Archive for August, 2008

the fitzhardinge variety show

I come home from a run to find an audience of toys on the sofa. I join them for the cabaret!

Miss Claire Fitzhardinge, “I like to laugh”

I like to laugh, I like to laugh
because I am a kookaburra!
If you see a laughing bird, that is a kookaburra!
If you see a laughing jaguar, that is a kookaburra jaguar!
If you see a laughing person, that is a person who is funny sometimes.
If you see a laughing oyster, that is a kookaburra oyster!
If you see a flying jaguar, that is an eagle jaguar!
If you see a flying cat, that is an eagle cat!

Miss Julia Fitzhardinge, “I am a princess”

(Sweetly) I am a princess
That is all.

Mr Jeremy Fitzhardinge, “Slugs and winter”

Slugs hate the winter because they get frozen.

(Claire: Not slugs and winter. Sleds and winter.

Jeremy: Oh!)

Mr Jeremy Fitzhardinge, “Sleds and winter”

Sleds don’t like the winter because they have to do all the work.
They like the summer because then they can sit in the shed and think
Mmm, it’s warm!
And when a man gets old and remembers his sled, he says

Entire cast, “Sleds and winter” reprise

Ro-o-ose bu-u-u-d!


sarah palin and tall (or, talking about politics in cars)

I was driving to Salome’s place in the Bakery Lofts when I heard Barack Obama’s 2004 DNC speech on NPR. I had to pull over and cry. It was a bad time, then, to be a progressive in America, and of course things have gotten much worse since. But I read and very much liked Obama’s book a couple of years later, and had the feeling I usually have about candidates I like; if I like them that much, they must be unelectable.

I had the same feeling about Hillary. Around the same time I read Obama’s book, the end of ’06, I shared a taxi from Manhattan to JFK with a very nice man, a fellow Democrat. We chatted about the candidates; I said I loved Hillary and thought she would make a great president, but I didn’t think the country was ready for a woman president. He said (and he really was very nice, so I feel guilty relaying this piece of thoughtlessness on his part): “Oh! I didn’t even think about the fact that she was a woman. I guess I’m a better feminist than you are!”

And that’s been kind of the theme of the last few weeks; lots and lots of advice, much of it from very nice and well-meaning men, on how to be a better feminist. I watched Michelle Obama’s and Hillary’s speeches avidly, and I kinda skipped the others. I’m pretty sure none of them would have passed the Bechdel test. It turns out I really do want to see women in positions of power. I’m not the only one, either. Driving to Santa Cruz:

C: Who is the mayor?

R: Gavin Newsom.

C: Is Gavin a boy’s name?

R: Yes.

C (sigh): Girls can never be mayor.

So to be perfectly honest with you, McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as running mate this morning felt like a knife in the gut. I know he’s pandering. I know she’s pro-gun, anti-choice, inexperienced and corrupt. She stands for the opposite of everything I hold dear, and I wouldn’t vote with my poontang even if I could vote. But I do want to see a woman president of the United States. Not Sarah Palin. But someone.

In fact, how about we get the next 43, and you guys sit out a couple of centuries? Wouldn’t that be cool? No? Why?

causes for celebration

  • Just as I was thinking how much I dislike the morning scramble to school – shades of the prison house beginning to close around the growing mom, and all that – Claire said “When I am in second grade, I’ll be able to catch the bus to school on my own! Right, mom?” “Maybe third grade,” I said, but she has a point.
  • Kiva released part-paid-back loans today, giving me a wholly unexpected infusion of credit that I immediately plowed back into new loans. This new move is likely to change the dynamic over there. I (and I think other lenders too) had been preferring shorter-term loans of three to six months, because I could turn them around quicker, but if my capital gets freed up anyway there’s no reason not to fund longer-term projects.
  • Claire came home with a folder of her first week’s Kindergarten work, including – I can’t believe this – a page on which she had laboriously copied out “Mi primera semana de Kinder” in her own big spiky hand. There’s also a photo in which she is grinning ear to ear, and maps of Claire Town and Claire City, and it’s all been put together with such care and love that I want to take cookies to her teachers IMMEDIATELY.
  • The girls are playing sweetly as I write this, and making each other giggle.
  • I just started following the Mars Rovers on Twitter. Opportunity’s nickname is Oppy! How cute is that?

official portrait

Kindergarten Claire

Originally uploaded by yatima

claire does not share my ambivalence


Originally uploaded by Goop on the lens

only disconnect

Claire started school today. Claire started school! She is exactly five years and eight months old. She looked heartbreakingly young in her school uniform. In spite of our extensive discussions before the fact, she was a bit taken aback by the fact that the teachers spoke only Spanish. “But I could work out what they meant, from the pictures,” she explained.

She didn’t immediately make a lifelong friend, which has cast me into massive disarray. What if she ends up a lonely, friendless loser like me? THE SKY WILL FALL. It’s interesting (in a sick way) to notice how deep the roots of my neurosis run. Twenty-three years since I started therapy, five years since I went on the meds and it still only takes a whiff of schoolyard drama to leave me moaning in a fetal position.

Claire, of course, is completely unperturbed.

So much of good parenting involves concealing your baggage under nearby furniture while adopting a fixed grin. Oh! It’s just like voting!

santa cruz

View from our room

Originally uploaded by yatima

hello internets, did you miss me?

Claire and I were in Santa Cruz, on the beach, reading books. We didn’t think of you once.

recreational reading

I find that if reading has become heavy and difficult for me there are a few ways I can kickstart it: old favourites; new books from old favourite authors; fantasy; mystery; horse books. Things have been sticky enough that I have just had to read all of the above.

The old favourite was National Velvet, and if you are rolling your eyes and thinking of that appalling film with Liz Taylor and Mickey Rooney, you don’t know what you’re missing. Enid Bagnold’s original is every bit as much a crazy forgotten classic as I Capture The Castle. Such dialog! And the single most convincing toddler in all fiction. And the bedrock heroine of the piece is a fat mother of five. Come on, people!

I managed a small theme by reading some Dick Francis and KM Peyton; lots of National Hunt racing and two more attempts on the Grand National. Francis lost his wife Mary a few years ago and retired from writing. His son Felix persuaded him to revisit everyone’s favourite Dick Francis character, the one-handed ex-jockey Sid Halley. Heartbreakingly it seems Mary really was the brains of the outfit. Either Sid has become eighty percent less smart then he used to be, or I have become a much more critical reader –

Oh. Anyway the Peyton books were better; Blind Beauty was rollicking fun. Free Rein completes the Jonathan Meredith trilogy that I read the first two of in real time, back in the eighties. It’s actually great. Not sure why I didn’t read it then. It has everything I ever loved about Peyton – wholly convincing horse, complicated and believable people and plot. There’s a whole nother blogpost about 20thC British horse lit and how profoundly it influenced my view of the world, and how shamingly recently – like, on this Cambridge trip – it was that I figured out English riding traces its heritage, inevitably, to foxhunting. And what that means about the intersection of horses and teen girl sexuality and class, and money. How these books propagated those memes through the Anglosphere. Pony Club as, like Scouts, a vector of Empire and privilege.

But this isn’t that blogpost. Relieved are you? Or disappointed? The horsy theme came to a crunching halt with Sarah Gruen’s Riding Lessons. What really pissed me off about this book is that Gruen can actually write; her sentences are reasonably fluent, her eye isn’t bad, she has a sense of humour. Why then oh why? Gods, why is her protagonist so painfully, unbearably stupid? Why is she so selfish and self-absorbed? Why does she treat her mother and father and husband and child and ex-boyfriend with such cavalier disregard? WHY? Am I actually supposed to relate to this woman and wish her well because she has blonde hair or something?


I think I am not the demographic. Also, the plot was dire, relying on (at a minimum) Contrived Coincidence, Abovementioned Idiotic Protagonist, A Stupid Plan, A Still More Stupid Backup Plan, Mother And Daughter Failing To Exchange Necessary Information (two pairs)… wibble. Let us never speak of it again. Next! Tithe, which I picked up because author Holly Black just got a gig on my beloved Shadow Unit. It was okay. Next!

I read Tamora Pierce on the recommendation of Liz’s Milo. The Protector of the Small quartet was great. It has a likeable and unusual protagonist – a thickset, not very articulate girl. Nice thing is the stories show, don’t tell, how this kid gets to be remarkable. We go through her training regime. We see her learn lessons and then apply them! There’s a rather unfortunate digression into Prophecy and Chosen Oneness towards the end, but our heroine Keladry is refreshingly dismissive about it. “I’d never have called myself anything so silly,” she snorts at the title “Protector of the Small”.

There’s one brilliant scene in, I think, the third book, where Kel violently objects to a piece of injustice and takes her case to the King. The King is frankly sympathetic, agrees to take up her cause and explains rapidly the compromises that will have to be reached in order to accomplish the change of legislation in the context of larger reforms. Kel walks out reeling, realizing that even well-meaning grownups can’t fix the world by fiat. It’s an unexpected and quite lovely moment. I described this series to Jeremy as “Harry Potter done right.” Imagine my disappointment at reaching back to Pierce’s first book and finding that the Keladry quartet is essentially her effort to rewrite those 25yo originals.

Well, times change. It was very odd reading Melusine between and around the Pierce books. They share a lot of stock European fantasy tropes and themes, and there’s even some overlap in the namespace. Where Keladry’s values are basically decent and wholesome, though, the narrators of Melusine are a clever but socially inferior thief and a psychotic wizard. There is teh gaysex and it is all very dark. My opinion of Felix remained low throughout the (long) novel, but I did come to love Mildmay the thief.

Pick of the bunch, though, was Naomi Novik’s Victory of Eagles. Temeraire POV! Lawrence angst! Subversive dragon independence movements! Transportation! ALL SO VERY GOOD.

some days take surprise left turns

Sunshine, high clouds, another gorgeous lazy day in Bernal. I was strolling back from Charlie’s Cafe to Precita Playground with a couple of cafe lattes when I realized it was *Claire* making all that noise. Liz popped up in my field of view to remind me that scalp wounds bleed like crazy, but I was already accelerating toward my screaming kid. Jeremy lifted the blood-stained paper napkin off her head. I took one look at the gaping wound and said “Hospital.”

I lifted her as if she weighed nothing and swept her to the car, Jeremy and Julia scrambling in my wake, saying our hasty goodbyes to Liz, Danny and Ada. We drove the five blocks to St Lukes with Claire howling and my hands white-knuckled on the wheel.

If you have to go to an ER south of Market you should go to St Luke’s; we waited five minutes for the nurse, who rushed us in to see a doctor. I suppose it helps if your five year old girl is awash in her own blood. The doctor was fantastic, very patient with Claire, explaining things to her so she would understand them. He checked her thoroughly for concussion – “Touch your nose. No, not with my hand, with *your* hand!” – and put local anaesthetic on the cut.

Jeremy took Julia home for her nap while Claire and I waited for the anaesthetic to work. We did addition and subtraction and ventured into negative numbers. I told her the story of when I broke my ankle. We played Rock Paper Scissors for a while, then when we got bored added new game options: Dynamite, Cannon, Meteor, Nova, Supernova. What beats Supernova?

Doctor Bell came back and put three neat staples in Claire’s scalp. I looked into her eyes as he was doing it. She was so scared and she had to go through it alone, even if I was there holding her hands. And she faced it, and came through.

“I know what beats supernovas,” I said. “You do.”

And then we went to the library.

kid, a love story

I have picked Claire up from the Y. We’re waiting for the 14 Mission bus. Claire is limpeted onto me; her hair keeps blowing up my nose.

Me: Let’s keep loving each other for ever!

Claire (laughing): We’re already doing that!

one day jeremy promises he will be able to do this

Jeremy’s wushu school held a demonstration at the Asian Art Museum last night. Wushu is derived from Chinese martial arts; it’s a combination of forms and sparring. The forms are like a beautiful, gymnastic dance. The sparring is scary and exciting, all whirring swords and nunchucks! And it doesn’t hurt that everyone is wearing brightly coloured silk pajamas.

Teacher Philip did his drunken fist routine, where the fighter is pretending to be impaired to Lull the opponent into a False Sense of Security. His wife Zhang Hong Mei, a former Chinese national champion, danced with two swords. She is so fast and strong and graceful that even if you are sitting ten feet away from her you cannot believe your eyes.

The kids were enthralled and inspired. All the way home they were practising their forms.

bach’s cello concertos on the ipod

I don’t want to claim to be running again, but I have been out twice in a week. It reminds me how much I love our hill. On Sunday, on the way up, I saw a hummingbird standing in the air among the Eugenia Street callistemon.

Then, when I got to the top of the hill, the red-tailed hawk that lives in the pines flew directly over my head to the hillside. He was so close I could see the sky between his tail feathers.

He glared at me gazing at him, his eyes yellow and mad, then he flew up and back over my head. Something trailed from his talons that I thought were jesses until I realized it was the tail of the mouse he’d just caught.

did i say tired?

I went to bed at the girls’ bedtime a couple of nights last week and felt much better. Then of course I ran around like a nutter all weekend. Visited George the horse, of whom more presently, maybe, for cuddles and manure; took the manure to Armistead Maupin Elementary, where I spread it around a pair of fig trees. Worked in the sun to help build the cob bench and got thoroughly sunburned. Claire and another girl were at war with the boys. The boys were a Wookie-Clone alliance, armed with light sabers. Claire and her sidekick fought back with guns. I thought that showed admirable initiative and a sound grasp of tactics.

I took home some squash blossoms and two yellow zucchinis from the school garden, which made me feel all warm and locavorous over having turned horse poo into summer squash. I tried to make squash blossom fritters, which were not especially successful. Then J and I went to the Dark Knight for a date, which was also not very successful. Heath Ledger was brilliant and heartbreaking, but other than that it was just a big shouty film and dumber than most. I walked out ten minutes before the end. Salome and I are going to get the DVD of Brokeback and have a good sob over that.

Sunday I took Claire to her piano class, and she and her teacher played a duet of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy while I grinned until my face split in half and my heart exploded with pride. You could practically tell it was actually Ode to Joy! Claire has been practicing furiously ever since we watched a YouTube of some ten-year-old prodigy playing Chopin. “He’s better than me!” she wailed. “I bet he practices a lot,” I said, and that was it. She played every night for a week.