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Pickle Me This

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.

June 22, 2020

The Gift of June

There has been a resurgence of joy lately, ridiculous in its excess. On Friday night we came upon a giant inflatable unicorn on the road, is the kind of thing I’m talking about. Picnics with friends, cake in the park, little kids on bicycles furiously pedalling, and it’s hot, but we bought an eight foot round pool for our backyard, and the happiness the pool gives me, that pool blue, and beach towels hung over the railing. A bowl of cherries. Sheets on the line. Life itself meeting my standards for delight, which is not such a tall order, really. All these hard months as we’ve been thinking about learning to appreciate the little things, so much of what we’ll never take for granted again—but I never took any of it for granted ever, I would indignantly protest inside my frightened mind. I loved every single bit of it, which was why it hurt so hard to lose it, the life I made, the patterns of the days. Never once have I failed to appreciate how the light falls on Major Street at 9:15am, the blossom detritus on the sidewalk. But it feels like the world is returning again, and it’s never seemed more glorious.

October 22, 2019

Reading All Day

The Turning the Page on Cancer Read-a-thon took place the very same day as the Waterfront Marathon here in Toronto, which got disproportionate media attention, really, considering that some slackers had completed their race in a couple of hours, but I was reading all day.

The event kicked off at 8:00, and I was so excited that I woke up before my alarm, taking a quick shower and donning my read-a-thon gear, which was track pants, my “Bookmarks are for quitters” t-shirt and “Fuck Off, I’m Reading Socks.”

I started off with a reread of Eula Biss’s On Immunity, which the Mom Rage Podcast will be discussing as a book club pick next week. (I read the book for the first time in 2015, and loved it. So happy to revisit it.) Reading with a pen in hand, which I never seem to do anymore, though I keep resolving to. But the read-a-thon was all about immersion, and I’d already marked up the volume the first time around, so there were underlines and notes in the margins. I look forward to writing a bit more about the book soon.

We’d envisioned buying my children whistles so that they could dance around the house cheering me like good coaches, and the idea of whistles appealed to them a lot of noise reasons, but then we remembered our resolution to avoid plastic crap (and also noise reasons) so the whistles would be metaphorical. Everyone in my family was terrifically supportive of my endeavour, which was basically lying in bed all day disguised as altruism. Stuart made waffles, and brought me tea, and Iris and Harriet both joined me for a while so I wasn’t reading all alone. (And yes, I loved that Harriet was so happy reading Anne of Avonlea.) Later, I would be delivered the most terrific grilled cheese sandwich.

True confession? 8 hours weren’t long enough. Around 11am, it occurred to me that I could keep going all day, which surprised precisely no one. Too much reading begets more reading, really, because my brain is tuned to focus and concentration. There was also a prize for most pages read, and I was really hoping for a solid chance at winning it. When I finished reading On Immunity, I read 25 pages of Ducks, Newburyport, and then moved on to my second book of day, Cherie Dimaline’s latest Empire of Wild, and if you’re ever doing a read-a-thon, I’d recommend a book like this. I LOVED IT. Unputdownable. Funny, suspenseful and rich, and yes, it would be a difficult task to follow up her incredibly successful novel The Marrow Thieves, but she’s done it properly here. (I am surprised it didn’t show up on awards lists this fall. With a handful of exceptions, the awards lists have forgotten a lot of the year’s true literary standouts.)

Sunday was a beautiful day, so I spent part of the afternoon outside in my dilapidated hammock, which has only just survived the season and will probably be thrown into the garbage soon, because when I lie in it, my entire weight is being supported by a couple of stitches. But they both held me safe for one more float, as I drank more tea and was enraptured by Empire of Wild. And then there was just an hour left to go. (No! My stamina knows no limits. Who knew that time could past so fast?)

So I read a story by Penelope Fitzgerald, and then 25 more pages of Ducks, Newburyport, and had enough time left to fit in 31 pages of Laura Lippman’s 2011 novel The Most Dangerous Thing, and then it was 3pm. 8 hours were up. Why must we ever stop reading? Why? Why???

Well, because my husband had been taking care of our children all day, and I’d promised to make dinner because he’d done breakfast and lunch, and it really was such a beautiful day that I ought to venture out in before I end up with bedsores. But in the meantime, I’d raised more than $1500.00, with a ton of donations rolling in that morning. (Thank you!!) Cumulatively, the Turning the Page on Cancer campaign raised nearly $22,000.

My #todaysteacup for the read-a-thon was my “Nevertheless, She Persisted” mug, not because I would need to persist through 8 straight hours of reading (turned out to be no chore, guys), but because this is what women happens to women who are diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, the disease whose research we were fundraising for. There is no cure for metastatic breast cancer, but women diagnosed can go on to live and even thrive for years. The embodiment of nevertheless, she persistedship, with with more research these women can be better supported and live longer, and there will be a whole lot less to “nevertheless” about.

Thanks to everybody who supported me, to the other champions I was reading along with (including my pal Melanie), and to the amazing Samantha Mitchell, who made the whole thing happen. It was so much fun.

PSSST donations are still open! And thanks.

October 10, 2019

October

This month marks 19 years since I started blogging, and I’ve also been thinking a lot about where I was here a decade ago, when life was very different, when I was the new parent of a small baby and the universe was made of a million tiny little pieces that would eventually find their way together to make…my life. A life where the children go out of town for the weekend—WHAT? But yes, they went to Girl Guide Camp and Stuart and I were left on our own for 36 hours. So curious to slip back to the life that used to be, when days were wide open, we could walk until our feet hurt, and once the supper dishes were washed, we didn’t have to put anybody to bed. It helped that the day was golden, beautiful. We visited Little India in the east end, where we’d never been before, and then walked along Gerrard all the way from Coxwell to Logan, and it was so interesting and fun, and a great treat to return to that expansive life for a little while, and have my house clean. But oh, the children, with their complications and fascinations, and when they came home, we were glad to have them. Always, we are glad to have them. And lucky. And it occurred to me on Monday, when I was reading Theresa Kishkan’s blog, that I love her blog so much because she’s as mystified and fascinated by this particular thing as I am, the banal and extraordinary fact of the passage of time. How did we get here, far more interesting to me even than where are we going ever was.

January 29, 2019

Big Snow

Today instead of swimming, I shovelled snow; and we took the main streets to school instead of the side ones; and school started fifteen minutes late; and the people were walking and the cars were all buried; and there were sleds in the bike racks. People were outside their houses shovelling, and greeting passers-by; and pedestrians were smiling, and for those of us without mobility issues, it was all kind of beautiful and miraculous, except for climbing over snowbanks. But even that part was its own adventure.

June 18, 2018

Day Curator

This line from Behind the Scenes at the Museum continues to mean a lot to me, years after I first encountered it: “Albert collected good days the way other people collected coins, or sets of postcards.” I’ve quoted it in blog posts so many times. Running counter to that cliched phrase you can buy embroidered on decorative pillows about how we don’t remember days, we remember moments. But no way, because for me it’s days all the way, and this weekend we had two of them, both of which I documented extensively via Instagram. And of course it does strike me as peculiar, not to mention not cool, nine Instagram posts in a day, I mean.

But then I read Shawna Lemay’s wonderful post this morning on blogging for writers, and she writes, “I think what keeps me blogging is this need to share both pictures, and stuff that I find uplifting or thought provoking or beautiful. Yes, I could share all of this on social media, but I like that on a personal blog, I can save it all in one place, as one used to do with a commonplace book. I like to think of the blog as a work of art unto itself, and one, that I really don’t think has been fully explored as of yet. What I’m saying, is that there’s room. There’s space. An openness.” Which is why I’m writing this post at all, I think, because the Instagram posts are not quite enough, but the impulse behind the blog and Instagram alike are the same: I want to save these moments, add them to my collection, and have the opportunity later to recall exactly what the light looked like then.

Remember that point about midway through the last decade where the economy still worked and people weren’t completely disillusioned, and cities were thriving, and Richard Florida was a prophet? What I remember about that cultural moment was that creative people kept making up weird job titles and people were even buying it, and I really missed a key opportunity to get in there and brand myself as a Day Curator. In 2006, someone would have paid for me to do that, and if they had, this weekend I would have earned my bonus.

On Saturday we went to Toronto Island, which was especially exciting because we’d planned the same for the May 24 long weekend, but then everyone kept getting sick, and the closest we came was a picnic beside an empty wading pool at the park down the street. But this Saturday we actually made it to the ferry, and there we were on the lake and it’s one of my favourite journeys and never gets dull, the coolness of the breeze, holding onto our hats, and the city skyline to the north of us—this majestic place that is home.

We headed to the amusement park first to get some rides in before the lineups started, and were happy to discover that both kids can mostly ride independently now, which is a big deal for us. I love Centreville, its smallness and charm, how it doesn’t depress me the way that every other amusement park does, is not overwhelming, employees are always lovely, and I have such fond memories of visiting there as a child so I love that my children get to experience it too. Plus, the log flume.

Afterwards, we walked to the south side of the island and spread our blanket in the shade of a tree conveniently located between the playground and the splash-pad. We had a delightful picnic (thanks to a baguette and cheese from grocery store) and then children played while we read our books, and I revelled in my sun-dappled pages. When they were finished, we packed up and did a bit of exploring, and then began the long walk to Ward’s Island, with its beach and popsicle, and I only had to piggyback Iris 3/4 of the way. The beach was not ideal—the water level was Yuck, although it was too cold for swimming anyway. But we did get to feel sand under our feet, and collect a few pieces of beach glass (which I think about similarly to how I think about think about good days).

By the end of an island day, I am always unfathomably exhausted, cannot muster the strength to climb the stairs to the second deck of the ferry, and contemplate napping on the bench until we arrive back in the city. The subway ride home passes in a blur, and lastly, we have to shake the sand out of everything.

Sunday was Father’s Day, which is historically (in our family) the day somebody throws up, and so we’ve learned that “nobody threw up” actually means a really good day no matter what else happened—but this year we managed to take it to the next level. (A lot of this goodness is because our children are five and nine. Have I mentioned how much I love having children who are five and nine?) It was also going to be 40 degrees celsius after the humidex, so we decided to keep the day air-con’d. So we went to the movies to see Incredibles 2, which was enjoyed by all, and we’d packed swimsuits and towels so we could head to the pool after, which just opened this weekend for summer. But then we checked the schedule and found out the pool closed for a bit in the afternoon, which gave us time to head to Summers Ice Cream in Yorkville for fancy cones, and then to the ROM for some air-conditioned goodness as we took in their brand new amazing exhibit on spiders. And then by then the pool was open again, and we hopped on the subway (all the air-con!) for a swim. And oh, it was glorious. I love public pools, where everybody just shows up on hot days. I love all the bodies, the splashing, the obnoxious people, the towels spread out on the deck, the way the water cools you down just like that, and how my children have turned into little fish. The swimming pool is everything I love about living the city.

And then we came home and made dinner, school lunches, and our children were exhausted, and we put them to bed as soon as we could. And then I headed outside to my hammock to read by what remained of daylight, which lasted until nearly ten o’clock. And if I could preserve in a jar these perfect pre-solstice days, those hours, that light—well, I would. Which is kind of what I’ve done here anyway, with relish.

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