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June 30, 2015

Summer Plans

IMG_0489There was a while this weekend when summer plans weren’t looking good. On Saturday I made a soup that featured the uncanny flavour of actual dirt, which was devastating. And it rained and rained all day, and even the next day, so our plans to go for a hike were ruined. All melodrama heaped on by the fact I was premenstrual. We decided to go to the board game cafe instead of the hike, but when we got there, there was a sign on the door explaining that they were closed due to flooding. We ended up going out for schnitzel instead, which was kind of consoling, but the weekend was mostly disappointing all around, and the children reached a state of maximum solid gold 100 karat bonkers. By Sunday evening, Stuart had stopped telling me that he was jealous that I was the one who got to stay home with them all summer.

Fortunately when Monday arrived, it delivered the sun. We went to the park and built castles, moats and fortifying walls, which Iris wrecked and we tried not to get annoyed about. And then the girls practiced climbing, drawing on their inner-monkeys, all the while satisfying my agenda which was basically to get these children as exhausted as possible. Fresh air and physical exercise! Scurry up the play structure. Faster, faster, go! Which might turn out to be the theme of the summer entire, except for the afternoons when Iris naps, Harriet watches movies, and I get my work done. Everything slows right down at nap, and the challenge then is to strike a balance between the two. Between go and stop, between fun and relaxation, between doing stuff and doing nothing.

IMG_20150624_191728This summer, as with all summers, I become busier than usual just as my time disappears to the children being home and weekend getaways. And so the days are full, full, full, and I need to stop adding to the fullness by baking strawberry pies at 10pm because I end up staying up too late and the pie turns out looking like a bloodbath (even though it was very delicious). This summer is going to have to be about the store-bought pies, and hotdogs for supper, no more dirt soups and choosing my priorities. Which include meeting my deadlines, doing well at my work, not ignoring my children to the point of neglect, and hanging out with my husband (which is hard to do when the prime time of one’s workday begins at 9pm). To help with this, I’ve hired a babysitter one morning a week, and look forward to that solid block of three hours to work, which will feel positively luxurious as it goes by so fast.

But it won’t go by as fast as the summer itself will seem to, which is the lesson I learned last year. I really do like being home with my kids, providing I get ample time to do my own thing during our days, and I feel really lucky that my home and professional lives merge so seamlessly. When the children (both of them! I know!) head off to school in September, I will miss them dreadfully…even as I begin to delight working in the daytime and the possibility of evenings of leisure (a stretch, perhaps).

So in the meantime, we’ll be visiting the library, reading books together, hanging out with friends, going to visit my parents, frequenting local cafes, Harriet will be doing a few daycamps, Iris will be taking long naps (I hope!), and I will be doing my darnedest to tire them out so that bedtime occurs before 9pm. We’ll be spending a week away at a cottage, a long weekend camping, and we’re looking forward to fun weekend adventures in the city too. Plus spitting watermelon seeds, wading in local pools, forgetting to put on sunscreen, and gathering our freckles while we may.

March 19, 2015

A sign of spring

sheetsI love the springs that arrive like this, like an unexpected gift instead of something long overdue. Spring is not quite here yet, but it’s making itself known, the way the green of a crocus appears like a dot in the dirt (and the way a tooth first appears, a dot of white on a baby’s gum—this is my metaphor lately). There are no leaves on the trees and the air still has a chill, but look how the sky is blue, the snow is gone, and our household’s sheets are drying on the line.

Though the surest sign that it isn’t spring (yet) is how cold were my hands after hanging out the sheets. Soon though…

laundryI was inspired to hang out the sheets from Sarah’s blog post about hanging out her washing (and her comments on the magical high-up washing lines with pulleys that need to be hauled in and out—I dream of these, though they terrify me also. What if something comes loose and my pillowcase falls down six stories, lost forever). It strikes me what a literary thing is clothes on the line—indeed, as I was hanging the sheets this morning, the “Grandma hanging washing on the clotheslines to be dried” line kept bouncing through my head from Peepo.

For more on literary washing, do read Anita Lahey’s blog post, “Oh, let there be nothing on earth but laundry.” (Lahey had a poem included in the anthology, Washing Lines, a collection of poetry of laundry and washing.) And see also Matilda Magtree (Carin Makuz) with “Pinning, Pining and Penning,” about repairing clothespins and other essential acts.

January 3, 2015

Christmas Vacation

harrietOne of many reasons that members of our family are unlikely to ever take the world by storm is that our greatest talents really are for leisure—we’re experts at doing nothing, or just enough of something with requisite amounts of sofa-lying for good measure. We often visit cultural institutions such as museums and art galleries but rarely for more than an hour or two at a time, and never without a trip to the cafe AND the gift shop. Going out for lunch is our main occupation, and we always have dessert. We are really very good at enjoying ourselves, and so the last two weeks have been an absolute pleasure.

Two things: first, that I finished things up so that there was no work at all to be done for a week or so, and second, we turned off the internet. For a week, there was no checking of email or twitter, which opened up vast pockets of time in every day for all kinds of things—reading, playing, baking, carol-singing, and doing the Globe & Mail holiday crossword. On Tuesday we bought the newspaper because we were curious about what had gone on in the world, and it was odd to flip through the pages and discover news items we hadn’t heard about elsewhere.

windowWe spent the first couple of days of our holiday trying in vain to kick the cold that’s been embedded in our heads since the beginning of December. On the Sunday, we went down to the Bay on Queen Street to look at the Christmas windows, which were wonderful, and then went into the store and realized that department stores were the perfect way to reconcile our hatred of shopping malls with the joys of Christmas consumption (glittery lights, perfume smells, shopping bags with string handles, and 1 kilo tins of chocolate. Also, I now own tights without holes in the feet). Speeding home on the subway in time for Iris’s nap and for me to meet friends for an exquisite afternoon tea at Dessert Trends Bistro.

frankOn Monday, we went to the library (because holidaying doesn’t always have to happen on a lavish scale) and then had smoked meat lunch at Caplansky’s Deli. I also went out for dinner with my friends and drank far too much wine. On Tuesday, I don’t think we did anything, partly due to the wine. Throughout all of this, Stuart and I were watching movies and episodes of Midsomer Murders in the evening (because we are 85 years old) and Harriet watched How to Train Your Dragon Two during Iris’s nap times. On Christmas Eve, we went to the Art Gallery to see the Art Spiegelman exhibit and had a lovely brunch at the Frank Restaurant, which we save for the specialist of occasions. On the way home, we picked up our turkey, which we fastened into our stroller. That evening, we had chicken fajitas for Christmas Eve dinner for the 10th year in a row, and left a snack for Santa.

xmasmornChristmas was so good. Not only did we not have to leave the house, but we got to have my mom come and visit! The children got excellent presents and had fun playing with them throughout the holidays. I received great books, nice clothes, and other lovely things, including a La Cruset butter dish I’d been hankering after and new Pyrex. We all also received new CDs (because are 85 years old and like to do 20th century things) and so the holiday has been extra-filled with music—some of which was even made after 1987, which is very rare for us. My mom arrived and played with the children (which was not very difficult—she arrived bearing her present of a trunk full of dress-up clothes) while Stuart and I set about cooking the best Christmas dinner ever. The joys of Skype brought us the company of Nana and Granddad in England, and our adorable Alberta relations.

playOn Boxing Day, we went to the ROM, and partook in a yummy dinner of leftovers—Stuart makes the best turkey sandwiches on earth. Iris also slept until 7am for the first time in her whole life, which was mind-blowing, but also a bit terrible because when her sleep for the subsequent week was abysmal, I wanted to pitch her out the window. The next day, my dad and his partner arrived, and we all had an excellent time with them. And they played with the children while Stuart and I cooked up another very good meal—the greatest turkey pot pie of all time whose secret recipe was duck fat. The day after that,  we drove out to my aunt’s in the West end, stopping en-route to buy ice-skates for Harriet and I, which had the potential to be a boondoggle. And then we had a very fun dinner with the best kinds of relations on earth—cousins.

anniwMonday was the best day—Harriet and I headed downtown to meet our friend Erin and watch the new Annie film, which we’d been looking to after avidly viewing its trailers for the past month AND after watching the old Annie every day last summer. The reviews for the new Annie were terrible and all wrong—the movie was wonderful. (That one of the critics referred to the 1982 movie as “an abomination” perhaps suggests that some people had no business reviewing either movie, both of which were masterpieces, in my humble opinion.) We all had such a good time watching it, exuberantly applauding as the credits rolled. And then we met Stuart and Iris and took the subway to Erin’s new house in Bloor West Village, which is very conveniently located near the new Book City (which was bustling and full of wonderful books.)

On Tuesday, I had to take a certain someone to a dermatologists to have a wart examined, which wasn’t so memorable, except that we got to stop at HMV on the way and buy the Annie soundtrack, a move supported by all members of our household. Iris can now sing “Tomorrow”, which is really something to behold. We also love Sia’s version of “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile” and the bizarre and catchy “Moonquake Lake”, with its memorable hook—”she’s a fish and he’s a boy.” That night our friends Jennie, Deep and Lilia came for dinner and the best time was had. They were kind enough not to complain about our music selection.

sk8Rumours of boondoggles were averted on New Years Eve when Harriet and I went skating at Christie Pits—Harriet had the best time and loved it, which was good but also troubling as it means that I have to keep going skating. We went again yesterday and both of us were vastly improved. A third jaunt is scheduled for tomorrow. New Years Eve was our traditional chocolate fondue and ringing in the UK New Year before the children went to bed. And then Stuart and I proceeded to play board games (and ping pong, until Harriet came out of her room and asked us to stop because the pinging and ponging was too noisy) until we were done, and then we went to bed and brought in the new year lit by bed-side lamps, turning away from our respective novels for a moment as the clock ticked over to 2015. Which is the best way to ring in the new that I could ever have imagined.

africaNew Years Day was boring—what a wondrous indulgence is that in this day and age? Although we did have our first meal of the year at Fanny Chadwick’s for brunch, which was delicious, and Iris has been transformed into someone who is fairly respectable about restaurant behaviour from all her practice this holiday. And Harriet and I got to play Scrabble for Juniors, which is almost as excellent as spending New Year’s reading in bed. Yesterday we went to the ROM to see the Wildlife Photography exhibit. And yes, more skating. Today we’re doing nothing, which might prove to be a bad idea but feels pretty good from where I sit (on the couch, wearing jogging pants, watching snow falling outside). We’ve kept things a little special with scones with jam and Devonshire cream, because I had a jar of the latter in the fridge and we had to use it up—not the worst task to be charged with.

teaAnd I’m writing it all down now mostly so that I can remember it, the holiday we were so desperate for and which so delivered. I’m writing it all down because all these ordinary things (libraries and lunches) are so easy to forget, and I don’t want to. I don’t want to forget either that we’re so blessed with friends and family and each other. If how you spend your days are indeed how you spend your life, then these past two weeks are an indication that we’re doing something right.  And it’s something to hold on to as the lights of December fade—let the next few months be something more than just a countdown to spring.

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.

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