Paris the Ninth: Versailles and Class’s end

Was going through the drafts in my draft box and found this. No time like the present to post three year-old photos! Except perhaps three years ago.

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This is an update of the amazing trip I took to Europe last summer three summers ago. Slowly but surely I’m posting about every day I spent on that excellent continent. To read earlier updates, click herehereherehereherehereherehere and here. And here. And here and here and here and here and here.

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My favourite thing to do in foreign countries is ride the city bus and get off at any stop that looks interesting, then walk around until my feet are sore and hop back on the bus. I did that this day and discovered Canal St. Martin, a darling little area with street performers and picnickers and bridges at regular intervals. I walked down the canal way too far going one direction because every time I thought I’d turn around I’d see another lovely shop or vista that I had to investigate. It took me like two hours to get back and by the time I did the buses weren’t running as frequently so I was quite late getting home. But I didn’t get mugged, so the day was a success.

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The steps of Versailles. As a preadolescent my mom bought me a series of books about prominent girls in history, written from their own (fictional) perspectives, and my favourite was about Marie Antoinette. Knowing very little about French history at that point, all I took away from the book was how wrongly she’d been treated. Of course there was more to it than that, but her story stuck with me anyway. I felt she was my own personal famous friend. So going to Versailles was a huge accomplishment for me, a goal I’d set years before that I never really expected to achieve.

However, when push came to shove, I had already spent my allotted budget for the day and tickets to see inside the actual palace were too expensive for me. Plus we only had two hours there and I really wanted to explore the gardens. So I did, and although I do feel bad that I didn’t see either the palace interior or Petit Trianon, I know now that if I set a goal to get back there someday I will. So all is not lost.

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While we were there a terribly ominous storm rolled in and we got poured on. Luckily I had my umbrella I purchased the day we got poured on in Chartres, and I ended up sharing it with a middle-aged mom and her teenage daughter. They were from Texas and the girl was probably the most stereotypically whiny American teenager I’ve ever met in real life. She was miserable, her cell phone didn’t work, why did they have to come to this stupid garden anyway. I wanted to shake her but instead I bit my tongue and thought, “Someday you will regret this.”

She probably won’t but it made me feel better.

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While I was waiting to meet up with the rest of the group to head back to the train station, I spotted this slug on a bush. It struck me as the most profound analogy for life: there I was at Versailles, a palace and estate legendary in its meticulous opulence, where the groundskeepers were literally walking around with cardboard cut-outs and scissors trimming each bush by hand to uniform size and shape, yet even they could not outwit the slugs.

Oh well.

Our crappy hotel was in a region of Paris far far away from all the historical parts of Paris. It was called La Defense, so named after this square tower. Many years ago when I nannied for a French family, the father of my charge told me as we drove past La Defense from a distance that he used to work in an office in that building. When I actually walked up to it and was able to see it in detail I became slightly less bitter about the horrible location of our lodging. I mean, look at it: it’s pretty neat.

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But all the cool architecture in the world couldn’t make up for the blisters I got from having to walk substantially more than we would have if we’d stayed somewhere closer to the hot spots.

Three years and I’m still not fully over it.

Oh well.

Posted in awesome., French, It's All Good, looking back, photos, Travel | Tagged , | 15 Comments

Routine, or The Days of Our Lives

I’m three weeks into being back at work and I am finally getting into a groove. Most of the time our days look something like this:

Hutch in the AM

5:30-6:00—Hutch wakes up crying in the next room over. In the morning he always wakes up crying, never babbling happily. (Or maybe he does babble happily for awhile and only cries when we don’t come for him… All I know is I am dead to the world until I hear those tiny desperate shrieks, and then my day begins.)

Hutch Destroys Blinds5:31—Kyle or I get Hutch, change his diaper, get him a bottle, and bring him back to bed with us where he proceeds to maul our faces or the blinds for the next hour, punctuated in nine-minute intervals by the sound of Kyle’s alarm. Kyle snoozes his alarm seven or eight times before he finally gets up in the morning. I hate it. It’s the worst part of my day. If things ever don’t work out between the two of us I can guarantee the couple’s therapist will pinpoint Kyle’s absurdly long wake-up routine and my inability to cope with it as the main cause for our marital troubles.

Hutch and Mom in the AM6:30—As a confirmed non-morning person, I was depressed to realize that my day really does go better if I just get up at 6:30 and face the day. If I buck up and do this, Hutch is usually tired out and ready for a nap by 9:00. If I don’t and instead fight with Hutch to go back to sleep until 9:00, naptime doesn’t come until 1 and then lasts so long he doesn’t get tired again at night until like 8 or 9 and it takes close to an hour to get him to bed, and the day is just completely buggered. The grown up thing to do is to get up at 6:30. I’m working on growing up.

7:30—Poor Kyle leaves for work, and I use his goodbye kiss as the real start of my day. He leaves and I finally get out of bed officially, though I’ve been awake at this point for over an hour.

Hutch and Sippy Cup7:30-9:00—Get up. Feed Hutch, usually some sort of chopped up fruit plus a little yogurt and/or oatmeal. Have for breakfast whatever food he didn’t want. Let him wander through the house destroying things while I try to get some work done. Give up on that and give my son some attention: read books, go on a walk, twice we’ve even had a dance party like what the good moms blog/brag (brog?) about doing and he looked at me half like I was crazy and half like I was the greatest and best person he’d ever seen. (My song of choice was “Bad Girls” by M.I.A., inspired by a recent marathon viewing of The Mindy Project. Which you should watch so it doesn’t get cancelled.)

Hutch at Naptime9:00—Give Hutch anther bottle and then lie down next to him in our bed. For some reason when he naps in his crib he inevitably wakes up crying after 20-40 minutes, never to nap again, but when he has a nap in our bed it lasts for 2-3 hours. And if I nap with him the whole time it can last up to four hours. (I’ve done it. Don’t think I haven’t.)

9:00-11:00—Work.

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11:00—Hutch wakes up, happily babbling this time if he’s slept long enough, crying if he hasn’t. If he’s still cranky I lie down with him and he usually falls right back to sleep. If he’s babbling happily I usually go in to find him already on his hands and knees waiting for me to rescue him from the edge of the bed. We have lunch together, usually punctuated by demanding yelps on his part because I can never seem to think of anything healthy to feed him quickly enough. I need a better system for that.

Hutch and Mom at Desk2Early Afternoon: If I’ve gotten enough done in the morning we will have the afternoon to play, run errands, etc. This time of day is hard because he’s not quite old enough to be entertained for long by toys or books or much of anything. The only thing he is guaranteed to love for more than 10 minutes at a time is a walk, which can be exhausting for me. I mean I would probably love walks too if I was being pushed around in a carriage with shocks beefy no-flat tires and a full UVA/UVB-blocking sun shade, but we can’t all be His Majesty the King.

3:00 or 4:00—If I play my cards right and don’t let Hutch fall asleep on our walk or drive (if we happen to walk or drive anywhere), he is usually ready for another 2-hour nap around this time. If my work is done I use this break to pee uninterrupted and start prepping dinner or doing laundry. Sometimes I also just eat a bowl of ice cream and zone out on Instagram. No shame in that.

5:00—Hutch wakes up. I don’t know if it’s because he’s felt neglected all day or just because he’s sick of my face, but for whatever reason this is when he starts becoming whiny and demanding. It’s also when I become very excited for Poor Kyle to get home.

5:45—Poor Kyle gets home. Both Hutch and I are glad to see him. The boys play. I pee again.

6:00—Dinner.

6:30—Dinner clean up, Kyle bonds with Hutch, I read or do more chores.

7:30—Bedtime routine begins. For awhile we would take turns giving Hutch a bath and bottling/putting him to bed, but as of late we’ve gotten into a pretty steady routine of Kyle doing bath time and I doing bedtime. Kyle is more fun to have as a bath-giver, and I am more patient to have as a bed-putter when I haven’t just spent the last 20 minutes being splashed in the face by an energetic toddler. Plus if Kyle is the one to put Hutch down I often hear the two giggling away in the nursery when Hutch is supposed to be winding down—I think Kyle just can’t resist those tiny little giggles, and I can’t blame him because he doesn’t get to hear them any time throughout the day like I do. So it’s good. While Kyle is bathing Hutch and getting him jammied, I spend 30 minutes or so outside watering my flowers and my vegetable garden. It’s probably my favourite time of evening, when the sun is lowering and I can enjoy the fruits of my labour. Sometimes if Kyle is done before I am he brings Hutch outside, freshly bathed and so happy to be outside, and we visit while I finish my work. I love that.

8:00—I get Hutch’s last bottle ready. (I don’t know what we are going to do when he stops having formula next month! Do we still do bottles but just with milk or do we switch to sippy cups altogether? I don’t know how I’ll get him to sleep without a bottle. I mean it’s happened before but it’s rare.) I rock him in his nursery with the blinds shut and lights out. He chugs away happily while I say prayers and then sing my favourite songs for him: “By Oh By Baby” and “Guess How Much I Love You, Hutch,” (a cpsf original composition). If it’s a good day he knocks off before the bottle is even finished. If it’s a bad day he finishes his bottle and tries to escape my lap and explore some more. Either way we usually come to an agreement and he falls alseep by around 8:30. I give him 100 rocks in the glider from the time his eyes shut until I put him in his crib.

8:30-11:00—Free time! Unless Hutch wakes up (which is becoming more rare but I never let my guard down—when you let your guard down is when they get you. Toddlers can sense parental confidence and will crush it).

11:00—Bed time.

And it starts all over again in 6 hours.

For one of those people who seriously needs—needs—eight hours of sleep in life, I feel I’m coping surprisingly well.

Posted in family, hutchface, It's All Good, kid stuffs, Married Life, thisandthat | Tagged | 2 Comments

Static Progress/Progressive Stasis, or What’s been happening with me

I decided not long ago that I need to stop stressing about writing beautifully and start worrying about simply writing. And writing simply. So today I wanted to get back to the basics of this blog and share a bit about what’s happening with me.

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Hutch's First Canada Day

At 11 months old Hutch got to experience his very first July 1st, aka Canada Day, aka the Pride of Mayberry. Every July 1st our whole town triples in size from all the family reunions that are scheduled, and there are three full days of festivities and merriment. This year Hutch got to experience his first pancake breakfast, his first Canada Day parade, his first family reunion, his first dirt bike ride, his first kernel of popcorn, his first firework show, and his first mosquito bite (of many). He did not get to experience his first 2k, 5k, or 10k, nor did he get to revel in the joy of the rodeo or motocross. His parents are mean I suppose.

Hutch's first dirt bike ride

I made him wear this vintage (judging from the polyester fabric, the cut of the overalls, and the retro font on the shirt, I’m guessing 70′s-era) outfit that I’d bought nearly a year before, back when he was still in the womb. I found it in a pile of clothes at a yard sale and would never have paid cash money for it but the seller threw it in with everything else. I thought he looked adorable and hilarious. Poor Kyle thought he looked absurd. He wouldn’t let me keep Hutch in it all day, so all I have are a few quickly snapped photos, but it was worth it. It’s probably even worth keeping for the next several years so that any other children that might come our way can carry on the tradition.

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On July 2nd my year-long maternity leave ended and I started back to work. (No, Hutch has not turned one year old yet. I actually took a month off before his due date to get things ready around the house because it turns out an 8-month pregnant woman working full time in the heat of summer has very little energy to nest, despite her best intentions.)

My boss has been amazing and agreed to let me work 1/2 the time I used to work, and from home. When I tell people this they usually express extreme awe and happiness for me. I usually agree—it’s very good fortune to have such a flexible company and boss to work for. Getting into a routine and learning to balance Hutch’s demands with my job’s demands has been stressful, but I can’t deny it has been nice to have creative projects on my mind again.

I’m still having tech issues with working from home, the main one being that my internet is pretty slow. As my job is 90% internet-based, this has become extremely problematic for me. Kyle and I are discussing switching providers and upgrading to the fastest package—to the tune of almost $200/month—but the main deterrent is that, well, it will be almost $200/month. Absurd, I know.

A friend and I were discussing this not long ago and we both agree that free, fast internet should be an inalienable right. Everyone should have it, everywhere, always. #dreamworld

In other news, I started hashtagging my own blog posts. #weird #orcool #youchoose

As the end of my maternity leave drew near, I found myself reflecting on the past year, mainly in the sense of all the regrets I have. I did accomplish as much professionally, economically, creatively, or house-designally as I had planned to back in July of 2013. Back then, before Hutch was born, I expected maternity leave to be like a year’s paid vacation. I had visions of myself working out, taking walks, juicing veggies on a regular basis, sitting in my pristine house and cuddling my baby for exactly 11 months. In addition to that, I also planned on writing triple the amount I’d been writing on this blog, submitting work to be published, finishing my manuscript for my book, starting a garden, and learning Cantonese.

As it turns out the only major things I actually accomplished over the past 12 months were visiting Arizona three times with my baby, and keeping said baby alive.

It’s disappointing to fall so very short of one’s own expectations, but I’m getting so good at it that pretty soon I will come to expect such failure of myself, which will be perfect because, as a chronic failer-of-expectations, I will fail to meet even that newly lowered expectation, and the only way to fail at failing will be to achieve greatness once and for all—at last. Meaning, of course, that I will have passed through the entire spectrum of failure and emerged the other side victorious. And successful.

That’s the idea anyway.

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In more other news, Hutch has officially become a whirlwind of destruction:

Hutch Whirlwind#lilshit

Posted in blogger finger, failures, hutchface, introspection, It's All Good, parenthood, self-actualisation | Leave a comment

On Hutch at ten months

Hutch is so much like a tiny little puppy that I’ve actually taken to calling him Puppy as a nickname. He bounces (the human equivalent to a wagging tail) when he’s excited (which is often), he pants and drools and gives the most ridiculously slobbery kisses. He follows me around on his hands and knees and begs for food, and when none is readily available he’s perfectly happy to eat fallen pieces of Cheerios off the floor under his high chair. His fuzzy little head is excruciatingly pettable and he loves having the spot behind his ears scratched. Also, he’s been known to play in toilet bowls (though he hasn’t sunk so low as to lap water from one yet).

Hutch and Punkinhead 10 months

The two things Hutch loves most in this world are his parents and toilet paper rolls—specifically unravelling them. We’ve taken to closing the bathroom doors when we’re not in them (see above re: toilet bowl antics), but on the rare occasion that he finds one open, he crawls to it at the speed of a very fast infant, positions himself on his haunches directly beneath the toilet paper roll, and tugs at it gleefully until it’s either completely unravelled (at which point he begins the daunting but obviously necessary task of eating it all), or one of us whisks him away, whichever comes first.

He is almost equally obsessed with the shiny stainless steel interior of the dishwasher door, the sound of which opening can draw him from literally any room in the house within fifteen seconds. It also makes doing dishes sort of cumbersome.

When I need a few minutes to get chores done without my little puppy underfoot, I start a load of laundry in the washer. Yesterday I did this and Hutch crawled up to it, settled in a few inches away from it, and sat transfixed for twenty minutes. When I checked on him about five minutes into the show, I saw he’d picked up a Cheerio from off the floor and was munching on it mindlessly, never taking his eyes off the spinning waterworks before him.

Not related: how do Cheerios travel so far in such a small space of time? I start most mornings by sweeping or vacuuming the house in anticipation of Hutch’s daily rounds, and by 10 a.m. I can usually find a Cheerio on the floor in nearly every room of our house. I will pay the researcher who can study and identify the cause of this phenomenon. (Payment made in tweets. Or pips.)

Hutch grinds his eight teeth (four on top and four on bottom) any time he doesn’t have a soother in his mouth for more than a few minutes, like he’s still kind of in awe of those sharp protrusions in his mouth. The noise is maddening but the face is adorable.

Hutch's Scrunchy Face

In the morning when Poor Kyle’s alarm wakes Hutch up at 5:50 a.m. (which it almost always does), I or Poor Kyle bring our sad and sleepy baby into bed to (with any luck) catch another few hours of sleep before the day begins. When this works, the heavens rejoice. When it fails, my day is ruined. I love my baby but I love him more when he lets me sleep. Sensing this, and knowing he’s on thin ice, Hutch bumbles adorably around the bed, four-by-fouring over pillows and blankets and parental limbs until he finally reaches his ultimate goal: the blinds shading the window above our bed.

He stands there, propped against the wall, flicking the blinds’ lowest slats contentedly for about ten minutes until one of us finally wakes up enough to realize the mayhem he’s causing. We lay him back down and it starts all over again. When he’s bored of that game he stops, looks between the two of us, and chooses which of our heads to maul until we fully wake up and give him the attention he deserves.

He almost always chooses mine.

Hutch and Me 10 months

When his dad comes home from work and tiptoes around the corner of whatever room Hutch is in to peekaboo hello, Hutch grins and squeals like he’s been given the greatest gift imaginable (a lifetime supply of toilet paper rolls is my guess). He then proceeds to crawl his little pigeon-handed monkey crawl as fast as he can to the outstretched arms of Poor Kyle.

Bouncing ensues.

Hutch and Poor Kyle on Train

Sometimes people ask me if I remember what life was like before I had this baby. I do—I remember well. I remember sleeping in lazily, waking to the sound of the cottonwood leaves rustling in the breeze outside our window. I remember luxurious showers not interrupted by tiny hands slowly inching the curtain over to reach in and grab the faucet. I remember Costco trips that took fifteen minutes, and when “in and out” was not a punchline but my reality.

I remember so many aspects of my life before this child, and while I didn’t set out to glorify parenthood—there’s enough of that on the internet to last us all our lifetimes—I can’t help but acknowledge how in the end, it actually is really very glorious.

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A Good Hurt

I keep hearing about mothers whose babies have died, and I feel heartcrushingly sad. I don’t know how I would deal with the loss of my son, and sometimes when I think about it—trying to prepare myself for the horrific worst—I become paralyzed. What if I lose him? What if he runs into the street chasing a frisbee and gets hit by a car and in a moment he’s gone? Or what if I get cancer and die next year, and he has to grow up without me? And if Kyle remarries, then what? I want Hutch to have a happy life but I also want him to hate his stepmom out of loyalty to me.

Baby Hutch 10 MonthsBut because I know this paranoia can become toxic if I let it, I tell myself to take deep breaths. Zen-like, I acknowledge that losing Hutch is a possibility but that it hasn’t happened yet, and that I ought not waste time worrying about it while I actually have him here with me, for however long it may be.

I hope it’s like 80 more years.

Hutchface 9 Months

Even still, I’m not always mature enough to drop it so easily. Sometimes I let the anger toward Hutch’s stepmother fester inside of me until I feel like punching a wall. Other times I feel the sorrow at the hypothetical loss of my son as though I’m the one being hit by the car instead of him. And of course I would take it gladly.

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I think briefly of a boy I kind of dated a long time ago. I really liked him but one day he said to me, “Life is too sad. I don’t want to love anyone because everyone dies and all the people I love will leave me. It’s easier just to be alone.” I thought he was weird and depressing for thinking such things, but I know now it’s only because I’d never really loved someone that way.

And strangely enough, that moment became a defining point for me. Things didn’t work out between us, but I’m still glad I knew him because I will always have lived through that moment: that moment when I decided that I couldn’t—or wouldn’t—go through life so hopeless. I hated his outlook. I preferred to think of all the good that could come from letting people in, rather than dwelling on how much it would hurt when they’d eventually leave me.

Of course it’s harder now that I’m a little older and have actually known a love I’m terrified to lose. I can see where that boy was coming from. I get it.

It would have been so much easier to tell Kyle no, to walk away and leave him in Canada while I moved to New York and did something posh with my life. It would have been so much simpler if we had never created another little human to look after and protect and love. I would have never had to feel this preemptive pain, this agony of waiting and worrying. I could have been happy with my novels and my Netflix watch list and the occasional bike ride through Central Park. I might have died alone but at least my only sorrows would’ve been that Alias was cancelled and that I lost out on some promotion.

Hutch and Mom

But I didn’t come here to have it easy. I came here to grow and learn and improve myself and others. I want to leave this world better for my presence, not just flit through life making no impact on anyone, ever. I remind myself how discouraging I found that boy’s attitude all those years ago. I recall how jaded he seemed to me, and remember how I never wanted to feel like that.

Family Photo April 2014

I have found joy in this life! I have giggled with my baby boy until I thought we both might collapse under the sheer giddiness of it all. I have looked at my husband with love and respect and a mutual understanding I wasn’t sure I’d ever feel for anyone. And I’ve found joy in my own work, too—in the daily progress check on my garden, and the burn of a good downward dog, and the words that sometimes flow from my fingertips, and the way I can help people with my gifts and talents.

My life is not perfect, but I love it so much it literally hurts sometimes.

It’s a good hurt, though, and if I lost it all tomorrow at least I had it once.

Posted in awesome., family, hutchface, Married Life, Poor Kyle, what I'm about | 4 Comments

My First Square Foot Garden

As you may know, I have long aspired to maintaining a certain level of crunchiness in my life. I recycle, I walk or bike instead of drive whenever possible, and I really really want a hybrid. I’m practically Ed Begley Jr., for pete’s sake. (Does it make me less green if I actually typed Ed Begley Jr.’s name as Ed Helms first? I had to look it up because I was pretty sure it wasn’t right. Turns out they are not even remotely the same celebrity.)

Anyway, so as a good wannabe crunchster I have tried gardening in the past. I’ve even tried composting. But my half-A efforts never took, mainly because I am a very lazy and impatient gardener and I could never keep up with the weeds that grew from not preparing the soil properly. Some of the weeds even got to be six feet tall at the height of my backyard shame.

But, my friends, those days are gone. I am older now. I am more mature. And my skills at nagging have improved to such an astounding degree that Poor Kyle didn’t really stand a chance at *not* making me a square foot garden box.

And so it happened that last month I fulfilled one of my lifelong dreams: to plant a square foot garden. As a bonus, the box is even raised to about waist height, so the level of exertion I put into my daily gardening is about zero.

Raised Square Foot Garden BoxHere it is about three weeks after planting. The top row is, from left to right: sweet elite tomato (with basil in the box to hopefully ward off bugs), snow peas, green beans, orange pepper, cucumbers, and FS-100 tomato plus basil. Bottom row: marigolds (for pest-deterrents), beets, chives, cilantro, yellow pepper, and radishes.

We (and by we I mean Kyle, of course) used the plans illustrated here on Instructables (great website). It cost about $100 in materials and about $100 more to fill it with the special Mel’s Mix that is supposedly like crack for plants (but that mix will last forever in the box, so it was a one-time purchase). It wasn’t big enough to plant everything I wanted to grow, but my gardening history is so unpromising that we decided it would be better just to start small and then build more boxes next summer if we have any degree of success this year.

Plus I bought a bunch of cheap planters for the deck that I filled with leftover Mel’s Mix, and I’m hoping that will extend my harvest a little bit. I’m not sure if they’re big enough to get any real produce out of, but it was a fairly small investment so if it fails I’m not out too much money. (Emotional investment is another story: I tend to take it rather poorly when my plants die.)

Deck Planter PotsPlease excuse our deck that is in desperate need of refinishing and instead focus on the pots planted with lettuce, broccoli, basil, strawberries, onions, more cilantro, and more peppers. Not pictured: citronella plants (hoping they’ll help keep mosquitos away from the deck) and a potted mint that is seriously thriving. If you want to feel good about yourself as a gardener, plant some mint. It seems impossible to kill.

Also not pictured: the five raspberry starts that a friend donated to my cause. I probably won’t get berries off of them this year, but they are already sprouting little offshoots and looking very healthy, so hopefully I’ll get some next year.

In more aesthetic news, I also bit the bullet and spent another almost-$200 on flowers for the front yard. I feel like they look so pretty when I’m standing there, but in this picture they look a little sad. Oh well; they make me tremendously happy all the same.

Front Walkway Flowers

The purple falling-over potted plant in the bottom right corner is lavender. I thought I’d be all fancy having lavender on my front porch, but I realized I don’t actually know how to care for it or what to use it for. It seems happy but I need to figure out how to give it more support. Maybe I need to plant it in some actual dirt? Anyone know how to care for a lavender bush? Or what to do with it once you have some?

The highlight of my front yard flowers was buying two hydrangea bushes from Costco (pictured near the middle of the photo, just above the potted plants at the start of the walkway). I think hydrangeas are some of the most gorgeous flowers in the world, and I’m really having high hopes that I will get some blooms from these. I don’t know if I’ve given them enough space, but they’ve been there for about three weeks and are budding new leaves, so I’m guessing they’re happy enough. But no sign of any blossoms yet.

Anyway, that’s my gardening update. I once thought that since I was so bad at gardening I would probably be equally bad at parenting. Turns out that neither one is quite as hard as I’d assumed, especially with the help of the internet.

Then again, those sound like some pretty famous last words…here’s hoping that my plants and child live through the summer.

p.s. After much deliberation, Poor Kyle and I have decided to tear out the three giant poplar trees in our front yard. I have always loved their beauty and shade, but Kyle has always hated their sap pustules and leaves. A part of me feels like the worst hippie in the world for cutting down mature shade trees that really are very stunning, but from everything I’ve read they are kind of like the pinky toe of trees: weak and not good for much of anything (besides shade and photosynthesis, I guess). They really do make a huge mess every time we have a wind storm, which is weekly in Mayberry. I’m rationalizing this decision by vowing to plant something better in their place. 

But I’m still a little sad about it. 

Especially since the tree man said that I would probably lose most, if not all, of my flowers in the process. I guess they don’t stand up well to giant tree limbs falling on them. So that’s a bummer.

Posted in awesome., garden, Green Living | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

What I’m Reading: Month 5

NON-FICTION:

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother Cover by Amy Chua

Published back in 2011 when I was pushing through the last semester of my Bachelor’s degree, I vaguely recall hearing controversial discussions of this book on the radio. Something about how intense Chinese mothers are.

“That sounds interesting,” I thought to myself, “maybe I’ll read it when I’m not so saturated.”

Three years later my friend Geneva recommended it to me and within minutes I had it downloaded to my phone. Two days later I emerged and immediately opened my laptop to write this post. I wanted to remember all my thoughts before I fell asleep.

This book was, and is, very controversial. Back when I first heard about it on the radio I must have misunderstood, thinking it was written from the perspective of a Chinese daughter about her fanatical mother. I was surprised to find it was actually the other way around: a fanatical mother’s recollections of raising her daughters the “Chinese” way. So be prepared for that.

First, the positive: I found it well-written and engaging, and I didn’t want to put it down. (Though I do believe that “can’t put it down” feeling was a bit of a tease, as the majority of the book built up to some sort of tragedy that never actually happened [although, playing devil's advocate, I suppose some might argue that the ending was tragic for the author...but certainly not by any normal parent's standards, i.e. death of a child or loss of a spouse.])

Another positive: it helped me weed out at least one style of parenting (the mean kind) I’d like to avoid while raising my child. Since having Hutch I find myself reading every article and book I come across on childrearing: handling temper tantrums, giving children what they need, unplugging, being present. I confess I’ve been feeling overwhelmed by it all: To spank or not to spank? Time outs or time ins or time aways (these are all different and each has the potential to ruin your child, it seems)? Allowance or chore charts or both? How to make sure he doesn’t get addicted to porn? The decisions seem endless and for once it’s refreshing to identify a style of parenting I absolutely do *not* want to consider using on my own child.

And now for the negatives:

• Chua foreshadows so freely and ominously throughout the chapters that I was certain the book would end in some sort of tragedy, presumably with the suicide or accidental death of her youngest daughter (the one she butted heads with to an astonishing degree), which would lead Chua to realize how silly her obsession (pushing her daughters to excel at music) had been all those years. SPOILER ALERT: That didn’t happen. The “tragedy” at the end was actually that the youngest daughter rebelled so violently that Chua finally agreed to let her quit violin in pursuit of…no, not drugs or the slave trade, like the tone would have you believe…but tennis. Tennis. An admirable pastime. How anticlimactic. Like I said above, I suppose from Chua’s perspective this was quite tragic, as she ended up allowing her daughter to quit just like all the “lazy American parents” she’d so viciously berated. But in the grand scheme of things tennis is not so bad.

• I was very annoyed to realize that Chua did not attend any of her daughter’s tennis matches until quite some time later, despite having dedicated hundreds of hours to carting that same daughter around to violin lessons two hours away, and sitting with her during practices daily. In my opinion a parent’s job is to support the child in that child’s (positive) pursuits, even if those pursuits aren’t necessarily the parent’s first choice. So your kid wants to quite violin to play tennis. So you’re mad about it. You’re still her parent. Go freaking represent.

• Throughout the book I kept thinking, “This is ridiculous. She is wasting so much time fighting with her daughters about practicing their music that she has no time left over to enjoy just being with them.” Again, I suppose it’s all about perspective. For Chua, the enjoyment comes when seeing her daughters perform flawlessly onstage. For me, I’d take a flawed performance and quality family time any day.

• Because I read the e-version of the book, I got to read an afterword written by Chua six months after the initial publication of the book. In it, she explains her surprise at the horrible outlash the book caused in the States, and goes on about how it was really meant to be funny and self deprecating. I was shocked. Throughout the entire book I never laughed a single time, and never picked up on even the remotest sense of self deprecation. The author seemed haughty, smug, and satisfied that her way of parenting was the best. Even at the end when she conceded to her younger daughter, she still attributed her daughter’s success with tennis largely to the way she’d been taught the violin. Perhaps on a second reading I might be able to find that sense of humour Chua insists was there, but it’s my firm opinion that if humour has to be searched for then it’s really not that funny. The fact that no one took the book as a joke (even the people who like it seem to approve of its accuracy and successful child-rearing techniques, not because of its witty satire) tells me that she probably needed a better editor if “satire” was her goal.

• The story she tells of refusing to let her daughters take off practicing their instruments for even one day to spend time with their grandmother, who was begging to see them, makes me want to curl up and cry. It’s just so sad.

Not necessarily  negative but noteworthy:

• The excerpts of media reviews on this book’s Amazon page are all notably lacking any real praise. When normally you might see “Amazing! An insightful work that brought tears to my eyes!” or “Chua’s voice is a revelation!” on the back of a book cover, instead the “praise” for the book read more like facts: “Brutally honest,” “thought-provoking,” and “resonant” are all there, but none of them actually say it’s a good read. So there’s that.

• I was reminded while reading that I was actually born in the Year of the Tiger myself, technically making me a Tiger mother, too. I hope that doesn’t bode ill for poor Hutchy.

Final Score: 6/10 (Not less because it actually was an interesting read and thought-provoking, but not more because it certainly wasn’t a life-changing or even remotely appealing lifestyle.)

•••••••

FICTION:

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close Book Cover

This book was recommended to me by a co-student in my Creative Writing class, again back in my senior year of college. The guy who told me about it said that something I’d shared in class reminded him of this book, which immediately made me feel like I would one day be a great and published writer.

I put it on my list of books to read, but finals overtook my life, followed by a trip to Europe that I never finished blogging about, followed by getting a job and feeling too tired to read ever again.

But now that I’m reading again I remembered it, and thank goodness. I really enjoyed it.

CONS:

• There were a couple of sex scenes; not too graphic, but graphic enough that it is slightly awkward for me to recommend this book to others. I don’t know why I have that hang-up—it’s not like I was the one writing sex scenes—but for some reason just knowing that someone is going to read a sex scene that they’ll know I read makes me feel weird. The annoying thing about sex scenes is that they are almost always irrelevant to the story, whether in book or film. Except for cases like Atonement, where the sex scene is literally the whole reason there is a conflict at all, I think they are just a distraction. It’s almost like authors include them because they feel it’s not great literature unless there’s sex. And of course because sex sells. It’s too bad, really. I hate sex.

• This is definitely an artsy book, another reason why I can’t necessarily recommend it to all my friends without hesitation. Me, I spent years pouring over just such works and analyzing them to pieces, so I’m both used to and fond of artsy literature. For people who prefer a more straightforward read, however, I can’t say to read it. It will probably drive you crazy.

PROS:

• I was a sophomore in high school (Grade 10, Canadians) during the September 11 attacks. I was so clueless. I remember feeling like, “Bummer,” about it, but my main concern was that we would end up going to war and all my high school guy friends would get drafted and probably die. Which was a valid concern, I suppose, but looking back it seems so very trite. I had no idea what so many Americans suffered—and still suffer—because of those four hijacked planes. Even years later, as I matured and understood a bit more what it was all about, I still never fully grasped the extent of that day. Reading this book changed that for me. The minute I finished it, I opened my laptop and researched it for hours. I had no clue, for example, that there are actually conspiracy theories that claim the attacks were promoted by the U.S. Government. I had no clue that the total casualty count was 3,000. I had no idea how truly horrifying those last moments must have been for the people trapped in the towers. I was just so clueless. In that way, I can say without doubt that reading this book changed my life. I am ashamed of how clueless I was for so long, and I am glad that I finally took it upon myself to learn about such a horrifying piece of my country’s—and my own—history. (Obviously, a less-clueless reader might not have quite such an eye-opening experience of this book, but I think you’ll find it’s a moving story all the same.)

• The ending was unsatisfying. But I realized that that’s exactly how so many Americans—even beyond Americans, as there were many people from other countries working and visiting the towers that day—feel about their lost loved ones, and somehow that makes it quite fitting and ultimately satisfying in its own way.

• I loved that the narrative was so fractured and out of order. For me, it reflected the chaos of those days and months, and I found myself thinking of some of the Modernist literature I studied in school. Modernism, both in art and in literature, came out of the post-war (World War 1) era, and some generally accepted themes of the time are chaos and fractured-ness. The jumbled paintings of Picasso reflect this especially, and in literature books like Generals Die in Bed, All Quiet on the Western Front, and A Farewell to Arms utilize this same kind of chaotic narrative. Many theorists attribute this style to the confusion and disillusionment so many felt in the wake of World War 1. The whole time I was reading Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, all I could think about was how the fractured, confusing narrative was just as reflective of the times as Modernism was of 1915 on. In other words, reading this book made me feel smart. Double plus.

Final Score: 9/10 (Not less because of above life-changingness, and minus one point for unnecessary sex scenes.)

•••••••

As it turns out May was a big month for my literary intake! I also read:

The Selection by Kiera Cass
The Elite by Kiera Cass
The One by Kiera Cass
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling
All New Square Foot Gardening, Second Edition by Mel Bartholemew
The Ladies Auxiliary by Tova Mirvis

In the interest of time and not boring whatever few readers I might have left, I have decided to review only the books from the above list that anyone specifically asks me to review. I have lots to say about all of them, so don’t feel bad for making me work if you want to hear my reports. It’ll be good for me, probably.

 

 

 

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