Friday, July 31, 2009

Boob Tube

Man did I just get a good lip slashing from the little Gordon Ramsey in my head. "Come ON, you donkey" he said as I peeled a hard-boiled egg over the sink, then transported the shell across the kitchen to the garbage can, then came back to the sink to peel the next egg, and then back across the (you get it). I am the least efficient person in a kitchen, ever. It is infuriating...I guess. Actually, it doesn't bug me so much but, since Mr. Ramsey moved in, I never hear the end of it. He gives me no peace.

(Interesting side note: a social worker I used to share an office with had an elderly client who was absolutely convinced that Emeril Lagasse lived in her basement. He would yell "BAM" all hours of the day and night. The worst part, according to her, was that he never invited her to try a single one of his dishes.)

Most of my voices are familiar - people I know, people I love, people who love me. They keep me honest. My little mother reminds me to send cards (sometimes she actually does this outside of my brain, but mostly I've internalized it) and frowns at me when I reach for another slice of bread. Jessica gives me a hard time for throwing away recyclables (something she would never do in real life, outloud). Herb looks at me sideways when I buy expensive organic kiwis or tip more than 15%. Lori is constantly telling me to get over myself. My dad scolds me for scolding the dog or forgetting to let him out before bedtime (the dog, not my dad who usually takes himself out before bedtime).

Ah, see. Mostly helpful, generally well-intentioned reminders from the people who care for me most. I sometimes ignore them.

But what's up with all these quasi-celebrity voices who feel so inclined to boss me around in my head all day long. Look, Stacy & Clinton, I have no interest in owning a blazer even if it does emphasize the smallest part of my waist. I don't need Donald Trump's assessment of my professional ambition nor do I crave Oprah's empathetic advice regarding body image. Thanks but no thanks, guys.

I don't know how they all got in there. It's not my fault. I entered tender adulthood at the cross-roads of the self-help book and reality TV. All this schandenfreude is meant to be instructive for the masses. I don't buy it. But apparently I've absorbed it.

That's all time will allow but I have a whole lot more to say on this topic - especially as it relates to TLC and the post-modern freakshow...I'm working on that one. Stay tuned. (And get the frick out of my kitchen, Ramsey!)

Dinner Tonight:

- Good bread
- Good salad
- Meat on sticks

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


This happened in an elevator vestibule the size of a large coffin. Level B2. The parking garage across the street from the Royal Ontario Museum.

Through the glass, a woman is running towards me. Arms out, shouting. I don't understand her at first and then the doors close behind me. Damn, she says, pushing into the crowded coffin, now I'll have to wait for the next one. I feel obliged to apologize, like a knee jerk. And then I fix a stare on her.

I am wheeling a two-child buggy, an empty two-child buggy because one of said children is hanging in a harness from my torso and the other is attempting to make a mad dash toward the headlights catching some tracktime around the garage's blind corners. I have one foot propping open the coffin door (through which my new friends steps) and am steering with one hand and a hip.

Clearly and from any angle, I am in no position to catch and hold an elevator door for anyone: the Pope, Jesus, Elvis-incarnate, or the woman with the expensive purse who is now sulking at me as she leans against the vestibule wall. She watches me, unfazed, as I maneuver around her like a haggard Shiva with my tribe of children and gear.

Thanks! I shout sarcastically over my shoulder just before the glass door clicks closed. I see her face and it registers nothing.

This was not today. This was weeks ago. And still I think about it, not because I'm angry (I'm still a little angry) but because I also wonder if I am in the wrong. Or, rather, if I processed these events in the wrong way.

Solipsism, philosophically, is the theory that only the self (myself, not yourself) can be proved to exist. Colloquially, it is complete absorption with one's own needs, feelings, and thoughts to the exclusion of all others' (thank you,

Did it occur to me that the expensive-purse-lady's need to get to and on the elevator could be equal to my need to get off and out of it? Was her expectation that I might catch and hold the closing doors for her any more imposing than my expectation that she might hold the vestibule door for me as I left?

Well, umm, no. But I have kids. And there it is. That spawners' entitlement. It was all the uproar around fine-dining restaurants and office watercoolers not long ago.

Who do they think they are bringing a 3-year-old here on a Saturday night to sneeze boogers into my cocktail...

I have to work a 12-hour day because Johnny's precious little has a solo performance at his pre-school's African drumming recital...

In fact, a couple years back, there was a big brouhaha here in Toronto around whether or not people should give up their transit seats for pregnant women. "I worked all day, my feet hurt, and I'm smart enough to use a condom, so suck it up preggo," versus "What about compassion and the miracle of life you bleeping bleep-hole." (For the record, I never verbally asked anyone to give up their seat for my pregnant body but shamelessly stared sitters down while rubbing my belly and projecting misery. It was about 75% effective).

Last week my dad jibed me a bit, saying - in effect - that I have matured as a person in so much as my self-centeredness has now expanded to include my children. He was joking. Sort of. I acted quite put off, but the thing is, he's kindof right. I wonder if kids are just a guise or a good excuse for complete ego centrism, constituting a bigger circle of self in which to be absorbed.

Or maybe that lady was just a bitch.

Tonight's Dinner:

- Grilled rack of lamb
- Spinach and Matzoh Pie (try it, you like it.)
- Greek salad

Sunday, July 26, 2009


The butcher-shop lady and I agree: a haircut is a powerful thing.

She was blessed (from her father's side, I learned) with beautiful hair: thick and silver with lovely dark undertones and on some days it is a mass of perfect corkscrew curls and other days (like today) blown out soft and straight.

"You've done something different; it quite suits you" she said. I was so pleased. With the compliment, of course. But also with the fact that I live in a neighbourhood where the butcher-shop lady notices when you get your haircut. I was delighted. In fact, all day long I've been delighted with one thing or another. And, while I will admit that I am surely a victim of magical thinking, I believe the haircut is responsible for this change in my weather.

The day itself was overcast and, objectively speaking, quite ordinary. We went to the park in the morning, brunched at the same outdoor cafe as we do everytime, chased Loki across the benches shoving little bites of pancake in his mouth. Made naps. Made coffee. Turned the TV off, turned it back on, turned it off - now this time I mean it. Ate dinner. Baths. Bed.

But there were all these wonderful moments. Like how the man next to us at the cafe was playing this handmade African musical instrument and let Loki try it. And I found this tree in the park that an artist had carved a big bearded face into and Loki and I talked to him, the treeman, for a while and Loki was a little scared of him but touched his beard anyway. And then we found snails all over the leaves and I showed him Queen Anne's Lace, which always reminds me of home for some reason. And we stumbled across a filmset where they had put fake snow all over the ground and so we walked through the snow in the middle of July. Later, at home, when it thunderstormed, we made a fort in the livingroom and read Where the Wild Things Are with a flashlight and then went outside and splashed on the patio and weeded the entire back garden in the rain and found earthworms.

Of course, it all goes back to the haircut (duh.)

Here's what happened. Friday night, Herb was on call and after Lori left to go enjoy childless adulthood, I was on my own with nothing on TV and not sleepy and feeling the dull kindof blueness that I've felt for a while. I was brushing my teeth for bed, having given up on being awake. And then I started to move my hair around a bit. Pushed it over my forehead, held it up here and there. Just before I grabbed the scissors I remember thinking: (1) If I actually pick up the scissors I'll really do it and then I'll be screwed (2) it's only hair, it'll grow back (3) this is really stupid. And then I cut myself a fringe.

In the morning Herb said, "It looks like you just cut a chunk out of your hair over your forehead." Yeah. That's more or less what I did. "You should go get that fixed," he said. So I did. And while the hairdresser explained that this is not how he would have gone about giving me a bang, I must say I am quite pleased with our collaborative effort.

Objectively, I've got the butcher-shop lady and my next door neighbour, Norm, to go on and they both like it. Herb does not. But it doesn't matter. I just needed to look in the mirror and see something different. And that, I think, has helped me see everything else a little differently so that - on an ordinary, rainy Sunday - I found joy all day long.

Tonight's Dinner:

Homemade Pizza (mushrooms, pineapple, Genoa salami, fresh basil)

Oven-baked chicken wings


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Why I Love the CBC

I like the CBC. I especially like the CBC over my kitchen radio while one of my kids is napping upstairs and I'm mixing something up and maybe there's a glass of wine involved. I don't usually get to listen to a whole segment; maybe just a snitch of an interview or a couple callers commenting about something random like the time they got to touch the Stanley Cup. (Being a quasi-Canadian, I really wish I found that story more interesting but I just can't get all that riled up about a big sweaty metal trophy no matter how I try).

If words were objects, the CBC would be a crazy neighbourhood yardsale that would give you weird and appealing insights into the lives of people you don't know. Today, for example, an old Nubian man said "it's a simple life." His grandchildren were floating and playing games on the river (the Nile, that is) while chickens pecked corn in the yard. Their whole community had been uprooted years back when the Egyptian government decided to flood the land the Nubian people have lived on for centuries. (I missed the part about why the government chose to do this, but having lived in New Orleans I understand that it is sometimes politically and economically advantageous to flood people out of their homes for various reasons. Apparently God is down with that too, Noah's Ark and all). Interestingly (and yet it gets a big fat "well, duh, it would go that way") a great deal of energy was spent preserving and protecting the ancient monuments created by the Nubians of old; zero of which was dedicated to supporting the modern-day Nubians who are now, as the CBC host explained, "scattered like pearls from the necklace of a beautiful girl." Well, that's probably just a nice way to say it. (Dispatches, by Yolande Knell, originally aired April 9, 2009).

I've never thought much about the Nubian people. I'm not sure I was even aware of this distinct ethnic identity. The word conjures long-necked, dark-skinned women with large almond shaped eyes. Two-dimensionally, like a drawing on a wall or a piece of pottery. But somewhere in the world (ummm, Egypt) Nubian children are lallygagging on a river while their grandpa talks to a CBC reporter (and then there's the chickens, pecking away).

It's also nice when you hear something reported on the CBC with which you are familiar. Like yesterday, Sarah Elton did a big story on Buddha Dog, which is a restaurant on Roncesvalles that I used to go to after music class with Loki on an almost weekly basis. To put it simply, they make "gourmet" hotdogs. An oxymoron if ever there was one. But really, they are a political statement. They took a classic fast-food icon - the overly processed, mysteriously stuffed street meat - and turned it into a perfect example of slow-food. Made with locally sourced aged beef and cheeses and featuring gourmet, chef-created sauces that range from sweet to savoury to spicy the Buddha Dog is the conscious eater's answer to the wiener. (Funny aside: why is it called Buddha Dog? In reference to the old joke: "What did the Buddha say to the hotdog vendor? Make me one with everything." ba-dum-dum, chh.). The thing is, most people I've sent to BD end up disappointed. The dogs are tiny (a standard order is 2 or 3 of them) and there's not much else on the menu. Herb wouldn't step foot in there - not when you can get a foot-long polish sausage as thick as Nate's arm, just a couple doors down. And I should admit that maybe I like the idea of Buddha Dog a little bit more than the actual dogs themselves. But hearing it described on the CBC made me feel really cool. Like someone in the know. I don't often feel that way (as evidenced by the fact that I spend so much time listening to the CBC in my kitchen).

And that's just it. I discovered the CBC during my first mat leave with Loki - it was a way to catch glimmers of a world bigger than my house and the 4 streets I walk up and down every day and I could do it while feeding him peas porridge cold or shaking a rattle or bouncing on a big rubber ball. Then, when Herb came home at the end of the day, I would have something to talk about other than the shape and consistency of Loki's poop. The CBC makes me feel interesting and connected when I am in a state that makes me the least of both.

Tonight's Dinner:

Me: Indian with Krish and Olimpia - Yay! Grown Up dinner! Good thing I have that whole Nubian story to talk about. I hope neither of them has read this entry.

Herb & Loki: Chicken sausages, tomato rice & green beans

Nate: Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge from the pot currently on the stove.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Indelible. Diatribe.

These are some words I like.

Here is something I overheard on my street not long ago: "That's the problem with Gypsies. They never finish what they start." I think, but I can't be sure, that the person who said this is ethnically (?) a Gypsy.

What am I at here? I'm warming up. Sorry, it's been a while and I feel like I've forgotten how to do this. This being: write as if I have something to say.

For me, writing is like exercising. I ought to do it; I need to do it. I start with great gusto and commitment - a determined stick-to-it-tivenes. And then I am undermined by "other things" - life and laziness and then lack of confidence. You know how it goes. We had a couch like this back at 77 Carlton - that's the apartment I shared with Herb and Lori when I first moved to Toronto. We called it the "couch of inertia" - How Herb misses that couch. It was our field of poppies; it just sucked every ambition out of your body until all you could do was lay back helplessly and watch rerun after rerun of Felicity. That is where my brain is and I just need to know, does she end up with Ben or not?

No. I'm fighting it. I am.
We are back from our visit from Baltimore. A trip somewhat like a haj - a physical, emotional and spiritual journey to the homeland which, while deeply important and meaningful, requires a whole lot of energy (not to mention the shlepping). Every fiber of my being before and during was lit with the requirements of this trip and so I kindof slacked off everything else. Also, Nate slept in the same room as the computer. Sure, there's my excuse.

Well, also, I've felt a bit shitty (for lack of a better word) and writing in this way requires something from me that gets lost easily when I am not at my best. My voice, I guess. It's not writers' block, more like writers' laryngitis. What I mean is this: So in university I was big in the creative writing scene. I had this advisor, a wonderful man named Peter Cooley, and I would come to him with all my post-adolescent angst about my worth and value and say things like "I just don't feel like I deserve to call myself a poet." And he would say, "Well, Jessie, if you're going to be a poet, you're going to have to get over that." Guess what - I write funding proposals for a living (not that there isn't some poetry there) but I didn't. Get over it, I mean.

I could not commit to writing in that sense - as a poet writes - because it seemed necessary to know something about life and the world; to have some experience or insight that was unique and worth sharing and as far as I could tell I was the most ordinary of persons with a fairly comfortable and easy life with no great risks or losses and who on earth needs to hear about that? The fact that I was good at it, that it came naturally, that it was a compelling force - maybe the only compelling force - in my life just didn't seem reason enough. Cowardice trumps passion: a tragedy.

Well, not a tragedy really. I'm quite happy with the way my life rolled out and things would certainly have gone differently (not necessarily worse, I guess, but differently) had I taken that other path. And I like what I do...knowing in a concrete way that what I write matters, that it has a purpose larger than and outside of me.

But that's not this. This is indulgent (isn't it?).

I spent a great deal of time in the kitchen today pureeing carrots and listening to the CBC. They were interviewing a writer, Rick Moody, about his work, mostly fiction, but he was talking about the one memoir he wrote: The Black Veil, which is somewhat about his search for his family roots and his struggle with depression, which he prefers to call melancholy (another beautiful word despite its meaning). Between spurts of the deafening hand-mixer buzz, I listened to him explain how difficult and painful it was for him to write about himself, how he hated it, in a way. Now this is a very famous and very talented writer. I am neither but I felt something like kinship to him as he spoke. He said that while he is so deeply uncomfortable writing about himself and his experiences that it is the only way he knows how to process his life and the things that happen to him. And that he doesn't understand anything about what he knows or thinks until he writes about it. I am that way too. I am a constant, silent narrator - explaining myself to myself. Putting it all in words, so I can get it. And maybe it is because that work is so private and intimate, it feels uncomfortable to put it out there.

So there you go, I'm sure I've burned off enough mental calories to have (another) glass of wine guilt-free. I'm back on track. If there's anyone still interested.

Tonight's Dinner:

Flattened Chicken (ask me about this if you don't know. you should know, really).

Mushroom Risotto

Spinach Salad

Pureed carrots & peaches, 1/2 an avocado (That would be Nate. He later threw up a good chunk of that. It was distinctly both orange and green, not brown as you'd think).

Saturday, July 4, 2009


Nate is hungry.

I know we have covered this territory before but let me say it again: Nate is hungry. For food, yes, but not just that. He is a hungry being and he consumes everything (from pureed pear to Loki's attention to my snuggles and Herb's coos) as if he might never get enough.

We are not supposed to compare our children.
I'm not sure who wrote this rule but we all know it.
We are meant to love them each, individually, in a perfect vacuum. But there is something so fascinating about considering them in juxtaposition. Maybe it is because I am an only child and so, while I have witnessed it, I have never lived the actuality of having a person drawn from the same genetic grab bag who is like me and different from me all at once. This fact of my children - their samenesses and differences - blows my mind. And they are still so young - who they are becoming becoming clearer everyday like a Polaroid sharpening. But it was true from birth and I would argue, perhaps, from conception.

Now that's something we don't generally swap stories about. "Oh, your little Suzie is so sweet. Tell me, how was she conceived?" Don't worry, Lori, I won't gross you out with the gory details. But it seems to me that the circumstances - or maybe better, the contexts - surrounding their conceptions connects to who my children are and how they are different in an interesting way.

I willed Loki into being. Herb was there too. But I feel as though I truly summoned him to be mine. I had had a heartbreaking miscarriage and a number of desolate months trying to get pregnant again. It was July, in fact it was this week in July (Canada Day weekend) and Herb and I had planned to visit an old friend of his who lives in a small, hippy-esq town just on the Quebec border (a place we had never been to before and will probably never go to again). The morning of our trip, I had scheduled an ultrasound just to make sure that everything was okay and back to normal following the D & C. I hated everything about that place - the waiting room filled with beaming round bellies, the distracted receptionists, the cold gel and the bleeping of a screen I couldn't see or make sense of. But the technician was kind. Everything looked okay, she said. "In fact, there's a ripe follicle right there." And that ripe follicle - that pre-egg - was Loki. It is odd to think that I knew him that way - the equivalent of a biological possibility, the potential for potential.

Just before we left that pretty little town in the middle of nowhere, I went skinny-dipping (alone) in the cold lake water near our hosts' house. Maybe it was the brightness of the morning or the coolness of the water, but I was filled with a calmness and a clarity that I had never felt before. In my mind, that communion with the lake marked the moment when Loki's life began. It was the universe responding to my heart's desire.

Nate, on the other hand, I truly believe willed himself into being. If Loki is the child we demanded of the universe, than Nate is the child that the forces of the universe conspired us to have. I had just returned from my first weekend alone since Loki's birth. I had gone to visit college friends in New York and had spent a surreal 48 hours childless, falling into a pre-baby self the way you collapse gleefully into a strange, crisp hotel bed, knowing that your real bed is at home waiting for you. Loki was just over a year old. I was done nursing, had lost the baby-weight, was starting to work was good and balanced. Sure we wanted another but no rush...maybe we'd try in the summer, maybe in the fall. After the amount of energy spent on conceiving Loki, I didn't think it was even possible to get pregnant without really really wanting it, without really trying. Getting pregnant by accident seemed as likely as accidentally winning the lottery (especially if, say, you only buy a ticket maybe twice a month, because generally you're just too damn tired to go all the way to the store when you can just close your eyes and go to sleep...echem, if you know what I mean). In general, we were using the oldest method of birth-control (a toddler) and relying on the fact that probability was on our side.

Maybe there was something about going away and coming home - I seem to remember some odd fact from Psych 101 involving mice couples having higher conception rates after brief periods of separation - did I make that up? But it was more than that. Now, this is as graphic as I'll get...I promise: They say there are food people and then there are sex people. Well, just guess which one I am. I spend all day thinking about what to eat for dinner. My cravings are generally of the wine and chocolate variety. But for some reason that day, the day I was coming home to my husband and child, things were different and I'll leave it at that. A couple months (and six pregnancy tests) later, when the surprise wore off a bit, it occurred to me that we had been chosen by this child for this life.

I read a beautiful excerpt from Clair Bateman's story "Otherwhere" in Harper's that truly captures this feeling and the last line reads:

After a birth does occur, the mother gazes into her infant’s eyes with deep tenderness, knowing that it has chosen to die to countless could-have-beens in order to take the plunge into a particular is.

We are Nate's particular is and he is hungry, hungry, hungry for this life. I am so deeply grateful that the universe chose me to feed him.

Tonight's Dinner:

Nate: 4 cubes of pureed pear & apricot mixed with oatmeal, 6 ounces of formula, 2.5 boobs

Loki: Crunchy fish fillet & carrots

Herb & Me: Cheeseburgers, Potato Salad (Heather's fantastic recipe which involves English Salad Cream and chopped up pickles), neon-green coleslaw (that was all Herb, I won't consume anything that colour).

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Losing Dinner (& My Mind)

Today I almost lost my dinner.

Not in the "praying to the porcelain goddess" sortof way. Literally. Like, lost it. Left it, in a bag, by a bench, on the sidewalk, in front of a busy street. It was the reason Nate and I had left the house, in the threatening rain and distracted by a cup of coffee and the possibility of cut flowers, we were halfway home before it occurred to me that we were missing something.

I am missing something. In my brain. Something is definitely amiss.

I have been fighting a funk for a couple weeks now and, alongside an irrational moodiness, is this pervasive foggy distraction. I am not a forgetful person nor am I disorganized or flighty. Lots of other things, yes, but those things, no. So to leave our dinner on the sidewalk, or my purse in the grocery cart (didn't even realize it was gone until my neighbour - who works at the grocery store - phoned to tell me she'd drop it by), or to double book appointments one after the other all week long - well, these aren't the sorts of things I do. Except I can't stop doing them.

I am tempted to throw the word "hormones" at it but I am tired of that explanation. Between pregnancy, childbirth, nursing and weening I have been a hormonal El nino for the past 3 years and it just feels like a lame, warn-out excuse. But a convenient one. Easy to pull out of the bag when, say: you show up for a pilates class on the wrong night after having rushed to find a babysitter because it's Herb's hockey night after all and why did I book this class on Herb's hockey night-oh well- I guess I forgot- okay got the sitter and we're covered and right - no I didn't book a class tonight - of course I didn't - but here I am anyway and there's a teenager in my livingroom and I can't go home. Exactly.

So I did what the nice instructor told me to do ("You have an entire, free hour!" - she has 3 small children and gets it). I went and bought myself a yummy coffee-type drink and looked at silly magazines in the bookstore. They were "Home Decor" magazines because we are thinking, finally, of putting together our bedroom in a fashion that does not involve curtains hung from untwisted wire hangers or "heirloom" Walmart dressers with a "distressed paint" finish caused by packing tape. As I flipped through the glossy pages trying to identify my so-called style, it occurred to me that what is wrong with our bedroom is also what is wrong with my mind. It is filled with the bad kind of clutter.

Now if you ask Herb, there is only one kind of clutter and it is all bad. But I disagree. I like things, artifacts, objects...of a certain variety. Not surprisingly, I like the kinds of objects that one finds in a kitchen: stubby jars filled with herbs, bowls of lemons, green glass bottles of olive oil and wine, kitschy coffee tins, a stack of blue-rimmed ceramic bowls. In all the magazines I flipped through, it was the pictures of kitchens that appealed to me. The bedrooms were either too stark or too overdone. A kitchen is a real space. A place where people do their real living and working and talking (and eating). Bedrooms are either too private (i.e. strewn with laundry, covered with little piles of coins and ticket stubs and other detritus dumped out of pockets, medicine bottles, old glasses of water) or they are for-show and then they feel forced and false.
In a kitchen you can be yourself and go about your business but still be surrounded by beauty.
Our bedroom is my undone brain. It's filled with all the scraps and leftovers of our life. The things I need to do and haven't done (hang up that shirt, fold that basket of laundry, pack away those baby toys, make the bed, bring that ancient glass of water downstairs). The way our life is - we enter it, drop what we can't hold any more, sleep, wake up, and shut the door behind us. It doesn't get to have a complete is an interrupted space. My moments of clarity come, of course, in our kitchen where things are timed and ordered. So, perhaps with this little remodeling project, I will try to add some sense and tranquility to my brain. Fill it with things I like to consider (a vase of yellow flowers, a red mixing bowl, an oversized stainless steal pepper grinder) and air out the dirty laundry and distraction- or at least pile it in a rustic wicker basket.

Tonight's (Reclaimed) Dinner:

- Roasted Flattened Chicken

- Stuffing "muffins"

- Steamed broccoli