Monthly Archives: December 2010

What I Read in December 2010

The Osiris Ritual by George Mann
The Memoirs of Mary Queen of Scots by Carolly Erickson
Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal
The Weekend Baker by Abigail Dodge
Kitchen by Nigella Lawson
Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld
Pegasus by Robin McKinley
The Bone Palace by Amanda Downum
Seer of Sevenwaters by Juliet Marillier
The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory
Graceling by Kristin Cashore
The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson

In brief:

Pegasus: Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant, one of my favourite books of 2010.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox: This is completely what Skinned should have been. Excellent.


We had a beautiful Christmas day. It was just the kind of celebration I love: quiet, subdued, good company, good food, and a sane amount of thoughtfully chosen gifts of good quality. The boy’s present selection consisted mainly of Lego, Star Wars, and in one case Star Wars Lego (thank you, MLG!), plus a side of books and Hot Wheels. He was thrilled that Santa brought him the Jedi starfighter he had specifically asked for and extra excited about the droid slot into which he can actually put his R2-D2 action figure. I was so pleased with his behaviour, but then, he’s never known an insane Christmas morning. We’ve always allowed him to open his stocking when he wakes up, but then we all wait until family arrives at 10:00 to open our other presents. He thanks people for the gift before he’s opened it, and then again afterwards. My MIL pointed out that HRH and I can take credit for that, but watching him work slowly through taking gifts out of their packaging and playing with them one by one over the afternoon made me very happy regardless of where he learned it.

His fever is hovering around 101. He’s fine other than a bit of a runny nose and the occasional cough, so it’s just a virus. We’ll keep track of it. He finally got a nap yesterday, and has already agreed to another one today after lunch.

My best gift, hands down, was this one from HRH:

Fibre buffs will recognise this as a handmade adjustable yarn swift, which comes apart into four crosspieces, four movable pegs, three washers, and a central bolt. HRH made it himself, and I am thrilled with it. I just need to sew a case for it.

It’s a lovely, sunny day again today. We’re putting away the good china, and giving the good silver one last buffing before tucking it away in the silver chest. The only rough spot yesterday came when I went to get the tablecloth from where I distinctly remembered placing all of the table linen and only found one there, with a big stain in the middle of it. HRH did a bit of sleuthing and found all the good Irish linen on the top shelf of our bedroom closet. We’ve now stored it in the bottom drawer of the linen cupboard/armoire in the laundry room, and we both know where it is.

This afternoon the tree comes down. We’re doing a last bit of laundry and sorting, then some packing before our holiday peregrination.

Christmas Eve

The boy’s fever is bouncing between 99.5 and 101 but he’s his usual cheerful and energetic self, so we’re calling that a win. He was thrilled to open his last door in the Kinder Advent calendar today; he’s been looking forward to that egg for some time.

HRH went out this morning to pick up an early Christmas gift of an FM transmitter for the car, so we can listen to the iPod Touch on the go. The boy’s daycare coordinator stopped by with a gift for him this morning, too. The boy has been struggling with the knowledge that there are gifts from MLG and Ceri, Scott, and Ada for him under the tree, and has been asking at intervals if he can open them. I told him point blank this time that if he asked again the presents were going away and he wouldn’t get them at all. “I’m never going to get to open them,” he mumbled. “Not till Christmas Day,” I said. “Which, after all, is the whole point of Christmas presents.” Everything else will come out of where it’s been hidden tonight once he’s asleep; this has been done in self-defense and the preservation of sanity.

I remember the interminable creep of time as the twenty-fifth approached, but he’s doing pretty well. He’s had lots of fun today: he watched cartoons till noon, then had lunch, then played out back in the piles of snow with HRH, played inside with Lego, and is now watching a movie. We’ve been tracking Santa on Twitter and through NORAD at intervals as well, which has been lots of fun. (I am never reminded of how colossally lame my world geography is as strongly as when I track Santa through Google at Christmas.) When I was a kid we used to listen to the radar tracking Santa on the radio on the way home from the Christmas Eve church service, and it was the most exciting thing ever. I kind of miss the more mysterious radio version. After dinner we’re Skyping with my parents so everyone can wish one another a happy Christmas, and there’s also the magic reindeer food to scatter all over the snow in the backyard before bedtime. The boy was discussing the idea of staying up to see Rudolph (not Santa, but Rudolph; we know who the real rock star is in this house), but eventually concluded that not only was it too risky in that if Santa figured out he was awake he might not stop by the house, and apparently Rudolph is a very shy reindeer (I was unaware of this; one learns something new every Christmas from very serious children).

And in the realm of last-minute realizations, I have no sage with which to flavour my stuffing tomorrow (I shall call my mother in law and ask if she has some I could borrow; I honestly thought I had a whole container of garden-grown sage in the freezer), and my breezy assurance that they could bring the defrosted turkey over with them when they come tomorrow means I won’t have the time dry-brine it the way I usually do. I guess that means I have to try the herbed butter under the skin thing sans brining that I’ve been idly considering for a while. Time to dig out that recent issue of Fine Cooking (or just look it up online, voila).

Have a wonderful evening, everyone. I usually get a few minutes to post on Christmas Day itself, but if I don’t this year I wish you an excellent day, whether you are with family, friends, colleagues, or your cats.

In Which The Boy Hears The Christmas Story

The boy came home from his grandparents’ house with a 102.6°F fever this evening. He was complaining about being tired and hot when we arrived to collect him and was punchy in the car on the way home, rambling from one unconnected topic to another. He started working himself up about not being able to get a dog in the near future and about dying someday (talk about out of the blue) and so I said, “Why not think about something more cheerful, like Christmas?”

“I don’t know very much about Christmas,” he said. “Not like you guys. You must know all about Christmas, right?”

“Um,” I said. “We know… stuff, yes. Maybe not all about it.”

“Tell me something,” he said.

So in the dark on a relatively lonely highway, I told him about the reason we call it Christ-mas, and followed it with the story about Jesus’ birth. Try to tell that one to a kid who has grown up without being steeped in the Christian mythos. (I know I’ve told him the story before, but it obviously didn’t stick.) He was okay with Mary and Joseph looking for a place to sleep in a busy town because Mary was very pregnant, and the birth in the stable, and Jesus being wrapped up in a cloak and tucked into a manger because there wasn’t a crib ( “I think Jesus must have been very comfortable.”). But he needed context. So I explained that Christ was half a god and half a man ( “Like Hercules!”), and that the wise men who were mages and philosophers and astronomers followed the magic star to the barn where Christ was born and knew when they got there that the baby was very, very special ( “But how did they know?” “They were… very wise and knew a lot of stuff about things like God.” “Oh, okay.”), and that angels were so happy that Christ was born that they sang and led shepherds to the barn too, who loved the baby as soon as they saw him, and that the birth of the baby reminded everyone about love and hope and compassion.

There was silence in the back seat for a bit. Then he said suspiciously, “Is there more to this story?”

HRH cleared his throat, and I said, somewhat truthfully, “Well, that’s the end of the Christmas bit.” (It does sort of need the crucifixion story for the Christmas story to have the proper significance, but there’s no way I’m going to tell him that the Christian mythos also dictates that this wonderful Christmas baby grew up to be killed, and indeed was born for the sole purpose of being sacrificed to cleanse the stain of sin from mankind, thank you very much. Not until he’s old enough to understand that it’s a specific religion’s dogma and not a universal belief, because (a) he takes things very literally and is obviously having a problem with the idea of death right now, and (b) I am very much against the idea of people being born sinful, and indeed not a supporter of the whole Christian concept of sin or the need for salvation. There are some beautiful things about the Christian religion and spirituality that I love and appreciate. This and the accompanying inference that we should be guilty because this had to happen is not one of them. Tangent over.)

Now that he’s got the basic Christian Christmas story, though, tomorrow I’ll curl up with him and explain that the Christmas story is like our celebration of the winter solstice and the return of the light, that the world had become a very mean place and the Christian God wanted everyone to have light and hope in their hearts again, so he sent his son be an inspiration. We’ve explained Christmas as a celebration of love, family, and generosity to those who are less fortunate than we are, and we’re very satisfied with that; Christ’s altruism and desire to heal and encourage love ties in nicely. We can talk about other mythos that the Christian story maps on to as well, like Mithras (Sol Invictus, anyone?), and the general neopagan concept of the Sun God.

That’s what you get for being born the son of someone who has taught comparative religion, though. There’s never a dull moment when it comes to talking about religious festivals. We’ve already talked about how Santa is the spirit of Christmas, how he’s a twentieth century version of Father Christmas/Saint Nicholas, and how he’s portrayed very differently in all the different countries of the world, sometimes as a different person or figure entirely.

He didn’t want dinner. We gave him Tylenol and lots of water, read him a couple of books, and he’s sleeping hard. We’ll see how he feels tomorrow morning, and if he even remembers the conversation in the car.

Weekend Roundup: Yule Edition

On Friday, we went and chose our tree. Hearing that local trees were $60, we chose to investigate the Boucherville IKEA for the first time, where we got an excellent 6-foot pine for a very satisfactory $20. It was pretty frozen in its wrapped shape even when we cut off the twine, but by the next morning it had thawed and the branches had opened beautifully.

On Saturday, while HRH helped a friend move in the morning, the boy and I made gingerbread:

When HRH got back home that afternoon, we decorated the tree:

On Sunday, we went to visit Santa. We ended up going back to LaSalle to Angrignon Mall for this, because despite there being three major malls around our new house on the South Shore, none of them listed enough information to actually schedule a visit. Either they didn’t post hours ( “call this number during business hours for info” is not entirely helpful when one is attempting to make a schedule for the next day) or they posted hours but didn’t post where Santa was set up (Dix30 being an outdoor shopping complex with no obvious central indoor location on its maps). So back to Angrignon we went, expecting our usual Santa, but we got a different one who was very jolly regardless. We had the brilliant idea of lining up before Santa opened for business, but a billion other families had the same idea and so we waited for an hour. Thank goodness the boy is at an age where that kind of wait isn’t hellish. We did have a bit of technical issue with the photo, though; he was very determined to be serious, but Santa had other ideas and tickled him. Every time the photographer took a picture the boy either stopped smiling or his eyes flickered past the camera to look at the sea of people behind her, and she got very cross at one point. But we have a good photo, which is proof that the boy actually sat on Santa’s lap, something he hasn’t done since he was two years old:

When asked what he wanted for Christmas the boy told Santa about one specific item. “You don’t want anything else?” Santa said, surprised. “No,” the boy said. “Just that, please.” He’d listed four things in his letter to Santa and specifically requested one of them in person, figuring that if he asked for one he’d run a better chance of getting it. And Mama patted herself on the back for buying it last month.

We did a bit of last-minute shopping, then went home and packed up for our annual Yule musical afternoon with the Preston-LeBlanc household. We made a stop at HRH’s parents’ house, because they hadn’t been able to come by on the Saturday as we’d hoped, then ran into awful, awful traffic on the Mercier bridge while trying to get back onto the island. The boy fell asleep, thank goodness, because it took us an hour to cover what should have been a fifteen-minute drive. We were very thankful to get to Jeff and Pasley’s warm and cosy home to share finger food, drink, songs, joy, and the company of chosen family.

It was a very long day indeed, mostly very enjoyable, but I was really wiped by the end of it.

Thoughts on the Return of the Light

I’m at a bit of a loss. In the past couple of days we’ve been hit by news about friends whose health has taken a turn for the worse, whose health issues have created emergencies that require hospitalization and bedside watches, or whose treatments have come to an end and they’ve chosen to return home to live the rest of their days in a place they love. Statistically speaking, I know bad things happen to people all year round. It just seems extra unfair when they happen at Christmas.

At the Winter Solstice we’re told to look toward the sun, to embrace its return, to cheer the vanishing dark. It’s hard to do that this year. I can turn it around and use the returning, strengthening light as a symbol of health returning — and indeed, I intend to use this symbolism for certain of the issues family and friends are facing right now — but for many people, it can’t be done. The best I can do is gather the rays of the sun and twine them gently around the vines that are my friends and acquaintances whose health cannot improve, to give them warmth and peace as they move westward. I can offer those rays to their families and closer friends, to use for strength and courage as they work through the challenge of supporting a loved one facing the end of one cycle of life.

I’m not feeling particularly Christmassy today. It’s probably not a bad thing our Yule celebration was cancelled as a result of some of this news.

However, when one has a five-year-old on board, one cannot retreat entirely from the Christmas season and magic. His joy and excitement are doing a lot to keep us on an even keel. This morning, when I was returning from what ought to be the last pre-Christmas grocery run, I remembered that the boy used to call the season “Kissmas” when he was just learning to talk, and it made me smile. Kissmas, indeed. Love your families and your friends, gentle readers. Tell them you love them not just at festive gatherings like those of the season, but every day. It ought to be Kissmas all the time in our lives.

Weekend Roundup: Cello Recital Edition

I’m swamped. I’m racing a huge deadline, both HRH and I were ill this weekend and yesterday, there are no Christmas decorations up (although we did turn the outside lights on about ten days ago), Christmas shopping is only half-done (it will be pretty much finished in one trip if I can just ever leave the house again in good health, no deadlines, and decent weather). I’ve torn the house apart looking for my binder of non-lesson, non-orchestra music that holds all my Christmas stuff and I can’t find it anywhere, which means I have to reconstruct all my Christmas stuff from scratch before our annual Yule music celebration on Sunday. There is no food in the house. Being sick and handling the fibro thing is really, really throwing a spoke in my Christmas wheel.

I’m simultaneously exhausted and climbing the walls. It doesn’t help that I mis-evaluated my current freelance project, which turned out to need about three times more editing than the sample I examined suggested it would, so my schedule has been blown to bits. I pulled off 125 pages yesterday despite feeling dreadfully ill, which is about half again as fast as my usual top speed, and burnt myself out so that I had to cancel a planned visit yesterday evening. I have another 125 to go today if I want to keep Wednesday morning for a final proofread and scan to make sure I haven’t done anything horrendously stupid. Then, I think, I will fall over. Or perhaps stay in bed for an entire twenty-four hours, because I’m having trouble making it through a basic day.

There’s a lot of snow, and it just keeps coming. It’s a good thing it’s pretty.

Saturday morning we had our dress rehearsal for the Christmas recital. I expected our usual dress rehearsal system, which was playing the solos as well as doing our group pieces, but we just worked on the group pieces. I understand why we did it — there are thirteen students now! — but I was a bit worried about my gavotte. I got home around quarter past one and HRH headed out to run errands. We had Ceri, Scott, and Ada over that afternoon for a movie and dinner, which was wonderful. The boy read both his Lego readers and a board book to Ada afterwards, who quieted down and listened, bless her. There was a moment at the beginning where she was fussing and the boy closed his book on his lap and calmly said, “I’m not going to read until you stop crying,” which is obviously something that he used to hear at preschool, but somewhat inappropriate for a tiny baby! It was explained to him that she would calm down if he read, so he opened the book again and everything went beautifully.

The recital was on Sunday. For the first time we rented a small church, because we no longer fit into the seniors’ residence we used to play at. The acoustics were phenomenal; even the tiny cellos, which usually have problems with amplification, were resonant and clear. I was worried about the order of the pieces. In the past we’ve opened with group pieces and then interspersed solos throughout the programme. This time, the first half of the programme was soli, and the second half was all group pieces. I was concerned about not being warmed up by the time my solo came up, but it turned out fine. I started oddly slowly, perhaps because I was subconsciously taking into account the fact that one usually plays too fast live, but I picked up the pace when the initial theme was repeated before the development and second theme. I was pretty happy with how it went. Midway I was starting to be unhappy with slightly imprecise intonation but I remembered something my teacher had told me at the last lesson, mainly that even if intonation is off by a fraction, it isn’t necessarily audible to the audience by the time the sound has travelled within the space, and even with that slight imprecision the piece had been pleasant to listen to at the lesson.

The response I got was really heartening. I had strangers asking me how long I’d been playing and how many certificates/grades I held, which was just odd to hear. The boy told me, unprompted, that I had been awesome. I had my dear friend Marc there in the audience for more support, who enjoyed himself immensely, too. It was a very nice afternoon. The group pieces went well, too, although the arrangement of the Haydn Op. 76 no. 3 movt. 2 felt a bit muddy. All the Christmas stuff was jolly and resonant. The arrangement of Silent Night was lovely, and I think the Greensleeves seven-part arrangement was all right, but I can’t be sure.

I finally finished spinning the last of the first 2 oz of the yellow/orange Polworth in stupidly thin threadlike laceweight singles. I am going to do some nice chunky, squooshy singles from some Merino in Blue Bells before I have to spin the last 2oz of Polworth. Someone remind me of this the next time I decide to spin laceweight to get as much yardage as possible out of something, okay?

That’s the single on the bobbin and across the right penny for size comparison, and on the left is a look at how it will look when plied with the as-of-yet unspun second single. This is the finest single I’ve ever spun with success for an extended period of time.

I really need to get to work now. Wish me luck.