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Pickle Me This

August 31, 2016

Extraordinary Day

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My favourite thing about being a parent is the way you get the make the world magic. The way you can wave an imaginary wand an transform an ordinary day into a extraordinary one. The way that my children had no idea what was up when we told them to get their shoes on at 8:30 this morning, and when they kept asking where we were going, we said they’d find out when they got there. They’d been expecting their daddy to leave for work as usual, but there we all were marching to the subway, south to Union. And then a walk along Front Street, and over the train tracks to the aquarium, because Harriet’s loves the aquarium, and had expressed a wish to go there again. There you go Harriet: wish granted. Amazing.

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We had a terrific time at the aquarium, and the best part was when we ran into my best friend Jennie. After a few hours we were done though, and the place was completely bonkers, and so we left and meandered north to the place that had perhaps inspired this whole aquarium plan—the close-in-proximity, brand new Penguin Bookshop.

A bookstore that fits in your pocket, it is, or your closet, at least. Formerly a shoe repair kiosk. It features a lively selection of Penguin-branded goods and books they publish, Canadian and classic. I got the new Dave Eggers novel and The Bloody Chamber, by Angela Carter, and we bought a copy of Ooko because we’d had it from the library and loved it. It was very nice to finally stop by.

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We had lunch at the Old Spaghetti Factory, which was completely fun, and totally not horrible or boring. And there was so much bread. The bad thing about being snobs who live downtown is that we don’t get free bread with our meals very often, and certainly not for lunch (and if we do, it’s spelt bread and nobody wants to eat it). The children thought the place was great and we thought it was surprisingly good, the perfect place to stop on this day of being tourists in our own city for a while.

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“And what are you doing with the rest of your day?” our waiter asked us as we paid our bill. “We’re going to visit Toronto’s First Post Office,” I told him. I told him, “You’ve probably been there a hundred times, right?” He gave me a look. When he finally bid us adieu, he said, “Have fun at the…post office.”

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But not just any post office! It’s an actual working post office (and woo hoo! Canada Post and its employees have finally come to an agreement so we’re not going to be having a postal strike) AND a museum. From the restaurant, we walked through the beautiful St. Lawrence neighbourhood to get there, and finally arrived. Full disclosure, the children were being to lose their shit by this point.

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At Toronto’s First Post office you get to try writing with quills, and can also purchase stationary to write letters in their reading room. The place was marvellously busy, with tourists and also people coming in on ordinary errands. After finding out that writing with quills was really hard, Harriet and Iris sat down to write with ordinary pens, and they both ended up crying because a) over the summer Harriet had lost any writing skills she’d ever possessed and b) Iris had never possessed any anyway. And all I wanted to was write a letter to my friend, but the children were bananas and also doing dangerous deeds with ink, which ended up smeared all over Iris’s body, and then she blotted it with the sand provided for such things, and it all had gone a little bit awry. We pulled it together though, got letters written and even posted. And then it was time to admit that the day was coming to an end, so we headed for the subway, and nobody cried again, I think, so it all was a success.

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.

October 26, 2014

Would-Be Pickler Tries Nathan’s Famous

IMG_0896In my blogging course last Monday, we were talking about blog titles, and I conceded that there was probably an expert out there who—for SEO purposes and issues of general confusion—would advise you not to call your book blog Pickle Me This. But the problem with expert advice (and why expert advice so often doesn’t work for blogs, which are characterized by their refusal to conform to expectations) is that such advice cannot take into account the forces of serendipity.

For example: You christen your blog “Pickle Me This” for no good reason in 2004, thereby enabling a delivery of actual pickles to land on your doorstep a decade later.

IMG_0897Except that there was a reason I named my blog Pickle Me This. Not a good one, but still.

In 2004, I lived in Japan teaching English conversation to students with whom I usually had very little in common. This lack of commonality made our English conversation challenging. “What is your hobby?” became a conversation touchstone when all else had failed, mostly because the Japanese school system mandated that every student have a hobby. (Those students who were bad at everything usually ended up on sports teams charged with carrying equipment.) Bored housewives were also hobby connoisseurs, with interests including tea ceremonies, ikebana, and calligraphy, though more often than not, their answer to the hobbies question was “learning English,” which brought us full (albeit very small) circle, and made the minutes on our classroom clock tick by oh-so slowly.

IMG_0901Living in Japan does something to the brain. To this day, all my favourite music is basically assembled from karaoke playlists, I was photographing my lunch before it was cool, and I’m still inclined to squeal, “Kawaii!” when the situation warrants it. Part of becoming “Japanified” was responding the experience of living abroad and discovering how wide the world was, all the while we were cut off from the culture around us by being foreigners. We forgot how to form proper sentences, how to behave, and partook in strange pursuits to the fill the gaps that had appeared in our lives now that they were being conducted so far from home.

IMG_0903In 2004, I decided that I would learn how to pickle. This would be the beginning of something huge, I imagined. In Japan, anything was possible. I was picturing a sizeable cottage industry, adorable labels. They would say, “Pickle Me This,” the name of my company. One of my students—an avid pickler—wanted to support my ambitions and went as far as to give me a gift of pickling spice she’d made herself. “I want you to be a pickle success!” she told me.

IMG_0904Except that I was a pickling disaster. Granted, a lot was working against me. My entire kitchen was a hot plate, and I didn’t own a measuring cup. I was illiterate, so could not read food labels to know what kind of vinegar I was employing for my pickling task (if it was vinegar at all). I had no culinary skills then, and struggled with following simple recipes, whose advice, I decided, was usually just a helpful suggestion, as I slung a fistful of something or other into my pot. In Japan, we ate spaghetti sauce that came out of pouches, and I thought that was just fine. So the precision involved in pickling was well beyond my ken.

IMG_0898You can actually track the trajectory of my very short pickling career, which began with a blog post called “Are Pickles Supposed to Float?” and proceeded on to a post called “Dubious Pickles” the very next day, reporting that the pickles were shrivelling up in their jar. I don’t remember what happened to the pickles after that, but it is quite possible that I insisted on eating them even though they were vile and probably laced with botulism. I have a hard time admitting when my plans have gone wrong. I am a specialist in Stubborn as You Like. But I never made pickles again.

IMG_0902I’ve called myself a “would-be pickler” in the years since, usually in the bio on the blog that was christened Pickle Me This not long after my failed venture. This blog as been much more successful than the pickles, proving that you can’t win ’em all, but also that just because you lose some doesn’t mean it’s all lost. I was always going to be a better blogger than a pickler anyway. Accepting being so far from perfect is probably one reason I’ve been able to do so well as a blogger too, the pickles were certainly a fundamental lesson in that respect.

IMG_0882One consolation of failed pickledom is that it doesn’t keep one from eating pickles. Another consolation of failed pickledom is actual pickles on the doorstep from Nathan’s Famous, which are launching in Canada and are available in the refrigerated meat cooler sections at No Frills, Loblaws, and other grocery stores. Because a blog called Pickle Me This comes out on top when PR firms are searching for Canadian blogs about pickles. Perhaps this was part of my plan all along?

IMG_0880So we’ve been eating pickles all weekend, revelling in the bounty. I’m a bit crazy about the sweet horseradish pickles, though it’s possible I never met a sweet pickle I didn’t like. The sour and half sour are huge and full of crunch and flavour. Iris insists on eating them too, even though she makes the most ridiculous faces while doing so, but she keeps coming back for another bite, and so do I, because they’re good pickles.

And maybe you have to have been responsible for bad pickles to do know how precious a good pickle really is.

(Thanks to the people at Foodfest America for making my pickle dreams come true.) 

April 22, 2014

#MakeSomething: The Most Magnificent Book

It is always a good day when we get a package in the mail from Kids Can Press. In particular, when that package has to do with a book that we’ve loved as much as we continue to love Ashley Spires The Most Magnificent Thing.

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Remember that book? The book of which I wrote, “ It’s got everything. It’s got a dog, a girl who builds things, appealing illustrations that stand out against simple line drawings of an urban street-scape. It will appeal to both sexes. It’s got words, so many words, terrific verbs employed in the act of construction. It’s about coming up short, making mistakes and getting angry–the acknowledgement of such experiences is incredibly profound and has echoes of Sendak.” 

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So it was so cool to get this kit in the mail full of stuff for making, including a modified version of the book for us to “hack” and include in our creation. Harriet quickly set to work making blueprints, and was determined that her magnificent thing would be a monster.

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The project came together fast. Harriet’s dad worked alongside her.

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She cut, she stuck, she modified, she erred and tried again, and came up with something even better than her blueprints.

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Like her mother, Harriet is blessed with not being a perfectionist, and so her final vision seemed more than satisfying. We hooked our guy up with the book, because monsters like reading just as much as anybody does.

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What fun fun fun, and just an example of the creativity this fantastic book will inspire. Thanks, Kids Can Press! So happy to spread the word about a book we love as much as this one.

Read my review of The Most Magnificent Thing

December 16, 2013

A World Less Delightful

Canadian_Mailbox_(2925195187)“If I had to pick just one thing about the English novel, I don’t think I could, but if pressed to pick five things, one of them would have to be the post. Much in the same way that cell phones are pivotal to contemporary plotting, the British postal system is essential to the 20th century Englist novel. As are teacups, spinsters, knitting, seaside B&Bs, and the vicar, or maybe I’ve just been reading too much Barbara Pym, but the mail is always coming and going– have you noticed that? Someone is always going out to post a letter, or writing a letter that never gets posted, or a posted letter goes unreceived, or remains unopened on the hall table.”

Last week it was announced that Canadians are due to lose door-to-door mail delivery. Four years ago today, I wrote an ode to the post–foundation of not only my daily life, but also the plots of my favourite novels–from which the above paragraph is lifted. You can read the whole thing here and I haven’t changed my mind. With the elimination of postal service, we’re basically conspiring to make the world less delightful and this is not insignificant.

Without delight, what’s the point of anything?

December 2, 2013

City Noel

streetcarLiving in the city and not having a car, we have always brought our Christmas trees home quite conspicuously, carried on our shoulders (which is a bit awkward when pushing a stroller or carrying a baby, but we’ve made it happen in all these circumstances). And that is part of the reason I am so enamoured with the Christmas cards I’ve bought this year, which show another quite ingenious method for bringing home Christmas in the city. These cards are by Wendy Tancock, whose site is here. The image is beautiful and who doesn’t love a streetcar? I’m due to start writing a pile tonight

October 21, 2013

Excellent Mail Haul

TodayIMG_20131021_131147 was a very good day for the mail haul. Iris’s passport finally arrived, which is a good thing as we’re off to England in a few weeks. We also received a pair of orange socks for Iris, on the occasion of her first Halloween (thanks, Mom!). And then two books, one the latest collection by Karen Connelly, whose work I’ve admired for a long time now. And then Jennica Harper’s new book Wood, which is oh so exciting, because it’s not every day that you get a new book by one of your favourite writers ever. Very excited about this. Oh, what treasures a mailbox can hold!

March 19, 2013

Going Postal with Picture Books

(This post is cross-posted over at Bunch!)

It’s a widely known fact that I am a postal enthusiast, that the delivery of the mail is the focal point of my day, and that I am eternally delighted by books in the post. But just as much am I thrilled when the post turns up in books–I loved Kyo Maclear’s The Letter Opener, and also epistolary books like 84 Charing Cross Road and the Burleigh Cross Postbox Theft. And I love encountering all things postal in kids’ books as well, in particular because it helps inspire postal enthusiasm in my daughter (who has had a pen pal since she was 2, of course). Here is a list of a few of our favourites that we’ve encountered lately.

jolly-postmanThe Jolly Postman by Allan and Janet Ahlberg: I know, I know, you’ve read this one already, but any book by the Ahlbergs never gets old. It’s the perfect union of all the things I love: postal themes, bookishness, fairy tales and nursery rhymes, and amazingly well-produced books with meticulous attention to detail. Follow the Jolly Postman on his round as he drinks cup after cup of tea, and provides intimate glimpses into the lives of familiar characters we only thought we knew.

hail-to-mailHail to Mail by Samuel Marshak and Vladimir Radunsky: The mailman delivers a certified letter for Mr. John Peck of Schenectady, only to discover that he’s just left town. The postal-system is ever-reliable, however, and its workers are determined to track John Peck on his round-the-world trip in an effort to get the letter into his hands. The story ends right back where it began, Marshak’s verse and Radunsky’s stylized illustrations making for a remarkable journey.

miss-you-everydayI Miss You Every Day by Simms Taback: Taback is a Caldecott-winner and his talent shines through in this picture book, which was inspired by the Woody Guthrie song “Mail Myself to You.” In Taback’s story, a little girl imagines mailing herself to a far-away friend. The illustrations are whimsical and attractive to children, and I particularly love the gallery of imaginary stamps on the book’s back cover.

bunny-mailBunny Mail by Rosemary Wells: I really am fascinated by the weirdness of Rosemary Wells’ books–there is more to Max and Ruby than simple bunny-cuteness. In Bunny Mail, Ruby sends invitations to a 4th of July picnic while Max writes to Santa (via Grandma) expressing desire for red motorcycle. Except that Max can’t write, so Max’s letters are mostly composed of tire track, but no matter–Grandma figures it out. And little hands will enjoy lifting the flaps to “read” what Max and Ruby’s letters say.

dear-tabbyDear Tabby by Carolyn Crimi, illustrated by David Roberts: Oh, it’s a familiar trope, the alley-cat turned advice columnist. We loved this book about a scrappy cat who receives letters from all manner of pets–embarrassingly-pampered felines, talkative birds, dissatisfied hamsters, and lonely skunks. With her no-nonsense approach, Tabby D. Cat sets these creatures straight, though the book’s ending reveals that Tabby’s taking care of herself as well. Points also to this book for involving something called “The Dingaling Sisters’ Travelling Circus”.

where-do-you-lookWhere Do You Look? by Nell Jocelyn and Marthe Jocelyn: While not strictly a postal book, I was thrilled to find a bit of mail in this brand new offering by the remarkable Jocelyn team with their amazing collage illustrations. “Where do you look for a letter?” the text asks against a fantastic airmail envelope background. “In the mailbox?” (with an image of a child posting said envelope in a red mailbox), “Or on the page?” (with the alphabet spilled across a two-page spread in haphazard fashion). Like all the best books, Where Do You Look? challenges any ideas of the world being a simple place (or language being simple to comprehend) and adds texture to the way its reader sees the world.

stampcollectorThe Stamp Collector by Jennifer Lanthier and Francois Thisdale: This book only came out last Fall, but has already won a ton of acclaim in Canada and in the US. It’s the story of two boys growing up in China whose paths cross in an unlikely fashion. One discovers a postage stamp on a scrap of paper, and becomes conscious of a world beyond his own. The other becomes a writer whose ideas challenge the government and lead to him becoming a political prisoner. While in prison, the writer is sent letters through the PEN Writers In Prison Program, which are intercepted by prison guards. One of these guards is the stamp-collecting boy, now grown, who takes notice of these letter arriving from all over the world and establishes a relationship with their recipient. It’s a dark story, but one that’s leavened by Thisdale’s beautiful illustrations, the suggestion of a hopeful ending, and the fact that proceeds from the book’s sales are being donated to PEN Canada.

December 4, 2012

Christmas Reads: The Jolly Christmas Postman

At the beginning of November, when I too was moaning about “the Christmas creep”, I forgot to bat an eye when I came across The Jolly Christmas Postman in the bookshop, and instead partook in an elaborate jig in my head and bought the book immediately. Because we’re big fans of the Ahlbergs at our house, and of the Jolly Postman in his original form, and the postal system in general. I saved the book until December 1 and we’ve been reading it steadily ever since. And how wonderful it is that this book isn’t riding the tails of its franchise, but instead is even better, richer than the original. We’re totally in love with it.

There is so much detail here, right down to the postmarks (from such places as Banbury Cross and Wobbleton, and if you’re as entrenched in Mother Goose as we are, you too will find this delightful). Allusions to the lady with the alligator purse, a glimpse into Red Riding Hood’s playhouse, updates on our favourite characters (The 3 Bears have become a 4some, Baby Bear now a big brother!). And it’s not jus’t letters our Jolly Postman is delivering; along with Christmas cards, his envelopes contain a jigsaw puzzle, a board game, and an elaborate 3D card. A present full of presents indeed.

Oh, and I love the meta elements! “‘A book in a book!’ says the Gingerbread Boy./ “What a simply delicious surprise.”/ (But if he only knew he’s in one too–/That would really open his eyes.)’ The first two lines of which are basically my literary philosophy.

The Jolly Postman’s route ends up at the North Pole at a certain workshop where he’s dropping off a huge pile of children’s letters. And fortunately, because it’s dark, snowy and cold, he’s able to hitch a ride on Santa’s sleigh to get home.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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