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December 1, 2020

Alfie’s Christmas

I’ve measured out my life by the children in Shirley Hughes’ Alfie books. I remember when we thought of Alfie as a big kid, and when we wondered what Iris would be like when she was as old as Annie Rose, and then my children kept on growing and now we’re looking in the rear view. Alfie and Annie Rose are tiny little relics now, but we’re so fond of them (okay, maybe it’s just me and everybody else is mostly just being indulgent) that we’ll never let them go completely, especially Alfie’s Christmas, which is the first book I’ll be writing about over the next few weeks as we blow the dust off the titles in our Christmas Book Box.

I love Shirley Hughes scenes of domestic life, the jumble of stuff in her illustrations, the clutter and mess of family life. I also love the shading in her illustrations, rich and vivid colour, but just muted enough that it’s sepia-toned. The books themselves are an exercise in nostalgia.

Which is another way of saying that they’re also timeless, in away, because they always appealed to my children, books written exactly from their point of view, and my favourite bits were always the parts in the margins—the pets who wandered into the spread, teapots on the counter, when Dad sits on a bench while Alfie splashes in puddles, and how I’d love to go have a cup of tea with his Mum and get to know her—I feel like we’d get along.

Alfie’s Christmas is a delight—not much of a plot, to be honest, apart from when they realize that Alfie’s new remote control car requires batteries. Alfie gets ready for Christmas, prepares presents for his parents, they put up a tree, carollers come by on Christmas Eve.

In typical baby sister fashion, Annie Rose gets up in the night and rummages through her stocking, and at first, Alfie thinks it’s Father Christmas creeping about his room. And then finally it’s Christmas morning, and the big day begins, and I like too that their family celebration is a bit modest, which our family can relate to. Alfie’s grandmother and her brother (from Australia turn up) and then Uncle Will and Alfie’s Dad get Christmas dinner on while Mum and Grandma head to church (taking along some of Alfie’s Christmas baking “to share with people who had no home to go to”).

Which is to say that these books are not so old fashioned at all, that their coziness is underlined by a progressive sensibility, and while Alfie gets some fun things for Christmas, connection is really what the holiday is truly about. “As they walked home they could see lit Christas trees shining out of all the windows and neighours like the MacNallys and the Santos family with their friends and relations, enjoying themselves, eating nice things, and watching television together.”

And oh, the colour of the sky at dusk! The most majestic ordinary splendour.

February 20, 2018

Ten Years on Lucky Street

All last week I was nostalgic for ten years ago, our miraculous trip to San Francisco. 2008 was an incredible year, somehow the pieces having come together for us enough that we could fly to California on a whim. We were both making good salaries, beginning to leave our nomadic twenties behind us with relief and gratitude, lived in a city we loved with many good friends—and, beside the point, but still it was kind of magical, I was also effortlessly thin, which is nice for a person to experience a few times in her life. Of course, not everything was magic—we were still in our twenties enough that our jobs made us bored and unhappy; I had written a novel that wasn’t the triumph I was hoping my creative writing masters degree would culminate in; it was the grossest, iciest winter ever, and you couldn’t walk up the sidewalk without falling; plus the neighbours in the basement kept having explosive arguments, terrible crashes as they’d hurl their “LIVE LAUGH LOVE” and “JOY AND PEACE” signs at each other in the middle of the night. We were going to have to move before one of them set the house on fire, and besides, we wanted to have a baby, and do something about our jobs because if we didn’t they could last forever and that was not the kind of life either of us wanted to live. 2008 was the edge of everything, particularly meaningful as we sped down the Pacific coast on the edge of the continent in a rental car, and we knew it in the moment, so much of what we were experiencing rich with significance, possibility and lasting effect. Nothing was inevitable and anything might happen.

I’ve written before about the very first Family Day in 2008 when, high on California, we decided to make some changes about the way we were living our lives, and these changes set us on the course to this precise moment. Ten years ago this April we moved into this apartment, which has been so good to us, the most wonderful home. Dreaming of the children we were going to have, the first a daughter who turns nine this spring. Ten years ago this summer we painted her bedroom, which she now shares with her little sister, sleeping in a bunkbed that’s far too big for the room, because we didn’t measure it, but then we never measured anything. Which makes the miracle of how well it’s ended up fitting together all the more momentous. We have been so lucky—those two funny people doing prikura in the Japan Centre Photo Booth in San Francisco thought they knew, and they kind of did, but they had no idea either.

February 14, 2017

Romantic Deal-Breakers

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

The Day Santa Stopped Believing in Harold


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

Happy Thanksgiving


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 31, 2012

Terror and Joy

IMG_0212-001“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

Scaredy Squirrel Gingerbread House (with a Building Permit)

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

7 Years

We’ve got a sitter! Looking forward to dinner out tonight to celebrate 7 years since “I do”, and the success of not being remotely itchy.

“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

Blue Christmas

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

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