Amy (old posts, page 21)

Why Obama?

Last night a friend asked me why I was excited that Barack Obama won the American election. Why, as a Canadian, do I care? I couldn't really begin to explain in a Twitter post, and I was tired, but I thought about it as I went to sleep and here is what I have come up with.

I like Americans. I know lots of them and I like most of the Americans I know, and for a long time I have been perplexed by the apparent gulf between "America" and the American people I know. Last night's victory closed that gulf; it seems America the country is a lot more closely aligned to the beliefs and hopes of the America I know than to the vocal minority of fundamentalist and fear-mongers we have heard from of late. And thank goodness for that. So I am very happy for my American friends, that finally their government reflects them.

I like what this victory says about America. I have a friend who was predicting a McCain win: "The young people won't wait in line to vote", he said. "The early results with show a strong lead for Obama and everyone else won't bother to vote", he said. There was an argument put forth that Americans say to pollsters that they would vote for an African-American, but then in the privacy of the polling booth their secret inner racist comes out. I am glad those arguments were wrong. I am glad America got excited about its future and came out to vote in droves, many for the first time, many waiting in line (or on line) for hours.

Why am I glad? Because Americans are people, and people are the same everywhere, and if Americans can get excited about democracy and step up and do the right thing, it makes me feel better about people everywhere.

I'm glad Barack Obama won because he ran an honourable and decent campaign. Everyone pisses and moans about negative campaigning, mud-slinging and pettiness, but it seemed, until now, inevitable, like the weather. Obama has proved it's possible to win an election with a positive, optimistic campaign. (Okay, maybe rather vague, but vague in a positive way.) While McCain and Palin were screechin' and spittin', fear-mongerin' and fist-shakin', Obama maintained his composure without condescending. This is a great lesson for American politicians and a great lesson for politicians everywhere in the world. The bar has been raised.

Obama is smart. Really smart, and America is crying out for a smart person in the White House. Why does this matter to me as a Canadian? Because I am excited to have someone in office who has a hope of understanding and acting on climate change, a global issue if ever there was one. Where America leads, the world follows and we desperately need someone to lead us in the right direction on this matter. (Apparently Canada isn't going to do it.)

It's not just climate change. The world faces numerous potential global threats: a flu pandemic, a disaster in our fragile food distribution system, terrorism, peak oil. Not to mention whatever the hell is going on with the economy. It's fine, I guess, to have a numbskull in office when there's not much to do, but when anything could happen I am much happier knowing that there is someone in the most powerful position in the world who has a hope of really understanding the situation, consulting with the right people and making an informed decision without resorting to dogma and superstition.

And I'll admit it: I got caught up in the excitement of the moment. (I still am; I am dying to sit down and watch the Stewart/Colbert special from last night!) Obama is the "other" to so many Americans: he is black to white Americans, he is educated to uneducated Americans, he is foreign-raised to Americans who have never left the country, he is the son of an African to slave-descended Americans (although I never heard anyone talk about that), he is the son of an atheist and a lapsed Muslim to Christian Americans, he is erudite and witty and Northern and liberal(ish); he is so many things that we have heard that Americans aren't (Real Americans, that is) and yet America voted for him. That so many people were able to see past the things they don't share with Barack Obama and see in him the best of their common humanity stirs in me great pride and hope for what has been and could again be a great nation.

Here are some more links:

I don't know if Barack Obama is going to be as shiny as his most enthusiastic supporters make him out to be. I don't know if any mortal could be. But I am excited about what this election says about America and I am optimistic about the future. Why not be?

Things They Say

Yesterday Blake taught Delphine about contrails. This morning we were out walking and she looked up into the clear blue Hallowe'en sky and saw a plane. "It has a cotton-trail!"

We were talking about everyone's costumes. "Mrs Thompson was a lady who works in a church. The ladies who wear necklaces with a criss-cross thing on." I love that my kid doesn't even know what a cross is. (Mrs Thompson was a nun.)

Cordelia and I were reading Dr Suess's ABC: "Big A, little a, what begins with A?"


"Aunt Annie's alligator, A..a..A. Big B, little B, what begins with B?"


"Barber, baby, bubbles, and a bumblebee." And so on with Cordelia chiming in whenever she knew someone with that letter. After C ("CORDELIA!"), D ("DELPHINE!") and E ("ERIK!") she said "Almost everyone we know has a letter in this book!"

Yeah, almost!

Delphine and I were talking about meat today, because we were walking over to a friend's house to pick up a quarter cow. She asked if someone killed the cow, and I said that they did.

"That's sad. We should be nice to animals."

"That's true. But then we couldn't eat meat."

"Meat is tasty."

"Some people don't like to kill animals, so they don't eat meat. They're called vegetarians."

"But meat is so tasty!"

"I know! It's a hard decision to make."

So we talked about how Daddy and I decided to keep eating meat but to try and make sure that the cows and chickens and other animals we eat are happy when they're alive, hence the trek to pick up cow.

Not my kid but my friend's kid (and my kid's friend) Ursa. Yesterday they were eating a Chinese beef dish and Ursa said "I like this dark brown chicken!" (Good thing, because they got a quarter cow too.) What's the deal with kids thinking everything is chicken? The other day Cordelia called tilapia chicken. The kids at daycare used to call tofu chicken. No wonder everything tastes like chicken, it's because chicken tastes like everything!

Spooky Hallowe'en

Our school website contains a list of handy Hallowe'en safety tips, among them the old chestnut about inspecting kids' candy before they eat it. I suppose that wouldn't hurt, but it might be interesting to know that there has never been a case of random poisoned Hallowe'en candy. There have been a few reports of candy with pins, and apples with razors, but the vast majority of those were hoaxes or pranks.

Here are a couple of links from the valuable Snopes website:

Perhaps it seems harmless to continue repeating these needless warnings, but I think it breeds cynicism and fear, which we have far too much of. (Don't even get me started on "Stranger Danger".)

(I'm going to have to think further about the appropriateness of cynicism and/or fear with respect to Chinese candy.)

Hallowe'en and Other Things

We're in the midst of the fall festive season, and as anyone who is less than four feet tall knows, that means it's Hallowe'en. Both Delphine and Cordelia are very excited, and it's clear that Cordelia remembers a thing or two about last year.

Delphine is planning to be a penguin this year. We haven't bought a penguin costume; rather we are hoping to kludge something together with a white shirt and a black hoodie and orange construction paper beak and feet. I hope it works because we haven't had a chance to try it out and we're running out of pre-Hallowe'en weekend. Delphine has a pretty convincing penguin waddle which would sell the lamest costume, though.

Cordelia has independently decided to be a black cat. For a while there she was going with ghost and I thought we would have to find and then butcher a white sheet — you always see that white-sheet-with-holes ghost costume in cartoons and stuff but I've never seen it in real life. I thought it would be cool to try it out. But about a week ago she switched to black cat, so I dropped a whopping $19 on ears and a tail, which together with black clothes and some eyeliner whiskers will make a convincing and adorable cat.

The great thing about Hallowe'en is that it gives you lots of chances to talk about such topics of childhood interest as death and scary things. Last year we spent a lot of time talking about being dead and what death is (and who Death is — a house around the corner has an inflatable Grim Reaper). This year we are leaning more towards Hallowe'en imagery and what is scary. Delphine wanted to know why someone had fake gravestones on their lawn. "Gravestones aren't scary", she said. I said they mark where dead people are buried, but she was unmoved by that because to her mind dead people aren't scary. And of course by extension, skeletons aren't scary either. What is scary? Witches, spiders and ghosts are apparently scary. I don't think bats are and rats definitely aren't, although we did decorate with black rubber rats.

Delphine likes Monopoly. I know, weird. I wouldn't have occurred to me to put her in front of a game of Monopoly, but my friend Tanya, who is nothing if not ambitious with what she exposes her kid to, brought it over and Delphine loves it. She loves the money: she likes to sort it out, stack it up, pay for things and get money from other people. She likes choosing which piece she will be, and she loves to move around the board. She got tired of it, though, after maybe forty minutes, and started acting up. "I'm so bored of giving people money!" Yeah, tell me about it. So for Christmas I got her Monopoly Junior. I'm normally not in favour of kiddified versions of things, but this looks like it retains the main elements of the adult version (including the lovely money) but goes faster. Plus the setting is a carnival, not some boring old city. Delphine loves carnivals and fairs and things.

Cordelia went for her birthday sleepover at Auntie Morgan's house this weekend. Unfortunately I have no idea what they did because Cordelia said she had fun but she didn't want to talk about it. I know what Delphine did, though, because she stayed home for what we have termed a "sleepunder", which is what you get when you're the sister who stays home and has Mum and Dad to herself. Mostly we played Monopoly. Delphine chose KD for supper, and we read lots of chapters at bedtime because we didn't have to put Cordelia to bed. In the morning Delphine decreed that Blake should get up early (that is, when Delphine and I got up) and join us for a breakfast of French toast and pancakes. Then more Monopoly, and then we went out to get Cordelia back.

(Incidentally, the thing with Blake getting up with us turned out abysmally. Usually he stays in bed for an hour or more on weekend mornings while I get up with the kids and make breakfast and read the paper. Having missed that extra sleep, however, he was logy and grumpy all day. He napped twice but it didn't help. God knows what he's like during the week, but from now on I will gladly let him get his morning beauty sleep.)

The sleepunder was lovely. Unfortunately at the moment the girls are much more pleasant to be around one at a time than together. Delphine alone is insightful and contemplative and interesting, Cordelia alone is funny and clever and demonstrative. Together they are whiny and scrappy and tiresome. Not all the time, but often enough that it wears me out. Hopefully between them they will eventually grow out of it and figure out how to enjoy each other's company more.

Dead Dads Club

My dad died today at 4:15 am Saskatchewan time, which is 6:15 am EST. So fifteen minutes before I woke up this morning my dad was quietly dying two provinces away.

My mom called at 6:37 am to tell me. I was only half-awake, and so my first thought was "How did they know it was 4:15?" My dad wasn't on any kind of life support, so barring the unlikely event that someone was in the room with him and noticed him go, 4:15 is surely just a best guess. Which is fine, really, but my early morning pedant wanted that to be clear. 4:15? Really? Or 'around 4:15'? Which is, I'm sure, exactly what my mother needed!

Actually apparently what she thought I meant was "How did they know he is dead?" which is a valid question because lately the difference between my dad dead and my dad alive has been a subtle one. When we all went to see him in August he was largely unresponsive, and in an unguarded moment (I have a lot of them) I described him to the girls as Mostly Dead. Which he was.

So now he's Completely Dead, and it's a bit weird how that's so very different that him being only Mostly Dead at, say, 3:15 this morning, while also being so much the same. My brother and I and probably my Mum are having trouble with this state change, this passing from being Mostly Mourning to Completely Mourning.

Right now the girls are with their Baba and I suppose I should be doing grown-up things like getting a flight home, but really I just feel like baking a giant batch of cookies and sitting down with a magazine and some tea.

One last whine — our terabyte drive crashed so we don't have any music, and I don't have a single Requiem on my ipod. Not Mozart, not Faure, not even the fairly alarming Brahms we started practicing yesterday. So I'm stuck listening to some random mass, which is nice but not the same.

What We Did On Our Summer Vacation

It's cool today, and rainy, but I opened the doors and windows anyway, because it's the last day of summer vacation and I want to get as much of that summer air in the house as I can before we get back to the routine of walking here, walking there, packing snacks, hurrying up and going. This year I have got myself yet more taking and fetching to do in the form of an eight-year-old boy I'm looking after before and after school. He won't make much more work for me (I think, unless he turns out to be horrible, which I'm pretty sure he isn't) and he makes me quite a lot more money, so I expect that will be a net win.

But that's what's happening next, and I wanted to post about what we did this summer.

The first thing we did in summer vacation was a trip to the ROM, on the very first day after school ended. Getting there turned out to be quite an ordeal; the subway wasn't running, so we tried in various ways to outsmart the crowded shuttle buses; we took the number 11 back to Mount Pleasant, tried to catch a Mount Pleasant bus (almost lost Cordelia), then got back on another number 11 which magically turned into a Yonge Street shuttle. (We missed the most obvious workaround which is to take the normal 97 Yonge St bus.) All our fooling around killed enough time that they managed to get the subway running again by the time we got to St Clair, and we were back en route.

After all that we had a nice visit to the ROM, and saw both the Darwin and Wedgewood exhibits. Because my mother is from North Staffordshire of course we think we're related to both Wedgewood and Darwin, so I particularly enjoyed the exhibits. For that reason and also because both Staffordshire pottery and evolution are particularly close to my heart. And did you know ceramics and fossils have similar chemical properties? It's all connected.

I mentioned we almost lost Cordelia, but what I should say is that she almost lost us. We were all standing at the corner waiting for the bus, and the girls were fooling around on a little staircase, hanging on the banisters, walking down the hill, the usual fidgety little kid stuff. Suddenly Cordelia took off running in the opposite direction, crying and shouting. I wondered if perhaps she had been bitten by something, or seen a scary dog. I shouted her name but she didn't turn around, so Blake took off after her. She was running full-tilt so she got half a block before he caught up with her, and apparently she had lost track of us and thought we had lost her. She was petrified! She has a fear of being left behind or leaving someone else behind — if I don't stop and wait for Delphine while we're out walking she screams "Mummy 'top!" — and I guess she panicked and forgot to, oh, look around a full 360° before running for it.

Another adventure was a trip downtown to have lunch with Daddy. I wasn't sure whether simply going downtown would be enough excitement for two little kids, but Delphine kept saying "I love downtown!" We went to Queen and stopped at The Bay for some kid undergarments, and then walked along to John to Grange Park. Delphine and I had already walked along Queen a few weeks earlier when we went to the ballet, and I think she got a kick out of seeing places again. "This is where they always have a ice cream truck and a french fries truck!" We stopped for a snack on the landscaped median of University, under the statue of Adam Beck who apparently invented hydro-electricity. Apparently it still isn't cheap enough, because the fountain at his feet wasn't running. As we were sitting, Delphine looked up and said "That building says 'Canada Life'." Which it does! She reads everything now, signs and the writing on trucks and labels, which I remember doing as a kid and apparently Blake did too. Actually I still do it; if it's printed I have to read it.

One of our goals for this summer was to go out on a boat, so one fine Monday morning the girls and I went down to the Harbourfront. We walked along the boardwalk admiring the boats and ships, and looking for ducks, until I found someone selling boat rides. I asked him which was the cheapest one, and he said we could all go out on the Ste Marie for $11; it was to be a 45 minute ride leaving at 11:15, so we signed on. We turned out to be the only passengers on a tour around the Toronto islands; we saw nature preserves and Centre Island, swans and cygnets, and learned all about Ned Hanlan. Delphine won herself and Cordelia a lollipop each in a one-question trivia contest: "What lake are we on right now?" "Ontario Lake!" I had told her that very morning.

Our biggest adventure this summer was a surprise trip to Saskatchewan, surprise because I had intended to go at Christmas until I realized it would be fully twice a much money, to the tune of $4000 instead of $2000, to go at Christmas instead of summer. So we decided to go in August instead. I flew out there with the girls first, and my mother's saintly friend Shirley picked us up from the airport in Saskatoon. Blake came a few days later, and picked up a rental car and drove to Big River by himself, almost without incident!

Shirley also engineered the high point of the visit, a fishing trip in her motor boat. Delphine got to reel in a fish, and I also fished for the very first time. Blake caught the biggest fish of the day, but we released all of them in favour of some already-clean fish from Shirley's freezer.

We managed to stay quite busy in Saskatchewan, going out for lunch a couple of times, driving down to PA to see an old school friend, going to the school playground, visiting the farmer's market, shopping in Debden, or just going to get the mail. The girls had a great time with my mum; she let them watch as much TV as they wanted, eat cookies and play with all her thousands of tchotchkes. Blake said that between the cookies and fishing and Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! it was just like his visits to his grandparents in Winnipeg when he was a kid.

We also visited my Dad in the nursing home a couple of times. Last year, when Cordelia and I were in Sask in September, my dad had just moved into the nursing home and we visited every day. We chatted with him and had a nice time. This year I literally didn't recognize him at first: he was tucked up in a giant bed-like wheelchair and he had lost a lot of weight. With his teeth out he just looked like some generic old guy, skinny and wrinkly and not like my dad at all. It took a minute to recognize that nose and those ears, things that don't change, and then I realized that old guy was really my dad.

The first day we were there he didn't open his eyes or acknowledge us at all, apart from tapping his foot apparently in response to the songs that the girls and I sang for him. I was so shook up it took me a couple of days to gather the nerve to go again, but when I did I was sorry I had waited, because Dad opened his eyes and looked at me and the girls and smiled at us. But the next time we visited, again he didn't open his eyes. All I could do for him was ask the nurses to play music for him.

While we were in Sask the hospital called my mother to let her know that they are discontinuing his diabetes medication because he's not eating. I know my poor Dad is just trying to go, and there's no legal way we can make it easier for him. Humanity my ass.

The girls took it all in their stride. They asked why Grandpa doesn't talk or open his eyes, and I said he's really old and sick and he needs to sleep all the time. I said he's too tired to open his eyes or talk. They weren't upset about it at all, because they are still young enough that they take it in their stride, and because neither of them really knew him when he was lucid. Dad got to meet Delphine when she was three, but I don't know how much of that either of them remember.

My mother, on the other hand, is doing well by herself. She has friends and neighbours who help her out with things like mowing the lawn. The people in town — the pharmacist, the postmaster, the plumber (just like in a Richard Scarry book) — know her and look out for her. And of course she has her cats to torment her and keep her on her toes.

I remember when the children were younger the travel itself was the big worry, but there was hardly anything to talk about this time; I loaded up with activity books and little plane-friendly toys — a magnetic dress-up doll, some brilliant Micro Playmobil in its own little box, sticker books — and plenty of snacks, and we managed the three hours on the plane and two and a half hours in the car without much ado.

Since we got home from Sask we haven't had any grand adventures, although we have had a steady stream of playdates and visits. School starts next Wednesday and Delphine is looking forward to it. She was scared that she wouldn't like her teacher, until she received a welcome letter from said teacher in the mail and now she's excited and happy. Cordelia's school starts the following Monday — she's doing Monday, Wednesday and Friday this year. I don't know how that's going to go; she has been very clingy lately. I expect she will howl terribly, I will leave and she'll be fine within five minutes. I expect further that after a couple of weeks of school she will no longer be so clingy. There's nothing like confronting your fears, even when you're two and your mother makes you do it.

I think this has been a great summer. At the beginning I wondered if I should have enrolled my kids in a thousand camps and programs, like everyone else does (nevermind that we don't have the money). I decided I would rather not spend my entire summer ferrying everyone around, and that we would make our own fun, and so we did. There was a little whining that there's nothing to do, that we never go to the park, that our backyard is the worst in the world, and that everyone else gets to go away on holiday, but for the most part we got along with each other and found interesting things to do both near and far.

Big Birthday Excitement

Yesterday was my thirty-third birthday. Thirty-three isn't a very interesting number, but it's one of the ones you have to get through on the way to ooooold.

Blake's first present to me was to tell the girls not to fight on my birthday. If you know any two- and five-year-old sisters you will know how long that lasted, but they did try. For at least an hour. The next nice thing was that Blake let me languish in bed while he went downstairs with the girls and made tea and toast for me.

After breakfast we opened presents: Delphine got me a strand of blue silk flowers and beads on a wire, to decorate things with. Cordelia got me a wire and bead ladybug (and then broke it, but not fatally), and Blake got me a Moleskine notebook for Writing Things Down In. I loved everything. Blake thought I might not like the girls' things because of their tchotchke-like nature, but it's surprising how much I completely adore them just because my girlies picked them out. I put the blue flower garland on the banister and I put the ladybug... well, I put it up high. Hopefully I can put it somewhere else soon.

Despite it being my birthday we still had a million errands to run (partly because we're going to Sask next week) but I had a nice time. I spent far too much money on clothes for Delphine (but they were on sale! And so cute!) and far too much money on a present for my cousin. We met up with our friends Tanya and Ursa and continued the tradition started last year of decorating cupcakes (which is to say, burying them in as many sprinkles as they will hold). Tanya and I got some very rare talking-together-like-grownups time while the little ones slept and the five-year-olds played with Playmobil.

After Tanya and Ursa left, Blake came home with KFC (my annual treat) and more presents! A beautiful Basil pannier and the Torchwood season one DVD! He tried to get the latter signed, but I'm glad he didn't manage it because I would have died of jealousy if he had met John Barrowman without me. Well, maybe not died, quite.

Then more company; Kat came over and watched our TV while the children were in bed, and we went for a walk and had coffee. We came home, watched the first episode of Torchwood (I think we may have converted Kat) and went to bed.

All in all, a super birthday, but my first full day of being thirty-three was fabulous too. Kat stayed over and we went to yoga together in the morning. Yoga was fun, as usual, but my hamstrings are astonishingly tight and there were some postures I couldn't even consider. As usual, though, yoga threw me some ego-boosting soft pitches: I can balance! I can ... well, mainly I can balance! But there's a lot of that in yoga! The thing I like about yoga is that you might try a posture one minute that seems completely impossible — you look at the person next to you and wonder if perhaps there is some optical illusion involved — but the very next posture is something you can not only do, but do the "if you want a little more challenge" variation! Yoga wants you to feel good.

But the best thing of all was that today Delphine learned how to ride a bike! She went off with Blake to practice riding in the school ground, and when they got back she was riding all by herself. I could hardly believe my eyes! This summer has been great for her; she learned to climb a tree, she is reading (not entire books but words and phrases), and now riding a bike. Wow!