Amy (old posts, page 24)

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.

Fat Girl Running

Kat has inspired me to get my running shoes back on; she is training for an as-yet-unspecified 5K, so we're going to egg each other on. She runs on the treadmill at her condo and I like to run outside (because I don't have a treadmill and I'm too poor to join a gym, and because running on a treadmill is boring) so we probably won't actually run together until spring. But we'll talk about running!

We talked about running last night before choir, and as Kat wisely pointed out, if you want to do something you should do it as soon as possible after you've determined to do it, so I ran this afternoon after I dropped Delphine off at school. Since Blake is "working" from "home", he can make sure Cordelia doesn't catch fire or something while she's napping, and so I can leave the house in the afternoon. Plus it was sunny and warm (only -5!) - too good to pass up.

I did 3K in 1-and-1s. 1-and-1s is pretty lame, but I haven't been out for a long time, and it's cold and when I run in the cold my lungs get wheezy and I get that coppery taste in my mouth, so I thought I would go easy on myself. And it was a pretty easy run. There were times when the one minute of running seemed too short, and only one time when I was really glad of the break, so next time I will do 2-and-1s.

My plan is to run three times a week, on Tuesdays, Thursdays and the weekend. I'll do 3K for the next two runs and then up the distance a little bit and also increase intensity to 3-and-1s. I just hope it doesn't stay so cold for weeks and weeks. I don't know if I can motivate myself to run when it's horribly cold.

I went for a couple of runs over the winter, before it got so cold. I tried something new: listening to music instead of timing my intervals. (I have to choose because I time intervals by the beeping of my watch and if I'm listening to music I can't hear the beeps. I'm sure there is some technological solution to this problem.) Listening to music is fun, but I missed the satisfaction of being able to measure and manage the ratio of running to walking. (I'm a geek.) Plus it's kind of nice to have time to just let the thoughts roll through my head. Apparently that kind of unstructured daydreaming time is very important. So I'm going to stick with timing intervals.

And now I should go stretch.

What I Know About Window Film Insulation

Our house is pretty chilly in winter, and it's quite clear that one of the weak links is the windows. You can tell from the avalanche of freezing cold air that rolls off the windows as soon as you open the blinds*. So this winter we decided to try that plastic wrap stuff that you tape around the windows and then blowdry to tighten it up and make it all smooth. It's kind of ghetto but we can't afford to replace the windows, so it will have to do, and I was determined to do it right -- there is a house nearby with plastic on the windows and they didn't prep it properly so the tape has come off and it's hanging down and it looks really ghetto.

There were two brands at the store, 3M and another brand from Quebec. This whole post would be much more useful if I remembered what the brand of the other stuff was; anyway, it comes in a blue box and it's from Quebec. We bought the two-window kit by 3M and the five-window kit from the other company; both kits were about $35, so you can see that the 3M stuff would have to be much better to be worth the extra money.

Here were the differences between the two products:

  • the 3M stuff had slightly wider double-sided tape, and the tape backing had red text printed on it - that doesn't seem like a big thing but our window frames are white so the white-only backing on the other tape made it a little harder to find the end of the tape. 3M advertise that "the difference is in the tape", and indeed that's one of the things they are known for, but apart from the slight difference in width and the backing, I couldn't perceive a difference in the tape. Maybe the other brand will start peeling off in February or something.
  • the instructions on the other stuff were more thorough. At first Blake interpreted that to mean that the other stuff was harder to install, but installation was identical for the two products, it's just that 3M tried to make it sound easy.
  • the non-3M film was thinner. I suppose that would make it more fragile but I didn't have trouble with it breaking, and it heat-shrunk better. I doubt the width of the film makes much difference to insulation; I expect insulation is mainly furnished by the air between the window and the film.

So this is what you do:

  1. Clean the window frame. I used a solution of water, dish soap and vinegar, and a cloth diaper. (I cleaned the window too because I'm not going to get at it for a few months.) Then I wiped it with rubbing alcohol - that's what the non-3M stuff said to do.
  2. Put the tape on the window frame. After the first couple of pieces I figured out that you need to peel a couple of inches off the backing paper before you put the tape up because it's really hard to start it when it's up on your window.
  3. Cut the plastic film to size. We ended up with lots of extra film, but I'm not sure how much extra they give you. Our windows might just be small. Anyway, give yourself three or four extra inches on each side just to be safe.
  4. Peel the backing paper off the tape. This is kind of fun.
  5. Adhere the film to the tape. You can actually stick it on fairly gently to start with, and then pull it off, stretch it and restick it until you have it as tight and smooth as possible. Then press it firmly onto the tape once you're happy with it.
  6. This is the fun part: use a blow dryer to heat the plastic so it shrinks like a giant shrinkydink and pulls all the remaining wrinkles out.
  7. Trim the excess film. Carefully. I was very conservative and left lots of extra because I didn't want to risk puncturing the film. Your mileage may vary.
  8. Stand back and admire your work. I'm really happy with how ours turned out; you can't see it at all from outside, and it's barely noticable from inside.

It took me about half an hour for each window, and I did it over a week or so. Kind of a big production and pain in the ass. I think it's helping with the cold thing though. Our big problem (apart from the aforementioned avalanche of cold) was condensation, and there's much less of it now, so clearly that cold is being stopped. I'm not sure if it's going to save us $70 in utility bills, though. But we'll probably do it again next year just for the increased comfort.

Anyway, so that's what I learned about insulating window film. Hopefully this is helpful to someone somewhere.

* Incidentally our blinds are awesome. We have honeycomb blinds from Hunter Douglas and they block a heck of a lot of cold. We saved a bunch on natural gas after we installed them, which is good because they were about a million dollars. I expect another brand of the same product would be equally effective, but the Hunter Douglas ones are very well made. I'm happy with them. (I wish we had got the top-down/bottom-up mechanism on all the blinds, though; the only window we didn't get it for was the living room, and sometimes I would like to open just the top of that, like in the morning in summer when I'm not dressed yet.)

Poems By Delphine

Delphine has written one poem and and two, um, prose pieces which might be poems. Here they are, preserving random capitals:

me you we
A soiN. A Bote.
Me AND You tRNiNg
iN toWe.
Musis togetheR

tAte i LiKe

AND SEahors too.
thosoR the thiNgs iN the SEa

Y'all Should Watch This

I mentioned briefly in my last post that Blake and I have started watching a show called Being Erica. It's about a 32-year-old Toronto woman who gets a chance to travel back in time and revisit some bad decisions from her past. We're really enjoying it; the characterization is good, the scripts are funny, the music is AWESOME, and of course it's perfectly our age group so everything is sometimes painfully close to home. And it's SO Toronto and so Canadian: lots of location shots, Molson Canadian, sex in a canoe.

So Blake said, "I should totally tell Morgan to watch this, with the graduating in '94 and the trips to Muskoka." And I said, "Yeah, I want to tell Kat about it, too." Kat and Morgan and I are all '75ers, and I think Kat would really enjoy this show and relate, too.

And finally I wonder if my New York friends Sascha and Leontine would like it -- they love Canada and Toronto so maybe they'd get a kick out of it, if they have time to watch TV.

Anyway (I think) all those people read this blog, so consider yourselves notified. (Kat, we have them downloaded if you want to watch them here.)

State Of The Nation

Part III: Me

Seems like even though this is my blog (well, half mine) I don't post about myself very much. I post about the kids, I post about what I read, I even post about my husband sometimes, but I don't post about what's going on with me. Lucky for you, but today your luck has run out: this post is all about me.

It's still January, and January is still kicking my ass. I've been so tired and so disinclined to do anything since the Christmas decorations came down. I haven't vacuumed, I haven't tidied; I am just barely getting through the absolute necessities. I read awhile ago that when you get depressed there's actually some kind of blockage in the system which takes messages from your brain to your muscles, so you lie there thinking, "I'm going to get up and pick up all that Lego" and... nothing happens. That's how I feel. Plus, as discussed earlier, it's so bloody cold.

Yesterday I had a little breakdown because there's crap all over the downstairs: dolls, stuffed animals, books, random miniature backpacks, board games, the usual detritus of small children. Since I have been more disinclined than usual to tidy up, this stuff has been accumulating in the corners and nooks like giant, brightly coloured dust bunnies, and it finally tipped me over the edge yesterday. Blake's solution was: "Get the girls to tidy up." Bwah hah hah, yes, I'll get right on that. I'm sure that will be much easier than doing it myself. Then he got mad at me for being sarcastic. So we had a big fight. Le sigh.

Unfortunately Cordelia is still too small to really understand how to tidy up, so if I want to continue to allow her to own and play with stuff, I need to pick up after her. Normally I'm okay with doing that, but see above re: January. Not only do I lack the energy to clean up but I'm more emotionally fragile than usual so the mess bugs me more. Double-whammy, POW, BIFF!

Whatever. Out of the dust a phoenix rises, or at least a good idea: we're going to get each girl a giant bucket (I like these) and every day before dinner everyone has to load their shit, er I mean their prized possessions into their bucket and take it upstairs. Once there, Delphine can do whatever she wants with her stuff and I will help Cordelia put hers away in her room. Result! Hopefully.

Anyway, so that was my large digression regarding the state of the house as it pertains to my state of mind, which is not great right now but I'm sure will improve as the days get longer and the snow melts.

Apart from the usual Mum stuff of cooking, cleaning, reading out loud, playing and taking people places, mainly I spend my time reading and watching TV. In addition to the books I read, I also get through most of the Saturday Globe and Mail, (excepting the Sports, Report on Business and Travel sections which I recycle first off). I also get New Scientist every week (well, it's supposed to be weekly; it seems to come in spurts), and Today's Parent every month. I used to get Canadian House and Home but I don't have the money to decorate or renovate so it just depressed me.

We cancelled cable a while ago and now we download all our TV, which is working really well. I'm pretty happy with the stuff we watch; life is short and there are lots of books to read, so I try and only watch shows I really like. I just dumped 90210 because it wasn't good enough to squander precious hours of my life on. That doesn't seem to set a really high bar, does it? This is what I do watch: The Daily Show, Chuck, Battlestar Galactica, Dirty Jobs, Mythbusters (mainly because Blake watches it), Doctor Who, and Torchwood. We also just started watching a show called Being Erica which looks like it's going to be pretty good.

Extra-curricular activities are limited by time and the goodwill of the various people willing to look after my children so I can leave the house. I have choir practice once a week from September to May. Every month or two my book club meets for dinner on Friday night in a restaurant. (Ooh! A restaurant! Shiny!) Every month I go to the school Parents Association so I can stay in the loop with all the juicy school gossip. That's about it, I think. Housebound much?

So here's an interesting thing. (Interesting if you're me.) When I graduated from high school I was the most boring, unmotivated, uninterested, extrinsically motivated person imaginable. I didn't know what I was interested in because I wasn't interested in anything -- the only thing that motivated me was pleasing other people, and other people don't have the first clue what's right for me -- so off I went to university and did Math for some very bad reasons, none of which had anything to do with genuine interest. But I forged through. (And now that I think about it was pretty damn good to get a degree in Math from a such a hard school when I wasn't the slightest bit interested in it.) Anyway, so I got the degree and I worked in computers and every day was horrible because I just didn't care.

The last five years, since I haven't been working and since I have been reading, have been like an Independent Study. I've been free to read whatever I want and explore my own interests. If I don't want to read something, I don't have to. If I do want to, I can, and then if that book leads me to one or two or three other books I can read them, too. (Funny thing: in all that time I don't think I've read a single book about math.)

So oddly enough, being a stay-at-home mom has been a very rich time for me, intellectually. I've exposed myself to lots of ideas, lots of novels, lots and lots of facts. And the more I read and the smarter I get, the more I know that I must change careers and that I need to spend some time and effort figuring out what's right for me. Fortunately I have read plenty of books about finding happiness and satisfaction in life, so I can use them for guidance. But more on that later. That's a whole 'nother set of posts and I still have lots and lots of thinking to do. (For some reason I have time to read but not time to think.) Stay tuned.

Now it's time for bed - tomorrow is Thursday, and it's going to be warm so we might go play outside. Apparently Delphine told Blake she didn't want Mummy to be crabby any more, so he wants me to figure out what I need to feel better. I thought about it a little bit and I think I need some time to myself, to get away from everyone's needs. I don't get a lot of that, and usually I can deal but, well, January. So I'm going to take some Me Time tomorrow afternoon and go window shopping on Bayview while Delphine is at school. Delphine has French after school, then home for supper and then I might go downtown and see if I can get a good deal on a winter coat. Dunno -- maybe I shouldn't blow all my Me time on one day. Or maybe I should!