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Pickle Me This

November 5, 2017

Cozy Inside

It’s so dark, but I’m not tired of it yet. It’s still novel, and my house is warm with all the lights on. I’ve literally got an illuminated banner hanging up in this room right now whose letters read LIGHT LIGHT so I guess you can see that we’re really trying here. And it’s working. I really do love evenings like this, the world so dark outside our windows but everything bright and cozy inside, each of us here exactly where we belong.

It hasn’t been the easiest season, for reasons that are mostly (and blessedly) unremarkable, the usual business of life. It’s not been terrible either, but it’s also been busy, and while we’ve had many adventures and good fun with excellent friends, this Saturday was the first Saturday in at least a month or maybe more where we had absolutely nowhere to go. And it was perfect, the way an empty Saturday can be, the way it isn’t when everyone is tired and the house is too small and nothing good is in the cupboard. No, everything was completely the opposite of that, and yesterday was cold and bright and sunny. We didn’t leave the house until after two o’clock, when we headed to the library, and we’d had bread and jam for breakfast, and played games, and then Harriet made a video game about putting all your apples in one basket (and it turned out fine!). At the library, amazing books we out on display, and we got the new Carson Ellis and whole stack of Bob Graham books, the brand new Girls Who Code book by Reshma Saujani, and a book of kitchen experiments about growing mould that for some delightful but obscure reason was exactly what Harriet was desiring.

We walked home via Kensington Market, and bought bagels. And then arrived home to the smell of bread in our bread-maker, nearly done. And I made that one kind of soup that my children will consent to eat, which is pretty much devoid of flavour, but it’s still soup and they eat it which means we’ve come a long long way. All I’ve ever wanted really are children who eat soup, so I won’t quibble, and their company at dinner was delightful. It’s been that way most of the weekend actually, which is so so nice. When we turn to each other and say, “Don’t you just adore these funny people we made?”

(This is in contrast to early in the week when one of those funny people kept coughing in bed and we were contemplating making her sleep in the shed.)

Today was the day with twenty-five hours in it, which is always my favourite day of the year, and this year it once again delivered, never mind that I probably spent my extra hour in bed struggling to go back to sleep after creepy dreams were keeping me up in the night—I’ve been reading too many intense novels lately. We had cottage cheese pancakes this morning and hung out reading newspapers and the children entertained themselves, and we made banana bread. After lunch, we went to the pool and spent a delightful hour frolicking in the shallows, which saved us from a  day of doing absolutely nothing at all and going stir-crazy. We came home and I read books while the kids watched TV, and then Stuart made dinner, and Harriet and Iris and I made guacamole, except Iris kept calling it Whack-a-moley. And Iris even ate it! (“And Iris even ate it!” is the unbelievable incredible ending to so many stories I tell.)

Today was the kind of grey and rainy Sunday you just hope will come along, during those rare and precious times when you’ve got nothing else to do. This entire weekend feels as restorative as a week-long vacation, and we don’t even have to unpack.

July 18, 2017

The Weekend Effect, by Katrina Onstad

The very best phone I ever had was a little red flip phone which was ahead of its time in 2004, but this was Japan where all the phones were from the future. The phone fit perfectly inside my hand, and I remember the grip of it, the ringtone,  how coloured lights on the outside lit up when it rang, and mostly what I remember is standing on the train platform at the beginning of another week at work and sending a text to Stuart (who was not yet my husband) that would say something like, “Thank you for another excellent weekend.”

Part of this is that we were living abroad, and I’d been doing so for a few years by then, which had got me into the habit of making the most of my time in a place that wouldn’t be home forever. Part of it too was that we had very few holidays and long workdays, and we were living in a culture that draws a firm line between work and leisure, although with the latter pursued with the same regimented approach as the former. There is nothing casual about leisure in Japan—pursuing hobbies seemed to be more important than actually having passion for the hobbies one is pursuing. While we were living in Japan, I took up yoga, French, cycling, pickling, hiking, and breakdancing, all with varying degrees of failure, and actually contemplated spending a week in silence at a Buddhist retreat, but couldn’t get the time off for that. And the same determined sense of openness and possibility permeated our weekends, which were not actually the weekend, but fell on Thursday and Friday, if I recall correctly. “We take train trips like they’re vitamin pills,” I noted in a poem I wrote about that period, and it definitely helped that the trains were cheap. And so off we’d go on our days off on various adventures, always taking care to return with omiyage, as well as a story to tell.

And so this is the ethos we’ve brought with us through the years, a serious approach to the weekend. I figured that in her new book, The Weekend Effect: The Life-Changing Benefits of Taking Time Off and Challenging the Cult of Overwork, Katrina Onstad would be preaching to the choir, but I picked up the book anyway because I’ve been a fan of Onstad’s writing for as long as I’ve loved weekends. “Weekends are my religion,” I wrote in an instagram post to this effect, somewhat sacrilegiously, I figured, but then I was stirred to encounter in the book on Page 16, “The outline of the weekend is etched in the sacred.” Most religions, Onstad writes, exhort a day of rest—Muslims pray and congregate on Fridays, Jews on Saturday and Christians on Sunday. Perhaps I’m more religious than I know.

Onstad begins her book with history, with the weekend as a labour issue whose origins are much more recent than I would have imagined. Weekends are also an issue of class and consumption, and she explores the idea of leisure and its own changing history. And leisure remains much of the focus of the rest of the book, as Onstad considers what might give a weekend meaning—connection, volunteerism, rest, religion, sports, nature—and those things that might detract from it—shopping, housework, the internet, binge-watching TV. Onstad travels around North America speaking to people who are reinventing the weekend, pushing its limits and making the most of their time off, to demonstrate how the rest of us might do a better job of doing so. And even for me, someone pretty weekend-devout, there was lots of food-for-thought here about how we might make better use of ours, which matters, because—as Annie Dillard wrote—of course, how we spend our days is how we spend our lives.

We’ve got two things on our side in our family—the first is that I work from home with flexible hours, which means that I can get our household chores out of the way during the drudgery of Monday to Friday 9-5 (although this also means that I’ve spent plenty of time on the weekend huddle over my laptop on a deadline, but sometimes that the price you pay). The second is that our children are not particularly sporty and even if they were, we don’t have a car or the inclination to spend those precious weekend days ferrying them to hockey arenas and gymnastics tournaments. There is an upside to the fact that no one in our household possesses the physical prowess to turn a cartwheel, and so it goes. This winter, we didn’t sign our children up for anything, which meant that we had free Saturdays—for things like the neighbourhood community cleanup, and marching with placards on International Women’s Day, and it gave me a real appreciation for the possibilities of openness and where a single can take you—or even two.

May 15, 2017

Good Weekend

We had the most terrific weekend. Not for any particularly exhilarating reason, but instead for quite the opposite. It’s been weeks and weeks since we had a weekend with no plans in it, and during the last few weekends I’ve mostly been spending a day or more out of tow, plus. I was out a whole bunch of nights last week. And so the weekend of Mother’s Day arrived, and there was nothing else I wanted except to spend time with my children—what a thing. To turn off the internet too because there’s only so much of that shit-show one can contend with, so I spent Saturday in airplane mode, reading Suzette Mayr’s follow-up to Monoceros, Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Crawley Hall. Which was so good and I stayed up until midnight last night to get to the end, and after such a busy month where I’ve had so little time to read to read an entire novel in two days just felt extraordinary. I also got to partake in such things as a nap, breakfast in bed with my new waterlilies mug, afternoon tea with jam and cream in our living room with my own mom, friends for dinner and rhubarb cake, I got to read three whole newspapers, watch a bit of Mad Men, go to the park, go out for dinner, eat ice cream on Bloor Street, and dash through a rain storm—but one that was brief enough that it was sunny by the time we all walked home.

August 1, 2016

Getaway

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It was such a relief to get away this weekend, to leave the world behind by actually venturing deeper into it. Like many people, I’ve found the last two months incredibly upsetting, and while instances of violence and carnage are inevitable in this global atmosphere of decisive, angry and hateful political rhetoric, that it all makes sense doesn’t make the awfulness any easier to process. I have particularly found the “breaking” nature of violent events unfolding difficult to deal with—clicking on Twitter hashtags to find out what unthinkable thing has been thought of now and then having to filter tweets by racists, nitwits, and conspiracy theorists. Putting the pieces together in the absence of real information and analysis. It’s hurting my brain. A few nights I was served very well by turning off social media altogether after 6pm—whatever horrible thing unfolds tonight, I told myself, I will read about it in the newspaper in the morning.

But this weekend we got away altogether, three days of camping and no WiFi and it was so relaxing and freeing. To consider too that this moment, this place, this quiet solitude with my people is just as real, and important, and vital for me to pay attention to, to witness, as anything else that’s happening in the world. To just be in the world to, immersed in nature. The trees, the bugs, the birds, the dirt, the wide sandy beach, and that huge huge sky.

I read the two-day-old paper this morning before the campfire and considered how much I like receiving news this way. How much good it does me. (I loved Marsha Lederman’s column, “In a World Gone Mad, The Arts Matter More Than Ever.”)  And the only other thing I read this weekend (except for an ARC of the new Louise Penny novel, which is her very best yet since the exceptional How the Light Gets In!!!) was headlines from a newspaper from last August, which I found in the bottom of our box of camping stuff, saved for starting fires. Articles about Mike Duffy, when Steven Harper was Prime Minister. It read as though it were from another world, and it was. Not necessarily a more innocent one either, although Jo Cox was still an obscure MP and Donald Trump a fringe candidate. But Rob Ford was alive and Chris Alexander a cabinet minister, so it goes to show that you never can tell.

I took comfort from packing up pieces of Saturday’s paper with my matches and collapsible bowl, and imagining what we might make of it in another year’s time. When we’re back in nature whose very nature is a constant, even though it isn’t really—we walked through a marshland today, and learned how sediment sweeping from the lake will one day render it solid ground. Everything is always changing, and very often in ways that we’ve never imagined. The universe has still not lost its capacity to surprise us. Always, always, there is grounds for hope, as well as humour and heart and faith in goodness.

July 24, 2016

Summer Summer

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Greetings from Toronto Riviera (i.e. on Ward’s Island), where we spent all day yesterday—it was as glorious as it appears to be. I’m looking forward to spending the next two weeks not running my children back and forth to camps, and instead taking things slow and easy together (and yes, installing them in front of movies each day for a time so I can get my 1000 words written—this is good for all of us). We’ve got camping and cottages coming up and lots of excellent summer things, and I’ve been doing lots and lots of reading and I’m looking forward to sharing some more great books with you.

July 3, 2016

Summer Starts

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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June 12, 2016

In Pursuit of a Mug

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I’m not going to deny the fact that today I led my family all the way across the city because I was in pursuit of a mug. But I don’t think they suffered for it. When I learned last week that Diane Sullivan was going to be at the Beaches Arts and Crafts Festival (and that there was even such a thing as the Beaches Arts and Crafts Festival) in beautiful Kew Gardens, I knew I wanted to go, because I could pick up one of her mugs—I have one already, and it is my favourite, a birthday gift from my mom last year—and my children would be happy playing in the park, and admission to the festival was free, plus we could take a streetcar journey inspired by Andrew Larsen’s new book, The Not So Faraway Adventure.

So off we went today after Harriet’s dance class, the streetcar journey faster than we’d expected and actually painless (and not just because this is relative to our shuttle bus misadventures last weekend while the subway line was closed). Arriving at the park and having our picnic. I got to meet Diane Sullivan and indeed pick out a brand new beautiful mug which will make its #TodaysTeacup debut tomorrow. After lunch, I did some more browsing, and the children played on the climbers while Stuart read a novel: everybody was happy. Eventually I had to leave the Beaches Arts and Crafts Festival before I bought everything. And we got some fro-yo, and then walked back through the park toward the lake, the beach crowded with people enjoying the day. And we spent an hour and a bit contemplating the most glorious horizon, trying to skip stones and mostly failing, and gathering an impressive array of sea glass, which was the most perfect exercise in paying attention and appreciating the beauty in tiny ordinary things.

We took the streetcar home after a delicious dinner and gloried in the goodness of a practically perfect day, whose perfection we appreciated in particular in light of the school trip to the farm on Friday, which was perfect in its own way except that Iris threw up on me as the school bus pulled into the parking lot and I had to spend the whole day smelling like vomit. And that that day too was not without its charms is either a credit to my pathological insistence on making the best of things or evidence that I am suffering from delusions.

May 22, 2016

I slept all night

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I slept all night last night. This is beginning to be kind of unremarkable, since I don’t know when, and it’s not always the case, but more and more it is. Which means something in particular right now, because I’m thinking back to the May holiday weekend last year, which was dreadful, and I wasn’t sure how it wasn’t always going to be that way. (That was the weekend where we had to send our babysitter home because Iris wouldn’t go to sleep, and taking 2+ hours to fall asleep in the evening would proceed to wake up at midnight and every few hours thereafter, and I was so tired and sad and felt enslaved by it all. That was the weekend I finally stopped breastfeeding and we left her to cry until she learned to fall asleep on her own, because I just couldn’t stand it anymore). And while it’s true that me daring to write this down here means that Iris will make up screaming at 4:30am tonight, it’s just nice to affirm that some things do get better.

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We have had a nice weekend—we went to see my parents yesterday and drove home into the most stunning sunset and nobody cried or threw up because we’d gotten all that out of our system on the journey there that morning. Today we got up early (isn’t it funny what can happen when you sleep) and tidied up our backyard and deck for summer, planting flowers in our pots and getting them up all lined up on the fire-escape. Iris went down for her nap (because yes, Iris naps again—we found out that we like her so much better when she does) and I spent the afternoon drinking ice-tea in my hammock in the sunshine. And then got to work preparing for our party tomorrow—Victoria sponge cake and edible bunting (I KNOW!). It’s Harriet’s birthday party, which has a Queen Victoria tea party theme. There will be jam tarts and tiny sandwiches, and we will be making tea blends and decorating mugs. And the party launches our month of celebrations: her actual party on Thursday, Iris’s birthday not long after, and our wedding anniversary, and Father’s Day, and my birthday, and also the birthdays of both our moms. June is full to bursting. And goes by oh so fast.

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I’ve been reading the most fantastic books this weekend—The Turner House, by Angela Flournoy, was a stunner of a debut novel, and one of the best books I’ve read in ages. I remember how good it felt to read The Corrections the first time all those years ago, back before hating Jonathan Franzen became an international pastime (who I’ve resented ever since Freedom), and The Turner House was kind of like that. The Detroit setting is so compelling, and the novel is so much in its reach (as any novel about a family with 13 siblings would be) and I loved it. I wanted to buy the book as soon as I read Doree Shafrir’s profile, “Why American is Ready for Novelist Angela Flournoy” and the novel did not disappoint. (Incidentally, how much richer would literature be if everyone wrote as wonderfully about books as Shafrir does here?)

I’ve spent today reading Double Teenage, by Joni Murphy, which I was initially concerned I wasn’t cool enough to appreciate, but it’s painful and wonderful (and is also the reason we’ve been listening to Graceland all day). The Katherine Lawrence book, Never Mind, is for our book club meeting next month. And yesterday I bought Modern Lovers, by Emma Straub, whose The Vacationers I read over the July 1 long weekend two years ago as I was embarking upon the first few pages of the first draft of Mitzi Bytes, and gave me the idea of the literary tone I aspired to. So I find myself nostalgic again as I contemplate her latest title while in the very early stages of a new writing project of my own. I kind of want to start reading it right away, but I also am tempted to save it, to look forward to it for a little longer.

January 17, 2016

Weekdays and ice rinks

breakfastOur first week back at school went so smoothly, and was such a relief after more than a month of illness and disruption, which meant, of course that week two was determined to thwart all that ease. Iris’s school was closed due to a broken furnace, Harriet’s school called at 9:45 on Monday morning asking her to be picked up because of an earache, and I’ve got all my usual work (49thShelf.com’s Spring previews don’t write themselves, you know!), plus revisions to my novel due in two weeks. Luckily, Iris’s school’s furnace found a temporary fix, Harriet’s earache was a passing fad, and we spent two days at home watching David Bowie on Youtube and playing in the snow—it all settles down. And there still seems to be time enough—perhaps because of all the stuff I’ve not yet got around to doing, but I’ll worry about that tomorrow (ha!). This winter we’ve ruined our lives by signing Harriet up for skating lessons on Saturdays and swimming lessons on Sundays, but there’s really no way around it because she has to learn both, but luckily lessons are close to home and we can walk there, and are either early or late enough in the mornings that we’ll get to do proper morning things (i.e. croissants and reading the paper). Yesterday we took her to her first skating lesson and she was amazing, and inspired us all to venture out skating today, which is the first time we’ve been skating for over two months. I haven’t felt up to it since having pneumonia, but today felt different. It didn’t hurt that all the snow has melted so hauling our stroller down Dufferin Street is no trouble and all, and also that it’s not cold outside so it’s a bit like skating in the spring. Such a pleasure, and of course there are hotdogs post-skate from the cafe, so that part is good too, and we all enjoyed it—except that Iris only enjoyed skating for half a lap, and then decided she’d only lie down on the ice and cry, so I had to drag her the rest of the way, and then the rest of her laps were taken from her stroller.

You can see more of our mundane but colourful adventures over at Instagram: including our descent into pasta-making chaos, and my cranberry beef stew that nobody liked.

November 1, 2015

The Future is Dark

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The future is dark, which is the best thing the future can be, I think…” —Virginia Woolf

Something has turned, not just the calendar, making the world around us distinctly November. The leaves on our big tree have gone suddenly from green to yellow, and are starting to fall. The clock has gone back, and the evening comes sooner. And yet the temperature is mild tonight. We walked up to the ice rink to meet our friends and go skating, and our hats and mitts were overkill. The sky was curiously mottled, dark clouds, setting sun and blue.

IMG_20151029_084302We were looking forward to skating—our second time out this season. And our second time out skating as a foursome. Last weekend, we drove out to the west end and hooked Stuart up with his first pair of ice skates ever, and traded in Harriet’s last year pair for a bigger model. When Harriet and I first bought skates last Christmas, it seemed a dubious experiment—would we actually undermine our reputations as terrible Canadians and partake in a winter sport? But it turned out that we loved it, and Stuart looked on longingly. This year, Stuart is in on the fun, and Iris too on bob skates. Though we are particularly excited because we’ve been spent the last week tracking the postal progress of her brand new deluxe bob skates with straps that won’t fall off (we hope!) and they’re due to arrive any day now. And we’re even looking forward to skating proper on the outdoor rinks once they’re open because Stuart and I each bought a pair of snow pants, my first pair in many years. I actually think that they might change my life, and certainly will make walking the children to school at -40 degrees celsius much more bearable, not to mention outdoor play during playschool co-op shifts, and even the prospect of tobogganing. Last year we went tobogganing once, and my jeans got wet, and I was so cold, I could have cried.

IMG_20151030_185418But all that was a long way off as we walked up Brunswick Avenue tonight, enjoying the strange light and the post-Halloween quiet. Stepping over smashed pumpkins, and being in the perfect place between warmth and chill. Arriving at the ice rink to find our friends there, everyone a bit disappointed. The Sunday night public skate schedule was from the summer, apparently. In autumn, the public skate is on Saturday. And it took me far too long to process that it wasn’t actually Saturday. Okay then. But it seemed that the entire park beside the rink was ablaze for some kind of festival, pumpkins lining its perimeter. Children were climbing ladders into up into trees and swinging from ropes in a manner that suggested that nobody had thought about safety permits or wavers. Someone else had set up straw-bales and an old mattress, and the children were taking turns flinging themselves upon it. The adjoining playground, whose climbing structure is a pirate ship, was absolutely full of children, taking in the festival, perhaps, as well as the perfect autumn night. (All this is so lovely—it has rained for the last three Halloweens, I think.)

IMG_20141102_154120So we stood in the playground with our friends while our kids played, and it was perfect. And I was thinking about Rebecca Solnit’s essay, Woolf’s Darkness, which we’re reading tomorrow night in my blogging course. The line, which is also the epigraph to my novel, “To me, the grounds for hope are simply that we don’t know what will happen next…” I’ve been thinking about nighttime walks, and street haunting, and one thing leading to another. How exactly one year ago, when I was also about to be discussing Woolf’s Darkness with my blogging course (and yes, one might ask me the question: how have you managed to find a way to be paid for doing all the best things ever? To which I would reply: I have absolutely no idea…) and I wrote this post, one of my favourites ever: “On Uncertainty, Mistakes and Accidental Cake“, which might just be my philosophy of the world. Tonight another example: often, not ending up where you were intending to go turns out to be startlingly right.

IMG_20151031_113232We walked home again and it was dark outside. “I don’t like the dark,” said Harriet, who always claims that she can’t see at night, never mind the streetlights. I pointed out that what I liked best about walking in the dark was everybody’s lit windows, and how we could see the worlds inside. We decided to make a quick visit down to our own neighbourhood’s annual pumpkin festival before heading home for dinner: baked butternut squash risotto was waiting in a cast-iron pot on the stove. Although we were less excited about the pumpkin festival as we’d been in years previous, as our own pumpkin hadn’t been picked up to be part of it. We remain fuzzy on how which pumpkins get to be in the festival. I thought it was democratic, but ours keeps not getting picked up. Then we wondered if it was just that it sucked, but I don’t think that’s actually a barrier to entry. Anyway, just to demonstrate that we just didn’t care about any of this, okay, FINE!, we’d hacked our pumpkin to bits this afternoon with an intention to roasting it and making it into something to eat. As we walked home from the pumpkin festival, I was anticipating a rich pumpkin pudding—the perfect end to an excellent, albeit meandering evening.

IMG_20151101_173338Oh, but reader, my pumpkin pudding was vile. Demonstrating that not all winding roads eventually lead to cake or such deliciousness. Sometimes one’s culinary accidents are scraped into the bin, and the problem isn’t solely that you forgot to add sugar (I know! What was I thinking?). But also that carving pumpkins are just fundamentally not meant to be eaten by creatures more discerning than raccoons. Which would be the point at which wiser women might give up, but oh no, that would be too easy. The grounds for hope are simply that we don’t know what will happen next, remember? So I’ve roasted the pumpkin, and now I’m going to turn it into soup. And if that doesn’t work, I’ll chuck the whole thing into the garbage and officially go to bed.

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