Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Prepare for take off

My baby and I are flying away.

We're off to Washington, DC, to visit her auntie. Fortunately, it's a relatively short flight.

It's shorter than the train ride to see my mom. It's shorter than the bus ride to Ottawa. Heck, it's like a rush-hour drive to Laval.

I have yet to pack.

Back Sunday.

It was a dark and silly book

I recently read an article about Art Spiegelman and the state of comics and was inspired to investigate this phenomenon of a project. (God help me, that article was in none of the places I thought it would be... Took me forever to track it down again).

I don't know how, but somehow I came to read Spiegelman's Maus and Maus II shortly after the release of the latter in the early 1990s. Then I understood what a graphic novel was and could be.

Spiegelman is also responsible for the ghostly black-on-black post-9/11 New Yorker cover.

How pleased I was when this compilation was scratched off my wish list and turned up on my doorstep in time for Helena's birthday (and mine, too). It Was a Dark and Silly Night is extraordinarily silly. Most reviews indicate that it is the lesser in the Little Lit series thus far, geared more toward children than adults. If that's true, my inner child is much stronger than I ever thought. I can't wait to see the others in the series.

We planted a seed in some of the most fertile minds of the planet: cartoonists, novelists, and children's book artists. We asked them to start a story with the words: It was a dark and silly night. We wanted to know... "What happens next???"

What grew from the seed is this generous, chock-full, over-the-top jungle of silly comic book stories that show how rich the human imagination is. Lemony Snicket and Richard Sala imagined a dark and silly night where a young girl chases after a Yeti. Neil Gaiman and Gahan Wilson imagined a dark and silly night where kids throw the greatest party they ever had... in a graveyard! William Joyce tells us about kids whose Silly Ray saves the world from warrior florists. This collection of wild and silly imaginings will tickle your funny bone for years to come.

Lemony Snicket's tale is absolutely Borgesian. But my favourite is the upside-down world contributed by Kaz. I giggled a lot reading this book. Very silly indeed. And the puzzles are great fun, too.

Monday, November 24, 2003

Number 10

At least, we thinks it's number 10.

Upper right cuspid. That explains yesterday's misery.

I was hoping the doctor could give us a complete and accurate tooth count when we saw her Friday, but Helena wasn't letting her look either. We may not know about molars until they fall out.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Birthdays redux

Birthday #1. Helena. She seemed happy. I think she was a bit confused about having a bath in the middle of the afternoon, but it induced the nap that allowed to her to party all night.

She had presents throughout the day, including a funky purple Alphabet Pal (English), a wooden puzzle with electronic sounds, and a phone (French).

Most importantly, she genuinely likes the xylophone.

We went to my mother-in-law's for dinner. Cake. She made cake. I said something snippy, and went off for a short cry in the bathroom. If anyone was going to make my baby a cake, it was going to be me. (It had been agreed that store-bought would do.) Not that Helena would particularly care. Sigh. I proceeded to drink much.

The evening was noisy and long. Cake was served well after bedtime. Helena firmly removed the candle and deliberately placed it in my coffee cup. It floats! She was served a generous slice, which was promptly flung to the floor. Vindicated.

Birthday #2. Me. I woke up the next day with birthday wishes from J-F and Helena, which I acknowledged in something of a hungover fog. My sister phoned in her wishes at a respectable hour. I was still sleepy and confused, but I did finally get 'round to believing it:

It's my birthday and I'm 34 years old.

How unimportant. Now, last year's birthday was memorable. A day-old baby in our midst. Very chocolate cake smuggled into my hospital room. Me alternating between intense pain and complete drug haze. Those were the days. And that would be my last birthday. They don't matter from here on in. It's all about Helena now.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Happy birthday, Helena!

She woke up in a great mood this morning. I think she must know it's her special day.

No presents yet. One mylar-swathed box has attracted some attention (shiny!), but it seems the time is not yet ripe for unwrapping.

I'm about to make carrot muffins. Then I think we'll curl up to watch The Aristocats (a gift from my sister).

One year old! A remarkable accomplishment.

You learned to recognize my face, my voice. Your father's too. You learned to smile, to laugh, to express your joy with the world. You nursed. You comforted yourself to sleep. You made friends with the cats, and with Ginger Giraffe. You love books — turning the pages and reading along in your babble tongue, chewing them up.

You rode in cars, taxis, buses, subways, and trains. You excelled at yoga. You learned to roll over, and to roll yourself to anywhere you might want to go, and some places you probably didn't want to go, like over the side of the bed. Rolling, sitting, crawl-hobbling, standing, cruising.

Your body grew. And it grew more hair, and teeth, too. Months after you discovered them, your toes are still tasty, and your fingers can do increasingly amazing things.

You've developed quite the personality — you're a people person and a flirt.

You've made the world a better place for all the smiles you put on people's faces.

You will never cease to amaze me.

I love you,

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Celebration preparations

I'm worried about Helena's birthday. At first, no one seemed interested in marking the occasion in any special way. I came round to the fact that it would be just our little family of three staying in and having grilled cheese sandwiches and cake — intimate, really. Now, we're going to my mother-in-law's house. I suspect there may be more guests in store for us. I don't know what's for dinner.

I will bring cake. Black forest cake.

On Friends a couple weeks ago, it was Rachel's baby's first
birthday. Now I get it. Much anxiety. Silly, cuz she's one — she won't remember a thing. But I feel driven to make it memorable, symbolically at least. Or maybe I just want it to be picture perfect, like the snapshots from my first birthday.

The packages have been rolling in all week. I suppose I should save them all up for her to open at her "party," but It seems a shame that by then there will only be an hour or two left in her day for her to enjoy them.

I found the perfect gift, months ago already. I hope she likes it.

Dressing up baby

Baby clothes. Cute. Impractical. Poorly designed.

Helena's growth is textbook. Big at birth, but within weeks her height and weight were smack down the middle of the charts. Yet, sizing clothes can be a problem.

Do not baby clothes designers realize that babies wear diapers? Could they not design pants, shorts, underwear, bloomers, with a little extra wiggle room in the baby butt area? God forbid the little one might wear cloth diapers, as Helena does! Outfits look adorable — and proportional — on the hanger, but their reality is a little askew. Even though they look nice on, and may even be comfortable, it's often a tight squeeze and a struggle to get them on.

I am proud to say that Helena spent most of the first months of her life in pyjamas. The best way to ease into life (or one's day) — lounge about a bit, check out the surroundings. Socks, booties, vests, sweaters, headbands — I don't understand them. Why would parents do that to a baby, or themselves?

Autumn. The temperature has dropped. Since mid-October I've seen babies in the neighbourhood sporting the latest winter fashions. Deep-winter, sub-zero snowsuits. What do they plan to wear in January? I expect it'll be a bit colder then...

We actually went clothes shopping for Helena on Saturday — she has boxes full of hand-me-downs (including Baby Gap silks and velvets, and very groovy pyjamas), and handfuls of new outfits from every friend and relative she has, yet I felt the need to assuage my fears that she would be sadly underdressed (or undressed) through the winter. We picked out some casual pants and a turtleneck which she can mix and match with the rest of her wardrobe.

I hate pink.

Monday, November 17, 2003

The blogosphere

It is a small blogworld after all.

Jennifer Howard in Sunday's Washington Post writes:

"What began as the ultimate outsider activity -- a way to break the newspaper and TV stranglehold on the gathering and dissemination of information -- is turning into the same insider's game played by the old establishment media the bloggerati love to critique. The more blogs you read and the more often you read them, the more obvious it is: They've fallen in love with themselves, each other and the beauty of what they're creating. The cult of media celebrity hasn't been broken by the Internet's democratic tendencies; it's just found new enabling technology."

Every blogger Howard mentions has already blogged on this article. And they do seem every bit the Old Blogs' Club.

I'm glad to be introduced to Bookslut (as I continue to refine my blog circuit and my link list). But I'm generally weirded out about how tight-knit this community seems to be.

How do they all find the time to read each other every day? And how is a newcomer to make a mark?

1. Voice.
2. Audience.
3. More hours in a day.

Blog. Blogger. (Bloggee?) To blog. Blogosphere. Bloggerati. Blogarazzi. Blog-stalkers. Blogarama. Blog, blog, blog...

Which cat is that?

It's the cat in the hat. The cat wearing the hat. Not a kitty curled up snug inside some sombrero.

Like the girl in the bikini. The man in the grey flannel suit. Or better, men in black. The woman in Chanel. In fashion.

Dr Seuss's cat in the hat wears a hat. He at no time sits inside a giant fedora; he does not jump out of a prop panama. The hat he wears is silly, but it sits atop his head.

Of course, commercials are now running for the live-action version of The Cat in the Hat. The French version title is Le Chat dans le chapeau. Who tranlates this stuff? The cat is not literally in a hat — it's an idiomatic usage of the preposition "in."

The cat wearing the hat. The cat with the hat.

Le Chat au chapeau. That's what they mean.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Baby loves mango

Helena loves mango. Fresh sliced, for breakfast. Or for lunch. In her cereal. As a chutney, with beef or chicken. With yogourt. As a snack. Mango — anytime, anywhere.

Why doesn't Heinz produce mango baby food? They sell baby food jars full of apples, and bananas. How ludicrous is that?! How hard is it to mash a 10-cent banana? Not that mango is any more difficult — but it can be harder to find. It might generally be considered a more intimidating, "exotic," fruit. Would not everybody benefit from the people at Heinz exploring other food cultures and bottling the stuff for our convenience?

Or avocado.

Sometimes I think Helena eats better than we do. And I guess she should. Pasta with chicken and roasted red pepper yogourt sauce. Steamed zucchini with yogourt on pita.

Although, today Helena filled up on buttered toast. (I have days like that. Comfort. Must be the tooth.) I see her first grilled cheese sandwich in the very near future...

Lunch. Lunch has been difficult of late. I think texture has a lot to do with it (though, yogurt seems to make everything better). And the burgeoning independence — Helena's desire to feed herself. I've come to expect disaster at day's peak, and I'm learning to appreciate that this experiment in attitude does not happen first thing in the morning or as the day is winding down.

Interestingly, for the last week or two, when Helena's plate is empty (or when she wants it to be empty), she turns it over.

Number 9

Tooth number 9. Upper left cuspid. This might explain yesterday's crankiness.

I was expecting a molar, actually. And I thought we had another month or so before worrying about it. But Helena's teeth so far have all come in in atypical order — why should this one be any different?

So yesterday, Helena was likely in pain and not, as I had guiltily assumed, simply recovering from the previous day's lab-rat experience compounded with the bright lights and obnoxious sounds of fitting rooms and checkout lines I subjected her to afterwards. (But these comfy Gap jeans would still be so worth it!)

With every tooth Helena looks a little less like Bumble, the abominable snowman, and more like a real little girl.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Infant speech perception project

Once again, Helena and I headed out to McGill to participate in yet another language study.

I must admit, I didn't fully understand yesterday's experiment (I arrived in a cold, public-transit-riding–induced haze). This time, Helena listened to recordings of English "da" and French "da." That's where I get lost. "Da" being fairly meaningless in both languages, I assume the question is whether Helena can recognize that the syllable was pronounced by an English speaker or a French speaker, by the intonation, the "quality" of the consonant and of the vowel.

Again, I listened to jazzy tunes over some heavy-duty headphones so as not to colour Helena's responses.

The attention-getting mechanism for this study was a little different than for previous studies. Just one red light was flashed in front of us, but a monitor projecting a checkerboard pattern also faced us and periodically flashed on and off. I guess since the subjects for this study are about a year old and a little more sophisticated, so must be the methods to gauge them.

For her efforts, Helena received a T-shirt proclaiming her an Official Consultant on the Infant Speech Perception Project (School of Communication Sciences and Disorders).

Previously, we participated in a study of vowel contrasts — the difference between "heed" and "hid" as judged by Helena's reaction to them being piped in at the left and at the right. Since Helena was well-behaved back, the experimenters asked if they could take data for a music study another group was working on. Vocal versus instrumental music. They played a Chinese folk song. Apparently there's a clear gender distinction — girls prefer the sound of a singing voice. So on June 24, Helena received her first degree, "Honorary Infant Scientist Degree" according to the official-looking certificate — MIT, here we come.

On August 12, Helena was observed as part of a study to determine whether infants of a certain age can recognize unnatural sentence pauses. Her T-shirt identifies her as a Research Assistant to the Bilingual Acquisition Lab (Department of Psychology).

Human baby, lab rat, trained monkey, it's all the same. (Hey, it's not like we locked her up in the attic to see if she would develop language on her own.) Heck, it's all for science!

Sunday, November 09, 2003

8 women

French movie — part British mansion mystery, part Bollywood musical. Kooky.

Catherine Deneuve and Fanny Ardant get into a catfight and end up rolling around on the floor and kissing. How sexy is that?

Amazingly, after all the nonsense, these and the other 6 actresses come off as nothing less than chic and elegant.

Sorry to give away the plot...

I finished Kit's Law last night. My gawd! The melodrama!

It turns out it's the Reverend who took advantage of Kit's poor retarded mother and he is in fact Kit's father, but we don't know this till after she's gone and eloped with the Reverend's son, her half-brother, Sid, just after he's returned from a 2-year stint in jail, having taken the rap for the murder of that vicious thug the retarded mother ran 'round with, whom she actually killed when he was attacking Kit and Sid.

Ugh! Who writes this stuff?

Yes, the author evokes a great sense of time and place (though I found it distracting to have to muddle through the Newfoundland dialect — just not natural to my sensibility). But it's not as if the plot is even halfway believable. And the characters don't have any particular insight. These grand themes (well, let's see: dealing with the mentally unwell mother, incest, death, love, blah, blah) invite no real discussion. The ending is suddenly vague, airy, poetic — an amateur's trick to lend importance to the resolution. But I dislike this turn in authorial voice, and see no reason for the closing scenes to be put forth in any other than the straight-forward, matter-of-fact manner that preceded this mess.

But I finished it.

Can't believe it would've been offered up on the Canada Reads People's Choice list.

Friday, November 07, 2003

Nothing to read

After receiving a copy for Christmas from my mother-in-law some four years ago, I'm plodding through Kit's Law, by Donna Morrissey.

I heard her in interview sometime during the last year and was charmed and inspired to get round to giving her novel a go. The pile of unread books on my shelf is fast diminishing, so what better time?

Well, it's life and death and joy and misery in an isolated community. Not my cup of tea. I'm on page 109, and I'll finish this book if it kills me (it might). (Why do I feel compelled to finish books I don't like? Then there's Ulysses, which I started to read 13 years ago. I refuse to "file it" in the bookcase — it continues to sit on my bedside shelf even now, in the 7th bedroom I've inhabited since I started it.)

But I need a good book to read! Soon! Before my brain withers.

To be fair, over the last two weeks I've read bits and pieces from magazines I've hoarded over the last year. Nothing significant. And there's the chapter I edited on craniosynostosis (yuk).

Time to plan an expedition through the big-box bookstore bargain bin.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Concept: cat

It's confirmed. Helena groks "cat."

On Tuesday, we were again reading PD Eastman's Are You My Mother?, when something extraordinary happened.

We're at the part where the bird is asking the kitten if the kitten is his mother, when Helena starts pointing and giggling and says "keet'dah" (with aspirated consonants and a glottal stop). And on the next page. And on the next. And she keeps pointing at the kitten (an interpretation of which is rendered in this review). "Keet'dah." It could be no plainer to my ears: "kittycat."

She responds in this way to our two live kitties, but there's been a mental leap regarding this two-dimensional representation — not one of our cats as in a photo, but an illustration of a generic cat. She's never seen this cat before, but knows he's a cat. The metaphysics start early.

Yesterday, the event was repeated. "Keet'dah." This morning, we looked at an old cat calendar and my cat feng shui book, and everwhere there was a cat there was excitement and "keet'dah." And sometimes "lnoh," by which she refers to Calvino, our big black tom.

So not only is there a concept fully formed, there's a way to refer to it.

That Helena. She's such a cool cat herself.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Play ball

We're spending a lot of time hugging today, Helena and I. Rainy days are good for that.

I should be working. I promised one publisher 15 hours of work per week. So far this week I've done only one hour of editing for them. Maybe I have bitten off more than I can chew.

It's much easier to procrastinate with a baby in the house. I've always been rather gifted at procrastination. But now... There are legitimate distractions, like feedings, diaper changes, rescue missions. And why even pretend to try to work when I can play ball with baby?

I will have to search out advice on this issue — working from home with a baby.

It's a really big play week for Helena. The ball is an ongoing favourite. I did manage to capture the first "game" of ball on video on October 6. She took to it instantly. Perhaps I should've thought to try giving her a ball sooner. She drop-throws the ball and follows it. And laughs, and laughs. I throw the ball at or past her and she crawl-hobbles after it. And laughs.

I finally organized the kitchen cupboards. Helena now has her own cupboard, which stores a tub of tupperware lids, an old spatula, a funnel, various plastic containers, and a paper towel tube. It's a hit. Though, she still shows a preference for the door with the cat food behind it, but I will only go so far in compromising functionality (for me) for fun (for her).

To the best of my knowledge, she has not yet sampled, or at least demonstrated a liking for, the cats' food pellets. However, the cats are somewhat disturbed by the seemingly endless enjoyment she derives from moving food pellets from their dishes into their water bowls, along with her socks and an assortment of blocks and things.

Today, Helena had a breakthrough with her nesting cups. Not only can she fit some inside or on top of others, she seems puzzled that not all combinations of cups are equal.

I know her play is her work. We should all be so lucky.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Helena's book club

I signed Helena up for the Grolier Beginning Readers' Program shortly after she was born. We now have a lovely collection of Dr Seuss books, and Arthur, and Berenstain Bears.

This morning we received the 2004 Dr Seuss calendar and a Beginner Fun Book. I just finished making arrangements to return this shipment.

I haven't even removed the calendar's cellophane wrapper, but the back cover depicts a thumbnail for the ninth month, "Septembe."


The crappy local newspaper

On Saturday, I bought a print newspaper for the first time in a very, very long time. And I'm still outraged.

The Montreal Gazette has the feel of small-town community newspaper. This in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is poorly written and extremely anti-French (even in its movie and food reviews). Saturday's front page story was about the mother of the runner-up of the recent Miss Philippines Montreal contest suing for damages because her daughter should have won. Sigh.

And don't get me started on the Asper aspect and lack of editorial freedom.

But in this issue, it was two ads that hit me, both likely produced in-house.

On pA8, one-third of a page, at bottom. A photo of Jon Stewart, with the credit "Courtesy CTV," and the following text at right:
How can one telvsion [sic] show be nominated for best comedy, best news show and best program all at once? Check our report on The Daily Show, starring Jon Stewart, who has been described as "one of the smartest acts on TV."
In Sunday

On pC3, full-page colour ad with landscape orientation. Three-quarters of the page is a team photo, with the following text at right:
The Montreal Alouettes Defensive Line
This photograph is brought to you by The Gazette's Raise-a-Reader program and the Montreal Alouettes Foundations' Adopt-an-Alouette program, wich [sic]support literacy and education for children.
[Logos placed here.]
Look for the Alouettes team photo next Saturday.

It's just that the point size is ssooo large. And the irony: "intelligent televsion"; "wich support literacy"!

I expect better than this. They should hire me.

Perhaps it's another sign of the sloppy state of English in Montreal. Errors in basic spelling and grammar are rampant. Montreal, though proud of its bilingualism, has yet to realize that some situations require an English (or French) language specialist — perfect bilingualism rarely exists.