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May 29, 2016

Alone in Montreal

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I’m not alone very often, and when I am, I am never lost or aimless. I say this not smugly, but as a mild lamentation. I don’t know that I’d like being alone, lost and aimless to be a pastime, but sometimes such things can lead a person places. This is what I teach in my blogging course, that a blogger needs space to roam, room to wander. And on Friday, I had some of that for myself, as I flew to Montreal to talk about blogging with the Association of English Language Publishers of Quebec. If you know me, you know I rarely leave my couch, so this was a pretty novel opportunity. I flew out from the Island Airport on Friday morning, the whole experience infused with goodness from the get-go—tea, ample leg-room and a good book. A whole hour and a bit in which to read.

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I had a few hours to kill before my event, so I made a plan to explore the Mile End neighbourhood and then make my way through the city to Westmount, where the AELAQ event was being held. My taxi from the airport dropped me off at Librairie Drawn and Quarterly, which immediately landed a space on my Best Bookshops I Have Ever Been To list. A world-famous publisher of amazing graphic novels and comics, they sell their own books, as well as other such books from other publishers, and then kids books, poetry, fiction, cookbooks etc etc making them a perfect general-interest/speciality hybrid. I walked in there and contemplated never leaving.

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I ended up choosing Rivka Galchen’s Little Labors, which is SO GOOD and I read yesterday. I thought maybe I was through with moms making sense of the new baby books, but no. Looking forward to writing about this one more this week. I also got Photobooth: A Biography, by Meags Fitzgerald, and it’s brilliant. The rest of the books were for my family, and I think I chose very well.

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So of course this meant I had a pile of books now to add to all the stuff I had to carry, and although I have never, ever complained about carrying books (the most pleasurable burden I’ve ever had the privilege to experience), my load in general was kind of heavy. It was also 38 degrees outside (no lie: factoring humidity), but no matter, I was on my way. I felt more like Mary Tyler Moore than I usually feel ever, if she’d been making it after all in French Canada whilst carrying a stack of books. I hit up a boulangerie, and got a croissant, and then followed it up with an ice cream cone at Kem CoBa, double scoop because you only live once. And it was so hot that my ice cream was melting faster than I could eat it, and I do appreciate that Montreal was so kind to me in spite of the melted diary stains all over my bag. After that, I added a dozen bagels from Fairmount Bagel to my load, and then set off down Rue Saint-Urban toward my final destination.

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It seemed ridiculously hot, though I think the heat (and the books. and the bagels) were the problem, plus I had to wear a giant shirt because I continue to be allergic to the SUN. I walked through Jewish neighbourhoods, a Portuguese neighbourhood, skirted the park and the mountain, and then arrived downtown where I turned and walked along Rue Sherbrooke, though the McGill Campus and past museums and galleries and there was so much to see..and I was so very hot and did not seem to be arriving at my hotel ever. So I had to stop and steal wi-fi from the Ritz Carlton (whose signal is very strong, stretches all the way across the street) to figure out where I was going. Luckily the right way. I got there eventually, to my hotel with enough time to cool down and change my clothes and iron my dress and be ready for my presentation, which was not far away at the Atwater Library.

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As would be apt for a presentation about how blogging in 2016 is small and focussed, the group that arrived for my presentation was much the same—and they were WONDERFUL. I had such a wonderful time giving my talk, and the group was so receptive, and I was pleased to meet some people again, meet others for the first time, and in particular people whom I’d grown to like already in engaging with them online. It was a terrific experience, and such a privilege to be there. And I was so appreciative to everybody for making me feel so welcome. (And for coming, even though it was by then the middle of a rainstorm and thunder was rumbling outside).

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Afterwards, a few of us piled into a taxi and headed back up to Drawn and Quarterly for the Biblioasis launch of books by Alice Petersen and Catherine Laroux. It was a pleasure to be back there and also to have it all set up for an event, and to meet other local writers and readers and get a feel for the Montreal English literary scene. I was so happy to hang out with Saleema Nawaz, who contributed to The M Word and who i’ve long admired, but had really only met fleetingly, and also Elise Moser (who has a new nonfiction children’s title coming out in the fall about “the pioneer of plastics recycling”) and Alice Zorn (whose latest novel, Five Roses, I am so excited to have ahead of me). The readings were great, and then afterwards, we went out for dinner and drank bourbon lemonade and ate fried chicken and nothing annoying or not wonderful had happened to me all day (nearly collapsing from heat stroke notwithstanding). It was nice to be alone in Montreal, particularly in those moments when I actually wasn’t.

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Spending the night in a hotel room BY MYSELF (without even sand in the bed. I like holidays, but the bane of my existence is sand in the bed, but there were none in this one) was a ridiculous indulgence, so surrounded was I by good pillows, clean sheets, a comfortable mattress, and many many books. Once I stopped reading I slept soundly, and then spent the morning enjoying a few good hours of quiet and aloneness before it was time to fly back home again.

May 22, 2016

I slept all night

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I slept all night last night. This is beginning to be kind of unremarkable, since I don’t know when, and it’s not always the case, but more and more it is. Which means something in particular right now, because I’m thinking back to the May holiday weekend last year, which was dreadful, and I wasn’t sure how it wasn’t always going to be that way. (That was the weekend where we had to send our babysitter home because Iris wouldn’t go to sleep, and taking 2+ hours to fall asleep in the evening would proceed to wake up at midnight and every few hours thereafter, and I was so tired and sad and felt enslaved by it all. That was the weekend I finally stopped breastfeeding and we left her to cry until she learned to fall asleep on her own, because I just couldn’t stand it anymore). And while it’s true that me daring to write this down here means that Iris will make up screaming at 4:30am tonight, it’s just nice to affirm that some things do get better.

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We have had a nice weekend—we went to see my parents yesterday and drove home into the most stunning sunset and nobody cried or threw up because we’d gotten all that out of our system on the journey there that morning. Today we got up early (isn’t it funny what can happen when you sleep) and tidied up our backyard and deck for summer, planting flowers in our pots and getting them up all lined up on the fire-escape. Iris went down for her nap (because yes, Iris naps again—we found out that we like her so much better when she does) and I spent the afternoon drinking ice-tea in my hammock in the sunshine. And then got to work preparing for our party tomorrow—Victoria sponge cake and edible bunting (I KNOW!). It’s Harriet’s birthday party, which has a Queen Victoria tea party theme. There will be jam tarts and tiny sandwiches, and we will be making tea blends and decorating mugs. And the party launches our month of celebrations: her actual party on Thursday, Iris’s birthday not long after, and our wedding anniversary, and Father’s Day, and my birthday, and also the birthdays of both our moms. June is full to bursting. And goes by oh so fast.

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I’ve been reading the most fantastic books this weekend—The Turner House, by Angela Flournoy, was a stunner of a debut novel, and one of the best books I’ve read in ages. I remember how good it felt to read The Corrections the first time all those years ago, back before hating Jonathan Franzen became an international pastime (who I’ve resented ever since Freedom), and The Turner House was kind of like that. The Detroit setting is so compelling, and the novel is so much in its reach (as any novel about a family with 13 siblings would be) and I loved it. I wanted to buy the book as soon as I read Doree Shafrir’s profile, “Why American is Ready for Novelist Angela Flournoy” and the novel did not disappoint. (Incidentally, how much richer would literature be if everyone wrote as wonderfully about books as Shafrir does here?)

I’ve spent today reading Double Teenage, by Joni Murphy, which I was initially concerned I wasn’t cool enough to appreciate, but it’s painful and wonderful (and is also the reason we’ve been listening to Graceland all day). The Katherine Lawrence book, Never Mind, is for our book club meeting next month. And yesterday I bought Modern Lovers, by Emma Straub, whose The Vacationers I read over the July 1 long weekend two years ago as I was embarking upon the first few pages of the first draft of Mitzi Bytes, and gave me the idea of the literary tone I aspired to. So I find myself nostalgic again as I contemplate her latest title while in the very early stages of a new writing project of my own. I kind of want to start reading it right away, but I also am tempted to save it, to look forward to it for a little longer.

May 8, 2016

On Mother’s Day

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Sunday morning, and I am reclining on the spine of a very, very good weekend, late Friday night aside. I can’t tell you about Friday night because I am a mother who makes a point of keeping my children’s dignity intact, but my goodness, what a story I could tell you over a nice cup of tea. Motherhood is lousy with unsavoury, monstrous things, when it’s not blinding with moments of pure, shining light. But we’re thirty six hours after that now. I spent yesterday in Brampton at The Fold Festival, with three wonderful friends keeping me company on the road and throughout. The day was inspiring and terrific, and I can’t wait to tell you all about it. I arrived home last night to dinner on the table, and a happy rest-of family who’d spent their own very good day together.

And now today is Mother’s Day, and I find myself appreciating my own mother even more than usual for how she saved our family when I was ill last December and cared for my children for a week this winter so my husband and I could celebrate our tenth anniversary in tropical climes. Where would any of us be without her? Certainly never, ever in Barbados. But as my mother is across the country today with her other favourite daughter and other favourite grandchildren, I get to be the star of my own show. Which means breakfast in bed and reading so many papers that my thumbs turned black. Iris gave me a flower she’d planted at playschool, and Harriet gave me a painting she’d made of irises, so floral is the theme. And Stuart gave me a book and a teacup, so he knows me well too. And what I want for the rest of the day is to make soup for lunch (I have become addicted to my immersion blender), to spend some time cleaning up the leaves and seasonal detritus from our backyard, and a little bit of hammock time. Followed by dinner at my favourite restaurant.

This morning I was brushing my teeth and perusing the row of books lined up beside my bathroom sink, and figured it was a good day for a flip through White Ink: Poems on Mothers and Motherhood, edited by Rishma Dunlop, who died a few weeks ago—Priscila Uppal’s eulogy for her friend is extraordinarily good. And I came to the poem “On Mother’s Day,” by Grace Paley, which is tangled, beautiful, sad and very funny, just like motherhood, just like life is. And I am so glad I did…

Suddenly before my eyes   twenty-two transvestites
in joyous parade stuffed pillows under
their lovely gowns
and entered a restaurant
under a sign which said   All Pregnant Mothers Free
I watched them place napkins over their bellies
and accept coffee and zabaglione
I am especially open to sadness and hilarity
since my father died as a child
one week ago in this his ninetieth year

April 3, 2016

Nothing particularly exciting about a round world

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It has been weeks and weeks since I’d had a night’s sleep uninterrupted, which is part of the reason I was feeling awful last night, nursing the sore throat that seems to have been my companion forever. We’d had a busy day yesterday going to see Alligator Pie at the Toronto Symphony (having won tickets in the silent auction at Harriet’s school last June), which was brilliant fun, but I was ready for bed not long after the children were. (So tired. Yesterday I read Sarah’s Instagram post about sleeping for nine hours, and I really could have cried.)

And then…she slept. Seriously. The disturber of sleep actually slept, which doesn’t mean she didn’t wake briefly at 12:13 and again at 6:30 (asking for a tissue?), but otherwise…and we were none of us roused until 8:00. Which, seeing as I went to bed at 11pm means that I (mostly) slept for nine hours too.

And so began the greatest day, because how could such a thing not follow the miracle of nine hours sleep? Although all that sleep had left me fuzzy and totally stupid, so I was foreseeing a day of naps. Until, I left the house at 9am to take Harriet to swimming lessons, and was as invigorated by the horrible cold as I was made furious by it. (Winter in April sucks balls, it does.) But then I was awake, and there was that, and Harriet actually passed her swimming course for the first time in a million years, which was another miracle. And then there we were at 10:15 and we had no plans, not a one. Iris has stopped napping, which made the day open even wider. Plus I’d already read most of the paper (behind which I sometimes hide from my children for entire weekend mornings), so the possibilities seemed endless. And naturally, those possibilities included scones.

Many hands... making scones.

Many hands… making scones.

Blueberry scones, which we baked, and ate after lunch while we played Clue. And then I spent an hour or so doing work, putting up the new 49th Shelf page for this week (and its beautiful!).  Then because we have to leave the house at some point because if we don’t, everybody goes bananas and also because our library books were due, we braved the cold and trekked to Lillian H. Smith down on College. At which we found the very best books, and (another miracle!) Harriet even got an Avengers comic she hadn’t read yet. (My best books of this library haul so far are The Cats of Mrs. Calamari and What Pete Ate, by Maira Kalman, which is so so good.)

The miracles didn’t stop there though. For dinner, I made black bean corn fritters from our Anna Jones cookbook, which were guaranteed to make the children cry, I thought (because once I’d even made them cry with tuna casserole), and while Iris just ate spoonfuls of ketchup, Harriet ate three fritters and proclaimed them quite tasty even though they contained spinach. I nearly died.

And then we were finished dinner, and dessert was pears that were delectable and perfect, and Stuart’s day suffered a blip in loveliness because he had to give Iris a bath and she wouldn’t stop screaming, but Harriet and I read library books, and then Iris was calmed down and clean, and we brushed teeth, and sat down to read stories—I picked the terrifically gruesome The Juniper Tree from the Grimms books, and we had to trust it would all work out like in the last fairy tale we read where somebody got decapitated (and it did). Then we read poems from Alligator Pie and another chapter from Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and that was the last we heard of our kids.

Miracles continued: I drew a bath and it was perfect temperature, and I stayed in for ages and ages and it never got cold, and I managed to finish reading Escape Plans, by Teri Vlassopoulos, which I thought was wonderful and can’t wait to tell you all about. And now I here I am and I should have been sensible again and gone to bed, but I wanted to write all this down, to add to my collection (“Albert collected good days the way other people collected coins, or sets of postcards.”– Behind the Scenes at the Museum). Remarkable, really, none of it at all, but that’s just the point, I think, of small miracles.

It’s like Edmund said in Voyage of the Dawn Treader tonight: “There’s nothing particularly exciting about a round world when you’re there.” But sometimes it’s nice to stop and take notice.

March 18, 2016

A New Canadian

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One of the responsibilities of Canadian citizenship is that one takes care of one’s family, so it’s kind of fitting that Stuart missed his call to take the citizenship oath last month because he was taking care of his sick child all night long. He had to write a letter explaining the situation and requesting another date, which was today. And this time we actually made it. It was really, really lovely, 100 people from places all over the world having taken so many steps to get here—to choose Canada. (It not lost on me too that Stuart choosing Canada means that Stuart chose me; lucky, lucky me.)

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For the past 10.5 years, Stuart has been doing all the things that good Canadians do—learning to skate and not even calling it ice-skate; rolling up rims; working hard and paying taxes (and receiving all the benefits that go with that, of course); shovelling snow; raising little Canadians; celebrating July 1sts; listening to the CBC; swimming in lakes; volunteering in his community; reading Canadian books; drinking Canadian beer; embracing summer long weekends; watching Heritage Minutes; talking about Drake; and rocking out to the Guess Who. As soon as our local grocery store can get it in stock, no doubt he’ll be buying crates of French’s ketchup.

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“You all come from places that make beautiful art,” the citizenship judge told the new Canadians assembled, encouraging them to share that art with the rest of us, whether it’s art they create or art they’ve brought with them. “What I’m saying is, Turn Your Music Up,” she told us. (Respectful British-Canadians might sit one this out, perhaps, having shared quite enough with Canada over the centuries, if by “shared” you mean “stolen,” but alas. Though we do appreciate the Beatles.) “It makes the fabric of our nation so much better.” Since October 19, I’ve actually been a little bit proud to be a Canadian again, and I would have even sung “Oh, Canada” today along with Stuart and all our other newly fellow-Canadians, but I couldn’t because I was crying too much.

February 15, 2016

Good things come

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Sometimes the internet is portrayed as the opposite of the world proper, as the opposite of civility, and scapegoat for the end of all things ranging from bookshops to mail delivery, but my internet isn’t really like that. If it weren’t for the internet, I don’t know that I’d get much mail at all, and oh, I do get mail. Today, this most absolutely perfect object: a teacup! A gift from Jocelyn in Calgary whose manatea infusers delight me daily with her #TodaysTeacup photos. I am touched and delighted and overwhelmed, and so thrilled that this perfect object now has a home in my cupboard. happy! is exactly right.

(For me, Instagram is very much about happiness: I found a paragraph that articulated it exactly in The Republic of Love this weekend, even though Carol Shields wrote that book in the early 1990s, but then Carol Shields knew everything: “All morning there have been rain showers, but now a fan of sunlight cuts across the table and she stops to admire the effect. How fortunate a woman she is to possess this kind of skewed double vision. To be happy. And to see herself being happy.)

I do wonder if there is a direct correlation between happiness and being a person who gets a lot of mail. For me, the key is magazine subscriptions and ordering a lot of secondhand books, and being someone who regularly writes thank you notes and Christmas cards, thereby ensuring that I get a few of these in return. Yes, and also being publicly ebullient about the post in general, so that kind friends and strangers out there in online-land are inspired to reach out via the mailbox. After I wrote about Miss Rumphius last year, Theresa Kishkan mailed me a packet of lupine seeds. A few months ago, the write Jennifer Manuel sent me a beautiful card and a book by her late mother, Lynn Manuel, called The Lickity Split Princess, which I enjoyed reading with my family. I haven’t been in touch with my good friend Bronwyn for quite some time, although she sent me a lovely book called Ten Poems About Tea in the fall—and I sent the same book to my friend Melanie a while after that. I had a dream-come-true in December when my in-laws sent me a get-well cookie from The Biscuiteers (all the way across the ocean and everything!). I remember three years ago when I was very pregnant and also going through scary things like neck biopsies, the poet Gillian Wigmore mailed me a drawing of a unicorn her daughter had made. Recently we received an excellent package from our beloved Zsuzsi Gartner who’d heard about Harriet’s recent skating prowess and mailed her a copy of Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates that had been lingering in a Free Little Library in her neighbourhood, and we look forward to reading it soon.

All of which is to say that I am very lucky, and perhaps kind of spoiled, but more importantly that people can be wonderful, and sometimes it’s true that good things come. The last line from Jane Gardam’s A Long Way From Verona: “But like at the Novelty Machine, I just felt filled with love, knowing that good things take place.” (I read that line back when I was in the midst of neck biopsy panic, and I remember the simple perfection of that sentiment, how it shifted my perspective. Plus, there were drawings of unicorns, which helped too.)

Today is the strangest day of all the others, the one holiday (Family Day here in Ontario, though it’s not celebrated across the country) upon which we also receive mail delivery. Mail delivery and a holiday: “the universe conspiring to delight me” I wrote today, and it’s true.

February 13, 2016

Happy Valentines Day

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Everything’s been a special occasion around here lately, what with Pancake Tuesday and the fact that we had afternoon tea for dinner the day after that. And now it’s a long weekend, four days of it if you count Harriet’s PA Day, and we’re stretching out our Valentines Day celebrating and marking it with cheese. (Long weekend adventures have been extensively instagrammed.) It’s freezing cold outside but everything around here is wonderful and cozy, which feels nice after our terrible boring Christmas vacation rife with sickness. I just finished reading my second novel by Tana French (you MUST read Tana French) and now for sentimental reasons, am about to embark upon a reread of The Republic of Love.

February 1, 2016

Gifts to Myself

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This morning was a gift to myself, a handing-in-your novel gift, though it didn’t occur to me that this was the occasion until I was looking for an excuse to spend my free time sitting reading a book while drinking a chai latte in a cafe. By this point I’d had my hair cut and my eyebrows waxed, and finally dropped off my new bathing suit to have the straps shortened—all the errands that I’ve been putting off for ages. I ordered a new green bin to replace our battered one, and bought clear garbage bags at the hardware store to use for green waste until the new bin arrives. Bought some stamps and finally mailed the thank-you notes that I’d had Harriet painstakingly write after Christmas, and which have waiting ever since to be enveloped and addressed. And yes, still had time to kill before it was time to fetch Iris from school, and so I sat in Future Bakery finishing The Hour of the Star, by Clarice Lispector. Thinking about the time I’d been there about two years ago reading Last Friends, by Jane Gardam, also having just had my hair cut and brows waxed—grooming, for me, is pretty much an annual affair; I’m low maintenance, or perhaps “slovenly” is more apt—and how Iris had just been a baby then and getting out for time to myself had been a major accomplishment. This time it’s an accomplishment of a different kind—I’ve been working hard this last two weeks on edits of my book, and also contributing to the wondrousness that is 49th Shelf at the moment (and I’m particularly proud of what we’re continuing to do there). It was such a pleasure to sit and read, and also to get those errands done. I’m mostly very reluctant to waste my child-free time on such things, but then I don’t really want to waste our Saturday/Sunday family time on them either, so then thank-you notes, for example, end up sitting unsent for weeks and weeks. Once in a while it’s nice to clear the decks. A gift indeed.

Though of course gifts to myself are hardly few and far between. I am nothing if not generous in that respect. Yesterday I had another excellent morning, following Harriet’s swimming lesson as we all headed to Kensington Market to buy chicken for last night’s dinner and also to try churros for the first time, and get wood-fired bagels for lunch, and I got to browse at Good Egg. Where I bought a beautiful Marimekko mug, my favourite print, the first such mug I’ve bought since #TodaysTeacup started, and yes, let’s not go overboard, but how wonderful to just want a thing…and simply have it. It’s almost more precious just for that, and I’m very pleased about this impulse buy. Also that it included the Newbery Medal-winning Last Stop on Market Street, which is so wonderful and I look forward to writing about this week for Picture Book Friday. So you see, not all my indulgences have to do with mugs and teacups—only most of them.

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December 19, 2015

Light the Lights

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A lot has escaped my attention these last few weeks, including that Coach House Books had a pop-up shop in their warehouse throughout December, but I heard tell of it yesterday on Twitter, a few hours before the whole thing was finished, and decided we would stop in on our way home from fetching Harriet from school, in order to satisfy my holiday book retailing fix. I got a book for Stuart and two books (surprise, surprise!) for me, and then we walked down the lane and my children began playing hopscotch on bp nichol’s poem, which really is the most practical purpose imaginable for concrete poetry, and I don’t why it had never occurred to me before.

So now school’s out, and we came home from hopscotch to a mailbox stuffed with cards and parcels, as it’s been all week. Our kitchen features ridiculous amounts of chocolate and cookies, all of these balanced out by the proliferation of clementines. The Globe and Mail holiday crossword arrived today, so we now what our preoccupation for the next while will be. We began watching Mad Men from the very start last night, because I am longing to write about this series and the depth of my feelings for it, as well as to deepen my understanding, so it’s back to the beginning, little Sally Draper with a bag over her head. I think it’s the third or fourth time I’ve watched Season One, and it only gets better and better.

Plus there’s Baileys, and I’m no longer on antibiotics. And while Stuart does indeed have to work on Monday and Tuesday, we’ve already gone into vacation mode. We took a trip to the library this morning and followed with lunch out at Caplanskys, because going out for lunch is our main vacation occupation. We’re looking forward to lots of fun with friends and family this week, and skating, and going to see the Christmas windows at the Bay, and finishing our chocolate and buying more, and getting to the bottom of Betty Draper, and wrapping presents tonight (in the Saturday papers) and listening to the Phil Spector Christmas Album and Elizabeth Mitchell’s The Sounding Joy, and there will be more lunches, lazy mornings, too much indulgence, and maybe even the possibility of snow.

December 1, 2015

Two more things

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Stuart emailed me from work after reading yesterday’s post to inform me that he likes zero things about me being sick. And I see his point of view. While he hasn’t had to contend with fever dreams or coughing until his lungs hurt, he’s being doing everything to keep our household running—it’s been very hard. So hopefully he won’t be too bothered that I add a couple more items to my list, which are a) Vicks VapoRub, the magic elixir, the stuff of childhood comforts, and b) I am have ample time this morning to read the first instalment in my 2015 Short Story Advent Calendar!

And yes, I am getting better—two nights with no fever has helped a lot. The cough is improving. I just need to work on getting energy back (i.e. being able to walk upstairs without having to follow up the journey with a nap).

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