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Pickle Me This

January 2, 2019

Happy New Year

No one got sick on our holiday—no pneumonia, or strep throat, and even the colds were fairly unspectacular. No one threw up on Christmas Eve, which is the first time ever that such a miracle has transpired in recent memory, and could be down to the fact that we ate bread and chicken noodle soup for dinner that night, because it had occurred to me that there could possibly be a correlation between the rich foods we eat every December 24 and the inevitable puking, although it’s embarrassing that it took me so many years to figure this out. With bread and broth, however, all the stomachs were settled, and it all has been a very low-key, relaxing, restorative and pleasant holiday.

Mostly, I just read books, so many books, barrelling through titles on my To-Be-Read shelf, and also getting rid of other books that have been sitting there for years and that I’m never ever going to reading. True confession: the piles of books I had before me* have been overwhelming for quite some time, and reading should never feel that way. *These aren’t necessarily the books I’m sent by publishers, because I’m less responsible for these. Instead the ones that I’ve been picked up on my travels, and have not made enough time for. So I skipped the used book sales this fall, and made a point of reading the books I had this holiday, and now I feel much less likely to die in a book avalanche, which is an excellent way to start off the new year.

The downside to this, however, is that now I’m going to around telling everyone about this amazing novel called Beloved, by Toni Morrison, which only came out and won the Pulitzer Prize 30 years ago, so I’m really on the cutting edge, right? So hip and current. But oh my gosh, the book is extraordinary, and I can see how it ties right into the contemporary Black women writers whose work I’ve been loving these last few years. Another buzz worthy pick was The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton, which is not quite a new release, instead 97 years old, but I did get the spectacularly designed new edition from Gladstone Press, and it was gorgeous, and such a pleasure to read.

I also really loved Barbara Kingsolver’s Unsheltered, which I asked for for Christmas after reading this profile in The Guardian in October. It starts off kind of clumsily and didactic, more about ideas than being a novel proper, but the ideas were so interesting that I didn’t mind, and I also loved how well the two different storylines worked, that I was interested in both of them. And then partway through the book, the narrative grew legs, and I’ve been thinking about it steadily ever since I finished reading.

But I wasn’t only reading. And how can a person read this many books and not only be reading, you might ask? The answer being: I turned off my wifi for a week for my biannual holiday from the internet. It was glorious. I don’t have data on my phone anyway, so no wifi rendered me entirely internetless, and while I love the internet, since I’ve returned to it it’s only occurred to me that Twitter is wholly joyless, Facebook is pointless, and I like Instagram a lot still, but want to make our relationship more casual. And I want to focus on my blog instead, an online space that as ever is in transition. I’m going to be writing more about this in the coming weeks, about what blogs might be turning into. I’m not sure, but I think that for me, mine might be my online salvation. Stay tuned.

While I wasn’t reading, I was ice skating, checking out museums and galleries, playing card games—we got Rhino Hero for Christmas, and I love it with all my heart. I was knitting and delighting in Fargo Season 3 and watching Mary Poppins Comes Back,  and going to for walks down residential streets and through ravines, and making turkey leftovers into all kinds of different things, and seeing friends, and even cousins (which I don’t have enough exposure to and which have always been my favourite part of Christmas), and also reading. Every day when I woke up, the first thing I did was turn on my bedside lamp and pick up my book, which is my very favourite way to start the day, and sometimes people even brought me tea.

And now it’s a new year, and my house is really tidy, after a marathon clear-out on Sunday (including a thorough pruning of my shelves to make space for the books I read on the holidays). I also have a new coat that doesn’t make me look like a hobo, and bought new bras, which was an errand that was three years overdue. Plus, I am currently in the midst of my ideal state of being, ie I am awaiting the arrival of a teapot in the post. What that I could be suspended in this reality forever, but when it ceases I will have the consolation of a teapot at least.

December 17, 2018

Lightbulbs

Photo of a cup of tea beside a computer screen in which the document's title is revealed as THIS DOWNFALL.

I still remember the day I started writing Mitzi Bytes, in late June of 2014, and how we’d had dinner out on the porch, and I had this idea for a story, and we talked about it through dinner, the conversation providing the momentum for me to finally get started. Iris was still a baby, so didn’t have a lot to contribute but Stuart and Harriet had seemed as invested in the project as I was, and that night Stuart washed the dishes even though it was my turn so that I could sit down and begin writing.

Always for me, writing books has been a family project. We spent dinner last night brainstorming titles for my latest manuscript, a #MeToo era novel about a woman whose older politician boyfriend is accused of sexual misconduct alleged to have taken place a decade before, and that that woman herself is estranged from the boyfriend for mysterious reasons, having returned alone to their hometown months before in disgrace, only makes the situation more complicated to navigate. The novel unfolds over the week that the scandal does, the story of their relationship and his betrayal gradually revealed. 

“Wow, you’ve sure done a lot thinking about this,” Harriet said to me, after drilling me on all the details, but I knew about the worn tread on the outdoor carpet on the boyfriend’s mother’s porch, and about the protagonist’s sister who runs a Montessori school, and I was more than a little proud of having impressed her. She was fixated on the hometown though, in the context of her Grade Three social studies project on communities, I think. 

“Well, what’s the major industry?” she kept demanding. “Tourism? Resource extraction?” I confessed I didn’t know, exactly. I knew the town had a drug problem, opioids, and that the librarians were trained in administering Naloxone. Harriet did not consider this sufficient. “I think,” I told her, “that the town had at one point been a manufacturing base, but then the factories closed down, as they do.” But what had the factories made, she wondered. A novelist has to be specific. 

“Light bulbs?” suggested Stuart. Yes, maybe light bulbs. The town doesn’t even have a name—maybe we could call it Edison. (I just googled to see if there is an Edison in Ontario, and there is, an Edison Mountain, named for a mine owned by THE Thomas Edison, but it turned out he didn’t invent the lightbulb after all? Further googling reveals that the incandescent light bulb was invented several times in various places all over the world—but it was two Canadians, Woodward and Evans, who sold a patent to Thomas Edison in 1879. Who knew?) 

And then we got back to titles, and Harriet suggested the novel’s title be a warning to the protagonist: “Stay Away From That Man, He’s Bad News.” And I thought about “Bad News,” because of the role the media plays in the story. Then she and Iris started rhapsodizing other possibilities: “Love in the Darkness.” “Terrible Love Story.” “The Shadow of Love’s Heart.” “Don’t Tell Mom, The Politician is a Smarmy Git”—that one was my idea. 

“Summer of Love?” Harriet suggests, but no. “What’s the season?” she asks, and I tell her autumn, fall. The novel takes place in October, and it’s raining a lot, and I start thinking about fall, falls, being fallen. “So now I now how downward spiral goes,” is a line from a poem I wrote many years ago that has found its way into my new book, which is about downfalls, the kind that happen to men and the kind that happen to women, and the distance between those two experiences. And there we had it—downfall. This Downfall. An actual title. after months of edits on Untitled Story Draft Two

Always trust in the process of discussing my novels over dinner, might be the truest writing advice I know. 

December 11, 2018

Ode to a Parkette

That the park is being bulldozed doesn’t affect my daily life in the slightest, because we don’t even go to the park anymore, and it’s mid-December so we wouldn’t even if we did. But it’s at the symbolic level where it gets me, this park where I spent some of the best years of my career in motherhood, where I came of age as a mother, so to speak. This park where certainly things have changed over the years—the mysterious disappearance of the bumblebee bouncy toy, leaving the ladybug all alone; the tree in the north end was cut at some point; the tree in the south end that was planted to honour somebody’s grandmother, where the leaves were always changing, and falling, and the ground would turn from ice to mud to summer. Where my children changed—they don’t eat the sand anymore, for example—and certainly I did, but the fundamentals stayed the same. The bench on the east side that was missing a slat, and the boarded-up house behind the baby swings that made all of Harriet’s baby photos look like she was swinging out front a crack den, and the little hill on the south side which was perfect for tobogganing on days when you just don’t feel like climbing big hills. 

The people were always changing too, and in the beginning there were none of them, just Harriet and me, and we went to the park since I couldn’t think of anything else to do with a baby, because there are only so many hours a day you can spend at the library. Even though parks aren’t really ideal for babies, other than the swings, and pushing one of those for hours is boring, although less so when you do it while reading a book. I remember Harriet falling face-first in the sand there once, and how she got up licking her lips. Our baby days at the park were as aimless as life in general then, but then she got a bit bigger and things got a bit better, and one of the all time greatest afternoons of my life was spent at that park when Harriet was two and she was content to pretend to be driving the jeep toy for hours, and I sat sprawled across the backseat and read an entire book cover to cover. (It was The 27th Kingdom, by Alice Thomas Ellis.) 

It was around this time that I’d met my friend Nathalie, whose children were older than mine and who was blazer of many paths I would follow, chief among them Huron Playschool. When Harriet was two, she urged me to register, but I didn’t make enough money at that time to justify it. Still, when Harriet and I were in the park, I’d seen Nathalie’s son in the park with his play school class, and consider the impossibility of Harriet ever being as old as that. And by the time she was three, she would join him there, skipping off down the sidewalk. Every day at playschool, the children played in the park, and it was where I’d pick her up at the end of the morning. I remember sitting around the sandbox with Harriet during her first week of school, and also I was pregnant, but nobody else knew it yet, and the women I was hanging out with there would eventually become my friends. All those hours we spent in the park, on playschool co-op shifts, and also after, because Harriet had stopped napping and we had no reason to hurry home, and it was spring, so early, but we took our shoes off, and buried our feet in warm sand. 

All the children were there. Among the trees, in the arms of statues, toes in the grass, they hopped in and our of dog shit and dug tunnels into mole holes. Wherever the children, their mothers stopped to talk.” –Grace Paley, “Faith in a Tree”

I wrote a blog post about that spring we spent at the park, about the woman who were so kind to me during my second pregnancy, and supported our family in incredible ways, and comforted me through difficult times and promised it would all be okay. Most of these women I see rarely now, if ever, and our children would not know each other if they met, but they were there for me at such a pivotal moment, and in my memory of them all, the sun is shining always. Although I’d read Grace Paley wrong, I’d discover a couple of years later. What a thing—the most shocking revelation of my literary life. “I really thought that they’d been it, those mothers in the park. I really had thought she meant that this, the mothers stopping to talk, was the most important conversation. But it wasn’t, her revelation. Faith needs more than that, chatting women lounging in trees. The world needs more than that, at least if we ever expect to do anything about it.”

The first time I took both my children to the park alone, Harriet got stung by a wasp while I was breastfeeding on a  park bench, which was not the most auspicious start, but we found our groove, and as a mother I really found my stride.

There’d be one evening in the years to follow when a friend and I would have pizza delivered to the park, and we’d all eat dinner there, in lieu of home and tables, which meant I was a long way from being that woman aimlessly pushing her baby in a swing, and I didn’t even get to read anymore, because there was usually somebody I wanted to talk to. 

Eventually, the park became more special occasion than every day, because daily life became more structured. We’d meet up at the park on weekends and holidays, and during the summer of 2016, there were picnics and potlucks and always pie. I’d see mothers who were there with their babies, and I was a million miles away from them, without a clear idea exactly of how I’d arrived here, although the place was the same. I had two kids who could conquer the big climbers, and they’d fly down the steep slide, and I wouldn’t even have to watch them. I had officially retired from pushing swings.

Last summer, our good friends moved out of the neighbourhood, so we haven’t had pies in the park for awhile, and that the city decided to bulldoze it now doesn’t seem so incongruous. (We did enjoy walking through the park in the autumn, however, on our way home from school, when the park was being excavated as part of a project by the university’s archeology department. Old maps had indicated there had been dwellings on the site, and significant finds included bricks and teacups.)

The park is going to be redeveloped along with the expansion of the University of Toronto Schools next door, who are going to be building a facility underneath it, some of the playground equipment being temporarily located to the vacant lot across the street in the meantime. And by the time it’s all finished, my children will likely be too old for parks at all—who’d ever have thought it? And the derelict house on the other side of Huron is finally being developed, after more than a decade, at least, so maybe we can definitively say that absolutely nothing stays the same, which is the point of cities, and parenthood, and everything. 

June 7, 2018

but it’s your existence I love you for…

“… but it’s your existence I love you for, mainly. Existence seems to me now the most remarkable thing that could ever be imagined.” —Marilyn Robinson, Gilead

My children turned nine and five in the least week and a half, which is exciting, because this is the only year in which their ages accord with the title of a 1980 feminist film starring Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin, and Jane Fonda. And as they get older, it becomes harder (and less necessary, it seems) to encapsulate their respective beings in a blog post—but also it gets easier to to find joy and wonder in everything they do (except the annoying things, which is no small percentage of the total, but still). They are two of the most interesting people I’ve ever met, and they fill our home with light, song, and messiness, they each tend to blow my mind at least three times daily, and it is the greatest privilege of my life to get to live with them and watch them grow. And yes, I will miss them—and their crumbs—very much when they’re gone. But we’ve got a while until then…

April 30, 2018

What Goes Around: Remembering Bill 160

I was a special kind of stupid in 1997, the kind you can really only be when you’re 18-years-old and you think things are simple. I think that was the year in which a more worldly classmate drew me a diagram to explain the political spectrum, because the only thing I knew was that once there were Nazis and that there hadn’t been communists since history ended a few years before. None of it seemed relevant. We weren’t political people. I knew that my grandparents voted NDP, because they always had a lawn sign, but we regarded that as an eccentric quirk, like a hat with cherries on a little old lady. I didn’t know the stakes of anything. I was in my final year of high school, and then our teachers went on strike, and for two weeks we had sleepovers every night, and it was also the first time I got drunk.

When the strike was over, I recall a couple of teachers expressing vague disappointment that more students hadn’t joined them on the picket lines, and I found this comment outrageous. We were students, I remember thinking, and we had no business choosing a side. A side in a conflict that, from where I stood, seemed abstract and complicated. I didn’t read the fine print. I don’t think I read any print. It was easier to be neutral. Politics is not my problem, I remember thinking. What’s my problem is that my school year is being disrupted, and all I care about is that the grown-ups work it out so that everything could get back to normal.

Somewhere out there exists a photo of a group of protesters in my town and I’m in the group holding up the placard that says, “We Are The Future: Listen to Us!”  I don’t remember why I went to this event when I was so firmly committed to my neutrality (and also sleepovers and getting drunk) but I think it was some sort of student-organized thing at a union office and it was very exciting and romantic to be part of it. I’d never held a placard before. And now when I think about what was written on my placard, I definitely want to die, because for all my imploring of “Listen to Me/Us” I had absolutely nothing to say. A day in the life of a human vacuum.

The protests in 1997 were against the government’s Bill 160, which was to redefine how education was funded in Ontario. And while it’s doubtful I would have been swayed from my determined, “Don’t put me in the middle of this, bros!” stance, I wonder if something might have been different if I’d been tapped on the shoulder and respectfully told, “In twenty years, your children will be going to schools where the bathrooms are falling apart, where there aren’t custodians to sweep the floors, or education assistants to support a growing segment of the population with complex needs, the office is partly staffed by parent volunteers, and there will be a $15 billion backlog in school repairs.”

I joined the School Council at my children’s school in September, which has given me a window into what teachers and administrators are dealing with right now, and even just being in the school more often (like every day two weeks ago when I was doing admin work for a fundraising program) has informed my perspective. I’m thinking about John Snobelen, who was Minister of Education in 1997, and his comments about “manufacturing a crisis in education.” And, well, here we are, two decades later. As our Parent Council works harder and harder to fundraise and fill in gaps, as teachers exercise amazing feats of ingenuity to keep children learning in buildings that are crumbling and where resources are spare. The education funding formula does not serve anybody. The system, as it is, is not sustainable. And that Ontarians at this moment in time would be considering electing another Conservative government parading promises of spending cuts is such an absolute nightmare. It would be a disaster.

I’ve been thinking a lot about public schooling since September, about how it’s not a sexy cause, about how all the philanthropists who seem to be the only ones able to fund anything these days send their children to private school anyway so it’s not on their radar. How it’s abhorrent that the state of our education system is such a low priority for so many Ontarians. Just imagine the repercussions of the province not having made a serious investment in education for decades—or maybe we don’t have to imagine. I wonder about the cuts to educational assistants and how history might have been different if the perpetrator of the van attack in Toronto had received exemplary support during his school years. I’m thinking about the children who are growing up now and who will become our nurses, computer programmers, lawyers, surgeons, police officers, foresters, novelists, social workers, and engineers. I’m wondering about the effects of our children growing up in an inferior system where they’re made to understand that nobody with power thinks they deserve any better.

We were warned—that’s the worst part. There I was with my stupid neutral placard, and I wasn’t listening to anybody. Did I really think the teachers enjoyed their labour action? Full disclosure: there are always people who are never happier than when they’re taking labour action because it’s exciting and romantic, the way I felt when I was holding a placard, and those are the people who put a bad taste in my mouth regarding politics anyway, those who see politics themselves as an end rather than a means to the end…but I digress. It’s a preoccupation with these people that made me think that neutrality was a noble stance, when our teachers were so clearly right. They saw it coming.

I am absolutely ashamed now when I look back and realize I did nothing, and now my children (and your children!) are paying the price.

April 12, 2018

The Soup My Children Eat

Having children is a challenge to any notion of living in the moment, not just because children rarely sit still, but also because a moment in the life of a child is as changing as a garden in May. And so the closest I’ve come to really being present is looking back on five minutes previous and saying, “Well, thank goodness that’s over, and isn’t it amazing to be here right now.” Which is basically what I’ve been saying for my children’s entire lives, the first six weeks of their existences notwithstanding.

Of course, it helps that I am an insufferable diviner of silver linings. I also know that it’s not always going to keep getting better and better, this experience of raising children. Life is complicated. Although I am so insistent when it comes to those silver linings that I might possibly end up deluding myself into thinking this is the case—I’m an unreliable narrator. But still, here we are, with my children on the cusp of being five and nine, and we’ve never had it so good. Sometimes we go out for dinner, and I don’t even need to be bring crayons. All those terrains that were unnavigable by stroller are now ours for the taking—I look forward to a summer of walks in ravines. And when we wet our pants, it’s a special occasion instead of a regular occurrence. We’re capable of having interesting conversations that 35% of the time don’t descend into an in-depth analysis of farts. We can all go to the same movie and enjoy it, and even Iris has been following along with our reading of A Wrinkle in Time. But what makes me happier than anything else is that finally everybody likes soup.

It has taken years to get here. I don’t know why. You’d think that soup would be child-friendly, as it doesn’t even require teeth to eat it, but my children were soup-intolerant from the get-go. And in some ways, I understood—small children like food to be straightforward and not touching, and soup was everything mixed up in a bowl. I would puree it, but they always claimed it tasted terrible. Chicken noodle they would tolerate, but only because they’d just pick out the noodles. And all of this was very hard on me, because soup is one of the things I love best in the world. Warm and comforting, full of nutritious goodness, handy for leftovers, and how it warms the house and steams everything up so you can draw hearts on the windows. I really love soup, and I never gave up serving it to my children in the hopes that one I’d finally succeed at making them love it too.

The tide finally turned about a year ago. I remember the night it happened—I served the soup thinking, “Will tonight be the night?” As I’d done numerous nights before, but this one did the trick. Everybody ate the soup. The blandest soup, it was true, but I was not going to quibble about details. Soup was soup and we were eating it together, and I kept serving it, gradually adding flavour. Originally it was sweet potato and I started using butternut squash instead, but not telling them. They kept eating it. I added a bit of curry—nobody complained. And now I serve it weekly, and everybody’s the teeniest bit sick of it, but they indulge me and also they don’t get a say because I’m the one cooking. We like to have our soup with a loaf of oatmeal quick bread and hummus and cheese on the side, as well as a drained can of chickpeas roasted in the oven with salt and olive oil as the bread is cooking.

The Soup My Children Eat (Adapted from here)

Ingredients: 

2 tablespoons coconut oil

1 onion, chopped

4 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon curry powder

1/2 teaspoon chilli powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 butternut squash, peeled and diced (or 4 sweet potatoes)

6 cups of chicken or vegetable stock

1 can of coconut milk

Instructions: 

Melt olive oil in a stock pot. Add onion and garlic and let them soften, then stir in spices. Add diced squash, and then stock. Bring to boil and simmer for 20 minutes (or longer?) and then add coconut milk. Puree with an immersion blender.

February 20, 2018

Ten Years on Lucky Street

All last week I was nostalgic for ten years ago, our miraculous trip to San Francisco. 2008 was an incredible year, somehow the pieces having come together for us enough that we could fly to California on a whim. We were both making good salaries, beginning to leave our nomadic twenties behind us with relief and gratitude, lived in a city we loved with many good friends—and, beside the point, but still it was kind of magical, I was also effortlessly thin, which is nice for a person to experience a few times in her life. Of course, not everything was magic—we were still in our twenties enough that our jobs made us bored and unhappy; I had written a novel that wasn’t the triumph I was hoping my creative writing masters degree would culminate in; it was the grossest, iciest winter ever, and you couldn’t walk up the sidewalk without falling; plus the neighbours in the basement kept having explosive arguments, terrible crashes as they’d hurl their “LIVE LAUGH LOVE” and “JOY AND PEACE” signs at each other in the middle of the night. We were going to have to move before one of them set the house on fire, and besides, we wanted to have a baby, and do something about our jobs because if we didn’t they could last forever and that was not the kind of life either of us wanted to live. 2008 was the edge of everything, particularly meaningful as we sped down the Pacific coast on the edge of the continent in a rental car, and we knew it in the moment, so much of what we were experiencing rich with significance, possibility and lasting effect. Nothing was inevitable and anything might happen.

I’ve written before about the very first Family Day in 2008 when, high on California, we decided to make some changes about the way we were living our lives, and these changes set us on the course to this precise moment. Ten years ago this April we moved into this apartment, which has been so good to us, the most wonderful home. Dreaming of the children we were going to have, the first a daughter who turns nine this spring. Ten years ago this summer we painted her bedroom, which she now shares with her little sister, sleeping in a bunkbed that’s far too big for the room, because we didn’t measure it, but then we never measured anything. Which makes the miracle of how well it’s ended up fitting together all the more momentous. We have been so lucky—those two funny people doing prikura in the Japan Centre Photo Booth in San Francisco thought they knew, and they kind of did, but they had no idea either.

January 5, 2018

Measuring Life in Chesterfields

Can you measure a life in chesterfields? Or in couches, of sofas, or even settees? I’m beginning to think so. In university, my roommates and I had a set compiled of half a rumpled 1970s’ sectional reupholstered with a pineapple print salvaged from my parents’ basement and a red Ikea specimen that was literally made of styrofoam, and I don’t know where either of these eventually disappeared to—presumably the landfill. When Stuart and I moved to Canada in 2005, we were living on very little money, so couldn’t afford a couch, and purchased a futon instead, which seemed positively luxurious compared to sitting on the floor. It was also the first piece of furniture we ever bought, which seemed terribly sentimental (and it would stay with our family for years and years, eventually becoming our first child’s first proper bed, never mind that there was nothing proper about it…)

By 2007 we had arrived though, and we bought a proper couch from the Brick out on the Danforth. Yesterday we had a conversation about why we’d bought that couch exactly. “Because it’s really ugly,” we said. “It’s always been ugly.” Which is true. “It must have been cheap though.” “And probably we sat on it in the showroom.” Which would have clinched it, because it’s the most comfortable hideous couch in the world. Ask anyone who’s ever slept on it—and that’s a lot of you—and they’ll tell you the same. It is a giant stuffed toy of a couch, good for bouncing, and sliding, and also for naps. We were so incredibly proud of it, because it was even more grown up than a futon. And for the last decade that couch has been the centre of a lot of action, taking so much abuse from our two children who christened it in every way imaginable. So much so that the hideous couch has become even uglier, rumpled and sagging. Still loveable, still so comfortable. But we really felt it was time we got ourselves a couch that nobody in the history of the world has ever peed on.

It arrived this morning from Article, the Ceni Pyrite Gray Sofa, which has its own hashtag—our brown couch from the Brick certainly didn’t. And I’m absolutely delighted with it, its stylishness and comfort, that it wouldn’t look out of place in Don Draper’s office (but don’t worry—he hasn’t peed on it either). To complement it, we also bought a new coffee table, which has the incredible distinction of being the first coffee table we’ve ever owned that we didn’t take out of somebody’s garbage. Plus, the coffee table comes with book storage, and you know what that means—we have to buy more books. And we’re just very very happy here in this new era we’ve arrived in, of toilet trained children who don’t think that cushions are necessarily trampolines, being lucky enough to be able to afford a new sofa (which is as central to home as the kitchen table is), to live in the home we do in a place we love.

All of it is such a very very good life—and we look forward to barrelling through the next ten years on a couch as splendid as this one.

November 30, 2017

Eating all the pies

I felt very liberated when I read in a cookbook about pies that one should use store-bought puff-pastry always, because attempting to make puff-pastry from scratch was just stupid. I don’t really know if the author of my pie book is an authority (according to wikipedia, she’s an interior designer and pies are just a sideline) but I’m not going to ask too many questions, because puff-pastry makes pies so easy. Savoury pies, I mean, as in for a meal. I still have pretty strong feelings about pastry from scratch for fruit or dessert pies. But puff-pastry means you could have a meat pie on the table as an easy weeknight supper. And we were all over that while we were reading The Piemakers, by Helen Cresswell, which our librarian recommended to us recently and we read-aloud with pure delight. A story that reminded me so much of The Borrowers in tone that I kept forgetting that the characters were not miniature—although the giant pie dish in which they float down the river didn’t make the scale any less confusing. It’s about a family of pie-makers—the daughter is called Gravella, named for Gravy—and it all goes wrong when they get the opportunity to bake a pie for the actual king. (Too much pepper, cough cough.) But then they get another chance to redeem their pie-making reputation, and everyone in the village pitches in, and (spoilers!) the result is a pie-making triumph. We loved it. But it made us hungry. And let me tell you the other best thing about store-bought puff pastry? That it’s sold in packages of two.

November 5, 2017

Cozy Inside

It’s so dark, but I’m not tired of it yet. It’s still novel, and my house is warm with all the lights on. I’ve literally got an illuminated banner hanging up in this room right now whose letters read LIGHT LIGHT so I guess you can see that we’re really trying here. And it’s working. I really do love evenings like this, the world so dark outside our windows but everything bright and cozy inside, each of us here exactly where we belong.

It hasn’t been the easiest season, for reasons that are mostly (and blessedly) unremarkable, the usual business of life. It’s not been terrible either, but it’s also been busy, and while we’ve had many adventures and good fun with excellent friends, this Saturday was the first Saturday in at least a month or maybe more where we had absolutely nowhere to go. And it was perfect, the way an empty Saturday can be, the way it isn’t when everyone is tired and the house is too small and nothing good is in the cupboard. No, everything was completely the opposite of that, and yesterday was cold and bright and sunny. We didn’t leave the house until after two o’clock, when we headed to the library, and we’d had bread and jam for breakfast, and played games, and then Harriet made a video game about putting all your apples in one basket (and it turned out fine!). At the library, amazing books we out on display, and we got the new Carson Ellis and whole stack of Bob Graham books, the brand new Girls Who Code book by Reshma Saujani, and a book of kitchen experiments about growing mould that for some delightful but obscure reason was exactly what Harriet was desiring.

We walked home via Kensington Market, and bought bagels. And then arrived home to the smell of bread in our bread-maker, nearly done. And I made that one kind of soup that my children will consent to eat, which is pretty much devoid of flavour, but it’s still soup and they eat it which means we’ve come a long long way. All I’ve ever wanted really are children who eat soup, so I won’t quibble, and their company at dinner was delightful. It’s been that way most of the weekend actually, which is so so nice. When we turn to each other and say, “Don’t you just adore these funny people we made?”

(This is in contrast to early in the week when one of those funny people kept coughing in bed and we were contemplating making her sleep in the shed.)

Today was the day with twenty-five hours in it, which is always my favourite day of the year, and this year it once again delivered, never mind that I probably spent my extra hour in bed struggling to go back to sleep after creepy dreams were keeping me up in the night—I’ve been reading too many intense novels lately. We had cottage cheese pancakes this morning and hung out reading newspapers and the children entertained themselves, and we made banana bread. After lunch, we went to the pool and spent a delightful hour frolicking in the shallows, which saved us from a  day of doing absolutely nothing at all and going stir-crazy. We came home and I read books while the kids watched TV, and then Stuart made dinner, and Harriet and Iris and I made guacamole, except Iris kept calling it Whack-a-moley. And Iris even ate it! (“And Iris even ate it!” is the unbelievable incredible ending to so many stories I tell.)

Today was the kind of grey and rainy Sunday you just hope will come along, during those rare and precious times when you’ve got nothing else to do. This entire weekend feels as restorative as a week-long vacation, and we don’t even have to unpack.

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