Amy (old posts, page 9)

March (of the) Books

Your Three-Year-Old: Friend or Enemy by Louise Bates Ames and Frances Ilg is useful, like the two-year-old version. They're pretty old (this one is from the mid-eighties) so they're weirdly time-capsulish. This one gives a suggested plan for your kid's third birthday, and it's all "you should be able to manage this with the help of two or three other mothers". Presumably Father is in the drawing room smoking his pipe?

Your Call Is Important To Us: The Truth about Bullshit by Laura Penny. It must be very hard to write about bullshit, because Don Watson tried to do it, and failed, and now there's this. It started off pretty well, but eventually turned into an all-purpose lefty jeremiad, with the usual anti-corporate, anti-globalization, anti-consumer (Evian is naive spelled backwards!) stuff. Not so much with the bullshit. She also handily ignores the great steaming heaps of the stuff generated by leftish groups like anti-GM protesters; as if conservatives have a monopoly on bullshit!

Me and Mr. Stenner by Evan Hunter. I was glad to find out that Evan Hunter is the pseudonym of Ed McBain (actually, vice versa, but I'm not sure what the latin for "real name" is) and that he's written a million books. This one is a book for young adults, and I really enjoyed it. Hunter is a genius at capturing dialogue, and this is no different, except it is set (and written) in 1976 so the dialogue is kind of quaint. I wish he had written more young adult books -- this is as good as Judy Blume.

Perfect Parents: Baby-care Advice Past and Present by Christina Hardyment is a book which chronicles the changes in advice given to parents from the 1700s until now. This is a lovely book because it makes you realize that despite all the crazy-ass things people have done with their children, society still seems to chug along. It was a surprise to me how much variation there has been in childcare practices; I had a vague idea that in the Olden Days everyone was really strict, and now everyone is really permissive, and that's all there is to it, but really there has been a lot more subtlety in parenting practices over the centuries. Hardyment is a historian, so there is a lot of discussion about how historical events like wars inform parenting.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is annoyed or bewildered by the variety of advice out there. I only wish it were newer, so I could hear what Hardyment has to say about the judgemental insanity that is Dr. Sears and attachment parenting. (Which is, like the curate's egg, good in parts.)

The Blackboard Jungle by Evan Hunter. Evan Hunter -- Ed McBain -- wrote The Blackboard Jungle! Cool! So I had to take it out of the library and have a read. It's really good. Can I just stop saying that Hunter/McBain books are really good? That would save some typing. It's about a novice teacher dealing with the, well, crap of working at an inner-city vocational school. There is an especially good rant in the middle about vocational schools and teaching and what does it all mean?

Obviously, I think this would be a really interesting book for Kathryn to read since she is also a novice teacher dealing with lots of crap, but I am reluctant to because if she didn't like it I would be very sad. So Kathryn, I recommend this book but if you don't like it please don't say anything!

Good Stuff I Bought

You know how all makeup claims it's the best thing since they invented makeup, and it will change your life? Well, Cover Girl LashExact won't change your life, but it does do what it claims, which is not clump. As far as I can tell the goo in the bottle is the same as ever, but the wand is new technology; it's not regular bristles like a normal mascara brush, but little plastic bristles very evenly spaced. It works a dream.

The next thing I like is something my mother sent us, a set of three CDs called 100 Silly Songs. It has every kid's song you have ever heard, plus a few that haven't been heard for decades because they're quite politically incorrect, like "The King of the Cannibal Islands", or "I Wish I Were A Little Bar of Soap". They're all nicely arranged and well-sung, with complete verses. It's almost like a reference CD.

The last thing I have bought that I like is my new crumb sweeper. I didn't get that brand -- mine is much cuter -- but the idea is the same. It works really well at picking up the crumbs off the tablecloth after Delphine the barbarian has eaten -- I just, swoosh, sweep it across the table and the crumbs are gone as if by magic. (I use a tablecloth because our table is wood and I want to keep it nice until the children have manners and are less prone to drumming on the table with their forks and such.) I am looking forward to the post-croissant cleanup on Sunday.

Some More Advice

First I need to add a couple of things about the high chair. You probably already have a thousand thin flannel receiving blankets -- if you don't now is a good time to go get some, or better, find a friend (or an aunt with a friend) who has a serger, and get them to make you a bunch of two foot by two foot squares of flannel.

Once you have your pile of blankets, fold one up so that it lines the high chair under the baby. Then when the inevitable explosive poo happens you will only have to wash the blanket, not the entire high chair cover. Repeat as necessary for bouncy chair, car seat, stroller, etc.

You'll also need a rolled up hand towel to prop next to the baby in the high chair, so she doesn't topple over sideways. Like this.


I haven't come across a brand of diapers which isn't perfectly adequate. They all seem to do the trick, store-brand or name-brand alike. Huggies are a little nicer in that they are softer and stretchier, but they don't objectively function any better. Pampers are just weird because they are scented: why? If you get on Huggies' mailing list they will send you big fat coupons on a regular basis, so you can feel a bit better about spending huge piles of money on diapers, but I'm not sure how I got on the list. Maybe just email them and ask?

Wipes, on the other hand, are not all created equal. The cheap brands all seem to be smooth and thin and useless at sponging up poop. We stick with Huggies-brand wipes when we're out, and wet washcloths when we're home, which you probably won't want to do unless you launder your own cloth diapers. Huggies are more expensive, but since you probably use twice as many of the cheap kind maybe it works out in the end. There might be other good brands out there, but I'm warning you, buy a small package to start off with because you don't want to be stuck with 200 lousy wipes.

I don't think you're using cloth diapers because you're not INSANE, but if you do and you wash them yourself, let me tell you the big secret: use Tide. There is all sorts of advice out there to have two diaper pails, or to soak overnight, or to rinse with vinegar, blah dee blah dee blah. I just stick the diapers in a pail all by their smelly selves, and then dump them in the washer on a heavy-duty hot cycle with Tide. Voila, fresh, stain-free diapers.

Incidentally, in other laundry news, most stains ever encountered by man or baby can be removed with an overnight soak in a wash basin with hot water and some Oxy-Clean. I just used it to get some thirty-year-old stains out of a hand-me-down blanket from when Blake was a baby. It's freaky-good.


If you're nursing, the best advice I can give you is to sleep with your baby. I've slept with both of mine and I had to nod politely through all those conversations with other mothers about being so sleep-deprived, because I'm just not. Baby wakes up, you offer the boob, baby nurses while you drift back to sleep. And sleeping with your baby is just nice. It's lovely to be able to smell her soft round head in the middle of the night.

I don't know if I would try it if I were bottle-feeding, though, because breast-feeding mothers actually sleep more lightly than normal people, so you're less likely to squish your baby in the night. Also don't sleep with your baby if you smoke (!), or if you've been drinking or taken medication which makes you sleepy like Neo-Citran. Also the baby should sleep next to you, not between you and your husband, again because of the rolling-onto issue. We have a bed rail on my side of the bed but it's just a technicality, because your baby will glom onto you like a remora. It's astonishing how quickly a supposedly non-mobile baby will make her way across a bed to the nearest warm body.

(Having said that, I still think the bed rail is a good idea. And don't put the baby on the bed between you and a wall, there's just too much scope for disaster there.)

You'll also want another one of those receiving blankets under your baby and your boobs, to catch poop and spit-up and spilled milk. It's a lot easier to change a small blanket than your entire bottom sheet.


Blake's advice for dealing with a crying baby is, do everything you can think of. Then do it again. Eventually something will work. My advice is, do all the sensible things (feed, change, burp, rock, etc) and if nothing works, take off all her clothes. Ostensibly you're looking for rashes or irritating tags on her clothes or whatever, but I find babies just like being naked.

Remember crying peaks at six weeks, so this won't actually go on forever. And if you have done everything you can think of and she's still crying (and you don't think she's sick), remember to keep cuddling her. Even if you can't make her stop crying at least you can give her comfort. (Unless you think you might throw her out the window; in that case, put the baby down (somewhere safe) and back away (maybe into the shower or something) -- give yourself a time-out.)

Another thing you might do, although I don't remember doing this with Delphine, is go out for a walk. Fresh air usually settles babies down and if she's tired the stroller will help her sleep. Our midwife told us about a 24-hour drugstore where there are often groggy parents doing midnight laps with their babies in strollers.

One thing that helped me when I felt like a lousy parent because I couldn't stop Delphine from crying was to think about people with sick babies. Blake was really sickly when he was a kid and he must have spent HOURS of his life crying, and it doesn't seem to have done him any harm. I have a friend whose baby had open-heart surgery at six months -- he must have cried so much, and there was nothing his parents could do, but he is a perfectly normal and happy kid now. So don't put too much stock in the crying -- it's upsetting to you, the parent, because it's meant to be, but it doesn't always mean something is horribly wrong that you can fix.

February Books

Who Runs This Country, Anyway? A Guide to Canadian Government by Joanne Stanbridge is a kids' book but since I knew nothing about the structure of our government I needed something with small words and lots of diagrams. This served the purpose and now I know more stuff.

Fiddlers by Ed McBain. Ed McBain is dead. This makes me sad. Ed McBain wrote lots and lots of books, and I have only begun to scratch the surface of them. This makes me feel a little better.

In Her Shoes by Jennifer Weiner is pretty good fluff. Yeah, they made that movie about it. I'm sure the book is better -- it's pretty thick and I'm sure they had to cut a lot of it out to make a movie. I won't be renting the movie to find out though. (It wasn't THAT good.) The characterization is a little suspect, though; people change but the author isn't really convincing as to why they change.

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Succeed or Fail by Jared Diamond took me forever to read, not because it's badly written but because it's long and Diamond is teeth-achingly thorough. He examines at least eight societies in minute detail in order to make himself clear. It's more like taking a course than reading a book. By the end you're well and truly convinced, though.

It was an interesting read in light of the other book I read about how it's all going to hell, The Long Emergency; Diamond isn't as pessimistic but it's clear that he's thinking something big is going to happen within our lifetimes or those of our children (although probably not his since I think he's in his seventies. The man is awesome! So smart and sprightly and he has that dapper Abe Lincoln beard-but-no-moustache thing going on.)

Ingrid and the Wolf by André Alexis is a book for young adults which I would have loved when I was younger. I still quite like it now. It was too short, though -- I would have wished it had gone on for much longer. As an adult I see that it is a good length for the story, though.

Who's Afraid of a Large Black Man by Charles Barkley . Not much to say -- this didn't suck.

Your Two-Year-Old: Terrible or Tender by Louise Bates Ames . You know how everyone says "my kid didn't come with a user's manual!" Well, here it is. This is just a discussion of what kids are like, and it's one of a series covering different ages. There isn't much specific advice, but what there is is delightfully non-judgemental and pragmatic. I'm reading the one about three-year-olds, and their recommendation for dealing with three-and-a-half-year-olds? Put them in daycare, because they're at an age where they want to evoke an emotional reaction in their mother, so they act up. With a daycare provider, no emotional reaction, no acting up, everyone is much happier. Failing that, they say, get a babysitter. Awesome!

They also give some advice which set my mind at ease: they give you a bunch of "techniques" (ie, tricks) for dealing with your toddler and getting things done, like saying "Let's put away your toys" instead of telling the kid to do it and then getting into a huge battle of wills ending with the inevitable timeout. If you say "Let's..." then you can just go ahead and do it without your kid's help, and no-one has lost face. I had been thinking that I can't do stuff like that because I Have To Show Her Who Is Boss -- Ames says it's more important just to get through the day without a thousand battles than to make every interaction about who is boss. So, very useful books.

Unsolicited Advice

I have this friend who just had a baby, and I am about busting with advice that she does not want. But! There is so much I have learned about babies! I want to share!

So I will non-agressively put what I have learned here so she can take my advice or not without giving offence, and also so it's available for anyone else who wants it.

Of course I don't suggest that all of this advice will work for everyone, but some of it will work for someone, and I think the more we all talk about how we handle this parenting thing the better off we will be. (To that end you should go read Mimi Smartypants and Dooce.)

Your baby is going sleep most of the time, but after she's a couple of weeks old she'll be awake sometimes too. Most of the time you'll be feeding her and changing her diaper, but sometimes you're going to want to put her down. Get a high chair. One that reclines a lot so you can put a newborn in it. We have an Evenflo Simplicity Easy-fold which I am very happy with. Cordelia sits in it and hangs out while I'm cooking or typing or whatever. Also it has wheels on it so I can wheel her around the condo with me. (You're not supposed to wheel it around with the baby in it, but whatever.) And I tip it all the way back and put a blanket on her and a soother in her mouth, and bang, she's asleep. (I think the way the chair surrounds her is more comforting than lying flat on her back in the crib -- she's only four months out of the womb, after all.) It's her one-stop captain's chair.

Interestingly I haven't heard this advice anywhere else -- where do other people put their babies when they're awake? Alone in their crib? In a bouncy chair so all they can see is knees? Flat on their back in a playpen to look at the ceiling? I don't know.

Okay, that's all for now because Cordelia is howling (in her high chair -- it doesn't work miracles!).

Cuppa tea, cuppa tea, almost got shagged, cuppa tea...

No particular reason for that title, I just always wanted to use it, and it is generally true. In fact, I could pretty much use it as the title of my entire journal.

First some shout outs (shouts out?) to my crippled friends. On the other side of the pond is my friend Frances, who I knew when I was in the equivalent of grade seven and eight, and who I have by some miracle managed to keep in touch with ever since, off and on. We barely know each other, really, but we persist in keeping in touch because we're stubborn like that. And as it turns out she likes Minette Walters too, so she must be at least as cool as she was back in 1907 or whenever.

Anyway, she is laid up with a broken leg which she suffered in a bar fight at the hands of two unnamed female assailants while nobly protecting a friend. Fortunately Frances is a kickboxer so if she has a broken leg I shudder to think what shape the others were in.

A little closer to home, my friend Kathryn (Delphine's "beatifuw Kafryn") also broke her ankle over Christmas. Sadly she doesn't have a good story like Frances, but she does have an assortment of plates and pins in her leg which necessitate her carrying a card at all times stating that she is not a terrorist. I think that's pretty cool.

Kathryn is one of those people who seems to be blessed with longer days than the rest of us, because she crams in so much. Besides being a teacher she also is in at least two bands (she plays flute and piccolo) and my choir. She plays volleyball and just the other day I suggested we go skating together sometime (after she's better, of course) and she casually mentioned that yeah, she's a certified CanSkate instructor. All this and she's pretty too. She has a new blog so all y'all can read about her interesting and busy life. (No pressure, Kathryn.)

Cordelia just woke up so that will have to be all for now. I'm off for a cuppa tea.

Miracle Cure

Due to an ill-advised combination of drinks last night (cherry beer plus sweet wine plus cider) I woke up with a killer headache and no small amount of nausea. It was miserable; you would think by thirty I would know how to drink sensibly. I didn't even get drunk! It was just all the alcopop.

But the best part is that my back, which has been troubling me for weeks, feels fantastic today; no aching or tightness or alarming stabbing pains. I'm not sure if it's coincidence or the muscle relaxant properties of alcohol, or what, but I am very pleased. (Now that my headache and nausea is gone.)

Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children by Wendy Mogel

The sub-title says it all. This is a book of value both to those both looking for advice on child-rearing and looking for guidance on how to live according to Jewish teachings.

The thing that strikes me, as a secular Christian, about Judaism is that it provides so much guidance on how to live daily life. Judaism takes the sacred out of the temple or the church and puts it in the home, it takes the worshipping out of the hands of the priests and shamans and puts it in the hands of the mothers and fathers. (I guess that's what comes of centuries of persecution -- you spread your faith around so it always survives. Kind of the distributed computing of religions.)

Conveniently for the rest of us, Jewish teachings with respect to the home and the raising of children are eminently sensible and time-tested. This book has advice about how to appreciate your children, how to get them to appreciate (that is, respect) you, how to teach them gratitude, get them to do chores, discipline them. The author is a psychiatrist and a mother, too, so she puts the teachings in a modern perspective. She's also pretty funny.

This is a useful book and an easy read, and has lots of good recommendations for other books -- in fact, I might get this out of the library again just for the bibliography (some of the books she references aren't applicable to my children just yet). You will also learn lots of useful Hebrew words like yetzer hara. (Maybe that's Yiddish? She doesn't say.)

More January Books

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro is a science fiction book by a non-science fiction author. As such it's kind of implausible from an sf point of view because Ishiguro isn't trying to create a rigorous, believeable universe to satisfy nerds like me, he's creating an allegory to make a point. So I guess it's not really science fiction; I'm not sure what you would call it. Anyway, it's very good and quite sad. And I guess it's not all that unbelieveable. It depends how pessimistic you are feeling.

Race Against Time by Stephen Lewis

This is a collection of essays originally delivered as the 2005 Massey Lectures. Stephen Lewis is the United Nations' Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa and boy, is he pissed. Basically we are all screwing over Africa because we can't be bothered to spend the few bucks it would take to treat and prevent AIDS and thereby rescue an entire continent from tragic poverty and remove from the world yet another hatching ground for un-parented proto-terrorists. (He doesn't say that thing about terrorists, that's mine.)

Africa is full of child-led and grandmother-led families and it's heartbreaking and sickening how we continue to turn our backs on it. Africa is a magical land rich with resources and cultures and the rest of the world has metaphorically hit it over the head, stolen its lunch money, kicked it in the ribs and is now walking away. Call your representatives and tell them it is time to look after Africa.

Also Stephen Lewis is smart and strong and noble and brave, even if I did make fun of his daughter-in-law here a while back.

American Backlash: The Untold Story of Social Change in The United States by Michael Adams

Michael Adams is the head of a polling company which has done extensive polling of Americans and discovered that the true divide in American values isn't between Republicans and Democrats but between politically engaged citizens and those who couldn't give a rat's ass. And it's the values of the non-rat's-ass-givers which are leading the trajectory of social change in American from respect and independence to hedomism and individualism. So he says. He also talks about how the two parties can reach undecided voters, and why the Democrats are having their asses whupped so bad lately.

He makes some pretty compelling arguments, but now I am more interested to read Fire and Ice, which compares Canadian values to American values.

I think Jon Stewart should read this book, except he probably already has. Although maybe not, because I'm not sure this book has been published in the US.

How to Simply Cut Children's Hair: A Step-by-Step Guide to Cutting, Perming and Highlighting Children's Hair by Laurie Punches

This book seemed pretty useful and I might get it out again once Delphine is old enough to sit still while I try and cut her hair. And before she gets old enough that she is too cool to have a home haircut. So that will be a, what, two week window? The book blurb says "Exploration is part of the adventure" -- let me assure you that an eleven-year-old does not want you having any adventures with her hair.

Incidentally I should look up books on how to cut my own hair -- I am meeting more and more people who cut their own hair and I think I should try it. Fifty bucks every six weeks is just too much money.

Leading a Software Development Team: A Developer's Guide to Successfully Leading People & Projects by Richard Whitehead

Like it says in the title, this book is written for developers so it sometimes left me wondering whether I can make it as a software manager. Whitehead talks a lot about design and architecture, saying that it's important to take the time to come up with a good design before you begin coding. I understand that that is important but I am not sure that I would be able to tell if my team had come up with a good design. Actually, no, I think I would be able to tell if we had a lousy design, but I'm not sure I would be able to convince my team that I'm right. Perhaps the only problem is one of confidence.

Anyway, because the book is written for developers it leaves one with the impression that the only good team lead or project manager is someone who started off coding; I don't think that's true but I need to read "A Non-Developer's Guide to Successfully Leading Software People and Projects" or some such book to get an idea of my career trajectory. I need to decide how much time to dedicate to being in development before I can move into project management -- none? Five years? Ten? Or maybe I will go through testing instead.

Did I really just say that? Am I insane? How passionately did I swear that I would never ever do testing again? Can I really go back into a job I hated and love it and make a career out of it? Has my attitude improved that much? I just don't know.

Still, this is a very good and useful book that covers many areas of project management, from technical issues to decision making to managing team members to dealing with lousy bosses. Blake is going to read it too. The only worrying thing is that the author photograph very flatteringly makes the author look about 32 so I'm not sure I trust him.

Morale is Low

I have too much stuff in too little space, and I don't have the resources to reduce the stuff or increase the space. My hair looks like hell and is constantly, annoyingly in my eyes. I have a premobile baby whose every physical need is my responsibility, and a stubborn toddler whose emotional upheavals are severely trying my already limited patience and empathy. I have so many things to do and I haven't any idea how or when to start.

My skin is so dry that every time I move my bra feels like sandpaper on my raw back, and my hands make me cry to look at them. My feet are revoltingly calloused and I haven't painted my nails since before Christmas. All my clothes are old and ill-fitting, and I couldn't make myself look respectable even if I had the time and space to do so.

But instead of dealing with any of these problems, or just waiting for them to pass, I bake. Please, come over and eat my cookies and carrot cake and banana bread. And while you're here you can help me get rid of some crap. Or maybe just hold the baby while I fix my toenails.