Archive for February, 2012

it all started with a kazoo

Someone who clearly wishes us harm gave Julia a kazoo, and so we woke at 7 this morning even though it is Saturday. We feigned death until it was time to go to wushu, then we visited Briar Rose the hamster who lives with Salome, Jack, Milo and Najah. To Metate for fish tacos and then down to San Bruno Mountain to hike the Saddle Loop Trail with Jamey and Rowan.

I was expecting the mountain to be as it looks from a distance – bare and raw – but in fact it is paths winding among masses of wildflowers, and beautiful forests, and an unfortunately named Bog Trail that winds through a little canyon so beautiful it reminded both me and Jamey separately of Glendalough.

From there to the opposite corner of the city for swimming lessons (the short people) and coffee (me and Jeremy.) Claire won a ribbon for her backstroke – she has very nearly topped out of the swim school – and we made it into Lucca’s delicatessen five minutes before it closed, so we’re having fresh ravioli and Doctor Who for dinner.

“I’m so tired. I had a long day,” I said to Jeremy.

“I know,” he said. “I was there! And it all started with a kazoo.”

It’s our twelfth wedding anniversary. I was campaigning to have this recognized as the horse anniversary, but the universe wants to make it all about kazoos.

and now, doctor who

After we got home from Claire’s fencing lesson, I translated Julia’s homework while Jeremy and Claire wrote a script in Python to generate 90 times-table problems.

Jeremy explained each part of the script to Claire, and Julia and I had a bath together. We played the game where I pretend to call her while she is away at college.

Me: “Whatcha doin’?”

Jules: “Studying biology.”

Me: “What’s your college like? Is it like Hogwarts?”

Jules: “Yeah but we don’t do magic. We do science. It’s Hogscience.”

We agreed that when she and I are both dead, we will have a little cottage in heaven with a pasture for Alfie and Bellboy to share. We will spend our afterlife gardening and teaching ourselves the rest of mathematics.

This is just to say that I love my little family, and I love our life together, here, now. I am so happy.

earning my spurs

Dez took off her own spurs and buckled them on under my chaps: “Your leg’s quiet enough now.” Alex had already put the rope gag bit on Bella: “Your hands are quiet enough.” Responsible horsepeople won’t give you the grown-up kit until you’ve proved you won’t misuse it.

Bella, moving off my leg. Bella giving me more forward than I was asking for: the best and most welcome of mistakes. Bella stepping up from behind and flowing forward. My hands quiet and still, my elbows floppy.

Bella reaching down into the contact.


I kind of hate myself for loving my Kindle so much, except that it was a Christmas present from Jeremy so that makes it okay. I spent the best bits of my childhood in second hand bookstores and am gutted to see them close. I love public libraries and the smell of binding-glue, but the fact remains that I have read two library books in the eight weeks since I got the Kindle. And thirty e-books.

Those numbers are probably skewed by the fact that I slept in Sydney, Scone, Barraba, Nana Glen, Phoenix, New York, Orlando and Los Angeles as well as my own bed over the same period. The Kindle wins hands-down when I am traveling – whether it’s having a library to dig into on a transcontinental flight, or streaming audiobooks onto the car stereo on road trips. I used to get a bad back on business trips from the combination of MacBook and library books. Now I have the Air and the Kindle and I feel light as a feather.

All other things being equal, I’d still pick the book over the e-book. Good as it is, the e-ink hurts my eyes, especially at night, and it’s just not as pleasurable to curl up with the Kindle. That said, all other things aren’t equal. When I can order a book from SFPL and get it some weeks or months in the future, albeit free, or buy it off Amazon and read it straight away, it’s quite difficult to resist the lure of instant gratification. The two library books I did wait for – Hilary McKay’s Wishing for Tomorrow and Penelope Mortimer’s About Time – I waited for because they’re not available on Kindle yet.

The selection for Kindle is actually a bit shit. I don’t think my tastes are especially nichey but there isn’t enough Australian fiction or really good history. There are surprising gaps: David Marr’s Panic is on Kindle but his Dark Victory isn’t, for example. I got the whole Casson family series _except_ the fourth of five. Huh?

The selection for Kindle isn’t as shit as the selection for audiobooks, but at least it’s possible to see the point of that: the audiobook for Sabriel, for example, features Tim Curry reading aloud for twelve hours, which has an ungainsayable scarcity value to it. (The audiobook of Sabriel is perfect, by the way, except that Curry’s voice for Sabriel herself is a little too girly. Eventually I decided that Sabriel is a transwoman, which vastly improved the whole book for me. I’ve raved elsewhere about the greatness of history on audiobook, but fiction’s pretty awesome too.) But Kindle books are digital textfiles, and I am Web-native enough to shake a fist at the sky! when told that such things cannot be provided.

Upshot anyway is that I read virtually everything on the Kindle now, love its portability and capacity, am satisfied with its readability in brightly lit playgrounds and have taught myself to borrow Kindle books from the library. Still borrow books from the library but at a much slower pace. Have filled my request queue with graphic novels, which I love anyway, so, win. Love the highlighting feature and wanna figure out how to output it to a Tumblr. Would, honestly, recommend the Kindle to any other voracious reader still hesitating. But please go spend too much money in your local independent bookstore also!

level 41

For my birthday, my subconscious gave me a Constellation Games dream. My sister and I were science bloggers a la Xeni Jardin, and we’d spent months living with and getting to know the Farang. Now they were taking us diving in their ice lake. I held onto my host’s thick, muscular tail as we went down, down, down into the black cold. Then we surfaced in a brightly lit cave and I flailed around in surprise and delight while my Farang friend(s) laughed and laughed.

Well done, my id! Boy, do you know the kind of thing I like!

gratuitous kidbragging

1. We have given the girls an allowance, so Claire set up a Kiva account and made a loan.

2. Me to Julia, unjustly: Claire is so grumpy. She gets that from Bebe.

Julia, without hesitation: She gets it from you.

we circumnavigate strawberry hill in a game of our own devising

Sunday I was an hour and a half early to my lesson, to Jeremy’s infinite amusement. I hung out in the cafe in Ladera watching Men With European Cars. It was one of those meetings where they stand around looking at engines and discussing detailing. O the infinity of my scorn, but standing around discussing flexion and distances is the same exact thing. I am lucky, they are lucky, to be so fond of something so complicated.

I rode Austin, as I have not done in ages. I first rode him when I was still in my twenties and he was barely more than a colt. He’s my friend Beth’s horse and he’s one of the best horses in the world. I’d put my kids on him without hesitation, and yet I can ask him for flying changes and lateral work and he’ll give them willingly. That’s rarer and more precious than anything you can imagine.

I told Nicole I wanted to work on having a more consistent leg and a more following hand, which turned out to be a mistake, because she cranked up my stirrups to jockey length to stretch the tendons and everything still hurts. It worked, of course, and I went on to ride Austin really well, which is lucky because Beth came to watch. The last course we rode was good, and the last line especially good; I relaxed and sank into the saddle and Austin liked that.

I was sugar crashing when I got home and had to collect the Fitzhardinges. I desperately wanted the linguini and clams from Park Chow, as you do, but I knew I couldn’t make it that far. I was finding a place to park near Church and Market when Jeremy reminded me that there is another Chow right there. When my linguini appeared in front of me I was teary with the pleasure of a wish come true.

We met Gilbert and Heather and Heath and Ada in GG Park and rented paddleboats and had pirate and accordion battles all around Strawberry Hill. Then we climbed the hill, passing a drag queen photo shoot at the waterfall. In the ruins on the peak the four children fell into a complex and brilliant medieval castle game that I was sad to have to end, so we planned a picnic there next week for a rematch.

game theory

When the sibling rivalry was at its boringest late last year I tried a two-pronged approach. First, we instituted and enforced some non-negotiables: you will speak to one another with respect; you will respect one another’s personal space.

Second, shameless bribery. A child could report an act of kindness undertaken towards it by another child. On receipt of such reports, both children earned a point. No points were earned for self-reported acts of kindness. At some arbitrary threshold, points can be redeemed for valuable prizes (tea at Lovejoy’s.)

They earned eight and a half points non-ironically before Claire figured out how to game the system, conspired with Julia to perform a short role-play and presented us with the hilariously unconvincing spectacle of: “the children being nice to one another.” I kept a straight face and gave them each a point.

Tonight Claire and I were talking about some school exercises that bore her. I told her that the trick was figuring out how to hack them. We’re middle-class people. We have to jump through hoops to earn our bread. But we can at least jump through hoops in ways we find amusing. I used the sibling rivalry exercise, and the way she hacked it, as my example.

We’d had a perfect day. The weather was divine and we spent most of our time at Adventure Playground in Berkeley, which has got to be one of the nicest places in the world. But the no-contest awesomest moment of the day was Claire’s expression when she realized that I had tricked her and her sister into joining forces for a prank.

steak and mushrooms

J: “I had a thought. As I was watching the blood and cream pool at the bottom of the dishwasher. I thought, this is what a Mongol nomad’s dishwasher must look like.”

Reader, I married him.