Blackout by Connie Willis (reread)
An Artificial Night by Seanan McGuire
Magic Belowstairs by Caroline Stevermer
Girl At Sea by Maureen Johnson
Skinned by Robin Wasserman
Pendragon: The Merchant of Death by D.J. MacHale
This was a weird month.
Skinned by Robin Wasserman: I wanted to like this more than I did. I never really got into it; it felt like it kept me at arm’s length, which may have been a product of the protagonist’s situation and new reality. There was the lurking sense of being told instead of shown what was going on, though.
Pendragon: The Merchant of Death by D.J. MacHale: I actively disliked this, which surprised me. The prose felt flat, I couldn’t find a sense of urgency or emotional involvement, and I couldn’t get into the characters at all. This may have been a result of the ‘just throw the main character into a whirlwind of new info and not explain it to him’ being passed along to the reader. I’m not a fan of that narrative trope. Full admission: I didn’t even finish it. Life’s too short and my energy too finite to force myself to finish books I’m not enjoying.
The joy of the month was my reread of Blackout, of course, in preparation for All Clear (which I read most of, and which missed being part of the read-in-October list only by about seventy-five pages). And I enjoyed An Artificial Night as well, as I expected.
The boy and I finished The Guardians of Ga’Hoole: The Journey and are two-thirds of the way through The Rescue now.
I promised you pictures!
First of all, the ones everyone has asked for: the boy’s Halloween costume! (Better ones to come on Halloween itself, I promise.)
He thought this one up, I found the perfect fabric in the remnant bins, we looked at a bunch of patterns then sketched our own version, and then we — ahem, pardon the pun — winged it. This made for some stormy costuming sessions because I had to fit it and alter it a lot, and this was Not Fun At All for the boy. He was so whiny and uncooperative that I had to lay down the law and inform him that if he didn’t help by having fitting sessions, everything was going to be thrown out and he’d have no costume for Halloween. It reached its apex on Wednesday when I put it on him to mark the position for the Velcro and he looked at himself in the mirror and burst into tears because he didn’t look like an owl at all, he said. From experience I know how hard it is to let go and accept how good your costume looks even if it falls short of the perfect vision in your head; it’s not an easy lesson to learn. Yesterday I adjusted a few small things and made ear tufts to sew onto his hood. He tried it on when it was complete and he was absolutely delighted. “Mama, I love it! This is the best owl costume ever!” he said, and that made it all worthwhile. He put it on with great excitement this morning and off he went to school in it for a day of Halloween activities.
Lady Jane goes home tomorrow. Here she is with the pretty fluorite-coloured Projekt B BFL in progress:
Here’s the skein of heavy laceweight Shetland I spun from the three one-ounce batts Bonnie gave me when she dropped the wheel off. I plied it with silk thread:
A random picture of Gryff and Cricket enjoying the sun in one of the living room windows:
The artist at work:
He’s really getting good at writing and sounding things out. He’s also entering the “this doesn’t look like the vision in my head” stage of drawing (see also: Halloween costume not matching his vision exactly, above). And so when he has drawn something he’s unhappy with he sometimes crosses it out, but this one evidently needed a bit of extra definition because he wrote “Not Right” in the upper right corner:
Last week we needed to overhaul his weekly lunch menu, and he decided he was going to do it after I wrote out Monday’s sandwich. He needed me to spell some things (bologna, anyone?), but otherwise he sounded them out and wrote them down on his own after checking with me to make sure they were right:
This round of fibro medication isn’t doing what I’d hoped it would do. I’m sleeping well, but I still have the low energy issue and difficulty focusing and concentrating. Now, I do remember that this medication wasn’t a universal panacea when I first took it, but the results were better than this. The only difference I’m seeing is that I sleep like a rock at night and am very groggy for the first four hours of my day. Perhaps not coincidentally, I forgot to take my medication last night, and while I woke up pretty much every hour and didn’t get any deep sleep, I feel better and more focused this morning than I have in a while. I recognise that a couple of weeks of bad sleep like this would lead to me feeling not-so-great-any-more in the mornings, but it does suggest to me that maybe the medication I used before is not quite right for me at this time.
We are not doing Halloween at the new house. We asked the neighbours next door what Halloween was like here and were informed that it was dead, and not in a fun-scary-Halloween-celebratory kind of way; last year they had about two kids stop by. This is, in actuality, a good thing for us, because we were trying to figure out who was going to stay home and hand out treats and who was going to walk around the new neighbourhood with the boy, as well as how to get him over to see his local grandparents to show off his costume like we’ve done every Halloween so far. So instead we will take the boy, his costume, and our pumpkin (about which we are very excited indeed, as it was grown at Rowan Tree Farm by Jan and t! and will make very good pie or soup afterwards) over to HRH’s parents’ house, carve it there, and then trick or treat around their neighbourhood as we’ve done in the past.
Speaking of costumes, the boy is very good at thinking them up, but not so good at being patient with the design and fitting part of it. I got half of it done yesterday, at least. The sewing machine was located, along with my boxes of sewing accessories, and the machine even worked with no problems. (Yes, I was concerned. I have had sewing machines conk out too often during costume construction.)
Saturday afternoon the boy had his follow-up appointment at the Talwar Research Institute. We really enjoy participating in these studies, and it’s always nice to have a researcher pop out for a moment to share a particularly interesting or amusing experience with the boy. It’s also nice to be told that one’s child has a really solid moral compass. It’s not like HRH or I go out of our way to talk to him about right vs wrong, but we do discuss it in relation to things he sees in movies or situations in books or daily life, and he’s sensitive enough to see that certain behaviours hurt other people’s feelings, too. One of the things he reports daily is who is “in the red” at school. His teacher has a traffic-light chart on the wall, and everyone’s name starts in the green zone each day. If a child receives a second warning regarding his or her behaviour their name gets moved into the yellow and they lose a certain number of playtime minutes which are instead spent in the Thinking Chair, and if a third warning is issued their name is moved into the red zone and they have to sit in the Thinking Chair during all of free play time. This fascinates the boy, and he is determined to stay “in the green.” It’s interesting to see how he responds to clearly defined social parameters and expectations in an environment that’s composed of people all his own age and roughly similar social skills, as opposed to preschool where ages ranged from eighteen months to four years and social skills were proportionally varied. And it’s also fascinating to observe his responses to disturbances within that social environment, particularly when they’re initiated by his peers, and to the consequences of those disturbances. School is, we often forget, about socializing people just as much as it’s about teaching them concepts and skills.
I was complimented on my knitting while the boy was in his research session, too. The researcher confessed that she’d tried knitting a couple of years earlier and been defeated by thin, thin yarn and tiny needles, and I told her my secret was bulky yarn and huge needle size. Because really, how else do you make garter stitch look impressive enough to compliment when you’re really not much of a knitter? I’m knitting a dense hood, because my ears are starting to ache from the cold wind at the boy’s bus stop. I’m going to graft it onto a scarf knit from the same yarn but more loosely so it actually wraps around my neck and shoulders (if I knit it at the same density as the hood it wouldn’t drape much). I should travel with a spindle and some dyed fibre to really freak people out in waiting rooms. Spinning that fluorite-coloured BFL on Lady Jane is going really well, too. I don’t know how long spinning 8oz would have taken me if I didn’t have a deadline by which I needed to return the wheel, but I can guarantee it would have been longer than three weeks. I am impressed with my spinning focus and output.
Speaking of knitting and spinning, something that I’ve been thinking about lately is an entry on the Sustainably Creative blog about learning not to hover between resting and doing. Nobbs is an artist with myalgic encephalopathy/chronic fatigue syndrome, and the post talks about wandering aimlessly through your tasks and getting not much of anything done as opposed to doing ten minutes of focused work and actually getting something done. This past week when I’ve found myself drifting in front of the computer and unable to focus on thinking through work I’ve stood up and walked away to do something concrete and tangible with my hands, like knitting for half an hour or spinning a half-ounce of fibre or baking something. I may not feel like I’m getting enough work done at my computer (and I’m not if I judge myself by my insane pre-fibro outputs of eight years ago, but it’s hard to shake that and work with a more practical and sensible set of expectations), but at least by the end of the day I can look at something else I’ve accomplished. The fibro is really doing a number on my self-confidence as related to my work output, and part of me is terrified that I’m just lazy. I know; if I’m worried about it, chances are good that I’m not, but you can’t reason away an illogical fear.
And in totally unrelated news, I promise you a photo post soonish, since the owlies have been lax on the photo front these past few months. The camera is frustrating and I’m taking fewer photos of shareable quality, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t post pictures at all.
Right. On to more laundry, and then some focused work. I’ll set the timer for ten minutes when I get back. The tea timer is my friend in regards to focused work. So is protein, I’m discovering. Cheese and crackers coming up!
This morning, my monitor started doing that wonky trying-to-load-the-desktop-and-failing thing again. This happened a few weeks ago and I panicked that it might be the Mac (oh gods no, please, no) because the lovely Mac guitar-chord startup sound had also crackled and slowly faded. (Curiously, that came back after the move, then slowly faded again. Meh, the onboard mini speaker è morto. Not a big deal.) Then I figured out that it was actually a problem with the communication between the monitor and the computer, and after reading a bunch of stuff online I lowered the monitor refresh rate. Worked like a charm. The display did this odd flashing off then on thing once or twice a month upon startup, but always settled down.
Except it happened again this morning, and nothing I did would wake it up; the display would flash briefly and then go dark, over and over. This time I noticed that the power button was also flashing on and off slowly, and when I turned the computer off to try booting again that button didn’t go to amber the way it’s supposed to. Fortunately we have a second computer in the house, and HRH had given me permission the last time the monitor had this stutter to unplug his lovely widescreen monitor and use it. Before I did that, though, I turned his computer on and searched for problems with a ViewSonic flashing power button. And wouldn’t you know, this is a common ViewSonic issue. The monitor tries to load the display, but it goes black repeatedly. The cause is blown
flux capacitors in the power supply, which can be replaced by the user.
Heh heh heh. I get to turn my monitor into a
time-travel machine a surgery patient and use a soldering iron. It will be a heck of a lot cheaper than buying a new monitor, and it gives me a certain satisfaction to know that I can extend my monitor’s life instead of dropping it in a landfill and spending a couple hundred dollars I really don’t have on a new monitor. If replacing the capacitors doesn’t work, then I haven’t lost anything but a bit of time and a negligible amount of money, and I’ve gained an experience. Once the monitor’s on it can go for hours, but it’s the uncertainty about if it will load properly in the first place that’s unwelcome. It finally loaded this morning, for example, but only as I was on the floor reaching for the cables to disconnect them in preparation for switching the monitors after twenty minutes of this one flashing.
In other exciting-to-me technological news, I figured out how to hook my iPod Touch up to the stereo. When I was in the shed earlier this week I found the Random Electronics box and scrabbled through it till I found an RCA-to-minijack cable and brought it inside. Yesterday, when I was too dead from all the driving and celloing I had done the day before to do much other than just sit there, I decided to spin a chunk of the dyed BFL I’ve been working on (Lady Jane has to go home in a week, and I want this project done before then so I don’t’ have to switch wheels in the middle, because they spin differently and that affects the yarn, of course) and I wanted to listen to the great SpinDoctor podcast while I did it. I didn’t want to blast my computer speakers like I’d had to do before, though, so I pulled the stereo amp away from the wall and plugged the RCA jacks in, plugged the minijack into the headphone output of my first-gen Touch, et voila, podcast on the stereo. Look, this is a big deal for me, okay? The thinking it out, knowing I had the right cable somewhere (we still haven’t found the last box with all my wall altar stuff and the tealights in it after the move, argh), and the wherewithal to figure the connection out when I got the stereo, the iPod, and the cable all in the same place is a decent accomplishment for me these days.
Speaking of technological experimentation, there are two and a half ounces of that fibre left to spin up. And I have decided that what I originally considered a wood-violet colour scheme is actually more like polished fluorite when spun and wound on the bobbin. Equally lovely, just different. (Photos at some point, yes. This camera doesn’t capture colour and light the way I wish it did, and all my pictures look dull, which is why you haven’t gotten many lately.) It’s interesting to see how colours on a braid of combed top shift when drafted and spun. I find myself interested in the technical adjustments to a Saxony wheel set up in Scotch tension. What happens if I increase or decrease the tension? What happens when I move the mother of all away from the wheel? I’m secure enough to treadle at my usual speed now and my hand speed while drafting has caught up to it. I’m looking forward to Navajo-plying this BFL when it’s done, too, to see how the wheel handles it. I do wish I had time to try double drive, but I’m barely going to get the singles of the BFL done and all plied before it’s time to take Lady Jane back to her home. HRH asked what I thought of double treadling, and I’m fine with it. I thought I might feel ungrounded, but it’s all okay. So I’m no longer worried about getting a double-treadle wheel at some point and not being able to use it properly.
I conducted my sixth rite of passage ceremony of the year this past weekend. (The current score is two weddings, four baby blessing/namings, if you’re filling in a scorecard.) It was a particularly meaningful one, as it united two dear friends whom I’ve known for a combined total of about forty years in front of 120 people, and it was beautiful in several respects. The wedding party (and some of the guests) chose a medieval/Renaissance theme for their dress, and the effect was very pretty. We told the boy everyone was dressing like knights and ladies and he got very excited, so I found him a small basic shirt and HRH made him a wooden sword and shield that he painted and varnished, which were a huge success. Had we more time, I would have tracked down some Buchanan tartan fabric and made him a tiny kilt to match HRH’s, but my local fabric shop yielded nothing but every other tartan under the sun and I didn’t have time to go into town to track some down.
It was really special to conduct a ceremony for an audience of that size. The compliments we got on the ceremony were very gratifying, and went beautifully apart from one or two minor hiccoughs. I’m used to being in the north for a ceremony, so of course west is to my right, yes? Except I was in the west, so south was accidentally designated west, and west was, well, west prime. I believe the two pieces of music for the attendants’ entrance and the bride’s entrance were switched, but it worked very well. And in general, it was just wonderful to be able to priestess such a special ceremony for people whom I love dearly, and then to see so many old friends and spend time with people I don’t see often enough. Also, it’s always great to see one’s friends all dressed up. The boy had a wonderful time running around with a small army of children, too.
There was car drama this weekend, too. We had a nor’easter hit Friday afternoon and evening, and our car chose that particular time to die. The battery, we discovered, was the original one, and no longer held enough of a charge to turn the engine over, even when boosted by another car. What was curious was that all the accessories such as headlights and radio still worked. Fortunately HRH’s parents were on their way over to stay with the boy while HRH and I went to the wedding rehearsal, so they rescued us from sitting in a parking lot in the storm and took us home, then helped call a tow truck for the car (who hooked its leads right up to the engine in the back and kicked it into operation, though it tried to die whenever HRH slowed for a stop sign). HRH bought a new battery but we didn’t have time to install it before we left (very late!) for the rehearsal in my inlaws’ car. The next morning HRH installed the new battery and everything worked perfectly. As the tow driver had said, seven years on the original battery is a pretty darn good run. As much as it played havoc with our schedule this weekend (we had to cancel the boy’s follow-up appointment with the behavioural psychologist researchers at McGill on Saturday morning, which disappointed both of us) we’re very, very thankful that the battery didn’t decide to roll over and die on our Thanksgiving drive either to or home from southern Ontario.
I finished my proposed table of contents and a sample chapter for a book project my editor asked if I’d be interested in writing, and she likes it, so we shall see if it’s ultimately approved. It’s a relatively short book that would be due in May of 2011, it’s a topic that interests me, and it would require research, something I love to do. I’m in the home stretch of the repurposing project as well, due on November 15.
The boy is doing splendidly. School is doing exactly what it’s supposed to do, get him excited about discovering new things and giving him tools to do it on his own. He sounds words out everywhere, and makes lists of words that begin with the same sound. His drawing skills have gone up a level or two as well; he uses a pencil to draw an outline and then colours it in carefully, and his art is getting ever more recognisable. He loves taking different things and mashing them together to make something new and creative, and that goes for three-dimensional building toys as well as two-dimensional art. He’s coming home with poems and songs, French words and rhymes, and it’s wonderful. He has even done two book reports; the kindergarten version, anyway, consisting of drawing a map of the places in the story or a picture of something he learned from the book. These reports are kept, and they eventually form a record of all the books the child reads from the school library. He loves school, and I love that he does.
I’ve arranged to buy a friend’s used iPhone in January. It just makes sense. It will replace my iPod, my cellphone, I will be able to make voice memos with it (something I dearly wish I could do easily while driving), record cello lessons and practice sessions with it (something I can’t do with my first-generation iPod Touch), play podcasts away from the computer without having to find speakers to wire into it (again, the first-gen Touch doesn’t have a built-in speaker), and take decent photographs with it. All I need is a pay-as-you-go voice plan, because I work at home and use wifi, so a data plan would be pointless. It means I don’t have to buy a Mac-compatible microphone that the Mini will recognise or a new camera (I may want a better camera than the iPhone eventually, of course, but it will serve my basic needs as well as or better than the eight-year-old borrowed camera I’m using now, and the battery will last longer!).
What else? I think of things to journal about now and again while I’m doing stuff but don’t have a chance to make a note before I forget them.
It’s getting colder and colder. I got an earache from the wind at the boy’s bus stop the other day, so I am knitting a hooded scarf. The house seems to be holding heat pretty well. I’m about halfway through spinning the 8oz of wood violet-coloured fibre, and I’d better get a move on if I’m returning Lady Jane in a week and a half. I pulled out a piece of fabric I’d woven early this year and laid it over the middle of the white chair in the living room, because it’s getting coffee drips and crayon marks on it as well as general dirt from cats and people, and I quite like how it looks. So does HRH, who, when I said I would weave a wider piece to cover the whole chair, suggested I weave another matching one to go on the settee. (The sheepskin is currently on it, and Nixie won’t touch it; she stretches and contorts herself to step around it. Odd little cat.) Good thing the yarn is a Zellers standby. This time, though, I’ll use the same yarn for warp and weft and weave it on the 32″ rigid heddle loom, and make the weave a bit less loose.
I had a cello lesson today, and orchestra is tonight. I’ve tried to avoid driving out there twice in one day, but it’s an exception; my teacher’s substitute schedule went haywire. Cello is going all right. I feel like I’m on the verge of grasping something and I can’t quite do it, or even put it into words. I feel as if I’m juggling a trillion tiny balls — rebalancing bow hand, rebalancing left hand, minute shifts with thumb, practising vibrato, minute movements of the left elbow to readjust left hand, large movements with right elbow to propel the bow while not allowing the wrist to get the upper hand (so to speak), minute adjustments to extensions from one position to another… and then handling subtle dynamics, being musical, and precise with phrasing on top of it all. Sometimes I almost get it. Then I have to think about one of the balls and a bunch of others drop. I”m trying to get into the habit of playing the cello first thing in the morning before turning the computer on to handle correspondence and news, and it’s tricky because it takes my hands and fine motor skills a while to rev up in the morning; always has.
Okay; that’s all I’ve got right now. Time to go meet the boy.