Friday, May 31, 2013

Birds do it, Bees do it, Fleas are more educated than my kids about it

Remember when Eve and I talked a little about the facts of life and then she didn't want to talk about it any more? Turns out we should have talked about it a little more. Yesterday she was telling me about school. She said that they knew they were having health class and the grade fives in her class (she's in a four-five split) were afraid they were going to talk about where babies come from. (Let me interject that I felt the slightest bit smug about the fact that I thought Eve knew where babies come from, in a gigantic pride-goeth-before-a-fall douchebag moment). It turned out they were actually studying germs. But Eve said one of her classmates said "I know where babies come from. A man and a woman make them." Then EVE said "two women can make a baby".

What now?

I looked up from whatever I was chopping. She said her friend disagreed, but she got someone else to corroborate. I said "were you joking?" (please god, say you were joking). She looked confused.


I said "two women can't make a baby."

She looked at me and said "I'm pretty sure they can."


I said "we talked about this. Remember? Sperm comes from him, egg comes from her, you need both?"

She said "but remember those people we met at the New Year's party, and they were lesbians, and they were getting married and they wanted to have the same last name in case they have kids because then they would all have the same last name?"


So I said, leaving out the fact that I was probably too drunk to explain effectively at the time, "two women can HAVE a baby, and one of them can carry it and give birth to it, but they need sperm from a man to make it. They need what's called a sperm donor."

She said "THAT must be awkward."

And now I have to write a letter of apology to Eve's teacher and possibly a few parents. Sigh.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Distance Learning - and I use the term advisedly

There was a scheduled chat for my course on Mobile Technology for Library Technicians last night. There haven't been any chats in my last few courses. I haven't missed them, exactly, but they can be fun and productive. It's a rare chance to get a glimpse of fellow students and share ideas, when usually we're all toiling away in isolation and only seeing the odd remark on a discussion board. I tend to have a good time in chats because a) I can type really fast, so I'm always able to reply quickly and address people before ten more comments have been entered and b) I'm old now and, whereas I used to concentrate on getting the right answer the most times, now I try to get the most people to comment on how funny I am. I can't seem to stop myself from trying to get the professor to say "Allison, you're being slightly inappropriate." In the really tough course on subject analysis, wherein the Dewey Decimal System almost drove me to rack and ruin, the chats were a great opportunity to commiserate, realize that everyone was having an equally rough time, and share strategies for not letting the course break us. So yeah, a good chat can be useful and entertaining.

Last night's chat, on the other hand, was a total clusterfuck.

It was too early in the course. Nobody had read enough to have any really intelligent questions or enlightening comments. There is a huge number of students, so it's almost impossible to follow a conversation or reply to someone or keep track of who the instructor is addressing. A couple of people had posted in the discussion groups about making their own QR codes, which had made me afraid that this group was going to be way more advanced than I am in mobile technology and I might be out of my depth. If you're the kind of person that thinks it's kind of horrible of me to go into the chat worrying that people might make fun of me for sounding dumb and then proceed to make fun of people for sounding dumb, this is probably a good time for you to go read something else.

So there was an online quiz we had to do. There were a few technical difficulties with the online quiz. There are almost always a few technical difficulties with something at some point in these courses. The instructor had already told us in a group email that she was working on it, and not to worry about it.

Many, many people were very worried about it. They had not gotten perfect on the quiz, and they didn't understand why. They had seen that other people didn't get perfect and didn't understand why either, so they felt entirely justified in demanding to know why they didn't get perfect (obvious answer being 'you answered some of the questions wrong'). They couldn't see if their answers had been submitted properly. They were VERY UPSET that they couldn't see if their answers had been submitted properly.

Then there's the part of the chat where (this happens even in the good ones) several people want to know when we will getting back our marks from the first assignment. Even though it's always been clearly laid out when we can expect to get our marks back. Then someone (or several someones) always ask "how did we do on Assignment 1?", when what they really mean is "How did I do on Assignment 1?" and, well, yeah, you still have to wait for your mark, because the instructor is most likely not going to say what she's actually thinking, which is, "most of you fine, a couple of you really well, and some of you should get whatever money back is possible and buy lottery tickets" .

My husband came up to make me tea as I was staring in disbelief at the screen. I told him what was going on. I said "somebody just asked what WiFi is". "Say that you're confused about your sexuality", he said helpfully.

"Nicole has to leave early to walk her dog", I said. "Forty people just said good-bye to Nicole." He gave me my tea and told me not to bang my head on the table too hard. Someone asked the instructor if she had any advice for doing well on the course. She suggested reading the lectures and working carefully on the assignments.

The last time I had a course with chats, the power went off here just as one was about to start. I have a bad feeling that might happen again.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Mondays on the Margins: Bone and Bread by Saleema Nawaz

Synopsis from Goodreads: Beena and Sadhana are sisters who share a bond that could only have been shaped by the most unusual of childhoods -- and by shared tragedy. Orphaned as teenagers, they have grown up under the exasperated watch of their Sikh uncle, who runs a bagel shop in Montreal's Hasidic community of Mile End. Together, they try to make sense of the rich, confusing brew of values, rituals, and beliefs that form their inheritance. Yet as they grow towards adulthood, their paths begin to diverge. Beena catches the attention of one of the "bagel boys" and finds herself pregnant at sixteen, while Sadhana drives herself to perfectionism and anorexia.

When we first meet the adult Beena, she is grappling with a fresh grief: Sadhana has died suddenly and strangely, her body lying undiscovered for a week before anyone realizes what has happened. Beena is left with a burden of guilt and an unsettled feeling about the circumstances of her sister's death, which she sets about to uncover. Her search stirs memories and opens wounds, threatening to undo the safe, orderly existence she has painstakingly created for herself and her son.

Heralded across Canada for the power and promise of her debut collection, Mother Superior, Nawaz proves with Bone and Bread that she is one of our most talented and unique storytellers.

Trish from Anansi sent me this book last month. I try not to read reviews of books before I review them, just  to avoid any predispositions, but I did accidentally catch a look at one in one of the newspapers we get that said there were large problems with the book. I have to go find the review again now, because I don't know what the reviewer was talking about. As an exploration of coming of age and family, the strange and mutable bonds between parents and children and between siblings, and also of the uneasy coexisting of different cultures in Canada, I think the book succeeds remarkably well. I started reading it at my daughter's softball game and once I did, it was really hard to concentrate on the game (which, to be fair, was not all that riveting).

The descriptions of the apartment over the bagel shop in Montreal are extremely vivid - the smell, the heat, the excitement of lying on their balcony listening to the conversation of the teenaged male employees - the 'bagel boys' -  on their breaks in the alley below. Their mother is a fascinating character - white enough that their Indian father's parents never approved of her, and yet exotic enough in her spiritual practices and careful way of living that she doesn't fit in seamlessly in urban Montreal either. The shock of losing her and having her replaced by "Uncle" - irascible, ruthlessly traditional, terminally disapproving - is sharply felt.

The harsh symmetry of when both sisters stop bleeding at the same time - Beena's period halted by teen-age pregnancy, Sadhana's by self-imposed starvation - is really striking. At times I was annoyed by Beena's martyrdom - the way she allows Sadhana to treat her like crap, the way she allows her own son, later, to blame her for Sadhana's illness and death - but not because it was unrealistic. Although she's only two years older, she gets pressed into the maternal role, which is monstrously unfair and yet completely believable, and Sadhana's illness makes her untouchable. It's possible that I also over-identify with the older sister - dutiful, perfectionist Beena - and might feel an excess of resentment on her behalf for the younger, prettier, more adventurous sister.

The framing story - Beena's effort to move on with her life after Sadhana's death, to forge a relationship with her son without Sadhana as an intermediary or an obstacle, and to open up to a new relationship with a decent man - is hopeful, sweet and satisfying.

Memorable Quotes:

-Mama didn't drink. She didn't smoke or eat meat. She awoke every day before dawn, had a cold shower, and did meditation and yoga for two hours. She didn't go shopping for clothes. She didn't hold grudges. She never once raised her voice to us that I can remember. She was holy."

- 'You really like [Ravi]?' said Sadhana one day, as though she was considering taking an interest. 'Yes,' I said. The truth was that I liked all of them. I wanted all of them in the way that a dissonant chord wants resolution, setting a vibration out into the world. In the way that a teenager wants her life to get started.

-The way parents and children slide from a physical relationship into something else, from contiguity to separation -- it's continental drift, and it feels just as slow and significant. It feels stable, and then there's an ocean between you. It doesn't feel wrong. There will be an opining up to the world for both of us. But there is a desire for fixity, too. A bit of grieving.

-Less than three weeks until Moving Day. Mama always said it was the separatists who set things up this way, the least system, everyone moving on the first of July and too busy to give a crap about Canada.

-Of all meals, breakfast the way it was served in a diner bore the least connection to anything we had grown up eating. It was nourishment without attachment, merciful food. Every piece of bacon was like starting over as someone else.

-I thought that this was sometimes why people had children, to send a little part of themselves out into places they wouldn't ordinarily go. Like casting a line. A new trajectory.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Surly Thursdays

You know what I hate? Those articles in the paper where people outline their diet and fitness habits and then get critiqued by 'experts'. They're almost always people that are goddamned near perfect anyway, and then the experts stomp in and say "that half a muffin you have every two weeks is basically cake - poisoned evil cake," or "okay, you ran twenty-five miles and did weights before you taught that spin class, but when you get off your own bike to correct your students' technique your not getting the full cardio benefits of the workout". I also read about this woman who wanted to lose weight so she "started with baby steps: she started running, kept a food diary and eliminated sugar from her diet". ELIMINATING SUGAR FROM YOUR DIET IS NOT A FUCKING BABY STEP!

Enh, I can't really keep up the surly. I've had wicked insomnia all week and yesterday I woke up with my neck and upper back muscles completely seized and I have my period and the weather is seriously crappy. But it's been an easy week. Tuesday was supposed to be busy, but piano and guitar got cancelled because the teacher was sick and then softball got cancelled because of epic thunder-raininess, so Eve and I stayed home and I got a blog post and an assignment done. Yesterday I visited Baby Rose again. On the way home from our visit last week Eve said "my hands still smell like baby!"

*         *         *

It's very hard to maintain your surliness in the face of tiny fingers and that thing where she seems determined to stretch her face to the absolute boundary of where a face can be stretched.

Last night I had book club. We discussed (rather animatedly) Patti Smith's autobiography, Just Kids. Half of us thought it was wonderful and inspirational and indicative of her intensity and passionate artistry. The other half of us thought it was pretentious and name-droppy and that she could have given some indication that she was aware that a lot of her success was due to simply being in the right place at the right time with the right haircut. I think there's no doubt she had talent and guts (moving to New York with nothing), and I was really interested in reading about her time with Robert Mapplethorpe, and there was definitely a certain voyeuristic thrill in reading a lot of this. I just didn't feel she brought a very keen intelligence or analysis to bear on any of her experiences - it sort of made me think of Homer Simpson saying "it doesn't MEAN anything, it's just a bunch of stuff that happened".

Tonight baseball got cancelled because of yet more heavy rain. Matt and Angus went to see Iron Man 3 with their rare free time. Eve and I watched the season finale of Once Upon a Time. This is Eve's assessment of season finales: "Wah, wah, we're all gonna die! We're all gonna die! Smooch smooch smooch. TOO MUCH KISSING."

It's nice when your ten-year-old daughter can hold up the back end of a Surly Thursday for you.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Mondays on the Margins: NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

What's that? It's Tuesday, you say? Let's not quibble. No one in Canada is going to be sure WHAT freaking day it is all this week anyway.

I stumbled across Joe Hill's writing in short story anthologies first - I think probably one of the Year's Best Fantasy and Horror ones, but I'm not certain. The stories were good enough that I looked for more of them, which led me to the Locke & Key graphic novels and his first full-length novel,  Heart-Shaped Box. I bought the first Locke & Key, and it was interesting, but graphic novels aren't really my thing and I haven't read any further in the series yet. Heart-Shaped Box I remember I really liked, although I didn't take notes on it and I can't remember much of it. Hill's second novel, Horns, I loved, and many scenes from it are carved on my memory even though I read it a couple of years ago.

Somewhere in all this I discovered that Joe Hill was Stephen King's son. I wondered, briefly, whether King was sick with envy or just immensely proud. I'm not one of those people who think Stephen King is literary junk food. I think he's a solid genre writer who exhibits flashes of brilliance, and when he's good he's splendid. He has maybe suffered from trying to be too prolific, and he occasionally gets unforgivably sloppy (Lisey's Story? The end of Duma Key? Good LORD, man). But he writes children - particularly children in peril, and not just from supernatural causes - very well, sometimes painfully so. Some of his scenes of falling in love or coping with loss are stand-outs in my mind, even without all the blood-running cold stuff, which I also enjoy.

But Joe Hill at his best is easily as good as his dad, if not better. His writing has a subtlety that King only achieves at his very best. So I couldn't help wondering, while reading this latest book, why Hill would choose now - for his third, widely-anticipated book, just when more people are probably figuring out who he is - to write a Stephen King book.

I mean, it's a really good Stephen King book. We're totally talking The Dead Zone or The Stand or The Green Mile, not Cell or that shit-weasel book. But it was impossible to shake the feeling that I was reading a Stephen King book.

Here's the plot synopsis from Goodreads: "Charlie Manx burned a man to death in his black 1938 Rolls Royce Wraith, but that’s not the worst of it. Rumor has it that he kidnapped dozens of children, taking them to a place he calls “Christmasland.” The only child ever to escape was a very lucky girl named Victoria McQueen.

Vic has a gift – she can ride her bike through the Shorter Way bridge and she’ll come out the other side wherever she needs to be, even if it’s hundreds of miles away. Vic doesn’t tell anyone about her ability; no one would understand.

When Charlie Manx finally dies after years in prison, his body disappears...after the autopsy. The police and media think someone stole it, but Vic knows the truth: Charlie Manx is on the road again...and he has her kid. And this time, Vic McQueen’s going after him."

Does that not sound like it could be describing the next Stephen King book? But it's more than just the plot. It's the way Vic's parents fight. It's the way she discovers her talent for finding lost things by riding a Raleigh Tuff Burner bicycle across a covered bridge that doesn't exist any more. It's Charlie Manx, a kind of psychic vampire who lives well past a hundred years by siphoning the youthful vitality of children. It's the well-meaning but ill-equipped cops who try to help Vic but also suspect her (who wouldn't?) when her son is kidnapped by a man who died and was autopsied a few days ago. It's Maggie Leigh, the librarian Vic runs into early in her travels, who has a similar talent for finding inexplicable things, and tells Vic that this kind of talent always comes with a price. 

I enjoyed the story. The relationship between Vic and her husband and then ex-husband Lou is beautiful and sad and rings true. The plot is satisfying enough. The idea of people who can create inscapes - short-circuits in reality, where things are somehow magically different than for everyone else - is intriguing, and Vic is a good character. But if I'm totally honest, I sort of wish I had bought Horns and gotten this one from the library, which is the opposite of what I did. Maybe it's unfair to expect Hill to separate himself more definitively from his father's work - I certainly had no complaints early on that he had chosen to write in the dark fantasy and horror genre, although one might have thought it would be almost impossible for him to get a fair critical reading. As a homage to his father - there was a Pennywise reference somewhere that I meant to write down, and forgot to - NOS4A2 is lovely. But Horns and his short story collection 20th Century Ghosts really stretched my imagination and sense of wonder. As a Joe Hill book, this is a pretty good Stephen King novel. 

Favorite Quote:

"Maggie set her hat on her sherbet-colored hair with the dignity and care of a drunk dandy about to sway out of the absinthe hall and into the rainy Paris night."

Saturday, May 18, 2013

In praise of Nicole, or How I Am an Asshole

Before I started blogging, I never had friendships with people I had never met. Wait -- actually, when I was ten or so I had a penpal. She lived in Italy. Her name was Giuliana and she had two cats named Felix and Pip, and that's pretty much all I can remember about her. Now there are many people in many parts of the world who I consider friends.

Online friendships are weird. Or maybe what I mean is it's weird that they aren't more weird. I guess it's possible that I'm being catfished in one or more of these relationships, but in general, every time I've met someone after knowing them online, there have been no surprises - they have been exactly like they represented themselves on their blogs, or on Twitter, and in our emails. The first time I went to World Trivia Night to meet Lynn, my husband was keen to load me up with purse-sized weapons and pepper spray. I knew I was going to meet someone who was smart, funny, a great mother and super competitive, and if we didn't win she was going to be very annoyed. All of those things were true. Marilyn and I met briefly in Toronto to see if we really wanted to room together at BlogHer, but I really didn't need to - I knew that as long as she was okay with me taking up eighty-five percent of the bathroom counter space we would be golden. And Kim? Sister of my heart/ sobbed together at Les Mis/ hung out with my family at Christmas/ we go out to buy rock salt and both completely forget to buy the rock salt KIM? I believe my point been made.

Then sometimes shit happens. Someone says something. Someone takes something the wrong way. Granted, tone can be hard to read in digital communication. Things go a little weird. Then I think, maybe I was wrong. Maybe online friendships ARE different. And then I remember all the times in my in-person friendships that someone said something, and someone took something the wrong way, and sometimes we had to clarify and make amends IN EMAIL, and things were weird for a while and then went back to normal. And I reaffirm my original conviction.

Have you met Nicole? Nicole is my friend.  I'm going to meet her in person, next fall at Blissdom. And who will I be meeting? A bendy, beautiful, cheerful, sweet, gracious, generous fantastic mother and cook and writer and friend. She kept doing Friday Follows on Twitter long after most people had let it lapse - and not those ridiculous "follow these fifteen people" ones, but individual ones, with song lyrics. Once she put up a link to one of my posts that was far in the past, because she said it always made her laugh - she did that JUST BECAUSE. I bitch about stuff constantly - Nicole hardly ever bitches about stuff, even though she has to go pick up her kids at lunch AND dismissal in the freezing cold all winter and she had to stop eating cheese and she has a really mean butterdish.

And yesterday the Facebook prompt for her post began with something like "old people having sex - gross", and this pushed a bit of a button for me. The button where I get all defensive about people who think it's disgusting when there's any reference to people who aren't young and thin and airbrushed having sex. Why am I such an ardent proponent of wrinkly nooky? I'm not, although I think it's silly when people get grossed out by it - we're all going to get old, God willing, and if we like sex now, we'll probably still like sex then. I was really disappointed at my husband's icked-out reaction to this calendar, which was funny and tasteful and for charity.

But let's be honest. It's not really about the old people. It's about the fact that I'm fat, and Nicole's thin, and of all the stuff I could be more understandably jealous of her about - that she can get up at five in the morning to do yoga while I still feel like throwing up when I get up at seven-thirty, that she gets paid by the Yummy Mummy Club for blogging - I'm probably the most jealous of her for being thin. Because I am, deep down, a bit of a nasty, petty whore. And that one little phrase touched off this ridiculous chain of envy and other stuff - I think I had just seen another one of those designers on Zulily where they say "plus-sized" at the beginning, and then they make sure they include "plus-sized" in every single description of every plus-sized dress and blouse and skirt, as if they're terrified that some skinny woman might accidentally miss the "size 16" label and end up actually suffocating in fabric when she tries to put it on. And I read the post but I wasn't really reading it. I was missing the part where she was being cute and funny and not mean and judgey, and the part where the prompt for the post ACTUALLY said "Old people getting it on. Ew? Or kind of cute" and the post was leaning towards 'kind of cute'. And I had it all mixed up with "oh, she thinks old people having sex is disgusting, she probably thinks fat people having sex is disgusting too", even though Nicole has never EVER said anything mean about fat people. When I say yoga makes me feel huge and inflexible, she says it's the wrong yoga class - she doesn't say "then try not going to Burger King first, you ridiculous manatee".

It's not that my comment was horrible or even angry. But it was a bit reproachful. And then I realized that I was being an asshole and that dumbass comment had a load of baggage on it that Nicole really didn't deserve. Which I sort of explained. And her last tweet to me had xoxo in it. Which I think is the other part of online friendships - where sometimes you are a bit of an asshole, and your friend forgives you.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

How Deep is Your Love? How Full is Your Life? What Colour is Your Parachute?

Nan started the ball rolling by charting her own life against a "The 50 Ways to Live Life to the Full" list from the Daily Mail site; Nicole did it too. I just looked at the actual site and realized I was laboring under a misconception; I thought that some editors or columnists had compiled the list, which reads as incredibly skewed towards privileged, neurotypical, able-bodied (but probably overweight) people. It turns out the list was actually generated from a survey of 2000 adults - presumably mostly privileged, neurotypical, able-bodied mostly overweight adults, but it still lessens my ability to be snarkily contemptuous of whoever wrote the article. And hey, we all know I love a good meme, especially on a baseball night. And what if there's an easy way to live life to the full (is that even grammatically correct? Is that a British-ism? It bugs me) and I'm missing it? That would suck.

1. Stop worrying about money

Okay. Do you think the grocery store takes Pokemon cards?

2. Stop worrying about what other people think

I would. Except for that thing where sometimes I think I'm a worthless pile of monkey-snot and then my friends tell me I'm actually quite nice and fairly intelligent and even fun to have around. Am I just supposed to disregard what other people think if it's bad? Look, if my ass looks huge I want to hear about it. It's not like I can look at my own ass.

3. Take two holidays a year

I go to visit Zarah every fall. I'm going to Toronto to see Book of Mormon in a couple of weeks. I think I'm going to Blissdom next October. I'm nothing BUT holidays, baby.

4. Enjoy little comforts in life

Pam and I picked up warm tortillas from Lone Star today, plus filled her trunk with booze. Also, sometimes I don't buy recycled toilet paper.

5. Experience different cultures

Uh... I love curry. The kids and I learned an aboriginal dance at Turtle Island. Eve did Irish dance, but she said it was "really really boring - you just keep doing the same thing over and over again". I saw a Japanese ballet once and didn't hate it. My husband ate horse sashimi and didn't barf. Actually, he travels all over the world - can I just let him experience the different cultures?

6. Work to live rather than live to work

But what if you love your job? Then working IS living because you're doing what you love. And who the heck works like crazy if they DON'T love their job? Oh, wait, my husband, because I'm a neurotic drain on the family resources. Move along, nothing to see here.

7. Pay off all debts

Uh, how do we do that without worrying about money? We paid off our mortgage early, but that was because we were sitting on a buttload of stock options and decided to invest some in our house when Angus was born instead of getting greedy and hoping they'd go up more. It turned out to be a sound decision (hear the sound of the tech bubble bursting ten-ish years ago? It was right after we paid off our mortgage). 

8. Be true to yourself

And false to everyone else? Seriously, what does this even mean? 

9. Concentrate on what you have instead of what you don't have

This one's not bad. Unless what you don't have is a job. Or a liver. Or a sense of humour. Then concentrate on what you don't have.

10. Use money on experiences rather than saving for a rainy day

This kind of reminds of when I saw Tommy Lee on American Idol, saying in a stupefied monotone "You just hafta decide whether you're gonna go with your heart or your gut, and I always go with my gut", and I thought "Wait, isn't it supposed to be the heart or the HEAD?" If this one had said "use money on experiences rather than stuff", I might have been inclined to agree, but saving for a rainy day, as in "a day when life rains down job loss, car trouble, catastrophic furnace failure or catastrophically bad dental genes" is also crucial.

11. Make time for family and friends

I do. Then again, I don't have a full time job. Maybe if you do, you're perfectly justified in only making time for Patrick Dempsey and Idris Elba in your off hours.

12. Try all types of food

Nah. I'm forty-two. I'm pretty confirmed in what kind of food I find enjoyable. I don't consider having to suppress my gag reflex necessary in living life to the fullest.

13. Find true love

I already mentioned Idris Elba. Oh wait, my husband? Yeah, he's great too.

14. Travel to at least 25 different foreign countries

The U.S., Cuba, Jamaica, England, Germany, France, Morocco. Huh. My husband's been to China, Japan, Singapore and Australia. That's still only eleven! Cripes, what is this, living your life to the fullest while being a fugitive chased by Interpol?

15. Go outside more

Yeah, okay, I guess. I have allergies and walking on the ice hurts my back and my anxiety. I have to sit and watch Eve's team's excruciatingly bad softball games once a week. Feeling like my life is fuller already.

16. Learn a new language

I learned French in school, beginner's German in university, and last year I learned MARC programming. Eve's well on her way: The other day she came in and said "Bongiorno, Maman". Matt said "any more languages you'd like to tack on there?" and she said "Sarcasm?"

17. Be well thought of by family and friends

So, develop the ability to control people's minds? Sounds fun, I'm on it. You love this blog! Tell all your friends!

18. Help a member of your family out when they really need it

My mom can't figure out the library hold system, so I request her books for her, pick them up and deliver them to her. Plus I gave her my kidney that one time. No I didn't. What if they don't really need my help? Am I supposed to precipitate a crisis just so I can leap in and save the day? Oops, sorry I broke your leg. Let me fetch you some tea!

19. Lose a stone in weight

Nicole informs me that a stone in fourteen pounds. This is a pretty specific one. I have, in fact, recently lost almost a stone (twelve pounds). It was indeed an intoxicating experience. In fact, I enjoyed losing that last two pounds so much that I've done it two or three times. But this is sort of oddly specific and kind of sad - obviously everyone shouldn't be losing fourteen pounds, and the notion that losing fourteen pounds would mean living your life to the fullest sounds like a failure of imagination to me.

20. Treat each day like it's your last

So, down a bottle of tequila, kiss my children a tearful goodbye, and track down and force-kiss Eliot from Leverage? I'm not sure this is sound advice. 

21. Visit all of Britain's historical landmarks

But this is for British people, right? So am I supposed to visit all of Canada's historical landmarks? Enh, Canada's not that old. Shouldn't be hard.

22. Book an impulsive last minute holiday

Ha. This goes along with "live every day like it's your last", right? Because if I booked an impulsive last-minute holiday it WOULD be my last day, because I'd die of anxiety. 

23. Volunteer for a good cause

I'm at my kids' school every second damned day. Do you have any idea how many books would go unshelved if not for me? I spent nine hours on my feet for Word on the Street one year even though I had to CALL someone I didn't actually know on the PHONE in order to volunteer - actually I'm not sure Word on the Street has been held in Ottawa since; hope I wasn't directly responsible. I work the barbecue at baseball tournaments. I keep trying to give blood, but nobody wants mine. 

24. Take up a challenge

I submitted blog posts for Blogging Out Loud Ottawa. Twice. I thought THAT was enough of a challenge, but when they actually went ahead and picked me to then read said posts out loud, in front of people, I did that too. Introvert. Anxiety. You do the math. Hmm, I don't think Lynn is holding Blogging Out Loud this year. Hope I wasn't directly responsible. I think challenging yourself on a fairly regular basis is actually instrumental in living a full life. I think periodically eating ice cream and watching Luther and leaving the challenging stuff to other folks is also instrumental in living a full life.

25. Go on safari

Huh? Pass.

26. Blow a load of money in one shopping trip, just because you can

I was about to storm off in a huff, but then I remembered that when Angus was about six months old and Matt and I hadn't been anywhere for months, we left him with my parents and went downtown to the Rideau Centre. We bought Matt some badly-needed new business clothes and we bought me sexy black boots and a dress which he then made me change into behind our truck in the parking garage. We went out for dinner and our credit card was declined, so we paid with our debit card. When we got home and called the credit card company they said they had just been concerned because of the unusual activity on the card. We burst out laughing, high-fived each other and said "We stole our own credit card!"

27. Learn a new instrument

I learned piano. For me it was great. For some people? Not learning an instrument is just a kindness to the world.

28. Be married for longer than 20 years

Seventeen and counting for me, but way to piss off those single people that are already pissed off with everything being targeted at married people. 

29. Have enough money left for the grandchildren to enjoy

Who says I'm going to have any? Won't I look silly if I have all this money left and no grandchildren? 

30. Start a family

Again, works for me, but not for everybody. 

31. Earn more than your age

Forty-two? Forty-two what? Forty-two dollars? Got that covered by the stuff I've sold to the consignment store, although I guess technically those clothes were paid for by my husband's earnings, so it's not really mine. Forty-two thousand dollars? Pretty sure that even if I get a library tech job, that ain't gonna happen. Forty-two outsized compliments from my children about how beautiful I am, how fabulous at ordering baseball hats online, how marvellous at cooking curried chicken? Now we're talking. 

32. Have a pet

Remember how I killed Eve's fish? And her hermit crab? And her best friend's bird? I don't think any more of God's creatures should have to give their lives so I can live mine more fully. 

33. Drive a really fast car

I did. It sucked.

34. Travel alone

I did. It rocked. 

35. Be able to keep the kids on the straight and narrow

Straight and narrow? Wouldn't it be more badass to set them on the crooked and wide?

36. Meet strangers

I do. Constantly. Strangers love me. I help them find salt. I tell them how to eat a kiwi. I help them work the parking machine. And stuff like this. I agree - being open to meeting and interacting with strangers makes for a fuller life. 

37. Move away from home to an unfamiliar place


38. Have a one night stand

Done. Back in university. In a half-hearted, Catholic kind of way. I'm counting it!

39. Pass your driving test

Took me a couple of tries. Goddamn, most of you didn't know that, did you?

40. Get a degree

Got two. Bachelor of Arts and Masters in Comparative Literature. That and four more years of one course at a time of Library and Information Technology might get me a job some day.

41. Rescue someone so that you're a hero for a little while

I rescue someone whenever I'm able. Sometimes I let other people rescue me too. Usually Pam.

42. Date someone exciting but completely wrong for you

I'm trying, but Eliot from Leverage has really good lawyers.

43. Get a promotion

I'll talk to the library tech I volunteer for and see if she'll bump me up to "EXTRA SPECIAL unpaid volunteer".

44. Reach the desired career peak by age 40

Well how do you know my desired career peak WASN'T the kind of job where you can wear yoga pants and have playdough in your hair and as long as all the kids are alive at the end of the day it's a win?

45. Have an all-night drinking session

Okay. They're fun. (Wow, the people who answered this survey don't get out a whole lot, do they?)

46. Perform something on stage in front of others

Blogging out Loud. And in university my girlfriend and I prepared and presented two scenes from Ionesco absurdist plays at an annual French Bistro night. It was really fun. Oh, plus, my other language was in play? Do I get double points?

47. Snog a stranger

In grade thirteen my girlfriend and I somehow got drafted to volunteer to work concession at a Beach Boys concert in Sudbury. Somewhat surprisingly, I had a blast. I wore my sister's navy blue tank top (which if you look at us now would make you HOWL with laughter, or dismay, or something) and a khaki skirt, and I had a bit of a tan, and I felt pretty, and all the male attention I got seemed sort of innocent and sweet rather slobbery and gross. At the end when the concession was closed, we were walking towards the stadium to watch the last bit of the concert, and a group of guys was walking towards us. One of them, as he was walking towards me, said "no, seriously, you and me?" and he grabbed me and kissed me on the mouth and then let me go and kept walking. Many things told me then and tell me now that I should have been outraged and offended, but I wasn't. It just didn't have that feeling to it. Then there was that New Year's Eve in Saskatchewan, but that was less wholesome and let's just leave that be, shall we?

48. Plan a surprise party

Our best surprise party effort was for the same girlfriend I worked concession with. It was her birthday in grade ten or eleven. We switched her locker lock with my other girlfriend's so she wouldn't be able to open her locker and would miss her bus, which left before ours. We told her to come home with us and the other friend's mother would drive her home, then the party was at my friend's house. She was very impressed, and not at all pissed that we had made her think she was insane or amnesic, as, now that I think about it, some people might have been.

49. Embark on adrenaline packed activities such as sky diving or bungee jumping

....or talking to other parents when you pick up your kids at school! Or parking when there isn't a double space available! Whatever. I've gone ziplining. I know what's more adrenaline-packed for me.

50. Spend time with children, even if they're not your own. 

Or especially. Kids usually behave better for people who aren't their parents. Hey, let's all trade kids!


So, I score.... call it thirty-one and a half. If my life was any fuller, I'd probably have trouble carrying it. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Mondays on the Margins: Bad Things Come in Threes

So I'm still in a strange reading frame of mind. I'm all too ready to watch an episode of Buffy on my ipad when I crawl into bed instead of reaching for a book (I love my husband so much for giving me the ipad except when I think it might be the kiss of death for my intellectual life). I still read every night, but not always for the hours I usually do. And it's been a while since anything really sucked me in. I've recently accepted that I might as well just get used to living with really poorly controlled anxiety and depression, and sometimes some of that drips onto the reading experience, so I acknowledge that it's not (always) the books that are to blame.

I also have this annoying habit that I can't seem to break, where I go to the library and pick up my holds, and then instead of going straight to the checkout, which I SHOULD BE doing, because IN NO WAY do I require more books to pile onto my.... pile. I have towers and turrets and elaborate mazes of books that I own or have borrowed that sit there day after day crying out to be consumed, so why do I keep putting this buffer of books-with-an-expiry-date between me and those books? In case of a zombie apocalypse, shouldn't I be laying in canned fruit and bottled water, not science fiction and classic literature?

Last week after getting my holds, I went over to the science fiction shelf. There were two books that I had looked at on past visits but not taken that I decided to take this time. This one I haven't read yet, but the premise is interesting. On the week-end I read Pure, by Julianna Baggott.

The plot synopsis from Goodreads: We know you are here, our brothers and sisters . . . 
Pressia barely remembers the Detonations or much about life during the Before. In her sleeping cabinet behind the rubble of an old barbershop where she lives with her grandfather, she thinks about what is lost-how the world went from amusement parks, movie theaters, birthday parties, fathers and mothers . . . to ash and dust, scars, permanent burns, and fused, damaged bodies. And now, at an age when everyone is required to turn themselves over to the militia to either be trained as a soldier or, if they are too damaged and weak, to be used as live targets, Pressia can no longer pretend to be small. Pressia is on the run.

Burn a Pure and Breathe the Ash . . . 
There are those who escaped the apocalypse unmarked. Pures. They are tucked safely inside the Dome that protects their healthy, superior bodies. Yet Partridge, whose father is one of the most influential men in the Dome, feels isolated and lonely. Different. He thinks about loss-maybe just because his family is broken; his father is emotionally distant; his brother killed himself; and his mother never made it inside their shelter. Or maybe it's his claustrophobia: his feeling that this Dome has become a swaddling of intensely rigid order. So when a slipped phrase suggests his mother might still be alive, Partridge risks his life to leave the Dome to find her. 

When Pressia meets Partridge, their worlds shatter all over again.

It started out well - as fresh a take as possible on a post-apocalyptic world. The singlemost striking conceit, I think, are the fused people; when the Detonations occurred, nanoparticles in the blast caused people to be fused with whatever they were closest to. So Pressia, the main female character, has a doll head for a hand; her grandfather has a small fan embedded in his throat. And Bradwell, Pressia's love interest, has live birds trapped in the flesh of his back. The characters themselves are also well-drawn and believably flawed (Pressia reminds me a bit of Katniss from The Hunger Games, in a good way - she knows she shouldn't allow herself to be co-opted by the luxuries offered by the Dome, but at the same time she is tempted by the promise of a normal life). 

About halfway through the book, inspired by nothing in particular, I suddenly had an unpleasant thought. I flipped to the last page, and sure enough - *insert melodramatic minor chord* - there were the fateful words END OF BOOK ONE.

Why? WHY? I've sort of resigned myself to every goddamned Young Adult fiction book that takes my
fancy turning out to be the first in a trilogy. I didn't think this "scourge of the literary world", as Marilyn so rightly calls it, had infection adult literature as well. Well, okay, it was in the science fiction and fantasy section, so I guess maybe it should have occurred to me - but it didn't have that look that trilogy books usually have, by which I don't even know exactly what I mean, but look! Look at it! It's a nice, attractive hardcover with high production values. It looked like a nice, normal, standalone novel that just happened to have subject matter that relegated it to this section. And this brings me to my next point: If a book is the first in a trilogy, the publisher should have to be upfront about it. BOOK ONE OF WHATEVER should be on the front damned cover in large print. I'm going to have to start interrogating books before I read them: "Are you or have you ever been part of a trilogy?"

I'm joking, mostly. I should, by now, be in the habit of checking whether a book suffers from trilogyitis before I start reading it. Do the publishers actually hope that people won't notice until they're hooked by the first book? My tendency is definitely not to read Book One of any given series until I know I can get the next books quickly, because my memory just doesn't hold up over the intervening year I have to wait otherwise, and I like to reserve my rereading time for more weighty books. Presumably this doesn't fall in line with the publishers' preferences, since they're not getting their hardcover price from me for each successive book. 

And what IS with the whole trilogy thing? Is there really something fitting in the elegant tripartite structure that lends itself to the medium? Is it a phenomenon that reflects a resonant archetype, or just a crass cash grab? 

I think it's probably a bit of both. When it's done properly, it can really work. A beginning book to set out the principal conflict and lay the groundwork of character. A middle book to show character growth and flesh out the action. A concluding book to, well, conclude things. But when it doesn't work, it's so much worse than just a single bad book.

Last night I started reading this. I have some things to say about it. But I'm fairly sure that the end will really be the end, so at least there's that. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

On How I Like to Think I'm Open-Minded, but I'm Really Not At All

The other day I was on Twitter and someone was talking about how her daughter was eating broccoli and she was extremely pleased. The hashtag was #babyledsolids.

And I thought, WTF? Baby-led solids? How does the baby lead with the solids? Do you make the baby mix up its own cereal? Do you carry the baby around the kitchen while it points out the ingredients for pheasant under glass? The baby doesn't lead! WE lead! Isn't our function as far as babies and solids to sort of lead the babies up to the kinds of solid foods that won't, you know, cause them to die? Babies aren't that bright, folks. A baby will try to eat a TV remote. They don't know that they can't eat celery and pretzels and marbles or hot dogs that we haven't cut in half because our mothers have informed us forty thousand goddamned times that a hot dog is the exact size of a baby's windpipe - it's up to US to provide the leadership in that regard.  And I stormed around muttering about ridiculous hippy-dippy airy-fairy notions of parenting. Baby-led solids! Jesus Christ!

Then today I was driving home from a restorative day of tulip-looking and jerk-chicken eating with Pam and I heard Kathleen Petty on CBC interviewing Kathy Buckworth, the author of I Am So the Boss of You: An 8-Step Guide to Giving Your Family the Business. I haven't read the book and didn't even listen to all of the interview (just to be clear about the fact that I'm not bothering to make sure this is based on complete information or anything), but the part I heard was Kathy Buckworth saying parents have to be in charge and make the rules and you are allowed to say "because I said so". And then she said she was making baked bean casserole, "which is as nasty as it sounds", and her friend said she wished her kids would eat that, and Kathy Buckworth said "well, make them" and the friend said she couldn't, and Kathy Buckworth said something like "listen, my goal isn't that they like it - my goal is that I have them fed something nutritious, on time, under budget, so that I can feel successful".

And I thought, WTF? First of all, TOTALLY goes back to that thing where if you say you wouldn't tolerate a picky eater you just didn't have one. Second of all, fine, someone has to be nominally in charge, but I do actually subscribe to the "I didn't ask to be born" theory of parenting - you made the children, so I don't really see how them asking to be fed something they don't find revolting is all that importunate. Third of all, of all the reasons (and there are some good ones) for making a kid TRY something, let alone eat all of it, "so I can feel successful" is pretty far down the list in my books (well, okay, maybe not THAT far down the list in MY books, but I kind of think it should be in your book, if you actually write one). So then I stormed around putting away my groceries and muttering about people who think they can run a family like a business and how going back to the fifties and "children should be seen and not heard" is not so much a new idea as, well, like I just said, a REALLY OLD ONE!

So yes, one might quite rightfully inquire when my book on parenting and nutrition is coming out. The one where I hold forth on letting my son play soccer with a chicken ball before eating it, and feeding Eve coconut yogurt and broccoli five nights running.

Parenting is hard. Judging is fun and easy.

Monday, May 6, 2013


Today I'm like a couple of Ingrid Michaelson songs. This one and this one, to be more precise.

I can't adequately thank everyone who commented on that last pitiful post, and I'm trying not to bother being embarrassed about it. It does get wearying - why do we have to keep learning the same lessons over and over? Why do I let myself slide down that same garbage chute of self-loathing? I know - I KNOW, for an irrefutable effing FACT - that I'm not the only one with too much stuff, or badly organized stuff, or lost stuff. Sometimes that's okay, and sometimes I really just need to spend a couple hours sorting stuff and getting rid of stuff, and sometimes just one look at the problem sends me screaming down a very dark hall, and I really really REALLY need someone (six or seven someones, preferably) to take me by the (figurative) shoulders and say "you're not the only one" and "it doesn't make you a horrible person" and "it doesn't mean you've wasted your entire life".

And then in a couple of months we get to do it all over again! FUN!

Enh, whatever. Our bodies require constant nourishment. No one says "why do I have to keep feeding this stupid body breakfast, lunch and supper every goddamned day? Screw you, body - you've been fed enough, no more food for you". Well, sometimes I do get tired of feeding all the stupid bodies around here all the meals all the time. But I still do it. Clearly my anxiety also needs regular infusions of compassion and reassurance dumped on top of it in order to stay manageable. I'm grateful that I have friends that are willing to provide it. I'm also grateful that I have friends who walk over here with a daughter on a sunny Sunday to distract me from cleaning out the basement by drinking rum and diet pepsi with me in the back yard while our daughters play basketball at the park and then come hang out with us being alternately annoying and entertaining. Rachel told us a funny story about trying to get Collette to fix the neckline of her dress at the store so she would stop flashing her bra at everyone, and then Eve remembered when Collette was pushing them on the raft over the waves at Sandbanks and her bathing suit kept falling down, and then Eve said "this is great - we're all telling stories about Collette's boobs!"

So I'm done agonizing over my basement for now. I do have to make a dentist appointment, though - stay by your computers, okay?

Saturday, May 4, 2013


What have I been doing? How did I get here?

I was looking for the kids' class pictures from this year because my mother puts up her four grandchildren's pictures every year and she says I haven't given them to her this year. I can't find them. I can find years and years of pictures - teeth falling out and reemerging, cheeks growing leaner and leaner, smiles becoming more self-conscious - but not this year's. Piles and piles of pictures, and frames, and assorted other crap.

Then Eve came in from shooting baskets and tried to use an art string kit that someone gave her for her birthday two years ago and the glue is all dried and the string won't come out.

I'm caught between "we can only be who we are" and "I can't keep living like this". Between "it's really not that bad" and "it's worse than I thought."