Book drunkard

I have no doubt that it is a wise ordinance of fate — or Providence? — that I cannot get all the books I want or I should certainly never accomplish much. I am simply a ‘book drunkard.’ Books have the same irresistible temptation for me that liquor has for its devotee. I cannot withstand them.

— Lucy Maud Montgomery, 4 April 1899, The Complete Journals vol. 1, p. 432

Apropos of nothing

I recently had to call a doctor’s office about some scheduling. According to their voicemail introduction, patients are forbidden to leave messages during the following times: on weekends, on holidays, after 4 pm, and while the office is closed for lunch. Which makes me wonder: what exactly do they suppose an answering machine is for?

Open Letters

[This post has been rescued from my drafts folder, where it has been languishing since late 2018. Please rest assured that Perpetua has since sorted out traffic lights.]

To the fruit flies in my bathroom:

Seriously, what is the deal? What are you even living on? Do you know that I have bananas in the kitchen?

In puzzlement,

Christine


Dear Maryland drivers,

If you look closely, on the left-hand side of your steering wheel you will find a lever that is in easy reaching-distance while you drive. Flicking that lever up will cause a light to blink on the right-hand side of your car. Flicking that lever down will cause a light to blink on the left-hand side of your car. These blinking lights serve to notify other drivers of your intent to change lanes, turn, or otherwise move your vehicle in a non-forward direction. I know I’m going out on a limb here, but you might find them useful.

Think about giving it a shot,

Christine


My darling daughter,

I love your passion for the world around you! I feel as if it would be remiss of me, however, if I didn’t point out that screaming will not change the fact that red means stop and green means go, however much you wish it were the other way around. It is one of life’s great tragedies that we cannot change reality simply by feeling at it. I am sure we will continue to unpack this truth as you grow. In the meantime, please just watch some Daniel Tiger until you feel better.

Your doting Mama


To the lady on our street who walks her cat every morning:

I just want to say that I admire your gumption. You go, girl! Walk that cat!

Meow,

Your admiring neighbour

Sic transit gloria Samsung

My cellphone is dying.

My cellphone is dying, and I am rapidly cycling through the stages of grief. Denial: repeatedly rebooting in hopes that it will magically fix things. Bargaining: trying to appease my phone by deleting unused apps and updating the rest. Anger: my CloudLibrary app won’t open and I’m halfway through a giant fantasy novel and I’m second on the holds list for a physical copy and I need to know what happens next, what is your problem, phone?? Depression: none of my apps work, I can’t even respond to texts, my phone is useless, nothing will ever be good or right in the world ever again. Acceptance: ordering a new phone from our provider. Oh, it’ll take a week to get here? Back to anger we go!

It’s got me thinking, though: it’s funny how quickly we adjust to an object’s functionality, and how destabilizing it is when it breaks. My first cellphone — and I was a relatively late adopter, so this was only about a decade ago — could basically do two things: make and receive calls, and send and receive text messages. I think there was a simple game on it, Brickbreaker or Snake or something like that. My second phone had a slider keyboard, which was pretty awesome, but not much more functionality except for a very minimalist and difficult to use internet browser, and a camera that took incredibly low-res pictures. That phone eventually stopped being able to receive calls (I think it was), which roughly corresponded to our move to the US, so I got a cheap copycat-Blackberry from AT&T that got me through school. Again, this phone was minimally functional: bad pictures, phone, text, and I don’t even remember if it could get on the internet or not. I think it might have, but it was so much of a pain to do that it wasn’t generally worth the time.

And then came our big move post-graduation, for which my husband and I both updated to actual smartphones. What a world opened up! Apps! Games! Google maps! Beautiful pictures from decent cameras! Internet! Email! I chose a Samsung Galaxy S7, which was small enough to fit in my purse with ease and, unlike the Note 7, was not prone to exploding. Because I have the natural coordination of a drunk toddler, it was carefully outfitted with a screen protector and shielding case. (Side note: these did their jobs remarkably well under difficult circumstances; the only damage that actually got through to my screen was when a toddler Perpetua decided my phone would make an excellent teething toy.) That was five years ago, and five years is a pretty good run for a smartphone. A really good run, actually, and in that sense I suppose I don’t have much to complain about.

But complain I shall — even though the chief mal here is that my phone will only do the things that used to be the only things that phones could do. (Except for my messaging app crashing, which it didn’t do yesterday but is doing today, and which I hope might surprise me and start working again. Oops, back to denial!) I’ve gotten very used to being able to send an email while I’m nursing the baby, or to put on a podcast and stick the phone in my pocket so I can listen while I clean or fold laundry. I’ve come to rely on GPS when I’m driving somewhere new, and count on being able to quickly look things up online no matter where I am in the house, or whether I’m even in the house at all. These things that used to be novel conveniences have become expected essentials, and suddenly being denied them has left me, well, floundering.

I’m vexed at this loss of functionality. I’m vexed at how vexed I am. And I’m coping less well than I might because lovely, darling, beautiful Tertia has recently decided that sleep is for chumps and weaklings and has been holding me hostage accordingly.

My cellphone is dying. And please, pretty please, I would like it back.

How to cook a hot dog

When I think back on the glory days of my adolescence and young-adulthood — those magical years when we were all far more beautiful and brave than we had any idea of at the time — I don’t think about any particular athletic or academic prowess. I think about the hot dog skit.

Thursday or Friday nights at camp are beach supper nights, one of the last things to happen before everyone goes home on Saturday. We stay down at the lakefront for an extended swim in the afternoon and then it’s always the same: the cooks ride down from main camp, the truck full of hotdogs and buns, baked beans, huge coolers full of juice and water, s’more ingredients and sliced watermelon for dessert. Someone starts the fire and the campers slide here and there around the bleachers, trying to avoid the smoke as it shifts in the wind. There is a stick that is used to draw a circle around the campfire, inside of which campers Must Not Stand. And there is the hot dog skit.

There are always two of you: the safety-conscious one, and the idiot. Play the idiot; it’s more fun. Start in the boathouse and scavenge anything you can to make yourself look weird. Shove a tub up the front of your shirt or a beach-ball up your back. Gird yourself in three or four life-jackets, bedeck yourself in goggles and whistles and pool noodles and whatever is around. Put on a stupid, vaguely-German accent. Brandish your roasting stick as if it were Excalibur as you rush towards the bleachers, yelling that it’s okay! You have arrived! And now you will teach them all how to cook their weenies! (Never a hot dog: always a weenie. No, sorry: veenie.)

There is always a vague script to these things. The idiot puts the hot dogs on sideways; Captain Safety shows her how to put them on lengthwise. The idiot stands too close to the fire, puts her stick in the wrong place, sets her hotdog on fire (if she can) or drops it in the coals (if she can’t). Captain Safety blows her whistle in alarm and corrects all of these blunders. The idiot says veenie about six times per sentence because it never fails to get a laugh.

If you’re the idiot, you know where this is going and you are glad your stomach is strong.

You do it just like you did last year and the year before. You and your skit-mate have this down to a science now. After your hot dog has been set on fire and/or dropped in the coals, you drop it in the sand on the beach and give it a good stomp just to make sure all the flames are gone. But now there’s another problem: your hot dog is sandy. You look Captain Safety in the eyes — morituri te salutant — and then you dunk your hot dog in the lake. By this time there is a low rumble of dismay rising from the bleachers. Is she really going to –?

Oh, yes. You really are. You grab a bun from wherever you’ve put the props, or maybe someone hands you one. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you slam that bun where it belongs and then you take a big, slow-motion bite of your charred, sandy, lake-glazed frankfurter as eighty tweenaged girls cry out in horror. It is disgusting. It’s the grossest part of your week but you chew that sucker and since you’re already this committed, most of the time you swallow it too. In for a penny, and all that. Somewhere deep down inside you hope that you don’t pick up anything weird from the lake water, but you know that it’s worth it, just like it was last year and the year before, just to hear them scream.

In praise of “y’all”

I wrote an email recently that went to a number of people. It started “Dear y’all,” and I was struck anew by how glad I am to have absorbed this word into my vocabulary. When you live away from your home country, it’s always interesting to note the ways it changes you as time goes on: the foods you eat, the way your accent shifts (or doesn’t), words that enter or leave your vocabulary. I would never have imagined myself as someone who uses y’all, frequently and sincerely — but I do. And I think it’s one of the most useful words I’ve picked up in a long time.

Canadian English doesn’t have a lot of great options for addressing groups of people. There’s “you guys”, which is serviceable, but which is informal and somewhat clunky — and anyway, some women don’t like being called “guys” and so you run a risk of low-key offending. There’s “folks,” which my husband uses sometimes,  but again, it’s pretty informal and doesn’t always suit. “People” sounds bossy. “Youse guys” sounds ridiculous (sorry, New York). “Ye” sounds very strange if you’re not a Newfoundler or Quaker. “You” is ambigious because it can be either singular or plural. And don’t even get me started on “yinz,” which is — amazingly — even more ridiculous than “youse guys” (sorry, Pittsburgh; I speak this truth in love).

Enter y’all, which might be the perfect second-person plural.

Y’all is adaptable: neither formal nor informal. Y’all is gender neutral. Y’all refers to two people with as much ease as it does to two thousand or two million. Y’all carries warm natural overtones of Southern hospitality. What a useful word!

We don’t plan on staying in the United States forever. At some point we’ll return to the Great White North with our American children, our relentlessly flattening/flattened vowels (cuppah cahffee, anyone?), the freedom of not using pennies, and the anticipatory joy of finally being able to find decent tea at any grocery store. And, of course, with the word y’all. It’s just so convenient; I hope y’all understand.

Explore more: Y’all, You’uns, Yinz, Youse: How regional dialects are filling a void in standard English for a plural pronoun | Florence Y’all Water Tower | America Needs Y’all

Justifiably delicious

This post is a rescuee from my drafts folder. It was written but not published in late 2011 or early 2012, when Stan and I were engaged. Please note that I fully stand behind the sentiments expressed herein.  

In a way, I love being sick. Being sick is like being handed a license to indulge yourself; it’s amazing how many things suddenly become justifiable once you’ve got the sniffles. Stay in bed and watch an entire half-season of Dr Who? Why not? Call your financé to ask why he hasn’t been calling to check up on you? Sure! Everything goes when you’re sick.

And then there’s the matter of dinner.

It goes something like this:

  1. Hmm, my throat is really sore. What’s good for sore throats? Honey is good for sore throats.
  2. I’ll eat this spoonful of honey. Nom nom nom… Ooh, look, there’s still leftover honey cake!
  3. Honey cake = honey (good for sore throats!), plus eggs (protein!) and flour (grain!) and things (nutrition, ahoy!). Maybe I’ll eat some honey cake.
  4. Hmm. This is really crumbly. I’ll put it in a bowl.
  5. I wonder if this would be good with milk?
  6. Wow, I’m eating cake cereal for dinner.
Don’t look at me like that. It’s probably still healthier than Lucky Charms.

Little library, big font

It was with great delight that I read an acquaintance’s facebook post last night, announcing that our little town now has its very own Little Free Library. She had driven past the unveiling ceremony on her way home; the library box is set up in the nearest park, in between the post office and a mechanic’s.

As much as I love the idea of little free libraries in and of themselves, I’m especially glad to see one in this town. We’re in the rust belt, the industry around which the town was built died off several decades ago, and things are both depressed and depressing. From a height of 20,000+, the population has fallen to about 7,000. There is a lot of negative thinking from long-term residents, and many attempts to open new businesses or otherwise improve things are met with gloomy prophecies of failure.

Now, I understand that I’m a newcomer — and transient — and that I can’t personally compare things now with the town’s heyday (c. 1960s-70s). But actually, things don’t seem that bad to me. We like it here. The town has some problems, but where doesn’t? We love that there is still a front-porch culture here. We love how friendly people are on the street. Overall this is a pleasant place to live and we’ve enjoyed seeing little hints of how it can become something more: a new ice cream shop, a fantastic hyper-local news site, a hotel, etc. Things are happening.

The little free library box, to me, is a sign of hope for this little town. It’s a sweet little something that says hey, we’re here, and we’re a community. Anselm and I went over to see it before lunch today; I picked up one book and dropped off two others, and I suspect that we will make many trips over the next year.

(What did I pick? The Thirteenth Tale, which I have read before but don’t remember at all except for the fact that I liked it. Unfortunately I did not notice that, annoyingly, this copy happens to be a large-print edition, so it will definitely be going back to the library box once finished, because I won’t own this sort of book until I have to.)

See? Isn’t that annoying? I don’t like reading large-print books because it’s hard to get a good flow going; the size of the print constantly draws my attention out of the story. On the other hand, I will admit that it’s hard not to feel like the Queen of Reading when you’re turning the page every 23 seconds. So, trade-offs.

At any rate, the thought of our new little library makes me quite cheerful, and I do hope that people embrace it. Onward and upward, little town, onward and upward.

Please tell me she's not one of them

Anselm has some neck issues — either from a birth injury or from just the way he was positioned while growing in utero — and so he gets physical therapy once a week. It’s a great program, actually. The county we’re in runs free early intervention services for qualifying children. The baby passed his initial screening, and so now we have a therapist come to our house once a week to do stretches and strengthening exercises with him. Her name is Michelle and we like her a lot.

Michelle has a son who’s about two weeks younger than Anselm, so it’s been fun to compare notes. She also has a daughter, who turned four in December. That means she was born in (count with me here) 2010.

Now, let’s try and remember what happened in 2010:

  • Haiti gets hit by a brutal earthquake
  • The Vancouver Olympics happen and all of Canada screams in unison (We love you, Sidney Crosby)
  • Eyjafjallajokull (which I did not know how to pronounce then and do not know how to pronounce now)  erupts
  • BP Oil runs into some trouble off the Louisiana coast
  • Spain wins the World Cup
  • The Chilean miners get trapped, and then rescued
And, what was it? — oh yes,
  • The Twilight series, featuring Bella, the twittiest twit in all of literature, hits the peak of its popularity. 
…..
Guess what Michelle’s daughter is named? 
(It may be coincidence, of course… but I’m glad that I decided I liked her before I found out her child’s name.)

7QT: I'm screaming in the rain, just screaming in the rain

Linking up with Kelly for Seven Quick Takes this Friday.

1. The other day I had to run over to the school to take care of something relatively urgent, but Anselm was napping upstairs and Stan wasn’t home. So I called a neighbour of ours and she came over with her son, who’s a month older than Anselm. I got home about ten minutes later and as soon as I got in the door all I could hear was screaming (in stereo, even, since the baby monitor was still on downstairs). Upstairs I go: R was in our bedroom trying to calm Anselm while her son lost his mind in the bouncy chair in the office. Anselm had woken up from his nap screaming — terrible habit — and had set off BabyJ, who set off Anselm, who set off BabyJ… a perfect feedback loop. We took both babies downstairs but there was no chance of a visit since whenever they laid eyes on each other the terrified screaming began again. Sometimes I am less than enchanted with babies’ empathic responses.

2. On the other hand, sometimes the empathy thing comes in handy. Once a week Anselm and I spend the afternoon at anther friend’s house, babysitting their son E while both parents are in class. E is about thirteen months old, and yesterday he slept so long that I had to wake him, which ensued in a lot of distressed… well, whining, really. But when I took him downstairs — “Let’s go see baby Anselm! What’s he doing? Baby Anselm is sleeping!” — things cheered up considerably, especially after Anselm woke up. He thinks that E is just about the best thing going; it’s hard to stay whiny when another baby is staring at you with the love-light in his eyes.

3. I am finally reading Susanna Clark’s brilliant novel Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, only ten years after everyone else did. I’m halfway through but I know that this is one that I’ll be reading over and over again — for the footnotes if nothing else. It’s a mystery why, but few things tickle my fancy like a footnoted novel (see also my feelings for Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus trilogy).

4. It appears that winter is finally over; instead we have entered the drowning time spring, which so far has chiefly manifested itself in significant amounts of rain. And thunder. And rain. And lightning. And rain. I don’t know why this surprises me since spring happens every year.

5. Speaking of things that happen every year, hey, Easter! It was a very quiet Easter for us this year — pretty much every Holy Week service happened either at naptime or bedtime, so I didn’t get to go to any of them except Sunday morning. But Anselm had his four-month vaccinations on Good Friday morning, so rest assured that there was still much reflection on pain, suffering, and travail going on in our house. I don’t know if vaccinations really count as part of the cruciform life, but I’m willing to make a case for it.

6. Anyone else on Reddit being driving crazy by The Button? To press or not to press? And if to press — to press when? I am spending way, way too much time thinking about this.

7. Meanwhile, as I’ve been reading novels and pondering a stupid button that does nothing, the baby has achieved mobility. Danger! Doom! He can’t crawl yet, but he can roll from his tummy to his back, and now from his back to his tummy, and he can certainly squirm. I haven’t fully integrated the fact that he’s mobile into my brain, though, so the days are frequently punctuated by exclamations of “How did you get there?” Time to start babyproofing, I guess. Also we should probably sweep the carpet.