September 18, 2016
Step 1) Assemble your squad.
Step 2) Look out the window on the way.
Step 3) Follow the rules.
Step 4) Bring too much cake.
Step 5) Ride the highs and the lows.
Step 6) Remember to always stick together.
Step 7) Never forget the place you came from.
Step 7) Look up for the sunset.
August 31, 2016
My favourite thing about being a parent is the way you get the make the world magic. The way you can wave an imaginary wand an transform an ordinary day into a extraordinary one. The way that my children had no idea what was up when we told them to get their shoes on at 8:30 this morning, and when they kept asking where we were going, we said they’d find out when they got there. They’d been expecting their daddy to leave for work as usual, but there we all were marching to the subway, south to Union. And then a walk along Front Street, and over the train tracks to the aquarium, because Harriet’s loves the aquarium, and had expressed a wish to go there again. There you go Harriet: wish granted. Amazing.
We had a terrific time at the aquarium, and the best part was when we ran into my best friend Jennie. After a few hours we were done though, and the place was completely bonkers, and so we left and meandered north to the place that had perhaps inspired this whole aquarium plan—the close-in-proximity, brand new Penguin Bookshop.
A bookstore that fits in your pocket, it is, or your closet, at least. Formerly a shoe repair kiosk. It features a lively selection of Penguin-branded goods and books they publish, Canadian and classic. I got the new Dave Eggers novel and The Bloody Chamber, by Angela Carter, and we bought a copy of Ooko because we’d had it from the library and loved it. It was very nice to finally stop by.
We had lunch at the Old Spaghetti Factory, which was completely fun, and totally not horrible or boring. And there was so much bread. The bad thing about being snobs who live downtown is that we don’t get free bread with our meals very often, and certainly not for lunch (and if we do, it’s spelt bread and nobody wants to eat it). The children thought the place was great and we thought it was surprisingly good, the perfect place to stop on this day of being tourists in our own city for a while.
“And what are you doing with the rest of your day?” our waiter asked us as we paid our bill. “We’re going to visit Toronto’s First Post Office,” I told him. I told him, “You’ve probably been there a hundred times, right?” He gave me a look. When he finally bid us adieu, he said, “Have fun at the…post office.”
But not just any post office! It’s an actual working post office (and woo hoo! Canada Post and its employees have finally come to an agreement so we’re not going to be having a postal strike) AND a museum. From the restaurant, we walked through the beautiful St. Lawrence neighbourhood to get there, and finally arrived. Full disclosure, the children were being to lose their shit by this point.
At Toronto’s First Post office you get to try writing with quills, and can also purchase stationary to write letters in their reading room. The place was marvellously busy, with tourists and also people coming in on ordinary errands. After finding out that writing with quills was really hard, Harriet and Iris sat down to write with ordinary pens, and they both ended up crying because a) over the summer Harriet had lost any writing skills she’d ever possessed and b) Iris had never possessed any anyway. And all I wanted to was write a letter to my friend, but the children were bananas and also doing dangerous deeds with ink, which ended up smeared all over Iris’s body, and then she blotted it with the sand provided for such things, and it all had gone a little bit awry. We pulled it together though, got letters written and even posted. And then it was time to admit that the day was coming to an end, so we headed for the subway, and nobody cried again, I think, so it all was a success.
July 19, 2015
Sunday night, we are sunburned, all of us (oops) and everything is gritty with sand. On the cusp of a new week, a summer going swimmingly, but much too fast. Last week Harriet began the first of two weeks of day-camp at the museum, just for the afternoons, and she’s having a great time. She comes home and tells us stories about Hatshepsut and how blacksmiths fashioned knights’ armour. We’re enjoying our mornings together, hanging out with friends and going to the library, but there has been no time to clean the house and it’s become a disaster. All the sand we brought home today isn’t helping. And our weeks are hung on a routine that includes the farmer’s market, soccer, hammock afternoons. Yesterday for the second Saturday in a row, we went to Christie Pits pool to cool off from the heat, and it was perfect, straight out of Swimming Swimming. Though it was still plenty hot when we went to bed, and got even hotter when we lost power at 1am, our trusty box fans silenced. Out the window the sky was so bright, and I decided there’d been some kind of disaster, or that this was going to be a blackout lasting days and in our attic bedroom it would only get hotter and hotter. Although lights in tall buildings on the horizon suggested otherwise, but my mind was taking me to crazy places. Only settling down when Harriet woke up at 3 concerned that she’d gone blind like Mary from Little House on the Prairie, because she couldn’t see anything. By this point, Iris had taken over my spot in bed so I went to sleep on the couch, awakened by Harriet and every electrical appliance in the house when the power came back on around 4. At approximately 4:46, the sunrise began, and I watched it from my living room window, and the night was declared an official disaster.
Though I roused myself for a trip to Centre Island today, a day with our friends that was so absolutely perfect. No line-ups at the ferry docks, happy children (who spent the day pretending two flat stones were smartphones via which they had fascinating conversations), splash pad fun, swimming at the beach, and lots of relaxing. Iris slept in the stroller en-route to Ward’s Island, and once we were there the thunderstorms threatened for days by the weather report finally arrived, but we were sheltered by a big old tree that mostly kept the rain off as we ate dinner and drank beer and began to feel exhaustion set in in the most terrific way. Followed by ice cream, of course, and the ferry at the dock’s so we caught it back to the mainland and that might be one of my favourite journeys in the world, how we’re always sated. How every island day always seems like the best one ever. But this one really really was.
January 3, 2015
One 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.
We 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.
On 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.
Christmas 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.
On 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.
Monday 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.
Rumours 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.
New 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.
And 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 3, 2014
My personal belief is that a household can never have too many ABC books, and so certainly there’s room in a city for more than one. I’ve long been zealous in my devotion to Allan Moak’s A Big City Alphabet as the definitive Toronto ABC, but now Paul Covello’s new book has arrived and won me over. Because it’s gorgeous, and so meticulously detailed that it reminds me of Patrick Cummins’ and Shawn Micallef’s Full Frontal TO in its devotion to documenting Torontoniana.
Case in point is the windows on the far left and right buildings from “K is for Kensington Market,” windows which are instantly recognizable as Toronto windows, essential to its architecture:
This is a book that will appeal to children, who are the biggest transit nerds of us all, with its trans and taxis and busses, and Covello caters to this audience in particular with images of TTC tokens and transfers. This same audience will also delight in the image of the dinosaur skeleton on R is for ROM, alongside the mommy and some residents of the museum’s famous Bat Cave (plus a couple of school busses parked outside the museum itself, natch).
It’s a more updated version of the city than Allan Moak’s, though some consistencies remain—X is still for the Ex, and Z is probably always going to be for zoo, and so it should be. But Covello makes D for the Distillery District, which didn’t exist when Moak created his book 30 years ago, and neither did Y for Yonge Dundas Square, and J is for the Junction, which wasn’t so celebrated back in the day.
Covello’s is also much more specific in its locations, with parks and markets identified. He dares to show fish jumping in the Don River in V is for Valley (with a subway going by overhead on the Bloor Viaduct), the city at its most beautiful. He also skips the nude beach on I is for Islands, but gets points for including the tiny cottages on Wards’ and Algonquin Islands.
“I love TO” is the banner being towed by an airplane on the T is for Tower page (on which the book must be turned sideways to take in the full 553 metres of the CN Tower, once upon a time and forever in my heart the world’s tallest freestanding structure), and the reader will not be able to avoid a similar emotion as she flips through the cardboard pages in this durable, beautiful book, which proves as much fun to explore as the city itself is.
- Did you know that our family has been recreating the images in Allan Moak’s Big City ABC since 2011? We’re just a couple of letters away from the entire alphabet.
December 2, 2013
Living in the city and not having a car, we have always brought our Christmas trees home quite conspicuously, carried on our shoulders (which is a bit awkward when pushing a stroller or carrying a baby, but we’ve made it happen in all these circumstances). And that is part of the reason I am so enamoured with the Christmas cards I’ve bought this year, which show another quite ingenious method for bringing home Christmas in the city. These cards are by Wendy Tancock, whose site is here. The image is beautiful and who doesn’t love a streetcar? I’m due to start writing a pile tonight
August 14, 2013
Destination Bookshop is a new feature here at Pickle Me This! Part book-shopping-spree, part city travel guide, we want to inspire you to visit vibrant neighbourhoods all over the Toronto with excellent bookshops as a chief attraction.
Ella Minnow Children’s Bookstore brought us to the Beaches one day in late July. Located on Queen Street East just east of Woodbine, the shop was definitely worth the journey and situated in a neighbourhood with so many excellent things to do.
The Shop: We were warmly greeted upon entering Ella Minnow, and informed that as this was our first visit, we should probably start at the back of the shop and work forward. This was especially exciting because it was in the back that we met the resident rabbit, a white bunny called Marshmallow.
The shop is well-organized, with books for older readers at the back and picture books and those for younger readers at the front. The feel is definitively maximalist, charmingly cluttered even. I love the worn wooden floor. Books are everywhere, displayed facing out and also by spine like a library. Stock is carefully curated for quality, and not a Disney princess in sight. Bewarned that the shop does sell toys, but they’re pretty good ones, and many are bookish tie-ins. I’m always up for a bit of Mo Willems plush.
They’ve got new releases, lovely hardbacks, vintage paperbacks (a wide range of Virginia Lee Burton, I notice approvingly) and a good selection of Canadian authors/illustrators and small presses. After some debate, we settle on Read Me a Story, Stella, the new book by Marie-Louise Gay.
Ella Minnow was a pleasure to explore, and we could have played all afternoon, but there was more to do…
Where to Play: Kew Gardens is a fantastic park just east on Queen Street. The park features an excellent playground with a fun climbing structure, beautiful shady trees, lots of room to rove and explore and so much going on–it’s quite the community hub. We made our way through the park down to the beach on the shore of Lake Ontario, and bumped along the boardwalk. On good days, the beach is great for swimming, though it was more of skipping stones day when we were there.
When you get back to Queen Street, make a wee stop at the Beaches Library, a beautiful building and one of the city’s historic Carnegie Branches.
And of course, there are plenty of fun and interesting shops along Queen Street.
Where to Eat: Attracted by a sign promising free ice cream with lunch sets, we had lunch at Thai House Cuisine (2213 Queen Street East), and it was delicious. Snack-wise, Ella Minnow is well-situated with a Dufflet Cafe next door and even a door between them–great for a cake and a coffee or tea. And don’t miss milk and cookies at Moo Milk Bar.
How to Get There: You can get to The Beaches by transit, on the Queen Streetcar (a [slow] adventure in itself) or by taking a bus south from eastern stations on the Danforth line. We elected to drive, however, as these days we travel with a baby and a ton of stuff. The trick of driving, however, is parking, which is hard to come by in the ‘hood, and also that the narrow, congested streets are busy and traffic is slow. This is one of those rare “it’s the destination, not the journey…” situations.
So what else are we missing? What other great things lie within the vicinity of Ella Minnow? Let us know in the comments in order to make Destination Bookshop all the more comprehensive.
May 7, 2013
Right now as spring arrives and family life moves back out of doors, it is a perfect time to share some books that connect readers to the local and which affirm the goodness of life in the city.
In Lucia’s Neighbourhood by Pat Shewchuk and Marek Cole: This picture book based on the NFB film Montrose Avenue tells the story of “the ballet of the good city sidewalk” (as quoted by Jane Jacobs) in Toronto’s Little Portugal neighbourhood. The book opens with the epigraph by Jacobs, and then goes to render the urban visionary’s ideas in a way that a child can easily understand. A fabulous celebration of city life, In Lucia’s Neighbourhood is most remarkable for its illustrations which are so utterly Toronto: streetcars, three-panelled windows and wrought-iron porches. How wonderful to encounter one’s own world within the pages of a book.
Maybelle the Cable Car by Virginia Lee Burton: This one’s not a Toronto book, but in some ways it may as well be. San Francisco’s iconic cable cars are under threat, as Big Bill the Bus explains to Maybelle: “I just heard the City Fathers say/ the cable cars must go…/ that you’re too old and out of date/ much too slow and can’t be safe/ and worst of all YOU DON’T MAKE MONEY./ What they want is Speed and Progress/ and E-CON-OMY…” San Franciscans don’t respond well to the potential loss of their cable cars, forming a citizen’s committee to save them. Petitions lead to a referendum, and the cable cars are preserved. “We, the people, are the City. Why can’t we decide?” And with that, your child’s political foundation is laid.
Jonathan Cleaned Up and Then He Heard a Sound by Robert Munsch and Michael Martchenko: Another book that seems eerily prescient of the current state of Toronto politics. “Subways, subways, subways!” indeed, and somehow a station has appeared in Jonathan’s house. “If the subway stops here, then it’s a subway station,” Jonathan is told by a TTC conductor who has a relaxed emphasis on customer service and instructs Jonathan to go to City Hall if he doesn’t like it. When Jonathan gets there, the Mayor has run out for lunch. Wandering the empty corridors of City Hall, he comes across an old man crying behind “an enormous computer machine.” Turns out the computer is broken and the poor man behind it is responsible for running the entire city. Jonathan gets him to move the subway station in exchange for four cases of blackberry jam, demonstrating that sometimes civic engagement (and bartering) is the only way to get things done.
Jelly Belly by Dennis Lee: This one is not the most obvious contender for the list, but I happened to be reading it soon after reading Edward Keenan’s Some Great Idea, and noticed some parallels between the two books, absurdest story-telling aside. Lee gives us poems not only poems about garbage men and traffic jams, but also a reference to David Crombie in “The Tiny Perfect Mayor” and another poem called “William Lyon Mackenzie.”
A Big City Alphabet by Allan Moak: I loved this book as a child, and now I love that my daughter is growing up in the very places Moak’s paintings illustrate. City kids will recognize their favourite parks, Kensington Market, the AGO, laneways, variety stores, and other familiar spots. (Hint: A gorgeous print of “I is for Island Ferry” is for sale for $5 at St. Lawrence Market’s Market Gallery, along with other prints from the city’s art collection).
Who Goes to the Park by Warabe Aska: We picked up this book as a library discard, a most excellent find, as used copies are hard to come by. Fortunately, a few copies are still circulating in the library system. In his beautiful paintings which manage to perfectly meld realism and the ethereal (as all the best parks do, really), Aska tells the story of Toronto’s High Park throughout the four seasons, and of all the people and other creatures which are part of life there. (Image courtesy of the Osborne Collection’s online art exhibit).
How to Build Your Own Country by Valerie Wyatt and Fred Rix: Older kids with an interest in politics and civic life will appreciate this multi-award-winning book from the Citizen Kid Series. It’s a step-by-step guide to building a nation from scratch, and also serves as a fantastic illustration of how our society and those of other countries are structured–however precariously.
Watch This Space by Hadley Dyer and Marc Ngui: Another non-fiction book for older readers, this one about “designing, defending and sharing public spaces.” This one is a nice extension of In Lucia’s Neighbourhood, with references to Montrose Avenue and Jane Jacobs, even, but also takes on a global perspective and discusses how public space is used differently around the world. It”s a vibrant and engaging book with all kinds of suggestions about how to employ its many lessons out on the street.
March 16, 2013
This week was our first March Break, which turned out to be legendarily good thanks to Stuart taking the week off too. It’s funny how spending a week with my child and another adult is a vastly superior prospect to just kid and me. We had a very wonderful time and were careful to never travel too far from home. We took care too to spend a lot of time hanging around doing nothing, which isn’t to say that we didn’t get up to some excellent adventures. We are also very pleased to have achieved our goal of going out for lunch every single day.
Sunday was our trip to the Maple Sugar Bush, which was sweet and sunshiney. Monday we decided to go crazy and visit the library (it’s true! I know we sound reckless and wild, but it’s just the way we are) which was fun because Stuart doesn’t usually get to come on our weekly visits. And then we had lunch at Caplansky’s Deli, because all the experts say that pregnant women should ingest giant mountains of smoked meat.
On Tuesday, we had lunch at the new Montreal-style bagel place in Kensington Market, which is so so delicious, and then we walked to the Allan Gardens Conservatory to see palm trees and cacti and other green things. Wednesday morning was devoted to having holes poked in my neck, but things got better afterwards. We had lunch at Fanny Chadwicks (our favourite local joint) and then spent the afternoon on the couch watching Pete’s Dragon.
On Thursday, we visited the Textile Museum of Canada (with our free MAP pass) to see the Marimekko Exhibit, whose designs are right up my alley. (I got a Marimekko scarf!). And then we had lunch at St. Lawrence Market, pure deliciousness. We also visited the Market Gallery and picked up a print of I is for Island Ferry to hang on our wall. And then Harriet had a meltdown because we wouldn’t buy her a painting of horses, and cried on the streetcar all the way home (which everyone else found absolutely charming). Later that afternoon, Harriet cheered up and we all visited the midwives, and were thrilled to hear our baby’s heartbeat and to have it confirmed that Baby is growing well.
And then there was Friday. We had a reservation for 3 for tea at the Windsor Arms Hotel. Afternoon tea is my favourite thing in the world, but we haven’t taken Harriet since my birthday 2 years ago when she kind of ruined it for everyone. But she’s bigger now, and more importantly, our March Break had been excellent training in dining out. And she was an absolute star. Staff looked a bit dubious when we confirmed that Harriet would be having her own tea, that we wouldn’t have her “nibble off our plates” as they advised. And we’re glad we didn’t, because then we wouldn’t have been able to eat anything. Harriet had her own pot of apple-mango tea, discovered that she LOVED tiny sandwiches (and even cucumbers), and was an absolutely delightful afternoon tea companion, consenting to have tiny cakes cut into three so we could all have a taste of each. The scones were wonderful, I was so so proud of Harriet, and we all three had a very good time. I think we might keep this kid around