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June 25, 2021

3 Things for 42

Yesterday was my birthday, and there were three things that I wanted to do.

I went to see my book in a real indie bookstore! I was lucky to see it in Indigo before the province shut down in November, but seeing it at Book City was definitely a dream come true. Even better: I got to buy books, after I’d signed mine.

I went to get my second vaccination! Stuart had his the day before. Harriet gets hers tomorrow. What a thing to have this all done before the beginning of summer. We are so profoundly grateful—for our opportunity, and also for everybody else who’s doing their part to get us to the end of all this.

And then after dinner, we went swimming! After no city pools at all in 2020 (they were open, but required lining up, and I am not big on line ups if I’m not guaranteed something at the end of one), it feels extraordinary to be back again. I’d tell you that I’ve learned not to take these ordinary things for granted…but I really never ever did.

June 23, 2021

Returning

Something that is surprising me about my feelings about the world reopening again after a very long and difficult time is that I AM SO READY FOR IT. Like ridiculously ready. There is no trepidation, or anxiety, or complicated feelings (though of course there are. But far fewer than you’d think). None of it is complicated in the slightest: I want to do all the things. Bring on the Roaring Twenties, Motherfuckers! Basically, if I’m not dead in Jay Gatsby’s pool by the end of August, what have I even done with my summer?

I have erred on the side of caution over the last year and a half. We did visit the museum and art gallery when permitted, and my children returned to school in person in September, but we haven’t socialized with other families since last summer when we’d picnic in the park. My mom came to see us at Christmas, but we sat apart with the windows wide open (and you can imagine how pleasant that was in the depths of winter). I’ve not been inside anybody else’s home, or eaten in a restaurant. We at dinner on a patio once in October, but only because we couldn’t find anywhere to get takeout from, and it definitely wouldn’t have been our first choice…

But now we’ve thrown all caution to the wind. (WITHIN REASON! I am still only gathering outdoors for the summer, keeping distance, wearing masks when I can’t. Tomorrow I receive my second vaccination shot.) I WANT TO DO ALL THE THINGS. Last Friday, Stuart and I celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary with a dinner on a patio. It felt like a dream. Sharing space with other people! Drinking beer out of a proper glass! Choosing to order dessert! I sat down and thought, “Delta variant!” but then put that bad thought out of my head, because I am finished with this pandemic. You know that thing that people kept saying all winter, something like, “The pandemic is not over just because you’re over it.” But you know what? It is. I am. BYE BYE BYE.

On Sunday evening, a dream came true. After a year and a half of (mostly) patient waiting, our family returned to our sacred swimming ground, the Alex Duff Pool at Christie Pits Park. Which seems much closer to our house than it did before everyone in our family became a cyclist, but now it’s just the most pleasant, swiftest journey away, up Brunswick and across on Barton. I didn’t dare to really hope that it would happen—the possibility of thunder clouds, or a pool fouling. I’ve learned over the past year and more not to think too far into the future, just to take things as they come instead, but it came. Six o clock, and we were let into the pool area (45 swim sessions reserved online, no use of change areas, but still) and there it was, the place I’d been dreaming of since Labour Day 2019, which was the last time we’d swam there. Even better? As the other swimmers began to arrive (attendance was capped) we discovered we had friends among them, and I jumped into the deep pool without testing the water, and it was like no time had passed at all.

June 7, 2021

Gone Swimming

I swam! I swam! Not in Lake Ontario on Friday after we cycled to Ward’s Island, which would have been ideal because I had actually packed a bathing suit, but I didn’t swim there because the water was so cold and so was the air, although I did make it in to my waist and it was wonderful. (Both my kids swam though. It was incredible! I don’t know how they did it.) But the next day, which was Iris’s birthday, we drove to the Kortright Conservation Centre for a picnic and a walk in the forest, with intentions to dip our feet in the creek, and then it turned out that the one spot on the creek where we stopped was a perfect swimming hole, and so naturally I skipped down to my skivvies and swam right in, and it was GLORIOUS. The most beautiful spot, and there was no one else around, except for my children, who were mortified, but there was no one else around, and not all of us can swim at sub-arctic temperatures, children. Sometimes you have wait for the creek, the wildest swim I’ve ever taken, I think, although not so wild that there wasn’t a lifesaving float secured on the bank. Clearly I’m not the first person to take a dip there. But it was indeed a joyous way to kick off the 2021 swimming season.

May 28, 2021

Pfingsten

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 19, 2021

Accidentally at the Beach

If you’re a fan of my blog, you’ve probably heard me talk about accidental cake, which is my own personal theory of serendipity. This past Saturday was another #accidentalcake adventure, the dream trip to the beach we never planned for. Friday night I was so devastated by the news, I baked @smittenkitchen’s hummingbird cake (the icing is not necessary) to feel better and also because I was intrigued by the pineapple banana combo. The next afternoon we had the carshare booked for a journey somewhere, and because I had this freshly baked loaf, I suggested we wrap up half and deliver it to our friends’ new house in the east end—they are moving in today. We were planning to go over to the Brickworks after, but Stuart suggested that since we were almost at the beach, how about we go to the beach. And so we did, because the cake brought us, and the beach was so beautiful and clean and while we there the sun came out and the sky turned blue, and our kids jumped on the rocks and I had my back to them so I wouldn’t yell, “Be careful,” and the ice cream store was open, and there was so much space, and sky, and it was not that cold, and the sun was glorious, and a swan came by, and we were all so very happy, and it seemed distinctly possible that our spirits will weather this storm and we’ll all come out the other side. And without that cake, none of this would have happened.

March 22, 2021

Something Amazing Happened to Me

I am always interested in what people are reading, not so subtly peering over the shoulders of strangers on benches, which meant that it was inevitable that sooner or later I would come across somebody reading a book by me.

AND TODAY WAS THE DAY!

There it was, my name at the top of the page of a book being read by a woman on College Street, and I definitely would not be playing it cool.

“Um, excuse me, do you like that book?” I asked her, imagining that if she said no, I could then get on my way (and jump into the path of an oncoming streetcar). She said she did. I said, “Because I wrote it,” and explained that by reading that book on that bench at that moment, she’d just made a lifelong dream of mine come true.

Well, then she informed me that we actually know each other, and it’s true, it was @lighttan, and we follow each other on Instagram, so maybe all this was a LITTLE LESS miraculous, but I am still pretty excited, because she’s not related to me or contractually obliged to be reading my book, and I don’t even think my husband arranged her to be sitting there in order to boost my self-esteem (I wouldn’t put it past him) and because I got to meet @lighttan IRL, which would have been nice even if she weren’t reading my novel.

Books are magic, and reading books is magic, and writing books that people read is an incredible bananas thing that I will never get my head around.

February 16, 2021

Good Weekends

I’ve written about this before, and I’ll probably write about it forever, but I remember riding the train to work when I lived in Japan, my little red flip phone with all the charms in my hand, and texting my husband, except then he was my boyfriend, “Thank you for a wonderful weekend.”

For the first few years of our relationship, one of us or both of us was always abroad, and I think it infused our domestic pattern with a kind of urgency, free time not to be wasted. We got out and did stuff, and went places, train rides and bike rides. I had a scrapbook then, and I don’t anymore, but I’ve never stopped feeling compelled to do something with my wide open days. And now that I am almost 42, a huge part of that compulsion is that if I don’t burn a lot of energy, I’ll be unable to sleep.

The past year has been a tough time to be the family social convener, possibilities shifting from the infinite ones that a city can offer to, “What alley are we going to walk down today?” (I saw a very funny meme on Instagram on the weekend in which a person comes to the realization that a daily walk is not, in fact, an adequate substitution for a rich and fulfilling life.)

But I think I’ve done a fairly respectable job of keeping us from dying of boredom. We’ve been booking our carshare every two weeks for a trip out of the neighbourhood, which has been fun. We still kind of hate skating, but booking weekly skates means something regular in our calendar (yay!) plus they kick you off after 45 minutes on the rink (also, yay!). We’ve done fun things like get afternoon tea at home from the Windsor Arms Hotel over Christmas. Lots of takeout. If all else fails, we walk to Bloomers at Bloor and Ossington to get donuts. There is also a creme brulee place at the top of the hill on Bathurst Street, that makes for as satisfying a walk as it does a snack, and we can walk home via the Baldwin Steps.

(Please don’t write a comment about treats negating the purposes of walking. Nope. You get both. It’s a perfect system.)

This weekend was particularly lovely. Saturday morning oh-so-lazy, and I love this, because the weekdays aren’t (we get up at 7:00 and do yoga) and so it’s something different, a treat. If I’ve not had at least two pots of tea and read the entire newspaper, I’m not satisfied. And the afternoon we got in the car and drove out to Humber Bay Shores in west end, where people are skating on frozen ponds, and we weren’t brave enough to skate, but we walked, and it was so much fun. And then walking along the beach, ice frozen along the shore line and the ducks that bobbed along anyway, and I was so happy. I am always happiest by the lake, no matter the season, and I’d remembered to wear snowpants so I wasn’t even cold.

Sunday was Valentines Day, but even more important, it was WAFFLES DAY, which comes but once a week. We had two great Valentines Day plans, which were excellent. 1) A walk down to Little Island Comics on College Street to pick-up the books I’d ordered for my children for Valentines Day gifts, and then 2) we bought the kids pizza and pop (a big deal for 21st century children! Even though when I was a kid we mainlined it), and the even got complimentary canolli, and they ate it in front of the TV while Stuart and I picked up a five-course dinner from Piano Piano, and ate it in the kitchen by the light of the oven hood bulb and the Christmas lights hanging over the door, which made a truly splendid ambience and it really felt like a date.

I know this is a truly boring weekend plan when I lay it all out there (there are people who climb mountains and spear great white sharks, I know) but it’s a pandemic and everything is closed, and also I had work to do all weekend, in between the five course meals and trips to the beach. (When you put it like that, I almost sound like a movie star!)

Monday was a holiday here in Ontario, Family Day, which was designed before a time when family members spent months on end in each other’s company and no one else’s. The plan was to deliver small Valentines packages to friends in our neighbourhood, which we did, with so much complaining, because our children (one in particular) had truly reached the end of their ropes and were so ready to get back to school. But it all came together in the evening when we partook in a cooking class I’d found out about last week when the food bank sent me an email—the event was setting a world for the world’s largest cooking class, raising money for the food bank (they raised more than $40,000) and giving us a fun opportunity to cook a delicious meal together. And it was really fun, and wonderful, and delicious, and made me realize my children need to spend more time around the stove.

I capped off the long weekend with a hot bath, where I finished rereading Happy All the Time, by Laurie Colwin. (The other book I read this weekend was my friend Chantel Guertin’s forthcoming novel, Instamom, and it was amazing.)

The kids went back to school this morning for the first time in nearly two months. We had to walk through freshly fallen snow to get there, and it was a winter wonderland. And once they were dropped off, I would have sent that same text message to my husband that I sent long ago, but I didn’t have to, because we’re always together these days, so I just told him.

November 27, 2020

Emperors

From Caitlin Moran’s More Than a Woman: “It is an unfortunate truth that, sometimes, it takes true horror to make you realize something you should have known all along: that a normal ordinary life is the most covetable thing on earth. A day in which nothing happens but breakfast, and school, and peeling potatoes, and monopoly, and sudden laughter over nothing really, before a sleepy movie and bed, is like paradise, relocated to a house in the suburbs. We feel beyond royal. We smile at each other like emperors ruling a whole continent of joy.”

August 27, 2020

Island Days

I didn’t move to Toronto until I was 19 years old, but there are parts of the city I’ve known all my life. My grandparents lived at Dundas and Greenwood, where my dad had grown up, and so I knew the park and the pool, the side street where we’d park with its NO BALL PLAYING signs. I know Simpsons, where we’d go to visit Santa at Christmas. The Skydome for baseball games, and the Exhibition Stadium before it. I knew Kew Gardens and the Beaches, and then as I got older, Queen Street became part of my personal geography too, my friends and I being driven downtown on the weekends to buy vintage jeans at the Black Market, buy chocolate chip cookies at the Second Cup on John Street, and peer in the windows at Much Music.

The Toronto Islands have always been a part of that geography though. It was an important place for my grandparents, and they took me there—I remember the extravagance of the ride-all-day wristband they bought me for the Centreville Amusement Park, which cost an entire $13. Another time we met our grandparents there after travelling to the islands in our boat, which we’d launched at Scarborough Bluffs, I think. It only happened once, as far as I can recall, but boating around the Toronto Island Lagoons was one of the most memorable experiences of my young life.

In university, I didn’t have much to do with the islands (apart from the obligatory boat cruise during frosh week) until my fourth year when I got a bike. Heading to the Hanlan’s Point nude beach that summer with two friends who were willing to indulge me, an experience that changed the way I see myself and my body forever. Another time that summer I ran away to the Island all by myself and nobody knew where I was, and there I sat on the beach with a copy of A Room of One’s Own, which I still have, and written on the inside cover is my name, and underneath in parentheses, “who is happy,” with the date, August 4 2001.

So many things about the island have stayed the same, apart from the cost of the wristband, and the way the beaches have shrunk due to erosion and encroaching water levels. Sometimes, loving the island brings profound sadness, at the inevitability of the land slipping away, of climate change and ever-change. But somethings seems eternal too about the place, its draw, being herded onto its iconic ferries.

Stuart and I went to the island on his first visit to to Toronto in 2003, and we got terrifically sunburned. It was the place we brought visitors to once we’d moved to the city ourselves. I celebrated my birthday on Ward’s Island in 2006 or 2007—friends waited in line for hours at the ferry docks because I didn’t have a cellphone then so they couldn’t call to cancel. We used to ride our bikes there, even though the uphill journey home at the end of an island day is the most exhausting trip in the world. We celebrated our three year wedding anniversary on the island in 2008, taking the ferry across after work on a Wednesday night, the most amazing indulgence.

And then we had a baby, and the island became a different kind of place. We stopped riding bikes, spent a lot more time lying under shady trees. We had another baby and the children grew, and Centre Island became important again. The wristband is not $13 anymore, but the amusement park remains cute and charming, not too much. We never buy the wristband, however, because I never want to stay for more than an hour or so.

Because there is so much else to explore! It was two years ago that we walked from Centre Island to Hanlan’s and I took my kids to the nude beach by accident—so many penises. They’re still traumatized. It was good swimming through, and I’ve also made them walk all the way across to Ward’s, where the beach is my favourite. We’ve had ice cream at the Island Cafe and dinners on the patio at the Rectory Cafe, and so many picnics on the green lawn just south of the ferry docks. (The best days involve picnics AND dinner on the patio. The objective of an island day is to stretch it out as long as possible…)

Yesterday we travelled to the island again, late August such a long time to wait for the first island trip of the summer, but it’s been a weird summer. A day spent on Ward’s Island with friends, a perfect spot on a not-so-crowded beach, and the water was beautiful, late-August warm, so clear and clean. The swimming was amazing, and the kids played, I read my book, we devoured fresh peaches, and everything was wonderful. The kind of perfect day only the island can make, and we felt so lucky to have it, and so grateful for everything as we made the familiar journey home.

June 25, 2020

A Good Day

Yesterday I turned 41, and had the most excellent day. I’d asked for a gorgeous dress from Zuri and a new collection of unpublished short fiction by Madeleine L’Engle that was displayed in the window of the sci-fi/fantasy bookshop around the corner from my house, and the aesthetic effect of my gifts is so absolutely stunning, not to mention I’m wearing the dress right now and I love it, and the book is terrific—I am halfway through already.

The other remarkable thing about yesterday is that I went on the subway (and a bus) for the first time in months to pick up a car rental. (We usually use a carshare company which is much more convenient, but it’s still not reopened.) Transit was unremarkable really, the subway pretty empty, the bus not crowded either. And then I had a car and we all drove to the beach, and that the weather was blustery and we were wearing sweaters didn’t bother me in the slightest, because I’d rather be warm than roasting, and the clouds were so delightfully moody, the sky an ever-changing scene.

We had tea and scones, and kids got buried in sand, and they looked for cool rocks, and we collected sea glass, and chilled our bones by wading. Later we walked up to Queen Street, the restaurant patios on their first day of reopening, which meant we could get the lunch we wanted, though we ate it takeout in the park, and went back down to the beach to collect more sea glass and get ice cream cones, and it was the most extraordinary ordinary kind of day, and I feel so very lucky.

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