Thursday, May 25, 2017

Daughter-ish Stuff

A few days ago Eve texted me from school to say her BFF's mother had given her permission to go off school grounds during recess to Tim Horton's for an iced capp, so Eve wanted to know if I was okay with her going too, even thought they're not technically supposed to leave school property during recess until next year. I said yes. She then sent me this:


THEN once they got back to school she asked me to text her saying I'd dropped off their iced capps at the front desk, in case anyone asked where they got the iced capps. Then she deleted all the texts except the one I sent. Total badass, that girl.


She gave me this card for Mother's Day:


I was hanging out with her BFF's Mom after she took all the girls to Comic Con for BFF's birthday. They were talking about how girls still send nude pictures and the other mom and I were goggling and despairing. Then the BFF said "one guy asked me for pictures. So I sent him a picture of Jesus. Before I blocked him". We don't have to worry about these particular girls in that respect, at least.


On the week-end when the boys were away, Eve and I watched The Edge of Seventeen (AWESOME movie, totally awesome). In the movie, Hailee Steinfeld is a teen-ager who starts falling apart when her best and only friend starts dating her 'perfect' older brother.

Me: "Hey, I just thought of something." Eve: "What?" Me: "You have an older brother. This could totally happen to you." Eve: "Please don't." Me: "It's okay. You're nothing like her. You don't just have one friend. You have three." Eve: "...." Me: "Which one do you think it would be?" Eve: "STOP!"


On Tuesday nights, Matt and I go to a bar a block away with some friends for beer and wings. We used to have to be home by ten because Eve didn't like to go to bed alone. Now she's fine with us staying out as long as she can lock the door. Last week she sent me this text:

Having a daughter is fun. 

Monday, May 1, 2017

This Is Your Brain on Jet Lag

You get home from Hawaii on Sunday evening at four. You go straight to your mother's for Easter Dinner. You bring your kids home. You do four loads of laundry and go to bed.

On Monday your husband leaves the country again. You go to your mother's to pick up Easter dinner leftovers. You forget half of them but that's normal, you're a forgetful person. You go back for the mashed potatoes.

You also go grocery shopping and buy stuff for book club, which you just realized you're hosting at your house in two days. Shortly thereafter you look at the calendar and realize that book club is not until next week and wonder what you're going to do with twelve avocados.

On Tuesday you go to Shoppers Drug Mart and stand in line to pick up your prescription. You give your name and wonder why it's taking the girl so long to find it. You then realize that you're not actually there to pick up a prescription, you're there to buy cold medicine for your daughter. You apologize and slink away.

You go out into the parking lot and realize to your abject horror that you're parked in a handicapped spot. You look around wondering if anyone noticed and then realize that it's not, in fact, a handicapped spot but a former handicapped spot with no sign and the pavement symbol mostly painted out, just like you realized when you PARKED THERE TEN MINUTES AGO.

On Wednesday you drive out to Stittsville to discuss and sign your final evaluation from your work placement. It is glowing and wonderful, and you really hope you don't do anything jet laggish to screw things up. It goes pretty well, except you drive over a curb in the parking lot on your way out.

On Thursday you pick up your mother to go watch your daughter in the school play. You stop for gas on the way. You put in your credit card, follow the instructions, pick up the nozzle and stick it in the hole and wonder why nothing's happening. You're about to yell "THIS THING ISN'T WORKING" when you realize you just forgot to select the grade.

On Friday you almost scoop a half cup of uncooked rice into your dog's bowl instead of dog food.

On Saturday you watch funny half-naked men and have some drinks.

On Sunday you throw axes and feel thankful that you can blame anything wonky on the drinking.

On Monday you think you should be fully recovered, but you still feel the urge to yell "THIS THING ISN'T WORKING" at intervals, and the thing not working is your brain.

No wonder my husband is kinda dumb sometimes. This traveling business is hard on the thinking, y'all.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

How Was Yours?

This week-end I tried mightily to rise above my jet-lagged, iron-depleted, winter-exhausted fog. I took my mother to see The Comic Strippers (very, very funny). I went and had drinks for a friend's birthday. I cooked a giant pork roast for book club this week. I went to an axe-throwing wedding shower (hurled an axe many many times at a wooden target board at this place - very, very satisfying). It all ended with Angus having severe lower back spasms Sunday night so I had to go into full TENS-machine/icing/muscle rub physio mode as he sprawled shirtless and yelping with pain across my bed.

In other words, my week-end was full of a lot of half-naked man action, none of it remotely sexy.

In other other words, the week-end contained multiple, multiple references to pork, butts and getting wood, in very different contexts.

In other other other words, I went to the strippers thing BEFORE getting drunk and went axe-throwing AFTER, which was not the wisest course of action.

In other other other other words, the festivities started with half-naked merriment and ended with me rubbing Biofreeze into my son's ass, and I still wouldn't trade my life for anyone else's.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

I Don't FEEL Like Writing

Or doing much of anything, if I'm being honest. I'm done all but three and a half hours of my work placement and I was looking forward to a quiet week with Matt gone AGAIN, but I kind of miss working, and I can't settle to any wholehearted loafing and it's been mostly too cold to walk much (yes, I do have a treadmill now that you mention it, how kind and helpful, shut up). I went to a Lumineers (and Kaleo, swoon) concert with friends that was wonderful even way up in the cheap seats, then I had book club, which was great, and not only because I actually managed to go to the right house this month (don't ask), and yesterday I finally started cooking again after a few weeks of an absolutely pathetic showing in the kitchen. I also made a couple of significant phone calls, to book driving hours for Angus and pay off a forgotten FedEx taxes and duties bill, so, you know, that used up a fair number of spoons. I still have to make a doctor's appointment for me, make dentist appointments for everyone, make an appointment for Eve to get orthotics and *goes fetal with hands over ears* THAT'S TOO MUCH TELEPHONE.

I picked up Eve and two friends from after-school play rehearsal today and took them to Wendy's. They regaled me with tales of their sex education class where they were asked to list reasons why someone might practice abstinence and why they might decide to have sex. Someone had left a paper behind with answers on it: answers on why to abstain included "penis petit (small penis)" and "si tu es un enfant de Dieu (if you are a child of God)". Answers on why to have sex were "penis gros (large penis)" and "I like getting girls pregnant and runnig (sic) away". Ladies and gentlemen, our tax dollars at work. I told them about book club last night - let's just say that if you bring accidental-dong biscotti to book club, I AM going to be immature and giggly about it and make inappropriate comments until you fervently wish you'd just gone with cannoli (apparently the apple doesn't fall far from the tree).

Angus passed his driver's ed and starts his ten driving hours next week. His BFF since nursery school got his G2 on the week-end and showed up to pick up his younger brother from school after band, resulting in Eve pointing and screaming "OMG, NOAH'S DRIVING - oh, he saw me, he doesn't look impressed".

And now it's 8:41 and I'm not sure where the day has gone yet again. I did just throw out an empty carton of buttermilk, having used it all on four magnificent batches of biscuits. Often I forget about it and end up pouring some out. So there's that.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Slightly Thawed

So after begging the Ottawa Public Library to let me work for them for free since September, I finally got the go-ahead to start my placement hours. On a Monday. In February. When Matt had just left for Asia for two weeks. And it was about to snow continuously for three days. And I had my period.

But that's okay.

It's fun. Most of my shifts are at the super-busy nearby branch where I run around like a headless chicken all day from project to project and feel desperately needed. I sat in on baby time. I wrangled kindergartners during classroom visits. I cut out ten felt umbrellas and six big ducks and one baby. I catalogued a filing cabinet full of creepy nursery-rhyme shapes. I had "Five Green Speckled Frogs" running through my head for four days straight.

Remember when I complained about having to learn Excel in my coursework? Guess what I had to use on my VERY FIRST DAY? and remembered nothing about and had to fake until I figured it out?

My other shifts are at tiny little further-away branches and I feel appreciated but not exactly needed. There's something very Zen about shelving holds in alphabetical order in a practically-silent library while the fireplace crackles, though.

I'm tired. My iron keeps bottoming out and even though I'm taking Feramax every day I'm still so exhausted I could cry by the end of a work day and I still want to eat baby powder and drywall dust. I keep trying to decide if I should try to switch myself to the closer medical practice I signed the kids up with. It's so easy getting them to the doctor now, whereas I'm not going to the doctor even though I should, just because it's such a monumental pain in the ass in terms of time and stress and logistics. But I love my doctor. But she's probably going to retire soon. Ack, I don't know.

Funny things the kids have said lately: At dinner the other night, Matt asked Angus "so how was school?" Angus said "Hell! It was absolute hell!" Matt looked at him questioningly and Angus said "well you always get mad when I just say 'good', so I thought I'd switch it up a little."; last week Eve said "this was the first time I've left a project until the very last day even though I had a week and a half to do it. I'm very stressed. One out of ten, would not recommend."

There. I blogged a little. Mostly because I was in front of the computer, had read everybody's timelines for the last four days on Facebook and didn't feel like getting up yet. But still.

Friday, February 10, 2017


I've been feeling a little paralyzed lately, on a couple of levels. First of all, it's minus a million outside. Our street is a series of inches-apart ice speedbumps. I keep losing one mitten out of every pair. Second, my hip hurts. A lot. I go to the chiropractor a couple of times, the pain dies down a little and then flares back up and my sciatic nerve is on fire. I can't figure out what I'm doing to aggravate it or what I should do to make it better (well, I can, but I'm too lazy to go to physio right now so I'm going with internet stretches and complaining for the moment). It's clearly not too much exercise, because I've made it to the gym about once a month since Christmas. So maybe it's sitting. So I stand in the middle of the room looking at all the chairs suspiciously wondering which one is the offending party. Then my feet start to hurt. It's not good.

Then there's the writing thing. Writing anywhere. One of my friends on Facebook posted a status saying it was offensive to post anything "to relieve the negativity" because only privileged people could ignore the negativity. And hey, I get it. I am a privileged person and there's a lot of negativity that I can ignore that others can't. But does that mean I can't ever say anything that doesn't involve politics or resisting?

No. It doesn't. That's not what she was saying. I was making everything all about me because it was January and everything hurt and everything was gray and any bit of wit or insight that entered my brain was immediately devoured by the gray hurt-monster so the impulse to write anything was slim anyway.

I watched the new Gilmore Girls mini-series on Netflix - not the day it came out, but a few weeks later. I watched the actual series in real time when it was on, and I liked it, but not, like, Buffy the Vampire Slayer like-level. But then Eve started watching the original series so I started rewatching it.
Some thoughts: they eat a lot of junk food and takeout for being skinny people on a single income; they make fun of fat people more than I remember; they use the word 'retarded' - was that still done then? Because I find that surprising; the fact that Lorelai keeps chasing Max around after she jilts him makes me want to throat-punch her; I still love the witty banter; Emily Gilmore quite often veers over the line from uptight rich mother to total bitch; the fact that Lorelai uses the Frank Lloyd Wright Prairie Home massacre as a funny dinner-time anecdote seems in really bad taste (I read the book about it between my first time seeing that episode and the second); I adore Lane and I think her storyline got really stupid; I adore Paul Anka the dog; and Lauren Graham dated her tv daughter's teacher in TWO SERIES now, what is WRONG with you, TV writers?

It's problematic, rewatching a series with more than three or four seasons. I start off watching one episode every now and then. Then I start mainlining them until two in the morning. Then by the end I can't read or watch anything else, I just want it to be over and the whole experience verges on hate-watching.

Also, my last placement is finally starting next week, after six months of emails and getting passed around from one type of supervisor to another and interminable legal stuff - you'd think I was asking the Ottawa Public Library if I could put on a three-ring circus in their main branch instead of offering them some free book-shelving and database classification. Anyway, the people I met are really nice, the Stittsville Branch is darling (it has a fireplace!) and I'm looking forward to getting this done.

There. I moved a little. Perhaps a thaw is imminent.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Five-Star Books Read in 2016

As usual, I make no claim to any kind of objectivity or even consistency in applying a five-star rating -  it's a perplexing combination of the actual book, my mood, the timing and whatever else I'm reading at the same time. I try really hard not to feel 'obligated' to give a top rating - by the opinions of other readers or anything else - but this year I feel like maybe I could have been a little freer with the five-star appraisal, especially when looking over some of the four-stars. Whatever. Here they are.

Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love by Anne Whiston-Donaldson: On an ordinary September day, twelve-year-old Jack is swept away in a freak neighborhood flood. His parents and younger sister are left to wrestle with the awful questions: How could God let this happen? And, Can we ever be happy again? They each fall into the abyss of grief in different ways. And in the days and months to come, they each find their faltering way toward peace.
In Rare Bird, Anna Whiston-Donaldson unfolds a mother’s story of loss that leads, in time, to enduring hope. “Anna’s storytelling,” says Glennon Doyle Melton, “is raw and real and intense and funny.”
With this unforgettable account of a family’s love and longing, Anna will draw you deeper into a divine goodness that keeps us—beyond all earthly circumstances—safe. This is a book about facing impossible circumstances and wanting to turn back the clock. It is about the flicker of hope in realizing that in times of heartbreak, God is closer than your own skin. It is about discovering that you’re braver than you think.

Obviously I didn't LIKE reading this. But I also don't give five stars to any book by someone who's lost someone - I will give them my heartfelt sympathy, but grief doesn't make your book amazing. This book is amazing. She says you can't get an A in grieving (which coincides with my own indefensible sense that some people do grieve better than others) but I think she does. She captures her son's exceptional sweetness, but she doesn't idealize him beyond belief. She takes comfort in her faith and in signs and wonders without losing all skepticism. She's a devout Christian who cusses colourfully. I wish she's never had to write this book, obviously, but I'm so grateful I got to read it. (Was anyone else pissed off at the neighbours? I was so pissed off at the neighbours. Every day she has to watch the kids who played by the river while her son was drowning, and she gets chastised for not being NICE enough to them? Really? Clearly I am not as charitable and forgiving). 

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi: For readers of Atul Gawande, Andrew Solomon, and Anne Lamott, a profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir by a young neurosurgeon faced with a terminal cancer diagnosis who attempts to answer the question What makes a life worth living?  
At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor making a living treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. Just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air, which features a Foreword by Dr. Abraham Verghese and an Epilogue by Kalanithi’s wife, Lucy, chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a young neurosurgeon at Stanford, guiding patients toward a deeper understanding of death and illness, and finally into a patient and a new father to a baby girl, confronting his own mortality. 
What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir. 
Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on this book, yet his words live on as a guide and a gift to us all. “I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed nothing and everything,” he wrote. “Seven words from Samuel Beckett began to repeat in my head: ‘I can’t go on. I’ll go on.’” When Breath Becomes Air is an unforgettable, life-affirming reflection on the challenge of facing mortality and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a gifted writer who became both.

This book may have been amazing to me chiefly because if I had terminal metastasized cancer I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be up to writing a limerick, let alone putting together an insightful, gracious book devoid of self-pity and containing a wealth of wisdom, kindness and humour. Paul Kalanithi was definitely a type-A personality and had a surgeon's ego - "Let's see, to which field of study should I turn my prodigious intellect in order to solve the mysteries of life and death as efficiently as possible?" - and he was hugely intelligent and ambitious. I just find his determination to keep striving towards a good life and a good death in the face of an overwhelmingly disheartening and unlikely catastrophe very compelling.

Step Aside, Pops: A Hark, a Vagrant! Collection by Kate Beaton: The sequel to the hit comic collection Hark! a Vagrant, which appeared on best of lists from TimeNPR and USA Today; spent five months on the New York Times bestseller list; and won Harvey, Ignatz, and Doug Wright awards.
Cartoonist Kate Beaton returns with all-new sidesplitting comics that showcase her irreverent love of history, pop culture, and literature. Collected from her wildly popular website, readers will guffaw over “Strong Female Characters,” the wicked yet chivalrous Black Prince, “Straw Feminists in the Closet,” and a disgruntled Heathcliff. Delight in what the internet has long known—Beaton’s humour is as sharp and dangerous as a velocipedestrienne, so watch out!

Oh my god, oh my god, where has Kate Beaton been all my life? Well, she's been right there for a good part of it, being incandescently funny (in ways like this, for example) I was just too dense to discover her comic genius until this book practically had to fall off a shelf on my head. Like Emily Dickinson, Beaton tells the truth but tells it slant. The humour is sharp and whip-smart and often twisted. The words and pictures compliment each other perfectly. I bought this book or her first one for practically everyone I knew for Christmas. 

The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow: The world is at peace, said the Utterances. And really, if the odd princess has a hard day, is that too much to ask?
Greta is a duchess and crown princess—and a hostage to peace. This is how the game is played: if you want to rule, you must give one of your children as a hostage. Go to war and your hostage dies.
Greta will be free if she can survive until her eighteenth birthday. Until then she lives in the Precepture school with the daughters and sons of the world’s leaders. Like them, she is taught to obey the machines that control their lives. Like them, she is prepared to die with dignity, if she must. But everything changes when a new hostage arrives. Elián is a boy who refuses to play by the rules, a boy who defies everything Greta has ever been taught. And he opens Greta’s eyes to the brutality of the system they live under—and to her own power.
As Greta and Elián watch their nations tip closer to war, Greta becomes a target in a new kind of game. A game that will end up killing them both—unless she can find a way to break all the rules.

Erin Bow wrote Plain Kate, one of my very favourite books ever, even though it was terribly sad. Then she wrote Sorrow's Knot, which was also very good and possibly even sadder. When I saw the synopsis for this book, I had to keep double-checking whether it was, in fact, the same author, since the Modest-Proposal-adjacent plot device sounded like such a departure. Of course, while the subject matter has gone all future-y rather than past-ish like the other two books, the constants remain the same - heartachingly beautiful writing, wonderful, strong, fiercely intelligent, striving characters and thought-provoking exploration of issues. Erin Bow is a clear-eyed, fearless storyteller, and nothing here exactly follows the expected path. I can't wait for the next in the series. 

Louise Beeston is being haunted.
Louise has no reason left to stay in the city. She can't see her son, Joseph, who is away at boarding school, where he performs in a prestigious boys' choir. Her troublesome neighbor has begun blasting choral music at all hours of the night—and to make matters worse, she's the only one who can hear it.
Hoping to find some peace, Louise convinces her husband, Stuart, to buy them a country house in an idyllic, sun-dappled gated community called Swallowfield. But it seems that the haunting melodies of the choir have followed her there. Could it be that her city neighbor has trailed her to Swallowfield, just to play an elaborate, malicious prank? Is there really a ghostly chorus playing outside her door? And why won't they stop? Growing desperate, she begins to worry about her mental health.
Against the pleas and growing disquiet of her husband, Louise starts to suspect that this sinister choir is not only real but a warning. But of what? And how can it be, when no one else can hear it?
In The Orphan Choir, Sophie Hannah brings us along on a darkly suspenseful investigation of obsession, loss, and the malevolent forces that threaten to break apart a loving family.

I read this in the midst of a run where I disagreed with everybody on Goodreads about every book I had read lately, and it was no different, except for my eminently sensible friend Sarah (HI SARAH). I don't think I've ever seen a better illustration of the term 'psychological suspense'. Louise's twin aggravations - the neighbour who blasts loud music at night and the school choir that is co-opting her young son's entire childhood - are so sharply portrayed that I could feel my blood pressure rising. A fine balance is maintained between a suspicion of paranoia and the belief that terrible forces actually are at work, and the resolution was perfect and devastating.

A Tangle of Gold (The Colours of Madeleine #3) by Jaclyn Moriarty: His visit turned out to be ridiculously brief. Madeleine and Elliot barely talked before word came that he and his father would be bundled back to Cello. On the train platform, Elliot didn’t snap out of the distant fog he seemed to be in. And Madeleine’s nose bled—again!—just as she tried to say good-bye. Now she’s mortified, heartbroken, lost—and completely cut off from Cello.
Cello, meanwhile, is in crisis. Princess Ko’s deception of her people has emerged and the Kingdom is outraged. Authorities have placed the Princess under arrest and ordered her execution. Color storms are rampant, more violent than ever. And nobody has heard the Cello Wind blowing in months.
But Madeleine can’t let go of Cello. It gave her a tantalizing glimpse of the magic she’s always wanted—and maybe it’s the key to the person she is meant to become. She also can’t let go of Elliot, who, unbeknownst to her, is being held captive by a dangerous branch of Hostiles.
What will it take to put these two on a collision course to save the Kingdom of Cello, and maybe to save each other?
For fans of Lev Grossman and Deborah Harkness, this funny, suspenseful, and totally original fantasy comes to its brilliantly colorful conclusion.

I've written about the many-authored many-sistered Moriarty family before, not that I can find the post now. They're Australian, which not that many years ago would have meant that I would have been even less likely to stumble across A Corner of White, and I don't even want to think about the lifetime in which I didn't get to read these books. I've been a dismal re-reader for most of my life - there's always so many more books to get to it's hard to make myself go back - but I've started forcing myself to take the time, especially to reread the previous two books when the last one in a trilogy comes out. This is one of my all-time favourite trilogies, and this conclusion was completely audacious and assured and satisfying and wonderful. There is so much in this series to love, from Cambridge and the way science and philosophy and magic are all braided together so matter-of-factly, to Cello and its magical, dangerous colours. The world-building is so amazing that every wondrous new thing that's introduced is a jaw-dropping surprise and yet simultaneously seems absolutely inarguably right. I've heard the same complaints about A Tangle of Gold that I've heard about the third book in Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy (which I also adored): that some hitherto-unintroduced matter was "suddenly" brought in. This complaint baffles me - is the whole point of a concluding book in a trilogy not to synthesize and build on the stories of the foregoing books while bringing in additional information to draw the whole thing to a magnificent conclusion? This was everything I wanted from this story and more.