Tuesday, 30 June 2015

What I learned in June: dark, light, blue, and sleep

Another month has slipped on by, and we're officially well into summer. It's been a time of new knowledge and well-needed reminders. I revel in dry heat, as long as there's a breeze. Humidity is much more tolerable if I dress as if it were a full ten degrees warmer - I'm leaning towards wearing my tan linen skirt every single day. I should really acquire a second one. 

I made my first batch of cold brew coffee and discovered I like it much stronger than the 1:1 water to concentrate ratio the recipes recommend. I drank 3/4 of my theoretical two-day supply over the course of one morning, and then spent the next half hour googling whether the caffeine content was any lower than hot brew. My results were inconclusive, but I did discover that plenty of other cold-brew beginners had made the same mistake. It'll be a great help for mornings when need to be up and quickly out the door, and afternoons when anything but iced seems excruciating, but otherwise I may stick to fresh hot-brew. Much as I liked the look of a vintage mason of mysterious dark brew (a token hipster in my otherwise suburban fridge), I missed the ritual of refilling my small mug - which is probably why I overindulged. Consuming my caffeine faster wasn't really my plan. I just wanted a short cut for making it.  

I've been relearning how ethereal an evening walk can be over the solstice. I took a stroll out to the library on June 18th at eight o'clock at "night". My neighbourhood was a glory of backlit trees, brilliantly illumined greens against a fantasy of sky. I took the photo above around 8:30pm, a full two hours before the sun set: my high evening to November's low noon. It's a yearly wonder that reminds me why I live here. I could say the same of flax:

I love those little blue pixies almost as much as sunflowers. Micro to macro in flora.

My main learning of the month, however, was all about sleep. Somewhere along the line, my youngest turned into an all-night nursling. At eighteen months, she's not much of a baby anymore, but it's taken time for me to realize that she still eats like one, and this momma's sleep schedule resembles that of a newborn, without the benefit of multiple daytime naps. I stumbled upon enough other Moms of nurse-happy toddlers over Facebook to convince me that this was a problem - and a solvable one at that. So we've been learning together that every midnight squirm does not constitute a need for snack and that, given a few minutes, she can and will settle back to sleep on her own. She now goes for several hours without dragging mommy out of her much-needed slumber - sometimes as many as eight at a time. Not last night, naturally, seeing as I was planning to write about how great it feels to sleep for six hours at a time again. But still so so much better than before.

It's been a good reminder that having three kids doesn't make me an expert in baby-minding. My eldest was weaned at 15 months, and I don't remember sleep battles as norm so much as the odd awful night. At this age, my boy would go strong until something tripped him up, and then he'd be begging for bed. We'd just pop in his soother and carrying him up to his crib. Until that point, we just let him do his own thing while we focused on my eldest's more structured routine - after all, she was the one who had to get up and onto the bus in the morning. This little girlie, however, loves having a multi-step bed-time routine and is thrilled to use her ever-growing bed-time vocabulary. Jammies! Brush teeth! Stories! Hugs! So exciting. So tricky to weave into her siblings' already established bedtime habits, but I suspect that's part of what makes it all so great for her. Next up is learning how to nap. It's coming, slowly. We'll see what the next stint of teething brings.

Speaking of nap time, it sounds like today's might be officially a fail. At least I got a little writing in. Linking up with the lovely Emily at Chatting at the Sky along with many other monthly learners.

Happy Summer, all.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Reading into spring - a catch-up Quick Lit

As I mentioned in my last post, I've been playing Quick Lit truant. But as the flowers have been blooming, the bookworm has been going strong. Perhaps a little too strong - the number of books I "couldn't put down" over April, May, and June resulted in a whole lot of neglected laundry. Maybe I should pick up something daunting yet edifying for July and refuse to read anything fun until I finish it. In the meantime, I'm linking up with Anne of Modern Mrs. Darcy to report on my literary progress.

Here's what I've been reading:

The Lost Husband, by Katherine Center
I picked up this little novel expecting literary fiction; if I'd known it was chick-lit, I don't think I would have found it so disappointing. The themes of broken relationships and learning to live again after loss were fairly well explored, yet resolved too quickly to be believable, and many of the supporting characters lacked depth. I would have been interested to see what Center could have done in another hundred pages.

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, by Anne Fadiman
Another work of non-fiction that I simply could not put down. Fadiman's case study of culture clash and polarized medical paradigms reads like an extended article in National Geographic: informative yet lyrical, broad and deep in background, insightful without telling you what to think. An excellent introduction into the history and culture of the Hmong people, the U.S.'s secret war in Laos, what the North American reverence for Western medicine looks like from the outside, and the great humility it takes to communicate beyond your own cultural norms. Just brilliant.

Anne's House of Dreams, by L. M. Montgomery
I haven't read of Anne's bridal epoch since I was a newlywed myself, so this re-read pulled out some interesting perspectives for me. The stillbirth had me teary, and Miss Cornelia had me in stitches. I had already mused about the about the high romance of Anne & Gilbert's first fight (they disagree on a complex question of medical ethics; Little Women's Meg, by comparison, first quarrels with her husband over a small point of household finances), but I hadn't noticed Gilbert's medical miracle included trephination(!). I also hadn't realized how completely Montgomery abandons any description of Anne's body around her pregnancies. I've grown so used to reading about expanding bust-lines and blooming bellies that the subtle hints of "no longer leaving home" and "a special hope for spring" were almost lost on me, even when I knew what was coming. It appears even euphemisms like "confinement" and "expecting a baby" are too indelicate for Anne. I remembered being surprised by the sudden appearance of a newborn, but never felt so justified in not catching on. My daughter and I are now well into Anne of Ingleside, so I can assure you that Montgomery's discomfort with her pregnant protagonist didn't lessen over the decades between the two publications. I'll have to pick up more of her other works with this in mind and see if it's just a thing with Anne.

The Casual Vacancy, by J.K. Rowling
I've put off reading Rowling's foray into adult fiction for years - small town British politics and middle-aged characters just didn't sound like they could stand up to Hogwarts. Was I ever wrong! One untimely death pulls a veritable web of tensions into full-out conflict, unearthing desperately held secrets and toppling unsteady relationships in its wake. Unlike her famous fantasy, The Casual Vacancy is an exploration of vivid realism: from the uncomfortable details of middle-age spread and teenage experimentation in sex, drugs, and cruelty to the complicated realities of domestic abuse, heroin addiction, and foster care, nothing is simple or boring in the picturesque village of Pagford. My one complaint was how ofter the vivid detail leaned over to explicit. HSPs beware.

The Brothers K, by David James Duncan
I must confess that my predominant reason for not writing a Quick Lit post last month was that it would have meant putting down The Brothers K. The pages turned oh so slowly, yet Duncan had completely hooked, cackling at quips and clutching my heart as each of the Chance family members painfully weave their way through their own chosen shade of fanaticism towards some semblance of understanding and compassion for each other. An equal nod to Dostoevsky's Karamazovs and Forrest Gump (the movie, not the book), The Brothers K follows the family of a washed-up baseball player through the social upheavals of mid-twentieth-century America. It wasn't anything like I expected, but worth every page.

The Distant Hours, by Kate Morton
I'm starting to suspect my favourite Kate Morton novel will always be the one I just finished. Another gripping tale with a fascinating setting and a gloriously gothic feel. The only problem is that I've got to wait 'til October for the next one. If anyone has a lead on how to get it ahead of time, do let me know ;)

The Rosie Effect, by Graeme Simsion
Simsion's sequel lacked the surprise-humour factor that sparkled through The Rosie Project, but was still worth reading. I appreciated the exploration of opposites attract beyond the initial romance, and the conundrum of preparing for parenthood when you're somewhat left of normal.

1-2-3 peas, by Keith Baker
I know it seems silly to add a board book to my already burgeoning reading log, but this little number just might be the best counting book ever. This chunky primer covers digits from one to ten, and then decades from twenty to one hundred, with the appropriate amount of anthropomorphized green peas on every page engaged in various sorts of Where's Waldo quirkiness. So much fun.

Sister Pelagia and the Black Monk, by Boris Akunin
I finally got around to reading the next instalment of my favourite sleuthing Russian nun. This novel was much darker than Sister Pelagia's debut, mixing madness with mysticism and crime with cutting-edge nineteenth-century science. Very well done.

And now I'm all caught up - again. Do pop over to Modern Mrs. Darcy for more short and sweet reviews. Happy Monday :)

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Spring is for wool-gathering, and other new knowledge from May

It's been another quiet month on the bloggity blog. I haven't been sick, or even overly busy, just stuck in receptor mode. Reading was always more attractive than writing; gazing out the window so much better than staring at a screen. And with glories such as these to see, can you blame me?

There's so much life to absorb here the spring. After months of bare branch monotony, buds burst and leaves unfurl faster than I can reflect upon them. I didn't want to look back at that first hint of green if it means missing the last of the lilacs. So I've kept the laptop closed and my eyes wide open, tucking away a lifetime of seasonal scene-setting in the process. No time for developing plots to follow them - that would pull me too far from the present.

It was hardly a guilt-free decision. I missed May's Quicklit and April's round of learning. My brain knows that joining a link-up is entirely voluntary, but in my heart of hearts, I felt like a truant. The highschool keener is strong in this one. And here I thought I'd left her behind. 

There were other pleasures besides the foliage. My eldest had her first dance recital, and this nervous performer learned how to sit back and enjoy without playing auditorium-seat adjudicator. My daughter's dance studio is community based and non-competitive, but I didn't know until the recital that the teachers volunteered their time, that modern dance could be something I'd love to watch, that pop songs could still stir my soul. I knew the students were grouped by age, not experience, but hadn't realized they'd thrown out the nonsense about the ballerina body type as well. It was wonderful to see girls who normally would have been told they'd grown too tall, or too heavy, or too busty to continue up on stage in their pointe shoes, dancing along with confidence and grace. 

I also learned that my favourite bakery has become everyone's favourite bakery, thanks to a certain article hailing it #4 in the world's best back in April. I took my family there when they visited us over May long, and we arrived to empty cases and an apologetic staff. Apparently the line out front of the Duchess has stretched down the street before they open every morning for weeks and doesn't disappear until they've sold out of basically everything (usually 3pm). The remaining five business hours seem to be reserved for making drinks, repeating explanations, and waiting for more prudent customers to pick up their orders. Moral of the story: call the night before and take your pick off the website. Fortunately, the walk there was still lovely and the sole baked item left for sale was scrumptious. We'll see if the hype extends to the next visit.

And, lastly, it appears I've learned how to hack a "what I've learned" post that isn't a listicle. Go me.

May beauty continue to greet us as the seasons unfold, even if it takes away our words.

Linking up with the lovely Emily at Chatting at the Sky.