Monthly Archives: April 2011

What I Read in April 2011

The King’s Speech by Mark Logue & Peter Conradi
The Rowan by Anne McCaffrey (reread)
All the Weyrs of Pern by Anne McCaffrey (reread)
Dragonsdawn by Anne McCaffrey (reread)
Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones (reread)
The Cater Street Hangman by Anne Perry (reread)

Lots of rereads this month, as I don’t have the money to buy new books and browsing my library catalogue didn’t turn up any of the new ones I wanted to read.

I was looking for series to reread, because they take up a decent amount of time, so I pulled the first Anne Perry Charlotte & Thomas Pitt book off the shelf. Oh, these haven’t aged well. They’re very flat, and I’ve stalled halfway through the second one.

Dragonsdawn was what I was looking for character and story-wise, but then I decided to read the Pern-rediscovers-that-2,500-original-settlement-and-tech book All the Weyrs of Pern, and that felt kind of flat and forced, too. In a while I may go back to the original Pern trilogy, but AtWoP kind of turned me off the series for a while. I pulled the space opera The Rowan off the shelf and that was better.

My reread of Charmed Life, one of my favourite Chrestomanci books, was done in response to Diana Wynne Jones’ death. I read it all in one evening, and I was about to go on to The Magicians of Caprona the same night but I lost steam.

The King’s Speech is a biography of Lionel Logue, the speech therapist who worked with King George VI, and I enjoyed it a lot. It’s written by Logue’s grandson (and a journalist, who I assume provided structure and support and editorial stuff) who did a lot of work with family records, letters, and diaries, and provided information and material to the filmmakers who created the 2010 movie. I have not yet seen the film (shocking if you know me; it was a bad six months for a lot of stuff I wanted to do) but the sense I got from what I know of history and the apparent timeline of the film was that things didn’t quite line up chronologically. The biography confirmed that my history was, in fact, not as shoddy as the film made me wonder if it was, and clarified a lot for me.

The State Of The Estate

This morning HRH went out to pick up the free tree we’d reserved through the city a week and a half ago. He says it was wonderful; there were tonnes of people out for the Journée verte, and everyone was happy. The sun is shining, it’s a gorgeous, warm day, and it may actually be safe to say that it’s finally spring. I wish we’d had the money to pick up one of the discounted rain barrels on sale, but it wasn’t in the budget.

We chose a Red Splendor crabapple. The material included on the reservation website told us it was a 5m wide by 5m high max growth. The handout HRH got along with the tree said 7m each way. It would have been nice if the info was consistent so we could have planned a bit better, but eh. Apple trees like pruning, and we’re going to keep this one tidy. Yes, crabapples are messy in the fall, but you know what? Their glory in spring and their summer foliage are more than worth it.

So the boy has finally gotten his tree. We wanted to plant one when he was born, but we were renting at that point, and while our landlord was totally cool with whatever landscaping improvements we made to the value of the property, we didn’t want to plant a tree and then leave it any time soon. (Also, there was really nowhere we could have put it; most trees would have taken up the entire backyard at maturity.) We consulted with the boy and he confirmed that the crabapple was what he wanted.

It’s about two years old, and the trees were being stored in straw in a cool place to keep them dormant. But there are lots of bumps where leaf buds should start growing any day now that it’s out in the warm sun and we’ve given it plenty of water. It’s a great weekend to plant a tree.

Speaking of trees, our lilacs have wild numbers of leaves budding on them. I can’t wait till they flower.

We’ve got other tiny plants making themselves known round and about. There will be tulips sometime this week in the front and side backyard beds, and a few days ago some lovely little hyacinths appeared in the backyard. We have mid-purple ones in a couple of places, but the stand of whites are the prettiest.

HRH plans to turn most of the rest of the front yard into garden, as there’s a couple of strips of grass that are more annoying than anything else. The baby’s tree will go in front of my office window. We’d planned to double the size of the garden on the north side of the backyard and make it the vegetable garden, but that won’t happen this year because our focus has to be on the attic renovation. Instead, we’ll use the smaller garden on the south side and plant our usual lots of tomatoes and peas, some cucumbers, carrots, and herbs in it. It already has everbearing strawberries, mmm.

The State Of The Boy

My son woke me up at 5:45 this morning to tell me that his second very loose baby tooth had fallen out during the night. Apparently he woke up, felt it was missing, and immediately looked under his pillow for his coin. I think our wake-up had more to do with the fact that he couldn’t find his tooth and didn’t have financial proof that the Tooth Fairy had taken it than excitement about the tooth falling out. (He found the tooth in his sheets later.)

Although since we were awake I switched the TV on at 6:00 and we watched the royal wedding, which I hadn’t seriously planned to do. I listened to him make interested comments about the male guests’ hairlines (?), all the shiny medals on the uniforms (he was most impressed by the Duke of Edinburgh, although he kept calling him the king and couldn’t understand why he wasn’t the king if he was married to the queen; we missed a lot of the ceremony trying to explain this, as well as the concept of the Commonwealth and how the queen was technically our queen as well, even though Canada is an independent nation), the abbey layout, and the ceremony itself (this was, I believe, this first Christian ceremony he’s ever observed, so there were lots of questions about why they were saying certain things and who was who and what they were each doing, and so forth). He was very pleased that the prince was called William. “It’s a very special day,” he said. “I lost a tooth, and they’re getting married!” Then I got to remind him that we could watch the Endeavour launching this afternoon when he gets home from school, and I thought he was going to burst.

He’s such a cheerful kid. He drives me to distraction sometimes, but on the whole I’m horrendously proud of him, and what’s more, I like him as a person. There’s a world of difference between loving your child and liking him. I like how he thinks, how he experiments, how he talks, and how he laughs. He’s an interesting, likeable person.

He is genuinely excited about the baby, makes suggestions about things to buy for her or plans for things to do with her, and hugs her a lot. In fact, there have been several times lately where he has thrown his arms around my waist and I put my arms around him to hug him back, and he has said, “No, Mama, I’m not hugging you, I’m hugging the baby.” A couple of weeks ago I said that the baby’s hearing was getting so good that she could hear us talking now. “Really?” he said, then leaned over close to my abdomen and said, “Hello in there!” I thought HRH was going to choke on his laughter in the kitchen. The six-year gap between them initially concerned me a bit, but I think he’s really at a wonderful age to help take care of her, and also to understand that we’re going to be a bit preoccupied this summer and fall. Understand does not equate like, of course. And I recognise that the reality of a new baby may be different from whatever it is that he’s envisioning at the moment. But overall, the general consensus is that he’s going to make a terrific big brother.

He turns six in six weeks. All the long-sleeve t-shirts we bought him at the beginning of the school year are now two inches too short for his arms. In order to get pants that are long enough for his legs we have to use styles that have the adjustable buttoned elastic at the waists and cinch them as tightly as we can. His weight doesn’t seem to to have budged; he’s just stretched all over instead. I know his shoe size increased by one this winter. I think he’s hazily planning three birthday parties: one for family, one for school friends, and one for his grown-up friends. His actual birthday weekend will consist of the family party, and then the next day is his very first recital. We didn’t think he’d be doing a solo, just playing in the ensemble pieces, but our teacher is considering having him play his most recent exercise, and I think he’s quite excited about it. (He reserves the right to change his mind, though, which I am also fine with. I’m the one who lays out the programme, after all.)

I stopped by the luthier to renew the rental for his cello for another two months, which will take us a couple of weeks past the recital. I am, I have to say, very proud of how conscientious he is about sitting down at 7:30 each morning to run through at least three exercises, and how much he generally looks forward to it. I’ve noticed that it takes him about two weeks to process a new exercise: the first week he’ll refuse to do it each day, then the next week he’ll try it the first day, attempt to propose an alternative arrangement or adjustment it on the second, then settle in to do it properly the last few days. We’re working on stopping the D string with fingers now, which is huge, and his resistance has been more stubborn than usual for this exercise because it doesn’t make a nice sound yet. Stopping the strings is hard: it takes a lot of focused finger strength without clamping the neck between thumb and fingers, which is especially hard for young fingers, and when you try to combine it with pizzicato or bow movement things fall apart very easily. I have the deepest respect for Suzuki parents who don’t play an instrument, because practice sessions with the child are very involved with lots of supervision. I have no idea how I’d be handling it if I didn’t play the cello already. A while ago my online friend and fellow cellist Michael Tuchman said that if you’re discouraged about your progress, try showing a beginner how to make a simple sound with your instrument and you’ll see how much you’ve already internalized about the minute adjustments and balances required to play. When I have my cello out with the boy, I remember how hard it was to keep all my teacher’s instructions in mind at the beginning, how I couldn’t coordinate the bow and my left hand at the same time (I played pizzicato for at least three months before learning how to use the bow), and now I can do all sorts of things. I see this in orchestra, too, as we play orchestral pieces I played in the earlier years: I now fly through pieces that had me totally stumped at the beginning. (Strauss’ Kaiser Waltz is one of these; it was such a headache because it was so high when I first played it, but I sight-read it without much trouble at all the other week.) It’s hard to communicate that to a child who’s encountering hard basics, though.

My dad asked me a few questions about the Suzuki method while we were visiting last weekend, and I didn’t quite get the drift of what he was aiming at until I’d slept on it for a few days. The Suzuki method isn’t designed to produce professional musicians; it’s designed to introduce music into daily vocabulary, to communicate the basics of music theory and technique, and instill a love for making it in people. There’s the common misconception that Suzuki kids don’t learn how to read music but just reproduce what they hear on recordings, which is entirely untrue (otherwise there wouldn’t be Suzuki music books, now, would there?). The Suzuki method urges listening to music of all kinds, making it a part of daily experience. It also teaches methods of application and focus, which are kind of the same reasons why a lot of employers write up job listings and ask for people with a degree of some kind, any kind: they want to know that you’ve learned how to schedule and concentrate and apply yourself in a structured environment. Music lessons of any sort teach that kind of discipline, and I think we’re already seeing the benefits of the few months he’s had of lessons in the boy’s approach to things in general. In the same way that registering your kid for community soccer doesn’t mean he’s training for a pro career but is great experience anyway, the Suzuki method gives a child the chance to explore a whole bunch of stuff, including cooperation and learning to follow instruction and how to work on specific techniques to accomplish certain goals, all with the bonus of fostering a love for music. Applied to adults, it’s a different but not-unrelated kettle of fish. There’s a reason why the method is also described as a teaching philosophy: there’s the noted absence of negative feedback, with support for what you did right instead, then looking for a way to improve what can be improved. I beat myself up enough about getting things wrong; I don’t need a teacher to add to that. What I need is a positive, constructive environment that points out what I did right, and that’s one of the tenets of the Suzuki philosophy. The reading I’ve done on the method reminds me that as a parent, pointing out the negative things often isn’t as constructive as reinforcing the positive things and then reframing what needs improvement. Is it more work? Yes. Is it more beneficial in the long run? I certainly think so. I also find the theory that children can learn music by being exposed to it the same way the learn language fascinating, which was one of Suzuki’s original concepts when designing the method.

When I get my delivery cheque for the bird book, one of the things we will do is find him a secondhand cello, because that will be cheaper than continuing to rent. He is quite excited by this idea, too, and said, “Thank you, Mama,” when I mentioned it to him the other day. Have I mentioned that I like this kid? I think we’re doing okay with him. I suspect that any parent who has managed to produce a kid who requests broccoli on a regular basis has a reason to pat themselves on the back.

ETA: Drat, the Endeavour has been delayed 48 hrs over failed heater somethings. Boo.


It’s not a good place to be less than a week before deadline.

If this was a numbness born of overwork or a really good run, it would be different. But it isn’t. Instead, I find myself having difficulty maintaining a level of enthusiasm for a project that has been slowly morphing away from my original vision to something very much less than what it ought to have been, mostly in the last month. Production realities concerning rights and availabilities have dictated the changes and cuts, and there’s no way around them within the book’s design and instruction. We’ve proposed alternatives, but they’re not happening.

I feel like I’m marking time, and this is somewhere I never wanted to be. I like to be proud of my work; I like to be excited about it. I’m sure that by the time this book’s proofs come back to me I will have come to terms with its new format and be fine with it, but I need to be at that point now in order to keep giving it my all. But since the latest round of cuts arrived just before I left on holiday I only got to apply them today, and it had a pretty depressing impact on my productivity. I had to handle rewrites concerning the book’s outline, purpose, and mandate in the introduction and first half, and it was disheartening.

I just want it done so it can be someone else’s problem for a while (not that I want my wonderful, wonderful editor to have to handle even more problems surrounding this project, as she’s already juggled lots of them and rescued some of what was slated to be cut — and this is the two weeks leading up to her wedding!). The irony is that in order to get it done I have to be motivated, and I’m having difficulty mustering the energy for that at this level of work-related depression.

I do want to stress that just because this book isn’t going to be what I had planned for it to be, it’s not going to be a poor quality product. It’s going to be something different, that’s all, and I will know it’s different, and that’s what makes me sad. In theatre and creative writing we talk about the audience/reader not seeing the gaffer or masking tape holding everything together, and this is a similar situation. I will always know what it could have been, and therefore what it is not. It is going to be a beautiful book, I do know that; the interior and exterior art are spectacular.

Oh, birds. I love you so much. My file of deleted material is bulging with wonderful stuff. I’m holding onto it in the hopes that we can publish an expanded edition some day, or insert the bonus material in the e-book version. But I’m also not holding my breath.

Easter Weekend and Baby Stuff

We had a lovely weekend visiting my parents. The drive was a challenge for me, as I usually need a day to recover from a long drive, but this time I had the extra physical challenges of pregnancy on top of my regular fibro issues to deal with. (It is truly astonishing how sore one’s core muscles get when one is pregnant and stuck in a car for seven hours, even with a lumbar pillow.) The weather was fabulous; warm, sunny, windy. My mother took the boy out for a movie, gelato, and some shopping on Saturday so HRH and I got to have some time out by ourselves, which was nice, too. Easter dinner was the usual tour de force everyone has come to expect from my mother’s kitchen (slow-cooked lamb!), complete with the best red wine I have ever tasted. She also taught the boy how to make chocolate ganache, which I think is an excellent skill for any almost-six-year-old to have.

One of the things HRH and I did on our day off was visit a children’s clothing store, which happened to be conveniently located next to the store HRH had to visit to buy new jeans. We realised that we had no idea what little girls’ clothing looked like, so we wanted to do a quick recon in order to steel ourselves. Amusingly, when we stepped into the store, we both turned left toward the boys’ section; we have to retrain ourselves. The girls’ clothes were mostly not bad with a lot of it being very acceptable and some of it downright sweet, although there was a small selection of the expected sequins and sparkles and ruffles and gaggingly cutesy sayings (note to people thinking of gifting us with any of these: please don’t, even if you think it would be funny). The cloying saturated pink seems to have been replaced by a paler version, thank goodness, and there was plenty of pale green and lavender and a nice chocolate brown on the racks, too.

The Easter Bunny stopped by Nana and Grandad’s house, and the boy found all seventeen of his hidden Easter eggs (or so we were told when he woke us up; apparently he found one and decided there must be more, and undertook his own egg hunt before anyone else got up). There was a basket of presents at the breakfast table, too, and the boy cheerfully opened the Owlet’s gifts as well as his own, being absolutely delighted by the tiny girl onesies, sleepers, and dresses. The Owlet now has a decent selection of clothing, what with the new stuff in the Easter basket, the sleepers Ceri’s mom brought up (thank you, Carmel!), and the box of family stuff from my cousin’s two little girls.

This seems as good a time as any to say that while we appreciate the slew of offers of baby clothing and general baby stuff, we did have a baby ourselves six years ago, and so we’re pretty set. We know there will be token gifts of new things, and every baby should have something new, but as much as we appreciate everyone’s generosity we really don’t need boxes of baby clothes. We’re set for equipment as well (and this is where I give a wholly deserved shout-out to Leah, who passed along equipment to replace some of ours that we initially borrowed, that we lent and wore out after seven kids, or came back broken). Of course, if there are one or two special pieces of clothing you want to offer us because you think they’re adorable and deserve to be worn by someone else again, that’s fine and we would be touched, but general bags and boxes of stuff really aren’t necessary.

In other clothing news, I finished one of the knitted origami baby shoes, and am an inch away from finishing the squares for the second one:

We have hit the third trimester and the Owlet is doing just fine. My last ultrasound, scheduled specifically to investigate for high-risk issues, discovered that I am actually less close to preterm labour than I was a month ago, so my doctor is very pleased indeed with my treatment. People keep telling me somewhat dismissively that I’m not very big at all, which I’m sure is a compliment in their view, but I’m just about the size I was when the boy was born so I’m actually a month ahead of where I was last time. I’m so petite that the bump may not seem big to them in comparison to other women who are larger than I am to start with (which is, let’s be honest, 99% of the female population), but taken within context of my body size and shape it’s big. The baby is right on schedule for her gestational age, too. I’ve grown out of two or three pairs of my go-to maternity pants… no, not grown out of, actually; it’s more that my shape has shifted and so the cut no longer sits comfortably, so they have to be cycled to the bottom of the box of maternity clothes, woe! The weather is finally warming up, so I dipped into the box of summer stuff to get a break from the same old clothes I’d been wearing for the last four months. I’m glad it’s just about warm enough to leave jackets open, too, because my polar fleece is about ten days away from no longer zipping up at all.

It’s hard to believe that at this point last time, I was five weeks away from a baby. At least this time the book gets handed in three months ahead of our due date, instead of a month. (And yes, I am knocking away on my wooden desk as I type that.) Funny story: We got new music last week at orchestra, among it Die Fledermaus overture. We sightread it and I frowned, asking our principal if we’d played this before, and she confirmed that we had. The sheet music looked like it had a note or two on it in my handwriting, in fact, but while it was familiar, I couldn’t remember ever having performed it. Upon consultation with the rest of the section after the rehearsal, it turns out that this piece was part of the mostly-Tchaikovsky programme we presented six years ago for Canada Day, a programme that was personally awful for me because of key signatures and rhythms, and, coincidentally, I ended up missing because I delivered a premature baby two and a half weeks before the concert. We found this very amusing, since it’s been programmed again when I’m pregnant. If anything happens, I will personally blame Johann Strauss Jr.

Round One: Done

I just finished the last bird entry in Birds: A Spiritual Field Guide.

This completes my rough draft. There is work still to be done, namely expanding point form information in the first half of the book about historical divinatory practices involving birds into actual paragraphs (yay, haruspication!), checking facts I’ve highlighted, rewriting a rough meditation or two, and that kind of thing. Having had to cut five birds for sure and possibly five more due to art issues has brought me in at almost 8K under my target word count, which is making the most of a bad situation, as from here on everything just gets bigger.

But essentially? That’s all editing and polishing. And then I will obsessively check how I’ve presented the info in each entry, and wibble about how some things don’t fit, and how some entries have piles and piles of cultural mythology and folklore and others do not.

I have an introduction to write for the companion journal over my Easter holiday as well. I should copy my roughs to a USB key right now as well as printing them out to scribble on. And then it will all be handed in on May 2.

Now, if you don’t mind, I am going to go fall over.

Idle Schedule Dreams

Maybe it’s because I’ve felt shackled to my desk for the past couple of months and a horrible winter, but I’ve been dreaming of what I’ll be able to do when this book is handed in on May 2.

– Actually go to the yarn store, where I have not been since early December, to pick up the copy of Spin-Off Spring 2011 that they’ve had aside for me for over a month. Pat yarn. Buy spinning fibre.

– Head over to Debra’s house with an empty box to sort through her little girl clothes and abscond with some. Also, have tea like real human beings.

– Actually shop for baby things. Not that we need a heck of a lot; we’ll be borrowing used stuff from others to replace our equipment that wore out/came back damaged/expired. It’s more the principle of the thing: I’d like to actually have one or two new things for this baby. I do need to start collecting samples of cloth diapers for newborns, though, to have on hand for when the baby comes home so we can test them out and see which brands/style suit her best. Some of this has been dependent on cash flow, as well, so I haven’t been able to jump on excellent used deals on Craigslist and the like for things like infant car seat stroller frames and sets of used cloth diapers when they’ve come up.

– Nap.

– Stare out a window for a while and not feel guilty.

– Possibly do a photo session with Tamu. Do recon on photo studios for an actual family portrait, something we’ve never had done, ever.

– Start spinning the warp yarn for the baby blanket (May), and then weave the baby blanket (see, I am already planning into June!).

– Order the fabric online for the baby’s blanket that the boy wants made for her. Start assembling the bits for the mobile he has designed. (Both of these feature the boy as designer/director and me as executor. Sigh.)

– Schedule a playdate or two.

– Finish knitting the garter squares for the baby booties and origami them together.

– Go to my doctor’s appointments and ultrasounds (the regular and the extra oh-dear-you’re-high-risk ones) without feeling stressed because there’s work piling up at home.

– Play the cello. (I have one. Not that you’d know it if you lived here.) Prep for the June recital.

– Start planning the boy’s sixth birthday parties, Family Edition and School Friend Edition.

– Read.

– Sort through what baby equipment we do have on hand that is usable and needs cleaning/repacking/set up. Not that we can set anything up in our bedroom till mid-July. No, there will be no nursery till around Thanksgiving when the attic office is done.

– Do the tax stuff. That was scheduled for last month; it didn’t happen, nor did it happen this month, because there was too much work. And since we’re first-time homeowners there’s a pile of unknowns that needs to be ascertained, like what we can write off, what receipts or proof of whatevers are required, and so forth.

– And… work. Sigh. Eventually the edits on the bird book will come back, and I’ll have to address those, and I know they will not be the “oh you have six things to handle and that’s it” that the hearthcraft book had; these will need more attention. But I am looking forward to the more regular paycheque that copyediting yields. Pay vs energy/time input, copyediting gives better value than writing, I have found. That’s sad but true.