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Pickle Me This

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.

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.

June 28, 2017

Destination Bookshop: Creemore

After spending part of Authors for Indies Day at Curiosity House Books in Creemore, ON, I knew I wanted to return there, and a quick visit to the nearby Cardboard Castles Toy Store that day clinched the town as a family road trip destination. A bookstore and a toy store? Everybody was going to be happy. And so for Saturday, which was my birthday, my family gave me the greatest gift of all, which was a day trip to the wilds of small town Ontario, where the beer and books were abundant and the sun shone all day long.

When we arrived in Creemore, we got a take-out lunch at the bakery and walked down to the park by the river to eat under a shady tree. We’d brought our picnic blanket and some frisbee toys, and partook in the pleasures of the great outdoors which was nice right after our car journey.

After lunch, we checked out Creemore’s main street and checked out the cool gift shops, art galleries, and the delicious food available at the 100 Mile Store, where we got chocolate and ice tea, and marvelled the local fishing flies and other wondrous things. And then next door was the bookshop, which was the reason for everything (but don’t tell anyone). Iris walked in and found a rocking horse, started riding it and exclaimed, “I’m having a very good time here.” Harriet went and asked the clerk if they had the new Fitzgerald-Trout book, and they did. Mitzi Bytes was on the shelf. The books I wanted to buy were in stock.

And then finally to the toy store, which is such a good toy store, and my kids found all kinds of cool stuff (and they have a discount clearance shelf that is honestly to die for). Next stop was the Clearview Tea Company, just around the corner, where we each got a cuppa, and I bought some Creemore Market Blend to take him and have been enjoying it ever since. (I also liked that she was was selling bouquets of fresh flowers, because the woman who own the flower shop next door had gone home to put her baby down for a nap.)

There is a small public garden across the road from the bookshop and we headed over there next to see what the growing and indulge in more grassy shade. (“Isn’t hanging out under a tree on the grass the most wonderful thing?” I asked Harriet. “Too bad it’s so expensive.”) The park features a sculpture of small children playing dress-up—too big shoes and capes—dancing in a ring around an actual fountain, which Harriet and Iris found quite delightful, particularly because when they danced around the fountain too they got wet. I was reading in the grass. All of us were pretty happy.

We went to the brewery next, where we would have lingered longer, but the children were getting tired—but we still managed to sample some delicious Creemore beer. And then we headed to one more park, where there were climbers and they were amazing—but not before stopping off at the bakery for lemon tarts and cookies to sustain us.

Dinner was at the Creemore Kitchen, where the fried chicken really was as good as they said. And then we headed back to the city as the gorgeous summer day turned into evening, and we were laden with books, our bellies were full, and the one member of our family who wasn’t happy proceeded to fall asleep within five minutes of being strapped into her carseat, and she slept blissfully all the way home.

June 12, 2017

Grounds For Hope

On Saturday night somebody attacked our lavender bush with a sharp stick, clearly with the intent of destroying it. Yes, the lavender that we bought two years ago in order to replace the shrub that someone tore out of our garden in a (we think) drunken rage. It was discovered Sunday morning half dug up, roots torn, sad and limp. Particularly sad because it had been so lush, flowers just on the verge of blooming. Poor little lavender, and we speculated about the culprit—was it a man who (like someone rather close to home) had become frustrated with his wife’s compulsion to add lavender to everything, and just decided he couldn’t take it anymore, every single bite of everything tasting more than a little like perfume? Or someone further over the edge, plagued by demonic lavender visions, a stake in the root the only real solution?

Anyway, we have found that tending a community garden is an excellent exercise in living with the world, in coming to terms with its realities. What kind of asshole would so something like that? But the thing about the world is that there are all kinds of assholes, and accepting this is part of life. And so we focus instead on other things, that we have a community gardening group to whom we could direct our gardening emergency questions: Can This Lavender Be Saved? I got an email back in a half hour or so, that depending on root damage the plant could possibly survive by being trimmed back and repotted in a small container for the summer and given a restful summer. We got on it straightaway and the lavender looks much less sad now. Also, the city is donating plants for community gardeners and we’ll be able to order a new lavender for our planter. All is not lost. We’ll keep tending our garden, and putting up with the jerks that try to wreck it and/or steal our plants is all part of the experience. We’ll keep planting our seeds and helping them grow, because this is the world we’ve got, and when it isn’t awful, it’s really beautiful. The one and only too.

Today marks a year since the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, an event that was terrible in itself but also marks the beginning of what I think of now as The Very Bad Time, one that hasn’t yet concluded. Jo Cox’s murder, then Brexit. I remember walking home from soccer last summer on the most beautiful evening (there were rainbows) and then hearing news of atrocities in Nice. The election in November, so much awfulness since. And more devastation in London and Manchester these last few weeks, each of these events strung like beads on a terrible, awful string. It is a difficult time to be in the world. Life is so hard and random, even when there aren’t maniacs committing acts of murder on busy streets. There is uncertainty, and sadness, and so much loss. So much awful commemoration.

Such much juxtaposition too. How do you make sense of it? I remember the Pulse Nightclub news at the end of the most splendid summer day, a day that smelled like sunscreen, tasted like ice cream, and sounded like the splash of waves on the beach. It was a day that became legend in our family, because we hadn’t had a plan at all—it just happened. And then yesterday we wanted to do it again, to return to the Beaches Arts and Crafts Sale, to have a picnic in Kew Gardens, play on the climbers, have dinner on Queen Street, and so spend so much time that time slows down hanging out beside the lake, collecting beach glass, and looking for other interesting things.

Efforts to orchestrate good days can easily go a bit wrong. There has be room for them to happen, and I was thinking about this yesterday as we planned our day. (“Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no terrorist attacks in it yet?”) Plus, I was wondering about the beach. Water levels are at record highs—more dread of course, global warming. Will there even be a beach? I’d seen photos of the lake right up against the boardwalk.

I love beach glass. I love that the intersection of humans and nature can result in something so precious and beautiful. I love that the story isn’t all bad. I love that beach glass by definition is sharp edges worn smooth, that collecting it is an exercise in paying attention. We started collecting beach glass last summer, to what end I’m not sure yet, perhaps just for the sake of having it. I usually resist the urge to own things I find in nature, but beach glass is different, and I don’t know that the lake really minds if we take it away.

And the thing I learned yesterday is that high water levels and diminished beach equals an abundance of beach glass—it’s all been swept ashore. We found loads of it, huge pieces, a veritable treasure trove. I think too about the high water levels in the context of Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s “Big Water,” about the lake reclaiming itself. The positive ecological benefits of what’s happening, all the things that might grow, might be discovered.

In spite of everything, and maybe even because of everything: we had a very good day.

“To me, the grounds for hope are simply that we don’t know what will happen next, and that the unlikely and the unimaginable transpire quite regularly.” —Rebecca Solnit, “Woolf’s Darkness”

May 15, 2017

Good Weekend

We had the most terrific weekend. Not for any particularly exhilarating reason, but instead for quite the opposite. It’s been weeks and weeks since we had a weekend with no plans in it, and during the last few weekends I’ve mostly been spending a day or more out of tow, plus. I was out a whole bunch of nights last week. And so the weekend of Mother’s Day arrived, and there was nothing else I wanted except to spend time with my children—what a thing. To turn off the internet too because there’s only so much of that shit-show one can contend with, so I spent Saturday in airplane mode, reading Suzette Mayr’s follow-up to Monoceros, Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Crawley Hall. Which was so good and I stayed up until midnight last night to get to the end, and after such a busy month where I’ve had so little time to read to read an entire novel in two days just felt extraordinary. I also got to partake in such things as a nap, breakfast in bed with my new waterlilies mug, afternoon tea with jam and cream in our living room with my own mom, friends for dinner and rhubarb cake, I got to read three whole newspapers, watch a bit of Mad Men, go to the park, go out for dinner, eat ice cream on Bloor Street, and dash through a rain storm—but one that was brief enough that it was sunny by the time we all walked home.

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.

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