February 14, 2017
I was happy to take part in a feature at the Globe and Mail in which authors nominate the one book that would be a deal-breaker if you discovered it on a potential partner’s bedside. For me there was no question! Read here to find out the title. And hope you all had sweet Valentines Day, whether it be sweetened with chocolate or cake.
December 2, 2016
I full-on believed in Santa Claus until I was eleven, mostly through sheer force of will and because I was a strange child, and I’ve actually kind of still believed in him ever since then. If asked if there is a Santa, I’ll never say one way or another, because there are some kinds of magic that are beyond our understanding. If asked if I in fact partake in performing the duties of Santa, I may concede that I do, but that such partaking is in fact part of the magic, but no one’s asked me that question yet. There have been other question though, and I will answer them carefully, recalling my own longing to believe that so preoccupied me as a child, a longing that had me actually making notes on the books I was reading and tallying those in which Santa was confirmed as real or otherwise within said books (and there became more of the latter, obviously, as I became actually eleven—I think I was actually reading Sidney Sheldon novels when I was eleven, although Santa rarely came up in these).
The Day Santa Stopped Believing in Harold, by Maureen Fergus (Buddy and Earl) and Cale Atkinson (If I Had a Gryphon) is definitely pro-Santa, and the perfect book contending with these sorts of questions who’s just not quite ready to give up yet. Santa, it seems, has stopped believing in a child called Harold, because the letters Harold writes to Santa are penned by Harold’s mother and Santa’s snack each Christmas Eve is actually catered by Harold’s father. Santa’s wife tries to convince him otherwise, but Santa will not be deterred, and resolves to wait up until Christmas morning so he can see Harold for himself and finally discover whether or not he actually exists…
I bought this one to commemorate the beginning of the Christmas season, a new title for our Christmas book box, and we absolutely loved it. It’s sweet, silly, and the perfect Christmas book for the savvy kid who wants to go on believing just a little bit longer.
October 10, 2016
January 3, 2015
One 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.
We 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.
On 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.
Christmas 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.
On 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.
Monday 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.
Rumours 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.
New 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.
And 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 31, 2012
“For 2009, I make no resolutions, because things will be changing whether I will them to or not, and certainly, I am no longer (as) in control of it all.” Which is a thing I wrote exactly 4 years ago, supposing myself to be so brave and open-minded, but what I didn’t know then was how unhappy it would make me to lose control of it all, that I’m really not the type to go with the flow. Having a baby made me more aware of the fixedness of my limitations than anything else I’ve done before, except perhaps for that summer I spent alone adventuring in Europe and crying in phone booths.
So really, my most important resolution for 2013 is not to break. That I employ every bit of my minuscule store of patience. That I’m able to weather the difficult days with an awareness of where they’re taking me, which is to a place where I belong. To face forward, even with all the terror, that terror that is so inextricably mixed with the most enormous joy.
Happy New Year. May 2013 bring you fantastic books, a glorious summer, topped-up glasses and so so much clafoutis.
November 21, 2012
Of everything we’ve ever received in the mail, the Scaredy Squirrel gingerbread house certainly takes the cake. It’s not just any gingerbread house kit, you see, because it comes with a building permit, and special instructions by Scaredy Squirrel on building the house right to code. Further, the gingerbread is completely delicious and has filled our entire house with the redolence of Christmas (already). Perhaps reminding us that there are only 30-some days left in which to come prepared for the holiday, and in accordance, we’ve also been equipped with the brand new Scaredy Squirrel book, Scaredy Squirrel Prepares for Christmas. With instructions to wear a hockey helmet (in case of falling ornaments), and to avoid candy canes (might shatter!!!).
The kit arrived yesterday, and Harriet insisted that we build it while her little friend Iole was visiting. It occurred to me at this point that 3 year-olds are far better are being agents of destruction than construction, and so this might be a terrible idea. It also made it quite possible that I’d end up swearing at Harriet in front of Iole’s mother.
Fortunately, the girls were very helpful, and we did the windows, and put the walls and roof up. I figured the instructions to wait overnight before decorating were only optional and we got started on that too, but then the house collapsed in on itself over and over again and I realized that maybe Scaredy Squirrel knew what he was talking about with his instructions. So we let the house dry, and Harriet finished decorating it this afternoon. We love it, and don’t know how long we can wait before we eat it– that smell! And the best thing is that I didn’t even swear once.
June 18, 2012
“They would talk of such questions among books, or out in the sun, or sitting in the shade of a tree undisturbed. They were no longer embarrassed, or half-choked with meaning which could not express itself; they were not afraid of each other, or, like travellers down a twisting river, dazzled with sudden beauties when the corner is turned; the unexpected happened, but even the ordinary was lovable, and in many ways preferable to the ecstatic and mysterious, for it was refreshingly solid, and called out effort, and effort under such circumstances was not effort, but delight.” –Virginia Woolf, The Voyage Out
December 24, 2011
Christmas Eve is my favourite day of the holidays, and with yesterday being a holiday too, it’s like we’ve had two of them. But with Christmas Day nearly upon us, it means it’s time to get down to the holiday reading I’ve been saving. It is by coincidence only that all these books are blue, but I like the connection. I’ll be reading ZZ Packer’s Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, which I bought on clearance ages and ages ago and am finally getting to because I’m at P in my to-be-read pile. And I’ve been looking forward to this one. The Louise Penny book I tried to read in the summer during that time when the temperature was 50 degrees celsius, and it just didn’t work for me. With the cover so wintry looking, I’m thinking now is a better time to try it, and don’t mysteries just seem somehow more December-ish anyway? And finally, I’m going to read A Family of Readers by Roger Sutton and Martha Parravano (in fact, I’m probably going to read it first), which was a gift from Nathalie Foy (and this is the part where you get to envy me for not only having Nathalie as a friend in my online life, but also as a friend in my neighbourhood).
I hope you have a holiday just as lovely. xo
October 31, 2011
Harriet was Tilly Witch for Halloween this year, which was a grand success, except for the blip around 4:30 when she decided that she going to wear her Easter Bunny ears instead of the witch hat, and I had to go upstairs and have a moment to myself in order to avoid murdering her. By the time I’d calmed down, the bunny ears were abandoned, and the rest of the evening was splendid, resulting in a bucketful of treats.
Over at Canadian Bookshelf, I’ve written “I am Not At Peace: Ghosts and Haunting in Canadian Fiction”, exploring the spookier side of CanLit. And if you’re not subscribing to the blog, you should. There’s great new stuff up three days a week.
August 8, 2011
“I wonder if ever again Americans can have that experience or returning to a home place so intimately known, profoundly felt, deeply loved, and absolutely submitted to? It is not quite true that you can’t go home again. I have done it, coming back here. But it gets less likely. We have had too many divorces, we have consumed too much transportation, we have lived too shallowly in too many places.” –Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose
I don’t get home very often, hardly ever. I’ve never lived in either of the houses where my parents live now, my grandparents’ houses were sold and gutted long ago, the woods behind the house I lived in until I was nine are now so grown-up that you can’t see the house from the road, and I rarely find myself on that road anyway. Wallace Stegner was right. Like Joan Didion, my parents may have wanted to promise me that I would “grow up with a sense of [my] cousins and of rivers and over my great-grandmother’s teacups, would like to [have pledged me] a picnic on a river with fried chicken and [my] hair uncombed, would like to [have given me] home for [my] birthday, but we live differently now.” Which I don’t think is an inconsolable loss, but it’s a loss still, and one I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.
I’m not sure what it is, but I’ve been awash is nostalgia this last while. I keep wanting to write essays about how I spent the night of September 11 2001 in Kos at College and Bathurst eating fries with my friends. This comes on because that night was ten years ago, a nice round number, and because I’ve been listening to Dar William’s The Honesty Room, which I bought around the same time. I keep wanting to write essays about riding our bikes in Japan, and our house in England with its dirty lace curtains and the park across the street, and these wouldn’t be essays, really. They would be diary entries, which, according to Sarah Leavitt, are differentiated from memoirs in that in memoirs, the role of the self is to serve the story. In my story, the role of the self would only be to serve the self, pure indulgence. Basically, I’d like to go home again. Which is as impossible as: Basically, I want a time machine.
I try. Sometimes I walk down Dundas Street between Bathurst and Manning, where I lived for a pivotal year at the turn of the century, except that the Chinese herb shop we lived over is now a store where you can buy a $2400 ottoman, and the restaurant at the end of our block burned down last summer. Sometimes I walk through the university campus where I lived when I thought that a push-up bra and blue eyeshadow were key accessories and where the snow fell so high once that the army came and shovelled us out, but it’s too altogether the same and different. We’ve been replaced by new students who sleep in our beds and imagine themselves to be the centre of the universe.
My family has a thing for nostalgia. A favourite pass-time has always been the Driving By Where We Used to Live game, or the Driving by Where We Lived Before You Were Born game. I sometimes still play this, except we don’t have a car, and so we settle for Pushing Your Stroller Past the Old Apartment whenever we’re in Little Italy. My husband thinks this is weird. Partly because he has lived in none of these locations save for one, and so the game to him is a little bit boring. I keep trying to take him home to places he’s never seen in his life which are inhabited by strangers who have painted the garage door and redone the siding. Besides, he grew up in a land so steeped in its history that he was eager to shed the concept entirely with his new life in Canada. He’s had enough of trodding on Roman ruins. He also thinks it’s funny that any Canadian building one hundred years old is worthy of a plaque.
Anyway, the point is that the cottage we’ve stayed at the last two summers is also where the summers of my childhood were spent. Or not the entire summers, but a few weeks of every one, which, interestingly, have gone all metonymic and become the only bits of those summers I remember. So that last week I did get to go home again, to a place so utterly unchanged, but then I am so changed that it’s a new place altogether and I am happy with that, because I certainly don’t want our summer vacation to be one of those drive-by games that makes Stuart exasperated. I want the cottage to be a place for Harriet to discover for herself, just like I did, and she doesn’t need to know that the dock used to be broken and sinking, so slippery that you couldn’t run, where our fort was, and that the beach was wider once upon a time, but the minnows are the same, and so are the leopard frogs. It is easier to walk barefoot on gravel than it used to be, or maybe it’s just that the soles of my feet are just hard.
No one needs to know about the two salient selves I remember from there. The seven year old girl with a side-ponytail performing a choreographed routine to the theme from Jem and the Holograms on top of a picnic table, and the other one even more awkward, if you can believe it. She’s sitting on a swing dreamily, listening to “Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover” on the yellow Sony Sports Walkman tucked into the kangaroo pocket of her baja jacket. She’s staring at the sunset sparkling on the lake, and she’s thinking of profound things, like boyfriends, and breasts, and one day being so far away that she’ll be able to refer to herself in the third person.