Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Book Review: Snow Crash

Snow CrashSnow Crash by Neal Stephenson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I did it! I finally finished this book! I must admit that when I started reading this book, it was headed for five stars. The inventiveness, the foresight, and the creativity that Neil Stephenson had packed into this novel was amazing. It was like he had a time machine into the technology that was to come ten years later.

However, at towards the middle of the book, things started to lag. I found the central point of human language being somehow like computer viruses completely untenable. The extensive amount of time spent on this ancient history of computer viruses almost stopped me from finishing reading the story. In the end, the action picked up again, and I made my way through.

The last niggle I have with this book, one that is ultimately all too common with science fiction, is the poorly written female characters. While better than some others, Stephenson's female characters just don't ring true to me, and that means a book that could have been great is merely good.

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Book Review: Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child

Raising An Emotionally Intelligent ChildRaising An Emotionally Intelligent Child by John Gottman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My paediatrician recommended this book, saying it really is the best book out for toddlers that are dealing with the new world of emotions. It is an excellent book, and unlike a lot parenting books, very easy to read. It's central point is that it's not enough to just empathise with your children, but it's important to use that empathy to emotionally coach your children. I have started using this emotional coaching technique myself, and it's been a real asset with some of our daughter's occasional moments as a "terrible two". It helps to diffuse a tense situation, and turn it into a learning experience. I cannot recommend this book more.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

"Observances on Early Juvenile Class Structures": or "Holly's First Day of Mini Preschool"

Today Holly started school. No, not kindergarten, nor pre-school or daycare, but "summer fun, two, three". It's basically mini-preschool for an hour and a half, one day a week at the local community centre. It's essentially training wheels for kids who'll be starting preschool, and a taste of what it's like being in a classroom with a STRANGER taking care of them. Holly's only ever been minded by family or friends, so this is a big step for her.

Getting ready this morning, I could see the emotional spectrum she was dealing with. She was very excited to be going to school, but pretty apprehensive about people and things she didn't know. On top of that, the program is held at the same centre where her greatest fear resides: the Noisy Castle. Luckily, the preschool room is at the other end of centre from the rec room with the jumping castle.

We arrived a little early, and went into the foyer of the centre, but as the door to the classroom was locked, we could only look through the window. Holly was jumping with excitement, looking in wonder at all the toys they were putting out; toy kitchens, speedy cars and a great big dollhouse. Finally, some other toddlers arrived, a group of three boys. They evidently knew each other from the spring toddlers' class, and came thundering in, in a way that only two and three year old boys could. Holly, bless her heart, walked up to them, smiled, and said "Hello, my name is Holly", but they just ignored her. At bit disheartening at first, but Holly bounced back when the teacher unlocked the door, and she was allowed into a magical realm of new toys.

I'm sure there are Jungian psychologists out there who can see a child's future career path by what order they are attracted to toys. I'm not sure what to make of her selections. First, the toy kitchen, particularly the plastic-food. Odd, for a girl who not at all interested in the real stuff. Secondly, all the toy cars. Then the wooden shapes with sand in them. Lastly, the dollhouse.

While Holly scoped out the toy landscape, two more little boys came in, and I thought to myself "this is turning into a cocktail sausage fest". Finally the last member of the class arrived, a little Asian girl. I was pretty happy to see her, but a bit disappointed when I heard her mum advise the teacher that "she doesn't speak any English". I couldn't tell if she was Japanese or Korean, but I'll find out next week, so Holly can greet her with either Konnichiwa, or Anyang (two words she's learnt from going to the library).

So they went through the routines of free play, story time, snack time, arts and crafts and finally sing-along. Quite a lot to cram into an hour and a half. As a test, I left the classroom twice. Once for a quick pee, and then another for a fifteen minute trip to the library. Holly seemed to handle it fine, though when I was in the room, I noticed the odd glance from her here and there, just checking that everything was still cool. She heartily joined in all the activities, though she was not all that keen on sing-along, as it came just after arts and crafts, where Holly had discovered this magical new substance called "glue". She handled it very well, artfully decorating her paper fish with lacy tendrils of glue, and carefully placing sequins and shiny pieces of paper so as to not ruin her glue pattern (I hadn't the heart to tell her it will be clear when it dries). During most of sing-along, she just stood, silent, her fingers twitching, while looking with longing at the white jars of glue on the crafts table. However, by the end of class, the Anthropologist in me could see the formation of cliques, even in this young age group. Around the teacher, were the four, white, tough, sporty boys (the Jocks). However, slightly further away, lying down peacefully on the butterfly carpet, were the little Asian girl, a latin-American boy (who had spent 75% of the class clinging to his mother and crying), and Holly.

Yes folks, our future Freaks and Geeks.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

No More Workees For Me

Last Thursday afternoon I came home to find an email stating that the contract I supposed had until September had unceremoniously been cancelled, and I was to finish all work and return my security card the very next day. While I was not surprised, I was shocked at the suddenness of it all. Work had been slow and we had been anticipating our project would eventually end, but I had work I was in the middle of, so it was a shock. Of course it is no reflection on me; the entire document processing team was let go, though some got more notice than I.

To make it all more stressful, I am a self-employed contractor, so this means no severance pay and no government employment insurance payout. However, I get my pay six weeks after the month I've worked, meaning I still have pay coming in August. After that things get tight.

I can't say I'll miss my job that much. I found the bureaucracy frustrating, and the IT infrastructure painful. Trying to work from home with a small child is an exercise in futility at the best of times. I did feel I was helping those who had been wronged by the Indian residential schools system, and I definitely added to my research experience, but I am partly relieved to not have to squeeze it into my life anymore. But really now the issue is money. Vancouver is an expensive place, and the three of us on one income will be tough. If I can find another part-time, work-from-home job with flexible hours, I'll be fine, but they're not exactly easy to come by. Holly starts pre-school in January for three hours a day, so that is the only consistant childcare I have in the future. But finding three-hour a day jobs are tough. Plus, we have to pay for the pre-school. Mum has been helping me out with incidental babysitting for me, which has been a big help, but is not enough for me to commit to a job.

So I am pretty much looking at six months as a house-wife. This is really my first time facing primary home-taker-care of duties, as I was offered the research job two months into my mat leave with Holly and could not turn it down. There is a huge psychological difference between being a work-from-home mum and a -stay-at-home mum. Adding to my dilemma, is the mass exodus of wonderful friends out of Vancouver. Most are moving or have moved to a different city (damn you San Francisco!!!), while some have moved to suburbs that are difficult to get to for us (apparently the only parents in Vancouver without a car).

Still, I am trying to take this as an opportunity rather than a set-back. I was lucky to get the work I did when I did. I love spending most of my time taking care of Holly, and now I can have more energy to focus on getting to my seriously lagging behind To-Do List. Now I can catch up on things like writing this blog. I am just finishing a creative writing class at Langara College, which has been wonderful. Last September I took courses in technical writing, and after that I was keen to take a course that let me use adjectives again. I am trying to make room in my life to write everyday. I doubt it will ever pan out professionally, as I know far more talented writers than myself finding it tough to make a living, but for own peace-of-mind, I am keen to get back to something that meant so much to me before I became "grown-up".