Monthly Archives: January 2011

What I Read in January 2011

The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan
Among Others by Jo Watson
100 Birds and How They Got Their Names by Diana Wells
iPhone: Fully Loaded by Andy Ihnatko
Death Without Tenure by Joanne Dobson
The Bedside Book of Birds by Graeme Gibson
A Monstrous Regiment of Women by Laurie R. King (reread)
The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King (reread)
Beacon Street Mourning by Dianne Day (reread)
Death Train to Boston by Dianne Day (reread)
Emperor Norton’s Ghost by Dianne Day (reread)
Bohemian Murders by Dianne Day (reread)
Fire and Fog by Dianne Day (reread)
The Strange Files of Fremont Jones by Dianne Day (reread)
Side Jobs by Jim Butcher
The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan
Fire by Kristin Cashore

Among Others was really, really good. It’s very subtle, assumes the reader can think and construct necessary backstory from clues within the narrative, and has two or three of the best descriptions and comments about magic that I’ve ever read.

I was slightly disappointed in Death Without Tenure. It didn’t feel as tight as the earlier books in the series.

The Lost Hero was great; The Red Pyramid felt slow till the last quarter.

I am obviously pulling out old favourite mystery series set in historical eras and doing some serious comfort reading. Stupid winter.

Weekend And Otherwise General Roundup

The big standouts this weekend: The boy’s first cello lesson, his first at-home practise on Sunday evening, and the arrival of new spinning equipment.

If you hit the previous post or the RSS feed early on Friday afternoon, you may have missed the two small updates to it, including photos.

The biggest obstacle to the lessons may be the travel time. Forty-five minutes, while fine for me because it’s roughly the length of a cello concerto so I get a sense of completion, is long for a squirmy boy in a snowsuit in the back. We’ll have to figure out a way to keep him busy.

Otherwise, the lesson went really well. There was lots of information that an adult would absorb almost immediately about how to sit and how to hold the cello, but the boy had to be talked through it. It was really fascinating to watch the Suzuki method being enacted with someone of the age for whom it was originally developed. He adores his tuning song ( “Ants, Ants, Ants, Digging in the Dirt, Dirt, Dirt, Going under Ground, Ground, Ground, All the way to China, China, China” for the four strings, ADGC), loves the “catapult” exercise where he holds his cello hand out to the side, palm up and hand slightly cupped, then bends the elbow and the hand is “released,” catapult-like, to land on the fingerboard. His teacher lent him her completely adorable Twinkle Bow to use for the week (because the bow that came with the cello set is a 1/2 bow, so it’s extremely unwieldy for (a) the 1/4 cello and (b) the child who needs the 1/8 cello), and put two tiny frog stickers on it so he had a visual reference for mid-point and balance point when he does his bowing exercise (which, he will discover, is the rhythm variation A of Twinkle). He was very proud of showing her that my luthier taught him how to make a bunny shape with the fingers of his right hand, then the bunny opens its mouth a bit and slides over the frog of the bow, teeth and ears kept long:

Not only is the bow two inches too long for the cello it came with (and therefore probably three to four inches too long for the boy), the 1/4 cello is unwieldy; we’ll be needing the 1/8. At the proper angles, his endpin is only extended two inches and his reach around the upper bouts is limited; he can’t get the bow down between the fingerboard and the bridge. The oversized instrument may have been a contributing factor in the slight mishap that occurred about three-quarters of the way through the lesson, when he twisted an odd way without holding onto the neck and the cello slipped off his body and fell to the ground. I thought my heart was going to stop. We all froze, our teacher picked it up and examined it, and all seemed to be well… but it could have gone very, very wrong. She asked him to apologise to me, then taught him about the three points of contact (knees, chest, floor) and the correct way to stand up and sit down with the cello so that he’d have a better understanding of the mechanics.

He’d drawn a picture for her (unprompted) that he gave to her at the end of the lesson, which she put up on her fridge. When we pulled out of her driveway, he sighed deeply and said, “I’m going to miss my cello teacher.” So I think it went well. She made quite an impression on him.

When I got home from my (quite excellent) ensemble lesson on Sunday, we set up his little chair and his endpin plank for his first at-home practice. This little cello doesn’t keep its tuning very well at all. I don’t know if that’s a commonality to all fractional celli or an idiosyncrasy of this one, or even because it’s literally newly set up and the pegs might not fully fit the pegholes properly. I may put a drop of peg dope on the pegs to keep them from slipping as badly as they’ve been doing. Anyway, after I wrestled with the pegs for a bit he got to sing his tuning song about the ants, practised his catapult, did his pizzicato rhythm practice, then again with what he and his teacher call “the magic bow”, and finally with fingers 1 and 2 of the left hand in prep for fingering. He loved it, and I did, too. I wish my practice sessions could be that fun.

In completely unrelated news, this arrived on Friday morning just as the boy and I were walking down the driveway to go to the bus stop:

I had a noon deadline, so I exerted magnificent self-control and didn’t open it until after I’d handed my project in and had made myself lunch:

I love that the maker signed the bottom of the table:

I bought walnut-coloured stain, tack cloths, foam brushes, and fine sandpaper on Saturday morning. HRH will borrow one of the tins of wood wax from work once I get to that point in a week or so. Once it’s all stained and waxed, we’ll assemble it. I figure it will be functional by mid-February (coincidentally, my next big deadline, so it’s probably a good thing it won’t be ready before that).

And two days before, this arrived in the mail:

As I was on deadline I didn’t try it out right away, but I did sit down Friday evening to test-spin some… vitamin cotton. Yes, I was crazy enough to have saved the cotton stuffing from the last few vitamin bottles, and I fluffed it up and used it to test this new Spinner’s Lair reclaimed walnut and oak spindle that weighs in at 0.88 oz. And you know what? Using a good-quality handmade spindle beats using a heavy, mass-produced, beginner’s spindle, hands-down.

If I can spin vitamin cotton on this thing, I can spin anything. I no longer hate spindles.

In other non-related news, I’m getting used to the iPhone. The headphone jack is on top instead of the bottom as well as being on the left instead of the right, which is now my most commonly enacted mistake. It annoys me that when I pull it out of a pocket I have to flip the thing around to access the home button and iPod controls, unlike my Touch, which had the headphone jack on the bottom so it went into a pocket upside-down with the controls easily accessible if I put my hand in my pocket. I need to work on focusing the photos I take with it, too, as you can see from some of the recent images here. It eats battery charge, something I have learned is a common weakness of the 3G series; to partially combat this one must be careful to close apps before putting it into sleep mode. Figuring I had nothing to lose because there was nothing on the iPhone yet and therefore a factory restore wouldn’t kill anything, I updated the iOS to 4, and all was well. I figured if Apple had to have fixed whatever killed most 3Gs back when the iOS4 was released last fall in the last two updates, and I seem to have been right. Now I can run my more current purchased apps like Toodledo and so forth.

My mouse is being annoying, sluggish and recalcitrant even though I just changed its battery and cleaned off the optic sensor, the ungrateful thing. I’m going to go back to working on the bird book.

The Saga Of The Boy and His Cello

So not long ago, I reported that the boy had decided upon the instrument he was going to learn to play, and that contrary to what he’d been discussing for the past year, it was the cello. I called the luthier and requested that they set up both a 1/4 and 1/8 size rental cello for him to try, because he was in that weird crossover space between the two sizes according to all the tables and lists we could find. My luthier said that they had both sizes in stock; they just needed to set them up. The boy bought his first music book and was very excited to start. That was three weeks ago. I set up his first lesson for the 22nd, thinking that two weeks would be more than adequate.

When I’d heard nothing from the luthier for those two weeks after my initial contact with them, I called my teacher on Friday the 21st to cancel the next day’s lesson and tentative confirm the following Saturday instead. Now, my local luthier is actually a satellite branch of a major luthier in town, and is only open three days a week. That means that two weeks translates to six working days. I understand that. I also know that they have a lot of open work orders, and it’s hard to fit everything in when you’re only open three days a week.

They phoned that Saturday morning, and I called them back after missing the call. The 1/4 was ready, they said, although they were having problems with the 1/8’s bridge and were waiting for a new part; it might be another two weeks for that size. No problem, I said! Could we come try the 1/4? If that fit, then they wouldn’t have to pursue the 1/8 setup. Sure, they said! Come by any time this afternoon!

The boy got very excited, and we planned to head over right after lunch. Well, as lunch was winding up, the luthier called again. Um, we’re so very sorry, they said; the rental 1/4 isn’t completely ready after all. We mixed up two different work orders.

Would it be ready by next Thursday, I asked? Maybe; they’d have to call me to confirm that the following week, they said.

The boy was crushed. So was I, in a different way. I was trying to strike while the iron was hot, so to speak; I didn’t want his enthusiasm to lose momentum. That night he asked if he could practice the cello he had, so I got the viola out and taught him the names of the strings, and we worked on the Twinkle rhythm, and he learned how to sing the note names of the first two bars, and put on a little concert for HRH. It was awesome. At orchestra on Wednesday I asked my teacher what else we could do, and she reminded me of all the early bow exercises like windshield wipers, the tree frog climbing up and down the stick, and so forth.

This morning I noticed that someone had pencilled the word ‘hope’ in lowercase letters across the bottom of the printout of the group cello class schedule that sits on my music stand. It just about broke my heart. So, it being Friday, three weeks after my initial request, and not having heard anything from the luthier, I called them early this afternoon to see what the status of everything was. They made sure to check by talking to the workshop guys to be absolutely certain of their answer, and lo and behold, the rental 1/4 is ready! So today, I will meet the boy at the bus stop after school, and I will be able to tell him that yes, we will be going to the cello store to try a cello, and if it fits we will definitely rent it and bring it home, and he can have his very first cello lesson tomorrow. He will be over the moon.

A couple of people have asked me what the fuss is about trying both the 1/8 and the 1/4, and why we aren’t just buying him a secondhand instrument. It’s like this: We want to buy him a secondhand instrument, absolutely, because renting one for a year would work out to the equivalent of buying a used one from the parent of another small cellist anyway. Problem is, if the 1/8 is what fits him right now, it certainly won’t fit him for very long, and we’d have to sell a secondhand 1/8 to upgrade to the 1/4 size in the near future anyway. If we’re renting, then I know we can upsize the 1/8 as necessary. Then, once he’s firmly in the 1/4 size and will be there for a couple of years, then we can buy him a used cello. If he fits the 1/4 right off the bat, then we’ll rent for the minimum three months and buy a used 1/4 at the end of it. Also, there are the is-he-ready-for-this and is-this-really-for-him issues. Three months will give me, his teacher, and him all a good idea of if this is going to work or not. If it’s not, we drop it after the three months, and try again later. If it works, then we can buy with confidence.

Cross your fingers for us, gentle readers. We really want that 1/4 at the luthier to be the right size. I think it will be, but there’s always that uncertainty.

I am going to need a new icon of him playing the cello. This one of him at twenty-two months old, while thematically appropriate, is woefully out of date.

LATER: Gentle readers, we have achieved cello:

The luthier and I think the 1/4 is a smidge large, but we’ve got it until the bridge for the new 1/8 comes in and gets shaped. If my teacher is fine with this, then the 1/4 it is.

SATURDAY: Yeeeeeah. We definitely need the 1/8; the 1/4 is just a bit too much to handle. Also, we need the proper size bow; the set came with a 1/2 size bow, for some reason. My teacher sent him home with her Twinkle Bow for the week to work with, a fully functional 10″-long miniature bow used to teach children how to hold a bow properly and use the proper wrist and elbow motions.

The boy, leaving his first lesson in the car: “Sigh. I will miss my cello teacher.”

Remembering To Breathe

Today, I have:

    – Finished my copyediting project and handed it in, right on time

    – Called the luthier to ascertain that the 1/4 size cello is finally ready for the boy to try (more on that later, it deserves its own post)

    – Unpacked the spinning wheel that arrived this morning (more on that later, too)

    – Finally gone to the post office to mail out two packages and a letter that have been sitting here since Monday

    – Bought various pharmacy things like vitamins, etc.

    – Gone to the library to pick up the books on hold for me (and also scored the new Alexander McCall Smith book in the Isabel Dalhousie series from the New Releases shelf)

    – Finally gone to the bank to deposit the three (!) freelance paycheques that I’d been carrying in my wallet for over a week

    – Paid bills; we are now totally up to date on utilities (in fact, I overpaid one, I think)

I’m catching up on what didn’t get done because I knocked myself out last weekend and Monday. Still taking it ve-e-e-e-ry carefully, and turning down new commitments and outings or evaluating already-scheduled ones as they come, though. I have the rest of the winter to get through, after all. I have been reminding myself to breathe all week, and it seems to have worked.


I did something not-very-bright yesterday. I made bad decisions, and I’m paying for them today.

The fibro is bad. The cold snap makes it worse. Struggling with heavy winter clothing is exhausting. Driving in the winter is draining, draining, draining. As an added bonus, I have a head cold, which on its own would be enough to put me on the chesterfield at this time of year with the fibro.

I don’t look sick. However, I am sick, with a chronic illness that is kicking my butt right now, like it does every winter; I just somehow forget how bad it gets.

I cancelled cello today. I am declaring a moratorium on all social events for the next two or three weeks except Tarasmas (unless I am literally unable to get out of bed that night). Regularly or already scheduled stuff will have to be evaluated as it comes. Work (sigh) and the basics like staying upright and remembering to eat have to come first.

In completely unrelated news, I have a new-to-me iPhone 3G. It is heavier than my first-gen Touch, and the on/off button is on the top right instead of the top left. These two things alone are throwing me off. There is a camera to play with (Cricket had the honour of being the first thing I photographed), and an interesting-sounding voice memo function that I can’t figure out yet. I have to go to the library to find a book on how to use an iPhone. Yes, I am that lame. I have the basics down — it’s essentially a more complex Touch, after all — but I’m going to need to know the why and how of things. At some point I will need to upgrade the iOS to the current version, and eventually initialise the actual phone part, too.


Okay, I’ve had my fill of winter. It hasn’t been particularly bad this year. It’s been very pretty. I am, in fact, fond of how the light shines on the snow out here. I am fairly certain that I’ve made it further this winter than in previous winters before coming to this conclusion: I’m ready for lighter coats, shoes again, crocheted fingerless gloves, and watching for the tips of crocuses peeping through the leaf mold. I am ready for hyacinths in the supermarkets, for bouquets of tulips and daffodils. I am actively observing the sun hang around a little longer and be a little higher each day when the boy gets off the school bus, and cheering it. I’m tired of the very cold damp that saps my strength, and that leaves me cold in my very bones when I go out, and for much too long after I’m back inside. I am very, very weary of the bitter wind, and the wintry accessories like mittens and heavy boots and long, thick scarves and my long, down-filled, periwinkle coat.

There you have it.

Catching Up

There’s family-related health stuff going on that isn’t for public discussion, much of it stress-inducing, so I’ve been kind of quiet.

Still no call from the luthier about the mini cellos. I’m hoping we hear from them this Thursday or Friday so the boy can go to his first lesson this Saturday. If not, then hopefully they’ll call next week and we’ll get it in time for a lesson on the following Saturday, then the group class on Sunday.

I handed in the edits on the repurposing project. The editor said very nice things to me, which made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside after struggling with the project; she apologised, too, because she hadn’t known I wasn’t the original author till after she’d done the edit. All’s well that ends well. I accepted a new copyedit project, too, due at the end of the month. Because you know, what I really need is something else to take up my work time when I’m trying to get half of the first draft of the bird book down for a review in mid-February. Actually, the way I seem to work these days is doing editing in the morning, then research and writing in the afternoon; it allows my brain to shift gears and I’m more productive.

Oh, right; I’ve contracted to write another book, this one on the symbolism and folklore associated with birds. It’s due at the beginning of May. I have no idea when it will be released. There, now you know everything I know. I’ll do a formal pro announcement when things are less nebulous. I have half a dozen secondhand research books coming my way from the US and the UK, all ordered about ten days ago. The only one to get here so far? The one from the UK, on last Thursday.

I got the biggest cheque of the four I was expecting last week, which was a terrific lovely surprise. I paid lots of bills and put a chunk on my Visa, and today I treated myself to ordering my new Saxony spinning wheel, which was the plan all along when this particular cheque landed (whenever that would be). I initially tried to order it from the wonderful and incredibly helpful London-Wul in NB last Friday, but the proprietor called me back, quite distressed, because the distributor wouldn’t let her order it in. She directed me to Gemini Fibres instead, and I called them this morning after lots of wibbling because I am phone-phobic. They were absolutely lovely, however, and I’m all set with them now. They don’t keep the unfinished Kromski Symphony in stock (yes, it amuses the musician in me that my wheel is called the Symphony, and I have ordered the unfinished version) so they need to order one in then ship it to me. I’m guessing that ought to take about three weeks. That’s probably a good thing, since I need to focus on work right now. We’ll finish it ourselves with a walnut stain and a nice satin wax. I ordered the extra slow and fast whorls, too, which will give me a full ratio range of 4, 8, 12, 16, 20, and 25 to 1 with the 24″ diameter wheel. (Just for comparison, my Louet S15 does 5.5, 7.5 and 10.5 to 1, with a wheel diameter of 20″; I have a high-speed bobbin that gives me ratios of 6.5, 9.5 and 15 to 1, but I wanted something more efficient overall.) A couple of people have asked if I intend to sell the Louet, and no, I don’t; it spins thick lofty yarns very well, and plies quite efficiently. I can also toss it in the car, which I can’t do with the Symphony. It’s also a single treadle, whereas the Symphony is a double treadle wheel, so if I ever have temporary knee or hip issues the Louet is good to have as a backup. I think the Louet will reside in the family room downstairs so I can spin down there.

I, um, may also have bought two spindles through Ravelry destashes last week. I claim brainwashing by the SpinDoctor discussion group on Ravelry. I am hoping these change my opinion of spindling. The entry-level machine-made spindle I’ve got weighs 1.75 oz, and is a bit clunky; these are much higher quality, handmade, and weigh just under and over 1 oz respectively. I’ve got a Spinner’s Lair reclaimed black walnut and maple spindle at 0.88 oz coming to me, and an inlaid Kundert inlaid oak, English walnut, and black walnut spindle at 1.2 oz, too. I knew I needed a good spindle when I went mildly crazy over the Christmas holiday without spinning equipment at my parents’ house. (The alternative was investing in a real travel wheel, like the adorable upcoming Schacht Sidekick, but it’s probably going to cost more than my new Saxony wheel did, so that’s not in the cards. Two handmade spindles costing a total of $50 is much less expensive!)

I got to see the video of my piece at December’s cello recital at last week’s lesson, which was interesting. My physical technique looked really good, which was reassuring. We’re now working on making my RH fingers longer, as I tend to have a very flat hand from the wrist through base finger joints when I bow. I need to arch the unit more. I came home with a pile of work: the Bazelaire suite, some last review of my final piece from Mooney’s Position Pieces book 1, starting book 2 with Pattern 1 in fifth position (playing this totally messed with my perception of every key I played in afterward, as it goes from Bb+/Eb+/Ab+/Db+ because it’s the same finger pattern on each string), and carrying forward with Suzuki book 3 and the Bach C major Minuet revisited with the new bonus middle section in C minor. We’ll be getting new cello ensemble music the the group lesson at the end of the month, too. I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed with this and orchestra, too, but I now my teacher’s assigning it all for specific reasons, most of it inter-supportive. She put a Stringvision grip on my bow, too, and it makes the frog just grippy enough that I don’t feel like it’s about to slide out of my hand when I relax my grip to lengthen the fingers.

Missed Capricornucopia on Saturday due to fibro dragging me down and HRH recovering from whatever threw his back out. By all accounts it was brilliant, and I’m sorry we weren’t there. Highlights of the family weekend otherwise included sorting eighty percent of the Lego in the house by colour, warping the loom with yarn for two secret swap projects and then having to figure out how to work around the oversight that one project was almost twice as long as the other (lashing a second shorter apron rod to the first to tie on for the shorter warp, and using fingers to beat the weft on the longer one for the first while), dinner with HRH’s parents, and the second episode of Downton Abbey on PBS last night.

Right. Off to punch the first rise of bread down, switch the last load of laundry, and get going with putting more words in the bird book. Or possibly doing the first eighth for the copyediting job. No, definitely the bird book.