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Pickle Me This

June 14, 2017

We Love Huron Playschool

I honestly don’t remember who I was before playschool. When I had one child, when I’d never published a book, when I was a bit lost wandering around the neighbourhood without a destination. These days we meet friends every time we step outside the house, but it wasn’t like that then. My friend Nathalie lived in the neighbourhood (even though we met first on the internet) and she had three children, had been a mother for a while. It was Nathalie who told me about playschool when Harriet was two, and I registered her for the following year. That summer we came by to visit while playschool summer camp was in session, and as we walked in, an actual pig came down the stairs behind us, noisy and oinking. From our first moment there, playschool was remarkable, and this has never ceased to the case.

The pig hasn’t come back to visit. And the Ministry of Education has since prohibited visits from farm animals for public health reasons (BLAST!) but the pig was really only emblematic anyway. Of the fact that playschool was never boring, always fun, and the things you think will never happen there are never the things that do…in the best possible way.

Our family has spent five years at playschool, five years in which we’ve become us as a family, a family of four, a family tied to our community, supporting our neighbours. Everything I know about the world I’ve learned from playschool, the challenges of working in a co-op, and the rewards as well. I’ve learned so much about people, and sharing, and what it means to be friendly (and that it’s not nice to bite). Our children will carry the lessons learned at playschool all through their lives, and I know that I will too.

On the playschool blog, I’ve written a little post about what the community there has meant to me and us over the last five years, and about how much we’re going to miss it. It’s a truly extraordinary place, and we’ve been so lucky to be part of it.

January 26, 2017

Rebecca Solnit, and on “joy as an initial act of insurrection”

The 2003 anti-war protests turned out to be pretty foundational for me, but in all the wrong ways. I was living in England then, which was not my country, and my actual country wasn’t going to be invading Iraq, so it was easy to think the whole thing had nothing do with me. Of course, I knew that invading Iraq was going to be a terrible idea, and I still don’t understand how anyone could have though it wasn’t a terrible idea (or how anybody who thought was a good idea got to be recognized as an authority on anything after that). But still, apart from arguing with people online about how no one really likes being “liberated” via bombs being dropped on their houses and their children being killed, I was not particularly moved by the situation. In fact, I was distinctly unmoved. A colleague of mine was rushing about the office on her way to go and join the protest in our town, and I remember her glee; “I love politics,” she said, and I thought everything was wrong with that. That politics should be a necessary means to an end, which is ordinary life, and not a reason for being.

Will you forgive me? I was 23. And while I still find mobs of people congregating and shouting together unnerving, no matter what they are saying (because when The People start speaking with one voice, then something has certainly gone amiss, I mean, have you ever met people?) I realize how wrong I was about the necessity of activism. And that activism always fails when it’s regarded as a means to an end, when you go home too soon, rather than a process.

“Paradise is  imagined as a static place, as a place before or after history, after strife and eventfulness and change: the premise is that once history has arrived change is no longer necessary. The idea of perfection is also why people believe in saving, in going home, and in activism as crisis response rather than every day practice.” —Rebecca Solnit

On Saturday, when our family joined the millions of people all over the world marching for women’s rights, I too began to see the point of the glee. That the glee wasn’t simply fervour, but that it was also a kind of relief, and it was more substantial too than merely glee—it was joy.

“Joy doesn’t betray but sustains activism. And when you face a politics that aspires to make you fearful, alienated, and isolated, joy is a fine initial act of insurrection.” —Rebecca Solnit

Of course, initial act, is a very important distinction.

It was a terrific event, and I refuse to apologize for it having flaws the same way I felt I had to apologize for admiring Hillary Clinton. Nope, in the name of FEMINIST FEMINIST FEMINIST FEMINIST, and Nellie McClung. Read Jia Tolentino in The New Yorker: “But this is precisely why the Women’s March feels vital. Of course it’s difficult to pull together an enormous group of women who may have nothing in common other than the conviction that a country led by Trump endangers their own freedoms and the freedoms of those they love. That conviction is nonetheless the beginning of the resistance that those planning to attend the march hope to constitute.” (And no, not inviting Pro-Life women is not “intolerance,” because if you’re actively campaigning to restrict my reproductive freedoms, you go find another yard to play in. That is not and can never be feminism, no matter who you are.)

It’s necessarily awkward, it just is, to be, for example, a white woman dipping her toe into notions of social justice, as women of colour have been swimming in these seas for ages. It’s sort of embarrassing and uncomfortable to admit that the is new to me, that I was wrong in 2003 and in all the years after when I continued to think that “ordinary life” and politics was something a person could draw a line between. It’s showing up at the party and not knowing the dance, and looking really stupid, but we’re coming anyway—and we’re going to be fucking stomping our lady-sized feet with all the rest of them. The best of them.

“Resistance is first of all a matter of principle and a way to live, to make yourself one small republic of unconquered spirit.” —Rebecca Solnit

January 3, 2017

Holiday Stop

It occurred to me partway through December that this had been the first holiday season in nine years years during which I hadn’t had a baby, or a two-year-old, or been pregnant, and/or very very sick. And so that was how it all got done. How we made a list at the beginning of the month packed with all the Christmassy things we wanted to get up to—museums, galleries, shopping malls, and Christmas markets—and managed to check off every single item, as well as get the presents bought and wrapped, and all the Christmas cards posted in plenty of time. This December, I was a wonder woman, and we did so very much in the weeks leading up to the big day that I was unsure how exactly we were going to spend our Christmas holiday, but then fate decided to step in and solve that problem itself. Harriet threw up at 4am on Christmas morning, thereby kicking off a string of days in which one person or another or everyone was under the weather, and so we didn’t leave the house for days. I’m not even complaining. First, because I managed to escape the sick, and second because no one was ever that sick. (The standard for “that sick” was set two years ago when I gave us all food poisoning with a dodgy risotto. Still traumatized. Everything that’s less sick just arrives as something of a relief.) And so the story of our Christmas break is mainly one about the couch, and the children watching hours of the latest incarnation of How to Train Your Dragon on Netflix while I lounged about in track pants and read one fat biography after another. It’s about days blending together and too much broken sleep, which meant that all this downtime didn’t quite add up to “relaxing.” But there was a certain charm to it—it felt awfully refreshing to have no place to go. Sometimes the universe knows what you need more than you do. Though of course I would say that being the one member of our family who didn’t spend any time this holiday on intimate terms with the puke bucket.

December 21, 2016

Good Days

One thing I love about winter is the way the sun pours into my kitchen, that gorgeous light from the south, illuminated my teacups and photos and all my afternoons. I’d never noticed that light until I joined Instagram last year, and didn’t completely appreciate it either until spring arrived and the light in the kitchen got dim again. Who ever knew that winter could be so bright? But it can be, and my Instagram shows that, simple quotidian goodness that isn’t properly reflected here on my blog anymore. My blog is becoming less a place for every-day than it once was, the dailiness that once plotted its narrative showing up on Instagram instead. And if you’re not following my Instagram account, you might not realize what a parade of good days there have been these last few months, goodness that was indeed marred by the election results in November and the political shift, which certainly added a different level of resonance to many of the days. (We went to see The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and I kept thinking of all those people who don’t know “the deeper magic,” and not even in a Christian allegory sense.)

So what has been happening? What stories would I have poured out here in previous years, in posts titled “Good Weekend”? I don’t think I wrote about my trip to Blue Heron Books in October, or the way the autumn leaves were like a fireworks display that exploded brilliance well into November.

I didn’t write about our weekend jaunts out to different parts of the city, living sans nap and stroller and partaking in urban explorations. About Halloween with our friends and neighbours, the streets crawling with people and such a spirit of openness and community. How Harriet’s Hermione Grainger costume was incroyable. About our trip to see The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at the Stratford Festival, which was courtesy of the kindness of a friend and is the beginning of an annual tradition. About holiday parties, Harriet’s performance in the Primary Choir concert, and about all the glass that smashed when our Christmas tree fell down.

Last year I was very ill for most of December, which made me grateful for every bit of wellness this year. We’ve filled our weekends with excellent Christmas things—a trip to the Gardiner Museum for the 12 Trees of Christmas Display, a visit to the Toronto Reference Library to see their Fairy Tales exhibit, afternoon tea at the Art Gallery, and a shopping mall Christmas Day (made all the more enjoyable by the fact that we didn’t need to buy anything while we were there). It’s not even Christmas and we’ve already walked home from school in an actual blizzard, visited the Christmas windows at The Bay on Queen Street, and partook in a Christmas carolling party with our dear friends and was so good for the soul. That there’s been snow on the ground for two weeks has certainly made it seem a lot like Christmas. Our presents have been wrapped for ages. The tree is up (and still standing) and the darkness is marvellously lit.

On a personal level, we’ve had a very good year. The people who live in my house continue to be my favourite people in the universe, and I can’t quite believe my good fortune in being able to hang out with them every day. My days are busy and there is too much trekking to and from various schools to deliver and fetch wee scholars, but so it goes, and both girls are happy at school and I’ve got time to work and write and swim. Life is complicated and there are always worries, and my children have their struggles just like yours do, but these things make us all more resilient. But for the most part, we’re just extraordinarily lucky and rich in all the very best things and we know it.

I count my blessings every day.

July 3, 2016

Summer Starts

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There is no better way to travel then on trains, where the leg room is ample and there is so much time to read. When we booked this weekend away, the train journey itself was the destination, but we had to arrive somewhere, so we chose Ottawa, where we have best cousin-friends and even other friends, and cousin-friends who were kind enough to offer us a place to stay. And it was Canada Day Weekend, so what better place to be…even if the place we mean to be specifically on Canada Day is our cousin’s beautiful backyard across the river in Gatineau. And it really was amazing.

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As we’d hoped, the train journey was a pleasure. I had more time to read than I’ve had in weeks. I finished Rich and Pretty, by Rumaan Alam, which I liked so much and will be writing about, and started Signal to Noise, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, which was lovely and so much fun. They also had my favourite kind of tea on sale (Sloane Tea’s Heavenly Cream) and so all was right with the world.

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It was such a nice weekend—the children had children to play with and I got to spend time with some of my favourite people. We had an excellent time with our cousins, and met up with my dear friends Rebecca who took us to the Museum of  Nature, and last night I got to visit with my 49thShelf comrades who I’ve been working so happily with for years but have only ever hung out with a handful of times. Apart from one traumatic episode of carsickness (not mine) and the night the children took turns waking up every twenty minutes, it was a perfect long long weekend. I also learned that it is possible to eat my limit in cheetos and potato chips, which I had never suspected. Also that it is probably inadvisable to start drinking before noon.

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We came home today, another good trip, this time with me reading Nathan Whitlock’s Congratulations on Everything, which I am really enjoying, I also started reading the graphic novel of A Wrinkle in Time with Harriet, which we will continue this week. And we arrived home to find that our marigolds have finally bloomed, third generation. We planted them a couple of months back in our community planter, and have been waiting for the flowers to emerge. (Sadly, our lupines didn’t make it.) Summer is finally here proper, what with school out, and even 49thShelf’s Fall Fiction Preview being up (which is my main project for June), and my work days shift with the children being home. I’ve also decided to write a draft of a novel this summer, which is only going to make a tricky situation trickier, but who doesn’t like tricks? We shall see. We will do our best. And there will also be ice cream and holidays and barbecues and sand between our toes, and splash pads and ferry rides and picnics and pools and flowers. It will all go by so fast.

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June 12, 2016

In Pursuit of a Mug

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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.

March 29, 2016

Someone put a photo of a craft I did on Pinterest

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I suppose I was expecting something more transformative. You know, that I’d turn into Gwyneth Paltrow, or be a mermaid, and have organized spice jars at the very least, but there was none of that. At the end of it all, I was still only me, and I still had to empty potties and make lunches and try to stuff my weird three-years-post-c-section stomach inside a humble pair of pants every morning. My kids didn’t care what had happened—to them, I was still their mom. My husband was happy for me, but it didn’t exactly reframe his perception of my place in the world (i.e. put me behind the frame of a recycled vintage window from a farmhouse or something made out of birch twigs). And all of that was kind of a blessing, really, even if it didn’t seem so at the time, because these are the things that kept me real.

14885707333_20f4d24d15_kIt’s easy to lose touch of what really matters when you live much of your life online, to be duped into aspiring to LIKES and followers above all things. It’s not hard to become the sort of person who screams at small children for knocking the table and upsetting the oh-so-carefully placed scattering sea salt over avocado toast, interrupting the flow of twitter threads, or casting a shadow over a teacup just as you’re about to Instagram it. It’s terribly frustrating to have your five year old go into hysterics because you’re adamant about refusing to Instagram their artwork, which is actually a toilet paper roll tube scotched taped to the phone bill. “Do it, Mommy! Instagram it,” they insist, no matter how patiently you explain that aesthetically it’s just not consistent with your brand, even if the paper phone bills suggests a vintage vibe that you’ve been trying to cultivate. You tell them, “Honey, you don’t even know what an Instagram is. It’s a noun, not a verb, and it comes with a whole lot of impedimenta, with ramifications you’ve not even begun to glimpse at your age.” Serious adult matters. You start to explain about the new algorithm, and requiring followers to turn on notifications, and by the time you’ve stopped speaking, the child has put himself to bed. So there is that. It’s easy to get thrown off course.

6851755809_85cf31347e_oBut some of it matters, it does, so you really can’t blame me for carrying myself differently after the fact: holding my head a bit higher, swinging my hair from side to side. People started commenting on my glow, and that wasn’t all due to goddess bowls and kale smoothies. I started thinking a whole lot more than usual about doing handstands on beaches and antique birdcages. About wicker. I wanted to install a chair that hung from the ceiling, fill the floor with throw cushions, and wear glasses in order to look serious. My hair in a bun secured with two pencils. Or chopsticks. Wooden floors with well-worn paint. Creative ideas for nail art.

It’s different now, from when I used to pursue these things for leisure. The stakes are higher and I claim it on my taxes. I’ve published an e-book, twelve pages long but who’s counting? I’ve got a social media strategies e-course available on my blog, and the testimonials are amazing. And for a long time I’ve been grappling with an advanced case of Imposter Syndrome (in both lungs, no less), carrying on as best I could, but nonetheless afflicted. But no more. I once was blind, but now I see. And what exactly do I see?

Only that somebody went and put a photo of a goddamn craft I did on mother-rucking Pinterest. 

IMG_8917A craft. On Pinterest. Me! Me, who tried to glue a cotton ball to a pinecone on Sunday in order to make an Easter Bunny on my mother’s porch, but the glue wouldn’t stick so I turned the whole thing into a game of, “Can You Throw A Sticky Pinecone Into Traffic?” (and I could, in case you were wondering). Me who invented the party game, “Disappointing Pass the Parcel,” the parcel packed with citrus fruit (and the one at the end received a lemon). At every birthday party my children have ever had, we’ve tied pipe cleaners stuck with styrofoam balls to cheap plastic headbands, which has suited every party theme that I can think of (Aliens! Insects! DIY Radio Transmitters!). I honestly thought I’d gone as far in my life as I was meant to go.

But this. Saved to a page called Library Craft Ideas 3. I once made a dollhouse out of a shoebox and now it’s up there for the whole world to see, alongside peg dolls, repurposed lightbulb air balloons, and a rocket made from a paper towel roll. Egg cartons spiders, FTW.

I’ve published a book, created actual humans inside my body, and wrote a letter to the Prime Minister in 1988 imploring him to save the pandas, but none of that means anything in light of my latest achievement unlocked. Somebody put a photo of a goddamn craft I did on Pinterest, which makes me officially the person I always wanted to be.

March 18, 2016

A New Canadian

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One of the responsibilities of Canadian citizenship is that one takes care of one’s family, so it’s kind of fitting that Stuart missed his call to take the citizenship oath last month because he was taking care of his sick child all night long. He had to write a letter explaining the situation and requesting another date, which was today. And this time we actually made it. It was really, really lovely, 100 people from places all over the world having taken so many steps to get here—to choose Canada. (It not lost on me too that Stuart choosing Canada means that Stuart chose me; lucky, lucky me.)

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For the past 10.5 years, Stuart has been doing all the things that good Canadians do—learning to skate and not even calling it ice-skate; rolling up rims; working hard and paying taxes (and receiving all the benefits that go with that, of course); shovelling snow; raising little Canadians; celebrating July 1sts; listening to the CBC; swimming in lakes; volunteering in his community; reading Canadian books; drinking Canadian beer; embracing summer long weekends; watching Heritage Minutes; talking about Drake; and rocking out to the Guess Who. As soon as our local grocery store can get it in stock, no doubt he’ll be buying crates of French’s ketchup.

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“You all come from places that make beautiful art,” the citizenship judge told the new Canadians assembled, encouraging them to share that art with the rest of us, whether it’s art they create or art they’ve brought with them. “What I’m saying is, Turn Your Music Up,” she told us. (Respectful British-Canadians might sit one this out, perhaps, having shared quite enough with Canada over the centuries, if by “shared” you mean “stolen,” but alas. Though we do appreciate the Beatles.) “It makes the fabric of our nation so much better.” Since October 19, I’ve actually been a little bit proud to be a Canadian again, and I would have even sung “Oh, Canada” today along with Stuart and all our other newly fellow-Canadians, but I couldn’t because I was crying too much.

March 13, 2016

We did it.

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“WE DID IT. WE FUCKING MADE IT. AND LOOK AT HOW AMAZING THESE GIRLS ARE? LOOK AT HOW MIRACULOUS AND INTERESTING AND SMART AND FUNNY AND WILD AND BRILLIANT THESE BABES BE!? AND SOME DAYS ARE REALLY FUCKING HARD. AND SOME DAYS ARE REALLY FUCKING BEAUTIFUL. AND ALL OF THE DAYS… EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM ARE WORTH IT. THEY HAVE ALWAYS BEEN WORTH IT.” —Rebecca Woolf, Girl’s Gone Child

I never had twins (thank goodness; one baby at a time absolutely pushed me to my limits) but the post from which I quote above really resonated with me. Iris turns two-and-three-quarters next month, which means her third birthday’s on the horizon, and we’ve recently given up diapers, some days we don’t need a nap, she (usually) behaves perfectly well in a restaurant, and today we all went out for afternoon tea. For no occasion, and yet it seems like all the occasions—my novel is finished and gone into copyedits; Stuart (hopefully!) becomes Canadian next week; it’s March Break; how doesn’t like celebrating return from a tropical locale with a lavish lunch. And because Iris is finally old enough to partake. We’re about to leave the baby years behind us, and I can’t think of a better reason to celebrate than that, the future unfolding as it should.

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We never could have dreamed up Iris—she’s a full fledged mould breaker, hilarious, mischievous, irascible, loving, kind, silly and always paying attention. If you ask her anything, she’ll answer you: “Pooks.” We don’t know what pooks is, the definition ever-shifting, whatever is convenient to hang it on. She loves her sister, reading Go Dog Go and talking about nipples. She likes exclaiming, “Goodness gracious,” when she’s not saying, “Pooks.” She knows more about immigration than most two-year-olds: “Daddy’s going to be a Canadian,” she says. “I’m a Canadian already.” She is a favourite pet of Harriet’s classmates and happily ensconced in a class of her own at playschool, where she plays in drama, paints pictures, learns songs and stories. Her favourite thing is singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. She still likes to climb up onto the table and jump up and down. If she’s hungry, she can be trusted to go fetch a snack, no matter how (seemingly) unattainable that snack might be. She likes reading picture books and gets annoyed when we read books without pictures, goes and throws toys on the floor to get our attention. When she does something wrong, most of the time she is willing to say sorry, but always follows up her apology by asking, “And you say, ‘It okay, Iris,’ okay?”

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Harriet will very soon be six-and-three-quarters, which was the age I was at when I discovered there was such a thing as fractions. She will forever to us seem old and wise, just as Iris is forever little, and part of the pleasure I take in the prospect of Iris’s third year was all the fun we had the summer that Harriet was that age, when all at once the days were longer and the world was bigger and we could do almost anything. But she was so little then, I realize now, particularly compared to where she is today. She is bright and articulate and forthright and ambitious, and imagines that she can make anything at all. When she grows up, she wants to be a scientist or a rock star, although she’s leaning toward the former. She loves Taylor Swift, and dancing, and identifies as a feminist. Yesterday we were at Value Village sorting through t-shirts, and I held up one that said, “Girls Rock.” “Okay,” she said. “I mean, it’s what I believe.” She is strong and brave and loves heroic tales of awesome girls. Though she also loves Archie Comics and Betty and Veronica, so she contains multitudes. She’s nuts about the Amulet series, the Narnia books (when girls are in the story), is still more partial to graphic novels than novels proper, and is determined to invent a series of feminist superheroes who do not necessarily fight for justice in their underpants.

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We went shopping yesterday, because what better way to mark the explosion of crocuses across the street than buying shoes for our children’s ever growing feet. It was our biannual expedition to the world of commerce, with purchases of nightgowns too and suburban dinner at chain restaurant (with Jello for dessert!), always a big occasion—we get to drive in a car and everything. Plus a stop at Value Village for amazing clothes for growing girls, which was really an excuse to go on a mug-hunt, but the pickings were slim in the kitchenware dept. Alas. We got what we went for though, and I will never cease to be grateful that we can afford shoes for our children—rain-boots, sneakers and sandals too, which is a small bundle. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to have to struggle for that, but nor can I imagine how we got here after all—to be grown people who buy small children tiny new shoes year after year, though they become less tiny with every season.

February 22, 2016

There will be cake—eventually

IMG_20160219_084100As a blog writer, I tend to think of the future in terms of posts. And this was supposed to be the one in which we celebrated Stuart becoming Canadian. He had new Hudson’s Bay mittens and everything, a citizenship gift from my mom. He passed his citizenship test a few weeks ago, and was called to take his oath this morning. He’d ironed his suit, located a tie (tricky business—most ties he ever had are now located in the children’s dress-up box and are used alternatively as head decorations and leashes for stuffed toys, irrevocably knotted) and we had a car booked to head out to Mississauga this morning for the eight o’clock appointment. We were so excited—I’ve been waiting years for this.

And then at two o’clock this morning, Iris woke up sick, and proceeded to be sick until she fell back asleep after five. It was not long before it was clear that us getting to Mississauga just wasn’t going to happen, and so we turned off the six o’clock alarm and I took Harriet to school this morning as usual (and she wasn’t so gutted about the whole thing—they’re celebrating their 100th day today and she was sorry to be missing that). Stuart has called immigration and has to write a letter requesting a rescheduling of his appointment, and so all should be well in time, but we’re disappointed. This was going to be a big deal. There should have been cake.

Alas. There will be cake—eventually. And in the meantime, Iris is sitting on the couch happily eating popsicles and watching Charlie and Lola, her stomach ailment causing her no trouble except, well, stomach related ones. We are consoling ourselves with the fact that we are leaving (without the children) for a trip to Barbados on Saturday.

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