Monday, 29 September 2008

Sudoku (sudo-something-you're-actually-supposed-to-be-doing)

Elder daughter has been on the computer a lot lately. She has to keep a journal for World Religions, do character studies for Candida, prepare a class presentation for Pride and Prejudice, design a tee-shirt for Media Studies...

This means I should tackle my other projects, like say, booting the house into some kind of order before entertaining a particularly A-type personality house guest this weekend. But nooooo.... I'm trying to master Sudoku. (You know what I'm talking about: nine grids of nine numbers, and each grid must contain the numbers one to nine, plus each horizontal line and each vertical line must contain the numbers one to nine, with no repeats within any grid or line.)

One evening last summer, we had set up lawn chairs in a designated spot in the Butchart Gardens. Because Victoria is actually quite a bit further north than Ottawa, we then had to wait five hours for the sun to set and the fireworks to start. We took turns strolling off to look at the gardens, to stand in line for ice-cream cones, to visit the washroom, etc. Elder daughter pulled out a book of Sudoku puzzles and, to my complete mystification, filled them out. She'd put numbers down, seemingly randomly. She wrote a number, glanced over at my bewildered face and smiled smugly: "Do you have any idea why I put that there?" "No-o-o..." She explained. I didn't get it. She chuckled like a sixteen-year-old sphinx. I decided to concentrate on my book. But couldn't stop myself looking over, just in time to see her write down three more numbers, in widely divergent places. And I had no idea why. I put it down to my ancient numerophobia. The fireworks blew it from my mind:

...until a few weeks later, when I find myself back in Hades with no access to the computer and piles (literally) of things I should be dusting, sorting, putting away. Having completed the "Canadian Cyberquotes" (you just figure out what letter of the alphabet stands for another letter of the alphabet to decode a quotation from a famous Canadian --- see, I can do these...), I tackle the Sudoku puzzle. Dammit, if I learned how to cut-and-paste on the computer, surely I can master this. And besides, there's the matter of keeping my rapidly aging brain in trim. Demeter, heartbroken over her sister's recent decline into dementia, has invested in one of those computer game thingies to muscle up her memory. The trouble is, her pre-cataract-surgery eyes can't quite make out the screen. The Baby Boomers, taking a break from their yoga and Tai Chi, are fighting the slide into senility cybernetically and with crosswords, declaiming along with King Lear: O, let me not be mad, not mad, sweet heaven,
Keep me in temper: I would not be mad.

I call elder daughter away from the computer: "Is this right?" She reads my face carefully and fills in two numbers. "Okay," I wail. "And that's because....? She sighs heavily. "There's already a 6 here and here, so I can't put it here or here, but there's a 6 missing here, so...." She reads my face again. "Did that make any sense? "Uh, I think so..." I manage to fill out two of the nine grids and flush with triumph, check the vertical and horizontal lines. Elder daughter examines the crumpled and cast-aside newspaper page after dinner. "Maybe you should be filling it in with pencil, mum."

The Ottawa Citizen's daily Sudoku has a four-star rating. On the weekend, it was a five-star. How the dickens am I to learn? No! Wait! Here's today's paper, and it's... a one-star.... Oh, do you think?

You know, it really would be easier to just tackle the damn housework...

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

A kind of September

Try to remember a kind of September/ When life was slow and oh so mellow

Listen, does this describe any one's September? Even if you're out on the farm, aren't you madly harvesting? Furthermore, I think most of us, with or without children, in school or long since graduated, are still bound inextricably to the rhythm of the school year. September means a re-shouldering of burdens, and, at our house, a few false starts at getting the hang of the new schedule.

Younger daughter and I have resumed the daily pilgrimage up the hill to school. We join the parade of parents-determined-to-not-drive-children-to-school (at least until the first big rain or snow, not an option for us, not having a car in the first place); parents-determined-to-bike-with-their-tykes-to-school (usually with parent on road and tyke on sidewalk; parent reminding tyke to ring his bell to signal you to leap out of his way); and dogs accompanying both aforementioned categories, much to younger daughter's delight.

After leaving younger daughter to the tender mercies of the staff and her schoolmates (please, dear God, some kindness this year), I make my way down the suddenly much emptier streets, encountering later rising dog walkers and large, sidewalk-encompassing strollers containing blond children pushed by Caribbean or Philippina ladies. It's that kind of neighbourhood. Occasionally a line of black SUV's with tinted windows slips by me. It's not a funeral cortege; it's the Prime Minister, off to work after dropping his vote-winning children off at school. (Gosh, I hope he loses this election, but I'm not holding my breath.)

When you were a tender and callow fellow...

Mid-afternoon, and I climb the hill again. Occasionally, I encounter the principal for some cheerful words about the weather or a spot of micro-managing: "It's looking pretty good for (younger daughter)," he informs me. "Has she told you that (Dutch Girl) has moved? No? Well, (Guardian Angel) is still here, so that's good..." I don't tell him that Dutch Girl actively snubbed younger daughter and Guardian Angel for the second half of the last school year when she took up with Unkind Russian Prodigy who besides instigating the snubbing, thought filling younger daughter's boots with snow was a huge joke and is the prime suspect for the Case of the Disappearing Indoor Shoes of last winter. What would be the point?

...When no one wept except the willow

And each afternoon, younger daughter and I descend the hill, being narrowly missed by sidewalk cyclists (fully helmeted of course, although we're not). Sometimes we're witness to after-school mini-dramas: 1) Two young boys sprint past us, slowing now and then to scan the horizon behind them with wide eyes. Not long after this, another young boy, clad in a camouflage tee-shirt with a huge red back-pack, trots by us, not exactly like Pepé Le Pew, but with a relaxed sort of speed. He catches up with the fleeing duo about half-a-block ahead of us; cuffs one and yanks the ear of the other, before almost serenely resuming his trot down the hill. Anxious duo (one rubbing his cheek, the other gingerly fingering his ear) balances on the curb of the street which is busier than usual with after-school pickups and school buses, before crossing to hurry down the other side. They vanish around the next corner. Seconds later, Pepé Le Pew emerges from around the other corner where he has evidently been lying in wait, and trots after them...

Without a hurt, the heart is hollow...

Or: 2) As the sky turns a greenish sort of grey, various clusters of homeward bound kids and families hurry past us. I glance down the hill and see the storm moving toward us, heralded by leafs whirling like protons and neutrons. Beyond, I can see the horizontal rain, a gift from the tail end of Hurricane Ivan which is now exhausting itself over Eastern Canada. I push younger daughter into a driveway to search out and hoist our umbrellas, out of the way of rushing pedestrians, and a large dog indignantly barks at us while a lady restrains him and calls an unheard reassurance over the howling wind. Younger daughter shrieks in delight as our umbrellas twist in our hands. Some of the family groups who had passed us earlier are taking shelter against fences and under trees. The wind changes directions and ambushes us from behind. My blouse is clinging icily to my back when we make the haven of the front porch. Even our underwear needs changing. Our heads, however, are dry....

Although you know the snow will follow...

Nice song, that. From the musical The Fantasticks. However, I have to wonder what Messrs Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones were on about. The September they describe is like no September I've ever remembered...

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Adventures in book borrowing

The crossing guard outside the Catholic school en route to younger daughter's school tells me we're being grazed by the edge of what's left of Hurricane Gustav, so Friday night, the sky blackened and the trees tossed fitfully, and Saturday brought steady rain.

Elder daughter, who spent the earlier part of this first week back at school declaring that her course on World Religions was a terrible mistake, has now revised her opinion and is directing her vitriol at this year's drama teacher. I'm beginning to understand why. On Friday, this teacher announced that she was dividing the class into groups and assigning a play to each. Elder daughter's group got George Bernard Shaw's Candida, and was airily told to bring a copy of the play to class on Monday. "Oh, there's plenty of copies at the public library," said ill-advised drama teacher. I take it she hasn't checked. There are not many copies within the system, some are out, and those that are in are at far-flung branches. A hold will deliver the play to one's local library -- after Monday.

I placed a cautionary hold, then elder daughter and I shouldered our brollies and hiked the kilometre up the hill to see if we couldn't scare up a copy that way. If we'd been in Victoria, Demeter would have lent us her copy, but if we were in Victoria, we wouldn't be dealing with this ill-advised teacher. Candida? For sixteen-year-olds? This isn't exactly one of Shaw's most accessible plays. She assigned another group Strindberg's Miss Julie, for cripe's sake. Never mind the fact that this is a Drama class and not a literature class; is alienation her goal?

Anyway, no dice at the library. I suggested we try Books on Beechwood, our charming local bookstore (long may it reign). So back down the hill, past our house, to the main drag. We skulked around a bit, then approached the charming proprietor. She shook her head, considered us for a moment, then said: "I could lend you a copy..." Well, it turns out that her house is always getting mail meant for our house, and vice versa. Every month or so, I take a small detour from the trek to retrieve younger daughter from school, and deliver wayward catalogues and envelopes to the townhouse that shares our house number on swish Rideau Terrace. She phoned up her husband, interrupting his championing of Federer in the US Open, and told him where her Shaw anthology was. We thanked her profusely, promised faithfully to take excellent care of the book (after all, she knows where we live!), and started the climb up the hill again.

"Now, there's a Victoria moment in Ottawa," remarked elder daughter.

I don't know what to do about ill-advised teacher. Sometimes you just have to suck it up. But, do, if you love books, go and support your local independent bookstore when you can. And if you live in Hades, buy a book from Books on Beechwood. Evidently, it's a classy establishment!

Saturday, 6 September 2008

I'm so. . .proud. . .

I am chuffed (really!) to have received a special award for Most Interesting Back Story at Jaywalker's remarkable "Village Fête". Go check it out immediately (my "back story" is in the comments there; please don't make me repeat it)-- and rest assured, Peevish's Back Story is way more interesting than mine. But don't tell Cake Wrecks; it's not often I get such a confirmation of my baking skills, and my heart would break if they took my award away...