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Pickle Me This

September 10, 2015

It begins.

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I got pregnant at nearly the exact same time as Harriet started playschool three years ago, when she was three years old. And I so vividly remember those precious mornings, the time, rushing home to rescue my tea from under the cozy and sit down to get some work done, not wasting a single moment. To be alone. Although the time did not seem so luxurious: I was in my first trimester and would pass out every night not long after Harriet did. If I hadn’t had those mornings, I would have had no time to get any work done. After Christmas when my energy levels had returned, I got a job writing a book about Arctic exploration, the gold rush, mountain climbing, and parkas, and by then my days of freedom were numbered anyway. So I spent that winter reading Pierre Berton on the Klondike and listening to Iris by the Split Enz over and over again, dreaming of my baby as she kicked away inside me—so you see, I was really not so alone at all.

It seemed like the smallest window, that year. I knew that with our new baby, we’d soon be thrown back into newbornland and babyhood, and we’d have to find our way out again. That it would be a long before I once  more found myself at home alone at 9:30 in the morning, the teapot still warm. I edited an entire book as the baby slept on my chest, for heaven’s sake. And now, here I am. And dare I say it: it all went by so fast?

This morning I dropped Harriet off at Grade One, which she is enjoying immensely so far, and then Iris and I trekked down the street for her to begin her first day of playschool. The playschool she has known since she was a fetus: she spent her first year in her carrier as I did co-op shifts three times a month. By the end of the year, she was scooting around the room like a champion. It has always been familiar to her. We love the teachers. Last year when Harriet was no longer a student there, we still visited our playschool friends often, and we’d play with them at the park.

Drop-off was not without its drama. Iris was not happy about my departure, and while I wanted to get out of there and trusted she was in very good hands, I’m a bit worried about the teachers who’ll have to deal with her. Though I assure myself that perhaps like all parents, I’m imagining that my child is more unique and particular than she actually is. I’m crossing my fingers that they’ve seen it all before. And that she’ll have a wonderful morning.

And now here I am, right back where I’ve been before except that this is the way forward instead of just a blip. It’s even time to put the kettle on. It’s time to get some work done. To figure out this new routine, just what to do with all this space and this quiet.

See also: “When I got home again, I didn’t know what to do because there was so much that I wanted to do.” 

September 7, 2015

Cake and Back to School

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Back to school tomorrow! Which means that we spent much of today at the CNE, which was excellent, and the prize-winning celery was as wonderful as I’d hoped for. (It’s basically the reason I go.) And we are so very hot, the weekend spent dripping with sweat and entertaining people in high humidity. Last night our best friends from kindergarten came for dinner, one of our now-regular togethers that involves too much wine and so much cake. Meeting these families was one of the best parts of last year, and I will miss them as our children move onto new classes and schools and our daily lives are no longer as connected. Although friendships can and do endure, as evidenced by tonight when my friends and former roommates Kate and Erin (and Kate’s husband Paul) came over last minute for pizza. The last-minute thing remarkable because Kate and Paul live in Vancouver, and we’ve not seen them in three years. But here they were tonight, with a cake even.  And what a cake? If my book ends up looking half as excellent as this one, I will be satisfied. (Apparently the image was inspired by my Mitzi Bytes pinterest board, because there is indeed such a thing.) I have the most terrific friends. Anyway, the convenient thing about all of this is that Harriet’s first day of school lunch is leftover pizza and cake, so her year is off to an excellent start. Wish us luck tomorrow as all the madness and fun begins!

August 30, 2015

Girls on the Go

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Some might say that this blog has been lately suffering from a dearth of photos of my children, and so here they are, modelling the season’s latest fashions in Dufferin and Spadina Subway Stations (the latter at the Walmer Road exit). You will note that between the first and second photo, new shoes and crowns were acquired, so it was an all around excellent day. We’re hoping for a few more of these before they start school in a week and a bit, and yes, I am having my usual pre-September “I do not know what my new routine will be yet!!” anxiety. Hopefully, as in other years, it will all be fine.

June 23, 2015

Blooms

IMG_20150623_085600Harriet has two days left of kindergarten, and we’re excited for the summer that lies ahead. And then after that: Grade One. A whole new door and a new way of life, in that her class won’t have a sand table or a drama centre. Really, is this blog not just a record of my heart breaking over and over again? And parenthood in general. How they just keep growing, going. And I remember nearly two years ago when Harriet started kindergarten and for an entire month cried every day at drop-off, and it was all really terrible. We had a new baby and Stuart had just gone back to work, which was part of the problem, and  then Harriet used to cry after school because her teacher wasn’t as good as Daddy, and I hadn’t expected these bumps in the road. “She’ll be okay,” all the parents told me when I left her in the morning and I was crying too, my tiny sleeping baby strapped to my chest. I wasn’t sure, but they were right, and kindergarten has since been a wonderful ride. Since Christmas in particular, Harriet seems to have found her stride socially too, plus she has learned to read and she can write, and she’s happy, which is most important. I feel lucky that it’s all been so smooth, and part of that is that her teachers this year have been incredible.

One of them is her same teacher from last year, when she was in junior kindergarten half-days. A fantastic teacher who turned out to be almost as good as Daddy after all, just in his own way. He has taught her more than I could ever quantify, and the most fundamental things. Their class planted marigolds at the end of last year and Harriet’s grew in a pot in our garden over the summer, blooms upon blooms. We decided to save the seeds, which we’d never done before, and we planted them this spring, offspring of the plant before. Three of those seeds managed not to be dug up by squirrels and actually grew, and we took one of them to school in its own pot today to present to her teacher. A symbol of what he does every day, every year, planting seeds that take root and grow, and yield seeds of their own, and new things grow of that and on it goes forever and ever. He only ever sees the smallest part of the effect he has.

I love teachers. Part of this is basically my religion—there is no single more important job in the world—but it’s also because the ones we’ve had so far have been fantastic. And we’re going to miss Mr. Gillis so much. Nothing ever would have flowered without him.

June 1, 2015

Special Occasion

We hung out the Special Occasion Bunting on Saturday on the occasion of Harriet’s birthday.

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Our cake came courtesy of the good people at Betty Crocker.

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Everything was awesome.

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May 26, 2015

On 2190 Days of Harriet

DSC_0452Speaking of words as survival gear, we’ve found it very useful this past while to scroll back through our archives from 2011 to discover if Harriet was anything like Iris is. Iris is so singular and Harriet was never so young, and then I find the post I wrote when Harriet was two-years-old and realize I’ve forgotten it altogether. Which is all the more reason to check in every six months or so and record how it is, how she is, because she never stops changing and she’ll never be quite this Harriet ever again.

IMG_20150517_123639The age of five was a pleasure. Wholly. Every other year, my pleasure has come with a caveat—two year olds are annoying, three and four year olds have sociopathic tendencies, but five was amazing. Harriet is funny, interesting, good company and a huge help in our family. Her patience with her sister is beyond anything I’d ever expect, and her love too is incredible and both are helping shape Iris into a really excellent person. I admire her too—Harriet’s strong will is manifesting as self-confidence and a firm sense of who she is and what she wants, and it’s our job to let that happen. Of course, it helps that who she is is someone who thinks deeply about things, who calls herself a feminist, who is curious and generous in her approach to the world around her. She loves music and dancing, and has been ridiculously influenced by the video for “Chandelier” by Sia, and has spent the last six months of her life imagining herself in its starring role. She’s not afraid to go against the grain, and makes a point of making choices counter to what people might expect. She works to defy gender expectations at every turn, but never so much that she doesn’t revel in a twirly dress and fuchsia tights. She loves The Lego Movie, Annie, How to Train Your Dragon 2, and Frozen. She has never been above watching more juvenile fare with her little sister. She can read, though we don’t know how it happened. She writes terrific stories in her journal at school, though her stories from the weekend are never quite the ones I would have chosen (i.e. “On Saturday, I watched Frozen twice in the afternoon…” on the weekend we took her to some excellent and engaging cultural event). She is, as one ought to be, obsessed with the lyrics to Leader of the Pack, and loves Gypsies Tramps and Thieves and If I Could Turn Back Time by Cher (and quite clearly, I have been responsible for the bulk of her musical education).

IMG_1171When things don’t come easily, she has learned to persevere and to be brave—back in January, she swam like a lead weight, but now can glide across the water and has no fear of jumping in. She is happy at school and seems to be in a good place with friends, which we appreciate, because it isn’t always easy to find your place when you’re a strong personality (and obsessed with Cher). She is an appalling joke teller but refuses to have her confidence undermined. She loves making up songs whose rhyme and rhythm are as such that I assume they’re real songs, but they’re hers. She says she wants to be a rock star, or a scientist, and this summer, she’s going to finally take her training wheels off her bike (though this is more our idea than hers). She has a gift for enthusiasm, but can whine like nobody’s business. We wonder about her interior monologue, because the bits we get a glimpse of are so deep and rich (and go on and on and on, and she’s not really even expecting us to be listening). She likes Lego, The Incredibles, superheroes, forces of justice, and toys. Also prone to candy and ice cream and chocolate. She will not eat a leaf, unless its basil. She watches movies and then turns them into elaborate imagination games (some of which involve her dragon, Goldie, who is a Sunchaser but used to be a Screaming Death). She thinks she can make anything out of paper. Often, she can (but then I throw it out and she gets angry). She has her sullen teenager facial expression perfected. She’s usually up for adventure. And we can’t believe that today she is six—six!?—because surely there has always been a Harriet and we’ve always been her parents, but then how come the forever that’s been her life feels like it’s gone by so fast?

May 24, 2015

Trouble and Spaciousness

IMG_1334Am I having trouble reading because I’m unsettled, or am I unsettled because every book I start to read is so darn dissatisfying? This is a question I’ve have to ask myself over and over in my life, and I’ve never once come close to circling round and round about it. All I know is that the last four books I’ve picked up I have abandoned after a few pages, and the book I spent most of last week reading had no impact on me whatsoever. So now book review today. And I had to pull out the big guns because to be reading nothing is to not be me. Last night I started reading The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness by Rebecca Solnit, and I think it’s going to save me.

I think the trouble is the books though because otherwise all is very well here. Last week flew by, a very short week with so much in it. All fun. And after last week’s meltdown (mine) in regards to baby sleep, we shifted gears. I’ve stopped breastfeeding, we moved Iris back into her crib upstairs in our room, and left her to cry at night. The last strategy never worked with her big sister who would only grow more and more hysterical, but Iris settled pretty quickly and by the third night without a peep. She is still not sleeping all night, but everything is much much better and one night she slept until 5, and the idea that putting her to bed is no longer a production (and therefore someone who is not her parent can do it?) is tremendously exciting.

In other now-reading news, I’ve started getting the New York Times supplement with the Sunday Star, which comes with a standalone books section (an abridged version of the real one) and it’s so terrific to read. I miss real, solid book review sections. Anyway, this has added another highlight to my week.

Harriet turns six on Tuesday, and Iris threw up in a parking lot this afternoon, which has freaked me out a bit because we all spent Harriet’s birthday last year completely ill. I have since learned though that there is no rhyme nor reason to my children’s vomiting, so here’s hoping it was just a thing. Especially since Harriet is the greatest child alive and her choice of how to spend her birthday evening is having dinner at my favourite restaurant.

Regarding the photo. At Harriet’s school concert on Thursday, Stuart pointed out a woman wearing bunting shoes. Naturally, I had to talk to her. “Where did you get them?” I asked her, and she only looked a little bit sheepish but mostly proud to tell me she’d found them by the side of the road and cleaned them up so she could wear them. What sweet bunting fortune.

January 26, 2015

Not Baklava

harriet-hatThis is not a post apologizing for a lack of updates. If you’ve ever learned anything about blogging from me, it’s probably that such posts are a waste of everybody’s time. What this post is, however, is an apology for my inability to blog while knitting. I can read while knitting; I can do this like a champion. I hold the book open with my feet, or employ my bookstand, and I basically knit this entire balaclava this way, while reading The Inconvenient Indian (and probably looked a bit curious and occupied as I did this during the hour I was waiting for Harriet to finish her dance class on Saturday). I have my limits though: I cannot read while knitting AND drink my tea, which is terrible. And I have yet to figure out how to knit and blog, which is why I have a completed balaclava to show for my Sunday evening instead of a freshly minted blog post. Alas, I think I made the right call, as it’s freezing this morning, and full facial covering goes a long long way.

It all went a bit wrong, however, once the balaclava was finished. It was 11:30 and everybody was asleep, but I was too excited to keep my success to myself. So I put the balaclava on myself and ran upstairs to wake up Stuart and show him. And I didn’t realize until I’d shaken him awake that it might be unnerving to be pulled from sleep in a darkened room by someone wearing a balaclava… The look of terror in his eyes was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. This morning I tried to reason with him: You knew your spouse was downstairs nearly finished knitting a balaclava. Surely it would be a crazy coincidence if the balaclava-wearer before you was somebody different?

But he insisted such rationales were beyond his mental capacity at that time. He is still a wee bit traumatized.

January 3, 2015

Christmas Vacation

harrietOne of many reasons that members of our family are unlikely to ever take the world by storm is that our greatest talents really are for leisure—we’re experts at doing nothing, or just enough of something with requisite amounts of sofa-lying for good measure. We often visit cultural institutions such as museums and art galleries but rarely for more than an hour or two at a time, and never without a trip to the cafe AND the gift shop. Going out for lunch is our main occupation, and we always have dessert. We are really very good at enjoying ourselves, and so the last two weeks have been an absolute pleasure.

Two things: first, that I finished things up so that there was no work at all to be done for a week or so, and second, we turned off the internet. For a week, there was no checking of email or twitter, which opened up vast pockets of time in every day for all kinds of things—reading, playing, baking, carol-singing, and doing the Globe & Mail holiday crossword. On Tuesday we bought the newspaper because we were curious about what had gone on in the world, and it was odd to flip through the pages and discover news items we hadn’t heard about elsewhere.

windowWe spent the first couple of days of our holiday trying in vain to kick the cold that’s been embedded in our heads since the beginning of December. On the Sunday, we went down to the Bay on Queen Street to look at the Christmas windows, which were wonderful, and then went into the store and realized that department stores were the perfect way to reconcile our hatred of shopping malls with the joys of Christmas consumption (glittery lights, perfume smells, shopping bags with string handles, and 1 kilo tins of chocolate. Also, I now own tights without holes in the feet). Speeding home on the subway in time for Iris’s nap and for me to meet friends for an exquisite afternoon tea at Dessert Trends Bistro.

frankOn Monday, we went to the library (because holidaying doesn’t always have to happen on a lavish scale) and then had smoked meat lunch at Caplansky’s Deli. I also went out for dinner with my friends and drank far too much wine. On Tuesday, I don’t think we did anything, partly due to the wine. Throughout all of this, Stuart and I were watching movies and episodes of Midsomer Murders in the evening (because we are 85 years old) and Harriet watched How to Train Your Dragon Two during Iris’s nap times. On Christmas Eve, we went to the Art Gallery to see the Art Spiegelman exhibit and had a lovely brunch at the Frank Restaurant, which we save for the specialist of occasions. On the way home, we picked up our turkey, which we fastened into our stroller. That evening, we had chicken fajitas for Christmas Eve dinner for the 10th year in a row, and left a snack for Santa.

xmasmornChristmas was so good. Not only did we not have to leave the house, but we got to have my mom come and visit! The children got excellent presents and had fun playing with them throughout the holidays. I received great books, nice clothes, and other lovely things, including a La Cruset butter dish I’d been hankering after and new Pyrex. We all also received new CDs (because are 85 years old and like to do 20th century things) and so the holiday has been extra-filled with music—some of which was even made after 1987, which is very rare for us. My mom arrived and played with the children (which was not very difficult—she arrived bearing her present of a trunk full of dress-up clothes) while Stuart and I set about cooking the best Christmas dinner ever. The joys of Skype brought us the company of Nana and Granddad in England, and our adorable Alberta relations.

playOn Boxing Day, we went to the ROM, and partook in a yummy dinner of leftovers—Stuart makes the best turkey sandwiches on earth. Iris also slept until 7am for the first time in her whole life, which was mind-blowing, but also a bit terrible because when her sleep for the subsequent week was abysmal, I wanted to pitch her out the window. The next day, my dad and his partner arrived, and we all had an excellent time with them. And they played with the children while Stuart and I cooked up another very good meal—the greatest turkey pot pie of all time whose secret recipe was duck fat. The day after that,  we drove out to my aunt’s in the West end, stopping en-route to buy ice-skates for Harriet and I, which had the potential to be a boondoggle. And then we had a very fun dinner with the best kinds of relations on earth—cousins.

anniwMonday was the best day—Harriet and I headed downtown to meet our friend Erin and watch the new Annie film, which we’d been looking to after avidly viewing its trailers for the past month AND after watching the old Annie every day last summer. The reviews for the new Annie were terrible and all wrong—the movie was wonderful. (That one of the critics referred to the 1982 movie as “an abomination” perhaps suggests that some people had no business reviewing either movie, both of which were masterpieces, in my humble opinion.) We all had such a good time watching it, exuberantly applauding as the credits rolled. And then we met Stuart and Iris and took the subway to Erin’s new house in Bloor West Village, which is very conveniently located near the new Book City (which was bustling and full of wonderful books.)

On Tuesday, I had to take a certain someone to a dermatologists to have a wart examined, which wasn’t so memorable, except that we got to stop at HMV on the way and buy the Annie soundtrack, a move supported by all members of our household. Iris can now sing “Tomorrow”, which is really something to behold. We also love Sia’s version of “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile” and the bizarre and catchy “Moonquake Lake”, with its memorable hook—”she’s a fish and he’s a boy.” That night our friends Jennie, Deep and Lilia came for dinner and the best time was had. They were kind enough not to complain about our music selection.

sk8Rumours of boondoggles were averted on New Years Eve when Harriet and I went skating at Christie Pits—Harriet had the best time and loved it, which was good but also troubling as it means that I have to keep going skating. We went again yesterday and both of us were vastly improved. A third jaunt is scheduled for tomorrow. New Years Eve was our traditional chocolate fondue and ringing in the UK New Year before the children went to bed. And then Stuart and I proceeded to play board games (and ping pong, until Harriet came out of her room and asked us to stop because the pinging and ponging was too noisy) until we were done, and then we went to bed and brought in the new year lit by bed-side lamps, turning away from our respective novels for a moment as the clock ticked over to 2015. Which is the best way to ring in the new that I could ever have imagined.

africaNew Years Day was boring—what a wondrous indulgence is that in this day and age? Although we did have our first meal of the year at Fanny Chadwick’s for brunch, which was delicious, and Iris has been transformed into someone who is fairly respectable about restaurant behaviour from all her practice this holiday. And Harriet and I got to play Scrabble for Juniors, which is almost as excellent as spending New Year’s reading in bed. Yesterday we went to the ROM to see the Wildlife Photography exhibit. And yes, more skating. Today we’re doing nothing, which might prove to be a bad idea but feels pretty good from where I sit (on the couch, wearing jogging pants, watching snow falling outside). We’ve kept things a little special with scones with jam and Devonshire cream, because I had a jar of the latter in the fridge and we had to use it up—not the worst task to be charged with.

teaAnd I’m writing it all down now mostly so that I can remember it, the holiday we were so desperate for and which so delivered. I’m writing it all down because all these ordinary things (libraries and lunches) are so easy to forget, and I don’t want to. I don’t want to forget either that we’re so blessed with friends and family and each other. If how you spend your days are indeed how you spend your life, then these past two weeks are an indication that we’re doing something right.  And it’s something to hold on to as the lights of December fade—let the next few months be something more than just a countdown to spring.

December 5, 2014

There comes a time…

IMG_20141106_165935There comes a time in every family’s life when their copy of Janet and Alan Ahlberg’s The Baby’s Catalogue needs replacing. “Uh oh,” said Iris, pointing to where the book had split in two, on the “Accidents” page, no less. Though we’d seen it coming—this was the book I took care to always have in my bag when Harriet was a baby, so that when Iris was born, the spine was already shredded, and she took great pleasure in furthering the damage herself. Until the whole thing had come to pieces.

It’s a turning point, and we’ve been encountering a lot of these lately. Iris turns 18 months old exactly today, and I’d forgotten what a huge turning point this age is. Her words are coming fast (and often furious): car, and truck, and yuck, and cheese, and banana, and please, and Mommy and Daddy and Hatty, and her grandmothers’ names, and shoes, and book, and most curiously of all is “hockey”. We have no idea where she learned that one. She loves cats and dogs and babies. I take her to the library baby program, where she ignores all programming and instead walks around the circle tickling the other babies’ feet.

irisShe sees the whole world as a series of climbable objects, and while her compulsive climbing instills fear in all those who love her, it’s true that she rarely ever falls. She knows the right techniques for capturing out attention: teetering on tabletops, screaming in quiet restaurants, and placing tiny objects inside her mouth with a defiant gleam in her eye. She gives excellent hugs, is a champion napper, has her teeth coming in in all the wrong order, and usually tries to give gentle touches instead of hitting and biting (though she doesn’t always succeed). She gets less bald with every passing day. She is at that age at which sitting at the table for more than three minutes at a time is impossible, so she comes and and goes. She just recently learned to jump. We adore her, and are blown away by how smart she is and her insistence on doing everything herself—well, even. But we’re never having another child, because our children seem to get increasingly Iris-ish with every one, and an Iris who out-Iris’d Iris might kill us. So we’re just content to love this one madly.

ADSC_0452nd then there is her very patient sister, who turned 5 and a half last week (which is 66 months old, for those of you keeping count). She continues to be excellent with just the right amount of naughtiness that we’re sure she’s a real child. She likes school and watching her learn to read is so exciting (and it’s also so exciting to see how useful Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie books are in this process. We’ve enjoyed these books for years, and that such good books can also be the best reading tools is amazing). We’re reading Tom’s Midnight Garden at bedtime now, which is exciting because there’s a literary Harriet in it, and also because it’s the second book I read right after she was born, a time I was thinking about last night as Tom and his Uncle discussed there not being just one time but instead all different kinds of time (and his Aunt pointing out that it all leads to indigestion—it’s such a good book!). Harriet has reached this marvellous age where she wants to be helpful, and she actually is. I like her so very much, and adore her company. It’s not a lie when I tell her that picking her up at kindergarten is the very best part of my day. (Well, after bedtime, of course).

IMG_20141120_165025Technically, now that Iris is 18 months old, there’s no resident baby at our house anymore (though I don’t believe this, of course, and Iris’s baldness is permitting the illusion to be sustained). Just because we’re running low on babies though doesn’t mean we don’t still need a copy of The Baby’s Catalogue, so we bought another one, a pristine edition that is sure to get a bit battered, but probably not as battered as its predecessor. This wonderful book is full of the ordinary moments—all the incidents and accidents—of ordinary family life, and it’s such a part of ours.

I hope it always will be.

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