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Pickle Me This

December 14, 2018

Santa Never Brings me a Banjo, by David Myles

During The Most Wonderful Time of the Year, it can be easy to forget that Christmas is not a season of light for everybody, that those who are struggling can find the holidays particularly trying—and in his song-turned-picture book, Santa Never Brings Me A Banjo musician David Myles gives voice to one boy’s particular plight. Because, see, all he wants is a banjo, a simple request. And year after year, Santa fails to deliver, the boy’s hopes piqued by banjo-shaped packages that turn out to be something entirely different—a fishing net, a unicycle. But not a banjo to be had. 

It’s a story of persistence, I suppose. We liked this book a lot and it’s made a great, non-cloying, and original addition to our Christmas library. A story of wanting and yearning and longing and the sweet anticipation of Christmas morning that has always been my favourite part of the season. It’s a story about one child’s love of music, and wishes finally coming true, and also a catchy melody that will get stuck in your head—with the music included, along with the chords. So you can play in on your banjo when all your dreams are realized.

September 3, 2018


I love summer. I love it. I love popsicles and pools and eating dinner outside in the shade of umbrellas. I love the buzz of cicadas, the flash of butterflies, and the birds that start chirping before the sun comes up. Even if they wake me up before the sun comes up, and I even love the heat. Or maybe I mean I don’t mind hating the heat, because if ever there was a thing to suffer through. Treatable with long saunters through the frozen food section at the grocery store, whole weeks without turning the oven on, and by jumping into pools whose hours have been extended late into the night.

We have had a beautiful summer. (I think I write this every year, but it feels incredible and novel every single time. A triumph.) We had a wonderful week at a cottage by a lake with friends who make our life so rich, and our kids were kept entertained and stimulated at daycamps they both enjoyed so much. We went camping twice this year, which is a very big deal for us, and there were marshmallows roasted and wildflowers spotted and stoned skipped twice in the water. We spent a week in Peterborough with my parents, and there were turtles and crafts and voyageur canoes. We went on adventures around our city and went to events at the library, dipped our feet in wading pools, hung upside down on the climbing bars, and raced through the freezing relief of fountains at the splash-pad.

There was ice cream, and popsicles, and walks home from the grocery store where we had to run so the contents wouldn’t melt. My basil plant became enormous. I read extraordinary books. We went to shows at Fringe TO and saw Midsummer Night’s Dream in High Park, which delighted everybody. We went on car rides with the windows wide, and listened to Carly Rae Jepsen, Taylor Swift’s “Delicate” and “Strangers” by Sigrid. We went to the ROM, the AGO and the Textile Museum. We went swimming in lakes, pools, a quarry and a river. We had to shake sand out of everything numerous times. There was a rainbow at least once, and everybody got better at swimming. The Christie Pits waterslide was aways an adventure. We saw a meteor shower and fireflies.

And it was precious, all of it. Because summer is abundance, a wave of too-muchness, life growing up between the cracks in the sidewalk, and you can’t hold any of it, not even for a moment. Summer is a force and it just goes and goes and goes, and the best thing you can do is just be swept along by it, and be able to say in the end: we are so lucky and that was good.

August 16, 2018


It’s been a wonderful summer, but now it’s mid-August, and I’m starting to lose the plot. And maybe I mean that even a bit literally—I’m 47,000 words into the first draft of a novel and I’ve just kind of reached the climax and don’t actually know what’s going to happen next, which is a terrifying point to be at. It’s like staring over the edge of a cliff, and thinking, But what if this thing doesn’t fly? Which is kind of the way I feel in general, 3/4 of the way through a summer that has been sunshine and swimming and holidays, so many good things, which is nothing to ever take for granted. We make these plans, and then sometimes fate intervenes—but this summer so many of our good days have rolled out like carpets. It’s been fabulous, but I’m also find the lack of structure a little overwhelming. And yes, I’ve succeeded at writing 47,000 words of a new novel and also the 49th Shelf Fall Preview (which IS NO SMALL TASK) but everything else has fallen by the wayside. I’m been meaning to write thank you notes, and letters, and clean my house, and organize the giant pile of stuff on the kitchen table, and read library books with my children, and do little things to get ahead once the craziness begins come September, and it all just seems out of reach, and not because I don’t have time for it all, but because I’m feeling sluggish. It’s hot outside and I’m always sweating, and I could be on the ball to just go go go, but I’m not. I am also spending disproportionate amounts of time being befuddled by the stupidity of people on Twitter and also the abject cruelty of conservative politicians, and it’s so disheartening, and takes up energy too. And today I thought, “What if I’m never productive again?” I pride myself on being a person who gets things done, but when I’ve got less to do, it all falls apart. So I’m looking forward to getting back on track in the next few weeks—either that, or having my entire being atrophy.

February 12, 2018

So there is light

So there is light, literally, if not metaphorically. When I headed to the pool at 7am today, the sky was blue for the first time in months, and never mind that I had to crunch through snow and slide on ice to get there, it was undeniable that the sun is returning. Which can even be true even as we spent part of Saturday afternoon standing in a snowstorm at a vigil for Colten Boushie, a young Indigenous man who was shot in the head by a man who has been acquitted by an all-white jury of any responsibility for his death. Even as Canadians pile on the racist hate in online comments (and in the world) and pitch in to crowd-fund for Boushie’s killer and his family. As a white settler in Canada, there is so much to reconcile, and the work is ours, but I am inspired by the people who are doing it and I’m aspiring to be one of them. So there is light there too, as so many of us wake up and stand up and proclaim that justice wasn’t done here. Which is a thing I’m finding I’m proclaiming a lot.

Although I’ve been proclaiming a lot of things a lot, usually with a snarly look on my face. It is February, and it has been such a February, since mid-January, really. And while I don’t mind the fact that we’ve had a real winter to contend with—lots of snow and cold and ice, but what else is winter for?—I am always my very worst self around this time of year, when it’s still so dark and it’s been dark for awhile. I catch myself in a moment and wonder what’s happened to me, why I’ve become such an irritable crank, and then I remember that it’s February. My best self starts to bloom along with the crocuses, which are still weeks off yet, but still. There was light this morning, and we’ve made it to mid-February this week, which is a week I’ve loved ever since they put a long weekend in the midst of it, plus Pancake Day AND Valentines—how can a single week hold so much goodness? In just two weeks we’re going to be in England for a spring sneak preview, where the grass is green and flowers are blooming, and people will complain about the weather but we’ll just roll our eyes at them. And when we come back it won’t even be February anymore.

December 3, 2017

I have an opinion about elves on shelves

Eight and a half years into being a parent, I have not yet stopped judging other moms and dads, but I feel compelled to judge less often now, and when I do judge, I don’t feel the need to write a status update about it on Facebook. Which is a major parenting milestone, really, to see a small girl in a stroller watching a movie on a tablet in the grocery store, and just walk on by. Though I’m not so far along in the process that I don’t mention in passing while writing a blog post eighteen months later, but still, I have come a long way.

Which is why it feels very 2011 to be writing this blog post, to have an opinion on the way parents do something and then elucidate in a number of arguments how this opinion is underpinned. It feels strange also be expressing an opinion about Elf on the Shelf, because a) having opinions about Elf on the Shelf is also very 2011, though most of them are still expressed ad nauseum each December, and b) I don’t really know what Elf on the Shelf is anyway. Somehow I have managed to spent 38 years in sweet Elf on the Shelf ignorance, and been fortunate that my children have remained the same. It is only through social media that I’ve discerned the basics about how Elf on the Shelf works, which brings me to the point of this endeavour.

There seem to be two ways to engage with Elf on the Shelf: the first is to go gangbusters, Elfing on the Shelfing like a superwoman, getting creative and hilarious and delighting your children, and having an extraordinary amount of fun in the process. Often your Elf in the Shelf will be discovered upside down in an empty wine glass, swimming in the dregs, and it will have been your wine, and today you’re a bit hungover, but no matter. Tonight Elf on the Shelf will be dangling from a lampshade, or spinning circles on the your record player, and you’re hatching a plot for the next day in which he’ll be discovered passed out in a pile of festive jube-jubes.

The second way is to pull Elf on the Shelf out every December and basically to do everything delineated above, but all the while talking about how miserable you are and how much you hate Elf on the Shelf, but you have to do it because your children demand it. It’s straight-up Elf on the Shelf martyrdom is what it is, and it drives me bonkers. If you genuinely hate it, don’t do it. Explain to your children why you don’t want to, and they’ll get over it. If they don’t get over it, then it’s all the more reason not to give in because your children should not be the conductors of your life and not wanting to do something is a totally fair reason to decline it. You’re teaching them a very good lesson about mothers being human beings not doormats, and one day they will thank you (and long before that you will thank yourself).

There is an Elf on the Shelf third way, of course, though I’ve spent less time puzzling this out, but I have my suspicions. That you hate Elf on the Shelf as much as you say you do but spend that much time dedicated to the craft of it (let alone documenting it on social media) seems pretty dubious. So how about you give up the guise and let your Elf on the Shelf Freak Flag fly—you totally love it. You’re not fooling anyone.

August 3, 2017

The Summer Book

I finished The Summer Book this other night, an anthology of non-fiction from BC writers that has proven such a delight and travelled me all the way from June to the end of July. The collection opens with Theresa Kishkan’s stunning essay, “Love Song,” which you can read here, an essay that articulates the magic of summer and all its strange tricks of time and light. I also loved pieces by Eve Joseph (“My memories of summer have as much to do with longing as they do with summer itself….”), Fiona Tinwei Lam on her childhood home and her family’s backyard pool, and other stories of summer love, summer cusps (see Sarah de Leeuw on the summer that began the end of childhood) and summer heartache. Luanne Armstrong’s Summer Break which so perfectly articulates the awful fleetingness of summertime: “I am caught between the beach and the future, between time and no time…” She writes about “how to cope or understand or even live with the world in such a state of frightening fragmentation where there is both the paradisial beach and the black muck of ‘news.'” And goes on, “Fortunately for me, the mountains and lake don’t care… Every day, I walk on the mountains, down to the beach, up through the trees, watching, noticing.” It’s summertime, and the living is complicated. But a book like this gives its reader a similar effect.

January 3, 2017

Holiday Stop

It occurred to me partway through December that this had been the first holiday season in nine years years during which I hadn’t had a baby, or a two-year-old, or been pregnant, and/or very very sick. And so that was how it all got done. How we made a list at the beginning of the month packed with all the Christmassy things we wanted to get up to—museums, galleries, shopping malls, and Christmas markets—and managed to check off every single item, as well as get the presents bought and wrapped, and all the Christmas cards posted in plenty of time. This December, I was a wonder woman, and we did so very much in the weeks leading up to the big day that I was unsure how exactly we were going to spend our Christmas holiday, but then fate decided to step in and solve that problem itself. Harriet threw up at 4am on Christmas morning, thereby kicking off a string of days in which one person or another or everyone was under the weather, and so we didn’t leave the house for days. I’m not even complaining. First, because I managed to escape the sick, and second because no one was ever that sick. (The standard for “that sick” was set two years ago when I gave us all food poisoning with a dodgy risotto. Still traumatized. Everything that’s less sick just arrives as something of a relief.) And so the story of our Christmas break is mainly one about the couch, and the children watching hours of the latest incarnation of How to Train Your Dragon on Netflix while I lounged about in track pants and read one fat biography after another. It’s about days blending together and too much broken sleep, which meant that all this downtime didn’t quite add up to “relaxing.” But there was a certain charm to it—it felt awfully refreshing to have no place to go. Sometimes the universe knows what you need more than you do. Though of course I would say that being the one member of our family who didn’t spend any time this holiday on intimate terms with the puke bucket.

December 15, 2016

Christmas Books

We’re winding down to the holidays (although, unfathomably, they don’t start until the end of next week when school’s out). Instead of Picture Book Friday, I want to point you toward my Instagram account where I’m sharing a title from our Christmas Book Box every day. We’re also reading the short novel A Christmas Card now, which our friend Sarah read last year (as we were reading The London Snow, by the same author, Paul Theroux). Today we walked home from school in a glorious blizzard, and hot chocolate with marshmallows are getting to be a habit.

February 13, 2016

Happy Valentines Day


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

December 31, 2015

New year, new books, new teapot, etc.

IMG_20151231_140910We have had a stupidly crummy holiday, mostly for non-monumental reasons. A year ago I wrote this post about our family’s talent for leisure and enjoying ourselves—we were skating, movie-going, relaxing, lunching, going offline for an actual week, etc.—but we were showing none of those tendencies this time around. Things got off to a good start, but Harriet came down with a stomach bug on Christmas Eve that stayed around for a few days. Iris stopped sleeping over Christmas, and was conspiring to kill me. Stuart was diagnosed with strep throat, and while I was pretty well post-pneumonia, I was so tired and crabby. We weren’t terribly ambitious then—some days our big outing was to the grocery store. Though there were a few highlights—before it all went wrong, we had a fun day downtown(er) and got to visit Ben McNally Books, where I picked up Birdie by Tracey Lindberg, which I’m about to begin as soon as I publish this post. We had nice visits with my parents, who braved our company. Lunch at Fanny Chadwicks yesterday, though Stuart is still unable to eat solids, so he didn’t have the greatest time. Tonight we’re going to our friends for a New Years get-together, though we won’t be staying too long (and I am sure nobody else at the party is too upset about that. We’ve become social pariahs).

I did, however, get a lot of reading done, mostly because my evening companion took to going to bed at 8pm, and I took a holiday from work things and read all through nap times (bliss!). My holiday reads were not at all disappointing, mercifully, and I look forward to writing a post about them this week. My final read of the year was a gift from Stuart (who got me so many excellent bookish things), The Magician’s Book, by Laura Miller (and we’re going to be starting Prince Caspian in a few days and I am so excited). My final read of 2015 then, followed by my first read of 2016—Birdie. I really want to keep a focus on reading First Nations women writers.

IMG_20151231_132842Anyway, a disappointing holiday is winding down on the right note. Iris’s weird rash (of course she has a weird rash!) is clearing up, if that’s any indication. Today I did receive the great joy of not only a pair of Hunter wellies in the post, but a brand new teapot. And why did I need a teapot, you might ask, seeing as I came into possession of the greatest teapot on earth just six months ago? Well, on Christmas Day, my teapot got smashed, which led to sulking and petulance on my part, and put a damper on our holiday on top of everything, because I am shallow and materialistic. (But it’s a teapot! Not just any ordinary material.) The bright side of your teapot smashing though is that you get to wait for a new one to come in the post. (I wanted a London Pottery teapot, you see.) There seemed to be no more white polka-dots to be had for love nor money, but I was able to order a plain red one from the shop I’d bought the last one from in Bobcaygeon. And it arrived quickly and intact, alongside my new wellies which replaced a) the wellies I’d got for Christmas that didn’t fit and b) the wellies my mother-in-law bought me for my 26th birthday a decade ago and whose image was for a time my blog header and can still be seen if you scroll all the way down to the bottom of this page, and which finally started leaking after many years of service. So things are certainly on the up-and-up.

I’ve had a good year, even though it’s gone out with pneumonia (but then having pneumonia was terrific, from a reading point of view…). I am pleased that I sold my novel and am excited to turn it into an actually book over the course of this year, though I still can’t quite believe that’s going to happen. I read a lot of good books. I had a splendid trip to England, the land of teapots and wellies. I learned to write profiles, which was a new challenge—I wrote about Julie Morstad in Quill & Quire and have a cover story forthcoming in my alumni magazine. I’m pleased with my review of Marina Endicott’s new novel in The Globe and really, really proud of my essay on Ann-Marie Macdonald’s Adult Onset, which was another challenge and I’m so happy to have met it. I want to keep expanding my writerly horizons. Readerly ones too.

This fall has been exhausting. When I look back, it seems like getting pneumonia was inevitable. It doesn’t help that Iris’s sleep is so patchy, as it’s ever been. My resolution for 2016, if I had one, would probably involve getting more sleep, if that weren’t at the expense of so many things, but I will make an effort. It might also involve baking fewer cakes, but this kind of thing is why I don’t go in for resolutions in the first place.

Happy New Year to you, and thank you for reading!

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