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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

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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!

December 21, 2015

Merry Christmas!

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Today we went to the 12 Trees of Christmas display at the Gardiner Museum, which was amazing, and will most likely become a new family tradition. It’s on until the beginning of January, and definitely worth a visit—Harriet and Iris thought the trees were great, and this one was my favourite, for obvious reasons. Tomorrow we’re venturing into ROM holiday madness, and then to the Maurice Sendak Exhibit at the Toronto Reference Library (because when we tried to go yesterday, the library was closed…). Days that follow will feature AGO Brunch, Christmas windows at The Bay (and a trip to nearby Ben McNally books, eh?), skating at City Hall, and lots of do-nothingness too. And reading. Always, reading.

See you in the new year.

December 19, 2015

Light the Darkness

IMG_20151219_210213But of course, lighting the lights isn’t all of it. Marsha Lederman wrote a great column in the Globe this weekend about how terrible the holiday season can be for those whose spirits are far from bright. The example she gave of someone having to linger in the grocery store deli listening to “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” after having lost a loved one. Harriet’s school choir sang “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” in their concert this year, and while it’s long been one of my least favourite Christmas songs (I’m more of a “Silver Bells” kind of gal), I kept choking on the line about, “Through the years we all will be together—if the fates allow.” An ordinary wish, I suppose, though the older one gets, the more you realize how extraordinary a fortune is such a thing. It reminds me of Joan Didion writing in Blue Nights about her daughter’s wedding, not long after which her daughter died. She wrote, “Do notice: We still counted happiness and health and love and luck and beautiful children as ‘ordinary blessings.'”

It’s been a weird few weeks. We have friends who are facing merciless illnesses at the moment. I think about the loved ones of those killed in Paris a month ago, and in the shootings that are happening in America all the time. I think of the people I know, many parents of young children, who’ve died in the last year or two. Friends who’ve recently lost their parents. Last week, a colleague of Stuart’s—by all accounts a truly excellent human being—was killed in a random stabbing while out for an evening walk. There is so much inexplicable sadness, so much darkness, as, I suppose, befits this time of year.

But isn’t that why we light the lights? Last Sunday on the last night of Hanukkah, our neighbours invited us over and let Harriet light their candles. I stayed upstairs battling it out with stubborn shortbread while listening to Darlene Love, but the sounds of their singing came up through the vents, and I caught the sparkle and glow of our own Christmas tree down the hall, and it all seemed to me quite sensible why we do what we do at the darkest time of year, not frivolous at all. With the winter solstice just days away, the sun down before five p.m. every day, we light candles, turn on lights, and we sing together, songs about tidings of comfort and joy.

Life is hard and the world is cruel—and yet I’m so glad I get to live in it.

I reread Rebecca Solnit’s “Woolf’s Darkness” again. I find myself returning to that essay, reading it over and over again, getting lost inside its twists and turns. I read it for comfort and insight, for the way it lights the darkness. For the situating of hope as somewhere between the certainties of despair and optimism. “To me, the grounds for hope are simply that we don’t know what will happen next, and that the unlikely and the unimaginable transpire quite regularly.” I think about the line that follows the “through the years…” one in “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”: hang a shining star upon the highest bough. A song I hate a little less now.

For those of us who can, we have to light up the darkness. And then find as many ways as possible to let others in on the glow.

December 19, 2015

Light the Lights

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A lot has escaped my attention these last few weeks, including that Coach House Books had a pop-up shop in their warehouse throughout December, but I heard tell of it yesterday on Twitter, a few hours before the whole thing was finished, and decided we would stop in on our way home from fetching Harriet from school, in order to satisfy my holiday book retailing fix. I got a book for Stuart and two books (surprise, surprise!) for me, and then we walked down the lane and my children began playing hopscotch on bp nichol’s poem, which really is the most practical purpose imaginable for concrete poetry, and I don’t why it had never occurred to me before.

So now school’s out, and we came home from hopscotch to a mailbox stuffed with cards and parcels, as it’s been all week. Our kitchen features ridiculous amounts of chocolate and cookies, all of these balanced out by the proliferation of clementines. The Globe and Mail holiday crossword arrived today, so we now what our preoccupation for the next while will be. We began watching Mad Men from the very start last night, because I am longing to write about this series and the depth of my feelings for it, as well as to deepen my understanding, so it’s back to the beginning, little Sally Draper with a bag over her head. I think it’s the third or fourth time I’ve watched Season One, and it only gets better and better.

Plus there’s Baileys, and I’m no longer on antibiotics. And while Stuart does indeed have to work on Monday and Tuesday, we’ve already gone into vacation mode. We took a trip to the library this morning and followed with lunch out at Caplanskys, because going out for lunch is our main vacation occupation. We’re looking forward to lots of fun with friends and family this week, and skating, and going to see the Christmas windows at the Bay, and finishing our chocolate and buying more, and getting to the bottom of Betty Draper, and wrapping presents tonight (in the Saturday papers) and listening to the Phil Spector Christmas Album and Elizabeth Mitchell’s The Sounding Joy, and there will be more lunches, lazy mornings, too much indulgence, and maybe even the possibility of snow.

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