Some Miscellaneous Kid Things

This evening at dinner Blake was talking to Cordelia about names. He asked what her name is. She replied "Cordelia Winton!" (It's not.) He asked her what Delphine's name is: "Delphine Winton!" He asked her what my name is: "Mummy Winton!"

Delphine is at Auntie Morgan's place for her birthday sleepover tonight. They went out for dinner, and tomorrow they're going to Sunnybrook Park, among other things. Sunnybrook Park was Delphine's choice, even though I don't think she's ever been there. I hope it lives up to her expectations.

Meanwhile Cordelia is home with us for a sleepunder. One of the perks of a sleepunder is getting to choose dinner—we had Chinese. Another is that you get to sleep in the Big Bed if you want to. So far no-one has ever taken us up on the Big Bed thing, but Cordelia's in the Big Bed right now. (It's nine o' clock and she's not asleep yet, so she may yet end up sleeping in her own bed.)

Tomorrow we might go out for breakfast, but we spent a lot of money on dinner so maybe not. The school in which Cordelia's nursery school is located is having their spring fair, so we might go to that too. The possibilities are endless.

It was pleasant having only Cordelia tonight. She's charming and funny and nice to be around. Oddly (not really) when Delphine is around they're both annoying about forty percent of the time. Yet Delphine is great by herself too; we hung out together this morning at Yonge and Eg and she wasn't annoying or snotty, she was mellow and interesting and engaged. Blake and I thought there could be a real future in a boarding school with a Sibling Mutual Exclusivity Schedule Option.

The other day Delphine and I had a long conversation about World Wars. It started when we stopped to look at an old print of a WWII battleship in a storefront on Mount Pleasant. Delphine wanted to know who started the war, who fought, how they fought, who won. The whole conversation made me realize how little I know about it—I guess it's time for a trip to the library... We talked about different kinds of guns, about guns on airplanes, about tanks. I told her about attacks on cities. I told her about the Enigma machine. We talked about what Daddy would do if there was another World War—we decided we hope he would stay home and work the computers, not go into battle.

It was an interesting conversation. It reminded me once again about the incredibly huge amount of knowledge you have to absorb before you can even begin to understand our world. I mean, not only do you have to know about the World Wars, you also have to know about the Holocaust and slavery and the Black Death. You have to know about The Beatles and Elvis and Queen and Fred Astaire and tap dancing. You have to know about gasoline and dinosaurs and planets and the atmosphere. You have to know how to wash cotton, how to cook rice, how to floss, how to make a new friend, how to approach a strange dog, how to use the phone and the library. The human brain is astonishing. I'm reminded of that when Delphine and I come up against some huge body of knowledge which she's hardly begun to explore. There's so much for her to learn. But she's made a pretty good start.

Apparently the World Wars conversation has provided plenty of playtime fodder. The following day Delphine told me that she and Pierce and Jaime played castles in school, and they bombed and shot at each other's castles. What fun!

Conversations with Blake

Blake and I are watching the season 3 premier of Burn Notice (hooray!) and I was trying to figure out who the management guy in the helicopter was.

I said, "That's the dad from..."

Blake paused the show while I remembered.

"...from Frasier. I knew it was the dad from something. Cool."

Blake said, "He was also in Battlestar Galactica."

I frowned. "Really? Who was he?"

"Not really, but everyone else was."

"Yeah, Battlestar Galactica had the dad from Danger Bay."

Hurray! (A technical diversion.)

It took a while, but my first patch to Thunderbird was committed today!

changeset:   2727:98a7de404c08
user:        Blake Winton <>
date:        Fri May 29 10:35:37 2009 +0100
summary:     Bug 45715 - ""Reply to List" [button/(context) menu item]"

The patch started off by adding a “Reply to List” button to the message header pane as seen below, but after some discussion, the scope was expanded to change the “Reply” button to “Reply All” or “Reply to List”, depending on the message you’re currently viewing.

First cut of the Reply to List button

Of course, there’s still some things I’ve got to add, but those can go in a separate patch, which will be much smaller, and so much easier to get reviewed and committed. And once it is, we might be able to close a 9-year old bug, which would be pretty sweet.

Writin' and Survivin': Books in May

Copyediting: A Practical Guide by Karen Judd is another guide to copyediting very much like the last one I read, The Fine Art of Copyediting by Elsie Myers Stainton. Both offer an overview of what copyediting entails, along with lots of reference material: when to use which punctuation, how to capitalize titles, and so on. Either book would be a valuable addition to a writer or copyeditor's library.

I don't think copyediting is a good career direction for me; I revel in the satisfaction of finding obvious mistakes (doesn't everyone?) but I would get impatient having to look up everything I wasn't sure about. I could be a copyeditor, but I wouldn't enjoy it much. (Although Judd actually says, 'Copyediting isn't fun," so maybe I'm missing the point.) But having read these two books, I now know more about good grammar, good writing and punctuation. Once I start writing for real I'll buy one of these books and refer to it often. My editors will love me.

The Craft and Business of Writing: Essential Tools for Writing Success is a collection of essays about writing, from the editors of Writers' Digest Books. It's divided into five sections: Getting Started / General Business, Fiction, Nonfiction, Children's Writing, and Poetry. Each of the last four sections is further subdivided into "The Craft of..." and "The Business of..." The essays are great, both helpful and inspiring. However, for some reason they chose to wire-bind the book and wrap it in a giant hardcover like a big ol' cookbook. Made it very hard to read it in bed, while brushing teeth, on the can, etc: all my best reading spots. So it has taken me weeks to read it. Between the dry-as-dust copyediting books and this I've been all clogged up in my reading.

A while ago Greg Wilson suggested I write a book about survival in the event of a disaster or collapse of our modern infrastructure. Seemed like a fine idea, so I thought I would find out what was already out there. A few years ago I read James Howard Kunstler's The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century, and I briefly revisited it. Then as now, it left me more scared than prepared. The book mainly discusses what's going to go horribly wrong. The last chapter deals with how we might manage the process, but it's mainly prognostication and very little advice.

However, When All Hell Breaks Loose: Stuff You Need to Survive When Disaster Strikes by Cody Lundin is rich in advice on how to survive a week or a few months without the modern conveniences we take for granted.

The book is divided into two parts: "Head Candy" and "Hand Candy". Head Candy covers a wide range of philosophical, psychological, and physiological concerns, including posttraumatic stress disorder, consensus decision making, the power of gratitude, the importance of positive thinking. . . . Plenty of the material is valuable, such as the importance of continuing to communicate with your family, recognizing the signs of excess stress in others, and the impact of fear on physical function, but there's plenty that could be left out too. There's a lot of woo-woo stuff about thinking positive, and putting good vibes into the universe to get good stuff back.

You're 84 pages into the book before you get into the nitty-gritty of what you're gonna need and how much of it. That's the Hand Candy section, each chapter of which covers a particular need: shelter, water, food, sewage disposal, hygiene, light, heat for cooking, first-aid, self-defense, communication, transport, and how to get out if you have to.
Although the book is written in a light-hearted, humourous way, Lundin doesn't talk down to his readers: each chapter starts with a technical description of the matter at hand. For example, in the food chapter Lundin discusses the different sources of calories (protein, fat and carbs) and how the body metabolizes each one. He also devotes a page to explaining the Glycemic Index, two to calculating your Basal Metabolic Rate, and three on an overview of Great Food Shortages in History, most of which resulted in people eating each other (just in case you weren't sure whether you wanted to store some food). The light section has two pages on the history of artificial lighting and a one-page primer on batteries. And so on.

I would call this book over-written. Or maybe under-edited. Personally, I love all this information, but then I thrive on non-fiction. I'm not sure that the average reader wants this much background in a book of this nature. However, if you can get through all the extra stuff, the advice in here is gold. Lundin has years of hands-on experience living off the grid, living in the wild and leading survival courses. The book is rich with anecdotes and advice direct from experience, and when Lundin doesn't know something and couldn't find it out, he's blunt about it. (Like, how long does whole wheat keep anyway?) He is pragmatic and considerate of all your family members—for example, a couple of times he specifically addresses the needs of obese people without being judgemental.

I took copious notes while reading this book, and I now have a very long list of things to do and buy. Once I've done them all I will feel much more prepared in the event of something going horribly wrong for quite a long time.

Incidentally, if you should think that planning for a long-term failure of some or most of our infrastructure is paranoid, you might not know that the CDC's worse-case scenario pandemic plan involves the general public staying home for up to three months. Or maybe a solar storm will knock out the power grid indefinitely. The fact is I'd rather be ready and wrong.

My Six-Year-Old: Loving and Defiant

This post could be filed under either "books" or under "Delphine", because as usual, in Your Six-Year-Old: Loving and Defiant, Louise Bates Ames and Frances Ilg have nailed the phase my kid is going through like they were observing her personally. Here are some quotes from the book which describe what's going on around here:

Things often get so bad around the house that, as one mother put it, "Each morning I get up with the solemn promise to myself to try and make my daughter fell loved. And I may succeed for an hour or so. But then she'll do something so impossible that I lose my temper and have to reprimand her." [I usually do better than an hour or so; Delphine's pretty great in the mornings. It's after school that she's almost intolerable.]

Six's way is, in his opinion, right; he cannot bear to lose or to accept criticism. On the other hand, he loves to be flattered and praised. Certainly he is not as secure as he might be. In fact, we believe that much of his stubborn, arrogant, and sometimes bratty behavior is his effort to build himself up and to make himself feel secure.

His capacity for enjoyment is tremendous. Make him a present or surprise, give him praise, propose a treat, and his vigorously expressed joy and enthusiasm will well repay you. [Delphine often tells me I'm "the best mum ever!" for something as simple as ice cream for dessert.]

Six is at his best and also his worst with the primary caregiver.

[On siblings] But on the whole, his competitive, combative nature and his need to always be first and to win out, make certain difficulty in the household. . . . He tends to be very jealous of attention or objects given to to a brother or sister. . . . Six may be very bossy with younger siblings. He may argue, tease, bully, frighten, torment, get angry, hit.

If your daughter is one of the many with a very sensitive scalp, who screams bloody murder as you comb her hair, a short haircut (if she will accept it [hah]) can save much anguish.

Obviously Ames and Ilg have Delphine's number. They also have some insight into why it's so difficult to be six:

One of the Six-year-old's biggest problems is his relationship with his mother. It gives him the greatest pleasure and the greatest pain. Most adore their mother, think the world of her, need to be assured and reassured that she loves them. At the same time, whenever things go wrong, they take things out on her.

We must remember that a Six-year-old isn't violent, loud, demanding, and often naughty just to be bad. There are so many things he wants to do and be that his choices are not always fortunate. He is so extremely anxious to do well, to be the best, to be first, to be loved and praise, that any failure is very hard for him.

They offer a list of helpful techniques: praise, chances (second, third, etc), counting, sidestepping the issue, bargaining, giving in, ignoring misbehaviour. It's not the most rigorous year of parenting, but it seems that Six is a year to be endured, for child and parent alike, at least until Six-and-a-half.

Growing Pains

This is our third summer in this house and I'm finally starting to get some inkling of an idea of what to do with the garden.

Today we dug up some of that unreasonable raspberry patch and replaced it with a blueberry plant that Blake bought on impulse this weekend. we should probably mulch it, but we don't have any mulch. I also moved a few of the ostrich ferns which had been stranded between the fence and the deck when we built the deck. They were on either side of the pathway you see on the bottom right there, and they were in danger of being trampled. So I dug a nice new bed on the opposite side of the garden, by the fence about halfway back, and moved five of the ferns over there. I'm going to get some huechera to go in between and it should be quite charming. I love ostrich ferns—I told Blake I would be happy if our garden was, like, forty percent ferns. They even smell good.

We spent a lot of time cleaning out the hedge in the front yard. I don't really want that hedge but I haven't come up with anything better to do there so we're keeping it for now, but it's a mess. Lots of different things growing in it, to the extent that I had to arbitrarily decided which species was the "real" hedge and then yank out anything that wasn't that, including a truly irritating number of maple treelets. I'm not sure what the hedge is made up of, but I've noticed a few hedges of it in the neighbourhood so it must be something pretty standard. While I was checking out other people's hedges I noticed more than a few which were lousy with maple. One was mainly maple.

The last big accomplishment today was moving the composter from the neighbour's yard to ours. They are shiny urban hipsters and composting isn't really their thing—the composter was left by the previous owner—so they said we could have it. We tucked it just behind the new fern bed, not too far from the house that we won't use it, but not too close either. It's not terribly ugly and I think once the ferns grow up more it will be mostly concealed.

Incidentally, having our own compost will yet further complicate throwing stuff out, because now we'll have two categories of compost: backyard compost (fruit and veg scraps, tea and coffee, and yard waste) and city compost (leftovers, meat, kleenex, all that gross stuff). So we'll need two containers on the kitchen counter. There's gotta be a good way to do that but I haven't figured it out yet.

The Plan

Okay, "plan" is a little grandiose for something that's not much more than a collection of notions. First, as you can see I've covered a fair bit of ground with that giant playstructure. For now I'm happy to have that area be weeds and dirt, and it's happy to oblige. So that's a good 320 square foot I don't have to worry about. (Well, I planted some scarlet runner beans to grow up it just for fun.)

I want to create a path between the back gate and garage, and the front gate (which is where the path by the deck leads). Ideally that would be some kind of cool flagstone path, either with rectangular flagstones or crazy paving, but for now we'll have to settle for the leftover Unilock from those same neighbours' previous front path. It would also make sense to pave the area around the laundry dryer since I stand around there a lot and lawn doesn't stand a chance. Plus that way if I drop something it won't get all muddy.

We've got the vegetable garden going by the deck there, and I expect it will stay there because that's one of the sunniest parts of the yard, unless we give up on it altogether and just grow food in the planters on the deck.

For the rest of the garden, I'm going for a low-maintenance, woodland, bird- and butterfly-friendly mainly-native plant vibe. The only specific plants I have in mind at the moment are a Saskatoon berry plant for the birds, and something evergreen for winter interest, of which I have none at the moment. I'm finding it really hard to source native plants but I suspect I just don't know where to look. I need to keep researching them so that I have the names of native plants in my head, so I recognise them when I see them. Most garden centres and catalogues don't have any comment on whether plants are native or not.

That's the plan. It's going to take a while to get there, but at least I have some idea where I'm going so I'm no longer paralysed by my garden. Onward!

April and May Books

I was given Love Monkey by Kyle Smith by a friend who hated it. Not sure what this says about my friends, but I definitely didn't hate this book. It's your typical 30-something single New Yorker looking for love book, except the protagonist is a guy instead of a chick.

Smith sets up his protagonist, Tom Farrell, as a dick—he's rude to his mother and he's a cartoon-watching, cereal-for-dinner-eating man-boy—and then redeems him over the course of the book with self-deprecating honesty and vulnerability, and with the charming, witty conversations he has with his romantic interests, the almost-perfect Julia and the reliable back-up date Bran.

I found it interesting to get into this particular man's head. At first I was quite put off by how self-conscious Farrell is and how he overanalyses and manipulates situations to suit himself, but then I realized that I do that too—we all do. For example, I had some people over yesterday, some of my coolest and brightest friends. We all brought some books that we had enjoyed and wanted to pass on, and did a big old book swap. One of the women brought She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb, and she reported that when she chose it her husband questioned her choice: "Think of your brand!" he said. We all made fun of that but I think we all know what he meant—you have this image of yourself that you want to project to other people, and it isn't necessarily your whole, honest nitty-gritty self. You second-guess your impulses, you debate clothing choices, you carefully curate the items in your home. I will admit that the books on display in my dining room are slightly cooler and smarter (and prettier) than the books hidden upstairs. Smith unflinchingly documents Farrell's management of his brand, which could make him seem like a manipulative phony, but his vulnerability and honesty and wit won me over in the end.

Going Solo by Roald Dahl is the sequel to Dahl's childhood memoir, Boy. Going Solo documents Dahl's early twenties working for Shell in Tanzania, and in the Royal Air Force fighting in Greece during the German invasion. He talks about the people he met in Africa, the bizarre adventures he had there, his training as a pilot followed immediately by a spectacular crash which sent him to hospital for six months with a horrible head injury. Once he recovered he was sent right back into the fray, where he faced ridiculous odds against the German invasion and was one of the last of the Allied forces to flee Greece.

The only slow spot in the book was when Dahl detailed apparently every training flight he took. (I expect flying the planes was more interesting than reading about it.) The rest of the book was exciting and moving. The best part was when Dahl encountered a group of Jewish children and the man who was protecting them, hiding them in an obscure corner of Greece. Like so many people, Dahl was oblivious to the Holocaust and his bafflement about the Jews' plight was curiously charming.

The disastrous loss of almost all the men he flew with was a reminder of the idiotic nature of war. I am both thankful that Dahl made it through the war alive, and sickened by the thought of the amazing talents that we will never know about because they didn't.

I enjoyed Going Solo and would recommend it particularly to boys, although I don't know what age. (I picked it up at the school library, so obviously someone thinks that kids twelve or under would like it.) It's exciting and captures what it was to be a gentleman and adventurer in an earlier, but still fairly recent, time.

We read The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett in Book Club. I gave it a 5, which is the second-lowest rating I have given a book club book. My first exposure to this book was back when it came out in '89; it was panned horribly by a Globe and Mail reviewer and one of the English teachers at my high school used the review as an example of how to review a book negatively. I don't recall if I read that review, but ever since high school I've carried with me the idea that this is not a particularly good book, and reading it didn't turn that impression around.

My two main problems with the book are that the writing is clunky and awful, and that it has no particular Literary Value—it's not clever. I did quite like the characters, and the plot was exciting if a little relentless towards the end. The book was well-researched and Follett certainly made sure to put in plenty of historical detail so all that time doing research didn't go to waste. I enjoyed all the information about building and architecture, and I appreciate Follett's attempts to describe complicated structures without illustrations. I wish he had put a little more effort into period-appropriate language; the book is thick with anachronistic words and usages. For example, when writing from the point-of-view of a female character he refers to menstruation as having a period, a usage which didn't appear until the 1800s. The book would have been richer and more engaging if the language hadn't seemed so modern.

In the end The Pillars of the Earth didn't engross me. I read on because I wanted to know what happened, but I wasn't invested in the characters or absorbed into the action.

Get a Freelance Life:'s Insider Guide to Freelance Writing by Margit Feury Ragland Yes, you see where I'm going. I kind of hate how listing the books I've read provides a kind of window into what I'm thinking about, but there doesn't seem to be any real point in being secretive.

This is the second book I've read on writing as a job, so you might suppose that I'm contemplating a new career direction. Well, maybe I am. If I were this would be a very helpful book, perhaps even one to buy and keep around. It has plenty of advice on how to launch your writing career, how to focus on a speciality, how to do research, pitching ideas, the editing process and all the many varieties of editor that can be found in the wild, and much more besides. The book is aimed mainly at magazine and book writing, with only one chapter about business writing.

I started reading Make a REAL Living As A Freelance Writer: How to Win Top Writing Assignments by Jenna Glatzer but right at the beginning of the book she says something about how you could make a living writing for businesses, but would you rather tell your friends that your byline is on an article in People, or that you wrote the piece of junk mail they just tore up. Well, first off I'm not a pathetic celebrity whore, and second not all business writing is junk mail. I don't even think I have any friends who read People! (My problem with writing for magazines is that I don't really read them: I read Toronto Life, New Scientist, Today's Parent and Chirp. I'd be happy to write for any of those publications, but a potential market of four magazines is hardly going to put bread on the table.)

Between that, the ALL-CAPS EMPHASIS in the title, and some snotty comment about how it's so unprofessional to have children crying in the background when you're on a business call (because God forbid you should want to earn a living after having reproduced) and I just gave up on this book. If I ever develop a burning desire to write in magazines for fame and fortune, I will know where to look for advice.

Your Five- and Six-Year-Old by the editors of Parents magazine. Delphine has gone all weird and cranky lately, so I sought out books about six-year-olds to see if it's a Thing, and apparently it's a Thing. Six-year-olds are all neurotic because they're trying to detach from their parents and become independent but at the same time they totally adore us, so that creates this horrible inner conflict which causes them to be psychotic bitches half the time and completely adorable, enthusiastic sweethearts the rest of it. It's exhausting. It's funny how before you have kids everyone tells you about the Terrible Twos, but they don't mention the Fucking Fours or the Psycho Sixes. Two was easy, dude. At least Two doesn't tell you she hates you.

This was a helpful book, nice and pragmatic. Lots of stuff about praise, which is kind of anti-Kohn, but then apparently six-year-olds eat up praise and so much of parenting a six-year-old is about easing them through this horrible stage (they're not enjoying it any more than you are) so maybe a little judicious praise, or at least unbridled adoration, would go a long way.

The Fine Art of Copyediting by Elsie Myers Stainton When I mentioned to Greg Wilson that I was pondering a writing career he suggested I consider editing as well, so I got a couple of copyediting books out of the library. If you imagine that a book about copyediting would be quite boring, you'd be right. I think this book is probably as exciting as a copyediting book could be, and it was still pretty dry. Stainton does a great job giving an overview of the copyeditor's job, as well as providing plenty of concrete reference material such as editor's marks and grammatical rules. The best part, though, is her defense of the art of copyediting, of the importance of it and the satisfaction of being part of the intellectual discourse.

I learned some things about editing which I didn't know: I didn't realize that editors are responsible for identifying poor reasoning and flawed arguments, nor did I realize that they are supposed to identify racist and sexist language. It's not just grammatical nitpicking! (It's other kinds of nitpicking too!) That made me much more interested in copyediting, although I'm not sure I am detail-oriented enough to be a good copyeditor. It's worth contemplating further.

Sixth Birthday

Delphine's birthday was better than her party, although still a weird day. For one thing, it's Mother's Day so she had to share her special day with me. And after breakfast, Cordelia came down with that same miserable puking sickness Delphine just recovered from. But before the major puking set in, Delphine managed to open a truly impressive haul of presents. I love buying things for her, and I don't indulge throughout the year, so birthdays and Christmas are OTT.

She got a million books, some science magazines, a prism to hang in her window, some hairbands, a bunch of super cute summer clothes from Baba, games from friends, wind chimes, a badminton set, some stationery, and her very own metal water bottle to take to school. I managed to get her a whole bunch of stuff without adding to the existing quantities of junk in her room: no new dolls, no new buddies, no new Playmobil or little toys which are hard to put away. More books, but she still has plenty of feet of empty bookshelf space to fill before that becomes a problem.

The rest of the day was pretty low key. Blake and I spelled off lying on the couch with Cordelia and hanging out with Delphine; he played badminton, I helped her paint her wind chime. Later Baba and Zaida took her out for a swim, while Blake and I took turns napping with Cordelia. I took the first shift, and woke up in one of those completely confused hazes. A cup of tea cured that, and I commenced making Delphine's birthday cake. I did a crazy food colouring rainbow cake; three layers of cake (purple, green and orange) separated by three layers of icing (blue, yellow and red). Considering I started it so late in the day and I've never made a cake like that it turned out pretty well. (Pictures were taken and will eventually appear.)

Delphine didn't eat much of her birthday dinner; her appetite still hasn't recovered since she was sick. But she had a nice time with her family and she liked her presents (hooray!). This might not have been the best birthday ever, but it was still a good one.

Last Day of Five

Today was Delphine's last day of being five, and also the day of her birthday party. There almost was no party; Delphine has been laid low with some kind of puking and fatigue disease. She stayed home from school on Friday and I warned the party invitees that the party may be off. This morning Delphine woke up feeling better, so I made a bunch of calls to summon the troops. One of the kids had already changed her plans, so in fact of Delphine's original list of six, only three children were able to come. (Two of her list had previously declined.)

The weather wasn't conducive to small-child-partying. There were intermittent thunderstorms all day, which meant all our fun outside games were transferred inside, smaller and darker and less fun.

I don't know if the children enjoyed themselves; they certainly aren't shy about letting you know when they're not having fun, when they don't like a game, when they don't like any of the food, when someone isn't playing the way they want you to, or indeed when anything isn't rocking their little worlds. But nobody screamed and demanded to be sent home, so I suppose that's a win. You might guess I didn't particularly enjoy hosting today's party.

Delphine didn't have a great day either. It started with still being a little bit sick, complicated by bad weather, missing friends, and a party that didn't go as smoothly as she wanted it to - Cordelia didn't play the games properly and nobody listened to her. By this afternoon she didn't like any of her presents and nobody loved her, and by 7:15 pm she was begging to go to bed. Tomorrow is her birthday and I hope it goes better.

(It's now 9:47 pm, and Delphine is crying in her room. Blake went upstairs to comfort her, and I just heard her say, "I want chicken!" Turns out she wanted Chicken her buddy, not chicken the food.)

Further Thoughts on Guides

I've been thinking some more about Guides. There's a lot more to it than I first thought. The problems I wrote about yesterday, with the badges and the structure, those are problems of unmet potential. Guides could be a fantastically cool opportunity for girls to explore their interests and challenge themselves, but in fact it's a leader-centred crafts-and-activities club. Some of the crafts and activities are cool, some of them are pretty lame, but they're seldom actively damaging. (Although I wish Delphine's troop hadn't chosen to do a bridal shower for a leader in one of the meetings.)

But failed potential is only that; it doesn't mean Sparks has no value. It's an all-girl group of friends separate from Delphine's school friends, which is important. It's good for kids to have more than one group of friends; if one group goes wrong with bitchiness or drama, you have other friends to fall back on. And it's valuable for kids of either gender to spend significant amounts of time in same-sex groups. On both those counts, Sparks stacks up in a way that I don't think will be easy to find elsewhere.

The other nice thing about Sparks/Brownies/Guides is that it taps into the Guiding infrastructure. They have programs, they have funding, they have summer camps and campsites. (Sparks don't go camping, but Brownies do.) Camping with Brownies and Guides was my first exposure to real camping, and it had a lasting impact on me as it did on Kat.

Guides is also an organization with a rich history, and it's represented throughout the world. When I was a kid I remember thinking it was pretty cool that there were Girl Guides just like me in places like India and Australia.

I've tried, largely in vain, to find other clubs or organizations which would fit the bill: a (preferably) girls-only organization which will provide community and allow my girls to explore their interests and challenge themselves in a supportive, pedagogically progressive environment. In the States they have Earth Scouts and Camp Fire Boys and Girls, which seem to be much more sciency, and more child-centred, than Guides. Camp Fire Boys and Girls is US only. The Earth Scouts website is pretty horrifying and they do that stupid badge thing too. (Maybe my standards are too high.) I've thought about seeing if the ROM or the OSC have any kind of generic Science or Discovery clubs, but they wouldn't provide that continuity of community that I'm hoping for. I've even thought about starting something up myself, but I don't care about this enough to invest that kind of time and effort into it. (Not that I don't care very much, but it would be a lot of time and effort.)

In conclusion, Sparks seems to be the best of a bad lot of options. Is that good enough? I'm still thinking about it.