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Pickle Me This

June 1, 2021


May and June are my favourite months. They’re so much my favourite months that I like April even better for the sole reason that in April, we still have all of May and June before us. May and June encompassing what I like to think of as “Kerry Season,” from Mother’s Day until my birthday a month and a half later, and in between those two auspicious dates, both my daughters have their birthdays, we celebrate our wedding anniversary, and there’s that EPIC FESTIVAL known as Father’s Day, which is like Mother’s Day, but smaller. (Both my mother and my mother-in-law also celebrate their birthdays in June. So did Barbara Pym. How could 30 days contain such wonder?)

We are lucky in our household that anybody’s special day is everybody’s special day—we all get takeout and cake. We’ve been especially lucky this year in Toronto that the weather has been glorious and all the most incredible flowers are in bloom. May and June is the season of having so much to look forward to, even before we roll into summer proper. May/June is the season where sometimes we get tired of cake. May/June is before we start visiting places infested with bugs and before I start getting covered in rashes. Before everything is covered in sand, and beach days are just a delicious fantasy. But it’s not too soon for too much ice cream.

May and June are one of those rare experiences that I love and don’t encounter enough, which manage to be wondrous in themselves, but also on the cusp of everything. May and June are like the most wonderful swan dive off a cliff, gorgeous, in slow motion, and at the end of it all is the clearest, bluest lake you’ve ever seen. SUMMER.

March 11, 2021

Get Outside

I went for a walk with my best friend Jennie this morning, whom I haven’t seen since the summer, even though she doesn’t live so far away. The weather has turned spring-like, and we’ve traded our winter coats for spring ones for the time being, and we marched up past Casa Loma, down into Cedarvale Ravine, spending ninety minutes in each other’s company, and we never stopped talking, although we have been friends since 1992, so we have a lot of touchstones between us. When I got home, I said to Stuart, “Hanging out with friends is fun. I can see why people like it.” It was really lovely, though I will admit that hanging out with friends is not something that I’ve been actively missing. I don’t know that I’ve actually been actively missing anything, it occurs to me, which is kind of weird and seems far from other people’s experiences. Certainly in the early pandemic days, I was completely beset with grief—the vacation we never went on (which Google kept sending me updates about, ghostly reminders of what time to leave for the airport to catch my place), the loss of ordinary life and all those things it had never occurred to us not to count on. But eventually, I kind of found my even keel, and stuck with it. (Not counting, of course, the days in January when I was consumed by anxiety and it all felt so hard, and only exercising while listening to up-tempo Celine Dion delivered me any kind of relief.)

It helps that I spend 24 hours a day with another adult whose company I appreciate, and have no shortage of people around the house to bestow hugs upon, and the children’s schooling gives every day a framework and place for me to be at certain times, and even people to meet there. I’ve always worked from home so that part of my life is just the same as it ever was, and in fact it’s better because Stuart is home and often makes me lunch. And this is not a LOOK HOW GREAT MY PANDEMIC HAS BEEN post, because certainly I’ve been in as much despair as anybody and it’s been a long long road, but I think I’ve dealt with the burden of it all by focusing on what I’ve got instead of what I’m having to do without, and yes, probably lots of denial and a bit of numbness, and faith that there will be plays and book launches eventually so I don’t think about it very much, and yes, maybe I never much liked leaving the house anyway. I just think it’s curious, how everybody has their own coping mechanisms, and none of them are ever one-sized fits all, and sometimes I think my comfort zone has become infinitesimally small, so its a splendid surprise to be taken out of it sometimes, as I was this morning. Especially when I get to discover crocuses in bloom along the way.

March 3, 2021

We Haven’t Been Going Nowhere.

We haven’t been going nowhere. You know that, right?

That while indeed it feels surreal to find ourselves in March again, seemingly right back where we started from, that is to forget or discount the cycles, seasons and emotional roller coasters we’ve travelled in the past year.

And I am NOT saying that there aren’t better ways to spend an annum, that whatever we’ve learned is worth what it has cost us, that there are lessons and takeaways we can tie up prettily with a bow.


But also none of us has been standing still, even those who’ve barely left the house or ventured down the block. Even when it’s seemed like life is on hold, every day has been bringing us closer to a time when it won’t be. We have found a way to render some good days out of these strange days, and to weather the bad ones. We have sat with hardship and uncertainty, anxiety and fears when it seemed like the world was ending—but it didn’t. We have born loss and kept going, and found ways to connect across distance, and we’ve grown things, and made things, and tried things and failed things, and while we might be gazing out at the same view tonight… we’ve all actually come very far.

Unimaginable things have occurred this year, but some of them have been so good that 2020 Me would be envious, switching places in an instant—we have vaccines, rapid tests, treatment options, new technologies. Virtual schooling kind of works. We know how disease is spread and I don’t have to worry much about cleaning my doorknobs or disinfecting my shoes. Plus Evermore and Folklore.

I know now more than I ever did before. I know that I am courageous and brave, that I can rise to the occasion and pick myself up again when I fail to, and that community doesn’t fail us, and other people will be what saves us, and that I really can get through this, and I know that you can too.

February 26, 2021

Wintering, by Katherine May

It’s funny you know, for some reason I was expecting a more literal guide to surviving winter with Katherine May’s Wintering, but she writes about having to wait years for snow to fall where she lives in the south of England. In order to get a handle on winter’s reality, she has to go on field trips. For her, wintering is a metaphor, an idea—one year, her husband becomes very ill, her own health is suffering, her son stops attending school due to anxiety. She and her family are forced to rest and retreat for a while, to observe a different kind of season, but one she feels she has a muscle for after a breakdown she’d experienced as a teenager. Sometimes the best thing is just to submit and acknowledge the season you are in, which is part of a cycle.

Wintering is a fascinating book about reconnecting with cycles, seasons, the rhythms of the natural world. Although it does feel curious to read this book here in Canada, written by a person from a country where people don’t tend to have parkas or even winter boots. May’s winter as metaphor doesn’t always translate here, where the season can go on so long, everything still and frozen, where we’re still digging out long after the vernal equinox. It’s hard to buy that this is a season as rich with life as all the others are. But I suppose that makes the book for me all the more purposeful.

May’s writing is bright and engaging. I kept reading bits aloud to whoever had the good fortune to be in my presence. It made me consider becoming a modern-day Druid, to be honest, and I loved the parts about winter swimming, though I could never dare such a thing.

If you read and enjoyed Wintering, I recommend you read Maria Mutch’s beautiful memoir Know the Night (I reviewed it for the National Post and am still really proud of what I wrote) nominated for a Governor General’s Award in 2014. Definitely the two works are gorgeously complementary.

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.

August 27, 2020

Island Days

I didn’t move to Toronto until I was 19 years old, but there are parts of the city I’ve known all my life. My grandparents lived at Dundas and Greenwood, where my dad had grown up, and so I knew the park and the pool, the side street where we’d park with its NO BALL PLAYING signs. I know Simpsons, where we’d go to visit Santa at Christmas. The Skydome for baseball games, and the Exhibition Stadium before it. I knew Kew Gardens and the Beaches, and then as I got older, Queen Street became part of my personal geography too, my friends and I being driven downtown on the weekends to buy vintage jeans at the Black Market, buy chocolate chip cookies at the Second Cup on John Street, and peer in the windows at Much Music.

The Toronto Islands have always been a part of that geography though. It was an important place for my grandparents, and they took me there—I remember the extravagance of the ride-all-day wristband they bought me for the Centreville Amusement Park, which cost an entire $13. Another time we met our grandparents there after travelling to the islands in our boat, which we’d launched at Scarborough Bluffs, I think. It only happened once, as far as I can recall, but boating around the Toronto Island Lagoons was one of the most memorable experiences of my young life.

In university, I didn’t have much to do with the islands (apart from the obligatory boat cruise during frosh week) until my fourth year when I got a bike. Heading to the Hanlan’s Point nude beach that summer with two friends who were willing to indulge me, an experience that changed the way I see myself and my body forever. Another time that summer I ran away to the Island all by myself and nobody knew where I was, and there I sat on the beach with a copy of A Room of One’s Own, which I still have, and written on the inside cover is my name, and underneath in parentheses, “who is happy,” with the date, August 4 2001.

So many things about the island have stayed the same, apart from the cost of the wristband, and the way the beaches have shrunk due to erosion and encroaching water levels. Sometimes, loving the island brings profound sadness, at the inevitability of the land slipping away, of climate change and ever-change. But somethings seems eternal too about the place, its draw, being herded onto its iconic ferries.

Stuart and I went to the island on his first visit to to Toronto in 2003, and we got terrifically sunburned. It was the place we brought visitors to once we’d moved to the city ourselves. I celebrated my birthday on Ward’s Island in 2006 or 2007—friends waited in line for hours at the ferry docks because I didn’t have a cellphone then so they couldn’t call to cancel. We used to ride our bikes there, even though the uphill journey home at the end of an island day is the most exhausting trip in the world. We celebrated our three year wedding anniversary on the island in 2008, taking the ferry across after work on a Wednesday night, the most amazing indulgence.

And then we had a baby, and the island became a different kind of place. We stopped riding bikes, spent a lot more time lying under shady trees. We had another baby and the children grew, and Centre Island became important again. The wristband is not $13 anymore, but the amusement park remains cute and charming, not too much. We never buy the wristband, however, because I never want to stay for more than an hour or so.

Because there is so much else to explore! It was two years ago that we walked from Centre Island to Hanlan’s and I took my kids to the nude beach by accident—so many penises. They’re still traumatized. It was good swimming through, and I’ve also made them walk all the way across to Ward’s, where the beach is my favourite. We’ve had ice cream at the Island Cafe and dinners on the patio at the Rectory Cafe, and so many picnics on the green lawn just south of the ferry docks. (The best days involve picnics AND dinner on the patio. The objective of an island day is to stretch it out as long as possible…)

Yesterday we travelled to the island again, late August such a long time to wait for the first island trip of the summer, but it’s been a weird summer. A day spent on Ward’s Island with friends, a perfect spot on a not-so-crowded beach, and the water was beautiful, late-August warm, so clear and clean. The swimming was amazing, and the kids played, I read my book, we devoured fresh peaches, and everything was wonderful. The kind of perfect day only the island can make, and we felt so lucky to have it, and so grateful for everything as we made the familiar journey home.

July 29, 2020

A Season for Spaciousness

A sand path through dunes leading to a beach. There is a huge blue sky overhead.

Taking a small summer break from blogging, for this is a season for spaciousness after all. I will be back in early August. Wishing you goodness and joy in the meantime.

January 6, 2020

New Year Reflections

Nobody got sick. I think it’s safe to say it now, with the holiday over and the children back to school, though I felt uncomfortable even thinking it during the break, a jinx. Which is just one of the reasons that our holiday was so exceptional, the other being that Stuart took two full weeks off work and therefore so did I. A low-key affair—we didn’t travel far. But it was all of it such a pleasure, and has me thinking—as we return to routine—not about new year’s resolutions, necessarily, but instead about what elements of our holiday I’d like to carry with me into the months ahead.

  • Less Time on the Internet : I took a full seven day break from the internet and it was amazing. This is the most important answer to the question of how I got so much reading done (see below). It did wonders for my stress levels. It was so nice to be reminded that if I do something beautiful and it doesn’t get instagrammed that it still happened. When I finally went back online in the second week, I did a lot less posting and scrolling, and I want to keep this up (or down). That said, I do now have a backlog of blogs to catch up on, but that is not a bad thing.
  • Board Games: I like board games for the same reason I like reading with my kids—it allows us to connect on a common level and I want to work on nurturing these connections as my kids get older. I have many aversions when it comes to games (Stuart calls it my “board game face,” and knows as soon as he sees it that I’ll be asking, “Like, what’s the point of this?) but there are many I do enjoy, and we spent a lot of time this holiday playing these, which was good fun for everyone.
  • Reading: “I’m going to try to get into reading in 2020,” was the hilarious joke I kept telling over the break, and because I’m better at reading than I am at humour, I came away with 14 books read, a splendid and eclectic mix of titles that I’ll be writing about in a further post this week.
  • People: My favourite parts of the holiday were times spent with family and friends, and I want to continue to nurture these connections in the coming months. Especially in the winter, it’s sometimes easy to retreat from the world, and sometimes asking to make plans seems like a risky endeavour (what if they say no! Schedules are tricky to accommodate!) but I am so glad we made the plans we did over the holiday. Speaking of which…
  • Cheese boards: Did I by Lisa Dawn Bolton’s book On Boards because we were entertaining a few times over the break, or did I make plans to entertain because I needed an excuse to buy a copy of On Boards? Who knows, but I am sure glad it all worked out the way it did. I learned so much from this book, our guests were seriously impressed (and at least twice ended up purchasing the book themselves!), and the Christmas Day cheese board we made in lieu of a roast dinner has changed my life. I might never roast turkey again.
  • Letting things slide: I don’t know if you could say I was easygoing over the holiday, because this is me, and the fact that I’m writing about this at all defeats the argument, but I feel like I was a little less ridiculous. The one example I can point to is that we started the Globe Holiday Crossword, had fun with it until we didn’t, and then stopped doing it. I would like to be more okay with not finishing things in the new year, or maybe what I mean is not insisting on doing things for the sake of doing them. We also woke up more than once on a day with no plans, and I want to keep that kind of openness and possibility going too.
  • Chocolate: I want to keep eating chocolate. I probably don’t need more of an explanation than just that.

December 6, 2019

The Shortest Day, by Susan Cooper and Carson Ellis

“So the shortest day came, and the year died…” begins The Shortest Day, an extraordinary picture book by Susan Cooper, with illustrations by Carson Ellis, a celebration of solstice, Yuletide, and rituals that light up the darkness. “And everywhere down the centuries/ of the snow-white world/ Came people singing, dancing,/ To drive the dark away.” In her illustrations, Ellis shows those centuries progressing in Northern European cultures, as people move from the Neolithic era, carrying spears, and then “down the centuries” to the contemporary moment, children revelling in a warm and cozy home decorated with an evergreen tree and boughs, candles and a menorah, traditions that connect us to our ancestors and to the earth. This is one of the loveliest “Christmas” books that I’ve ever come across, a book that celebrates what, to me, are the most sacred parts of the season.

November 25, 2019

Local, Sustainable and World-bettering: Great Holiday Gifts

My newsletter went out this morning with a special holiday gift list, including goods and services I’ve got on offer (a special holiday deal for Blog School!), and a whole bunch more that are things I love and which might prove inspirational as you make your own lists and check them twice. Local, sustainable and world-bettering were my priorities. Check it out!

PS It’s not too late to get a 2019 Short Story Advent Calendar!

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