Archives for April 2009

The Poetry of Numbers

It’s tax day in Canada. And there’s nothing poetic about that. But it when I think of taxes I think of accountants, and then I think of numbers. And numbers, those are poetry to me.

I have always been good at math. Although I met a few people who were better while I was at university, I can certainly hold my own in most rooms. And while I didn’t love math class (or probably any class, there’s a certain tedium in structured learning), I never hated it in the way that many of my friends did. It was not my nemesis, it made sense to me. I viewed it as luck on my part, that I had this aptitude. I thought it opened doors for me, and I was right. Being good at math never hurt anyone, that’s for sure.

I only really started appreciating numbers once I was in university. During that time I learned to speak the language of numbers in all my classes, and it changed my mindset. I could use the mathematical tools I’d honed for all sorts of things, and I liked it. I even began to find some happiness in doing it. I would do mental long division to pass the time I spent waiting at bus stops, or determine the factors of numbers I saw on license plates in traffic. (792 = 2 x 2 x 2 x 3 x 3 x 11)

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my favourite number. There are certain characteristics that make numbers ‘good’ to me. For one thing, they have to be even, and preferably divisible by 4. I also like them to be divisible by 3. And having a ‘6’ in there somewhere works in a number’s favour. My current favourite number is 96. Like I said, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this. I am just that cool.

I think numbers and mathematics speak to me on some level partly because of my strong need for order and predictability. They’re unambiguous, they’re clean and concise, they provide measurement and categorization. When you’re trying to deal with a problem in your daily life, the ability to translate it into a numerical formula simplifies things. It takes a question from the intangible to the tangible, and provides a shortcut.

I hope that my love of numbers will be evident to my daughter. And that she will understand that being female has no bearing on your ability to solve for X. That she will see how the ability to think mathematically can be so helpful. It would cause my heart great pain to see her wearing one of those T-shirts that say, ‘I’m too pretty to do math,’ I know that much for sure.

So what about you? Do you love numbers, or do you have some other ‘thing’ that speaks to you but causes most people to nod off? I’m sure we all have them. Right? (Make something up if you have to, I’m dying here!)

Single Transferrable Vote

We’re gearing up for a provincial election here in BC on May 12. This is also my 8th wedding anniversary. Since Jon works in TV news, this lovely coincidence means that I won’t see him since he will be busy covering the election. Fun times! But as I’m not writing this simply to whine about my bad luck with the election day / anniversary collision I will move on.

In addition to voting for our elected representatives, we will also be voting on a new electoral system. There will be a referendum on the Single Transferrable Vote, or STV, system. We had a similar referendum four years ago, which was very narrowly defeated. Since it was so very close, they’re trying to garner more support this time around.

So what the heck is STV? It’s a little bit complicated, and I think as a result there’s a general lack of awareness and interest. I was able to find a pretty clear animated explanation, which includes an example of a fictional riding. The problem, though, is that it’s several minutes long and involves mathematical equations. I can see why most people don’t really understand how STV works.

My brief summary is this – each riding would be made larger, and multiple representatives would be elected from each. The total number of ridings, however, remains constant. A baseline number of votes for a candidate to be elected is chosen for each riding based on how many representatives are being elected and how many votes were cast. Each person ranks candidates by number when they’re voting (1, 2, 3, etc.). You can rank all of them, or just choose one. Then the number of first choice votes are tallied up. The candidates with more than the baseline number of votes are elected.

Then it gets sort of tricky. If there aren’t enough candidates, then the elected candidates’ votes are re-examined to determine each voter’s second choice. Another mathematical formula is applied to weight these votes according to how much ‘surplus’ the elected candidate has. Then the votes are applied to the remaining candidates. This continues, more or less, until the correct number of representatives are elected.

Under our current system, we elect one representative from each riding. Then, the leader of the party with the most representatives becomes the premier (or, nationally, the Prime Minister). The downside to this system is that a party which has received only 40% of the popular vote may form a majority government, especially when there are many parties vying for seats. STV aims to address that. It also aims to provide a voice to parties like the greens, who receive a significant number of votes but never get a seat in the legislature.

One of the ramifications of STV is that there is a much greater likelihood of having a minority government. Certainly, some of the overwhelming majorities we’ve seen in BC in the past are less likely. Also because voters can vote for multiple parties, it sometimes results in a reduction in the partisanship we see today. I can see choosing candidates differently when I’m ranking 3 or 4 of them, instead of marking my X for only one. And I’m sure I’m not alone. We can expect elections to be fought and won (or lost) differently if we change the electoral system, which is neither good nor bad in and of itself.

There are advantages and disadvantages to STV, just as there are advantages and disadvantages with our current system. I think the most important thing is that you educate yourself, form your own opinion, and vote. No matter how we elect our politicians, our voices matter. We need to let them know that we are paying attention, and one of the best ways to do that is to show up on election day.

Belly Button Blues

Hannah has an umbilical hernia. It’s a small hole in the abdominal wall under the belly button, and it’s the reason that she has such a pronounced outie. It’s not painful or problematic, and Hannah actually likes it. She’s rather proud of her ‘sticky-out’ belly button, in fact.

I had an umbilical hernia as a child, but mine resolved when I was preschool-aged. Most of them do, in fact it’s rare for them to persist beyond the first year or two. But Hannah’s has. Since she is now 4 years old and her hernia has been more or less the same for over two years, the odds that it will fix itself have gone way down. And so last Friday we found ourselves at Children’s Hospital for a surgical consult.

Hannah and her belly button at 6 weeks old

This isn’t the first visit we’ve paid to general surgery at Children’s Hospital. Our previous doctor sent her in for a consult at 5 months, because he thought we needed to fix her hernia right away. Thankfully the surgeon we saw said that we should go away and live our lives and come back in 4 years if it was still there. I’m glad about that, because considering outpatient surgery for my preschooler is much less upsetting to me than considering it for my infant.

The problem is that it’s more upsetting for Hannah. Like I said she likes her belly button just fine, thank you very much. She sees no need to change it. And she’s a little scared of hospitals and strange doctors and all that jazz. Although they go to great lengths to make the hospital experience as easy on the kids as possible, it’s still scary for a 4-year-old.

Hannah and her belly button at 3 1/2 years old

If the hernia isn’t painful or life-threatening, and Hannah likes it, why are we going ahead with the surgery? I’m concerned that Hannah won’t like having such a prominent outie as a teenager. And by then it will be bigger and it won’t be possible to reduce it in the same way. I have a slight outie from my hernia, and Hannah probably always will, too. That’s fine. But I know I’m glad to have a small outie rather than a big one, and my best guess is my daughter will feel the same way as I do.

During the surgery they will create a small incision and sew the abdominal wall shut. Then they will tack down the centre of Hannah’s bellybutton for cosmetic reasons. the whole thing will take about a half hour, and we will be able to stay with her while she’s put under and then again in the recovery room. The stitches are dissolving, and there will be no restrictions on activity. We don’t have a date yet, they will probably call us in a month or two, and for now I’m in no rush.

I hope we’re making the right choice, correcting the hernia, but I have no way of knowing. I’m just doing the best I can, like every other mom in the world. It’s pretty much all I can do, you know? Mostly, though, I’m just thanking my lucky stars that my hand-wringing is all about Hannah’s bellybutton. No matter what she’ll be fine, and I am so very grateful to know that.

Maternity Leave in Norway

It’s Mat Leave Monday! Today I’m talking about maternity leave in Norway. I know that I said I was going to stick to English-speaking countries, but I’ve discovered that many countries offer comprehensive government websites in English, so I’m branching out.

As always when I’m talking about countries outside of Canada I have no first-hand knowledge. For more detailed information in English refer to The Rights of Parents of Small Children or the information on Parental and Adoption leave from the Official Site of Norway in the UK. If you’re looking for information in Norwegian you’re miles ahead of me, and so you’re going to have to fend for yourself. 😉

I am actually one quarter Norwegian. My great grandparents moved to Canada in the early 1900s. My grandfather, their son, spoke no English when he started school. He used to make special Norwegian treats at Christmas like krumkake and fatigman (I always liked the fatigman best). He also made some amazing pickled herring, and taught me how to say the names of my fingers in Norwegian. Of the various nationalities that comprise my heritage, I feel the most connected to the Norwegian bit. And although I’ve never been to Norway, I would love to visit. See for yourself how beautiful it is:

Norway offers new parents national, government-funded parental leave. To qualify, you must have earned pensionable income through employment for at least 6 of the 10 months preceding leave. Employment in another EU country may be added to employment in Norway. Self-employed workers also qualify, although they receive benefits based on only 65% of their income, unless they take out voluntary insurance at least 10 months before their leave starts.

There are two options for taking parental leave. The first option is take 54 weeks of leave at 80% of your pay. The second option is to take 44 weeks of leave at 100% of your pay. The maximum insurable income as of 2006 was NOK 377,352 (roughly equivalent to $69,400 CAD or $57,464 USD). This means that your maximum weekly earnings are either $1068 CAD or $1335 CAD, depending on which option you choose. If there are multiple births (or adoptions) the benefit period is extended by 7 weeks per additional child if you chose to take your benefits at 80%, or 5 weeks per additional child if you chose to take your benefits at 100%.

The first three weeks of benefits must be taken by the mother prior to the birth, although she is permitted to take leave as early as 12 weeks prior to birth if she chooses. The first 6 weeks after the birth are reserved for the mother as well. 6 weeks of benefits are reserved for the exclusive use of the father. If either parent chooses not to use these benefits, they are lost. The remaining 29 or 39 weeks can be used by either parent.

Adoptive parents receive slightly shorter leaves, since they do not qualify for the mandatory three weeks prior to the birth. Also, the first 6 weeks after birth is not reserved for the mother, although there is still a ‘father quota’ of 6 weeks. Otherwise, their benefits are the same. So adoptive parents receive either 51 weeks at 80%, or 41 weeks at 100%. Parents who are adopting from abroad also qualify for a special grant of NOK 38,320 (approximately $7048 CAD or $5835 USD), paid after the child arrives in Norway.

Women who do not qualify for paid leave may still take unpaid leave. They receive a lump sum grant of NOK 33,584 (approximately $6177 CAD or $5114 USD), and their partners may receive parental benefits if the mother is working, attending school, or ill.

Norway’s parental leave reflects a strong commitment to supporting families, and giving children the best start possible. I think that’s commendable, and I wish that more countries recognized the importance of long term funded maternity leave. Way to go, Norway! 🙂

Weekend in Port Moody

Last month I went through all of Hannah’s clothes, sorting and discarding items she’d outgrown. I wasn’t meaning to organize my 4-year-old’s wardrobe, but when Hannah and her friend decided to spend their playdate piling every single stitch of Hannah’s clothing in the middle of her floor they forced my hand. And so I took advantage of the situation (after some disgruntled admonitions in my daughter’s general direction).

What I discovered is that Hannah is actually out of summer clothing. Which didn’t seem like a big deal back in March when it was still cold and even occasionally snowy. But now that warmer days are here I can see that some shorts and sun dresses may be in order. I sort of hate to spend a ton of money on clothes that will end up covered in food, paint, and dirt, though.

Luckily, this weekend they’re holding the Kids Only Swap Meet in Port Moody. Today and tomorrow, from 9am – 1pm at the Port Moody Arena there will be more than 60 tables filled with used kid’s clothing, toys, books, and furniture. The thing I love about buying second-hand items is that it’s actually a really earth-friendly choice. Re-using old items, instead of discarding them and buying new ones, reduces waste. Since many of us are still celebrating Earth Day, I can think of no better choice than to spend the morning searching for deals.

On a completely different note, this weekend is also ArtsConnect’s Annual ArtWalk in Port Moody. (Fun fact – Port Moody calls itself the City of the Arts!) From 12pm – 5pm today and tomorrow over 50 artists will be opening their studios for free tours. And while I doubt that you will find a lot of clothes that your kids can get dirty on the ArtWalk, I’m sure you will find some amazing local creations. And remember, buying local and contributing to a sustainable local economy is environmentally friendly, too.

My good friend Kirsten of Yummy Yarn participated in last year’s ArtWalk (although they called it the Studio Tour way back in the olden days of 2008). She’s not on the tour this year as she’s expecting a baby any day. And the last I heard she was hoping that any day would come sooner rather than later. So I will be thinking of her, and hoping that she delivers before the weekend is out. After all, as much fun as swap meets and studio tours may be, new babies are infinitely better. 🙂

And He’s Off!

A couple of months back I mentioned that Jacob was very close to crawling. Since then he’s advanced quickly through your basic stages of motion, and has almost mastered the cross-crawling. He’s getting really good at moving around, and if he sees something he wants he’s surprisingly quick. The little guy’s even starting to pull himself up to standing.

I remember when Hannah became mobile. I felt busier than I had ever been in my life. Every day she could move just a little bit faster, or reach just a little bit higher. And although I have memories of those days, it’s not until you’re back in the thick of it that the never-ending-ness of keeping your little explorer safe comes flooding back. It’s sort of like labour that way. (Total aside – I just read Hannah’s 9 month update and smiled. This is the difference between a 1st and 2nd time mom, I catalogued which consonant sounds Hannah could make, including some she sort of couldn’t.)

Climbing to the piano
Jacob pulling himself up to standing to reach the piano

To make things even more, erm, exciting, Jacob’s also mastered his pincer grip. This means he can crawl around and locate small objects, which are then transferred to his mouth with increasing dexterity. I am usually able to catch him before he actually swallows the objects, but not always. Yesterday morning he managed to eat something (I’m not even sure what) from under Jon’s chair at the table. Given the location, I am reassuring myself it was likely just stale food of some sort. Probably edible at the very least. Right?

Making a mess together
Hannah helping Jacob to destroy the container cupboard

So yes, Jacob’s crawling, and yes, I’m very busy. And no, I’m not entirely sure which consonant sounds he can sort of make. What’s my point? This is really all background info, so that you will appreciate the story I am going to share with you next. It’s the sort of story that will cause all of you parents to nod in recognition.

Getting into the plant
Jacob going for one of our few surviving houseplants

A few days ago I was in the bathroom and Jacob was playing on the floor. I don’t get to pee by myself anymore, it’s one of the joys of parenthood. Anyways, I flushed and turned to wash my hands. Now, it doesn’t take that long to wash your hands. But by the time I turned back I saw that Jacob had crawled over to the toilet and pulled himself up to standing. And since I hadn’t had the foresight to close the lid the little guy was playing in the water. I was really surprised that my 8-month-old could move that quickly, and perform that sort of physical feat.

And no, I didn’t get a photo of that one. I might snap evidence when a big mess is made or a child is covered in carob chips. But I draw the line at allowing my baby to play in the toilet while I go and find the camera. I grabbed that boy as quickly as I could and scrubbed his little hands very, very thoroughly. Which he enjoyed, given how he loves to play in the water and all. 😉

My fellow parents, please help me out. I’d love to hear the mischief your newly mobile babies got into. It would make me feel ever so much more normal, and less negligent.

Why You got Compost

Yesterday was Earth Day, and you were treated to some ruminations on composting. But that wasn’t my original plan. Oh, no. My original plan had been to take some lovely photos of the kids lying on the grass. We love to hang out in the back yard now that it’s warm out, and who doesn’t want to admire my adorable offspring? It was a sure-fire recipe for success.

Except, not. You see, children are often uncooperative when asked to pose. Sometimes you can’t get a nice shot of even one child. Two children at once, well, it’s almost impossible. Any parent will tell you that a good photo of both children smiling and looking at the camera is sort of like spotting Bigfoot. It’s theoretically possible, but likely just a myth. “Oh, yeah, I have this friend who takes good photos of her two kids. I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes…”

Here are the photos that came out of our little photo session. Enjoy yourself at my expense. 😉

Disgruntled children on the grass
Hannah refuses to look at the camera, and Jacob starts to fuss.

Jacob on the grass
Hannah leaves altogether, and Jacob continues fussing.

Amber and the kids
I try to get in the shot, thinking it might help

More Amber and kids on grass
Now I’m relying on my self-portrait skills, which are not so hot.

Hand in Mama's mouth
Jacob starts putting his fingers in my mouth and I give up altogether.

Jacob nursing
I nurse Jacob and Hannah assumes position on the other side of the lens. We all feel much better.

If you’re not keeping up with my Flickr photostream, you should check it out. You can find more photos of the kids, and some shots of my gorgeous suburban landscape.

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