Amy (old posts, page 34)

Summer's Last Hurrah

As summer draws to an end the girls and I are trying to squeeze the last of the fun out of the season. One of the last things on the list we came up with at the beginning of the year was to go to the Harbourfront, and that is what we did today.

As usual we got off to a late start—between brushing hair and applying sunblock and looking for Playmobil horses and TTC tokens we didn't leave the house until around ten. When we got down to the Harbourfront the first order of business (after saying goodbye to the crowds of people headed for the Ex) was to find money. Unfortunately RBC has a lock on Queen's Quay Terminal, so we wandered westward searching for a TD bank machine. On the way we saw: a camp "canoeing" (more being pushed about) on Natrel pond; Delphine's canoe camp (she showed us the giant canoe they all went out to Centre Island in); the Amsterdam Bridge; the Spadina wave deck; and HtO Park. HtO Park is basically a giant sandbox with big metal umbrellas and Muskoka chairs—we couldn't decide if it was cool or lame, but Delphine liked the shower/footbath.

At that point it was apparent that we wouldn't find a TD bank machine anywhere, so we headed back to Queen's Quay Terminal (via the Simcoe wave deck) where I paid $1.50 for the privilege of taking money out of an RBC machine.

Next on the itinerary was to buy tickets for a boat ride. We went with Mariposa Boat Cruises because they were the first kiosk we came to, and Cordelia rode for free. It was 12:00 so I bought tickets for the 1:30 ride to give us time to get lunch. After pondering Il Fornello and an Irish pub, we decided to economize, and had chicken fingers, fish and chips, and a tuna sandwich at a grill-type place. Then back to Queen's Quay Terminal where we got an ice cream cone just in time to take it on the boat.

We rode on the Oriole (not quite as glamourous, in the harsh light of day, as they make it sound) and made ourselves at home on the lower deck, with only the bartender for company. I love the harbourfront boat tours—you get to go around the island lagoon, see the yachts, the bird sanctuary, the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse, and of course the city from the other side. The girls loved it too, although Delphine had trouble keeping up with the tour guide's descriptions of buildings: "Between the two white buildings you'll see a tall gold building..." "Which one is it, Mama? I can't see it." By the time I described it again, of course, it was out of sight. Cordelia probably just couldn't make sense of it at all and was enjoying the ride on her own terms. It's good to be four.

A few things bothered me about the information given out in the tour. They talked about the TD Centre but they didn't mention it was designed by Mies van der Rohe; they talked about First Canadian Place but they didn't mention it by name (they called it the Bank of Montreal building) and they didn't say why it has scaffolding at the top; they called Canada geese "Canadian geese" which is a neologism which drives me crazy; and finally (is that all?!) they said the CN in CN Tower stands for "Canada's National". Which is just stupid, although according to this Wikipedia page not entirely wrong.

After the tour we visited what Delphine calls the Lemming Ball, for reasons I will leave to her to explain when she has a blog. It's a giant, hollow cement sphere which you can walk into through a wooden ramp. It is surprisingly underdocumented on the Internet (or else I am searching wrong) and you'd have to see it to really understand. The girls thought it was really cool; I was too busy Twittering about two old people sitting on a nearby bench making out like teenagers.

Next we charged over to Yonge Street (in the hot hot sun) in search of the Royal York Hotel. Those of you who are smarter than me will be saying, "Hey, isn't the Royal York on Bay Street?" As it turns out, it is, so we charged over to Yonge Street, walked under the Gardiner (boo, hiss) and then (once I realized my mistake) charged back west on Front Street until we finally reached the elegantly air conditioned Royal York. I thought the girls would be impressed by the shiny old-school, dimly lit, brass-and-Persian-carpets luxury of it, and so they were. They also immediately quieted down and behaved like princesses as soon as we got inside; to the manner born, they are.

We found a fancy hotel restroom and took our time freshening up, and then I impulsively suggested that we go to Epic for drinks. The maitre d' was busy on the phone helping someone plan his (or her) proposal dinner, so we found ourselves a table and ordered lemonade for Cordelia, a Shirley Temple for Delphine and iced tea for me. (That's "drinks" when you travel with a four-year-old and a seven-year-old.) The drinks came with an elegant silver bowl of not-entirely-elegant snack mix: beer nuts, wasabi peas, cheese crackers, and sesame chips. It was delightfully refreshing, all the more so because for some reason they only charged us for my drink. I guess it pays to be really cute.

On the way home we intersected with about a million cranky TDSB teachers TTCing home from Spence-a-palooza with their unwanted green tote bags. It's interesting to see how many teachers live in our neighbourhood—there were at least four on our bus alone.

(I may have inadvertently insulted our French/gym teacher within his earshot. I was talking to an acquaintance, also a teacher, and saying I wished we had a proper gym teacher at our school; the kids either get a non-gym teacher who happens to be free at the right time, or they get M. Landry who is half gym, half French, but his heart is really in the French classroom. However, what I actually said was "M. Landry is just an angry French teacher", which is, I believe, an accurate characterization. As I said it a guy sitting nearby kind of smirked, and when he got off the bus at our stop he was talking to his friend in a French accent. So, oops, maybe.)

Then we were home and I sent the children off to play at a neighbour's house while I took a few minutes to relax. It was a great day—I love exploring the city with my kids, they are such good company. (Even when they pick and snipe at each other all day as they have been lately.)

Tomorrow they're going for back-to-school haircuts and then we'll hit the library and the park, if it isn't raining.

So many books

It doesn't seem to matter how much other stuff I have going on, I always have time to read. Don't have time to blog, don't have time to work, definitely don't have time to houseclean—still have time to read.

Science, Sense and Nonsense by Joe Schwarcz is a collection of commentaries on chemistry in everyday life, with a side of fraud-spotting advice. The book covers antioxidants, trans fats, historical alternatives to rubber, and a wealth of other topics serious and amusing.

The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen is a young adult book about a modern girl who, bored with her family Seder, is transported back in time to 1941 Poland. I guess maybe the only thing worse than being a Jew in Poland in 1941 is being a Jew in Poland in 1941 who knows the future. She and her entire village are sent to a concentration camp where they fight to survive and to retain their humanity. This book has won a heap of awards (and I just found out it was made into a movie with Kirsten Dunst and Brittany Murphy) and it is a wonderful story about the importance of remembering.

I read The Root Cellar by Janet Lunn out loud to Delphine. It's another time travel book, about a girl who is left alone when her grandmother dies. She is packed off to live with relatives in rural Ontario and is lonely and miserable until she discovers that the root cellar takes her back in time to the 1860s, where she makes friends and feels more at home than in the present. Her twin challenges are to track down a friend who doesn't return from the American civil war (in the past) and to find a place for herself in her new family (in the present). I loved this book when I was a child, and Delphine liked it this time around, as did I.

Shakespeare: The World as a Stage by Bill Bryson is a short biography of Shakespeare—short because we don't really know much about the playwright. In addition to what little we do know, Bryson covers disproved (or unlikely) theories and myths. As always, readable and informative.

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss was a book club book. It's about old man who feels like he is disappearing; his long-lost son, a famous novelist; a teenage girl named Alma whose mother is translating a book which turns out was written by... well, you'll have to read it yourself. It's one of those books where the stories go along in parallel and you have to try and figure out how they're connected before the end when the author ties everything together with a big bow. It was a lovely book; I enjoyed reading it, although in book club we decided you have to read it in big chunks or you'll get too confused.

The Unfinished Angel by Sharon Creech is a... young adult? Middle grade? I never know—although I'll have to figure it out pretty soon because I'm helping a friend with her middle-grade novel this fall— Anyway, it's a book about an angel whose quiet life in a tower is interrupted by the arrival of a girl who changes everything in the village. The book is written in the childlike voice of the angel, which sounds a little cringe-y, but Sharon Creech is a phenomenal writer and she makes it work. This is only a short book and it goes quickly, but it's well worth reading.

Books for the Beginning of 2010

OMG, look at this! I was going to write a book blog post and here I find this half-finished book blog post. So I'm just going to finish this up and post it, and then I will work on blogging the eighteen thousand books I've read since I wrote this.

Twelve Books That Changed the World by Melvyn Bragg is a book that doesn't need much introduction. I believe it's a tie-in book to a TV series, the kind of TV series that could only be produced in England. The books range from the St James Bible to Mary Woolstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and, curiously, Rules of Association Football. Each book is given its place in history, and as such this book is an excellent cheat sheet for someone whose education in history is lacking.

Further Under the Duvet by Marian Keyes was recommended to me by someone on Twitter (I think it was FlossieTeacake) after a discussion of villa-itis, or the fear that you are going to run out of bread while staying at a French villa. The book is a collection of essays and short stories. Keyes is an Irish writer with the most extraordinary Cinderalla story of going from abject alcoholism to fame and riches as a writer. The story is told in the book, along with essays on the joy of writing a makeup column (free samples!), air-guitar championships, shopping and plenty of chocolate. Funny and sweet.

Positive Discipline by Dr. Jane Nelsen is yet another positive/democratic/whatever parenting book. I don't know why I keep reading them, since I more-or-less know what I'm doing by now, but it's good to be reminded, and I do pick up different ideas from the various books. This particular book reminded me of the importance of family meetings, and reassured me that some problems (namely chores) will have to be revisited at regular intervals but are still worth handling democratically. I wouldn't call this my favourite democratic parenting book—it's just not funny enough. But it's worth a look if you need a refresher (or an introduction to positive parenting) or if you want a new angle.

The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson is our first book club book of the year, and already this year's book club selection is looking better than last year's. The Gargoyle is about a man who gets terribly burned in a car crash, then meets a mysterious woman with a bizarre past while he's recovering. It's about love and redemption and all that good stuff, with a big dose of history. It's beautifully written and I didn't want it to end.

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande. I have long been a fan of the checklist. I like to-do lists to keep my days focused, I like lists of things to take places, I like to record our daily routines in list form so nothing is forgotten. This book is the validation for my checklist habit: Gawande writes about how checklists can improve the outcome of extremely complex projects, such as construction projects, and surgeries. Checklists are already in use in construction and aviation, and the book centres on Gawande and his team's attempt to create a checklist to reduce the number of fatalities as a result of surgeries. It's not a smooth path, but along the way we learn the kinds of checklists (DO-CONFIRM and READ-DO), what makes a good checklist (not too much information, easy to read), what makes a bad checklist (too long), and the mind-boggling difference that a checklist can make in a process that everyone involved feels is already going pretty well. (Gawande uses his own checklist, and at first he thought it wouldn't make much difference to his outcomes. As it turns out, not a week goes by that the checklist doesn't catch something he would have missed, and it has even saved at least one life on his watch).

As usual, Gawande is engaging and convincing. This was a great read as well as a confirmation (and refinement) of my love for checklists.

Easter Sunday 2010

Blake and I went for a bike ride today while the girls were out swimming with Baba and Zaida. I didn't really want to go, but Blake does so love to ride his bike, and I don't mind biking. So off we went, and went up some steepish hills and down a slightly scary one, found some nice nature to bring Delphine to, and lost contact with my butt. And that was, as they say, all well and good, but the interesting thing happened later.

I felt great.

My back didn't hurt, my foot didn't hurt (I've had plantar fasciitis for, like, months), and I had enough energy to run up and down the sidewalk flying a kite with Cordelia. I didn't realize how bad I'd been feeling lately until I stopped feeling bad, and clearly part of the problem is the utter lack of aerobic exercise I've been doing lately. I'm not exactly sure what I'm going to do about that...

Cordelia and I fought today. Not the screamy angry kind of fighting, but silly punching kicking fighting. She was hitting me as hard as she could, and of course I was just play hitting. It's never come up before, so I have no idea of the etiquette of playfighting. I suppose it's not done to playfight at all any more, but she's just so cute when she snarls at me with her perfectly straight tiny teeth, and thumps me with her tiny ineffectual fists. It's like being menaced by a chinchilla.

We watched Prince of Egypt today, admittedly a week late for Passover. I had forgotten how great that movie is. We bought it, so we can watch it as often as we like. Every Passover! We don't do anything else for Passover, apart from eat a lot at Baba's house, so why not create our own traditions?

What Up?

I used to have a blog here, but lately I've been busy with this paying job thing and haven't been blogging much. I have about eighteen million books to blog about, and everything else. This is going to be the everything else post.


Delphine is nearly seven and she's become all happy and patient and agreeable. Well, not all, but more than before. She sometimes doesn't respond when Cordelia tries to fight with her; she sometimes goes along with me when I ask her to do stuff she doesn't want to; she is usually happy after school and she seldom complains about her day. She's no Pollyanna, but she's not quite as emo and gloomy as she has been through most of the last year.

Delphine had her first piano lesson last Saturday. Piano lessons now are so much cooler than when I started playing: instead of starting with "this is a staff and this is a quarter note" it starts with "these are your fingers and this is the keyboard" and you plunk away, and notation is introduced as needed and no sooner.

So Delphine loves piano. She couldn't wait to get home to practice, and she has practiced every day this week.


Cordelia is still happy, sweet Cordelia. She tells me she loves me eighteen million times a day and she does little dances. She loves her friends, too—she and Anna won't go into the kindergarten playground without the other.

I wonder, sometimes, if Cordelia's always going to be the sweet, frivolous contrast to Delphine's darker personality. No, that's not quite right. What I wonder is how Cordelia's bubbliness will make the transition to adulthood. Where is she going to get that gravity that surely adulthood demands?

For now it seems like along with gloominess, Delphine also has a lock on scepticism, bookishness, and intellectualism (inasmuch as a six-year-old can be intellectual). Cordelia's only "things" are that she runs really fast (and a lot) and sings well. I guess I worry that Delphine's going to be "the clever one", leaving some other identity for Cordelia. I suppose even if she isn't "the clever one" she'll still be clever and she can always leverage that in whatever she ends up doing with herself.

Anyway, there's nothing so sure as that they'll be what they'll be and I have much less control over what they'll be than I'd like to think.


As for me, I have got myself a paying job. I'm copyediting and laying out a non-fiction book for self-publishing. A while ago I said that I didn't think copyediting would be a great job for me because it's so picky-picky; as it turns out it's a lot more fun than I thought it would be. I do love to proofread things, and even the totally anal stuff is kind of cool. I like knowing what kind of dash to use (even if I don't always bother to use the right one) and whether "BCE" has periods or not. And the meticulousness you need to employ to keep track of the style decisions you've made is right up my list-making alley.

I do need to reread Strunk and White, and some other writing books, just to clarify what makes good writing good, and I feel like I should put my hands on some style guides. (I wonder if people buy those on paper or just, I dunno, subscribe to them online or something.)

This working gig is going to have to get a lot more real in September. I signed Cordelia up for daycare when she was just over a year old, and as it turns out she got in. She starts in September at the daycare at the school. I won't have Delphine in daycare ("It's not FAIR!") but I will send her to school with a lunch, so my work day will be from 9:00 until 3:00. My plan, such that it is, is to work a twenty-hour week, leaving me ten hours a week for such frivolity as housework, exercise, reading and getting my nails done. Maybe I'll skip the nails and read more.

I'm reading a rather intense (but very useful) book about starting a home-based writing business. The author is quite intent on my making a business plan, planning further education, budgeting, marketing, and all that sensible, grown-up stuff. I almost feel like I can't waste my time doing that stuff when I could be doing billable work—kind of like the kid who runs his bike all the way to school because he doesn't have time to get on. I'm also resisting doing all that business stuff because somehow I can't take myself that seriously as a professional freelance writer and copyeditor. Clearly I'm going to have to get over that, but fortunately I have a few months to do it.

Letter from Driving School

I've been thinking I should really take some driving lessons to get over my fear of scary big city driving. Since I already have a driver's license, I don't need actual in-class lessons, I only need a few hours in one of those cars with the extra set of brakes, so I emailed a couple of driving schools to see if I could do that. Here is what I received in response from AllWheels Drivers:

were do you live and do you have ontario G1 licence.
IF YOU ONLY HAVE SASK. licence you will have to get your G1 licence inder take driviong lessons.

I shit you not, I didn't change a single letter of that email. If you're keeping track, that's three spelling errors, two missing capital letters, one missing question mark, a whole lot of pointless ALLCAPS, and one incomprehensible phrase ("inder take driviong lessons"?)

I was going to send a polite email explaining why this isn't a good way to handle customer response, but it seems I can't be bothered and would just rather blog about it here. I'm passive-aggressive like that.

Since then I've received a recommendation for another driving school from a friend. I won't be emailing them.

Something's Gotta Go—For a While

I went to Starbucks this morning to treat myself to my usual decaf tall non-fat with-whip mocha (personal), and there was a lady behind me in line with a baby and a five-year-old boy. The boy was a handful—at one point he disappeared into the kitchen, and he didn't want to stand still and wait in line. The mom was obviously tired, anxious and overwhelmed. Meanwhile, baby in one hand, Blackberry in the other, she was calling friends cheerily asking what kind of coffee they took. You know when you watch someone make a phone call and their whole mood changes when they're on the call? It was like that: tired grumpy tired HAPPY BRIGHT HAPPY tired grumpy tired

First of all, why would you put on yourself the extra work of getting coffee for all your friends when you have your hands full with your kids? It's okay to drop a few things when you have little kids. Maybe not cleaning the toilet and showering, but bringing coffee is definitely expendable. And second, why be all happy and "Hey, I'm bringing you coffee!" to your friends while only the strangers in Starbucks get to see how anxious and overwhelmed you are. Your friends don't care about coffee, they care about you. (The strangers at Starbucks don't care about you, they care about coffee.) It's okay to tell your friends that you're overwhelmed and you're going to beg off bringing coffee for a while. You can be the coffee and treats bringer again when your little one is old enough to carry a bag of croissants.

I guess I have two points. First, if you're feeling overwhelmed, you're not doing anyone any favours pretending everything's fine. Mostly people will believe you, and you won't get the help you need, which sucks. But just as bad is the overly optimistic impression you're giving other parents of the level of busy-ness and achievement they should be able to manage.

And second, when you have little kids you have to set aside some of your old identity. (Unless your old identity included about ten hours a day of absolute sloth, in which case parenting will fit in just fine. Except you'll have to set aside the "I'm slothful" part of your old identity. No, I'm going to stick with my original claim—when you have kids you have to set something aside.) Maybe it's being a great housekeeper, maybe it's being an employed person, maybe it's being a gym rat, maybe it's being someone who sees all the latest movies, maybe it's being the one who brings the coffee. When you add a baby to your life something has to give.

But it doesn't have to give forever: when you're stuck at home with a four-month-old and you're staring down the abyss of babyhood and toddlerdom and preschoolerness it seems like everything you ever loved about your old life is gone for good, or at least unrecognizably mangled. But if you just wait, you'll get it back. Your kid will be able to walk so you can carry an extra coffee; your kid will go to preschool so you can go to the gym; your kid will start school or daycare so you can work.

When you have a baby it seems like you have to hang on to everything about yourself until your fingernails bleed, that if you don't you'll lose yourself completely in snot and diapers. But all that stuff that made you you is still in there. It will still be there for you in three or four or five years when your hands are free and you have a minute or two to yourself.

Wow, that turned way more profound than I meant it to.