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Pickle Me This

November 10, 2013

Someone is always crying somewhere. Usually here.

IMG_20131105_165802Everything has been a bit heightened around here lately, busy and outside of ordinary. Stuart was working at a conference at the beginning of last week, and so was away a lot. There has been a flurry of activity to have my book copy-edited by the end of this week (which is very exciting!). I was preparing for the Wild Writers Festival in Waterloo on Saturday, and then we found out on Friday night that my poor dad was going to need emergency surgery. My mom drove Iris and I to Waterloo on Saturday morning and left without enough time, which meant that we arrived just as my event was beginning, GPS dropping us off a block away from where we should have been. I’d been breastfeeding in the car as we zipped down the highway, leaning over the carseat, presenting a curious sight to passing drivers, I am sure. The car stopped and I jumped out without even saying goodbye, dashing across an intersection and with no time to even worry about how my mom was going to contend with Iris, who did indeed scream for the entire 80 minutes I was presenting. Apparently, everybody was quite concerned, not knowing that Iris’s end-of-the-world scream is pretty standard for her. She has taken to letting it rip whenever anybody who isn’t me is holding her. After 7pm, this population includes her father, which is a little bit annoying, and we’re hoping it’s just a phase. I know it’s just a phase. But still. A bit rage-inducing.

Anyway, my Wild Writers event went really well, but between worrying about my dad and Bad Iris, I wasn’t really there. (Read Carrie Snyder’s blog, because she was!) We didn’t stay too long after lunch, and drove back to the city without incident. We were happy to learn that my dad was out of surgery and stable, and while his recovery will be long and difficult, I am glad he’s going to be okay. We’ll be going to see him next weekend, in the midst of (inevitably) last-minute preparations for our trip to England. Yes, Bad Iris on a transatlantic flight. Gulp. Luckily, there will be Grandparents at our destination to receive her. And probably hand her back when she starts screaming…

So yes, there has pretty much always been someone around here having a tantrum lately. I am pleased that this someone has not always been me. While Iris sleeps on me, or doesn’t sleep on me, rather, I have been reading Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, a big fat American-sized book which I’m 500 pages into and not tired of yet. Not a perfect book–I agree with all of Zsuzsi Gartner’s criticisms in her review. And yet, it’s working for me. I enjoyed Jared Bland’s examination of its language in yesterday’s paper.

Also in yesterday’s paper: a story about Harriet’s play school and its role as part of Toronto’s hippie past and the legacy of Rochdale College. And do read “The Wild Thing With People Feet Was My Favourite,” which is an amazing story of the power of picture books and how they shape and reflect our lives. Plus, a Behind the Poem feature from Melanie Dennis Unrau’s Happiness Theads, in which the poet unpacks the strange abbreviations of online mothering forums. And an interview (with recipes for cookies and scones!) by the creators of Alice Eats: A Wonderland Cookbook.

September 24, 2013

The Hang of It

My new office.

My new office.

Now that we’re nearly three weeks into our brand new life, I’m going to take the risk of saying out loud that we might be getting the hang of it. After a very bumpy first week, Harriet is very happy to be in Junior Kindergarten, and has already acquired some brand new skills, such as being able to sit down and focus on a project for more than two minutes, and also the ability to draw something that actually resembles a thing. She is also enjoying being back at her play school in the afternoons. Stuart is back to work, and quite happily now that we’ve learned he’s got a promotion and begins a new position next month. He’s also taking a college course he’s finding very inspiring, which means I am home alone on Wednesday nights.

The first Wednesday night was surprisingly good–I had two crabby kids and a heat wave, so we all jumped in the bath and had a pool party in the tub. Somehow, I managed to drown no one, we had dinner, *and* I mopped the floor, so I got to feel like Mommy Awesome. There was to be no repeat the following Wednesday, however, as the baby proceeded to cry unceasingly and the house looked like it had been hit by a hurricane. We’ll see how I do tomorrow.

Regarding Iris, who is 3.5 months old: we thought we’d been doing so well tolerating her poor sleeping habits, and then she went and showed us that we’d not seen nothing yet as poor sleeping goes, and so now I’m kind of the walking dead. This time, however, we know it’s a problem to be endured instead of something that we can fix, and so we just tolerate the tireds without feeling badly about the whole thing, and that makes a huge difference. She has a cold and has just got her second tooth in, which isn’t helping matters, plus she is a *baby* and we know what they’re like.

What they’re like though is pretty easy compared to 4 year-olds, which I didn’t appreciate at all the first time. I also think that when I was home with Baby Harriet, I was terrifically bored, but now I’ve got commitments and deadlines, and things to get done with Baby lying on my chest. There is no time for boredom, and so Iris rolls around on the floor while I do my work, and I really am accomplishing so much, though I am having to also train myself to type with one hand while the baby screams in my other arm. In the mornings, she falls asleep soon after I drop off Harriet at school, and so I can’t go home because our apartment is up a flight of stairs and I’ve got her in the stroller, so I go to RedFish BlueFish instead and work for the 30 minutes she manages to stay asleep for. (Iris has about six naps a day, 20-40 minutes. This would bother me, except I had another baby like that once before, and everything worked out fine.)

And the very best thing we’re up to these days is that we started reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, which Harriet and I are both encountering for the very first time. And we love it. I’m reading it aloud and once in a while get a sense of where possible criticism comes from, but these criticisms would mainly be about there being too many adverbs, or that characters “hiss” sentences which are not sufficiently sibilant, which are the kind of criticisms you really have to go looking for and be an asshole to make.

May 6, 2013

Hanami Picnic Beneath Sakura

IMG_20130504_124236 IMG_20130504_131300 IMG_20130504_131024 IMG_20130504_131213

March 27, 2013

Oh, the poets.

cottonopolisOh, the poets. I know you half-hate readers like me. Hate by half only because I’m not totally terrible. I keep buying your books, and sometimes I even read them, but not always. I start to read and get distracted by bigger books, by books that don’t require so much attention. And when I do read and it comes time to talk about the books, I never know what to say (mostly because the gate-keepers of poetry conversation are seriously terrifying and I can never tell if they’re joking or not). And poets, I don’t always understand what you’re trying to say. And now I’m doing the very worst thing of all, which is examining my growing stack of poetry books and determining that April would be a fine time to read them. But in my defense, it’s not just because April is Poetry Month. I promise. It just so happens that most of these books have happened to come into my life at this point in time (I was summoned twice by Book City today by a call that a poetry book I’d 0rdered had come in), and I really need to get through my to-be-reads before the baby is born. So I will be reading poetry in April–forgive me please the cliche. The books before me look really fantastic though and I can’t wait to share them with you.

See also my list: Poetry Books I’ve Read This Year

February 27, 2013

The Best Thing About Worst-Case Scenarios

IMG_8907The best thing about worst-case scenarios is that you decide to call you doctor back and you ask for clarification about lumpish things. You ask if there was anything particularly alarming about your particular lump (ie it is the lump that is guaranteed to kill you in six months that you really wish you’d never learned about) and she tells you everything you never thought to ask about yesterday, and you write it down this time. She says that the lump is lumpish, as lumps go, and large (though not as large as you’d forcasted after trying to measure it with a ruler this morning) and any lump that large would call for a biopsy. Beyond that, there is nothing that makes you or your lumpishness exempt from the good prognoses of thyroid lumps. You could possibly feel positive about outcomes. Doctor joins the chorus of people imploring you to calm down. There is no reason to be crying at 5 in the morning.

The best thing about worst-case scenarios is that after spending 24 hours devastated at the inevitably of death in six months, every single outcome seems absolutely tame. The world comes back into view and you greet it with an enormous sense of relief.

You do, however, keep having to apoligize to people for being hysterical on the internet, but you’re probably not the first woman who has never displayed such behaviour. And sometimes maybe that’s what the internet is for. It beats crying alone.

Thanks everyone. xo

July 8, 2012

Changing the furniture

As you can see, we’ve been changing the furniture around here, and I’m rather ecstatic about this new arrangement. I wanted something simple and light, but to still retain my door motif. The gorgeous red door above, complete with mailbox, has come from the talented artist Patricia Storms, and the site’s design, as ever, is courtesy of Stuart. And I especially love that my footer is actually feet, those red wellingtons that were my header years and years ago. Who says that websites don’t have history?

May 1, 2011

The Common Reader

I really enjoyed the essay Narcissus Regards a Novel, about how readers read to be entertained, about how there is no longer cultural authority, media doesn’t shape taste but simply reflects it, good is what makes us feel good, what affirms our ideas about who we are. I particularly liked the last half of the essay, which posits that perhaps there still exists some readers in possession of that “strange mixture of humility and confidence” that allows the invitation of influence, the possibility of second thoughts. (I believe this was called “flip-flopping” in the 2004 American presidential election.) Irresoluteness is not commonly regarded as a virtue in our society, though I actually find it kind of attractive. Mark Edmundson, the essay’s author, thinks so too, and he thinks we’re all out there waiting for the right works to deliver us from our Narcissism:  “… the truly common reader—this impossible, possible man or woman who is both confident and humble, both ready to change and skeptical of all easy remedies”.

And this is not a yes, but. If anything it’s a yes yes yes yes yes!, but, because I love the idea of the moveable reader, and of reading as the antidote to a society of prescriptive consumerism, but the beginning of the essay still rankles me. Because while our reluctance to judge the value of artistic works has certainly lowered the cultural tone, the alternative is even more disgusting (and I think of Parley Burns in Elizabeth Hay’s new novel: “What a ranking, comparing, depressing mind he had.”) I think of literary critic William Arthur Deacon who was also obsessed with determining what was great and what wasn’t, and how history has determined he was wrong, wrong, wrong. (I hope he knew it too, somewhere in his heart, before he died a painful, lonely death. He was a horrid man.) Who gets to be the decider? I’m not saying that everything I love is brilliant, but some of it is, and critics would still leave it out of the canon.

The beginning of the essay also gets me, because I wonder about anyone to tell me how I read, why I read, let alone how I should read. I do desire to be Edmundson’s elusive common reader, but so what if I didn’t? Who is he to tell me how I should be? Or what literature should do, as though books ever only do just one thing (and if they do, please don’t let it be to “be an ice-axe to break the frozen sea within us.” I hate the violence of that image, and my sea isn’t even frozen).

I was thinking about this even before I read this essay, as I rode the subway on Tuesday evening and watched the woman across the train from me reading The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. She was coming home from a job that required her to wear attire that didn’t suit her, which I knew because her casual/sporty jacket did not go with her skirt and nylons. Over her nylons, she was wearing socks and running shoes, which meant her daytime footwear didn’t suit her physical needs either. It was 6:45, which is late to be commuting downtown, and I thought, “Wow, you can have your book. You don’t get to pick your own clothes, or your schedule, so surely I’ll grant you your book.” I thought, “Office lady in the running shoes. You read whatever you damn well please.”

I am lucky that I can afford to be elitist, because I don’t want to read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and because I once tried to read The Da Vinci Code, but I thought it seemed long and more than a bit boring. I am also lucky because I get to spend a lot of my life doing creative, fulfilling things, but I think that kind of life can put one more than a bit out of touch with reality. And so I do like to check my snobbery from time to time, and stay irresolute about most things, such as what’s great and what isn’t, and who’s allowed to tell who to read what and what for.

October 25, 2010

10 Reasons to be Happy

1) The odds of an amazing book winning The Giller Prize is remarkly high

2) I heard on the radio (via the Inuit) that polar bear populations are rising, not falling. They’ve just gotten better at hiding from scientists.

3) I know two awesome babies born in the past two weeks, and two more are still abrewing. Odds of at least one of them changing the world for the better is quite high.

4) Unfit, angry people without karma on their side are at greater risk than the rest of us of dropping dead at any time

5) America elected Obama president

6) Those Chilean miners, remember?

7) Dairy Milks in the post, and leftover pumpkin pie

8) Message to My Girl by Split Enz

9) The Sunday after next has 25 hours in it

10) Drawing close is Winter Solstice, the darkest day of the year, and I’ve chosen to regard this as a harbinger of spring.

BONUS: My next door neighbour just brought a huge box of fresh fruit to my door– 3 pints of strawberries, melon and grapes.

October 15, 2010

Vote vote vote for The Girls Who Saw Everything

Remember when I was 40 weeks pregnant and obsessed with Sean Dixon’s The Girls Who Saw Everything? I sure do, and even with everything that’s happened since, I’m still pretty obsessed with it. And Stuart also enjoyed it, and he’s quite a different kind of reader than I am, so that says something about this book’s appeal. Anyway, when asked to champion a Canadian book from the last ten years as a candidate for CBC Canada Reads 2011, The Girls… came to my mind immediately. Because, as I told the good people at the CBC:

it’s challenging, literary, fun, plot-driven, ripe with allusions, a good read even if you don’t get the allusions, a book about girls that’s written by a man, because it’s a celebration of bookishness, and because it’s about the most bizarre book club you could ever imagine.

So get behind me! Vote for my pick over at the CBC website.

June 8, 2010

On magazines

Charlotte’s post about magazines has inspired me to copy her (and has also introduced me to the The Devil’s Artisan, which has very much piqued my interest). I too love magazines, and though the stack of those to-be-read has never recovered from Harriet’s early months, and I fear I will be months behind until the end of my days, I continue to renew my subscriptions and look forward t0 each day that I find one waiting in my mailbox.

Magazines I subscribe to:

The New Quarterly:

I’ll admit it– if you publish my stories, I’ll be loyal to you, but that’s not half the reason why I’m partial to TNQ. As I posted recently, “TNQ is fiction, poetry, features, art, profiles, creative non-fiction and more. TNQ is never the same, but always gorgeously produced, the work is always thoughtful and interesting, containing stories that have absolutely blown my mind. I read Alison Pick for the first time there, and Carrie Snyder, and Terry Griggs, and Amy Jones, and Zsuszi Gartner. I love the “Magazine as Muse” section. The Editor’s letters are always a pleasure to read, and full of treasures themselves. In short, four times a year, TNQ comes into my world and makes it a better place.”


Room (formerly A Room of  One’s Own, which I still think was a fine name and I kind of wish they hadn’t changed it) does a fantastic job with supporting and promoting new writers, and publishing them alongside amazing work by established ones, and for the most part, this balance works well. They’re a feminist magazine run by a volunteer collective whose diversity is reflected in the magazine’s content. Each issue is linked by a theme, however loosely, and I also appreciate range of forms they publish– short stories, poetry, interviews, reviews, and profiles of readers. It makes for a good read, and, like TNQ, they have good editors’ letters as well.

Canadian Notes and Queries:

Oh, the learning at your fingertips in an issue of CNQ. I’ll be honest– the content is a bit hit-and-miss in terms of appealing to me, and I didn’t really read the last issue,but I’ve loved pretty much every other issue of CNQ that’s come to me over the past three years. I enjoy the ongoing MacSkimming series of interviews on the history of Canadian publishing, their focus on the bookselling climate, their issue on translation was incredible, the best articles are challenging and interesting even when I disagree with the point of view. It’s also a really beautifully designed magazine.

ROM Magazine:

We get this one automatically as part of our museum membership, and I don’t read it cover-to-cover, but I still love it. The recent redesign has been absolutely beautiful, I like Mark Kingwell’s columns, and thanks to this magazine I know all kinds of bizarre facts about ladybugs, bats and the dead sea scrolls.

London Review of Books:

I started subscribing to this one through a twofer subscription deal my friend had. A genius idea, because this periodical is a bit addicting, and of course, once I started, I really couldn’t stop. I used to try to read everything, but now only pick out articles that will hold my interest, which means I don’t read as much about economics and Afghanistan as I once did, which is a shame because the articles are amazing. But they’re also loooooong and the print is every small, and if I read everything I wanted to in the LRB, there would be no time for books. There is always time for Andrew O’Hagan, Alan Bennett, Jenny Diski and Anne Enright, however. And scathing reviews that are brilliant rather than bitter.


What happened? One minute, I was too cool for Chatelaine, and now I’m way too much of a Mum. The new issue wasn’t even worthy of being a coaster on my coffee table. Tonight I ate a dip that was from that issue, however, and it was good, but I’m still not convinced. I miss Katrina Onstad (who yes, was the best thing they had going), and the recipes (which have become my staples. What will I cook without them?) were lacking, and there was nothing interesting in the entire issue. I’ve been a pretty happy subscriber for the past two years, but I think my Chatelaine days are done.

Magazines I don’t subscribe to:

Walrus: I waited and waited for them to start publishing women writers, not merely on principle, but because a general interest magazine written by only men is not generally interesting. I even sent a letter asking the editor why publishing women writers was not important to him, and I got zero reply, not even a form. I no longer subscribe, and though the contributers seem a but more mixed lately, I still don’t think I’m missing much.

Magazines I would subscibe to were my life a better place:

The New Yorker: If I subscribed to this magazine, my stack of unread issues would grow so high that I would have to jump off the top and kill myself. But I wish it didn’t have to be that way– if only there were more days in the week, and I had nothing else to do but read it. Because The New Yorker is fantastic, I admire the stamina of its subscribers.

The Believer: I love this magazine, and it’s lovely, but very expensive, and so are a lot of other things.

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