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July 19, 2015

Summer Days

IMG_20150719_174417Sunday night, we are sunburned, all of us (oops) and everything is gritty with sand. On the cusp of a new week, a summer going swimmingly, but much too fast. Last week Harriet began the first of two weeks of day-camp at the museum, just for the afternoons, and she’s having a great time. She comes home and tells us stories about Hatshepsut and how blacksmiths fashioned knights’ armour. We’re enjoying our mornings together, hanging out with friends and going to the library, but there has been no time to clean the house and it’s become a disaster. All the sand we brought home today isn’t helping. And our weeks are hung on a routine that includes the farmer’s market, soccer, hammock afternoons. Yesterday for the second Saturday in a row, we went to Christie Pits pool to cool off from the heat, and it was perfect, straight out of Swimming Swimming. Though it was still plenty hot when we went to bed, and got even hotter when we lost power at 1am, our trusty box fans silenced. Out the window the sky was so bright, and I decided there’d been some kind of disaster, or that this was going to be a blackout lasting days and in our attic bedroom it would only get hotter and hotter. Although lights in tall buildings on the horizon suggested otherwise, but my mind was taking me to crazy places. Only settling down when Harriet woke up at 3 concerned that she’d gone blind like Mary from Little House on the Prairie, because she couldn’t see anything. By this point, Iris had taken over my spot in bed so I went to sleep on the couch, awakened by Harriet and every electrical appliance in the house when the power came back on around 4. At approximately 4:46, the sunrise began, and I watched it from my living room window, and the night was declared an official disaster.

IMG_20150719_174815Though I roused myself for a trip to Centre Island today, a day with our friends that was so absolutely perfect. No line-ups at the ferry docks, happy children (who spent the day pretending two flat stones were smartphones via which they had fascinating conversations), splash pad fun, swimming at the beach, and lots of relaxing. Iris slept in the stroller en-route to Ward’s Island, and once we were there the thunderstorms threatened for days by the weather report finally arrived, but we were sheltered by a big old tree that mostly kept the rain off as we ate dinner and drank beer and began to feel exhaustion set in in the most terrific way. Followed by ice cream, of course, and the ferry at the dock’s so we caught it back to the mainland and that might be one of my favourite journeys in the world, how we’re always sated. How every island day always seems like the best one ever. But this one really really was.

July 7, 2015

No Rain

IMG_20150624_081645I ran into someone last week who remarked upon photos of my family on Facebook which give the mostly-correct impression that we are good at spending our days. Though it’s not always the whole story, and I let her know about the weekend previous, when it rained for two days, all our plans got flooded, and I cried because the soup I made tasted just like dirt. She asked me why I don’t take pictures of that, or blog about it, and that’s a good question, but the answer is mostly, why bother? It was bad enough living through it once, so why on earth would I want to re-experience it by writing it down?

IMG_20150629_162615Whereas the last few days, summer proper, have been glorious. No rain. We had a very good week last week, adjusting well to school’s out. I love not having to schlep anyone out the door in the morning, and the day continues on apace. Harriet watches movies through Iris’s nap while I get some work done, and I begin the rest of my work once the kids go to bed, though the problem with this is that they’re going to bed later and later. But alas. I am also in love with our teenage babysitter, whose alarm at Iris eating dirt the other day was totally adorable.

IMG_20150704_123110On Friday, we spent a morning at the park with friends, perfect weather, shaded by trees so we didn’t even have to apply sunscreen. The children played and got dirty while their mothers talked about books and writing, and life seemed very much in balance. On Saturday we had a busy day of Fringe Festival and then the book launch for Kate Beaton’s The Princess and the Pony at Little Island comics, which was fantastic. And that night we hung out on our friends’ amazing rooftop patio celebrating the 4th of July in the company of excellent Americans (3 out of 4 of whom were under 6). We went home before we’d drank too much so Sunday wouldn’t be a disaster.

IMG_20150705_100242And it wasn’t! The #SummerofRavines continued with an exploration of the St Clair Ravine, which was amazing, up through Mount Pleasant Cemetery and along the Beltline Trail to Oriole Park, which has a fantastic playground so the children were delighted. My secret plan is to trick them into liking nature rambles, and so far so good. We were even home again for nap, which is my definition of a proper kind of day. I spent Iris’s nap in the hammock revelling in wifi, putting the finishing touches on 49thShelf’s 2015 Fall Fiction Preview, which you can read here.

IMG_20150629_195833And now I have decamped for a few days visiting my parents in Peterborough, which is the first time I’ve ever done such a thing solo, so dependent am I upon my husband (who needs to stay home and go to work). This is the longest time we’ve been apart since 2003, which is kind of ridiculous, but I like our life this way. But on the other hand, it’s nice to know how much I’m capable on my own and also to have the experience of missing each other. It’s novel. The good news is that nobody threw up in the car, and also that we have a car, which means when I needed an emergency bookstore visit tonight to pick up a copy of The Folded Clock: A Diary, by Heidi Julavits, I was able to do so with alacrity.

I’m now reading Look at Me, by Jennifer Egan, which feels summery to me because I read Goon Squad at the cottage a couple of years ago. It’s reminiscent of the later book, but a bit off-putting too, so I’ll be reading the Julavits alongside it. And yes, I get holiday book nostalgia a lot. I read Elizabeth McCracken’s amazing Thunderstruck last summer the day we came home from our cottage (I remember walking home from the subway reading the book once I’d dropped off our rental car) and now I’m yearning to read another of her books when we go away in a few weeks. I’ve got The Giant’s House and Niagara Falls All Over Again on order, one of which I’ll be reading along with rereads of Nora Ephron’s Heartburn and something by Laurie Colwin because I’ve been thinking a lot about funny, smart novel by women writers—the kind of book I want to write. So I’ll be reading for pleasure and also for inspiration.

January 3, 2015

Christmas Vacation

harrietOne of many reasons that members of our family are unlikely to ever take the world by storm is that our greatest talents really are for leisure—we’re experts at doing nothing, or just enough of something with requisite amounts of sofa-lying for good measure. We often visit cultural institutions such as museums and art galleries but rarely for more than an hour or two at a time, and never without a trip to the cafe AND the gift shop. Going out for lunch is our main occupation, and we always have dessert. We are really very good at enjoying ourselves, and so the last two weeks have been an absolute pleasure.

Two things: first, that I finished things up so that there was no work at all to be done for a week or so, and second, we turned off the internet. For a week, there was no checking of email or twitter, which opened up vast pockets of time in every day for all kinds of things—reading, playing, baking, carol-singing, and doing the Globe & Mail holiday crossword. On Tuesday we bought the newspaper because we were curious about what had gone on in the world, and it was odd to flip through the pages and discover news items we hadn’t heard about elsewhere.

windowWe spent the first couple of days of our holiday trying in vain to kick the cold that’s been embedded in our heads since the beginning of December. On the Sunday, we went down to the Bay on Queen Street to look at the Christmas windows, which were wonderful, and then went into the store and realized that department stores were the perfect way to reconcile our hatred of shopping malls with the joys of Christmas consumption (glittery lights, perfume smells, shopping bags with string handles, and 1 kilo tins of chocolate. Also, I now own tights without holes in the feet). Speeding home on the subway in time for Iris’s nap and for me to meet friends for an exquisite afternoon tea at Dessert Trends Bistro.

frankOn Monday, we went to the library (because holidaying doesn’t always have to happen on a lavish scale) and then had smoked meat lunch at Caplansky’s Deli. I also went out for dinner with my friends and drank far too much wine. On Tuesday, I don’t think we did anything, partly due to the wine. Throughout all of this, Stuart and I were watching movies and episodes of Midsomer Murders in the evening (because we are 85 years old) and Harriet watched How to Train Your Dragon Two during Iris’s nap times. On Christmas Eve, we went to the Art Gallery to see the Art Spiegelman exhibit and had a lovely brunch at the Frank Restaurant, which we save for the specialist of occasions. On the way home, we picked up our turkey, which we fastened into our stroller. That evening, we had chicken fajitas for Christmas Eve dinner for the 10th year in a row, and left a snack for Santa.

xmasmornChristmas was so good. Not only did we not have to leave the house, but we got to have my mom come and visit! The children got excellent presents and had fun playing with them throughout the holidays. I received great books, nice clothes, and other lovely things, including a La Cruset butter dish I’d been hankering after and new Pyrex. We all also received new CDs (because are 85 years old and like to do 20th century things) and so the holiday has been extra-filled with music—some of which was even made after 1987, which is very rare for us. My mom arrived and played with the children (which was not very difficult—she arrived bearing her present of a trunk full of dress-up clothes) while Stuart and I set about cooking the best Christmas dinner ever. The joys of Skype brought us the company of Nana and Granddad in England, and our adorable Alberta relations.

playOn Boxing Day, we went to the ROM, and partook in a yummy dinner of leftovers—Stuart makes the best turkey sandwiches on earth. Iris also slept until 7am for the first time in her whole life, which was mind-blowing, but also a bit terrible because when her sleep for the subsequent week was abysmal, I wanted to pitch her out the window. The next day, my dad and his partner arrived, and we all had an excellent time with them. And they played with the children while Stuart and I cooked up another very good meal—the greatest turkey pot pie of all time whose secret recipe was duck fat. The day after that,  we drove out to my aunt’s in the West end, stopping en-route to buy ice-skates for Harriet and I, which had the potential to be a boondoggle. And then we had a very fun dinner with the best kinds of relations on earth—cousins.

anniwMonday was the best day—Harriet and I headed downtown to meet our friend Erin and watch the new Annie film, which we’d been looking to after avidly viewing its trailers for the past month AND after watching the old Annie every day last summer. The reviews for the new Annie were terrible and all wrong—the movie was wonderful. (That one of the critics referred to the 1982 movie as “an abomination” perhaps suggests that some people had no business reviewing either movie, both of which were masterpieces, in my humble opinion.) We all had such a good time watching it, exuberantly applauding as the credits rolled. And then we met Stuart and Iris and took the subway to Erin’s new house in Bloor West Village, which is very conveniently located near the new Book City (which was bustling and full of wonderful books.)

On Tuesday, I had to take a certain someone to a dermatologists to have a wart examined, which wasn’t so memorable, except that we got to stop at HMV on the way and buy the Annie soundtrack, a move supported by all members of our household. Iris can now sing “Tomorrow”, which is really something to behold. We also love Sia’s version of “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile” and the bizarre and catchy “Moonquake Lake”, with its memorable hook—”she’s a fish and he’s a boy.” That night our friends Jennie, Deep and Lilia came for dinner and the best time was had. They were kind enough not to complain about our music selection.

sk8Rumours of boondoggles were averted on New Years Eve when Harriet and I went skating at Christie Pits—Harriet had the best time and loved it, which was good but also troubling as it means that I have to keep going skating. We went again yesterday and both of us were vastly improved. A third jaunt is scheduled for tomorrow. New Years Eve was our traditional chocolate fondue and ringing in the UK New Year before the children went to bed. And then Stuart and I proceeded to play board games (and ping pong, until Harriet came out of her room and asked us to stop because the pinging and ponging was too noisy) until we were done, and then we went to bed and brought in the new year lit by bed-side lamps, turning away from our respective novels for a moment as the clock ticked over to 2015. Which is the best way to ring in the new that I could ever have imagined.

africaNew Years Day was boring—what a wondrous indulgence is that in this day and age? Although we did have our first meal of the year at Fanny Chadwick’s for brunch, which was delicious, and Iris has been transformed into someone who is fairly respectable about restaurant behaviour from all her practice this holiday. And Harriet and I got to play Scrabble for Juniors, which is almost as excellent as spending New Year’s reading in bed. Yesterday we went to the ROM to see the Wildlife Photography exhibit. And yes, more skating. Today we’re doing nothing, which might prove to be a bad idea but feels pretty good from where I sit (on the couch, wearing jogging pants, watching snow falling outside). We’ve kept things a little special with scones with jam and Devonshire cream, because I had a jar of the latter in the fridge and we had to use it up—not the worst task to be charged with.

teaAnd I’m writing it all down now mostly so that I can remember it, the holiday we were so desperate for and which so delivered. I’m writing it all down because all these ordinary things (libraries and lunches) are so easy to forget, and I don’t want to. I don’t want to forget either that we’re so blessed with friends and family and each other. If how you spend your days are indeed how you spend your life, then these past two weeks are an indication that we’re doing something right.  And it’s something to hold on to as the lights of December fade—let the next few months be something more than just a countdown to spring.

June 15, 2014

Bookish Sunday in the Sun

IMG_20140615_133155For Father’s Day, we gave Stuart posh coffee, Jo Walton’s Small Change series (which is probably a gift for both of us), and Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay (because of this recommendation in 49th Shelf’s Shelf Talkers series). Iris has become a full-fledged biped, and it’s no coincidence that her sleep habits have also become transformed in the past week. She has finally started napping in her crib, taking her naps later, and staying asleep for a couple of hours. Her nighttime sleep has also improved, which meant that we’re feeling a little less tired than usual this weekend. It also means that Iris has become a lot less portable, and we’re not going to sacrifice her proper nap for anything. So we went out for a Father’s Day brunch this morning, and then came home so Iris could sleep while Harriet watched innumerable episodes of The Riders of Berk. I drank tea and read my book, and it was bliss.

IMG_20140615_145658It meant, however, that it was nearly 2pm by the time we departed for Trinity Bellwoods Park and the Luminato Literary Picnic. We had a splendid walk there, Harriet scootering, walking or being piggy-backed, while Iris was chauffeured in the stroller. We ate gourmet popsicles, and then Harriet went to play in the playground, while Iris and I checked out literary fare. I heard a few writers here and there, but the only writer whose whole presentation I caught was KD Miller’s. She was fantastic, and no surprise–her book got a rave review in Macleans this week, and Vicki Ziegler had been sharing Angie Abdou’s great review in Quill & Quire.

IMG_20140615_153736So I was pleased to hear her read, and then to have her arrive at the sale table just as I was about to buy her book, so she could sign it for me. Reviewers have stressed that indeed, a writer can situate interesting stories within the walls of an Anglican Church (the book’s title, All Saints, refers to said church), but seeing as I am a card-carrying member of the Barbara Pym Society, they’d be preaching to the (church) choir.

IMG_20140615_153212After that, we hit the bookmobile, which is always an amazing adventure: a bus full of books! A library on wheels! The bookmobile will never cease to be remarkable. We got a book for Iris and Harriet each, and then Harriet wanted to get a comic too. She sorted through the stacks and selected The Wonderful World of Lisa Simpson #1. I think she picked it because Lisa is riding a pink unicorn on the cover, because Harriet has never heard of the Simpsons. But that was the point of the cover I think, and now Harriet has heard of the Simpsons and we had a good time reading the comic together. (It was strange having to introduce someone to Bart Simpson. I also like that it’s a cool comic geared to young girls, whose writers and artists are women.) The best: in the final story, Lisa opens her own Little Free Library to disastrous results. A comic about a lending library? It was dying and going to book nerd heaven.

IMG_20140615_161950After that, I went across the street to visit Type Books and pick up some of the books on my list. I got The Vacationers by Emma Straub, which had been included in Chatelaine’s Summer Reading Guide. And I got Based on a True Story by Elizabeth Renzetti, which had an amazing review in The Globe yesterday. And then we walked home along Queen Street and up Bathurst, stopping en-route at Yogurtys because we really hadn’t had enough dessert. Plus, they were giving away free fro-yo for dads, so that was spectacular all around.

October 20, 2013

Animal Stories (including woolves!) at the Gardiner Museum

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We went to the Gardiner Museum today to see the Animal Stories exhibit.

“Elephants, leopards, dogs, squirrels and dragons… From exotic creatures, household pets, urban wildlife to mythical beasts, animals have been an active part of human experience, an inexhaustible trigger of the imagination. Animal Stories presents the many tales of our encounters with the animal world, shedding light on how our social, symbolic, affectionate, scientific and utilitarian relationships with animals have been visualized through ceramics from the 17th century to our day.” 

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Fantastic events are scheduled as part of the exhibit, and today we were happy to catch the first of the Kids Can Press Reading Series, today with the lovely Kyo Maclear reading Virginia Wolf (with the assistance of her entire family). Afterwards, the kids got to make their own Virginia Wolf ears (which alternate as a big blue bow, depending on one’s mood).

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Three readings are left in the series: Wallace Edwards on November 10, Eugenie Fernandes on December 8, and Nicholas Oldford on December 15. (And we got free passes for the museum through the Sun Life Museum and Arts Pass at the Toronto Public Library. Such a great deal!)

May 12, 2013

Every Day is Mother’s Day…

IMG_20130512_130748…when one is self-absorbed and self-indulgent (hello! Over here! Waving!!). And every day is doubly Mother’s Day when one is 38.5 weeks pregnant, but today in particular. My own excellent mom was kind enough to let me lounge around at home and be the centre of the show with my little family (though we’re looking forward to seeing her next weekend). I was given tea and croissants in bed this morning, and a gift from said little family–the book Where’d You Go, Bernadette, which my clever husband had noticed me to eyeing in the bookstore last weekend. I think it will make an excellent post-baby read. And then I was left alone to reread the wonderful poetry collection Arguments With the Lake, which I’ll be reviewing later tonight. But that wasn’t all! Today, I was informed, we’d be having Afternoon Tea at Dessert Trends. And it was delightful, delicious and fun.

IMG_20130512_133006Harriet was a bit challenged by the constraints of afternoon tea today, but she managed to hold it together, and we understood why she was not quite at her best. Yesterday had been her 4th birthday party (celebrated 2 weeks early due to baby’s imminent arrival) and perhaps an ice cream party and afternoon tea are too much for one weekend when you are just 206 weeks old. It is also possible that the fancy green tea eclairs weren’t entirely suited to her palate, though she found the scones and jam quite acceptable, mango tart as well. We were very happy to eat whatever she couldn’t manage.

IMG_20130511_112539Her birthday party yesterday was a splendid success! It was held at The Big Chill Ice Cream Parlour, and attended by 12 of her marvelous friends who were surprisingly very enthusiastic about the game I’d entitled “Disappointing Pass the Parcel” in which the parcel was filled with citrus fruit. They were also very good at “Pin the Scoop on the Sundae”, and nobody mentioned that I am the world’s worst party-game planner. We had hot dogs, ice cream AND cupcakes, so all the food groups were met. Harriet was a spectacular birthday girl who made me very proud, and she had fun, which was the most important thing of all.

IMG_20130512_154152Her friends and their families kindly contributed birthday gifts via Echoage, which puts half the gift toward a charitable donation (Harriet picked The Stop, and is quite excited that they’re getting a gift for her birthday) and the other half toward the purchase of her first bicycle. We went to buy the bike today, and were thrilled to get the Norco Rainbow bike. The weather today was disgusting, so she wasn’t able to ride it properly, but still mastered the art of pedaling via riding around up and down the hallway, which was very exciting. Can’t wait for the sun to come out again so we can hit the sidewalk!

February 11, 2013

Sunny City Weekend

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July 4, 2012

The City's Sublime

If ever there was a centre to my personal geography, I suspect that the Toronto Islands would be it. My grandparents used to take me there– I remember the day they bought me a $13 day-pass to the Centreville amusement park, and it felt like being handed a key to the world. I’ve rode that ferry with at least 3 different boyfriends, which is particularly significant when you note how few boyfriends I’ve ever had in total. The Islands were key to my development as a feminist, as a person— I remember the liberation of fleeing the city on my bicycle to read Mrs. Dalloway on a south-facing beach, and how no one in the whole world knew where I was. Later that same summer, I swam naked at Hanlan’s Point and felt more powerful and fabulous than I had ever felt in my life.

I spent my 26th birthday on Ward’s Island, with friends who braved a 90 minute-long wait at the ferry docks because I didn’t have a phone so they couldn’t call to cancel once they wait had got ridiculous. We had dinner at the Rectory Cafe on our 3rd anniversary, and it was really the most tremendous thing, to jump on a ferry boat after work, such an extraordinary way to spend a Wednesday. We’ve taken out of town guests there, had picnics with friends, partaken many times in Wards Island ice cream, played frisbee, rode our bikes, once lost a three-legged race at a company picnic (against children), and shivered and swam in the lake.

We’ve gone every year at least once since Harriet was born, though our visit last weekend was the first one in which she was old enough to appreciate island goodness. We all love the ferry boats, which we know best from Allan Moak’s Big City ABC (I being for Island Ferry, of course). We spent our morning at Centreville, whose day-pass hasn’t been $13 for many years, but is still great value and we had a wonderful time riding the carousel, log flume, tea-cups, train, swan-boats and antique cars. Harriet couldn’t quite fathom that she’d entered a world in which she was permitted to drive.

After, we had our picnic on the banks of the lagoon, bread and cheese and fresh strawberries, then took a trek over to the Franklin Children’s Garden where Harriet had a fabulous time spotting the characters she knows from the Franklin books, watering the plants in the garden plots, and tracing her way along the snail trail. Then it was time for splash-padding and sand-digging, and re-applying our sunscreen. As the day got long, we took a long walk along the boardwalk to the Rectory Cafe for dinner. And when we were finished, we approached the Ward’s Island docks just as the boat was arriving which we boarded so it could take us home, exhausted but revelling in the goodness of a perfect day.

“Neither entirely land or water, but containing elements of both, the Toronto Islands are a fitting site for memorial rituals because their fluctuating sands reflect the fleeting passage of life, buffeted by storms of fortune and bracketed by the permeable border between here and the hereafter… Without mountains to serve as an urban muse, the islands have become the city’s sublime. Visiting the islands, valuing them, Torontonians experience something truly akin to transcendence.” –Amy Lavender Harris, Imagining Toronto

May 28, 2012

Harriet turns 3

Harriet turned three this weekend, and highlights included a fire station tour as part of Doors Open Toronto, much fun with good food and sunshine, and a fantastic party yesterday with ten friends, their siblings and moms and dads. We had a wonderful time, and the party met with my definition of party success, which was that Harriet didn’t cry. Or at least not until after everyone had left, and she was sad because, “There’s only one kid now. I want my friends!” But during the party itself, she had the most wonderful time, dancing, running, laughing, cupcaking, pinning tails in hilarious manners, and delighting in her wonderful pals. A terrific celebration of a girl who’s just as good. And now we’re all a bit tired…

April 22, 2012

The Famous 5

So many things I love are a part of this photo. Also, we had a really wonderful trip to Ottawa this weekend. Lots of reading on the train, hotel fun, good food, friends, and, speaking of friends, we were the beneficiaries of some amazing hospitality. Long live the Mini-Break!

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