Thursday, October 1, 2009

Book review: The Nine Lives of Charlotte Taylor by Sally Armstrong

I've recently realized that my perfectionist-like tendencies, combined with my natural bent towards turning a simple book review into a university-type piece of analysis, has grossly restricted me from reviewing anywhere near the number of books I'm interested in babbling about.

To that end, this will be my first attempt at a simpler, more straightforward review.

The Nine Lives of Charlotte Taylor by Sally Armstrong

The Nine Lives of Charlotte Taylor was one of those books that I picked up over and over again on my many trips to the bookstore before finally taking it home. It seems any time I have a situation like this, I end up wondering just why it took me so long to get around to buying and reading the book, as it is invariably excellent. This was no exception.

Sally Armstrong is the great-great-great granddaughter of Charlotte Taylor, of the title. She states that she long wanted to write the story of Charlotte Taylor, the first female settler on the Miramichi Bay, and this book originally started out as non-fiction. However, after being frustrated by several gaps in the historical documentation, Armstrong chose to write the story as a fictional account, peppered with the known details of Taylor's life. The effect is a very good fictional account of early Canadian history.

There are several known facts of Charlotte Taylor's life - she left her high-society family in 1775, running away with a household servant. She spent her life on the Miramichi, where she would have three husbands and bear ten children, all of whom lived well into adulthood. She was a vehement activist on her own and her family's behalf, fighting for her land rights and the deeds to the plots that her family cleared and lived upon - going so far as to travel to Fredericton in the company of a Native man to secure those deeds. Lastly, she lived well into her eighties, passing away in 1841 at which time she had a Native service as part of her burial.

Building upon the basis of these facts, Armstrong fleshes out her story, telling of Taylor's travel across the ocean to the West Indies, to her time spent in a Mi'kmaq camp on the Baie de Chaleurs where she developed a lifelong friendship with the Indians and Acadians that lived there, before her marriage to a former captain. She describes in detail the arduous and dangerous task of clearing the land and building a life on the Miramichi during a time of tremendous unrest between the original settles, the arriving Loyalists from the American War, the privateers, and the Indians for whom the land belonged to first. Woven through all this is the story of Charlotte Taylor's relationship with Wioche, the Native man who she meets when she first arrives in the Baie de Chaleurs, maintaining a relationship with him over the course of her life. While part of the story is fictional according to Armstrong, it is well-written and believable, and offers a glimmer of light and hope in a story that is often bleak in its outlook.

Taylor does not have an easy life, and some of the best writing is in Armstrong's descriptions of the difficulties in every day life. There is a beauty in the simplicity and occasional starkness in Armstrong's writing, as though her writing is mimicking the terrain itself. I found some comparison in her writing to that of Elizabeth Hay in Late Nights on Air, in the same simple descriptions of a difficult land and the people who make their lives there against great odds.

I did feel that the book was weakest in Taylor's descriptions of the many historical events during this period (the clashes between the Loyalists and old settles, the process of parceling and deeding the land, the division of Nova Scotia into two provinces). Occasionally in Armstrong's attempt to insert the known facts, The Nine Lives of Charlotte Taylor starts to veer into history text territory, but without the fleshing out of the details to ensure that the reader is certain of the context. Towards the end of the novel I particularly found that there was a lot of detail hastily inserted that could have been better explained, and that events were careening towards the rather hasty ending without the deftness shown in the first 3/4 of the book. Overall though, I felt that more often than not, the book came down on the right side of the delicate balance between historical detail and the fictional narrative.

I adore historical fiction but have been disappointed that most historical fiction is set in Europe. I think this is a fine addition to Canadian historical fiction, a genre I would be delighted to see more of.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

First day of school - a triptych




Has it really been a year since this?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Fiction Friday - The to-do list

Herewith, my stab at a piece of fiction. The story, so much as it exists in my head, occurs over a period of a single day. Please be gentle...

* * *

She awoke to the feeling of his leg lying heavy over hers, his arm a solid mass on her hip. The stale smell of sweat hung in the air. From the sounds of his breathing - deliberately deep and even - it was clear that he was ignoring the kids' raised voices, drifting up with increasing volume from the living room below. Clearly there was some sort of disagreement, likely over which cartoon to watch, which was escalating rapidly. With any luck it wouldn't come to blows before she made it downstairs.

Sighing deeply and fighting the urge to elbow him sharply in the ribs, she extricated herself from his limbs, skin slick with sweat. It was not yet 7:00 am, and she was already irritable. She headed for the shower, mentally checking over the list of tasks, errands and activities she had planned for the day. Soccer practices for both of the children - at different times, of course. A trip to the mall for new running shoes for the kids and a shower gift for the secretary at work. Grocery shopping, of course, by which time she could be fairly assured that the kids would be cranky and irritable themselves, making the trip something akin to the climax of any recent horror movie. Finally, dinner with friends, planned weeks ago on a wave of optimism and now colliding disastrously with an already overfilled day.

And somewhere in this day she had to find a moment of quiet and relative privacy in which to tell her husband that she couldn't possibly live another day with him.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A love affair for all time: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Summer 1994. I was stranded in the middle of nowhere with nothing to read.

Okay, that isn't entirely true. I had plenty to read, but it was buried, for the time being, in our carefully packaged bundle of belongings strapped securely to the back of the motorcycle we were traveling on. Accessibility to those books being restricted for a least another three hours, and being entirely unwilling to face the remainder of the ride bored out of my mind with only the black flies for company, I turned my attention to the meagre selection of paperbacks offered in a half-full wire rack at the dismal gas station we were currently stopped at. Certainly not my usual fare, as I flipped past bodice rippers and testosterone-fuelled spy capers, but beggars couldn't be choosers. About to give up, I found a book that looked slightly out of place. It had the ornate lettering and step-back artwork of a romance, but the heft and description of something... more. Given the limited options, I hastily made my purchase figuring something was surely better than nothing.


I returned to my position as passenger on the back of the bike, and turned to the first page.
It wasn't a very likely place for disappearances, at least at first glance.
Three hours later, we had arrived, and I hadn't lifted my head once from the story. I was hooked.

* * *

That is the story of how, fifteen years ago, I fell in love with one of my favorite books (later to become the whole series) - Diana Gabaldon's Outlander.

Yes, it may seem slightly strange to be reviewing a novel and series that is by no means current (the original publication date for Outlander was 1991, making it an 18-year-old book), but the seventh installment of the series is set to be released in September. By my thinking this means that there is no time like the present to convince you that if you haven't yet read this book (and the others in the series), then perhaps you really should.

A brief synopsis, shall we?
The year is 1945. Claire Randall is becoming reacquainted with her husband, Frank Randall, on a second honeymoon in the Scottish Highlands after serving as a nurse during World War II. On a day trip to some standing stones (think Stonehenge), she finds herself mysteriously hurtled back more than two hundred years in time, to the year 1743, where, as an English woman in the Highlands during the unrest leading up to the Jacobite uprising, she is in a great deal of danger. There she meets Jamie Fraser, a gorgeous 6'4" red-haired Highlander five years her junior who, as an outlaw, is in as much danger as herself. Due to circumstances, Claire finds herself marrying Jamie while attempting to return home to her own time and husband. Sworn by his wedding vows to keep her from harm, Jamie's passion for Claire goes far beyond duty. Claire is forced to make the difficult choice between staying with Jamie and her future in the twentieth century.

So begins the first book, Outlander. It, and the second book Dragonfly in Amber, centre on the Jacobite uprising in Scotland, in the mid-1740s. Voyager (my least favorite of the series, but necessary installment) is the hinge upon which we move forward in time, approximately 20 years to the 1770s. From there, the next three novels, Drums of Autumn, The Fiery Cross and A Breath of Snow and Ashes, are set in the American Colonies in the years leading up to the Revolutionary War.




The (eagerly anticipated) seventh book in the series, An Echo in the Bone, is due to be released on September 22, 2009. Gabaldon has stated that she sees the series ending with as-yet-unwritten eighth book.



So, if you're like me right now you are thinking time-travel bodice ripper, yes? Well, perhaps not so much, because this is a story of so much more. First off, the time travel portion of the book is merely a device to move Claire, with her modern sensibilities, into the larger historical story. She won't be bouncing around from year-to-year, in the vein of The Time Traveler's Wife. And yes, there is a love story. But oh, what a story it is. Gavin McNett, a male writer for Salon, once wrote an article about his enjoyment of the series. He sums it up far better than I could, but I'll give you a taste of it here:

The story appears to be fairly superficial as well: A man and woman are flung into romantic adventures in 18th century Scotland. They gallop across misty moors and gaze at each other from moonlit castle battlements. There's intrigue, and a period of sexual tension, and then lots of serious rutting. But the first thing you notice about "Outlander," long before the castles-and-moors part starts to kick in, is that it's a carefully written book, with three-dimensional characters inhabiting a complex, believable world. The people in "Outlander" seem to have lives. The story seems light-handed and plausible. Events seem to happen for reasons and not simply to push the plot forward. The second thing you notice, just as the book turns into quicksand and pulls you under with a big, wet slurp, is that it does all the standard historical-romance tropes spectacularly backwards and wrong.
Ok, have you gone to read the rest of his article? Go ahead. I'll be right here waiting.

At the end of the day, these are large, compelling books. This is not high-handed literature where every word must be turned over in your mind to discover the hidden depths of its meaning and relevance. This is a good old-fashioned story. A page-turner in the very best sense, rich with adventure and history and larger-than-life characters. There are the themes of loyalty and betrayal, love and passion, family and country and always questions of morality. Rarely are events black and white in these books.


Perhaps what is most important in these books though is the relationship between Jamie and Claire. When I first read the story I fell in love with the characters of both Jamie and Claire (yes, I crushed, and still do, crush on them). There's is a love story for all time, and in the first two books in the series their admittedly hot and torrid affair (with plenty of lust thrown in for good measure) fueled my imagination, particularly as a teenager. But now, as a older woman married for nearly seven years, I find the story more compelling, particularly in the later novels in which Jamie and Claire are in their 50s. Because this is not your average "romance" storyline - the novels allow us to see the characters well beyond your average "happily ever after", seeing their family connections and how the relationships grow and change over the course of a lifetime, through good times and bad, sickness and health, and through the worst that life can hand them (and over the course of the first 6,500 pages, these two face a lot of bad times). The relationship between Jamie and Claire is one of such deep respect and powerful love that my heart nearly breaks with the reading of it.

Diana Gabaldon excels at creating incredibly memorable characters that will stay with you long after the books are over. Her characters are never perfect, nor are they one-dimensional "heroes" or "heroines", they are utterly believable as people more than mere characters, and I have found that this is her greatest strength as an author, and why I return to the books again and again. She never stumbles, having a someone act or speak "out of character", and yet somehow manages to show how they change over time and with age in ways that would be completely expected if they were real people. Finally, her writing is deft and quick, and yet vividly descriptive. For 1,000 page books, they fly along and yet dialogue is never choppy, descriptions never overwrought. She deftly keeps all of the threads of the storyline in the air, and only repeats details minimally to focus the readers attention or remind as to events, as necessary. Over the course of six books I have never found myself confused as to one of the many characters or places or events. An incredible feat, considering the length of these works.

Recently I've found myself reading many books where, at the end of them, I end up asking the question "but what was the story?" Praise tends to be lavished on books where no one really understands the meaning of them, but everyone seems, somehow, to agree that they are Very Important Works (see Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje). Gabaldon's books may not win literary prizes, and they may not be considered high-brow, but they are some of the finest storytelling that I've ever come across. I have given away lent countless copies of this book, pushing it on my friends and family. Needless to say, I now have competition in my crush on Jamie. This series has become one of my favorites of all time, and I reliably return to these books time and again. They have become part of the small list of comfort reading, to be turned to for a chapter here or there when in need of a pick-me-up.

And, if after all that, I still have not won you over, did I mention that they contain some of the steamiest, sexiest scenes that you will ever have between two covers? Now go, read!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Bent to its will

Last night

I was reading


(again)

Thought I'd drag myself away from Jamie Fraser

(sigh)

Resurface into reality


(by James Orbinski)

About his time with Médecins Sans Frontières

during the nineties

Within ten pages

He discusses his creation of a new

humanitarian agency

His partner in the undertaking?

James Fraser.

I can take a hint

Back to Drums of Autumn it is

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A man, merely a man

My husband is a CNN junkie and, for nearly the last two weeks, I've been inundated with the Michael Jackson coverage. I have seen the newspaper coverage, the blogging coverage, the tweets. Finally, a few moments ago, I finally turned on the TV to watch some of the spectacle that is the Michael Jackson memorial service.

And I am bothered and disturbed.

It speaks, I guess, to the need these days to turn every celebrity death into a cause for national mourning - started, perhaps, with the death of Princess Diana. Every death is endlessly dissected and analyzed. The crowds gather, flowers are laid, memorials spring up over night. For some, they find greater celebrity in death than they do alive. The Michael Jackson coverage has taken on a hysteria and depth that has far surpassed all previous celebrity death coverage so far, except perhaps that of Princess Diana. But here's my fundamental problem - Michael Jackson is being canonized as a saint, which he clearly wasn't. 

I won't say that Michael Jackson wasn't a terrific musician, because clearly that would not be true. Like Mozart as a child, a young Michael Jackson was a pop genius. Like Elvis Presley in his prime, Michael Jackson contributions changed music forever while in his twenties. And like so many who have gone before him, despite all of his positive contributions, Michael Jackson had a dark streak that cannot be ignored.

Michael Jackson was accused, at least twice, of sexual molestation. Did he actually molest those children? We'll never know, although in his interview with Martin Bashir he did admit to behaviour that we would likely find highly questionable in any of our own acquaintances. As so many will tell me and is a constant refrain from the many mourners, he was only accused and was acquitted of the charges. But OJ Simpson was also acquitted of his charges, and how, as a society, do we feel about him? He, too, was a genius in his own arena - the sports arena. He was a sports great, breaking records and barriers as one of the first black sports figures to go on to success as a spokesman and actor. Would he receive the same sort of memorial? The public outpouring? I dare say, not at all.

Yesterday, the legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, one of the few talking heads I admire, as he almost always seems to have a fair and balanced take on the stories of the day, stated one of the most obvious sentiments I've heard. Essentially he said that yes, he made terrific music, but would you leave your kids with him?

(I won't go into how one of the other panelists tried to state that some parents did, sensing an opportunity for financial gain if their kids got a little close, which, in my opinion, came dangerously close to saying that hell, they had it coming, didn't they? Please, let's not even GO there.)

And this brings me to my essential problem with the coverage. By all means, let us say that the man made terrific music, was a terrific dancer. Let us even mourn the demise of that music and the amazing dance skills. But let us not forget for a moment that that music came at a terrifically high cost - a cost that the media seems to insist on referring to euphemistically as his "troubles". It came at the cost of those children whose lives will never be the same, caught up in the frenzy and insanity that was Michael Jackson's world, regardless of the nature of the relationship. For those children whose relationship was either one of exploitation, or merely skirted the edge of appropriateness, there is a cost in the loss of innocence. Somewhere in this endless coverage, it has become inappropriate to criticize Michael Jackson, to discuss in measured terms the less palatable aspects of his life.

Let us remember that music, no matter how terrific and memorable and life-altering, cannot undo later bad acts. It is not a panacea for one's more unpalatable traits. And let us not speak of Michael Jackson as some sort of modern-day saint, but as a man (merely a man) with a great deal of musical genius and potential who somewhere lost his way into a lifestyle that few of us would condone. 

Let us remember him as he truly was - and not as the saint we wish him to be and are pretending he was. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Book review: The Toss of a Lemon by Padma Viswanathan

The Toss of a Lemon by Padma Vaswanathan

I recently finished Padma Vaswanathan's terrific first novel The Toss of a Lemon, which I received some time ago from Random House. I would have to say that this has been one of the best books I've read recently.

This is the story of Sivakami, a Brahmin woman who comes to her husband's house as a child bride in turn-of-the-century India. As foretold in their horoscopes, her husband passes away only a few years after their marriage, plunging her into widowhood at the age of eighteen. As is custom during that time and for a woman of her caste, she shaves her hair, clothes herself in a white sari, refuses all touch from sunup to sundown and removes herself from public life (for a widow is considered a bad omen). While she is considered a most devout widow, she breaks from tradition in one crucial way - she moves back to her husband's house instead of remaining within her brothers' household, maintaining the lands and wealth through a lower-caste assistant hand-chosen by her husband prior to his death. She does this for her son, to give him the secular education that he would not have had otherwise. This decision gives her bright but troubled son the direction he needs, but will ultimately set him on a path in complete opposition to that of his mother.

The book covers a broad period of Indian history (roughly 1890-1950s). The period was one of tremendous unrest, where the caste system in India began to break down. Historically Brahmins were considered the highest caste - the morally superior intellectuals. Leading up to independance and partition, their influence and wealth began to fade as the caste system began to break down (although, arguably, it is still in existence today).

One of the most difficult things about writing (or reading) anything historical is the tendency to look at customs or traditions through today's North American standards. Far too often in historical fiction, characters speak or act in manners that would be wholly inappropriate for the time and place. Even more unfortunate, there is often a not-so-subtle rebuke in the author's writing style - as though they will have the character act in a period-appropriate manner, yet still make it abundantly clear that they, as the author, do not agree with it. Perhaps the greatest strength of this book lies in Viswanathan's ability to be non-judgmental about customs that were wholly typical of that time, such as child-brides, arranged marriages and the caste system. We see some of the characters moving away from these practices, but as a reader I never had the impression that Viswanathan agrees with either point of view or that she was siding with one character over another, rather that she was merely illustrating the social changes that occurred during that time period. The neutrality of her writing allowed me to more fully immerse myself in the story, to reflect on the practices and draw my own conclusions instead of constantly being reminded that many of the practices are considered wholly-inappropriate by today's Western standards.

The story itself moves along at a good pace. At 600+ pages, this is not a short book, and yet I never felt that the story wasn't moving. Despite the jacket copy, which lead me to believe the story is told only through the eyes of Sivakami, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the book changes focus several times to other characters, as the story requires. Through each of these women's eyes we see the subtle way that social change is altering the structure of their families and their caste traditions. Because the focus of the novel is on the story of the family first, and history second, this is not as heavy a novel as some historically based stories. The historical events are never so overt as to become confusing. That said, those readers with no historical background on the events in India around independence or partition or understanding of the caste system could find the book confusing, but I felt that Viswanathan subtly relayed any information that was an absolute necessity for understanding the story, particularly with regards to caste customs. 

I only found two aspects of the novel disappointing. First, there were times in the book where I wished we had spent more time with a certain character to better understand their motives or reasoning, particularly in the case of Vairum, Sivakami's son. Perhaps the book was already too long, or more likely it was deliberate. Like in any family, we are left to wonder at another's words or actions, seeing them as an enigma. That said, we are often given subtle hints or clues as to the cause of a character's behaviour. The best example of this would be Sivakami's son-in-law, who we can only infer from his behaviour and from our modern understanding that he likely has some disorder such as ADD or mania. 

My other issue was the rather abrupt ending to the book. While I understand that as the story of a family, that there may not be a specific end to the story per se, I wish that the last chapter and epilogue had been handled a little differently. I found the last page of the last chapter particularly choppy, as though Viswanathan and her editor had difficulty in nailing down a final sequence of events that felt climactic enough to be an ending while still reflecting that this was a family with a story that would continue long after the final page.  

Overall, I would highly recommend this book. Despite my disappointment with the ending the book stands on its many other strengths. Particularly, the writing is excellent and highly evocative of the time and place. Reading it I could almost believe I was there, something I find occurs all too rarely in historical fiction. I am looking forward to Viswanathan's next novel, and hope that her sophomore effort builds upon the foundation she's laid here.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

2 1/2 years

2 1/2 years... the amount of time it took this:


Our patient, sweet, gentle yet enduringly dumb 10 year-old golden retriever to acknowledge Peanut (in the absence of peanut butter, or any other treat waved tantalizingly at nose level).

It's a momentous day around here.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Intermission

Sitting on a bench in the lobby of a fancy theatre during intermission of a play, calling husband to check in on baby. A woman sits next to me, opens her enormous purse and proceeds to withdraw an entire half a pizza wrapped in saran wrap, which she opens and begins eating.

It's been a strange evening.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

A test post

Having just received a brand spanking new cell phone for my b-day, I thought I'd test out this mobile blogging thing.

Moving right along...

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

In which I curse a great deal

I have a post that is 3/4 finished. A well-written, thoughtful post (if I do say so myself). That was before...

Before my goddamn, piece-o-shit computer blew it's FUCKING harddrive AGAIN!

Seriously folks, I'm not that hard on my computer. It doesn't travel (often). I've never dropped it, or banged it around. I'm not one of those that smashes on the keyboard. So why-oh-why do they keep crapping out on me?

Oh yes, for the second time in 15 months, my hard drive has unexpectedly up and quit. For those unacquainted, the first time was when I lost many important photos, including Peanut's first birthday. This time I'm much savvier, and with the use of Time Machine all of my photos and such are backed up and my huge iTunes library is safely stores on another external hard drive. (I must insert here, though, that the closed format of Time Machine frightens me somewhat. I can't actually get into the files without having a fixed Mac to "restore" the files.) However, the time I'm going to spend hauling myself to the Macstore to have the hard drive replaced, together with the cost of replacing the now out-of-warranty hard drive is really pissing me off.

So, is this just a case of super-shitty bad luck, or does Steve Jobs need a trip to the woodshed for the beat down of his life?

Just wondering is all...

Monday, March 23, 2009

Happiness is...

A trip to the Capilano Bridge on a warm winter day.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Finishing the unfinished

Recently we were hit by the plague again in the house. Not long ago I was pondering how fortunate I'd been that Peanut had only had "the flu" once, and at that it was one evening of throwing up. So the gods decided to give me the big smack down for my hubris and we were hit twice (TWICE!) in the period of one month. Seriously folks, its enough to make a girl go insane. And did I mention I had the worst cold of my life between these two periods? I'm not usually the type to complain about my colds (probably again due to my good fortune in that they usually only last three days max) but this went on for two weeks. TWO WEEKS! (Who needs the Shred when you have a two-week cold.) So, um, yeah. Remind me not to go bragging about my good fortune again any time soon. Hear that ya'll? Lesson learned!

The one thing that I did start doing while bogged down with the various plagues that have swept over the household was take stock of some of my unfinished books. Now, it's no small secret that I'm a big reader, but since Peanut was born I've found myself with a ton of unfinished books. Sometimes it is an illness or some other distraction that causes a book to languish at my bedside - during the distraction I'll perhaps read something lighter, but after the distraction is all over I end up forgetting to pick up where I left off. Often it is the occasional trips we take, where I don't want to take a half finished book with me, or the book is too large to easily carry. I'll take something else, and before you know it another book has been added to the unfinished pile. Some of it is my own impatience these days - too little time, too much to read. I get distracted by the New! Shiny! Cover! and before you know it, well, you know. As this has gone on over the last several months, the pile has grown to ridiculous levels, and I'm feeling rather guilty about the whole situation. So I've resolved to start finishing a few of these books that have been set aside. Not only are many of them good books, and I do wish to know the end of the story, but I figure that there will be a definite feeling of accomplishment as I pick them off one by one.

So here's a list (to keep me honest) of some of the books I hope to add to my finished pile over the next few weeks. Yeah, it's a party all the time around these parts.
I'm sure that there are more kicking around, but right now these are the ones I'm committing to finishing.

So I'm curious, what do others do about unfinished books? Do you leave books unfinished, and if so, why? Do you go back and finish them eventually? Do you have to start from the beginning, or do you pick up where you left off?




Monday, March 9, 2009

Taking back the night (one pony at a time)

Peanut has always been a fantastic sleeper, something for which her father and I are tremendously grateful. If we were the type, we would get down on our knees every night and thank the dear lord that of all the early parenting experiences we could have had, bad sleep has typically not been one of them.

However, we've started noticing a problem in the last little while. Particularly after an illness or some other disruption, Peanut will start waking up in the night, almost purposefully, to get us to come in to her room. The disruption itself never lasts very long, and all we have to do is go in and turn her music box on and put her blanket over her again, and she goes back to sleep, but after years of her being very efficient at putting herself back to sleep (we're talking 30 seconds of crying max before she grabs her bunny and drifts off) we're finding this regression a wee bit trying because we know that the waking up has very little to do with the needing of comfort and everything to do with the habitualness of it. (I should make it clear here that we are not talking a dirty diaper, night terror or other waking that most definitely requires comforting. We're talking the waking up, whingey half-cry that toddlers do just to get you to move. Entirely different than true nighttime neediness.)

So, we've instituted a plan here. If Peanut sleeps throught he night she gets one pony sticker (yes, those ponies.. my daughter is nothing if not a true girly girl... but that's a whole other post) to put on her chart. After three stickers she gets one of these:

(Cheap parent that I am, I picked up a couple of boxes of these on clearance and I totally opened the package so she can earn ONE of these at a time.) She's done really well so far, earning herself the first pony after the first night to get the ball rolling, and subsequently earning herself two more stitckers (although she missed one last night). She actively talks about earning her "poh-ee sticker, POH-EE STICKER!", and couple of times she woke up over the last few nights you could hear her grumbling to herself before settling down again.

Thus far our first foray into the bribery reward system appears to be working swimmingly - indeed, its been even better than we could have anticipated. What about you? Do you use rewards to influence behaviour? Have I succumbed to the dark side of parenting? If so, it seems to be nice and cozy over here - with a lot more sleep.


Thursday, March 5, 2009

A little like the phoenix...

Ok, perhaps nothing so majestic as a phoenix. More like a, well, I don't know what its like. That's where the metaphor runs dry. However, it's been six months since Peanut started pre-school, and yet today is the first day I've found myself engaged in that most ubiquitous of blogger behaviour...

Blogging in the local coffee shop.

It's quite a nice feeling actually, sitting here with a piping hot tea listening to some good music. It helps that we recently purchased this little gem:

Don't get me wrong - I love my Macbook, but this thing fits inside my diaper bag.

Yes, that's fine - but where have you BEEN?

Ahem - the big white elephant in the room. A good friend of mine would say the problem is that I tend to overthink before I write, thus overwhelming myself (indeed, most of her missives to me contain the phrase "just write something and post it - don't overthink it"). There's a lot of truth in that. I've found that when I sit down to write, I need to tinker and perfect it. Since I've been under a certain amount of time constraints lately, the thought of writing with its attendant process of editing and re-writing simply became overwhelming.

The simple fact is that blogging is like any other exercise - it requires a certain amount of practice. Since I've written here very little over the last year, I've simply fallen out of the practice of preparing my thoughts for this forum (although I seem to be able to compose long essays in my head at night when I am unable to sleep. However, translating those to print seems to be where I run into problems). The more time that passed, the more difficult it seemed to be to wander back over to this little space.

That's not to say that there hasn't been a plethora of blog-worthy events over the past year - far from it. On more than one occasion I've turned to Mr Babbler or a friend or even another blogging buddy and said "that's definitely blog-worthy". Evidence? The story of the cat's $1,700 ass. Or how about the wedding that I attended during this past summer where I turned to Mr Babbler and said that I wished I had an iphone so that I could live blog it (there was between-course entertainment pieces that included interpretive dance and a groom that missed his own first dance). There have been so many moments of Peanuts life that I wish I had caught here for future memory - the twos really do whiz by don't they? And then there has been the moments where this space could have really been used therapeutically - a growing closeness with my good friends who have truly become family, a death in my own family that I really need to work through and my confusion about what happens after life as a stay-at-home mother.

So here I am, dusting off my poor abandoned blog. Bear with me - this could be a little rough!
 

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