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Pickle Me This

May 28, 2021


I’ve been reading Barbara Pym all spring, as I’ve mentioned several hundred times, and the Anglican rituals, for me, have always been the most curious aspect of these books—the vicars, and the curates, and the cassocks. What’s a cassock? I don’t even know. And especially: what is Whitsun? Whitsun, which is never a major plot point, but simply part of the course of the year (and occasion for a bank holiday). I had to google it—Whitsun is the Pentecost (and then I had to google that, and I still don’t really get it), celebrated the seventh Sunday after Easter. And frankly, not a lot—Barbara Pym aside—has been going on this spring, as Ontario moves into its eleventeenth month of lockdown, so I decided this was the year I was going to make Whitsun a thing. What that would entail exactly, I wasn’t sure. Definitely not church. But we needed something to look forward to, a goal to shoot for, and so Whitsun it is. (And indeed, this is cultural appropriation. Church of England Cultural Appropriation. It’s not the same thing.)

I decided this during a terrible weekend in mid-April where our provincial government’s incompetence took a swan dive off a cliff. Finally, after the government waiting to see whether modelling numbers predicting ICUs being overwhelmed with patients would play out in reality (SPOILER: they did! Who would have guessed?) the province moved into a locked-downier lockdown from the lockdown we’ve been locked down in since November 23. Six weeks on from then would be Whitsun. Surely by Whitsun, I told myself, we would find ourselves in a better place? Keep looking in the direction of the place you want to get to has been my motto all along…

And here we are, with falling infection rates, with vaccine rates that are really high. We were still in lockdown for Whitsun and the lockdown carries on, but it was so good to mark a milestone on a weekend with such beautiful summer weather. I’d also ordered peonies, because I’d received an enticing ad from a local florist, and the great thing about made-up holidays (all holidays are made-up holidays, even Whitsun, though I’ll acknowledge that my version of Whitsun was particularly improvised) was that you get to make them whatever you want. Whitsun peonies, I decided. And we’d make a Victoria sponge cake. I booked a car so we could go somewhere. We were going to make this the best Whitsun ever!

And it was! It was already a holiday weekend in Ontario and we’d gone for an epic bike ride the day before (Whitsun Eve). On Whitsun itself, we had Sunday waffles as usual but they just tasted better for it being Whitsun. I finished the book I was reading (Day for Night, by Jean McNeil, which I’ll be writing about here soon…). We went to Ontario Place, and had a second weekend in a row with two lake days in a row. We got ice cream. We came home (no traffic) and had an amazing barbecue supper, and then just as I was assembling the Victoria sponge cake (which was beautiful and delicious and did not look like it had been assembled by a blindfolded toddler—a first for me!) a friend sent me a text and asked if our family would like to join theirs for fireworks in the park that evening.

I can’t believe they were lighting fireworks for Whitsun!

Our children have never seen fireworks before and it turned out to be the most magical display, the first real life communal experience we’ve had while not sitting in a vehicle since March 2020 (albeit at safe distance for other people and also explosives). It occurred to me that if everybody just carried around lit sparklers all the time, we’d have no trouble staying six feet apart at all.

Even more cool things: on Sunday I was scrolling through the #Whitsun hashtag on Instagram, and what do I find. Peonies! Whitsun peonies EVERYWHERE. It turns out that the Pentecost is a national holiday in Germany and peonies (pfingstrose, translation Whitsun Rose) are the official symbol. Sometimes when you’re making it up you get it exactly right.

Not all days are glorious. Our bike ride on the Saturday before Whitsun was hot and full of whining. When we finally got to our destination, the beach was full of thick green algae and bugs were swarming us. A very loud church service was being amplified unavoidably, and it was weird and obnoxious. I was allergic to something and broke out in a rash, and on the long ride home we got caught in a rainstorm. “That was awesome,” we said at the end of the journey (20km) but also absolutely awful.

Whitsun though. Whitsun was perfect. Sometimes you get lucky. Sometimes you get to make it up and everything goes right.

May 29, 2018

On Selfies, and Learning to Recognize My Face

My husband took this photo of me at Woodbine Beach eleven years ago, when I weighed thirty pounds less than I do now, had no grey hair, an unlined forehead, and my thyroid had yet to sprout a conspicuous tumour that I am grateful for because it is benign. As you can see, I was also not allergic to the sun then, and I even had a tan—and do I ever miss having tans, as I huddle here in my hat and SPF clothing. I was so beautiful, and I kind of knew it, which was why I had this photo taken in the first place.

But taking this photo was a terrible experience, which I recall very well, and no doubt my husband does too. It was such a beautiful day and I wanted a photo to remember it by, a photo of me, but it took about twenty-five shots to finally get one I was happy with. Which is why I’m looking away from the camera, I think, because I felt better about the photo when only part of my face was in it. Because my face was the entire problem, mainly that it looked nothing like the way I imagined I looked. My face, my self—it would always surprise me. Who was this person, who you’d think I’d be an expert on, and but everybody else looked at her more than me. I didn’t know my face at all, and the person in the photos was a stranger.

There are so many reasons I’m glad I’ll never be twenty-eight again, even if it means I’ll probably never be thin and tanned again either. Oh well, because at least I recognize my face now. I’m fond of it, I even love it, and this is why I will never malign selfies and selfie-culture either, because it was selfies that taught me this. With selfies I began to see my face for the first time, to become familiar with it and comfortable with it. When somebody takes my photo now, I’m rarely surprised with the result, because I know that woman since I see her all the time. And while she sometimes looks a bit haggard, many-chinned, and her face was broken out in another rash, I still claim her. I could choose to be vain or I could choose to be otherwise, but I’m always going to end up with the same old face. And I actually walk around with it all the time, and everybody seems to find it fairly tolerable.

This is my face, and there are people who like me. There are even people who love me. And eventually I decided it was only fair that I should do the same.

January 31, 2018

14 Seriously Underrated Reasons to Marry Somebody

  1. They make excellent sandwiches.
  2. They don’t snore.
  3. They are happy to lend you the ‘u’ from their Scrabble tiles so that you can spell “wondrous.”
  4. They always share their snacks.
  5. They remember where you left your hairbrush.
  6. They buy you new shoes when you decide to start jogging. When you quit jogging three weeks later, they never say a word.
  7. They don’t hold your bad taste in pop music against you, and even dance in the kitchen.
  8. They know how to build websites.
  9. They send you texts after you finish doing something new and exciting asking, “How did it go?”
  10. They go to the gym but don’t talk about it or make you come.
  11. They will go to the bookstore for you. They will also come to the bookstore with you.
  12. They are as good at navigating as you are at driving.
  13. They are good at back rubs.
  14. They put the kettle on before you’ve even asked.

September 5, 2016

Summer Thanks

Dear Summer 2016:

Thank you for being too much. Thank you for being too hot and sweaty, and too exhausting, and too nutty and too intense…and also for not being long enough. And/or for being over at precisely the right moment.


Thank you for train travel, books and tea to pass the time with, and delicious sandwiches packed in wax paper. Thank you for Lake Ontario sweeping by outside the window, our companion for most of the journey. For Napanee for making me think of Avril Lavigne, and Sk8ter Boi. Can I make it any more obvious?


Thank you to friends who received us, let us sleep in your spare rooms and eat cereal from your bowls, and friends who gave us dinner and poured us wine and made us feel so entirely welcome. Thanks to friends who showed us your city and made us fall in love with someplace new.


Thank you to to High Park for always making for a perfect summer day. Thank you for your splash pad, overpriced ice cream cones, your steep grades, and sparkling pond, your chipmunks and geese for delighting and scaring us (respectively).


Thank you to Peterborough for letting us hang out for a few days. Thank you to the Millennium Park for your perilous rock structures that the children liked to leap from.


Thank you for the sunshine and your shady trees, and days beside a lake.


Thank you to the Grandparents who hosted us and their friends who let us swim in your pool (and kayak even!).


Thank you for your rainbows, dear summer. For your silver linings and consolations, your tough lessons and your toughening ones, and for your refusal to let Don*ld Tr*mp and Brexit own you. For being better than all that.


Thank you for the things that grew, even if they weren’t the lupines. Thank you for the lavender and the marigolds, and the cosmos that grow in the street and amaze us with their tenacity.


Thank to the Chihuly exhibit, for being fascinating for all of us. Thank you to the museum for your air conditioning on hot afternoons.


Thank you for the parks, and the picnics, and the piles of people I thoroughly love.


Thank you for the farmer’s market, which becoming deliciously slutty as July turned into August and the peaches got ripe. IMG_20160721_210502

Thank you for the summer skies at dusk, every evening a reminder that the world is amazing.


Thank you to Ghostbusters for being ridiculously fun.


Thank you to ferry rides and the Toronto Islands, and wholly perfect days.


Thank you for afternoons passed on the Toronto Riviera.


We’re grateful for wading pools, and for the children for giving me an excuse to hang out in one. Where would I be without them?


Thank you for the picnics in the park, and Denise’s blueberry pie, and the most amazing friends a family could ask for.


Thank you to fire, for letting us make you. Thank you for only raining a little bit on our camping weekend, enabling the weekend to be so totally fun. Midway through the summer and we were still going strong.


Thank you summer for your moody skies, and unforgettable afternoons with friends.


Thanks for the big beach smiles, and one more swim before we hit the road, and so much sand in the car.


Thank you for a week at the cottage, a week that rocked everybody’s world, and left us so relaxed and happy and me only moderately rashy.


We are thankful for big jumps off the dock.


We are so thankful for hammock afternoons, and books that match our outfits (even if the book itself didn’t quite live up to the hype).


Thank you for ice cream from a truck. And ice cream from anywhere, for that matter.


Thank you for perfect refreshment over and over again.


Thank you for your green trees and your cool shade and so many things to climb on along the journey home.


Thank you for silliness with friends, at the board game cafe, and the Science Centre, and in shady backyards, and other memorable points along the way.


Thank you for your magic and your mystery tours, and for the sharks.


Thank you for your street style, your shades, and your cool attitude.


For the sunny days.


And the sparkling nights.


For your green lawns and garden hoses…


and for including all the fixings.


Thank you for your triumphs and glories and deliriously dizzy goodness.


We had a very good time.



June 12, 2016

In Pursuit of a Mug


I’m not going to deny the fact that today I led my family all the way across the city because I was in pursuit of a mug. But I don’t think they suffered for it. When I learned last week that Diane Sullivan was going to be at the Beaches Arts and Crafts Festival (and that there was even such a thing as the Beaches Arts and Crafts Festival) in beautiful Kew Gardens, I knew I wanted to go, because I could pick up one of her mugs—I have one already, and it is my favourite, a birthday gift from my mom last year—and my children would be happy playing in the park, and admission to the festival was free, plus we could take a streetcar journey inspired by Andrew Larsen’s new book, The Not So Faraway Adventure.

So off we went today after Harriet’s dance class, the streetcar journey faster than we’d expected and actually painless (and not just because this is relative to our shuttle bus misadventures last weekend while the subway line was closed). Arriving at the park and having our picnic. I got to meet Diane Sullivan and indeed pick out a brand new beautiful mug which will make its #TodaysTeacup debut tomorrow. After lunch, I did some more browsing, and the children played on the climbers while Stuart read a novel: everybody was happy. Eventually I had to leave the Beaches Arts and Crafts Festival before I bought everything. And we got some fro-yo, and then walked back through the park toward the lake, the beach crowded with people enjoying the day. And we spent an hour and a bit contemplating the most glorious horizon, trying to skip stones and mostly failing, and gathering an impressive array of sea glass, which was the most perfect exercise in paying attention and appreciating the beauty in tiny ordinary things.

We took the streetcar home after a delicious dinner and gloried in the goodness of a practically perfect day, whose perfection we appreciated in particular in light of the school trip to the farm on Friday, which was perfect in its own way except that Iris threw up on me as the school bus pulled into the parking lot and I had to spend the whole day smelling like vomit. And that that day too was not without its charms is either a credit to my pathological insistence on making the best of things or evidence that I am suffering from delusions.

May 29, 2016

Alone in Montreal


I’m not alone very often, and when I am, I am never lost or aimless. I say this not smugly, but as a mild lamentation. I don’t know that I’d like being alone, lost and aimless to be a pastime, but sometimes such things can lead a person places. This is what I teach in my blogging course, that a blogger needs space to roam, room to wander. And on Friday, I had some of that for myself, as I flew to Montreal to talk about blogging with the Association of English Language Publishers of Quebec. If you know me, you know I rarely leave my couch, so this was a pretty novel opportunity. I flew out from the Island Airport on Friday morning, the whole experience infused with goodness from the get-go—tea, ample leg-room and a good book. A whole hour and a bit in which to read.


I had a few hours to kill before my event, so I made a plan to explore the Mile End neighbourhood and then make my way through the city to Westmount, where the AELAQ event was being held. My taxi from the airport dropped me off at Librairie Drawn and Quarterly, which immediately landed a space on my Best Bookshops I Have Ever Been To list. A world-famous publisher of amazing graphic novels and comics, they sell their own books, as well as other such books from other publishers, and then kids books, poetry, fiction, cookbooks etc etc making them a perfect general-interest/speciality hybrid. I walked in there and contemplated never leaving.


I ended up choosing Rivka Galchen’s Little Labors, which is SO GOOD and I read yesterday. I thought maybe I was through with moms making sense of the new baby books, but no. Looking forward to writing about this one more this week. I also got Photobooth: A Biography, by Meags Fitzgerald, and it’s brilliant. The rest of the books were for my family, and I think I chose very well.


So of course this meant I had a pile of books now to add to all the stuff I had to carry, and although I have never, ever complained about carrying books (the most pleasurable burden I’ve ever had the privilege to experience), my load in general was kind of heavy. It was also 38 degrees outside (no lie: factoring humidity), but no matter, I was on my way. I felt more like Mary Tyler Moore than I usually feel ever, if she’d been making it after all in French Canada whilst carrying a stack of books. I hit up a boulangerie, and got a croissant, and then followed it up with an ice cream cone at Kem CoBa, double scoop because you only live once. And it was so hot that my ice cream was melting faster than I could eat it, and I do appreciate that Montreal was so kind to me in spite of the melted diary stains all over my bag. After that, I added a dozen bagels from Fairmount Bagel to my load, and then set off down Rue Saint-Urban toward my final destination.


It seemed ridiculously hot, though I think the heat (and the books. and the bagels) were the problem, plus I had to wear a giant shirt because I continue to be allergic to the SUN. I walked through Jewish neighbourhoods, a Portuguese neighbourhood, skirted the park and the mountain, and then arrived downtown where I turned and walked along Rue Sherbrooke, though the McGill Campus and past museums and galleries and there was so much to see..and I was so very hot and did not seem to be arriving at my hotel ever. So I had to stop and steal wi-fi from the Ritz Carlton (whose signal is very strong, stretches all the way across the street) to figure out where I was going. Luckily the right way. I got there eventually, to my hotel with enough time to cool down and change my clothes and iron my dress and be ready for my presentation, which was not far away at the Atwater Library.


As would be apt for a presentation about how blogging in 2016 is small and focussed, the group that arrived for my presentation was much the same—and they were WONDERFUL. I had such a wonderful time giving my talk, and the group was so receptive, and I was pleased to meet some people again, meet others for the first time, and in particular people whom I’d grown to like already in engaging with them online. It was a terrific experience, and such a privilege to be there. And I was so appreciative to everybody for making me feel so welcome. (And for coming, even though it was by then the middle of a rainstorm and thunder was rumbling outside).


Afterwards, a few of us piled into a taxi and headed back up to Drawn and Quarterly for the Biblioasis launch of books by Alice Petersen and Catherine Laroux. It was a pleasure to be back there and also to have it all set up for an event, and to meet other local writers and readers and get a feel for the Montreal English literary scene. I was so happy to hang out with Saleema Nawaz, who contributed to The M Word and who i’ve long admired, but had really only met fleetingly, and also Elise Moser (who has a new nonfiction children’s title coming out in the fall about “the pioneer of plastics recycling”) and Alice Zorn (whose latest novel, Five Roses, I am so excited to have ahead of me). The readings were great, and then afterwards, we went out for dinner and drank bourbon lemonade and ate fried chicken and nothing annoying or not wonderful had happened to me all day (nearly collapsing from heat stroke notwithstanding). It was nice to be alone in Montreal, particularly in those moments when I actually wasn’t.


Spending the night in a hotel room BY MYSELF (without even sand in the bed. I like holidays, but the bane of my existence is sand in the bed, but there were none in this one) was a ridiculous indulgence, so surrounded was I by good pillows, clean sheets, a comfortable mattress, and many many books. Once I stopped reading I slept soundly, and then spent the morning enjoying a few good hours of quiet and aloneness before it was time to fly back home again.

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.

September 6, 2010

Among life's momentous acts of self-definition

My (and everyone else who knows her’s) beloved Kate got married yesterday to her just-as beloved Paul, in a ceremony that was probably the most lovely wedding ceremony I’ve ever attended. The bride was Kate, of course, which was part of the splendour, but she was Kate-ier than Kate even, in her flowing dress with the pink flowers, her beautiful golden hair, the perfection of her sun-kissed complexion, and the happiness she radiated. Her absolute faith and confidence in the wonderful man who’d just been made her husband, and I was overwhelmed at how rich their two lives are now that they are two lives together.

The sun came out for the ceremony, which began with the little people, the children of friends of Kate and Paul, who are generous enough to include them in the day. And though Harriet can walk  now, I opted to carry her just to make things simpler, but she held her own bouquet, which was her job basically done. Followed by families of the bride and groom, and finally everyone was there together in that beautiful garden, and the children were squawking, a plane flew overhead, and we heard a brief roll of thunder, but no storm came our way.

The readings were “Having a Coke with You” by Frank O’Hara, and then the following from “Goodridge Vs. Department of Health” by Massachusetts Supreme Court Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall: “Marriage is a vital social institution. The exclusive commitment of two individuals to each other nurtures love and mutual support; it brings stability to our society. For those who choose to marry, and for their children, marriage provides an abundance of legal, financial, and social benefits. In return it imposes weighty legal, financial, and social obligations….Without question, civil marriage enhances the “welfare of the community.” It is a “social institution of the highest importance.” … Marriage also bestows enormous private and social advantages on those who choose to marry. Civil marriage is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family…. Because it fulfils yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity, civil marriage is an esteemed institution, and the decision whether and whom to marry is among life’s momentous acts of self-definition.”

After Kate and Paul agreed to keep on doing what they’ve been doing, but just to keep on doing it forever, everybody was treated to brunch inside. The food was fantastic, and the company was even better, including best friends and other friends who haven’t been seen in some time. Our friends Erin and Rebecca had brought Harriet a wooden apple pie set (!!) which was so perfect, because nothing short of a brand new amazing toy would have kept Harriet playing happily through the meal and after, all the while she should have been having her nap.

For dessert, there was so much cake, a variety to choose from and we could pick more than one (and pink velvet was my favourite). And ice cream! And then Harriet made out with the ring-bearer, under the table cloth. I guess you pull out the wooden apple pie, and one thing just leads to another). This bodes well for Harriet, because the ring-bearer was two-and-a-half, dashingly handsome, and suggests she might end up better off than her parents, neither of whom anyone made out with until embarrassingly late in teenaged life, but anyway. It was funny.

And it was wonderful too, just to be there. To be called upon to witness this day in our friends’ lives, and to celebrate them with them, and us with us. To celebrate love and to family and friendship, and how the lines begin to blur so these are all the same.

(Thanks go out to Erin for showing up with a camera whose battery wasn’t dead).

August 8, 2010

From what I read over the past week

Another literary lost umbrella(!), this time in Barbara Pym’s thoroughly enjoyable A Few Green Leaves: “It was not until she had gone too far along the street to turn back that Emma realised that, possibly in the stress of some obscure emotion, she must have taken Claudia’s umbrella in mistake for her own. And it was an umbrella of inferior quality. She wondered what the possible significance of that could be.”**

(**Update: Upon reading Pym’s autobiography, I learned this was based on an actual incident reported in her notebook, which, I think, constitutes *another* literary lost umbrella)

And then I fell into At Large and At Small by Anne Fadiman, my one complaint about being that its lovely cover got a bit manky when I used it to kill a mosquito. “One of the convenient things about literature is that, despite copyrights– which in Emerson’s case expired long ago– a book belongs to the reader as well as to the writer. The greater the work, the wider the ownership, which is why there are such things as criticism, revisionism and Ph.D. dissertations. I will not ask the sage of Concord to rewrite his oration. He will forever retain the right to speak his own words and to mean what he wished to mean, not what I would wish him to mean. But I will retain the right to recast Man Thinking in my mind as Curious People Thinking because time has passed and the tent has grown larger.”

Then I turned to Margaret Drabble’s The Millstone (except that my copy is called Thank You All Very Much, which was the title of a film upon which The Millstone was based). “I was not of course treated to that phrase which greets all reluctant married mothers, “I bet you wouldn’t be without her now, so often repeated after the event in the full confidence of nature, because I suppose people feared I might turn on them and say, Yes I certainly would, which would be mutually distressing for questioner and me. And in many ways I thought that I certainly would prefer to be without her, as one might prefer to lack beauty or intelligence or riches, or any other such sources of mixed blessing and pain. Things about life with a baby drove me into frenzies of weeping several times a week, and not only having milk on my clean jerseys. As so often in life, it was impossible to choose, even theoretically, between advantage and disadvantage, between profit and loss: I was up quite unmistakably against No Choice. So the best one could do was put a good face on it, and to avoid adding to the large and largely discussed number of sad warnings that abounded in the part of the world that I knew.”

Next was Zadie Smith’s Changing My Mind, which was beautiful and difficult, and uncannily channelling Joan Didion in spots. “‘Blackness’, as [Zora Neale Hurston] understood it and wrote about it, is as natural and inevitable and complete to her as, say, “Frenchness” is to Flaubert. It is also as complicated, as full of blessings and curses. One can be no more removed from it than from one’s arm, but it is no more the total measure of one’s being than an arm is.”

And finally, Darwin’s Bastards, which I’m not finished yet, but how (in particular), I’ve loved short stories by Jessica Grant, Douglas Coupland, Mark Anthony Jarman, Timothy Taylor, and Elyse Friedman.

Such fun. Honestly, my vacation books could not have been more perfectly chosen.

July 28, 2010

You've got to court delight

You’ve got to court delight, I think. By which I mean that things don’t just turn up in the post. You’ve got to send small gifts across the country to get a thank-you note in return, and subscribe to literary journals and magazines, and have a friend who lives in Antarctica who sends a postcard from time to time. Or rather, you have to go out of your way to buy a red teapot so that you can be a person who has a red teapot (unless you’re a particular fortunate person for whom red teapots arrive in the post).

Anyway, the point is that I received two letters in the post today upon whose envelopes my name was inscribed by hand. (And it wasn’t even that deceptively handwriting-like font that Bell Canada puts on all their envelopes when they send missives begging for the return of my custom.) Two handwritten envelopes is practically unheard of! I tore them open in a hurry and was not the least bit disappointed by what I found inside.

But let me backtrack. I joined The Barbara Pym Society earlier this year, because it seemed a strange, funny and Pymian thing to do. (I was inspired by this article.) And I also made friends with a brilliant writer/almost birdwatcher, and had her over for tea last week. As a result of these two things, I today received a lovely letter from a fellow Pym Society member who is looking for a Canadian meet-up*, and an absolutely beautiful thank you note from my birder-writer friend (who is truly as master of the form). Both of which made me exquisitely happy.

So you do have to court delight, I think. Though there’s also the point that if you wish to be perpetually delighted, just look for the pleasure of tiny, wonderful things. (Or perhaps I need to get out more…)

*Fascinatingly enough, the Pym Society member had sent me this letter unknowing that we’d corresponded in the past! Three years ago, she published a beautiful essay in The Globe, and sent me a note after I’d mentioned it on my blog. And now we find ourselves two of the very small population of Canadian Barbara Pym Society members! How marvelously tiny the world truly is…

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