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January 30, 2017

Together We Stand Tall

I know it’s not a good news day, but I’m feeling positive. Maybe it’s because there was sunshine, or how it felt like something that I wrote letters to my MP and Prime Minister and two other cabinet ministers today imploring them to take a stand against #UnpopularDonald’s Muslim Ban and in general just to do better in order to give Canadians a government we can believe it. It’s because there were marches all over the world today in solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters, and my husband emailed me today with a note that said, “Next protest.” And we’re going. It’s because the government’s response to the shooting at a mosque in Quebec City last night was to call it what it was: a terrorist attack. It’s because of this image, and because of the thousands of Americans who’ve been protesting all weekend. It’s because the people are a force, perhaps in a way I never dared to dream of.

I remember listening the radio in September 2015 and hearing the dreadful news of refugees out of Syria. This was when our government was shrugging about the whole thing because what can you do, and then the body of a child washed up on a beach, and someone was recounting the incredible way Canadians stepped up for refugees from Vietnam in the 1970s, and I remember feeling so hopeless. Because things like this just don’t happen anymore…except they do. And they did. And now, 16 months and a new government later, thousands of Syrian families have settled in Canada, their settlement supported by people who are my friends and neighbours. My mom volunteers at her city’s New Canadians Centre, my dad’s partner tutors Syrian women in English. Syrian families were brought to small towns and big cities across this country. These are Canadians I know, and so many I don’t, and they’ve changed lives and the world, and they give me hope that anything is possible.

What oppressive governments do is try to keep their people from seeing other possibilities outside of the present, try to keep them in the dark about the people’s own power—but my feeling is that #UnpopularDonald and his band of merry fuckwits are not doing a terrific job on this front. I think he’s underestimated Americans, and how closely people around the world are actually connected with each other. It’s not going to be soon and it’s not going to be easy, but he’s not going to win, and America’s going to come out into the light.

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.

November 7, 2016

On victory, cake and my religious zeal

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This is Hillary’s victory cake, fresh from the oven. Tomorrow we will celebrate and eat it when the day is through. I made it today as a gesture of faith—faith in sanity prevailing, in the goodness of democracy, and the triumph of human decency. And yes, I made a cake because tomorrow I am going to celebrate with my daughters at the fact of a woman being president of the United States.

“Just think,” I told my elder daughter yesterday. “One day you might have a daughter, and she won’t be able to believe there was ever a time when a woman had never been president.” (Read Jill Filipovic on the men feminists left behind; read Roxane Gay on voting with her head and her heart; read Filipovic’s “Women Will Be the Ones to Save America from Trump.”)

Throughout the last six months, which have been so difficult on a global scale, I’ve found myself turning to my religion a lot for comfort, my religion being: trying really really hard to be a decent human who does good things. Be the change you wish to see in the world. And a lot of my religion does indeed involve cake, and faith: bake the cake, for tomorrow we shall celebrate. And even if we aren’t celebrating, at least there will be cake. (I’m like Marie Antoinette, but only selfish instead of a tyrant.)

But we will be celebrating. My faith is strong. I am practically a zealot.

September 18, 2016

How to Make the Most of the Last Weekend of Summer, in 7 Easy Steps

Step 1) Assemble your squad.

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Step 2) Look out the window on the way.

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Step 3) Follow the rules.

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Step 4) Bring too much cake.

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Step 5) Ride the highs and the lows.

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Step 6) Remember to always stick together.

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Step 7) Never forget the place you came from.

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Step 7) Look up for the sunset.

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August 31, 2016

Extraordinary Day

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My favourite thing about being a parent is the way you get the make the world magic. The way you can wave an imaginary wand an transform an ordinary day into a extraordinary one. The way that my children had no idea what was up when we told them to get their shoes on at 8:30 this morning, and when they kept asking where we were going, we said they’d find out when they got there. They’d been expecting their daddy to leave for work as usual, but there we all were marching to the subway, south to Union. And then a walk along Front Street, and over the train tracks to the aquarium, because Harriet’s loves the aquarium, and had expressed a wish to go there again. There you go Harriet: wish granted. Amazing.

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We had a terrific time at the aquarium, and the best part was when we ran into my best friend Jennie. After a few hours we were done though, and the place was completely bonkers, and so we left and meandered north to the place that had perhaps inspired this whole aquarium plan—the close-in-proximity, brand new Penguin Bookshop.

A bookstore that fits in your pocket, it is, or your closet, at least. Formerly a shoe repair kiosk. It features a lively selection of Penguin-branded goods and books they publish, Canadian and classic. I got the new Dave Eggers novel and The Bloody Chamber, by Angela Carter, and we bought a copy of Ooko because we’d had it from the library and loved it. It was very nice to finally stop by.

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We had lunch at the Old Spaghetti Factory, which was completely fun, and totally not horrible or boring. And there was so much bread. The bad thing about being snobs who live downtown is that we don’t get free bread with our meals very often, and certainly not for lunch (and if we do, it’s spelt bread and nobody wants to eat it). The children thought the place was great and we thought it was surprisingly good, the perfect place to stop on this day of being tourists in our own city for a while.

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“And what are you doing with the rest of your day?” our waiter asked us as we paid our bill. “We’re going to visit Toronto’s First Post Office,” I told him. I told him, “You’ve probably been there a hundred times, right?” He gave me a look. When he finally bid us adieu, he said, “Have fun at the…post office.”

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But not just any post office! It’s an actual working post office (and woo hoo! Canada Post and its employees have finally come to an agreement so we’re not going to be having a postal strike) AND a museum. From the restaurant, we walked through the beautiful St. Lawrence neighbourhood to get there, and finally arrived. Full disclosure, the children were being to lose their shit by this point.

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At Toronto’s First Post office you get to try writing with quills, and can also purchase stationary to write letters in their reading room. The place was marvellously busy, with tourists and also people coming in on ordinary errands. After finding out that writing with quills was really hard, Harriet and Iris sat down to write with ordinary pens, and they both ended up crying because a) over the summer Harriet had lost any writing skills she’d ever possessed and b) Iris had never possessed any anyway. And all I wanted to was write a letter to my friend, but the children were bananas and also doing dangerous deeds with ink, which ended up smeared all over Iris’s body, and then she blotted it with the sand provided for such things, and it all had gone a little bit awry. We pulled it together though, got letters written and even posted. And then it was time to admit that the day was coming to an end, so we headed for the subway, and nobody cried again, I think, so it all was a success.

July 5, 2016

Yesterday was a terrible day

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Yesterday was a terrible day, and I didn’t post any photos on Instagram. I don’t know which comes first, the bad day or the no photos. If I didn’t take photos because I wasn’t looking hard enough for things to see, and that is where it all falls apart, And so this morning I took a picture of sunlight falling on a table at the Starbucks at College and Euclid. Although things were shaping up already. Iris and I were meeting my friend Julie while Harriet was at bike camp. And yes, Harriet is at bike camp all week, which sounds ridiculous and first world and all the things that magazine writers like to scoff at parents for, but the fact of the matter is that our attempts to teach Harriet to ride a bike have ended in abject failure and abominable behaviour on my account, and so we’ve decided to outsource, and the sixteen-year-old girl whose very first job EVER is teaching Harriet to ride a bike is doing a stunning, enthusiastic job and hasn’t called her terrible names once, and so we’re already ahead. Except that bike camp isn’t altogether convenient. If Harriet actually knew how to ride her bike, we’d zip along the street and get there in no time, but as things stand, we have to take the bus. With the bike. And Iris. Which is kind of ridiculous, but it’s just for a week and if Harriet learns to ride, it will be altogether worth it. But it also means that Iris and I have to linger about for the mornings and there is not so much to do around there. We went to the library yesterday and it was okay, but by the time we got home for lunch, we were all tired and exhausted and still getting over our weekend away, I think. I put Iris down for her nap, but she refused to go, and I went absolutely ballistic, because the plan this summer is that I write 1000 words a day and Iris isn’t going to nap, how will that ever be possible? I actually wrote the words anyway, after my complete and utter tantrum, which didn’t do anything to improve Iris’s behaviour, never mind the no nap. She continued to be a monster for the remainder of the day, at one point actually finding and getting into actual rat poison (ok, it was mouse poison, but rat poison sounds more dramatic) just to keep things interesting. And then I was threatening to feed her rat poison, and Harriet who was overtired didn’t think that was funny and became hysterical, and it was just terrible, terrible from every angle. When the children went to bed, I was so so relieved. And when I went to bed I slept so well, which made everything seem much better today, as I had a friend to meet and took the photo of sunlight on the table. And then we took Iris to the park where we ran into her friend from playschool who goes to that park every day, which means that for the rest of the week I can take her there and read my book while they play.

The bus-ride home was good, and there was no expectation of Iris napping, so I would not be caught off-guard. I set her and Harriet up with respective movies, there is a tupperware tub in the kitchen full of the kinds of processed package snacks I won’t buy during the school year, and I had a pot of tea brewing. I told them, “Leave me alone for 1000 words.” And they did. And so did I.

And now we’re heading down to the wading pool at the park, which is everybody’s reward.

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 28, 2016

Book Publishing: The Long View

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Yesterday I responded to a tweet by Joni Murphy (remember Joni Murphy? She wrote the wonderful novel Double Teenage that I devoured last month) about the ridiculously small window of books coverage in the mainstream media. She’s absolutely right—once the “new release” glow fades, so does a lot of interest…but I suggested that this doesn’t matter. I mean, yes, it would be altogether excellent to find oneself on a  bestseller list the week one’s book was published, and for the momentum to be undeniable and inexhaustible, and to have your book be everywhere. Yes, authors do need to work and hustle to get the word out for sure. But here it is: you can only do the best that you can do. And even that is not really guaranteed to get results. And so what an author really needs to do is be satisfied with immediate coverage, but also keep the long view, and have faith in the book and its readers.

For sure, this kind of faith is not the stuff of bestsellerdom, but ultimately it is what really matters. It’s the difference between your book living on someone’s bookshelf for years and years, and being put out on the curb. It means your book not being available en-masse at secondhand bookstores six weeks after the pub date (and hello copies of The Nest and The Girl on the Train. I see you!) It means real people connecting with your work rather than just hearing about it, knowing the cover. The thing about books, good books, see, is that they have long lives, even if it’s hard to measure just how. Although the most excellent thing about the internet is that we do have some kind of a record now, a way of registering reader responses long past the on-sale date. (“The standards we raise and the judgements we pass steal into the air and become part of the atmosphere which writers breathe as they work,” writes Virginia Woolf in her 1925 essay “How Should One Read a Book,” anticipating the literary blogosphere[s]). It would be really wonderful to write a book that set the world on fire, but it’s just as stunning for me as a writer to discover, say, that my book is still being picked up and appreciated over two years after it first was published.

the-m-wordMy point proven by two things that happened after my exchange with Murphy: last night I discovered a blog post from last month by the fantastic Red Tent Sisters (who I met when they were at our book launch way back when…) called “Why Is Mothering so Difficult?” It’s a terrific post, but I was even more thrilled by their suggestion that reading a book like The M Word might make mothering a little bit less difficult. They’ve also included The M Word on their Top Fifty Beautiful Books for Soul Sisters, which you  can receive if you sign up for their newsletter (and here’s a tip—if you put somebody’s book on a list they receive if they sign up for your newsletter, that somebody will ALWAYS sign up for your newsletter). So I was feeling pretty good about that, and then this morning I was tagged on Instagram by a woman called Leah Noble with a gorgeous photo of The M Word alongside a just-as-delicious-seeming breakfast. Two signs from the universe that the book goes on, after a while of radio silence. Yes, both readers are connected with writers in the book, so I’m not suggesting that the whole thing is made from fairy dust, but there is an element of serendipity about it. You really do have to trust that the book will find its way—and the good books really will. Even if sometimes the ways are small and quiet.

And here’s another thing that I discovered last night, the other side of the publishing coin, eight months before the release date. My novel Mitzi Bytes is now available for pre-order, and unless I have a rabid superfan I am unaware of, my sister purchased the very first copy last night. But this doesn’t mean that it’s too late for you: you can pre-order the book at Chapters Indigo, or from Amazon, or head over to your local proper bookshop to do so.

(But my point is that even if you don’t, it doesn’t fundamentally matter. Life is long and good books are even longer.)

June 26, 2016

Happy Days

Friday was also my 37th birthday, which kicked off with a visit to the bank. Okay, that’s not completely true—I woke up and as per family tradition, people and presents were piled on my bed and I got to open the latter, which included bath things, a new robe, a beautiful shirt, and the book Mad Men Carousel, which means I now get to read my favourite television show over and over again instead of only just watching it. It all was wonderful, but then we had to get going, get the kids to school, and there was that meeting at the bank which was just a quick one because I had some papers to sign. My favourite thing about my bank is free WiFi and so as I sat there in the nondescript office and waited for pages to print and details to be sorted, my phone kept buzzing, email, Twitter and Instagram, so many excellent people sending me wishes. My best friends, old friends, online friends, and more friends—it was overwhelming. I am so incredibly grateful for the people who make my world. One in particular…

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Which would be the one who orchestrated the post-bank events. He was working from home so was there to answer the knock on our door just past 10am, when a taxi arrived delivering scones and jam from Baker and Scone, the scones still warm from the oven. Lavender scones, no less. And then another knock at the door, more friends, and there was champagne and orange juice, and a fruit tart, and so much goodness. It was amazing. What a way to spend a Friday morning—and then after I went to fetch Iris at noon, I spent the afternoon reading in my hammock. (It is also nice to be out and about with Iris, who insists on telling everybody that it’s my birthday, so that I get to be celebrated and still look cool.)

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That night we went to Chadwicks for dinner, and had a delightful time on the patio. Reminiscing about all the good times we’ve had there over the years—like the night that Iris discovered she had feet. And then coming home to ice cream cake, my favourite (and even better: there’s still some in the freezer right now).

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We spent Saturday morning in High Park with friends for a spectacularly catered sixth birthday party, and then drove out of the city after lunch for the final lag of my birthday celebrations. Driving to Uxbridge, ON to visit Blue Heron Books—remember my first visit there two years ago? Although we stropped for gelato first and then made our way to Blue Heron, which now has an adjoining teashop, which is only good news.

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The door was open and the shop was beautiful. I loved their displays, personal recommendations, the chairs, and selection. I browsed and explored, picking up titles that caught my eye. I managed not to buy every single one, although I got a few of them. It was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. I only returned to the cash one more time after my initial purchases. And then we made our way to the park and hung out in the shade on the grass, before heading to Urban Pantry for a ridiculously delicious dinner (with cake pops, no less). The ride back home was peaceful and nobody cried, and there is this one spot on Bloomington Road where we could see the city, small but entire, faraway over the green fields, and all of us gasped in awe.

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June 20, 2016

Things To Be Grateful For

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1. On Thursday night, I emailed good friends in the neighbourhood and told them I was feeling spiritually disheartened. “What would really make me feel better,” I wrote, “would be if you came over and drank beer in my backyard tomorrow night and ate pizza.” That I have good friends in my neighbourhood to whom I can make such requests is something to be grateful for. That everyone said yes is another, and they all rolled up the next evening, their children in tow, and we drank far too much in our beautiful backyard under the shade of the majestic silver maple (which is actually a character in my novel, by the way). It was a perfectly wonderful evening underlining our family’s enormous wealth in terms of friendship. Which is the greatest kind of wealth a person could ever hope for.

2. I am grateful to Maggie Smith’s poem, “Good Bones”, which I read around the table on Friday night (either before or after I started singing a karaoke version of “How Will I Know?” on my phone. I cannot recall exactly). I am grateful that such a poem exists, and that it went viral, and that poems go viral at all.  A neat thing is that tomorrow signed broadsheets of the poem go on sale with a portion of proceeds going towards a group supporting LGBTQ youth in Orlando. I think details will probably be here.

3. I am grateful for a Saturday spent hungover but not painfully so, when I got to read two whole newspapers and Amy Jones’ novel in my hammock.

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4. I am grateful to be able to celebrate 11 years of marriage with my excellent husband, who I like and love so much more than I did on our wedding day, and I was certainly fond of him them. I feel so blessed for all the time we’ve had together and the history we’ve created, and I look forward to the future and all the time ahead…and it will never be enough.

5. I am grateful that when our littlest daughter threw up in the restaurant at Father’s Day Brunch, she did so fairly discreetly and that we were able to get the food packaged to go. And that even though Father’s Day really did totally suck, that my children’s father didn’t sulk as much about that as I might have in his shoes. I am also grateful that I have learned to be a better partner by thinking about the hypothetical ways he’d support me in a given situation and sending such support his way. I like that he makes me a better person.

6. I am grateful that no one has vomited on me since 4am this morning. And that when Iris stayed home from school today, she spent the whole day sleeping and I got so much work done I wouldn’t have done other circumstances and she woke up feeling better. We’re hoping for a better night’s sleep tonight.

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7. I am grateful for the thoughtfulness of blogs. I am so grateful for Rebecca Woolf, Shawna Lemay, Sarah from Edge of Evening, and Lindy Mechefske, and so many others… I think that the thoughtfulness and nuance implicit to blogging have never been more urgent (and if you write a post with tips about engaging with brands, I will unfollow you).

8. I am grateful there is such a thing as lavender. And fifteen ways to use it.

9. I am grateful for the news clip I heard tonight on As It Happens as British MP Rachel Reeves delivered a tribute to her murdered colleague, Jo Cox, and talked about the woman she’d encountered in a coffee shop this week who’d said she’d never met Cox but that learning about her life made her want to be a better person. I imagine that sentiment is widely shared. I think this is excellent and true.

10. And finally, I am grateful that the heat of the day has finally broken, and for the fresh breeze drifting through the window right now.

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