "he sees a bonfire burning, pigeons in the sky, his mother washing windows, a dog going by". (I'm doing these from memory so they might be a bit off. I'm tired.)

The book is set in World War II England and the illustrations are exquisite. Janet Ahlberg researched them meticulously and each picture is rich with period detail. I took this book with me last time we went to visit my Mum, who was a child during the war. Mum loved the book so much I bought her a copy of her own to pore over. Repeated readings are rewarded with new details, and the text is so charming and evocative of everyday family life that it is no hardship to read it over and over (and over and over). I buy this book for every new baby I know.

Also by the Ahlbergs is Each Peach Pear Plum, a simpler book for younger babies with two lines on each page: "Each Peach Pear Plum / I spy Tom Thumb." And then, "Tom Thumb in the cupboard / I spy Mother Hubbard." The smallest listeners will enjoy the rhythms and rhymes and pretty pictures, and older children can find Tom Thumb, or finish the lines for you. This book introduces lots of characters from nursery rhymes, fairy tales and folk tales which children will be delighted to encounter later: Bo-Peep, the Three Bears, Baby Bunting, and others.

Apparently this book has fallen out of favour because the Three Bears go hunting, and Baby Bear is prone to tripping over and accidentally firing his gun. I say pish.

Each Peach Pear Plum gets bundled with Peepo in my baby shower gift bag (along with "Breastfeeding Made Simple" by Nancy Mohrbacher and Kathleen Kendall-Tackett). There goes the surprise if I ever come to your baby shower.

Conversation with Cordelia

This morning Delphine was reading Cordelia one of those "Baby Genius" alphabet books with the questions that are supposed to help you talk to you kid about the picture, because they assume you're not capable of having a conversation with your child about a picture in a book.

So they were on "I", and Cordelia's job was to locate the "ice skates". Last time we read the book she only found the skaters, so Delphine was very pleased when, this time, she successfully identified the ice skates. She shouted across the room, "Mumma, she found the ice skates this time! Last time she only found the skaters!"

Cordelia grinned, bounced up and down on the couch and shouted, "I'm smarter than usual!"

I need that on a t-shirt.

The 15 Minute Career Test

I looked on the internet for some kind of career counselling or guidance and I came across Career Joy. I got them to send me one of their FREE 15-Minute Career Test which promises to help me identify my key strengths and find the right career for me! Well, I've taken the test and I still don't know the right career for me. I think that might take a bit more work. But I did figure out a couple of interesting things. Here are my results.

Step 1 - Personal Inventory

1. Talents. What am I good at? What do others say I am good at?
  • reading
  • writing
  • organizing
  • baking/cooking
  • talking to people
  • making people feel comfortable
  • understanding what people know, explaining things to them
    • explaining things verbally
    • explaining things in writing
  • proof-reading
  • spelling
  • typing
  • looking things up / research
  • managing the household:
    • finances
    • activities for four people
    • food - nutrition / purchasing / cooking
  • singing
  • dealing with children
  • understanding and using computer software
  • understanding concepts / smart ("I'm clever!")
  • visualizing / spatial / math

(This is going to sound a bit weird, but if there's anyone reading who can think of anything I'm good at that I've missed, or if you think I'm not actually good at something that I listed, please comment. I'm supposed to know what others say I'm good at.)

2. Passions. What do you love? What do you read about? What do you get angry about?


  • family
  • science and ideas
  • facts / truth
  • music
  • children
  • books
  • food (Shut up, I do love food. I would marry it if I could!)

Angry about:

  • climate change / sustainability *
  • justice: hunger, human rights, health care

(I put a star by climate change because it's really, really important and if I'm to be any use to the world it should probably be my first priority.)

Read about:

  • childhood development and parenting
  • memoirs/other people's lives
  • climate change
  • science
  • sociology -- how people and systems work
  • psychology / happiness
3. Values - what do you value in other people? What do you believe strongly in?
  • truth / honesty
  • conscientiousness -- doing what you say you will / ought to
  • fulfilling your responsibility as a person or citizen / being a grown-up
  • kindness and consideration for others / taking care of the earth
  • being good and moral
4. Lifestyle - what do you want from your lifestyle?
  • right-size house (3 br, 2 bath, 2 office areas, lr/dr, den, backyard, shed)
  • short / bikeable commute from midtown Toronto
  • time to be with family
  • time to read
  • you know what I would really love? I would love a job where I could read the newspaper as part of my job! That would be cool!
  • two children (I already have those but I'd like to keep them if it's all the same to you.)
  • no additional property
  • no car
  • occasional vacation
5. Ecosystem/Environment - what atmosphere/environment do you work best in?


  • clean
  • organized
  • quiet
  • indoors
  • personalized (my pictures, etc. around)

(I'm a real princess, eh?)


  • friendly
  • cooperative, not competitive or political

(And a delicate flower, too, apparently.)

STEP 2: Measuring Your Career Joy

This is the step where you measure your current or previous career according to what you determined about yourself, on a scale of one to ten.

How well did software technical support utilize my best and most important talents? 7/10

How well did software technical support engage my passions? 2/10

How well did software technical support meet my values? 4/10

How well did software technical support meet my ideal lifestyle? 9/10

How well did software technical support meet my ecosystem desires? 9/10

TOTAL: 31/50

This is where it gets like one of those quizzes in Seventeen, because they tell you what your score out of fifty means. My score gets "Needs improvement. What is your lowest score? What action(s) do you need to take to make improvements?" Which is a little unhelpful - aren't you supposed to tell me that? Well, clearly my lowest score was in the area of Passions, which I knew, but what is interesting to me is that the software career scored so high in Lifestyle and Environment, which is probably why I stuck with it so long.

Well, it was enlightening to think all this stuff through and write it down, but I am going to need more help to sift through this information and decide which direction to go in. Onward.

What's On The Fridge?

I have a friend who says he would read my blog if I posted the minutes of our family meetings. Now, I don't necessarily want this friend to read my blog because I'm scared that he'll figure out I'm not as smart as he thinks I am, but it is kind of a neat idea. The family meeting minutes are on the fridge, along with all kinds of other household ephemera: kids' artwork, of course, and Delphine's weird written creations; the week's dinner menus and resulting shopping list; back when we had a regular income, our budget was up there; invitations to upcoming events (usually for Delphine)... Basically all our dirty laundry is aired on the fridge.

So here are some highlights:

This week's dinner menu:

chicken jambalaya
ham, mashed potatoes and peas
oven-roast root vegetable fries & grilled cheese sandwiches
fiesta chicken soup with tofu instead of chicken
teriyaki beef on rice

So far it's all been pretty tasty. I ended up using ham for the jambalaya because there wasn't as much leftover chicken as I thought there would be from the weekend's roast. Kat was here for the oven fries and grilled cheese and she loved it. I like feeding Kat, she's always happy with what I make.

Minutes For The Next Family Meeting
  • rules for video games
  • how to prevent fighting every evening
  • bedtime: Mum's responsibilities and girls' responsibilities
  • we need some rules about touching the computer
    • let's set up an account for Delphine

New Rules
  • Underpants must be worn at all times (except in bed)
  • No TV during the week
  • No candy before lunch
  • No complaining about people or situations within the home.

(The underpants rule has since been modified by my pedantic children to include the bathroom as well as bed. The TV rule has since been changed to allow two shows during weekdays and four shows a day on weekends. The complaining rule came about because certain people were expressing their concerns by whining rather than constructive requests: "I can't reach the bread!" rather than "Can someone pass me the bread." I think it's a good rule for life, actually.)

Delphine's List of Foods For Each Month

No, I don't know why each month needs a food. No, I don't know what it means: do you have to eat the food every day that month? Once that month? Can you eat the food any other month? She just demanded we devise this list. Translations in parentheses.

J pie (January: pie)
F horts (February: hearts of any description. I so want to bring home a package of chicken hearts.)
M Fiddld (March: fiddleheads. She was quite impressed when she realised fiddleheads has three d's in it.)
A tost (April: toast. Complete with backwards "s")
MAY cace (May: cake! It's her birthday.)
JUN schobaires (June: strawberries. She goes crazy with the spelling sometimes)
JL pechs (July: peaches)
O iescrem (August: ice cream)
S Apples (September: apples!)
N rodabaga (November: rutabaga)
Oct Pamkns (October: pumpkins)
D Pudine (December: pudding. "I don't even like Christmas pudding, Mama, I just put that in for you." Awww.)

Why Do Mirrors Reverse Left and Right But Not...

So Blake keeps asking me (why he asks me I don't know, maybe he thinks I need practice looking stuff up) why mirrors reverse left and right, but not up and down. Well, uuuh, I dunno, but I thought I would look it up for him since he hasn't bothered to do so himself. (It's called enabling.)

I found this page which is notable not so much for its comprehensibility (I actually couldn't figure out what the hell they were talking about, not that I tried very hard) but for its patient explanations of basic social rules. "It's not nice to treat people like they're stupid by deliberately misinterpreting their questions, even if it is lots of fun."

A better explanation is this socratic treatment, if you're interested.

Running in the Snow

Since my last run on Tuesday the weather has taken a turn for the snowier. We got 15 or 20 cm of snow yesterday. Most people have shovelled, but today's run was more adventuresome than usual as I tried to figure out how to get over and through all the slush.

I did 3K in 2-and-1s. There were a couple of times I was really glad to get that walking break, and one time in a very snowy block I just ignored the "start running" beep and took an extra few seconds of walking, but otherwise it was a good run. It was -8°C, but I was warm enough in my usual gear, until I stopped to chat with a neighbour at the end.

Now I've gone and woken up Cordelia. Hopefully she will go back to sleep because I still want to have my afternoon reading break, and I have to stretch, and empty and load the dishwasher. And do laundry. God my life is lame sometimes.

Where To Begin?

The other day I was talking to the head librarian at the library, about the options for someone who wanted to be a librarian when she grew up. I've been toying with taking a one-year library technician course at a local college, but the website says something like, "With this diploma you can find work at public libraries outside Toronto." But not inside Toronto. If I want to work at the TPL I have to either get a Masters or work my way up the ladder for decades. Well heck. If I go into library work, do I want to work at a public library or do I want to work for a law firm or a corporation? I'd like to at least keep the option of public library work open. We talked about the Masters of Information Studies at U of T, which would be great if I can get in, apart from being pretty expensive.

So I went to the U of T website where I found this:

Applicants who graduated five or more years ago but without achieving sufficiently high standing for admission to the School may be considered for admission if, since graduation, they have done significant, intellectual work and/or made a significant professional contribution which can be considered equivalent to a higher academic standing. This contribution and its impact on the profession must be detailed and documented (e.g., publications, research, professional advancement, development of new skills, responsibility, etc.) and presented as part of the application.

I haven't actually checked to see whether my BMath marks are sufficiently high, but since they are best described as dismal I can only assume they won't be. I spent ten years in a field which I hated and so I wasn't exactly a stellar employee, and then I stayed home to take care of my children, and last I checked they don't actually give out awards for that. So maybe, just maybe they will let me into this program with a lot of sweet talking, more likely I will have to take a few undergrad courses (which would be fine) or worst case, I would have to take a whole new undergrad degree. Which will take years and cost a billion dollars which I don't really have because we're in debt and we haven't saved a penny for the girls' educations.

If I could give a high school graduate one piece of advice, it would be to take an undergrad program that is easy enough for you to graduate with good marks in, because not having a four-year degree with good marks closes off so many career options. I wish I had known, I would have switched into English like I thought about doing in 1A. That is my one Erica Strange-style regret. I should have listened to my gut and not stayed in math to try and impress the boys. You have one opportunity to be shiny and if you blow it, it's over.

That's not true. I could start afresh and get a whole new undergrad degree, and I guarantee I would kick ass because I would choose something I'm passionate about (not math). But man... the years, the money. Am I just making excuses? Should I bite the bullet? You hear all the time about people who go back to school when their kids are little, and work jobs at the same time! Why can't I be awesome like that? I'm always looking for the easy way. Maybe if I want to do this properly, to live this life as fully as I should, I shouldn't look for the easy way. Maybe the easy way will lead to regrets. Maybe the easy way will lead to a life of mediocrity distinguished only by the nagging sense that I could have done better.

Or maybe I will make myself and my family miserable by spending too much time and money on a degree that won't actually fix my life. Maybe I should just get some tech job that I hate and spend the money renovating the house. Or try and get a good job without getting a bunch more education.

So whatever. Do I even want to be a librarian? I have no idea. I really want to do something useful and meaningful, which sounds so idiotically idealistic and adolescent, but I'm not speaking as an adolescent, I'm speaking as a mature adult who sees what is going on in the world and who can't tolerate the idea of being away from hearth and family simply to earn money and further the ends of some CEO. If I'm going to work, I want the work to be worth doing.

Anyway, the time has come when I have to make a decision. Cordelia is going to start kindergarten this year, and in 2011 she'll be in grade one. I need to start thinking about what I'm going to do so I can take some evening courses, or think about how to make money in the meantime. Can I even justify any further education when we're so in debt? Or does it make more sense to get me all educated up so I can earn more sooner?

I just don't know. I'm a muddled, confused mess and all these questions are ricocheting around my head all the time making me frustrated and exhausted. I hate not having a direction, and I have never been as directionless as I am now. The only thing I'm sure of is that I need to think about what I like to do and what I'm good at, and make an appointment with a career counsellor to figure out what the hell I am going to do when I grow up. Because I'm really ready to grow up now.

Best Book Of 2009 (so far)

Everyday Survival: Why Smart People Do Stupid Things by Laurence Gonzales is a book about life. It's a book about the origins of life, about how (and why) life on earth developed, about how humans got to where we are today and our purpose in the world, about mindfulness and mental models and behavioural scripts.

As such is it one of the most woefully misbilled books I have ever read. I figured I was in for a discussion about how humans' evolutionary history causes us to make mistakes in the modern world. And yea, that is what I got. In the first six chapters. The next ten follow Gonzales in his search for the origins of life, for answers about why we are here. Along the way I learned about energy and entropy, about fractals and self-organizing systems, organic chemistry, vortices, tornadoes, the fact that life thrives in every nook on earth, even in the cores of nuclear reactors, about giant caves, Murray Gell-mann's theory of life ("The earth is rotting, and life is the waste."), and about why humans have such expressive faces. And a hundred other things, all of which Gonzales manages to pull together in a sensible (if not necessarily linear) way to make his point.

Which point, by the way, is that climate change is the stupidest thing of all, and that it is well within our capabilities to stop it, if only we can manage to get out of the behavioural script, the vacation state of mind, that we are living in now, the script which says everything has been going fine until now, so I will keep doing what I have been doing. Gonzales doesn't beat the climate change drum very often, but it's a theme that reoccurs at key points throughout the book.

If I were to nominate a book to be an Atheist Bible, this might be it. Gonzales describes the origins of life (as far as we know about them) and the origins of humankind, and explains why life came about and what our place is in the universe. He even takes a stab at explaining how we can fulfill our potential as human beings. It is at times an intensely spiritual, moving book, whilst always being completely rational.

Lawrence Gonzales is a genius. The way he digs deep and deeper into a problem and synthesizes dozens of different areas of knowledge is breathtaking. I had to read this book with a notebook by my side to keep track of all the new facts and ideas, and try and join them up like Gonzales did. But he's such a good writer that it all goes down as effortlessly as ice cream. Anyone who is interested in thinking, who likes a good idea, who loves a eureka moment, or who wants to know what our place is in the universe should read this book. Everyone should read this book.