counter on blogger

Pickle Me This

January 3, 2017

Holiday Stop

It occurred to me partway through December that this had been the first holiday season in nine years years during which I hadn’t had a baby, or a two-year-old, or been pregnant, and/or very very sick. And so that was how it all got done. How we made a list at the beginning of the month packed with all the Christmassy things we wanted to get up to—museums, galleries, shopping malls, and Christmas markets—and managed to check off every single item, as well as get the presents bought and wrapped, and all the Christmas cards posted in plenty of time. This December, I was a wonder woman, and we did so very much in the weeks leading up to the big day that I was unsure how exactly we were going to spend our Christmas holiday, but then fate decided to step in and solve that problem itself. Harriet threw up at 4am on Christmas morning, thereby kicking off a string of days in which one person or another or everyone was under the weather, and so we didn’t leave the house for days. I’m not even complaining. First, because I managed to escape the sick, and second because no one was ever that sick. (The standard for “that sick” was set two years ago when I gave us all food poisoning with a dodgy risotto. Still traumatized. Everything that’s less sick just arrives as something of a relief.) And so the story of our Christmas break is mainly one about the couch, and the children watching hours of the latest incarnation of How to Train Your Dragon on Netflix while I lounged about in track pants and read one fat biography after another. It’s about days blending together and too much broken sleep, which meant that all this downtime didn’t quite add up to “relaxing.” But there was a certain charm to it—it felt awfully refreshing to have no place to go. Sometimes the universe knows what you need more than you do. Though of course I would say that being the one member of our family who didn’t spend any time this holiday on intimate terms with the puke bucket.

December 23, 2016

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays

Yesterday I was cutting out sugar cookies with Iris and the above image appeared on the table before more, so absolutely perfect. So much light. Very often, the world is more wondrous than we give it credit for. And in order to take note of just how wondrous, I’m going offline for a week starting tonight. I look forward to reading real books, talking with actual people, and lighting up the darkness with illuminations metaphorical and otherwise. Wishing you a restful, fulfilling holiday season, and thank you for reading.

PS But before you go? Check out my thoughts on CanLit in 2016/2017 in this cool little article. 

August 31, 2016

Extraordinary Day

IMG_20160831_144342

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.

IMG_20160831_102907

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.

IMG_20160831_120230

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.

IMG_20160831_125022

“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.”

IMG_20160831_141217

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.

IMG_20160831_142000

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.

August 14, 2016

Last week’s view

IMG_20160810_200413

But it’s still good to be home.

August 5, 2016

Summer Break

IMG_20160805_132729

One of my favourite bits of blogging advice is that bloggers should take breaks—it’s good for the blogging soul (sole!) and also underlines to the reader that the person behind this blog is a human. And now with this post, I put my advice into practice. We’re heading offline and into the wilds tomorrow, and I can’t wait. Particularly since I’m bringing this beautiful stack of novels with me. We’ll be back to the city in a week, but my blogging break might last a week longer…but no promises on this one. If all goes well I will presumably be too bursting with good things to tell you.

July 3, 2016

Summer Starts

IMG_20160630_093826

There is no better way to travel then on trains, where the leg room is ample and there is so much time to read. When we booked this weekend away, the train journey itself was the destination, but we had to arrive somewhere, so we chose Ottawa, where we have best cousin-friends and even other friends, and cousin-friends who were kind enough to offer us a place to stay. And it was Canada Day Weekend, so what better place to be…even if the place we mean to be specifically on Canada Day is our cousin’s beautiful backyard across the river in Gatineau. And it really was amazing.

IMG_20160630_110535

As we’d hoped, the train journey was a pleasure. I had more time to read than I’ve had in weeks. I finished Rich and Pretty, by Rumaan Alam, which I liked so much and will be writing about, and started Signal to Noise, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, which was lovely and so much fun. They also had my favourite kind of tea on sale (Sloane Tea’s Heavenly Cream) and so all was right with the world.

IMG_20160702_143313

It was such a nice weekend—the children had children to play with and I got to spend time with some of my favourite people. We had an excellent time with our cousins, and met up with my dear friends Rebecca who took us to the Museum of  Nature, and last night I got to visit with my 49thShelf comrades who I’ve been working so happily with for years but have only ever hung out with a handful of times. Apart from one traumatic episode of carsickness (not mine) and the night the children took turns waking up every twenty minutes, it was a perfect long long weekend. I also learned that it is possible to eat my limit in cheetos and potato chips, which I had never suspected. Also that it is probably inadvisable to start drinking before noon.

IMG_20160702_145058

We came home today, another good trip, this time with me reading Nathan Whitlock’s Congratulations on Everything, which I am really enjoying, I also started reading the graphic novel of A Wrinkle in Time with Harriet, which we will continue this week. And we arrived home to find that our marigolds have finally bloomed, third generation. We planted them a couple of months back in our community planter, and have been waiting for the flowers to emerge. (Sadly, our lupines didn’t make it.) Summer is finally here proper, what with school out, and even 49thShelf’s Fall Fiction Preview being up (which is my main project for June), and my work days shift with the children being home. I’ve also decided to write a draft of a novel this summer, which is only going to make a tricky situation trickier, but who doesn’t like tricks? We shall see. We will do our best. And there will also be ice cream and holidays and barbecues and sand between our toes, and splash pads and ferry rides and picnics and pools and flowers. It will all go by so fast.

IMG_20160703_195217

March 17, 2016

Barbados Book Report

IMG_20160301_145915I promise that I am nearly finished writing blog posts about Barbados, but I haven’t talked about the books yet. We brought so many books to Barbados, twelve or so, books for me and books for Stuart, and it made our suitcase quite heavy and wondered if it was really wise to travel with more books than sunscreen, but my intuition than it was indeed turned out to be correct. Because there was so much time to read, and even enough time that there was enough time to read…and also do other things besides reading. (I am also not sorry that we brought twelve physical books with us, a few of them hardcovers, because on the journey home I found a forgotten Kindle in the pocket of the seat in front of me, belonging to someone called Pat who’d lost more than 100 books all that once. If I’d forgotten a book in an airplane [which, by the way, would never ever ever happen] I’d still have eleven more available for my reading pleasure. There is nothing I’d rather carry more than books. And I would rather carry books than nothing any time.)

IMG_20160227_114010My first book was Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, the third book in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels series. As I’ve said, it’s a series I’m not mad for, but am intrigued by, and I’ve enjoyed each subsequent book more than the previous (which makes sense—I’m perpetually bored by stories of childhood and adolescence). And this was the one I’ve been most looking forward to, for the characters are mothers now and Lena is a writer, and these storylines compel me. And they did. I read most of this on the 5 hour flight, dipping in and out of Carolyn Smart’s collection of Bonnie and Clyde poems, Careen, for diversion. I enjoyed it so much, and was most struck by the tension between the two friends when Lena becomes pregnant and is determined to do pregnancy and motherhood properly, to prove her friend’s struggles with it had been personal failings rather than circumstance. And there are even a few days where it seems possible, until the whole thing goes to pieces, and she loses herself as so many women do (not knowing too that all this is such a temporary situation—she imagines motherhood as a fixed state). This was the first Ferrante books I seemingly devoured in that way one is meant to. I really really liked it.

IMG_20160228_134156Next up was My Name is Lucy Barton, by Elizabeth Strout, which Ann Patchett and others had proclaimed as Strout’s best book yet. I’d come belatedly to Olive Kitteridge, but really liked it, and had been looking forward to this one, but it kind of disappointed me. I mean not entirely, because it was interesting and also short, a consideration which meant my investment was not overwhelming. But this was also problematic because I bought the book in hardback, paid $30+ for it and felt I’d paid a lot of money for something slight and unfinished. Which was inherent to the project, I supposed, but I was never able to quite figure out how, or what the point was, or why this wasn’t a novel proper. Though it being short, I think I will go back and explore it again, see what I missed. It did actually seem an uncanny read after reading Ferrante, echoes of one with the other. The very premise of Lucy Barton reminded me of the part in The Story of a New Name in which Lena’s mother comes to Pisa to care for her when she is ill, an anomaly in the story of their relationship, as it was for Lucy and her mother, and so too the circumstance of each woman’s positioning against her past and her family, and the insurmountable nature of class.

IMG_20160229_105956After that, I read The Sunken Cathedral, by Kate Walbert, whose A Short History of Women I’d enjoyed so much a few years ago, and it came recommended by Nancy Jo at Book City. It also seemed like a strange choice following My Name is Lucy Barton, also set in New York City, delving into ideas of motherhood, art, and friendship. Although I felt I wasn’t quite in the right mindset for it. It’s even more fragmented than Lucy Barton but less annoying so—the pieces are so disparate that it makes the project seem like more instead of less. All the same though, I couldn’t make the pieces (each of them compelling in their own rights) fit together to mean something greater than the parts. Was I reading it wrong, I wondered? Why couldn’t I focus enough to have the whole thing make sense? And then I found this New York Times book review that kind of confirmed by feelings and suggesting the problem wasn’t entirely me, and I liked the book better after that, accepting it on its own terms.

IMG_20160301_103825And then I read Diary of a Mad Housewife, which I was absolutely mad for. I’d ordered it after reading Laura Miller’s article on the resurgence of the housewife novel, which interested me because I think Mitzi Bytes fits into the genre. And it was fantastic. How can this book be out of print? It’s funny, sharp, and a marvellous exercise in narrative voice. I’ve never seen the award-winning film, but now I’d like to. As the introduction indicated in my edition, this 1967 anticipated books like Bridget Jones Diary and Candice Bushnall’s Sex and the City columns, and fits well into the genre of Betty Draper books I kind of love, which includes Margaret Laurence’s The Fire Dwellers, The Torontonians by Phyllis Brett Young, and the obligatory Betty Friedan. I appreciate that it’s a book about marriage and motherhood that does necessarily think marriage or motherhood is the singular problem, but that the problems go deeper than that. Also seemed an extension of The Sunken Cathedral in its considerations of New York and motherhood. These novels were continuing to speak to one another.

IMG_20160302_110316Following that, I read The Hundred Year House, by Rebecca Mekkai, which is our book club selection for this month and as I’d read online that it was a bit of a beach read, it seemed fitting to bring with us. It was a strange book that I didn’t entirely understand until I was further into it, and also not until I’d read about her first novel, The Borrower, which was rich with references to classic children’s books including The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin, and the suddenly it all made sense, that this book is similarly a puzzle mystery but for grown-ups. The story moves backwards over the twentieth century to reveal the secrets behind a house, the eccentric family that owned it, and the visitors at an artists’ colony housed there for several decades. On the whole, it was a bit forgettable, but I enjoyed it. Curious echoes between it and Mad Housewife as well—both have characters who are hit in the face by mean men called George.

IMG_20160303_103218I had to take the dust jacket off for the next book, because my friend loaned it to me and then I took it to the beach, which puts books in perilous situations. The book is The Faithful Place, by Tana French, whose books I adore. My third Tana French, and perhaps my favourite. (I am reading them in order; each book is narrated by a minor character from the previous one. And I was so thrilled to discover a new one is forthcoming in August!) I don’t recall connections between this one and others I was reading, but I was so entirely absorbed in the novel that I wasn’t thinking about anything else. It’s about a Dublin detective, Frank Mackey, who returns to his estranged family when a suitcase is discovered in an abandoned house on their street. The suitcase belongs to his first love, a girl who jilted him on the night they were meant to run away together. And now maybe it turns out that he wasn’t jilted, and that someone close to both of them actually killed her.

IMG_20160304_103834The Pumpkin Eater, by Penelope Mortimer, was after that, the fourth book I’ve read by Mortimer, although it reminded me much more of Our Spoons Came From Woolworths, by Barbara Comyns, in being a rather devastated telling of the realities behind fancy bohemian lives. These poor women. (Both novels are autobiographical as well.) It’s about a wife who has been as partial to philandering as she is to bearing children, but when her umpteenth husband starts cheating on her, it’s all quite different. It’s a spare novel, much of it dialogue and we don’t even know the main character’s name. I didn’t enjoy it as much as I’ve enjoyed later novels by Mortimer—I liked My Friend Says It’s Bullet-Proof and Home, novels written after this one and Daddy’s Gone a Hunting. But I also think it’s far from a beach read and one perhaps not best appreciated under the influence of a daiquiri. And so I’m going to be reading it again.

IMG_20160305_100107And finally, my bonus book (for it was from Stuart’s stack). The Cuckoo’s Calling, by Robert Galbraith i.e. J.K. Rowling, her foray into detective fiction, the first in a trilogy. And I loved it. For me, I’ve always connected J.K. Rowling (whose work I’ve not read before, apart from a read aloud of the first Harry Potter a couple of years ago) with Kate Atkinson, both of their career successes undertaking similar trajectories, and so it seemed fitting that this book reminded me so much of Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie novels (although Galbraith’s is much lighter in tone, less brutal and violent). Anyway, The Cuckoo’s Calling was great, and I look forward to following its characters through the other books in the series.

Since returning, I’ve been immersed in great Spring 2016 books, and I have a few really good ones I look forward to telling you about.

March 9, 2016

Barbados in Words, Part II

IMG_20160301_145915

I think photos say it better though. Mostly because we really didn’t do much—you’ll notice that I took very few photos that weren’t from the vantage point of a beach lounger. By the end, we were getting bored (and sick of eating), which was kind of the point. To be bored—what a luxury. Also, to read an entire book every single day. But really, speaking of luxury, best of all was the time together, just the two of us. We haven’t spent a week without our children ever since they were born, and we’ve never been to an all-inclusive resort, or to the Caribbean. The closest we’ve ever come to a beach vacation was our time in Northern Thailand building a house for Habitat for Humanity, which had no beach and involved mixing cement by hand and brick-laying (which, incidentally, I’m not very good at, in case you were wondering). So this trip to Barbados was precedent setting. And probably mostly once in a lifetime. But how cool that that happened last week.

IMG_20160303_152038

Our tenth anniversary was last June, and we might have gone away then except that Iris was too small and we wanted to go to England before she turned two (and therefore required a seat purchase). So it was put off until this year, which was fine because how nice to be still celebrating our anniversary nine months later. And none of it could happened without my wonderful mom who came and took excellent care of our daughters so that we didn’t worry about them ever, ever. (“Was it difficult to adjust to being away without then?””Well…no.”) And so we two had a week in paradise where the weather was always always perfect, where nobody had to cook or make school lunches, and we could sit with just us at the table—except for the time our breakfast was interrupted by a monkey.

IMG_20160303_143109

In Barbados, there are trees on the beach, which didn’t prevent me from breaking out in a terribly rash from my sun allergy, but I didn’t care because I was sitting under a tree on the beach. Where the water was so magically blue, and I was either reading or swimming, and the sea was so warm and we floated in the saltwater with incredible ease—nothing has ever been more relaxing. Sometimes, to break up the day, we sat upright, but not very often. We drank rum punch, pina coladas, and daiquiris before lunchtime. I ate friend plantains for breakfast every day until I was tired of them. Our beach was a five minute walk from the town of Speightstown, which gave us a glimpse of a Barbados a little more real than our resort afforded, and also the most amazing bakery and sea views at the Fisherman’s Pub. And there were so many hours in the day, it seemed unfathomable. To read an entire book, and still have a few hours free? What an amazing indulgence. Every day the sun went down around 6pm and we made a point of marking the occasion…with another drink.

IMG_20160303_182044

March 8, 2016

In Time of Need, by Shakirah Bourne

(IMG_20160305_154417Or, the alternate blog post title: “Barbados in Words Part I” )

In the future whenever I think about the challenges of fostering a thriving literary culture in a country like Canada (pop. 35 million—as opposed to the US’s 318 million) I’m going to think about the population of Barbados, which is 285,000. Literacy rates are sky-high in Barbados, but there aren’t many bookshops outside the capital city of Bridgetown, which made our vacation last week particularly unique in our experience—this trip was just five minutes away from being the only one we’ve ever taken that did not involve bookshop pilgrimages, and from which we’d come home with fewer books than we’d left with.

Except…that after finally making our way through airport security, five minutes past when our boarding time had started, a bookshop appeared before us at the Grantley Adams International Airport, like a vision. A terrible husband would have suggested that instead we get on the plane, but my husband knew better, and so into the shop we went, me in pursuit of a single thing: a literary book by a Barbadian writer who was a woman. And there is was, In Time of Need, by Shakirah Bourne, a self-published title I knew nothing about, and after all, time was a-wasting, so bought it and rushed for the plane. And I happily read In Time of Need all the way home.

It’s a collection of stories, many of which have already appeared in Caribbean literary journals (including Arts Etc Barbados, which is edited by Bajan-Canadian Robert Edison Sandiford), and which was awarded the Barbados Governor General’s Award for Literary Excellence last year. The opening story, “Getting Marry,” is from the perspective of a young boy confused by his parents’ decision to become married (“because I could have swear that them was married every since”) who decides that getting married is all about kissing and cake, and decides to get in on the action himself  with a young friend, only to witness a very adult moment from his hiding spot under the cake-lady’s table. The story is fixed in the boy’s point of view and  rich with the slang and colloquialism of his language, but then the voice we encounter in the next story is entirely different (from the pov of a young woman who’s just been sold into sex trade, though she doesn’t realize it), and still the next, “The Last Crustacean,” which is narrated by a crab—all of which is to say that this is a fast-paced eclectic collection, a veritable grab-bag of good stories.

I loved “Sheep Don’t Stand Still,” with its fabulous twist, about a woman who thought she was living How Stella Got Her Groove Back with a Bajan lover she’d met on the beach, but who finds out more than she bargained for when he dies suddenly and she goes back to Barbados for the funeral. “If Dogs Could Talk” is a terrific story, one-sided dialogue by a woman being interrogated by police after her cousin is accused of murder. “Four Angry Men” is about politics and takes place over an afternoon at a rum shop. These are stories about domestic violence, child abuse, and family ties. “I Didn’t Know” has the most wonderful opening paragraph: “I first met Betty when her son stole my car. As I watched her punch him in the face and force my car keys from his pocket, all the while begging God for forgiveness, I decided we should be friends.” Another stellar selection was “The Five Day Death of Mr. Mayers,” a story of happenstance and misunderstanding, one thing leading to another with hilarious results. And I loved “A Tear for Miss Cinty,” about a young girl who doesn’t appreciate her mother’s devotion to an elderly neighbour until her own mother is old herself, and left so much alone.

This was all certainly a side of Barbados I was not privy to from the vantage point of my all-inclusive deck chair, but the colours, the sun, the flowers, the food, the slang and rhythms had become familiar to me and immersion in Bourne’s literary worlds was the perfect way to make my vacation last a little bit longer. So nice to bring a little piece of that place home.

March 6, 2016

Barbados in Pictures

IMG_20160306_080815IMG_20160305_120404IMG_20160305_110241IMG_20160303_145801IMG_20160302_105152IMG_20160229_161149IMG_20160229_141703IMG_20160229_124430IMG_20160227_172147

 

Next Page »

Mitzi Bytes

Sign up for Pickle Me This: The Digest

Best of the blog delivered to your inbox each month!
Twitter Pinterest Pinterest Good Reads RSS Post