Signal boost: this one’s for the folk lovers

You know those people you meet and instantly you know they’re a kindred spirit? That’s how it was with my friend Jill. Although we only got two years or so of in-person friendship time before I moved away, we’ve kept in touch through the intervening years and all the changes they have brought.

Jill is a gifted singer-songwriter, currently based in Arnprior, Ontario. Recently she guest hosted an episode of Canadian Spaces on CKCU, highlighting a number of Ottawa-area folk singers, interviewing and being interviewed, and playing two of her original songs. The whole program is worthwhile, but of course I want to particularly highlight Jill’s interview and singing, which start at around the 42-minute mark. Listen here!

Emotional states for which the English language has no precise word

The mix of admiration, curiosity, and chagrin when you google your flunk-out elementary school bully and find that he now owns a law practice and is heralded for his professionalism and gentlemanly conduct;

The surprising burst of tenderness when you unexpectedly come across a photo of the aging parents of a former friend you haven’t seen in twenty years;

The ineffable consciousness of future loss triggered by the body heat left behind in your toddler’s doffed sandals;

Realizing that the entire purpose of a cat is simply to be a cat.

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.

Some housekeeping

This blog is about to move to its own domain at

Everything should migrate on its own and you will not have to do anything except to enjoy the new absence of intrusive wordpress ads, including if you are subscribed to posts here via email or RSS feed. If you access the site via a bookmark in your internet browser, you will need to delete your old bookmark and make a new one at the new website (Grandma: call me!).

This post will be followed by a test post within an hour or so just to make sure everything is working. We will then return to our regular posting schedule of “hmm, I haven’t blogged in a while”.

And then there were roses

We continue to reap the fruit of others’ labour here in our garden, most lately exemplified in our three or four rose bushes, which went from buds to full blooms seemingly overnight. I can’t tell how many bushes we have right now — which is strange, I know. There’s a clump on our back fence which may be one or two separate plants, but the garden in front is so en-junglefied at the moment that I haven’t made it back there to check. I don’t know if the gardens were just that well fertilized, or if there’s something about the city we live that encourages crazy growth, but the ferns are chest-high. Chest high! Not that I’m especially tall (full disclosure: I’m 5’5) but that’s tall enough to be above my children’s heads. It’s wild.

This has been such an interesting season of discovery around our house, maybe especially so because we don’t go anywhere else. I remain tremendously grateful for the blessing of this big backyard, and, as we say, for the hands that prepared it. Right now we are learning about what we have. Next year, we’ll begin to add our own shape to it. But for now, simply to watch, experience, and gather is more than enough.

How to wash cloth diapers with an HE top-loader

When Anselm was a baby, we happily used cloth diapers until he was around a year and a half old. I was pregnant with Perpetua then, and knew we were moving into a shared-laundry situation, so I gave my cloth stash away to an expecting friend and we used disposables. Now with Tertia we’re back to cloth diapers — with one major change. Instead of the old-fashioned top-loading washing machine I had when Anselm was little, we now have a high-efficiency machine. And while that’s a good choice overall, surprisingly, it makes washing cloth diapers a lot more complicated. There’s a lot of information out there about how to wash cloth diapers in a front-loading HE machine, but not so much for top-loaders. So, after considerable trial and error, here’s what I’ve found works best.


I use what are called pocket diapers: there’s an outer cover (pictured above — surely the world’s cutest laundry) and an inner pocket which gets stuffed with an absorbent liner. I found that when I followed my previous washing routine, the liners would get clean no problem, but a lot of the poopy covers would stay dirty. Which  is gross. The trouble with the covers is that they’re waterproof — and while ordinarily this is a very good thing (!) it means that the water is only really getting at them from one side. They need a lot more agitation than the liners do, and the HE machine just doesn’t agitate enough. At least not without some tricks.

1. Bulk up the load by adding other laundry

I seem to get the best results when there’s more laundry in the tub, not less — about 1/2 to 2/3rds full seems ideal. It’s best to bulk up the load with items that are the same size or smaller than the diapers, so that they won’t wrap around or capture the diapers and keep them from getting washed. Good choices are wash cloths, kitchen towels, burp rags, and baby clothes. These items will help to rub and scrub everything clean, and also add to the overall weight of the load — this is important with an HE machine since load weight determines water usage.

2. Trick the washer into using more water (but not too much more)

Before I wash the diapers, I do a short cold-water soak, just long enough to get everything really sopping wet. Then I turn the machine off, which allows it to drain out the excess water without spinning the laundry. Since the liners are super absorbent, this makes the load very heavy, which means that the machine will use more water when I do the proper wash.

Just doing a deep-water wash (as opposed to a sensor-driven auto-fill wash) actually doesn’t help, because a full tub has too much water in it: the diapers have too much room to move around in that case and so don’t rub against each other enough. But if the laundry is artificially heavy, it adds just enough extra water to get things moving against each other without totally swimming.

3. Move the laundry to the outer edges of the tub before washing

This was suggested to me by someone on reddit: move the laundry to the outer edges of the tub so that there’s a hole in the middle. I have to move the laundry anyway after soaking so that I can pour in my detergent, so it’s not much extra work to give everything a good shove out from the centre. I’m not sure why it works — something something physics — but it seems to help.

4. Use your washer settings wisely

Ok, time to wash! Moving from left to right on my washer, this is how I set my… settings:

  • Soil level: heavy (duh, it’s full of pee and poop)
  • Water temperature: hot (ditto)
  • Cycle: power wash (on my machine, this is the cycle that gives me the most agitation. It might be “whites” or something else on yours.)
  • Rinse: 1 rinse (I haven’t found more than one rinse necessary)
  • Water level: auto-sense

I don’t go crazy with the detergent. Some cloth diaper guides recommend using a full capful which is, frankly, kind of insane. As long as you’re using actual detergent, following the instructions on the side of the bottle should be fine. I use Arm & Hammer and fill the cap to line 3, which is about halfway, and that’s plenty. If things are sudsy after the rinse, you’re using too much.


And there you have it. I still occasionally have a cover or two that needs to go through a second time, but this is the best way I’ve yet found to get things going with my HE machine. I’ve also ordered some agitator balls (not to be confused with the woo-woo laundry balls that are supposed to magically clean your laundry without soap, because… magnets?) which I hope will provide the last piece of this particular laundry puzzle. But in the mean time, this is working well.

Weekend Reading: Reboot

Weekend Reading is a weekly collation of 3-5 articles that have caught my attention, published on Saturday mornings. Previous editions can be found here.

Okay, so “weekly” may be a bit of an exaggeration, considering that I missed, hmm, the entirety of 2019. But that’s ok; after we stop, we begin again. Here are some pieces that have recently caught my attention.

1. The Weirdly Enduring Appeal of Weird Al Yankovic (New York Times Magazine)

The crowd was rolling through tantric nerdgasms, sustained explosions of belonging and joy. It felt religious. Near the end of the show, during the chorus of “Amish Paradise,” as the entire stadium started swinging its arms in rhythm, I unexpectedly found myself near tears. Weird Al was dressed in a ridiculous black suit, with a top hat and a long fake beard, and he was rapping about churning butter and raising barns, and everyone was singing along. I could feel deep pools of solitary childhood emotion — loneliness, affection, vulnerability, joy — beginning to stir inside me, beginning to trickle out and flow into this huge common reservoir. All the private love I had ever had for this music, for not only Weird Al’s parodies but for the originals — now it was here, outside, vibrating through the whole crowd. Weird Al had pulled off a strange emotional trick: He had brought the isolated energy of all our tiny rooms into this one big public space. When he left the stage, we stomped for more, and he came back out and played “Yoda,” his classic revision of the Kinks’ “Lola,” and then he left again, and I decided that this was the single best performance of any kind that I had ever seen in my life. Weird Al Yankovic was a full-on rock star, a legitimate performance monster. He was not just a parasite of cultural power but — somehow, improbably — a source of it himself.

2. Why the Coronavirus is so Confusing (The Atlantic)

The confusion partly arises from the pandemic’s scale and pace. Worldwide, at least 3.1 million people have been infected in less than four months. Economies have nose-dived. Societies have paused. In most people’s living memory, no crisis has caused so much upheaval so broadly and so quickly. “We’ve never faced a pandemic like this before, so we don’t know what is likely to happen or what would have happened,” says Zoë McLaren, a health-policy professor at the University of Maryland at Baltimore County. “That makes it even more difficult in terms of the uncertainty.”

But beyond its vast scope and sui generis nature, there are other reasons the pandemic continues to be so befuddling—a slew of forces scientific and societal, epidemiological and epistemological. What follows is an analysis of those forces, and a guide to making sense of a problem that is now too big for any one person to fully comprehend.

3. Meet the ‘jiggle daddy’: inside the weird world of niche Facebook culinary groups (National Post)

Albala’s fascination with the quivering medium started last summer when a friend dared him to join Show Me Your Aspics. With nearly 40,000 members, the four-year-old Facebook group caters to a very specific community: people with a shared passion for all things gelatinous. It’s a rabbit hole of slo-mo jiggle videos, glossy objects of gelatin flower art, disconcerting vintage finds, and wiggly experiments savoury and sweet. It’s also the perfect example of how delightful it can be to surrender to a far from serious pursuit in very serious times.