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December 31, 2015

New year, new books, new teapot, etc.

IMG_20151231_140910We have had a stupidly crummy holiday, mostly for non-monumental reasons. A year ago I wrote this post about our family’s talent for leisure and enjoying ourselves—we were skating, movie-going, relaxing, lunching, going offline for an actual week, etc.—but we were showing none of those tendencies this time around. Things got off to a good start, but Harriet came down with a stomach bug on Christmas Eve that stayed around for a few days. Iris stopped sleeping over Christmas, and was conspiring to kill me. Stuart was diagnosed with strep throat, and while I was pretty well post-pneumonia, I was so tired and crabby. We weren’t terribly ambitious then—some days our big outing was to the grocery store. Though there were a few highlights—before it all went wrong, we had a fun day downtown(er) and got to visit Ben McNally Books, where I picked up Birdie by Tracey Lindberg, which I’m about to begin as soon as I publish this post. We had nice visits with my parents, who braved our company. Lunch at Fanny Chadwicks yesterday, though Stuart is still unable to eat solids, so he didn’t have the greatest time. Tonight we’re going to our friends for a New Years get-together, though we won’t be staying too long (and I am sure nobody else at the party is too upset about that. We’ve become social pariahs).

I did, however, get a lot of reading done, mostly because my evening companion took to going to bed at 8pm, and I took a holiday from work things and read all through nap times (bliss!). My holiday reads were not at all disappointing, mercifully, and I look forward to writing a post about them this week. My final read of the year was a gift from Stuart (who got me so many excellent bookish things), The Magician’s Book, by Laura Miller (and we’re going to be starting Prince Caspian in a few days and I am so excited). My final read of 2015 then, followed by my first read of 2016—Birdie. I really want to keep a focus on reading First Nations women writers.

IMG_20151231_132842Anyway, a disappointing holiday is winding down on the right note. Iris’s weird rash (of course she has a weird rash!) is clearing up, if that’s any indication. Today I did receive the great joy of not only a pair of Hunter wellies in the post, but a brand new teapot. And why did I need a teapot, you might ask, seeing as I came into possession of the greatest teapot on earth just six months ago? Well, on Christmas Day, my teapot got smashed, which led to sulking and petulance on my part, and put a damper on our holiday on top of everything, because I am shallow and materialistic. (But it’s a teapot! Not just any ordinary material.) The bright side of your teapot smashing though is that you get to wait for a new one to come in the post. (I wanted a London Pottery teapot, you see.) There seemed to be no more white polka-dots to be had for love nor money, but I was able to order a plain red one from the shop I’d bought the last one from in Bobcaygeon. And it arrived quickly and intact, alongside my new wellies which replaced a) the wellies I’d got for Christmas that didn’t fit and b) the wellies my mother-in-law bought me for my 26th birthday a decade ago and whose image was for a time my blog header and can still be seen if you scroll all the way down to the bottom of this page, and which finally started leaking after many years of service. So things are certainly on the up-and-up.

I’ve had a good year, even though it’s gone out with pneumonia (but then having pneumonia was terrific, from a reading point of view…). I am pleased that I sold my novel and am excited to turn it into an actually book over the course of this year, though I still can’t quite believe that’s going to happen. I read a lot of good books. I had a splendid trip to England, the land of teapots and wellies. I learned to write profiles, which was a new challenge—I wrote about Julie Morstad in Quill & Quire and have a cover story forthcoming in my alumni magazine. I’m pleased with my review of Marina Endicott’s new novel in The Globe and really, really proud of my essay on Ann-Marie Macdonald’s Adult Onset, which was another challenge and I’m so happy to have met it. I want to keep expanding my writerly horizons. Readerly ones too.

This fall has been exhausting. When I look back, it seems like getting pneumonia was inevitable. It doesn’t help that Iris’s sleep is so patchy, as it’s ever been. My resolution for 2016, if I had one, would probably involve getting more sleep, if that weren’t at the expense of so many things, but I will make an effort. It might also involve baking fewer cakes, but this kind of thing is why I don’t go in for resolutions in the first place.

Happy New Year to you, and thank you for reading!

January 3, 2015

Christmas Vacation

harrietOne of many reasons that members of our family are unlikely to ever take the world by storm is that our greatest talents really are for leisure—we’re experts at doing nothing, or just enough of something with requisite amounts of sofa-lying for good measure. We often visit cultural institutions such as museums and art galleries but rarely for more than an hour or two at a time, and never without a trip to the cafe AND the gift shop. Going out for lunch is our main occupation, and we always have dessert. We are really very good at enjoying ourselves, and so the last two weeks have been an absolute pleasure.

Two things: first, that I finished things up so that there was no work at all to be done for a week or so, and second, we turned off the internet. For a week, there was no checking of email or twitter, which opened up vast pockets of time in every day for all kinds of things—reading, playing, baking, carol-singing, and doing the Globe & Mail holiday crossword. On Tuesday we bought the newspaper because we were curious about what had gone on in the world, and it was odd to flip through the pages and discover news items we hadn’t heard about elsewhere.

windowWe spent the first couple of days of our holiday trying in vain to kick the cold that’s been embedded in our heads since the beginning of December. On the Sunday, we went down to the Bay on Queen Street to look at the Christmas windows, which were wonderful, and then went into the store and realized that department stores were the perfect way to reconcile our hatred of shopping malls with the joys of Christmas consumption (glittery lights, perfume smells, shopping bags with string handles, and 1 kilo tins of chocolate. Also, I now own tights without holes in the feet). Speeding home on the subway in time for Iris’s nap and for me to meet friends for an exquisite afternoon tea at Dessert Trends Bistro.

frankOn Monday, we went to the library (because holidaying doesn’t always have to happen on a lavish scale) and then had smoked meat lunch at Caplansky’s Deli. I also went out for dinner with my friends and drank far too much wine. On Tuesday, I don’t think we did anything, partly due to the wine. Throughout all of this, Stuart and I were watching movies and episodes of Midsomer Murders in the evening (because we are 85 years old) and Harriet watched How to Train Your Dragon Two during Iris’s nap times. On Christmas Eve, we went to the Art Gallery to see the Art Spiegelman exhibit and had a lovely brunch at the Frank Restaurant, which we save for the specialist of occasions. On the way home, we picked up our turkey, which we fastened into our stroller. That evening, we had chicken fajitas for Christmas Eve dinner for the 10th year in a row, and left a snack for Santa.

xmasmornChristmas was so good. Not only did we not have to leave the house, but we got to have my mom come and visit! The children got excellent presents and had fun playing with them throughout the holidays. I received great books, nice clothes, and other lovely things, including a La Cruset butter dish I’d been hankering after and new Pyrex. We all also received new CDs (because are 85 years old and like to do 20th century things) and so the holiday has been extra-filled with music—some of which was even made after 1987, which is very rare for us. My mom arrived and played with the children (which was not very difficult—she arrived bearing her present of a trunk full of dress-up clothes) while Stuart and I set about cooking the best Christmas dinner ever. The joys of Skype brought us the company of Nana and Granddad in England, and our adorable Alberta relations.

playOn Boxing Day, we went to the ROM, and partook in a yummy dinner of leftovers—Stuart makes the best turkey sandwiches on earth. Iris also slept until 7am for the first time in her whole life, which was mind-blowing, but also a bit terrible because when her sleep for the subsequent week was abysmal, I wanted to pitch her out the window. The next day, my dad and his partner arrived, and we all had an excellent time with them. And they played with the children while Stuart and I cooked up another very good meal—the greatest turkey pot pie of all time whose secret recipe was duck fat. The day after that,  we drove out to my aunt’s in the West end, stopping en-route to buy ice-skates for Harriet and I, which had the potential to be a boondoggle. And then we had a very fun dinner with the best kinds of relations on earth—cousins.

anniwMonday was the best day—Harriet and I headed downtown to meet our friend Erin and watch the new Annie film, which we’d been looking to after avidly viewing its trailers for the past month AND after watching the old Annie every day last summer. The reviews for the new Annie were terrible and all wrong—the movie was wonderful. (That one of the critics referred to the 1982 movie as “an abomination” perhaps suggests that some people had no business reviewing either movie, both of which were masterpieces, in my humble opinion.) We all had such a good time watching it, exuberantly applauding as the credits rolled. And then we met Stuart and Iris and took the subway to Erin’s new house in Bloor West Village, which is very conveniently located near the new Book City (which was bustling and full of wonderful books.)

On Tuesday, I had to take a certain someone to a dermatologists to have a wart examined, which wasn’t so memorable, except that we got to stop at HMV on the way and buy the Annie soundtrack, a move supported by all members of our household. Iris can now sing “Tomorrow”, which is really something to behold. We also love Sia’s version of “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile” and the bizarre and catchy “Moonquake Lake”, with its memorable hook—”she’s a fish and he’s a boy.” That night our friends Jennie, Deep and Lilia came for dinner and the best time was had. They were kind enough not to complain about our music selection.

sk8Rumours of boondoggles were averted on New Years Eve when Harriet and I went skating at Christie Pits—Harriet had the best time and loved it, which was good but also troubling as it means that I have to keep going skating. We went again yesterday and both of us were vastly improved. A third jaunt is scheduled for tomorrow. New Years Eve was our traditional chocolate fondue and ringing in the UK New Year before the children went to bed. And then Stuart and I proceeded to play board games (and ping pong, until Harriet came out of her room and asked us to stop because the pinging and ponging was too noisy) until we were done, and then we went to bed and brought in the new year lit by bed-side lamps, turning away from our respective novels for a moment as the clock ticked over to 2015. Which is the best way to ring in the new that I could ever have imagined.

africaNew Years Day was boring—what a wondrous indulgence is that in this day and age? Although we did have our first meal of the year at Fanny Chadwick’s for brunch, which was delicious, and Iris has been transformed into someone who is fairly respectable about restaurant behaviour from all her practice this holiday. And Harriet and I got to play Scrabble for Juniors, which is almost as excellent as spending New Year’s reading in bed. Yesterday we went to the ROM to see the Wildlife Photography exhibit. And yes, more skating. Today we’re doing nothing, which might prove to be a bad idea but feels pretty good from where I sit (on the couch, wearing jogging pants, watching snow falling outside). We’ve kept things a little special with scones with jam and Devonshire cream, because I had a jar of the latter in the fridge and we had to use it up—not the worst task to be charged with.

teaAnd I’m writing it all down now mostly so that I can remember it, the holiday we were so desperate for and which so delivered. I’m writing it all down because all these ordinary things (libraries and lunches) are so easy to forget, and I don’t want to. I don’t want to forget either that we’re so blessed with friends and family and each other. If how you spend your days are indeed how you spend your life, then these past two weeks are an indication that we’re doing something right.  And it’s something to hold on to as the lights of December fade—let the next few months be something more than just a countdown to spring.

October 14, 2012

On Barbara Gowdy, cut-out cookies, and other decapitations

Over the weekend, I read Barbara Gowdy’s We So Seldom Look on Love, which readers and writers I admire have been talking about for years. In a collection full of devastating stories, I was most devastated by “Lizards”, in which a woman’s very tall lover decapitates her baby daughter by carrying her on his shoulders and walking too close to a ceiling fan. For some reason, I thought this was an essential plot point to share with my family, including those among us who are 3.

Harriet, whom I’ve accidentally given a fascination for all things macabre, couldn’t get enough of this story. “What happened next?” she asked. “Well,” I said. “The baby died. Her head fell off.” And no, it couldn’t have been put back on. Harriet eventually suggested that they should probably get a cutting board and cut off its arms and legs for good measure. And then we decided it would be an excellent idea to bake some gingerbread men.

Well, not gingerbread, exactly. We made “chewy oatmeal” cut-out cookies, but we call them gingerbread men anyway. Even the women. Their chewiness was part of their appeal, but it also meant that the men were partial to losing limbs and that the day’s focus on decapitation continued. Stuart and I surreptitiously gobbled up the casualties, which meant that by the time the cookies were all decorated and Harriet was permitted to have her “just one”, we were about ready to be sick.

Incidentally, this version of The Gingerbread Man story is our favourite. As with Gowdy, its author doesn’t shy away from darkness, but points out that a cookie getting eaten is far from the worst way a story could end.

March 16, 2011

Basically, I had a child so that this could happen

September 24, 2010

People in real life

I am an enormous fan of people in real life, which was why I was very glad to welcome Nathalie and Julia to my house yesterday as part of the “people around in the daytime” collective. We met for the purposes of pie, a date set ages ago, and it did not disappoint. Neither guest argued (to my face) with my pie’s alleged status as “best in Toronto”, which was kind of them (and maybe even genuine? Seriously. I make good pie. It is the one thing I’m pretty much 100% confident about). There was also cheese, and wine, (and Lesley Stowe crackers—  I could eat these until I died) which pretty much certified the afternoon as the very best ever, and we talked about books, and writing, and blogging, and Harriet fell in love with Nathalie’s five-year old.

It’s nice that somebody in my family goes to work so I can have this kind of life, and I was kind enough to save him leftovers.

September 22, 2010

There is no such thing as a canon

All the books of my dreams are coming out in the UK this fall: I want to read Comfort and Joy by India Knight, Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson, and Burley Cross Postbox Theft by Nicola Barker (which is epistolary and about a postbox, if a book could be so full to bursting). I am going to read Room by Emma Donaghue, which seemed like the most wretched book imaginable when I first heard of it, and I still think so, but too many intelligent readers have convinced me to go there anyway. I have just moved Alexander MacLeod’s Light Lifting (which I keep calling Lift Lighting in my head) up near the top of my to-be-read stack, due to his Giller nomination, and Robert Wiersema’s review. I am going to be rereading Nikolski, We Need to Talk About Kevin, and Small Ceremonies in the coming weeks. Also from the Giller longlist, I think I am going to read Lemon by Cordelia Strube, and the rest I’m not really fussed about. Because I already read This Cake is for the Party, and it was wonderful, and Jessa Crispin has given me permission to shrug off everything else: “There is no such thing as a canon — what you should read or want to read or will read out of obligation is determined as much by your history, your loves, and your daily reality as by the objective merits of certain works.” Rock on, and bring on the old dead British ladies then with their hideously outdated Penguin covers and pages smelling of must.

In others, I am going to the Victoria College Book Sale on Saturday, but with a budget (how novel) and also, I am obsessive-compulsively fiction writing lately, which is wonderful, because I thought I lost the knack with the advent of my child, but I’m at 10,000 words and haven’t yet thought about giving up because the whole piece sucks (and the thing about having once completed three drafts of a bad novel is that you learn that just barrelling through to the conclusion won’t necessarily work out okay in the end, but at this point I still feel like there might be some worth in bothering).

And also, there is a pie in my oven. And on Saturday, that oven will be replaced with a new one that doesn’t require a barbecue lighter to start.

Mitzi Bytes

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