Monday, April 21, 2014

Park season

After a long, gruelling winter, the girls and I have been eager to get back to the park.

As we were leaving, Devyn reached for her basketball; Molly said that she needed to get a book and ran back into the house. Upon reflection, I remembered that I'd been able to relax during the last park visit, and then I went back for a book, too.

Serendipities: Language and Lunacy by Umberto Eco has been on my reading list for years, and the very day on which I decide to take it to the park? I meet a linguist from my alma mater whose area of interest is semiotics.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

My glass shall not persuade me I am old...*

Recently, we took a break from reading the first book of Ingo (Helen Dunmore). Molly chose a simple, beloved picture book from her collection for a few minutes of light reading.

After a few pages, my six-year-old sighed and said, "This is very repetitive."

"It is," I said. "It reminds me of Brown Bear, Brown Bear..."

"Hmm. I wonder where that book is?" she mused, changing the subject.

"It's derivative," I added, tongue-in-cheek, fully expecting her to ask what that means.

"Yes," she agreed. "It is."

*from my favourite Shakespeare sonnet (22)

Thursday, January 23, 2014


Our front yard, and beyond, is covered in thick ice that resists any tool but a pickax and has been for at least one week (but I suspect longer.).

No matter where you look, there is ice or snow covering ice. 

Admittedly, the ice and its effects -- quite beautiful.  

Still, I can't hide the fact that I am desperate for spring and, in spite of my rational self, I keep hoping that the nearest prognosticating rodent will not see his shadow.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Next up

Douglas Adams: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (John Carnell / Steve Leialoha) - a graphic novel that I've always wanted to read.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Every time

So, I have been promising Molly for ages that I would tackle our upstairs closet because she is interested in seeing some of the furniture, clothes, and toys that she and Devyn had used over the years. It's just time to clean it up.

Frankly, I have been avoiding that closet. It truly is the closet which, if opened carelessly, would release an avalanche of toys and household items, so we're glad that it has a lock. It scares me; or, it did scare me. It scared me until I very bravely opened the door and started our journey down memory lane today and turned right into the world where noisy toddler toys and overpriced baby furniture live forever.

Because Molly was helping, I rummaged through bins with the frustrated cadence of a hunt-and-peck typist: trying to find a block here that she had spotted and a teething ring there that she had to see and all before Molly could reach them herself. She was so much faster and managed to grab it before I could. Damn.

"Look!" she said in awe. "Mum, there are books, too!"

Well, there was one book -- a picture book, not a baby book, in very fine condition -- and it looked very much out of place among the vividly coloured walkers and shape-sorting cubes. It actually didn't belong in a bin, tucked away for years, out of sight and out of mind. It should have been on their shelves but I sort-of-accidentally-on-purpose stuck it in among the toys then quickly shoved the bin in, shut the closet door behind me, and forgot all about it for years.

Tonight, Molly wanted me to read it to her. She knows the song, but she hadn't heard this story which, she discovered, actually is the song. She didn't know at the time how averse I am to reading the story.

I don't actually hate Puff the Magic Dragon for its contents, but I hate it because it has made me cry every single time I've read it. It is unbearably sad, but I agreed to read it. At one point, as my throat tightened and my voice became unsteady, Molly looked up at me but, my eyes blurring the page, I stared at the words and just carried on.

Go ahead and read it. It comes with a CD much appreciated by the overly sensitive in our family.

Publisher: Sterling
Published: August 2007
Age range: from 3 to 7
24 pages
ISBN: 1-4027-4782-9
ISBN13: 9781402747823
Hardcover with Jacket & CD

Super Why?

It's one show that I really don't mind the girls watching (though Devyn is not very interested in it) because, as Molly told me today, "It teaches you about letters and how to spell."

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

More Sherlock...but 'tis the season

I always have a graphic novel on the go, and right now it is The Hound of the Baskervilles (illustrated by I.N.J. Culbard and adapted by Ian Edginton).

Sunday, January 05, 2014


We often go for long drives in the countryside, even during winter, on the weekends.

This weekend, I snapped a couple of photos from the car as the scenery quickly passed out of sight.

When I saw them, I immediately thought of Molly's school assignment from early December: she'd had to choose a book or a poem about winter to read to her class. Eventually, she chose January by John Updike.
The days are short,
The sun a spark
Hung thin between
The dark and dark.

Fat snowy footsteps
Track the floor,
And parkas pile up
Near the door.

The river is
A frozen place
Held still beneath
The trees' black lace.

The sky is low.
The wind is gray.
The radiator
Purrs all day.
A Child's Calendar by John Updike.

Saturday, January 04, 2014


Two years is a lengthy hiatus for a television series that you really enjoy, but the wait is over for the fortunate (BBC) Sherlock fans in the UK. Yes, the third series began on New Year's Day. For them. The viewers in the UK.

I think "overjoyed" captures my reaction upon learning of the show's actual return dates. After all, watching Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock and Martin Freeman's Watson is such an enjoyable experience.

Admittedly, I was a latecomer to the show (and, okay, to some sort of Cumber-[collective]), but I quickly caught up during a Netflix binge on series one and two only to discover that series three wasn't even a rumour yet back then.

So, yes, Sherlock is back, and, as it happens, Sherlock is also free (in a sense).

According to the LA Times (12/30/13) now all elements of most of the stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (except those which appeared in the US in 1923) are in the public domain, and the characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John H. Watson are free of copyright.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

The Rubáiyat of Omar Khayyám

Illustration: Gilbert James
Translated by Edward Fitzgerald
1922 edition

"Then to this earthen Bowl did I adjourn My Lip the secret Well of Life to Learn" (frontispiece)

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Impressions of Samarkand

Samarkand (Amin Maalouf)

It's the 11th century, and Omar Khayyam (the poet, scientist, and philosopher from Nishapur, Iran) is in Samarkand.

In the street of Rhubarb Fields, a small boy bolted past, his bare feet padding over the wide paving slabs as he clutched to his neck an apple he had stolen from a stall. In the Bazaar of the Haberdashers, inside a raised stall, a group of backgammon players continued their dispute by the light of an oil lamp...In the arcade of the Rope-Makers,  a muleteer stopped near a fountain, let the cool water run in the hollow formed by his two palms, then bent over, his lips pouting as if to kiss a sleeping child's forehead... Then he fetched a hollowed-out watermelon, filled it with water and carried it to his beast...
- Chapter 1- observing the town at day's end

Go up, they had suggested, onto the terrace of Kuhandiz. Take a good look around and you will see only water and greenery, beds in flower, cypress trees pruned by the cleverest gardeners to look like bulls, elephants, sturdy camels or fighting panthers which appear to leap. Indeed, even inside the wall, from the gate of the Monastery, to the West and up to the China Gate, Omar had never seen such dense orchards and sparkling brooks. Then, here and there, a brick minaret shot up with a dome chiselled by shadow, the whiteness of a belvedere wall, and, at the edge of a lake which brooded beneath its weeping willows...
- Chapter 1 - heeding the advice of past travellers

'Many cities like to think that they are the most hospitable in all the lands of Islam, but only the inhabitants of Samarkand deserve the credit. As far as I know, no traveller has ever had to pay for his lodgings or food. I know whole families who have been ruined honouring visitors or the needy, but you will never hear them boast of it. The fountains you have seen on every street corner, filled with sweet water to slake the thirst of passers-by of which there are more than two thousand in this city made of tile, copper or porcelain have all been provided by the people of Samarkand.'
-  Chapter 3 - listening to the qadi, Abu Taher

The immense square of Ras al-Tak was overflowing with smoke and noise. Itinerant merchants had erected stalls against every wall, and under every street lamp there was a singing girl or lute player improvising melodies. Myriad groups were forming and dispersing around the story-tellers, the palm-readers and the snake-charmers.
- Chapter 9 - the city celebrates

Thursday, December 26, 2013

From Maus II: A Survivor's Tale...

I just sped through Maus (I), and loved it: high contrast art, richly used texture, and wonderful dialogue. I enjoyed it for many reasons, but I don't feel like writing about it yet.

I started Maus II directly afterwards...

It's nice to be catching up on my To Read list over the holidays.

Monday, December 16, 2013


Tonight, as I read, Molly comes to my side every few minutes. I look at her; at six-and-a-half, she has no idea that Keith and I observe an uneasy anniversary at this time.

I can hear Devyn's indistinct words from where I am, one storey above, and I am more than glad that she is doing math work. She's grumbling, yes, and Keith is down there with her. As we were drawn into the preteen drama of incomplete homework earlier this evening, I remembered that we were at her side for an altogether different, frightening reason exactly seven years ago.

December 17, 2006


OK, waiting for an ambulance to get to my unresponsive child is the most uncomfortable experience I've had as an adult.

"Please hurry!" I screamed at the 9-1-1 operator.

Devyn had a rectal fever of 39.8, she was breathing rapidly and didn't make eye contact and didn't respond to our voices. K held her upright on the steps as I opened the door waiting for the paramedics. She began vomiting.

They put her in the ambulance right away. There were lights and a firetruck and I remember being aware that I was cutting across my lawn to get to her.

I held the oxygen mask over the face of my shaking child. I was hysterical but at least I was aware that she was probably frightened and pulled myself together enough to keep reassuring her. I remember vaguely hearing one paramedic tell the other that I was pregnant.

The ambulance only took about two minutes to arrive at our house, maybe three minutes to get to the hospital. K drove behind us and arrived maybe 5 - 10 minutes later.

Her heartrate was a terrifying 170 bpm and her oxygen saturation was only 80%.

There were so many doctors and nurses and student doctors waiting for her because they had been alerted that she was on the way and I kept wondering if I was losing my daughter. I was holding another oxygen mask over her mouth and nose.

The doctors and nurses tried to find veins in order to get a line and they couldn't on either arm or her feet. So, they just had to keep jabbing her and tightening rubber strips around her arms until they found one, took blood and wrapped her arm up.

I remember asking if I'd gotten her to the hospital in time.

One kind paramedic kept telling me how well I had done, that I was a good mother.

The nurses inserted an acetaminophen suppository but it wasn't going to work. At her best, three hours later, her fever was 39 degrees. They gave her ibuprofen and catheterized her.

The doctor said something about the possibility that she'd had an atypical febrile seizure, but the conversation is a blur.

Finally, she appreciatively licked a popsicle that I held to her mouth for several minutes. She was so weak and that very experience reminded me of when she was only a baby. She still wasn't speaking.

Then, she began to make eye contact with me and it was prolonged and often as if she was silently begging me to do something or to know something or to be something. I stared back, telling her that everything was going to be OK and she just kept staring into my eyes.

At around midnight, the doctor told us that she didn't have a bacterial infection and that she could go home as long as he was convinced that she would take fluids. She was very dehydrated.

By this time, she was answering questions:

"Would you like a popsicle?"
"No, thank you. I don't need one." 

Only my daughter would be so polite through a traumatic experience, I thought.

K and I finally had to force pedialyte through a 10 ml syringe into her mouth and did it every 15 minutes.

I think finally hearing her speak normally let me know that everything would be OK.

And, so ended our ordeal that began at 3:00 am on Saturday morning. She'd had a fever of 102.9, we gave her Tempra and the fever disappeared. At 5:00 pm or so, we took her temperature and gave her Tempra but she'd vomited it up. She'd behaved normally throughout the day (though we skipped ballet and music classes) even drawing me pictures just an hour or so before the 9-1-1 call. We had been getting ready to take her to the clinic because she wasn't herself and she was burning up. Then, she became completely unresponsive, her eyes rolling back in her head, and K said, "Call 9-1-1." We'd thought that at the same time.

But, at around 1:00 am, we wrapped her in K's coat and put her in the car to go home. While he sorted out parking lot problems, we waited with the car running.

"Mummy, when I grow up, I'm going to go in a spaceship."

Plans for the future. I needed to hear that.

"That's a very good idea, baby."

December 21, 2006

I Didn't Think It Could Get Worse... 

But it did.

The next day, Devyn seemed normal and we went out to celebrate my completion of the Journalism course. Then, we went for a drive to the local falls.

When we got home, Devyn drew pictures for me while I put my feet up for a while. I still hadn't slept more than two hours.

I noticed that she was warm but it was only around 37 and I worried only a little. We gave her Tylenol and Motrin.

Within an hour, Devyn, sitting on the couch beside me, spiked a fever of 40.2. We didn't hesitate to wrap her up and head to the emergency and she told me that her throat hurt and that she couldn't breathe.

Once there, they decided to admit her but there were no beds. So, we ended up in a room used for patients who may need resuscitation from respiratory problems. The patient beside us was a baby with bronchial asthma who was in respiratory failure. There were doctors and nurses resuscitating her all night in our makeshift ICU. There was no sleep for me or for K.

One of the many doctors who had seen her the night before came over to our bed and told us that he was glad that we'd actually come back because, upon rereading the chest x-ray of the night before, well, they could say that Devyn had pneumonia from a bacterial infection.

She was treated with three doses of IV amoxycillan and discharged the next morning even though her "sats" weren't very good: high heart/resp rates as well as very low oxygen saturation.

Still, we were relieved to be going home. Another sleepless night worrying about my baby and my unborn child.

That day, Devyn, again, seemed normal: watching television, playing, imagining and no fever.

During the night, however, I noticed that she was not breathing very well: her breaths were incredibly rapid and she seemed like she was struggling. We decided to take her to the emergency at 4:00 a.m.

This time, she couldn't utter a sentence without sounding breathless and I just knew that something serious was happening.

As we waited in the emergency room for two hours (unheard of for us to this point), Devyn slept but there was something about her that had changed and I couldn't tell you why I thought that. Just my intuition, I guess.

As soon as she was called in to an exam room, a doctor looked at her and said, "Your sats are awful...She looks like a very sick child."

The doctor looked at her file and said to another, "Look, she has RSV." It's a common childhood cold virus that happens to be very serious for some children, my child.

Another doctor, the head of Pediatrics, came to tell us that our weak little girl had both the RSV virus and bacterial pneumonia and, of course, they were not going to send her home this time.

She was treated with nebulizers and had another chest x-ray. She was admitted to the Pediatric unit of the children's hospital.

I felt relieved, frightened at the same time. But there was so much more to come...

Once Devyn was settled into her bed and we had notified people of her condition, I noticed that she kept falling asleep while talking to me. Her numbers were low: oxygen at 80%, heartrate above 160. She was hot to the touch.

I went to the nurses' station to let them know and they came to look at her but said they weren't worried.

I was because I knew something was wrong, was going wrong. Her breathing then sped up and, this time, I wanted them to take me seriously.

The nurses came, kept an eye on her but didn't seem too concerned.

When I saw her numbers change again, I insisted something was wrong. I said, "I'm not a doctor but I can't shake the feeling that she's getting sicker."

Something must have clicked because, as Devyn declined further still, more nurses appeared. Then, more doctors.

Then a horrible announcement from a nurse: "Devyn's getting sicker and we need to call in ICU workers to help because we can't leave her room but we all have four other patients to attend. She needs more intensive care."

The ICU workers came and said, "Yes, your child is definitely getting sicker. We may move her to ICU because that's where she belongs."

Devyn was fevered at 39.9, after Tylenol, and she wasn't conscious. I started panicking: what if it gets even worse? Is she dying? K had left to get things from home and I couldn't reach him: all of this happened in the space of his absence. When he returned -- and I felt so sorry that he had to walk into this episode unprepared -- I said,

"She's getting sicker!"

Before we knew it, there were about nine doctors and nurses consulting outside her room, filing in and out, as well as several carts and machines that now crowded the corridor.

I had to leave the room because an X-ray machine was going to be used. My little girl was so desperately ill.

I can't describe what it felt like to see her like that, to not know if I was losing her. She was getting sicker and I didn't know what that meant. Her tiny chest moved rapidly, her eyes were closed but not in sleep, her arms lay limply at her sides before I was ushered out.

I stood against the wall opposite her room while doctors and nurses rushed around me and her. They were serious and I looked for signs that maybe it wasn't as bad as it seemed. Maybe if they'd made eye contact it would have helped me but they had the austere faces of those who raced against time to find out what was wrong and to fix it.

I couldn't see the sheer number of doctors and nurses as a good thing, as one nurse had suggested to me. I couldn't consider that moving to the ICU would be a good thing, as the same nurse had suggested.

After a few hours, the doctors and nurses dwindled in number, Devyn was on massive IV infusions of antibiotics and electrolytes and she still wasn't conscious. She was stabilizing. Her numbers were still way off but not as seriously as before. For many hours to come, her breathing would remain the same but, at least, she was responding to medication.

By the next day, incredibly, Devyn was sitting up in bed, listening to her favourite Backyardigans music on K's Sennheiser headphones connected to my laptop.

She began to attract a lot of attention again only this time people gathered to watch the cute baby bouncing and bobbing her head in time to the music.

"She should be in a Sony commercial," a man with dreads said.

"Omigawd! Look at her! She is so-o-o cute," said another.

Devyn was oblivious to it all.

Released 48 hours after the second admission, we took her home. Actually, we'd been promising her that she could have new tights for days and, on this day, this is what she wanted to do. So, we went home, dropped off luggage, etc. and headed to the mall to go to Old Navy.

K, unable to refuse her anything at this point, bought her everything she requested.

The next day, we called our family doctor for an appointment and got one that day.

Devyn was in great condition but the doctor prescribed amoxicillan for me because I have been sick for more than three weeks.

I realize that the diary entry ends abruptly. But, all this to say: we were there and now we are here, thankfully.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


I sigh and fold my arms. Fine. I glance at her eyes. They are black and white and brown. Like Devon's. I never noticed that before. I'm so surprised that I actually stare instead of looking away. 
Good! That's very good Caitlin! That's how you show people you're interested in them and that you're listening to them. Can you see how happy my eyes are right now? 
I nod. I'm still staring at her eyes or where her eyes used to be when she turns her head to look where she's walking. When she turns back I catch the eyes again and keep staring. I'm getting good at this.
Okay but you don't have to stare quite so hard or quite so long. 
I close my eyes. 
You can just look away briefly and then come back to my eyes again.
I do.  
Try to make it a little smoother so you don't look like you're about to jump on top of me when you stare into my eyes.  
See? It's too hard. 
But you did it! All we're doing right now is working on refinement. You just have to keep trying. It's all about finesse. 
I like that word. What does it mean? 
Doing something tactfully and skillfully while dealing with a difficult situation. 
I'm surprised that I'm only learning this word now. This word is all about me! 
(from Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine)

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The need for cytotoxic therapies...

After Molly falls asleep, I stop her documentary -- whichever it happens to be -- and prepare to watch one of my favourite shows: BBC's Doc Martin. I'm halfway through the 5th (and awaiting the 6th) series.

It's set in Cornwall, England, and tells the story of a prominent surgeon whose development of hemophobia leads him to the quieter life of a country doctor in a familiar village.

Martin Ellingham is a middle-aged, humourless professional who does not suffer fools gladly. In turns he is bluntly honest, oblivious to social expectations, and too impatient to indulge anyone in meaningless chatter. In contrast to his arrogant demeanour, he bears the public truth of his aversion to blood with quiet humility.

This surgeon hails from a family of physicians and a circle of colleagues who practice serious medicine, so we can well sense the embarrassment in his predicament. (The cliches -- that it underscores the seeming randomness with which misfortune can suddenly attend any one of us as well as the frailty that connects us -- hold true.)

He demonstrates his competence as a general practitioner beyond question. Much of the show's humour surrounds the unique complexities of the role of physician in the dual agency that providing rural health care often requires: such doctors daily encounter patients in social settings, friends and foes appear, and professional boundaries blur. In the case of a village, the details of a doctor's private life are held no more privately than those of its other residents.

While the doctor's annoyance at the villagers' intrusive familiarity ought to be checked by the villagers' reaction to his gruff exterior and unmannerly conversational style of delivering his precise diagnoses and in managing relationships, it is not. Ellingham fits in because there is just as much pressure upon him to forge this new life for himself as there is pressure upon the villagers to tolerate him -- they need each other.

To the surprise of all, he manages to develop an intimate relationship with a local woman (Louisa) whose wavering tolerance for brash, unexpected behaviour allows her to find a quasi-comfortable role as his significant other and, eventually, as the mother of his child. 

Some weeks after the birth of their baby, Louisa prepares to go out for the night with a friend for the first time since giving birth. As she leaves, she instructs Martin to read to the baby. Martin agrees but mildly protests considering the obvious cognitive limitations of an infant.

Yet, upon Louisa's return, she quietly observes Martin reading to their baby from a medical journal -- on the need to focus on cytotoxic therapies for cancer patients.

It is such a wonderful scene. The doctor's stiff, arm's-length 'cuddle' that we have seen several times since the baby's birth has been replaced with an earnest attempt to connect -- in his own way -- with his smiling, clearly responsive son.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Thursday, August 01, 2013

The time has come

My girls enjoy listening to me read poetry. Initially, it was Molly who wanted me to read a number of poems to her; then, Devyn gradually joined us. For the past four years or so, I have granted repeated requests for our repertoire of poems while content in the understanding that they enjoyed the oral tradition or the musicality of the works being read. It wasn't important that such young children interpret poems or listen with an academic ear: Molly was just two years old when our tradition began.

This afternoon, we settled into the movie of my choice: Harriet the Spy (which is based upon the book of the same name by Louise Fitzhugh). The girls were unenthusiastic. It wasn't until the character of the nanny (played by Rosie O'Donnell) began to recite, "The time has come, the Walrus said..." that Devyn and Molly smiled, their little faces glowing with the recognition of a poem.

Not only did the girls recognize The Walrus and the Carpenter and speak it line for line, in the context of the movie the poem made sense to them, and they wanted the movie to continue. They were delighted as our poem appeared again throughout the story. In fact, the nanny repeated the first stanza in at least two different contexts, and both girls understood why the recitation was appropriate each time.

And it was merely a flash, this initial convergence of myself, the girls, the movie, and the poem, but it illuminated something about our togetherness that I greatly value: what connects us is never fully captured in any one piece of writing that we read together, but every work that we read fully connects us in some way.

*The Walrus and the Carpenter from Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There (1872) by Lewis Carroll