Monday, January 31, 2011

Funny kids, lazy blog-post

The kids have piano right after school on Mondays. On the drive over today Angus was reciting his speech on space (in French) to me and Eve. He talked about black holes, Neil Armstrong, and the constellations (yep, it's a little disjointed -- I figured his teacher would call him on it, but it appears I was wrong). After he was done, this was our conversation.

Me: That's cool, but I thought you were going to talk about spaghettification.

Angus: Oh yeah. I can still put that in.

Eve: What's that?

Me: It's when a person or object is sucked into a black hole, they get pulled into a long skinny shape. It's called spaghettification.

Angus: also, time stops.

Me: Yeah, but if your watch stops you're probably not concerned about it if you're being spaghettified.

Eve: If you're spaghettified do you die?

Me: Pretty much, yeah.

Eve: Then I'm going to put it on my list of Things That Would be Fun if They Didn't Lead to Death.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

At least I didn't rush out and buy a sports car

I took a sick day today. I'm gross, snotty, hacking-up-a-lung sick and my husband has been away all week and it's January. I got the kids to school and tried to do some stuff and all the snot and hacking was interfering so I went back to bed. Then I got up and sat on the couch and watched movies. Then somewhere around 12:30 I was suddenly hit with a tsunami of self-loathing. I had a dream last night that we lived in a different house and the school was just across our back yard and Matt and I would stand at our back door and watch the kids walk across the grass to school, which was lovely, but then there was something about milk, and I was pouring the milk into something and it made this gulping sound that was just like the sound a baby makes while breastfeeding and suddenly I wanted another baby with this horrible, hopeless, physical yearning, and then I was on the couch thinking what the hell am I doing now that I don't have babies or toddlers at home and I have six free hours every day and I take one lousy course at a time and work in the school library one lousy day a week and I can't even manage a great dinner every night, and I've never even had a REAL real job unless you count that brief foray into publishing with the crazy Irish CEO who would fistfight with his oldest son (of nine kids) in his office and grab me by the back of the neck frequently, and I was watching Red and somebody was described as being in his thirties, which is a way I will never be described again, and then there's the whole Jesus I'm fat thing, because every time I try to lose weight the concentration and attention are exhausting and I tell myself there's no way to lose weight unless you don't have to do anything else, except didn't I just conclude that I'm NOT DOING ANYTHING ELSE so why am I not getting with the un-fattening, and ack, the sucking vortex of suckiness....

Then the movie got funnier, and I laughed, and then I checked my email and there was an email from Patti saying she was nominating me for a blogging award, and I found Eve's pajamas under a cushion and this reminded me that the two kids I do have are quite remarkable (even if they do think that Wipeout is good television) and I ate some almonds and chilled out.

Oh my God, you guys. I had a mid-day crisis.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: What were they made of?

Sugar and spice and everything nice:

Chocolate lava cake (well duh):

Crème brulé (no surprise there):

But also snips and (wait for it)...

Snails. Yeah, you heard me, SNAILS. My kids who won't eat spaghetti with sauce on it or tacos with salsa, were all over the snails. Of course Charlotte (my niece) was the trailblazer. I wonder how much my sister would charge for her to come live with us for a month. Either that or we have to live on a cruise ship. Anybody have a recipe for puppy dogs' tails?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

And now I have Eve's cold...

...and she's running around in joyful circles singing about teriyaki and grumpy old trolls, the little bugger.

So I was watching this show, and a woman asked a man who had been in a car accident several years before, "did the accident leave you with neurological impairment?".

...and if it did, would he seriously be able to answer that question?

Yeah. Good TV.

That's all I got. We're having a family sleepover tonight (until my congested snoring drives them all whimpering back to their own beds), and Eve has been pajamaed, toothbrushed and tucked into the enormous chair-and-ottoman combination in my room since six o'clock.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Stream of Unconsciousness

I'm cranky. Not in general. Today was a pretty good day. The kids had dentist appointments first thing. I was going to cancel them because the kids have only been back at school a week since missing a week, and Eve was sick half of last week, but then I was thinking about what I was going to say to the receptionist when I called -- should I go into the whole 'they just missed a week of school right after Christmas, and I don't know if I want them to miss another couple of hours right now', or should I say my daughter was sick and my husband was in France so there wasn't anyone to take Angus if Eve stayed home from school, or should I make up a field trip... it got so complicated I decided it would be simpler to just go to the fucking appointment. Then I dropped the kids off at school. Well, Angus I dropped off. Eve I walked through the school out the back to the portable, then realized there was no one in the portable, then went back to the office where we'd just signed in, except the back door we'd come out locked on us so we had to walk all the way around to the front (did I mention it was -27?), to be told that her class had squished into an empty computer lab because the portable was too cold. Then I went to the gym. Well, I was going to go straight to the gym but then I realized my back was really sore and remembered I could hardly read in bed last night because my tailbone hurt so much. So first I called my chiropractor and went there, then I went to the gym. I haven't done weights in a few weeks, and when I went to do weights all the weight machines were moved around, so I had to stand there like an idiot figuring out the new configuration and then figuring out which machines I usually did, since turning them around made them completely unrecognizable in some cases.

I came home, had lunch, went to pick up the kids. We came home, they rested for half an hour, then we started piano practice, which has been badly neglected lately what with vacations and post-vacation homework and Eve being sick. It was a little painful, but we got through it. Then Eve and I experimented with splatter-painting invitations for her splatter-painting birthday party while Angus did research for his speech. Then I realized I was late starting dinner and started dinner. Then I cleaned up and gave Eve a bath.

I'm cranky just now, because I can't think of anything else to blog about. Plus someone else had a blog post up that was a letter to their kid on her birthday. I hate when people do this. Not because I don't think it's a great thing to do. Just because I've never gotten my act together in order to do it, and my first kid is TEN.

I'm cranky because I feel the exact opposite of witty and insightful. I WANT TO BE WITTY AND INSIGHTFUL. I consider them my consolation for not being thin. Oh well. I showed up. Hey there. How're y'all doing?

Friday, January 21, 2011

In Which I Overuse the word 'Argument'

Sometimes I think other people's pet peeves seem stupid. Then I remember that that's why they're called pet peeves. I hate that airplane seats recline. I just don't see how it's a good idea, because unless everyone reclines, some people inevitably have the chair-back in front of them invading their personal space. I'm always tense until I figure out if the person in front of me is going to recline their head practically into my lap or not. Whenever my husband watches sports I have to make him turn the volume way down because the ambient din of the spectators makes me cranky. People who pronounce it 'nuculer' make me want to throttle something.

I find it kind of strange and alternately disturbing and amusing that when a blogger or someone on Goodreads gives a negative review of a book, some people who like the book take it really personally. It's as if they wrote the book themselves, and they take the review as a personal attack, and aren't shy about letting the reviewer know it. I get this -- when I see that one of my Goodreads friends gives something two or three stars when I've given it four or five, I feel weirdly defensive, as if I need to go back and re-evaluate my review and either justify my rating or change it. But I don't. And I generally try to refrain from insinuating that the other reviewer is morally bankrupt, hygienically suspect, of questionable birth and clearly a non-recycler just because they don't like a book as much as I did. Some people aren't so restrained -- honestly, the bitter, name-calling to-and-froing that can go on sometimes exceeds the length of the book. One reviewer responded to the query "why the open hostility" with the baffled, and rather obvious, "well, because I didn't like the book". I understand the initial impulse -- I feel protective of books I love too. I still haven't restored everyone in my book club to their former positions in my esteem after learning how much they all disliked Little, Big. But what do these people imagine is going to happen? That by questioning their sanity and intelligence in front of God and the internet, they might actually change this person's mind?

I tend to look at a book review as an artefact in its own right. If it's well-written, I admire it whether it's positive or negative. I don't write negative reviews unless I really, really dislike a book because I'm always mindful that there's an actual person who authored it. But if something is bad enough that I feel like both the author and the publisher have wasted my time, it irks me and I will express that in writing.

My pet peeve? It's when someone writes a bad review and a bunch of people jump on saying things like "oh thanks, I was trying to decide whether to read this and you've made up my mind for me". AGH! I know, I know, it makes a certain sense. Most readers have totally unmanageable to-read lists, piles of unread books everywhere, and it's easy to think that if this person is intelligent and you share their taste to some extent that you'll agree with them. But I think one of the most important thing about really good books is how divisive they can be -- the dullest book club conversations we have tend to surround the books that everyone loves. Because "oh, I loved it", "oh, I loved it too", "oh, it was wonderful".... "more wine?". We get much better debate going on books where some people love them and some people hate them, and some people can argue both ways for different parts of the same book.

The latest instance of my pet peeve occurred in the reviews for Room by Emma Donoghue. I wasn't initially anxious to read this -- the subject matter seemed sort of susceptible to exploitiveness. So am I stepping all over my own point when I say that after a couple of my Goodreads friends said it was great I grabbed it from the seven-day shelf in the library and read it in one night? Ah, what the hell, I regularly violate my own principles. Anyway, I thought it was beautiful, moving, skillfully-written, original and not exploitive in the least. The relationship between the mother and son was so intense, magnified by the fact of their captivity. Also, the different perspectives on their room and 'outside' or 'freedom' held by the mother and son were revelatory and, for me, unexpected. So I briefly got into an argument with a woman on Goodreads who had decided that the son's voice was unrealistic, contrived and 'cutesy-poo'. She's entitled to her opinion, of course, but the reasoning behind her argument -- that her own kid never talked like that, that kids she knows don't talk like that -- seemed faulty to me (presumably she's never had close contact with a child who grew up in captivity). The only reason I threw my differing view in was because of the people saying that they wouldn't bother to read the book, even if they were going to before, because of what she'd said. Naturally she was impervious to my carefully reasoned and persuasive (to anyone less willfully obtuse) arguments. I was just hoping one of her followers might see my comments and reconsider reading the book. I was respectful and non-confrontational, even though I felt like saying 'oh for god's sake you infuriating woman, having one kid doesn't make you an expert on how kids talk, saying the same thing over and over again does not constitute a valid argument and you're a poop-head!'. I didn't think I was going to change her mind. I just hope anyone who might have read the book wouldn't change theirs, based on her review.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Burning Up on Re-Entry

I hate vacations.

Okay, I don't really, totally hate vacations. I hate that my multiple weirdnesses make it impossible for me not to just take a vacation without overthinking and hyperanalyzing and then coming back feeling like I grew two new elbows and a different nose that make it impossible for me to fit neatly back into my old life. I hate that I sort of don't agree with what one of my profs used to call the 'antiseptic week by the sea' but that I don't have the guts to push everyone in my family a different way. I guess the obvious answer is to just stay home, but somehow I haven't put together a convincing argument for that either.

I'm an anxious traveller. I always have nearly crippling first-day travel depression -- when I went to Jamaica for February break in third year university I spent the first night just looking for a corner to curl up in and get through the week so I could go home again. Now that I know this about myself, it's a little easier to withstand that first day. I once knew a guy who said he didn't think people should travel just to not be where they were, and at the time I thought that was quite profound. But I think now that sometimes travel is good just for that reason -- to make strange the place you live, to change your perspective. Of course, that doesn't really address the issue of this kind of vacation. There are people whose blogs I read, people who I admire, who would sooner spit-roast their own children than take them on a Disney cruise -- the carbon footprint, the bourgeois decadence. Not a lot in the way of eco-exploration or cultural exchange (well, Garfield our Jamaican wine steward did teach Angus quite a lot about cricket...). So under the 'who are we kidding' column, there's the fact that sometimes I want a little bourgeois decadence.

I sort of hate being waited on. I find it uncomfortable knowing that the people who are smiling at me in such a friendly fashion are basically doing so because I have the ability to tip them well for changing my bed linens and bringing me food. But I recognize that it would be uncomfortable for others if I grip the room steward's arm and whisper "I'm sorry" in an emotionally charged sobbing whisper, or jump up and start clearing the table myself, so I deal with it. Then I develop an inexplicable and wholly artificial emotional attachment to everyone and everything associated with the vacation spot so when I leave it's almost physically devastating.

I love giving my children new experiences and indelible memories. Eve was at the precisely perfect moment in her life for this vacation -- every moment was just a big bowlful of awesome for her. Living on a floating hotel, swimming in a pool under a giant movie screen, being hugged by princesses, the restaurant with the black and white cartoons that turn coloured during dinner, and swimming with stingrays (the pinnacle, obviously). Angus and my niece Charlotte had the run of the ship, unlimited swimming and ping pong privileges, 3D movies in a full-sized theatre at their whim, and constant access to the do-it-yourself soft-serve ice cream machine (truthfully, I have trouble not welling up while typing that last thing). Will these experiences make them grow up less environmentally responsible and compassionate? Why am I so wishy-washy?

I know, I make even myself want to barf. Let me start over: We went on a Disney cruise. It was great. I didn't read, blog, worry about what I was eating or follow world events for a week. The kids had a blast with their cousins, I hung out with my sister and brother-in-law and parents, saw some funny magic, some funny music, some people volunteering to be hypnotized and make asses of themselves (which in my book just never gets old) and spent some time sitting on my balcony listening to music and just watching the ocean go by. So I threw my principles overboard for the week. At least we tipped everyone really well.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

My Mama Year

As far as I can recall (this may be one instance where my failing memory comes in handy) I rocked the Mama Pants this year. Exhibit one: every time my husband says he's going away on another trip the kids yell "yay!" (this is because they treasure the quality time we spend together, NOT because I relax the TV and junk food restrictions while I'm single parenting). Exhibit two: I don't feel like doing exhibits any more. Oh yeah, I've also been great on constancy and follow-through as a parent.

Angus and I are a mere few pages away from finishing the first book I've ever managed to read aloud to him all the way through. We read a few pages snuggled in his bed before he goes to sleep most nights -- if there's no hockey game, if I'm not out dancing, if he doesn't fall asleep first, if I'm not coughing up a lung. It takes a LONG time to read a book out loud. We tried with a couple of the Harry Potter books, The Golden Compass, The House at Pooh Corner and a few others, but this one will be our first completion, which makes me happy.

With Eve's bullying incident (in which she was the victim) in grade one and this term when she was in a class I loved but there were whispers of her being moved to a class where I thought the teacher would be a much worse fit, I discovered that I was able and effective at standing up for my kid -- and I'm generally a cringing wimp, so this was a nice thing to find out.

I had my first experience of having a kid on a high-performance competitive team with Angus's (goddamned) A-team baseball experience this summer. Granted, I didn't have to do a whole lot other than be the sole person responsible for Eve (and not letting the house fall to ruin while the men in my family ate slept breathed and farted baseball for four solid months), but I handled the whole thing with -- well -- a higher degree of graciousness than might be expected from anyone who knows me well, let's leave it at that.

This fall was great for a slightly self-indulgent level of me-time, with World Trivia Night, Chris's wedding, Priscilla Queen of the Desert in Toronto and my 40th birthday high school girls' weekend. I've finished three courses in my library tech diploma (don't ask how many left. please?). The house is less cluttered than it was last year (which is to say still unbelievably lamentably appallingly hoarder-level cluttered compared to the rest of the world, but better for us -- anybody need a few reams of lined paper, three boxes of play-doh accessories, some Blues Clues VHS tapes, a breadmaker/juicer/deep fryer/wok, some canned goods of dubious provenance, a thousand books, or this blue plastic thing that might be needed to make something else function?

I still have sleep issues, need to exercise more (but until November Pam and I were on fire with the Wednesday Work-out) and organize my time more effectively, as well as not sending my kids to their friends' houses for the week-end with pneumonia. But my kids are happy and confident and clever and entertaining, with a healthy sense of irony, and overall I'd say that last year goes in the win column.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

My Biblio Year

I just did a quick count of my 2010 reading on the Goodreads website. Not counting whatever books I forgot to record or, more likely, was too embarrassed to confess to reading, it came in at 103. I didn't really care about the total, other than because the other day I was reading a blog I'd never read before which was demonstrably written by a distinctly twit-like person and she said she'd read thirty-one books this year and I though "I hope I've read more than this twit". (And that's why I haven't made a New Year's Resolution to be kinder and more non-judgemental, and if I had it would already be broken).

So, in no particular order and in my own wingy categories:

A Big Huge 'Meh':

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday

Properties of Light: a Novel of Love, Betrayal and Quantum Physics by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein (oh goody, another book about a tormented genius physicist and the student who comes to study/worship at his feet and falls in love with his beautiful tormented daughter.)

So Long at the Fair by Christina Schwartz

Blackout by Connie Willis

Tithe by Holly Black

The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits by Emma Donoghue (it was supposed to be fictionalizations of actual historical events and people, which it was, but none of them really caught fire for me. Also, no one actually gave birth to rabbits, which in my book was a mistake. A monstrous birth or two always adds some kick to a tale.)

The Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay (sucked me in with a bookstore setting. Surprise surprise -- nineteen-year-olds are whiney and self-absorbed and when a guy keeps telling you he has nothing to offer you and will never return your love you should probably believe him the first time. Or, you know, by the seventeenth or eighteenth, if you must persist.)

Post-Human by David Simpson

Mania by Craig Larsen

Caused Actual Nausea:

The House at Midnight by Lucie Whitehouse (my snotty review here)

The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Young Adult Fiction that made me consider giving up Old Adult Fiction:

The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins: just read them.

100 Cupboards, Dandelion Fire, The Chestnut King by N.D. Wilson: not flawless, but fresh and original, no easy answers, some great characters. Wilson needs a better publicist -- I only found these at the library by accident.

Tigerheart by Peter David (I'm a sucker for a re-imagined Peter Pan story every time)

Never After by Dan Elconin (yup, every time. This one wasn't quite as good, but still...)

The Child Thief by Brom (and again. Okay, maybe I need to look for some sort of support group...)

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Greener Grass by Caroline Pignat

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

The Game by Diana Wynne Jones

A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb (a ghost story like no other ghost story -- beautiful, wonderful, extraordinary, transporting, captivating....)

Unwind by Neal Shusterman (if parents don't think their children are proving to be worth the trouble of parenting by a certain age, they can have them 'unwound', unmade and their parts put to other uses -- if that doesn't make you feel like crying and throwing up a little bit, never mind -- you're clearly dead inside and this book will be lost on you).


The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (I might be too old for this now. It was diverting, but really pretty silly.)

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (good, but not for the reasons I remembered).

Books that Did their Best to Improve my Mind and if they Failed it's really My Fault and not Theirs:

MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 7th ed. (ugh)

I Don't: A Contrarian History of Marriage by Susan Squire (it's a little scary to look back over centuries of evidence that show how frightening men as a whole have found women as a whole from pretty much the beginning of recorded history.)

Ten Degrees of Reckoning by Hester Rumberg (extremely sad and upsetting) - my review here

Paradise Piece by Piece by Molly Peacock (my review here)

The Boy in the Moon: a Father's Search for His Handicapped Son's Life by Ian Brown (my review here)

The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done so much Ill and So Little Good by William Easterly (pretty much convinced me that the entire Foreign Aid apparatus (apparati?) should be put in the hands of sensible fourteen-year-olds, and the douchebags handling it now should be slapped silly).

Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave us Modernity by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein (so good that I ended up reading her novel, which convinced me in turn that she should really stick to non-fiction.)

Passing for Thin: Losing Half my Weight and Finding Myself by Frances Kuffel

Angry Fat Girls: 5 Women, 500 Pounds and a Year of Losing it...Again by Frances Kuffel

Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond (silly review here)

What I Thought I Knew by Alice Eve Cohen

Can't Remember a Thing About Them no Matter How Long I Stare at the Title:

Those Who Walk in Darkness by John Ridley

The Sinner by Petra Hammesfahr

Sweetwater by Paul Charles

The Killing Circle by Andrew Pyper

A Quiet Belief in Angels by R.J. Ellory

Really Very Bad to Begin With, Made Infinitely Worse by the Author's Boastful Self-Lauding Cringe-Inducing Introductory Notes:

Nightshadows by William F. Nolan

Quite Good:

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger (my review here)

A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True by Brigid Pasulka

The Quiet Girl by Peter Hoeg

The White Garden: a novel of Virginia Woolf by Stephanie Barron

I See You Everywhere by Julia Glass

Think of a Number by John Verdon

What Never Happens by Anne Holt

Steal Across the Sky by Nancy Kress

One For Sorrow by Christopher Barzak (when he's shorter he's better)

Benighted by Kit Whitfield

Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Really Very Good:

Horns by Joe Hill

Sleepless by Charlie Huston (closest literary description I've ever read about what insomnia feels like)

The Various Haunts of Men by Susan Hill

Superstition by David Ambrose(sort of a backwards ghost story -- very clever and unsettling)

The Interpreter of Silences by Jean McNeil (my review here)

Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich

The Breakwater House by Pascale Quiviger

Labor Day by Joyce Maynard

Monstrous Affections by David Nickle

Arthur and George by Julian Barnes (my review here)

The Chosen by Chaim Potok (my review here)

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

The Jade Peony by Wayson Choy

Little Bee by Chris Cleave

Annabel by Kathleen Winter

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff

Rocked me to my Very Core, and Either in Brief Flashes or in their Entirety Ripped Through to a Seam of the Infinite -- Approach with Caution:

Come, Thou Tortoise by Jessica Grant

Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden

Far To Go by Alison Pick

Kockroach by Tyler Knox
Home by Marilynne Robinson

The Boys in the Trees by Mary Swan

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead