Wednesday, May 30, 2007

caviar and twinkies

The last two books I've read are like caviar and Twinkies. One was a delight, nuanced and complex. The other managed to be even less than the packaging promised, and that's saying something.

First, the caviar. If you haven't read Jodi Picoult's latest novel My Sister's Keeper put it on your list. The book follows Anna, youngest of three. Anna's older sister Kate has a rare and aggressive cancer. Anna knows from the beginning that her parents went to great lengths to have her because she is a perfect genetic match. Anna can donate anything Kate needs and gives, literally of herself, over and over again.

As the story begins, Kate needs a kidney and this time, Anna finds a lawyer and begins the process of medical emancipation. But the reasons behind her decision are not clear and the fissures her actions send through her family are far more than she could have predicted.

Picoult spins a complex tale of love and sacrifice, of need and sustenance. Can a parent value the life of one child more than another? Is there ever a time when the child dying of cancer is not the one most in danger of being lost? I wanted to savour this book, to stretch out in it like warm sunshine but I couldn't. Picoult's story took hold and everything else, other plans for the day and even the sunshine itself had to wait until it was done.

And then there was the Twinkie. In the interest of full disclosure, I didn't have high expectations going into this book. I was on day three of horrible cold and wanted a story that wouldn't ask for much. You know how sometimes you really just want nachos for dinner and not the good kind, but the ones with the cheese-type sauce served at movie theatres and bowling alleys? That's what I was looking for with this book. It didn't deliver.

Leah McLaren's The Continuity Girl is listed as chick lit, and I love a good girlish book from time to time. It's also a first novel and I'm willing to cut some slack for that, but come on. This one claimed that the author was "Canada's Carrie Bradshaw" . . . not so much. (Although when you get to the end of the book and realize that the cover quote almost certainly comes from a work colleague it makes a little more sense.)

If I had to say something good about this book it's this: Leah McLaren, I want your agent. Clearly he or she is a miracle worker. This book could win a prize for most cliches in 300 pages. It alternated between plot points so obvious they screamed at you from five chapters back to holes in the plot that you could drive an entire convoy of trucks through. It was the proverbial train wreck, I had to keep reading just to see how far she would go, how bad it would get. If for some reason you want to read this anyway, you can have my copy.

Next up:
28 Stories of AIDS in Africa
Special Topics in Calamity Physics (A Novel)

Not necessarily in that order.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

birthday checklist

* people who love me
* someone to sing to me
* cake
* 31 reasons to smile and say thank you

fabulous new purse and sunglasses

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

a view to the east

I can't believe it's been a week already since I got back from Ontario. Where did the time go? Contrary to what you might be thinking after my last post, I didn't spend the entire week gazing at my niece so I thought I should post a few pics of the other things that happened.

One of the first things that hit me, other than how incredibly FLAT it is there is how amazingly blue the sky is. I didn't realize how long it had been grey and wet in Vancouver. In Ontario the sun shines, all day and for more than one day at a time. Impressive.

On Monday we went to the library and I was thrilled to discover that the Children's Library still smells the way I remember it -- like old books and new dreams. The place was packed for Monday Morning Story Time. I can't wait until Corrina is able to listen in to that. There was a play area for the younger kids and she just dove right in. She has her mother's courage.

On Tuesday it was warm enough to hit the beach. Sarnia is right on the shores of Lake Huron. I guess I had forgotten that this area is known as Bluewater Country. When I exclaimed, "Wow, the water is really blue" my Mom had a good chuckle before reminding me of the moniker. I was getting pretty warm out on the sand and thought to myself "wow I really have become a west coast wuss, this feels really hot." It wasn't until much later that I heard on the radio that it got up to 85 that day. Not a wuss after all.

Wednesday I spent the day with Shauna, one of my oldest friends. We met in Grade Three, a happy co-incidence of alphabetical seating and matching pencil boxes. Good times. No pics unfortunately. Freya joined us for lunch with her little girl, Zoe. I hadn't seen Freya in years. Her little girl is beautiful.

Thursday saw us heading back to Toronto Sick Kids' to have Corrie's stitches taken out. I was not prepared for what would be like to be there. We walked into this amazing atrium and first you get distracted by both the size and the cartoons and paintings that are everywhere. It takes a moment for your eyes to see all the kids and another moment to realize that every one of them is sick. There were kids in wheelchairs, kids with IVs, cancer kids with head scarves, and everywhere worried looking parents with tiny children wrapped-up in their arms. It was awful.

We were only in the hospital for two hours, and there was only a minute or two, right when the stitches came out that made Corrie scream. I tried not to imagine what it would be like to be there for weeks, for months, while procedure after screaming procedure was done to your child. They have done everything possible to make the hospital as kid-friendly as can be, but there's still nothing that takes the bite out of a needle or smooths the brow of waiting parents. My heart goes out to each and every parent who has walked that road. I don't know how it's done.
Back at home there was wheat waving in the field. The panoramic sunsets are still there -- the only good that comes from not having mountains on the horizon. There were storms too, real Ontario storms with thunder and lightening. It's been a long, long time since I last heard that. In between it all was a lot of great conversation and fun with family. I was thisclose to finally beating my little brother in a game of Carcasonne. Darn farmer. I keep trying to remember to play farmers but my guy always get blocked right away.

Dave brought his Wii so I finally got a chance to try that out. I cannot remember the last time I had that much fun playing video games! For everyone who ever had a little sister who insisted on moving the controls around while playing Sega, our system has finally arrived. I used to drive both my brothers crazy wilding swinging the controls around. Now I can drive them crazy (well Dave at least) mastering the power serve on Wii Tennis. I swear I'm not entirely sure how I do it. But if I did know, would I tell? Hard to say. Once a middle child....always a middle child.

All in all, it was a great trip. In words of kids everywhere, AGAIN!!!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

corrina, corrina

First things first, if you're my Mom and you're looking for the rest of the photos, they're here. (And if you're not my Mom, feel free to look anyway.)

I don't know why I thought surgery might slow Corrina down. What a silly idea :) Less than 24 hours after surgery they were literally chasing Corrie down the halls of Sick Kids -- with her IV pole trailing behind her. My niece is now less than three weeks away from hearing a sound for the very first time.

It's still strange to think that she has titanium and platinum in her head, but when she set off the security system at the library it was all too real. Between the metal and the magnet Corrina has to carry a card that identifies her as an implant user as she is likely to set off all sorts of security systems and airport metal detectors. The surgeon jokingly told Dave & Janie that if they ever want to shoplift they now have the perfect accomplice. Kids with implants can even tell you if the security system is on or not by the vibrations they feel from the magnet. Spooky.

She needs a few more weeks to heal up and then she'll get the exterior portion of her implant on June 4th. They'll "turn her on" at that time and she'll hear something for the first time in her life. There are no guarantees with cochlear implants -- they don't work for some kids -- but the surgeon tested Corrie's in the OR and it worked, her brain registered a signal. What an amazing time to live in Canada.Playing with a deaf child takes a little getting used to. It took a few days for me to remember that if I want to get Corrie's attention I need to either touch her or get into her line of sight. If you watch her play, she constantly looks around the room to see where everyone is. Dave & Janie encourage everyone to talk to Corrina normally as she reads facial expressions (some specialists think that kids at her age can even read lips a little) but I caught myself calling out to her when I was behind her. Some habits are hard to break.Corrina is an early riser, and I tend to get up early to eat breakfast so we got to have some great Auntie bonding time. Friday morning Janie let Corrina out of her crib to wander around their room for a few minutes. I got up around the same time and as I walked past their door a little girl clad in red fleece footie pajamas ran to the door, beamed at me and held out her arms to be picked up. I melted. Instant puddle of Auntie. Ah well, it's not like I wasn't smitten before.
This kid is definitely on the move and I can't wait to see where life takes her next. There is a LOT of work ahead for her and for her parents. Their goal is to have her speaking age-appropriate by the time she's three. She is such a good mimic I don't think that's going to be a problem. (One day this past week I inadvertently taught her to do part of the chicken dance. I was only trying to distract her while her Mom got her breakfast and now Corrina will look at you, grin and flap like a chicken. Quite the legacy :) )There is very little a child (or an adult for that matter) with a cochlear implant can't do. Talking on the phone will always be challenging, but current technology lets her plug a cellphone right into the implant so maybe it's just a case of having the right tools. Thank goodness for Skype video chat. She should be able to hear some music and while the experts say it's unlikely she'll grow-up to be a concert pianist, she's already showing a fondness for Grandad's piano.

It was an amazing week. I had a great time hanging out with my parents and a few old friends, but that's another post. As the song says, "Corrina, Corrina, I love you so." You were a brave little kid this past week and this post's all for you.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

update on Corrina's surgery

Corrina had her cochlear implant surgery this morning at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children (always referred to as simply "Sick Kids" maybe that's an Ontario thing). According to the grandparents everything went perfectly. Mom told me that the nurses are all falling in love with Corrina. I told her to tell them that they can't have her, she's ours!

Corrina will spend the night in the hospital tonight (with her parents) and then will be released tomorrow but have to stay close to the hospital for the next few days. On Saturday she'll be heading to Mom & Dad's just after they come and pick me up from the airport - yeah!

I only got to talk to Mom briefly -- long distance on a rarely-used cel is killer. She said the staff at Sick Kids is amazing. Apparently they wheeled Corrina into surgery in a wagon. How cool is that? They also flavour the anesthetic and get the kids to sniff it so they're asleep before they have to put the mask over their face. I love it that in the midst of procedure and protocol someone has taken the time to make the process the least scary it can be for these kids. I don't know who's idea the wagon was, but thank you.