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December 20, 2014

Happy Holidays!

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December 11, 2014

Alfie’s Christmas

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“And then I knew, Tom, that the garden was changing all the time, because nothing stands still, except in our memory.” –from Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce, which we just finished reading tonight

Alfie never gets older. We’ve been reading his books since Harriet was baby, and I love them impossibly. Their stories are as familiar to me as stories from my own family. I know the corners of their house so intimately—the teapots, and the toy teapots, and Flumbo the elephant, and Willesden the consolation prize, and I’ve speculated aplenty about Maureen McNally, whom I suspect is actually a cat-burgler. And speaking of cats, I know that Alfie’s is called Chessie, and I remember when he comforted his friend at Bernard’s birthday party, and how he likes to play This Little Piggie with his baby sister’s pink toes.

Stuart’s aunt gave Harriet and Iris a book voucher for Christmas, and I ordered them a copy of Alfie’s Christmas, which came out last year. And it arrived today and I opened it at once, because this is one Christmas present we’re going to enjoy before Christmas. It’s a lovely simple story of the countdown to Christmas in Alfie’s house, and all his preparations—his advent calendar, and drawings of stars, and songs at school, baking cookies and putting up the tree. Iris is drawn to the book for the cats in the pictures, and as we were reading the book, we’re realized that she’s probably the age of Annie-Rose, precisely (and she similarly gets into boatloads of mischief).

Harriet liked the book too, which I was relieved about, because I’ve been sensing lately that she feels a bit too old for Alfie and his tales. “Isn’t he in nursery school?” she asked me the other day at the library when I’d proposed taking out one of his books. As a Senior Kindergartener, I think she regards consorting with nursery schoolers, even in literature, as kind of insulting. But I think she still does like these books as much as I do—they really are our foundational texts. And the Christmas in this particular volume won her over, so she was totally game.

It makes me sad though to think that someday Alfie might really be outgrown. It’s inevitable, of course, but it’s also kind of lonely—this wonderful world I’ve discovered through her that we won’t get to share anymore.

I feel as though Aflie’s Christmas might be one that lasts though, having taken up residence in our Christmas book box. A book that will be pulled out again every year, a process whose very appeal is nostalgia. And one day we’ll be telling a wholly different version of Iris, pointing at Annie-Rose, “Once upon a time this was you.”

November 2, 2014

Girls in Disguise

IMG_20141025_103404Harriet made a most excellent Zita the Space Girl this Halloween (thanks to my mom’s sewing skillz), and the swishy cape resulted in her being even more powerful than usual—check out her superheroic stance. We do love Zita, whose super powers result from her strong sense of loyalty, her tenacity, and talent for friendship. Space girl though she is, there is nothing otherworldly about her. When Harriet wore her costume to school, she took along a picture of Zita for educative purposes, as the character is not quite as well known in kindergarten as she ought to be. We were glad that rumours of all the other girls in the class dressing up as princesses had been vastly overstated. It was a good Halloween, albeit soppy. (The photograph here was taken earlier in the week as we went to a Halloween party. On the way home, a couple of big kids recognized Harriet’s costume and told her it was cool!) I kept being afraid that Harriet’s cape would trail in jack o’ lantern candles and go up in flames, but as the cape was drenched, it wasn’t possible. Fortunately.

waiting-for-the-great-pumpkinWe had fun reading Waiting for the Great Pumpkin this year, a new collection of old Peanuts Halloween comics. In which Linus protests to the dubious Sally that he thought all little girls were sweet and innocent and believed everything they were told. “Welcome to 1962,” is her retort. The whole book is funny and wonderful. It was good to read, along with Don Freedman’s Tilly Witch.

IMG_20141025_110325Iris was a pumpkin this year, because it was the costume we had on hand for people who are approximately the size of Iris. It does not seem so unfathomable, however, that she’ll be able to choose her own costume next year. She is pretty articulate already (particularly if you count “screaming” as articulate) and has strong opinions, so we were glad we were able to get her to consent to wear it. She had fun trick-or-treating, and seemed to get into the whole hollowed-out squash/knocking on strangers’ doors for candy groove of Halloween. Some people seemed suspicious that we’d sent her out with her own candy bag, as though we had other intentions for her haul than her consuming it. “No no,” we assured them. “Candy’s fine for babies. And she is particularly a fan of peanut M&Ms…” Just like her mother. Okay.

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October 21, 2014

All the Squash

harriet squashOh, so little sleep (Iris has a cold and is getting molars) and three part time jobs means that my mind is scattered this week, but I want to take a pause and write about squash. It’s partly the time of year, and also because brand new cookbook The Everyday Squash Cook  entered our lives, but no matter the reason, we are squash obsessed. Our Thanksgiving was made rich with acorn squash pie (see Harriet cleaning out the seeds, which we later roasted with the recipe from The Everyday Squash Cook) whose recipe I invented by mistake, but it turned out gloriously—I roasted the squash with the spices and butter in it, and then baked it all in an oatmeal crust. We also had this delicious Roasted Apple and Acorn Squash Soup and it was as easy to make as it was wonderful.

everyday squashThe squash that continues to challenge me is spaghetti—I don’t buy those recipes pretending the strands are pasta, and neither do my children. It’s okay roasted, but there is so much and the kids won’t eat it, and I don’t like it that much. We receive them often in our organics delivery, however, and I think we may have finally found the solution—a spaghetti squash soup recipe from The Everyday Squash Cookbook, featuring coconut milk for maximum deliciousness and the strands do indeed pass as noodles in a soup. So good.

A mysterious squash turned up on our delivery last week. The Everyday Squash Cookbook has a squash identifier, but I couldn’t find our mystery squash. So I turned to this rather nifty Winter Squash Visual Guide to discover it was a Delicata Squash. I roasted it according to this recipe to learn another thing—that Delicata Squash is the most delicious squash ever.

squashMore squash? We made Butternut Bacon on the weekend from TESC (you can see the recipe here) and it blew our minds. Easy peasy and it cooks in 20 seconds. And then we were left with a whole bunch of butternut squash, so I used a vegetable peeler to thinly slice it, and made a “pizza” from those slices, inspired by a recipe in Tessa Kiros’ Apples for Jammix slices in a bowl with olive oil and flour until slices are coated, then turn onto a pie plate and bake for about an hour. Top with tomato paste, oregano, and mozzarella cheese and bake for 10 more minutes. It’s so good, though Harriet wouldn’t eat it, but that’s not much of an indicator of anything.

One of my favourite squash recipes (which Harriet does eat) is this ridiculously easy risotto that requires no stirring because it bakes in the oven. I usually use butternut squash and it’s very good.

Tonight we’re looking forward to trying the Squash/Sausage/Rigatoni recipe from TESC. I am quite sure it will prove delicious. Check out this recipe for Butternut Brownies, and also this article on squash as one of “Canada’s heritage foods.” 

September 1, 2014

The Vacationers

vacationers-emma-straubShockingly, it was three whole long weekends ago (July 1!) that I spent a morning in bed drinking tea and reading The Vacationers by Emma Straub, which I enjoyed very much. If I remember correctly, I’d barely slept at all the night before that, thanks to Bad Iris, and this is not one bit shocking. But still, how fast the summer has gone by. I wasn’t sure what I was getting into when I constructed a salad out of marshmallows and Jello back in June, but this summer has been completely wonderful. Even the cool weather didn’t faze us—I sleep in an un-air-conditioned attic, after all. We had a week at our cottage, a long weekend camping, and a weekend away at my parents’, which was fun. We watched an outdoor movie. We finally managed a trip to the Toronto Islands, slipping in under the wire on Saturday. We went to the CNE today. There was plenty of ice cream all summer long, of course. Soccer and bike rides. Harriet was enrolled in two weeks of an afternoon art camp, and one week of full day camp, which made us never tire of the days we spent together. Even with the imperfect weather, we went swimming at the Christie Pits pool, and Harriet has acquired the requisite number of freckles on her nose.

I feel very lucky to be able to spend the summer with my children. Here is why I really feel lucky though—when Iris goes to sleep in the afternoons, Harriet sits down to watch a movie, and I lie down to write. And I did. At the end of June, I embarked upon a Summer Writing Marathon, which I didn’t have time for, but I never will have time, so why wait? I resolved to write 1000 words a day, and I did it (save for vacations).  On Friday, I logged in at 50,000 words. I’m on my way to writing a novel whose first draft will be completed by the end of September. And you might think that this is exciting, except, of course, this is the fifth time I’ve written a novel. But this is a first time I’ve written a novel that might be interesting, and also the first time that the process has been so exhilarating. So this has certainly been a summer highlight.

Harriet spent July watching Frozen, and then took up an obsession with Annie that has yet to abate. She has watched it near daily for the last month, which pleases me immensely, because it’s one of my all-time favourite films. I never get tired of it, and am pleased to have someone to sing all the songs with. She also talks about it incessantly, which has led to me thinking more deeply about Miss Hannigan, for example, than I ever thought I would. I am going to write a post about this one of these days…

Because of my writing marathon, I had to do all my other work in the evenings, which meant I didn’t read this summer as much as I would have liked (except for when we went away, and I read six books in seven days). And what I read, I didn’t write much about. I read Anthony de Sa’s Kicking the Sky, which I liked for its depiction of Toronto and for being not what I expected, but didn’t appreciate as much as I thought I would. I read Jane Rule’s Deserts of the Heart, whose depiction of a lesbian relationship in the 1960s was groundbreaking. I read Life Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson for my book club, which I didn’t love as much I thought I would, but led to such interesting discussion. And I read Letters to Omar by Rachel Wyatt, and we did an interview, which will be up here in a couple of weeks. There were a few others too (all good!), which I read for reviews that will be published elsewhere in the next while.

Harriet doesn’t start school until Thursday, so we have a couple more days of summer left. And I’m going to miss her when she goes, though I’m not going to tell her so, because when I did last year, she cried, so that definitely wasn’t my smoothest move.

July 9, 2014

Summer Scenes

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Summer is proceeding apace, and we’re all enjoying ourselves. Plus, Stuart met Dan Aykroyd today, so life has officially reached its zenith. I have embarked upon a marathon writing project that requires a commitment of 1000 words a day, which is a lot considering I have only the window of Iris’s nap time for working, and then evenings (because who has ever heard of leisure?), plus have actual jobs that require me to deliver (and hooray for that!). Harriet is at Art Camp this week in the afternoons, the only 5 year old in a group of mainly 12 year olds, so she is basically their pet. Yesterday, she sculpted a stegosaurus. It is a nice break for her from watching Frozen every day between 1:00 and 3:00 while Iris sleeps. On Sunday, we all went to Christie Pits to watch A League of Their Own outside at sunset (which, you will note, is 2 hours past bedtime), and even though everyone else there was wearing rompers, smoking pot and had barely been born when the movie came out, it was an excellent experience. Even Iris stayed awake. Until midnight. It was amazing, but then the next day we were all so tired that I remembered why we weren’t cool spontaneous parents who do things like watch movies in the park with hipsters, but at least we did it once, and now I know. I’ve also managed to get away with not visiting a playground yet during the week, which is fantastic, because Iris is at the worst age to take to such places. All my attempts to sit on a bench and read a book come to naught, which is terrible. Maybe next year? I had forgotten that I hated parks, unless I’d gone with a friend. And speaking of reading books, I’m reading Desert of the Heart by Jane Rule now. The other night I started 4 books and abandoned every one. I am having a problem with patience. Then there was the matter of the books themselves.

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June 8, 2014

Summer Reads

petersenI wrote a fun blog post for 49th Shelf last week about books with fun summer covers, including my favourite summer cover of all time which is All the Voices Cry by Alice Petersen.

And speaking of summer reads, Chatelaine has a bumper-crop of great books lined up in their Summer Reading Special. I am happy to have reviewed the memoir Glitter and Glue by Kelly Corrigan, about a young American woman whose eyes are opened to motherhood and the experiences of her own mother during a gig working as an au-pair for a widower and his children in Australia. I found the book touching and remarkable for its M Word associations. You can read my take on it here.

Some summer reads I’m looking forward to getting to soon are Mating For Life by Marissa Stapley, The Vacationers by Emma Straub, Thunderstruck by Elizabeth McCracken and Based on a True Story by Elizabeth Renzetti.

March 31, 2014

The Force That Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower

forceOver and over again lately, the first line (which is also the title) of Dylan Thomas’s poem has been running through my mind: “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower…” though not the rest of the poem, obviously. When spring finally arrives, one is allowed not to think things totally through to their logical conclusions. Though I sort of do, feeling a slight dread at the green creeping up through the soil–because first it’s crocuses and then forsythia, and irises (!), then full summer green, then the summer green that all gets to be a bit too much as weeds appear through the cracks in the pavement, and then and then and then. See, the crocuses aren’t even properly here, and I’m killing them already. The force, indeed. Isn’t it curious how winter always seems eternal while summer is a moment in time? Though apart from its joys, winter is mainly trudging about in heavy boots, the force itself remaining dormant.

But no, let’s start again. The force has driven the green fuse up from the ground. It is spring! It is spring! And while last spring felt full of the force, as we waited for our baby to arrive, it’s got nothing on this spring. Speaking of force. Speaking of Irises. I set her on the ground and she charges: go! go! go! And: grow! grow! grow! As if the rhyming words were interchangeable, which, if one is a 10-month-old baby, they sort of are. So she goes, driven. To crawl, to stand, to climb. After a tumble from the second step, our baby gates went up Saturday night. How can this be happening already? My incredulity partly because a second child’s first year goes by in the span of a few weeks, but also because, with Harriet, the gates were never entirely necessary. She was one of those babies of whom parents say, “I think she’s going to skip crawling,” in order to excuse the baby’s sluggishness. She had a force of course, oh yes she did, but it wasn’t physical propulsion. Whereas Iris is a blur.

Tomorrow is April. On Saturday, I went out and got my hair cut after nearly a year, and got my eyebrows waxed, and then went to Futures Bakery and drank a chai latte BY MYSELF whilst reading Jane Gardam’s Last Friends, which was so so wonderful, and so was the moment. There was no force. I’ve never been so much in the now, and it was such a commemoration of that day exactly a year ago when I took myself out for lunch just one last time, knowing that would be ages before I could afford such luxury of time and aloneness again. But we’re here! We made it. The journey so much smoother than I’d ever dared to suppose.

But it’s not the end, of course, oh no. The force keeps forcing onward, going and growing. The former the given and the latter the point.

February 13, 2014

Four Letter Word

four-letter-wordIn the mood for some Valentines Day reading, I’ve been dipping in and out of Four Letter Word: Original Love Letters, by Joshua Knelman and Rosalind Porter, which I reviewed in 2008. It’s a really great anthology of love-letters as stories with a fantastic line-up of writers. I particularly enjoyed the contributions by Miriam Toews, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Lionel Shriver, and Valerie Martin. I’ve been interested lately in the life of the literary anthology, and this one with its short pieces and thematic approach is probably one that’s worth keeping on the shelf. I’m glad I did. And not just because when it’s on my shelf, I get to look on its spine, which in my hardcover edition is printed to look like a collection of actual letters bound.

Beautiful!

December 30, 2013

In With the New

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If this is a year in pictures, 2013 only needs this one for me. Not just my favourite image of the year but perhaps my favourite image of all time, my baby brand new, sticky, shrieking and naked, yanked out into the world one day shy of 42 weeks in utero. The image I never got to see when Harriet was born, and a sign that this might be our chance to right what went wrong the first time we had a baby. Not the birth I’d envisioned, cold and sterile, my body split in two, and we were so disappointed. (It is true that whenever anyone has had a baby since, I have cried because Iris’s birth was another c-section.) And yet, this image for me was a glimpse of possibility, that this could be another story. Iris’s birth was a new beginning in so many senses–of her life, course, and of our family as four. But it was also for me a rebirth of myself, that self that had been so shattered when I became a mother for the first time. The second time, however, has been like coming full circle, a journey to somewhere familiar and brand new.

This year has reassured me even with its challenges. I used to worry that I was only a happy person because circumstantially I’ve been extremely blessed, and while I am blessed and I also think I have a chemical disposition for happiness (another blessing, though after about eight more weeks of winter, I will be telling a different story), I managed moments of happiness too in times of stress and enormous fear. I think of a week in March whilst we were awaiting biopsy results, and how we spent the week so gloriously, but then the sun was shining and I’d decided to believe in the odds in my favour (and so they were). But still. I may be braver than I think. I am also grateful that my worst fears were averted. Further, I have learned a lot about things going wrong and how these things don’t necessarily signal, quite literally, the end of the world.

“Over time, I’ve come to understand that when Jamal says that a situation is normal, he means that there are flaws in the cloth and flies in the ointment, that one must anticipate problems and accept them as a part of life. Whereas I’ve always thought that things are normal until they go wrong, Jamal’s version of reality is causing me to readjust my expectations for fault-free existence and to regard the world in a more open fashion.”–Isabel Huggan, “Leaning to Wait, from Belonging

I stood on the cusp of 2013 with a great deal of uncertainty–I was partaking in a freelance writing project that would be quite intense and something I’d never done before, and I knew there would be a newborn baby in my life again, which seemed a horrifying proposition. But I’ve met both these challenges quite impressively, and it is funny that what caused me real problems during the past year was that cystic tumour growing up on my thyroid when it had never even occurred to me that I had a thyroid. It seems you never do know, which is a promise as much as something to fear.

The world has smiled on us a lot this year. First, with the birth of our strong, healthy baby; with our brilliant summer as Stuart had 12 weeks on parental leave; with Stuart being promoted to a new job that makes him so very happy upon his return to work; with a book contract for The M Word, which I am so very proud to have my name attached to; with Harriet who manages to be as wonderful as she is annoying (and that’s huge). I like people who are 4 years old. I am lucky to have Stuart in general, who delivers my tea in the morning. I am grateful for him, and to our families for their love and support. I am also grateful for our new queen-sized bed, which means that Iris sleeping with me every night (and sometimes the “sleep” is elusive) is not nearly as bad as it sounds.

I started writing when Iris was just a few weeks old, my mind and imagination anxious to be exercised. I hadn’t written short fiction for so long–the previous year had been spent on The M Word, year before that on a  novel forever unfinished that has served its purpose but I’m done with it. But since then, I’ve been busy, and I do hope that some of that productivity turns into publishing credits in the year ahead. I’ve sent out submissions, which is the part of the battle I have any control over. That and working hard on my pieces of course. I’ve been focussing on revising and getting feedback, both of which I’d shrugged off for too long, out of fear, I think, and habit (too much blogging). I am proud of my book reviews this year, my Ann Patchett review in The Globe, of Hellgoing in Canadian Notes and Queries, and Alex Ohlin’s two books at the Rusty Toque. I am also happy to be reviewing kids books for Quill & Quire. I continue to be so grateful for the opportunity to promote great Canadian books through my job at 49thShelf–come March, I’ll have been working on the site for 3 years.

My New Years resolutions (in addition to writing and revising and submitting) is to not to any of the annoying things I complain about authors doing once I’ve got a book in the world myself. I’ll be writing more about this in a few weeks time. Will be interesting and educational to see it all unfold from the other side of the page.

My reading resolution of 2013 was to read more non-Canadian books, which is kind of a weird resolution but I was stuck in a  CanLit bubble and it was making me crazy. So I am pleased that I read outside of that bubble (and that I’ve read 4/5 of the best fiction of the year according to the New York Times). There is not reading what everyone else is reading but also reading totally out of the loop, and I feel that in 2013, a balance was struck. (I just finished reading another top-rated book of 2013, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra, which was so wonderful. I am so glad I didn’t let it pass me by.) For 2014, I would like to put a focus on reading books in translation, because really “the novel” is so much richer than I’ve glimpsed by English language focus.

This year I’ve read 92 books or thereabouts, which is far fewer than I’ve read it years and years. But I’ve also read more long, long books than I have in recent years and taken my time and enjoyed them. I also know that I’ve read about as much as has been humanly possible, save for the problem of my possible addiction to twitter (which I’m working on) so I am content with the total. Content also because the books I’ve read have been so extraordinary. (I have also abandoned a ton of books in 2013, and I am totally happy with that.)

Over the past few days, we’ve been busily decluttering the corners of our apartment. We’ve made a commitment to stay in this place we love so much as long as it’s comfortable to live here, and so we’re working on that comfort and making space by clearing away all the things we don’t need. And suddenly, our house is bigger, airier, and cleaner than we thought it was–the space! (Certainly, getting the fir tree out of the living room helps a little bit. Also getting rid of that box of plates in the kitchen that hasn’t been opened since the last time we moved.)

Out with the old then and in with the new, and it’s all so refreshing, full of possibilities. Though the greatest thing about the situation, of course, is just how pleased are we to be where we are.

 

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