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February 16, 2021

Good Weekends

I’ve written about this before, and I’ll probably write about it forever, but I remember riding the train to work when I lived in Japan, my little red flip phone with all the charms in my hand, and texting my husband, except then he was my boyfriend, “Thank you for a wonderful weekend.”

For the first few years of our relationship, one of us or both of us was always abroad, and I think it infused our domestic pattern with a kind of urgency, free time not to be wasted. We got out and did stuff, and went places, train rides and bike rides. I had a scrapbook then, and I don’t anymore, but I’ve never stopped feeling compelled to do something with my wide open days. And now that I am almost 42, a huge part of that compulsion is that if I don’t burn a lot of energy, I’ll be unable to sleep.

The past year has been a tough time to be the family social convener, possibilities shifting from the infinite ones that a city can offer to, “What alley are we going to walk down today?” (I saw a very funny meme on Instagram on the weekend in which a person comes to the realization that a daily walk is not, in fact, an adequate substitution for a rich and fulfilling life.)

But I think I’ve done a fairly respectable job of keeping us from dying of boredom. We’ve been booking our carshare every two weeks for a trip out of the neighbourhood, which has been fun. We still kind of hate skating, but booking weekly skates means something regular in our calendar (yay!) plus they kick you off after 45 minutes on the rink (also, yay!). We’ve done fun things like get afternoon tea at home from the Windsor Arms Hotel over Christmas. Lots of takeout. If all else fails, we walk to Bloomers at Bloor and Ossington to get donuts. There is also a creme brulee place at the top of the hill on Bathurst Street, that makes for as satisfying a walk as it does a snack, and we can walk home via the Baldwin Steps.

(Please don’t write a comment about treats negating the purposes of walking. Nope. You get both. It’s a perfect system.)

This weekend was particularly lovely. Saturday morning oh-so-lazy, and I love this, because the weekdays aren’t (we get up at 7:00 and do yoga) and so it’s something different, a treat. If I’ve not had at least two pots of tea and read the entire newspaper, I’m not satisfied. And the afternoon we got in the car and drove out to Humber Bay Shores in west end, where people are skating on frozen ponds, and we weren’t brave enough to skate, but we walked, and it was so much fun. And then walking along the beach, ice frozen along the shore line and the ducks that bobbed along anyway, and I was so happy. I am always happiest by the lake, no matter the season, and I’d remembered to wear snowpants so I wasn’t even cold.

Sunday was Valentines Day, but even more important, it was WAFFLES DAY, which comes but once a week. We had two great Valentines Day plans, which were excellent. 1) A walk down to Little Island Comics on College Street to pick-up the books I’d ordered for my children for Valentines Day gifts, and then 2) we bought the kids pizza and pop (a big deal for 21st century children! Even though when I was a kid we mainlined it), and the even got complimentary canolli, and they ate it in front of the TV while Stuart and I picked up a five-course dinner from Piano Piano, and ate it in the kitchen by the light of the oven hood bulb and the Christmas lights hanging over the door, which made a truly splendid ambience and it really felt like a date.

I know this is a truly boring weekend plan when I lay it all out there (there are people who climb mountains and spear great white sharks, I know) but it’s a pandemic and everything is closed, and also I had work to do all weekend, in between the five course meals and trips to the beach. (When you put it like that, I almost sound like a movie star!)

Monday was a holiday here in Ontario, Family Day, which was designed before a time when family members spent months on end in each other’s company and no one else’s. The plan was to deliver small Valentines packages to friends in our neighbourhood, which we did, with so much complaining, because our children (one in particular) had truly reached the end of their ropes and were so ready to get back to school. But it all came together in the evening when we partook in a cooking class I’d found out about last week when the food bank sent me an email—the event was setting a world for the world’s largest cooking class, raising money for the food bank (they raised more than $40,000) and giving us a fun opportunity to cook a delicious meal together. And it was really fun, and wonderful, and delicious, and made me realize my children need to spend more time around the stove.

I capped off the long weekend with a hot bath, where I finished rereading Happy All the Time, by Laurie Colwin. (The other book I read this weekend was my friend Chantel Guertin’s forthcoming novel, Instamom, and it was amazing.)

The kids went back to school this morning for the first time in nearly two months. We had to walk through freshly fallen snow to get there, and it was a winter wonderland. And once they were dropped off, I would have sent that same text message to my husband that I sent long ago, but I didn’t have to, because we’re always together these days, so I just told him.

August 24, 2020

20 K

There are people who get off on pushing limits, on the intensity of winning, overcoming. I am not one of those people, which is part of the reason my children could not ride bicycles for years. The other part of the reason why my children could not ride bicycles for years was that they were really bad at it, and we were even worse at trying to teach them. We tried everything, but once one knew how to do it, the other one was struggling, and finally what it took in the end was a pandemic, for the world to be brought to a halt and my husband to be so frustrated by our situation that he taught our youngest to ride in an afternoon and had everyone’s bikes tuned up and ready to go in a space of a week.

And so we ride bikes now, out for ice cream, to the Korean grocery store, to Dufferin Grove Park. So when my cousin called me out of the blue yesterday and suggested we meet at Humber Bay Shores, way out in the west end, I decided we would ride bikes to get there. According to Google Maps, it was fifteen minutes quicker than transit.

But, dear reader, Google Maps LIED. As we made our way down Shaw Street to King, it occurred to me that a return trip in the other direction was going to be hard work (the problem when your entire city is built on a subtle slope). And then when we got to King and realized that not only were there no bike lanes, but that idiots roared along in their stupid cars like the street was a racetrack, we joined our children on the sidewalk. And as Liberty Village turned into Parkdale, the sun grew hotter, and it was around Dufferin Avenue that somebody started to cry.

But by then it was too late to turn back, and there was still so far to go. Why is there no shade in Parkdale? Why had we decided to make this journey on the hottest day of the year? Would our children ever forgive us as they furiously pedalled on their tiny single speed bikes that they’ve both outgrown already? How were we ever going to get home again, I wondered, as we persisted, the lake getting closer. We pointed it out at our first glimpse of it, but the children were too tired to care.

There is a ramp on the other side of the Roncesvalles Pedestrian Bridge, and Iris sailed down it on her bike and ran right into a wall. I chased after her, flinging my own bike to the ground impeding traffic, and feeling like I was going to throw up once I had reached her, because I was already tired, and it was so very hot. (Cheers to the kind man at the Palais Royale who offered to refill our water bottles…)

On the other side of the bridge, we at least got to ride on the waterfront trail, and the Lakeshore was closed to traffic, so there was relief in that. But even from Sunnyside to Humber Bay Shores was so far, and as we approached the slope of the Humber Foot Bridge, we all felt ready to fall to pieces. Maybe we were just going to live at Humber Bay Shores forever, I decided, collapsed in a heap on the concrete.

Fortunately, we had come to Humber Bay Shores to see my cousin and her family, a cousin who has been one of my dearest friends forever, and once we’d recovered our breath and stopped sweating, we spent a delightful two hours with them, and no one ever would have suggested that the journey wasn’t worth it.

But how to get home?

I decided we would cycle home along the Martin Goodman Trail on the lakefront, taking our time (it took 3 hours), stopping often to stick our feet in wading pools, to collapse under shady trees, and eventually even to order takeout from a sushi place which we ate in the Toronto Music Garden. I bought my children orange crush, a staple of my childhood but a curious artifact in theirs, and they were so excited. They definitely earned it. And then after sushi, we cycled just a little bit further, to the streetcar stop that would take us and our bikes right up Spadina Avenue, depositing us at the end of our street.

Which was kind of cheating, but even still, we cycled 20 kilometres, and it was terrible and awful and fun and amazing, and we were so proud of ourselves, and we never, ever want to do it again.

April 6, 2020

We’ve Still Got Weekends

I wrote about “observing the weekend” on Instagram the other day, about the ways that doing so has helped to frame our lives in what is now the fourth week of quarantine during the time of Covid-19. Though it’s probably a good thing to do even at the best of times, and something that I didn’t do enough as I scrambled to finish my work during the brief hours my children’s school day provided and then had to fit in an extra shift or two on Sunday afternoons. And while my time to work is no more plentiful than it ever was (and now steeped in distraction, and anxieties, and I keep insisting on making elaborate lunches), the weekend has become a sacred thing.

On Friday afternoon, I turned my laptop off and didn’t turn it back on until Monday morning. All the weekday rules thrown out the window—dressed and breakfasted by 9am? Pshaw. If you’re not still in your pyjamas on Sunday, 1:30 pm, then you’re doing it wrong. All the breakfasts should be photogenic and totally delicious, and you’re only allowed to read the news if you’re reading an actual NEWSpaper, though you have to read the comics first. The last two Saturdays, we’ve ordered takeout, because a person should only have to orchestrate one photogenic meal a day. There has been a whole lot of sloth, and togetherness, and video games, and reading, which is a pleasure and a break, and makes you even want to pull yourself together once Monday morning rolls around.

Even better than observing the weekend though? Adding a little bit of weekend to the week. A few weeks back, Harriet was having a pretty tough time with our new arrangement of hiding in our house for the foreseeable future in fear of a deadly contagion (kids these days!) and decided that special breakfasts on Wednesday would add a little bit of the magic and delight that has retreated from our lives. We’ve also curled up for a family movie on Monday nights the last two weeks, which would never have happened in any other universe, and seems like a lovely kind of indulgence in this upside-down world.

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.

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