Amy (old posts, page 35)

Choir Today

Tonight's the first choir practice of the 2010-2011 season, and I'm uncommonly excited. It's entirely misplaced excitement because at the first practice we don't sing – we pick up music, pay dues, and then there's a (honestly rather lame) cheese and wine thing. I'm not interested in wine, the cheese is usually not very good, and me and the choir have developed a kind of polite disinterest in becoming friends. The two people in choir who I'm friends with, I'm friends with outside choir. Otherwise, there are a few other people I quite like, but the rest of the choir (including the director) doesn't seem nearly as interested in me as I feel they should be, and as such I'm not moved to be interested in them. I would far (far, far) rather sing with them than talk to them. So the first meeting of the choir is a bust for me, apart from that I get to see my friend Janet (Kat is away) and go to Xococava.

Morten Lauridsen Anyway, that aside, I'm beside myself with excitement about this season's repertoire. Mainly Morten Lauridsen's Lux Aeterna, which is subtle and gorgeous and completely doesn't play to our strengths, which are mainly being loud and getting it over with quickly. The Lux Aeterna has lots of sustained, soft, high passages, so we are going to have to work really hard to stay on pitch. Without sounding like we're working hard, of course.

We're also doing Messiah (snore), Mozart's Requiem which is good fun except for the parts which aren't Mozart, and Mendelssohn's Elijah which has some lovely parts and some very forgettable parts. (I'm listening to the recording of the last time we performed it and I just heard the creaking of one of those cheap folding chairs. Ouch.)

I feel like I've lost my singing voice a little in the last few years. I took voice lessons for a couple of years before Delphine was born and my singing voice was a revelation to me – making such a fantastic sound (she said modestly) so effortlessly was a thrill like I've never known. I should emphasise that my voice isn't so incredibly beautiful – it's just that I can sing much higher and more competently than I thought I would be able to – turns out singing high isn't hard work, it's all in the technique. Anyway, that was then, but since I stopped taking lessons (and stopped warming up properly and practicing, let's be honest) my high notes have become less confident (and less high) and my breath control, which was never great, has become even worse.

So this season I want to work on my high register, breath control, and also listening – I'm terrible for getting caught up in my own singing and not listening to the rest of the choir. I will get to work on that when I'm working with the school junior choir, too. I'm not sure how I'm going to work on the other things – for a while there I was signed up for a vocal technique workshop, but it was cancelled. I can't afford private lessons. I will have to poke around…

Book book book

So I'm trying out Goodreads to track the books I've read (as well as the ones I'd like to read, apparently a much longer list). I still have a huge backlog of 2010 books I want to log/blog/review, but I just reviewed The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl by Belle de Jour over on Goodreads. Until I can figure out how and whether the great unwashed (that's you guys) can read my Goodreads reviews I'm just going to copy and paste the review here:

I first heard of Belle de Jour when she was interviewed for New Scientist magazine after "coming out". She blogged and published anonymously about her life as a call girl in London for several years before revealing her full identity - in addition to her sex work she was also working as a post-doc in genetic epidemiology. (Hence the New Scientist interview - Google "new scientist belle de jour" for the interview.)

Truth be told, I'm probably more interested in reading about genetic epidemiology than sex (geek!), but I have been watching the TV adaptation of Belle's diaries, largely because it stars Billie Piper, late of Doctor Who (geek!). I'm really enjoying the show, so I thought I might as well read the book to complete the picture.

I didn't find the Belle in the book as likeable as Billie Piper's Belle, but I expect the TV producers did that on purpose - an unrepentant call-girl is a bit of a tough sell as a protagonist, so they needed someone as charming and loveable as Piper to pull it off. I enjoyed seeing London through the perspective of a prostitute, and I enjoyed (I'll be honest) her descriptions of all the sex she had, both professional and social. I read more than my fair share of sex newsgroups as a teenager, so most of the details weren't news to me (except that apparently you can get a dildo shaped like a dolphin's penis - who knew!) but it's been a while since I acquainted myself with the world of the vigorously sexually-active.

Sometimes the book read like a blog - occasionally a chapter (titled with the date in French - why?) would simply relate a casual (non-sexual) encounter with a homeless person or charity campaigner. I didn't see the point of most of those. And there was a lot of pointless boyfriend drama which could have made a whole other book - or enriched this one - if it had dramatized with an arc and character development, but when reported as a succession of events was frustrating and ultimately pointless. (Not unlike actual boyfriend drama in actual real life.)

Those quibbles aside, this was an enjoyable and enlightening read.

Incidentally, I am right now listening to "You Know I'm No Good" by Amy Winehouse, which features an awesome little brass riff in the middle which is used in the Call Girl TV Show. It's all connected.

Deck Party 2010

Back in 2007 we had a new deck built, and to celebrate we threw a party and invited all our coolest friends. It was an awesome party so we've done one every year since, and this year's was today. Of course I forgot to take pictures as usual, so don't hold your breath for the picture post.

We invited about 40 people (plus kids) to the first one, and the number has increased every year since – this year we invited about 75. Most of them didn't make it, though, and we probably ended up with about 30 plus nine kids, a thirteen-month-old and a six-week-old (Charlie!) So it wasn't the giant hoedown it has been in the past, but on the other hand I managed to hang out with everyone for at least a little while.

Blake thinks we broke even on beer; people always bring beer and we seem to have the same amount now that we had this morning. We're also up one pot of flowers and a jar of caramelized red onion relish (NOM!) We also have piles of leftover party food: cheese, crackers, ketchup chips (no-one likes ketchup chips!), and various frozen hors d'oeuvres. That's what we'll be eating for the next couple of weeks – that and Ontario peaches and apples.

Foul Friday

Most of the day was okay. Neither Blake nor I were in the best of moods, but we dealt and got on with things. We're having our big deck party tomorrow so I had a bunch of housework-y things to do, but I didn't feel like doing them and procrastinated most of the day.

Meanwhile Blake got this new superfast hard drive thing he was really excited about, and spent the rest of the afternoon failing to get it to work with his computer.

My plan was to take the girls to the library after school and then pick up fish and chips for dinner. However about three metres outside the school door they started pick pick picking at each other, and when Delphine shoved Cordelia I informed them that we were not going to the library and we would just eat whatever rubbish was in the fridge. Then I stormed home and they followed me all "wah wah, you're walking too fast". I was SO MAD.

On the way home I decided fuck this, I want to go to the library. So I dropped the girls off at the end of the block with strict instructions to go to their rooms and not bother Daddy, and then I charged off to the library. Stomp stomp stomp.

I spent most of the walk to the library trying to call and text Blake to make sure the girls got home okay and that he knew the situation. I finally got through and he told me he'd been talking to the girls. Or Talking To the girls. I'm sure Delphine gave him a pretty good recap so he had the information he needed to handle it.

It's a good thing I went to the library because there were seven (7) things on hold for me: two audiobooks, a CD, and four books including Your Seven-Year-Old: Life in a Minor Key (no shit!) I picked up fish and chips anyway because I didn't want to cook, and went home to find the girls had set the table and tidied up for me. They were being very nice to me and each other, and for an hour or so everything was good.

Then the girls bashed their heads together while spinning on the swings. Cordelia sustained the blow toward the back of her head, and Delphine on her temple. Despite the obvious physical impossibility, it seemed like Delphine got the worst of the collision – Cordelia cried for a while and then was fine, but Delphine was dizzy and sick, had a headache so bad it made her cry and blurred vision in her left eye. The headache and nausea carried on through dinner, until she puked and then everything seemed to feel better. (How does that work? It works for me with migraines too.)

Now she's asleep and I'm reading about concussions and Mild Traumatic Brain Injury and second-guessing myself. Should we have gone to a clinic? Should we have called the doctor? (Hah. As if you can "call" the doctor.) I'll check on her tonight and keep an eye on her tomorrow, and try and get her to rest. (Maybe a lot of TV?)

Hopefully tomorrow will go better.

Some Pictures

Now that I have a walking-around camera (ie, the camera in my phone) I don't have to look at random plants and say, "hey, that's cool, I wonder what it is." I can take pictures and post them here and ask everyone!

So what is this stuff with the little round pink and orange flower heads?

How about this red flower with big leaves?

I've seen this squashy-looking thing with white trumpet-shaped flowers all over the place:

I also like this grass with flat seedheads:

Here it is with Cordelia:

Sibling Misery and Bedtime Woe

Let me start by saying the girls both had a wonderful day back at school. Delphine loves her teacher and her classroom, Cordelia loves her teacher ("she didn't frown all day!") and daycare. Everyone was all smiles at lunchtime and after school when I picked them up.

The rot started to set in when we were walking home. When Cordelia said she did something cool in class, Delphine said, "That's stupid." Cordelia yanked on Delphine's backpack and pulled her off-balance. When Cordelia said she did something for the first time, Delphine said, "Anyone can do that." Cordelia pulled on Delphine's backpack, Cordelia tried to get between Delphine and Blake... Just, on and on and on.

Finally, at the end of dinner, Cordelia talked about how she learned recorder in daycare, and Delphine said she was jealous and she wanted to be in daycare because she never learns anything good. Then there was something about Cordelia getting more jello, and someone said "meh meh meeeh". (That was Delphine.)

And I said, "I'm sick of both of you. Go. Go to bed."

There were shocked looks, and looks of disbelief, and crying and supplication. Cordelia said, "I don't know how to put myself to bed!" Blake said, "I can tell you: go upstairs, put on your pajamas, brush your teeth, read yourself a book, and tuck yourself in." "But I don't know how to read!" "Then you're going to have to find someone who can read to you."

Delphine got herself together pretty quickly – she loves having to step up and be responsible. If we made her move out next week she'd probably make out just fine.

Cordelia is more persistent and more invested in getting us to do things for her – she is not embracing independence. She cried for someone to read her a book for ages, to no avail: it was just like sleep training all over again. After a while Blake went upstairs and pointed out to her that Delphine could read her a book. Cordelia asked her to, and Delphine said okay, so Cordelia reported to Blake: "She said she would read to me, but I don't want her to!" So of course Delphine decided not to read her a book, and Cordelia cried some more.

Blake came downstairs and I said it's funny how quickly things turn around – for a minute she had someone to read her a book but she managed to fuck it up in a second by being snotty. That's a good lesson.

I knew as soon as I sent them to bed that this was not good, democratic parenting. There is no way that having to put yourself to bed is a reasonable consequence of being nasty to your sibling.

But I honestly was sick of them and I honestly was happy not to put them to bed. I suppose I could have called the whole thing to a halt and explained that I made a mistake, but Cordelia would have interpreted that as a response to her crying and carrying on. I had to be more stubborn than she was.

Anyway, eventually Cordelia gave up crying, and put herself to bed. Both of us went to chat with the girls, and Cordelia said to Blake, "Will you teach me how to be a polite girl?"

Which is what we want to do, but of course sending them to bed without a book is not the way to do it. That's either punishment or pettiness, and either way will do nothing to help the girls get along with each other. Although I do think it sent a message about how much it bothers me when they pick at each other, for what that's worth.

So I suppose it's back to Siblings Without Rivalry, and maybe it's time for me to take a look at how I treat the girls. Most of the fighting is instigated by Delphine – Cordelia will overtly (usually physically) try and horn in when Delphine is getting attention, but it's mainly Delphine who is scornful and spiteful.

It's hard to treat two such different people equally, and I think I might be warmer and friendlier with Cordelia because she's such a fun and bubbly person. And because Delphine is older (and thus we expect more of her) and also tends to be absent-minded, I think we correct and criticise her more. My hypothesis is that Delphine picks at Cordelia because she wants to show us that she's good too. It's time to ramp up the affection and patience with Delphine, and ease up on the criticism and correction. And also pay more attention to their fights to try and sort out what's going on.

Happy New Year!

Tomorrow's the start of the new year. No, not Rosh Hashanah (that's Wednesday), although Shana Tova to those of you who are into that kind of thing. No, tomorrow is the first day of school.

For Cordelia that means Senior Kindergarten with a new teacher and a whole new batch of friends. Kindergarten in Ontario is arranged as a two-year deal, and class groupings generally stay the same—which is to say all the JKs stay together when they move up to SK. However, Cordelia is so advanced (or more likely so used to hanging out with older kids) that all her friends last year were in SK. So they're all happily off to Grade One and she doesn't have any friends in her class yet. However, I'm sure she'll work something out.

When I asked her at dinner, she said she was most excited about meeting her new teacher. When I asked her what she was most scared about she said, "There's nothing scary about school!"

Cordelia's other new big thing is that she's starting daycare. I'm thrilled that she's in daycare, not just because it means I can have six uninterrupted hours to myself five days a week (although I am nearly light-headed at the thought), but because I love the activities, I love the structure, and I love the fact that she'll get a healthy lunch and snacks. Frankly if she were home with me she'd be playing video games while I fold laundry or nap on the couch—at daycare she'll be doing music and crafts and all kinds of wonderful things. Cordelia's also excited about daycare. They have "pretty good centres", she says.

For Delphine, the start of school means Grade Two in a new classroom in the basement, as part of a Grade Two/Three combined class. Her teacher is someone I've met briefly and really liked, and she is in the same class as her best friend. She's more than ready to go back to school—she and Cordelia have been needling each other for the last week.

I can't remember what Delphine was most excited about, but she's scared there will be spiders in the classroom because they were using it as a storeroom before. I said they'd probably clean it before the first day of school.

For me this is also a time of great change. I'm starting work in earnest now that I have those six uninterrupted hours five days a week. I'm working on a publishing project at the moment, then after that I have another editing gig lined up (I was just offered it the day before yesterday—whoo!)

I'm looking forward to working, but at dinner I said the thing I was scared about was that I wouldn't have time to work and do all the other things I do: volunteer with the school, do housework and household maintenance, exercise (I want to start training for a walking ½-marathon), reading. I said I'm worried I will let someone down or mess something up or find I don't have time for something.

But really, I'm not all that worried. Since having children I've become way more efficient, and six hours is really a lot. Six hours is a lot for one day; I literally can't imagine six hours to myself for five days in a row. Let alone for five days in a row for forty-two weeks! I'll be swimming in time! I could rebuild Rome!

Blake says he isn't scared about anything.

The First Sign of Trouble

The first sign of trouble was the brown spot on the dining room ceiling. The dining room, as it turns out, is directly under the bathroom. I called Drainworks and they sent a guy—earring, shirt unbuttoned one button more than is conventional, small medallion—to have a look. He determined that the bathtub drain has a really slow leak, and he said the same thing the last guy who came in to look at the last brown spot on the ceiling said: the pipes are old. They're as old as this house, and as Chris the sexy plumber put it, they don't owe me anything. His thought was that the moment anyone puts a wrench to any part of the plumbing, all those eighty-year-old lead pipes will crumble and make a giant sloppy mess. He suggested we talk amongst ourselves and decide whether we want to do a patch job, just replace the pipes, or reno the whole damn bathroom.

So we talked, and decided to get a quote on renovating the bathroom. We'll probably go ahead with the reno: the bathroom is really old, and we would all love a new bathroom with a new tub and some storage space. We're also planning to put in a cheap and tiny powder room in the basement, which will add a whole new dimension of happiness to our mornings.

In the main bathroom we're replacing the ancient and not particularly fancy clawfoot tub with a deep rectangular tub, and we'll replace the newish, expensive faux-Victorian faucet with something sleek, modern and easy to clean, with a handle up high so you don't have to bend over to adjust it, and a handheld shower for rinsing little girls.

We're keeping the toilet (we bought it when we moved in) and putting a wall between the tub and the toilet so you can't see the toilet when the bathroom door is open.

We're going to move the old sink down to the basement powder room, but when it's down there we'll replace the newish, expensive faux-Victorian faucet with something cooler, easier to clean, but still kinda old-timey. Upstairs we're going to put in a shallow, wide rectangular trough sink (no picture because I can't find the kind of thing I want anywhere on the whole entire Internet) with two faucets. We're also going to have a proper vanity and a giant mirror, and whatever storage our designer can cram in.

The floor and walls will be white ceramic tile, and we'll put radiant heat under the floor for wintertime post-shower happy toes.

It's all going to be rather awesome (and probably awesomely expensive) and I'm quite excited. It will be nice to have at least one room in the house be slick and modern and cool.

And I'll take lots of pictures.

A Tale of Three Dinners

I've been in a bit of a dinner rut lately, just cooking the same old things from memory night after night. Fortunately for the whole family, a few good recipes have fallen into my life lately. Here is the story of one dinner which led to another, and then another.

Dinner One: Asian-inspired Salmon Burgers

This first recipe is from Not Your Mother's Weeknight Cooking by Beth Hensperger. The same author co-wrote Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook, which is a frequently-used title on my cookbook shelf. The recipe is actually for Tuna Burgers, but of course I messed with it. Here it is:

Wasabi Mayo
3 green onions
one 1½ inch chunk of fresh ginger
2 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp wasabi powder (I used European horseradish)
½ cup mayonnaise

3 green onions
one 1½ inch chunk of fresh ginger
1 to 1¼ pounds tuna steaks (I used frozen salmon fillets because I am so cheap)
¼ cup cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks (OMG genius!!!)
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
few grinds of freshly ground black pepper
4 buns (I actually ended up making eight burgers)
Butter lettuce leaves (hah - I found some old romaine at the back of the fridge)

  1. To make the mayo, blend all the ingredients together. I actually just chopped up the choppable stuff and mixed it together, and it was fine. Stick it all in a bowl and put it in the fridge while you make the burgers.

  2. Chop up or food-process the green onions and ginger. Cut one quarter of the tuna into ¼ inch cubes, and put the rest into the food processor with the butter and the onions and ginger. Pulse to combine. (Pause to marvel at the notion of mixing the butter right into the burger, and how it completely destroys any healthful properties of the fish. Oh, but it's going to be so good.) Put it all in a bowl and mix it with the diced fish and the soy sauce, sesame oil, and pepper. Shape into four equal-size patties. (As I said, I made eight little ones.)

  3. Preheat a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Brown patties for three minutes on the first side and three to four on the other, until done.

  4. Serve patties on buns with wasabi mayo and lettuce.

Yum! We loved them.

Dinner Two: Couscous Salad

My friend Tanya makes couscous salad all the time: couscous, parsley, diced red pepper, cucumber, celery, dried cranberries, sunflower seeds, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. It's delicious and it keeps and travels well. Inspired by that, I used the leftover mayo to make my own version with couscous, soy beans, broccoli, and grated carrot. Another delicious hit.

Dinner Three: Mini Frittatas

I've been getting ParentsCanada magazine lately—against my will; it comes with Cordelia's Chirp magazine—and while I'm still sitting on the fence as to its usefulness as a parenting magazine, I do seem to clip recipes out of every single issue that shows up in my mailbox. This month they had lunchbox recipes, and one of them was for little frittatas baked in muffin cups. Here's their recipe:

Mini Frittatas

2 cups filling: cooked and chopped vegetables, torn fresh herbs, cooked spaghetti, cooked crumbled sausage, ham or bacon, shredded roast chicken or a combination of any of these
5-6 large eggs
¼ cup milk
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan, cheddar, or other cheese
salt and pepper to taste

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F
  2. Sauté raw veggies (if you're using them in your filling) so they don't release liquid in the frittatas and make them soggy
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, milk and salt and pepper to taste. Add your fillings and if you like, some grated or crumbled cheese.
  4. Divide the mixture among muffin tins that have been sprayed with nonstick spray and sprinkle with grated cheese.
  5. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until puffed and golden. (I actually baked it for ten or fifteen minutes longer—they wouldn't brown for me.) Serve warm for dinner or cool completely before packing up for lunch.

So I followed that recipe, using about 1¾ cups of the couscous salad from the day before as the filling, along with a can of tuna. They turned out awesome. The kids love them and I will totally be making this recipe for lunches.

So there you go: tuna burgers → couscous salad → frittatas. Yum.