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Weddings and anniversaries. Italy was ready to welcome us for both.

By October 7, 2022 Life, Travel

Every September, Peter and I return to school and travel from our seats as we immerse ourselves in cinematic stories from around the globe. At TIFF, we attempt to make sense of our chaotic world. Does it work? My brain is always jumping during the festival, that I know. This year, we attended the first half of TIFF (read here for my picks), then flew to Europe for a special family event and our own anniversary. Celebrating thirty years together in Italy seemed impossible in the heart of lockdowns. Yet here we were!

Jet lag is a bitch; swiftly tamed by the jolt of new vistas unfolding before you. Montepulciano. Monticchiello. Pienza. San Gimignano. Florence. Lucca. Greve in Chianti. Siena. Montalcino. Rome. Magnificence was our banquet, but our surest delight came from sharing the limpid light of Tuscany with my eldest daughter, Kate and her partner, Nico, who live and work in Paris. Like us, they began their visit to Italy for a magical family wedding in a dreamy setting, the wedding of my niece Caileigh Langford to her Aussie partner Sam Lavery. The pandemic moved these nuptials through one calendar year than another. That we could be there for their triumphant moment was fortune smiling upon us. Renaissance artists must have painted the sky surrounding us at their beautiful outdoor wedding dinner.

Young love, indeed, is a contagion.

Medieval towns and marble ruins. Prosciutto paninis. Sumptuous sunsets and ancient church bells. An ode to Puccini’s Women sung in the great composer’s hometown. Living history. Rural landscapes with rows and rows and rows of wineries and olive trees older than time itself. Grand allées of tall pencil cypress trees and curving hills seduced us at every turn.

What of the food, you ask? Of course, nothing is surprising in discovering the wealth of wine and pasta in these parts, but dammit, it sure goes down easy.

September is an excellent time to travel, we hear. You won’t have the heat. We will have millions of tourists, all of us avoiding (by the narrowest margins) the madcap circus of scooters, Vespas, and cab drivers. Crowds usually don’t deter me: oohing and aahing at the fireworks on the Toronto beach, inside a sports arena, cheering until my voice is hoarse. At a concert in August, I was belting it out with all the rest of the Alicia Keys fans at her Toronto concert. Watching movies in a crowded movie theatre is always a kick. I feel at ease in large gatherings. In Florence, we navigated narrow sidewalks on narrower streets choked with visitors and elbows and air space as I tried to get close to paintings I had waited my whole life to see up close. In Rome, inside the Vatican museums, we ceased being individuals but instead one human stream shuffling along the vast corridors of opulence. In these moments, there was something entirely claustrophobic in how I interacted with all of this rich culture, even though most of the time, my thrill of being there trumped everything else. Travelling anywhere is precious post the wretched pandemic. Italy’s income from tourism is expected to reach €17 billion from the 2022 summer tourist season alone.

What moved me?

For many of our days, we put ourselves in the hands of a series of brilliant Italian tour guides: artists and scholars, a savvy young anthropologist here: a witty writer there, one who managed to take us through the vast Colosseum of Rome and keep our group, including a young boy, enthralled for several hours from start to finish.

The gladiators? Think of Broadway with blood.

Art, art, and more art. Absorbing masterpieces, one after another. The sculptures by the brilliant Bernini in the Borghese Gallery were my last and most cherished outing.

Career wait staff beamed as they poured our medicine wine and unveiled deliciousness in every region we travelled.

The immense pride of cab drivers, pointing out landmarks and dishing politics with my other half. Italians don’t vote with their minds; they vote with their wallets, lamented one. (We were there for a sobering election result).

At an intimate wine resort, we met three other couples celebrating their thirtieth year of marriage; all hailed from Toronto. Can you hear the glass clinking as we toasted one another?

Are you Canadian? Lucky you, says one American couple we met outside a café in Rome.

On another afternoon in Chianti, we shared a long banquet table with strangers who ceased to be such within minutes: six were brothers who lived in different cities but managed to make a trip once a year together: instant party.

The ceiling in our hotel room in Florence.

First order of business upon arriving home: Paint a fresco on all our ceilings. I need to channel some Michelangelo and stare up at something celestial. Secondly, spruce up my vocabulary now that we are again in the land of skyscrapers. Most of my language while visiting Italy was reduced to “Wow! Wow!” and” Wow!” To visit Italy is to be awed and amazed. Wrapping ourselves in this magnificent culture (and copious amounts of wine) was an easy chapter in our long marriage.

If this is thirty years, we’ll take another, thanks.

For more travel and favourite spots:

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To be or not to be cool

By May 12, 2021 Life

Note: I have kept journals off and on since tweendom but a daily habit was entrenched January 1st, 2020, as I began to address the loss of my dad and father-in-law who died within months of each other in the latter half of 2019. 2020 was to be the year of possibility and joy. Little did I know a global pandemic would follow. Some of my entries are illegible, even to me, their author. Some I share here, in this space.

May 12

Wake-up was at 4 am…again. I tried every trick to get back to sleep but gave up shortly after 6 and did the PJ sludge to take the garbage out to the curb. For once, why not beat their trucks that rumble down the street at a schedule only the raccoons have figured out? Then, back inside to get my phone to snap a few photos of the tulips in the front yard, at their best, thanks to a cool spring. They are even better at dawn; a secret discovery sending a sliver of pleasure through me, almost as good as that first hit of coffee. Outside, mug in hand, I begin to shake off brain fog and remember what the plan is today. 

It’s Wednesday. The day I visit Mom. Hump day, we used to call it in the Before Time. 

My phone is filled with thousands of flower pics like this #suckerforcolour

The cardinals are still at it, and I stall work a few minutes longer to watch their mad dance across the yard.  On some days, the red flash of their flight is the only certainty.

Later, brain fog still permeating, en route down to see Mom, I stopped to grab another coffee only to discover the Starbucks now boarded up. I crossed the street to Tim Hortons; already annoyed after forgetting Mom’s cookies at home; muttering madly to myself about leaving my mask in the car, going back to retrieve it; annoyed again when a woman ahead of me in line told me to step back and pointed to the six feet reminder arrows on the floor—she appeared drunk— annoyed again when a dishevelled dude asked me to buy him an iced Cap after seeing mine in hand. I mustered a rushed “sorry” and headed back to the car, ready for the nose swab and waiting that follows as assessing my health every week is now the only way I get to see Mom.

The staff at Mom’s long-term care home doing the rapid testing are cheery despite the monotony of tasks. I remind myself again to borrow a little of their grace.

Arriving up on her floor, I spot Mom easily. Wearing a sundress and matching cardigan, Mom stands out among the other stone-faced residents, if only in my mind. 

Let’s pretend we’re going to a picnic in the park, Mom.  You look the part. Maybe if we’re lucky, there will be pink champagne. 

Wheeling her outside to the courtyard garden, I tucked my wrap around her —she often feels cold in the shade— a little sad I have to cover up her garden get-up. Once in the sun, we settled ourselves in front of a show of colourful blooms, and I remember the Timbits bag in my purse. We’re both giggling about how many to have when a staff member strides over to tell us we were not allowed to be here, in this garden.

This area here is not for long-term care residents but the retirement folks on the other side of the building.

In other words, the able-bodied, able-minded folks get the floral extravaganza. Mom and her peers in the memory loss ward are permitted only in a gated shade area. A clumsy metaphor surely but perhaps it makes sense to someone.

Good news, though. Beginning next week, you can take your Mom around the paths.

The sky was too blue for anything but peace, so I dipped into my bag, pulled out Mary Margaret’s Tree to read to Mom, a favourite among many in the collection of picture books still on shelves at home.  We’re bad at giving up books in this family.

Mom commented on the artful illustrations, her eyes widening when I told her that, once upon a time, we hired an artist to copy some of the drawings on Kate’s wall. The result was a large tree with flowering branches hugging her green childhood bedroom walls and ceiling. You are never too young for tree worship, right, Mom?

When we moved, we took the girls back to say goodbye to the empty house. Kate threw her arms against the wall and kissed the tree mural. I cried a private tear too.

We are bad at goodbyes in this family.

Last Christmas, Kate gave me a photo album of tree photography from all the places she has travelled to and some from right in front of her UK flat. Inside the pages are quotes about trees from favourite books.

Mom smiled as I tell her stories she once knew well.  However diminished, she remains gracious. She tucked a hair behind her ear as the breeze picked up. Her old backcombed hairdo would have held fast in a hurricane. I imagine her childhood in the thirties. In the black and white photos, Mom has the same haircut she sports now, a cute new bob cut. 

Does she recognize herself in the mirror?

You’re doing a good job, Mom told me as I wheeled her out of the garden when it was time for me to go.
Good at navigating the chair, not life, on that we agree. Up the elevator, back to her floor, and now she appears anxious.

Where am I to go? she asks. Where’s Daddy? 

I wheeled her into her place int he small dining room, thinking how much Dad loved the ritual of the dinner meal, even in his last months. 

She’s okay, Dad, I whisper to no one; we’re watching over her

I remind her I will be back soon and give her a squeeze. Touch still feels delicious but illegal, despite our mutual vaccines.

Never once have I left these visits to my mother without thinking I should spring her. Throw her now more diminutive form up on my back, run out to a waiting getaway car, head to a patch of grass, put up a tent, stay up all night, drinking ginger ale, and singing camp songs as loud as we could. We would not run out of stories ever.

The more we get together, together, together,

The more we get together, the happier we’ll be.

For your friends are my friends and my friends are your friends

The more we get together,

The happier we’ll be.

I hit traffic on the way home and turned onto Redpath.

Bumper to bumper, and I don’t even have the energy to turn on the radio. It’s been a long time since I was a news junkie and knew all the headlines. 

Next to me, going the opposite way, a cop with a beautiful smile leaned over from his open window as our cars stood idling side by side. 

You look super cool, he says grinning, as his car moves slowly past the open roof on my freedom wheels, the first-non Mommy car I’ve driven in almost three decades.

He had kind eyes, that I remember.

I am, and always have been, decidedly uncool.  Thanks to the face shield and mask worn earlier, my hair is a mess and even sitting behind the wheel, anyone can see I’m hardly convertible-skinny. There’s a giant Caregiver sticker slapped on my chest, and my sweater is sprinkled with big white daisies. It’s baby blue. The last time I checked, baby blue does not belong in the pantheon of cool.

Before I can smile back, the traffic has moved. My shoulders are already looser. Arriving home, I stay for a while inside the car on the driveway, wishing I could have spotted the cop’s badge number. People who throw fairy dust need thanks.

Just how long was I brooding in that traffic line-up? Was my sad face a beacon?

Cool, I could have been, if, inside the coffee shop earlier in my day, instead of rushing like a halfwit, I had indeed stopped to buy an extra iced Cap for that guy who asked— one too for all his buddies loitering outside on the pavement.

Out of the car, my brain now clear, I take a long slow walk out to the backyard, past the tulips even taller now, without their dawn lustre. Statuesque show-offs in sassy colours, fighting for essential status. Aren’t we all?

Peter was making drinks, so I guess it is Hump Day, after all, Pandemic Style. I flopped on the patio cushion, closed my eyes halfway to see if I could catch one of the blooms opening on the ancient crabapple tree overhead. It blooms every other year. It’s late this year. Usually, it goes all couture on Mother’s Day. Usually, it deserves a party. I’ll have one anyway by myself. It’s just that damn special.

Emily joined us outside for feedback on an old summer skirt. As usual, she has no idea how beautiful she is, no matter what she wears. Peter was busy decoding his Greek playlist again, translating the lyrics. Lucy jumped up beside me for a tummy rub. I wish you could have come today, I tell her.

 Mom and Lucy are old pals. In the days before we moved her into long-term care, Mom would pet Lucy like a champ at every visit and ask, 

“Who owns this beautiful dog?”

Let’s order in, I murmur. Friday is the takeout day around here, but the older I get, the more some rules are fun to abandon. That lesson I got from Mom. What came before cool? Whatever it was, she wasn’t fussed either.

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Blink of an Eye Day

By June 19, 2020 Life

You did it. We held you for a while, and then you flew, my gorgeous baby. Some of it we glimpsed from afar, and some up close. It’s yours for the taking now.

It’s the end of an era for us, too, your fellow proud McGill fan club. We loved to come and share a little of your light over these past four years! Refracted glory. We’ll take it.

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Poetry (and pears) before April fades

By April 30, 2020 Life, Recipes

April is poetry month. At least, so it was in The Before when we set these months aside, chained as we were to calendars before the old folks could no longer recall what unmasked people looked like. Before tents sprouted —people without housing have always been among us. Now they are making beds along storied boulevards, as are the foxes and groundhogs, now claiming their rightful place; before parents everywhere went squirrely.

My kids are grown up now. Still, I’m with you, parents with kids underfoot, online learning schedules, and messy houses. Over here at Wit’s End, we were once the Messy House Headquarters, and there was no pandemic to blame it on. This is the time of year I used to yank my kids out of school for picnics. Mostly to witness magic here for only a whisper. I was strict about some things… like bedtime (I am a bitch without sleep, so I insisted on it for my own sake more than theirs)…sibling scraps…road trip games…and poetry.

I made them wear silly hats.

Boys and girls come out to play
The moon does shine as bright as day
Leave your supper and leave your sleep
And join your playfellows in the street

Come with a whoop, and come with a call
Come with goodwill or not at all
Up the ladder and down the wall
A halfpenny roll will serve us all
You’ll find milk, and I’ll find flour
And we’ll have a pudding in half an hour

Years ago, a school librarian pal asked me to workshop a poetry manuscript in her elementary classes: call it a pint-sized focus group, all you marketing mavens. Poetry and kids are, after all, natural partners. Adult cynicism and facades have yet to seize hold. Kids default to belief about mystical wonders.

I’m with the great Romantic poet Shelley:

Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a young poet making his Auntie proud:

If poetry fails to grab hold, there’s always the kitchen. Make them in charge of half of this delicious Pity-the-Pandemic-because-we-still-have-dessert-and-other-tools-so there– PEAR CRISP.

Make them do the crumble (the fun part). Kids can also peel the pears.

Note: I know pears are an autumn fruit. Readers of my food memoir know I like to bake in season. There is no such thing right now. I am using all my frozen berries, pears, and apples, even if they taste lacklustre.

There are no rules anymore.

Yes, baking is math. Science too. As a student, I received gold stars in neither.

See? No rules.

Pear Crisps with dried sour cherries (adapted from renowned pastry chef Claudia Fleming)

What you need:

  • Eight ripe pears, peeled, cored, and sliced (5 cups)
  • 1 cup dried sour cherries
  • fruity red wine like Zinfandel (use water if you have none)
  • ½ cup granulated sugar, divided
  • 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • ⅓ cups toasted almonds*, coarsely ground
  • ¼ cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • I stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature

What you do:

Early on the day you plan to serve the crisps, put the cherries in a small pot and add enough wine (or water) to cover them by 2 inches. Bring mixture to a simmer over medium heat, then turn off the heat and let it cool, leaving it at room temperature for at least 8 hours. Or, do this the night before, and keep them in the fridge overnight.

Drain the cherries and reserve the juice. Resist the urge to drink it (if you have used wine).

Combine the sliced pears and drained cherries in a large bowl. Add half of the granulated sugar (¼ cup) and toss. Then mix in ½ cup of the reserved juices. Let the mixture stand for 30 minutes while you make the crisp topping.

Preheat the oven to 375F. In a large bowl, whisk together the remaining ¼ cup of granulated sugar, the flour, toasted almonds, brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Slowly drizzle in the melted butter and stir with a fork until the mixture is crumbly. Break up any large crumbs with your fingers. The crumbs should be smaller than 1 inch or won’t cook all the way through.

Spoon the fruit into a large baking dish (2 quarts) or individual ramekins. I used a dozen 4-ounce ramekins. If you have leftover juice left from the soaking liquid, pour a little over each mound of fruit. Evenly sprinkle the crumbs on top of the fruit. Bake the crisps until the filling is bubbling and the topping is browned—45 to 50 minutes.

Serve hot or at room temperature. Add ice cream if you feel generous, but this crisp stands without dressing up.

*Spread whole almonds in a single layer on a baking sheet. Place in cold oven; toast at 350 degrees, 12-15 minutes (9-11 minutes for slivered and chopped almonds), until lightly toasted.

More poetry:

From April 2013, Try to Praise a mutilated world

Or, also from 2013, a little dirt in leaping greenly

from April 2016, The Profane & the Sublime

Keep the faith. Make stuff. Embrace jammies.

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Be the bloom

By April 4, 2020 Headlines, Life, Performance

Ways to resist panic:

For those non-essential workers now isolating at home:

Yes, we binge. We eat*. We read.

We create, but only if the instinct to do so calls. Ignore the rush demands of others. Age has taught me one lesson: to absorb change truly, most of us need time. Few of us have that time or take it. Now maybe you do.

Read Ignoring the Rush to Productivity

Do all of the above. Do nothing.


Help. Don’t know how? Start with your circles. One of mine dropped some tulips off for me on my doorstep, which made my whole week. Here are a few places that need your help. Please consider them all:

Check out a virtual celebration of one of Ontario’s most vibrant community theatres tonight. Wavestage is celebrating 25 years, and those who love and support this talented troupe of performers will be toasting their success at a special gala. Okay, we were meant to throw our wild applause with roses at the stage and hug these performers in person at the stage entrance. I’ve witnessed years of spectacular magic from Wavestage, some of which you, readers, have heard about here and here.

Instead, we can tune in at 7 pm to watch over a dozen revival performances and give them giant virtual hugs.

Here is the live Youtube link

Artists are bleeding now in every sector across every artistic discipline. Instead of being overwhelmed, pick one a week to lend a hand. Take a cue from some of this country’s most celebrated performers pitching in to do their part. Along with the Canadian Opera Company, Shaw Festival, Soulpepper, Young People’s Theatre, Canadian Stage, and Luminato, the National Ballet of Canada shop is donating personal protective equipment such as gloves and masks. At the same time, their wardrobe staff is sewing caps and masks from home for our front-line healthcare workers in hospitals to help keep them safe.


Frantic parents need support too. Luckily, a Mary Poppin clone called Art Studio (Not Just) for Children is ready to rescue with online art classes and other spontaneous creative fun for the whole family beginning Monday, April 6th.

Got kids who love playing detective? Consider signing up for a customized narrative experience with a week’s short daily phone calls from The Ministry of Mundane Mysteries, presented by Outside the March Theatre Company. Designed for the whole family (kids under 12 can pair up with a parent for no charge), 100% of the funds collected will go directly to employ actors from the community who have recently lost income due to the COVID crisis. For more info, read here.

If you cannot help others, help yourself. Spend some time dreaming of your favourite places. Maybe this madness will result in all of us being experts at cherishing. Here’s one of my cherished spots in Algonquin Park, Ontario. Where are your favourites?

No virus can rob us of dreaming. Last time I checked, dreams come free of charge.

*Some of us bake. If you want fun, join my Bakers in Dangerous Times group. If you wish for recipes, or info about my book, with love and sugar: recipes and rituals for the sweet life, get in touch.

You can contact me here.

We are all #InThisTogether.

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Lessons in readiness

By March 31, 2020 Headlines, Life

Something has shifted. The earth has struck back. Exacting breathlessness, it has asserted its demand to breathe. From animal to human the virus jumps, as if to demonstrate the indivisibility of life and death on a small planet. The technology perfected for the rich to globalize their advantages has also created the perfect mechanism for globalizing the panic that sends portfolios into a free fall. Do things differently at the other end of this scourge, some mystic voice murmurs, do them more equitably, more ecologically, with greater respect for the environment, or you will be smitten again. Next time the internet will collapse. The passage from real world to virtual world to no world will then be complete. It is not easy to resist such thoughts, and perhaps they should not be resisted, for that would be to learn nothing.

Roger Cohen, A Silent Spring (New York Times)

Day 19: What have I learned?

I can live in the now.

So, perhaps we have lost anticipation in this pandemic. Maybe we have lost the everyday juice we drink to map out wants and desires. I’m ready, aren’t I?

Before any lockdowns, visiting my mother in long-term care in the past few months had given me some facility in grasping the moment at hand. There is nothing else there on offer. There is no tomorrow with dementia. There is only now. Mom and I share a peanut butter cup. I scooped up at the volunteer-run tuck shop downstairs and watched an old black and white film together. We agree there are few better combos than peanut butter and chocolate. I stroke her hair—still fine, now bone-straight grey— tucked back in a borrowed hairband instead of her signature blonde backcomb. She responds well to this touch and beams a silent thank-you to me. In the end, she doesn’t speak much. Smiles. Listens. Responds with one or two-word answers. Hugging is its own language; indeed, my first language, my most fluent language, even as I have learned over time to converse with those in lukewarm settings who do not share my mother tongue.
When the attendants come to manoeuvre her walker to dinner, I help her to stand and then wrap my arms around her. It is all. It has to be enough.

If there are no longer anticipatory pangs, I can cope. With Mom, there are no days of the week either. There is just now. I’m used to this. I am ready.

Except now, I cannot hold her.

All human touch is now governed (by necessity) by pandemic rules. Like all of us, Mom and all her peers in long-term care can no longer have visitors. The exhausted workers there have unimaginable limits on their time but have worked out a schedule where they will assist residents to come to the window. All we have is a ten-minute window to wave at Mom. Is this part of ambiguous loss? We have lost so much already.

Yes, I can walk with a friend. Our voices carry across the mandatory divides. Yes, I can organize neighbourhood driveway hangouts. We smile and offer solace— and try to discern if any neighbour needs help with anything—and while it is all a strange and new kind of togetherness, we find our usual jocularity. Yes, I can accept a series of invitations to see faces in boxes on my screen for work, fitness, or family meetings. I started a new Facebook group: Bakers in a Dangerous Time, and other new creative collaborations with neighbours and friends because Let’s-Make Up-a-Story is my password, and it’s better than the one we’re living with now.

I am grumpy about technology hugs even as I adapt as humans have done since we stood up. Who says I want to become facile at Zoom? I am not ready.

Being inside my home for hours and hours doesn’t scare me.

Extroverts can’t work alone. Really? Reductive boxes are lazy. I’ve been working alone for years since I left the newsroom. It’s me, my coffee cup, and the draft on the page. This is what writers do, give or take the odd collaborative lifeline. Putting up with my angsty writing gaps is Lucy’s job.

Housekeeping does not daunt me, either. Once, I ran a household and grew some kids up and out. Now I am tucking bedsheet corners in with my guy who, in a previous life, was undoubtedly a royal housekeeper if sarongs were allowed as a uniform. Or a jester. We are rich in quips if nothing else, and cookbooks I refused to throw out in House Purges 1 through 11. His setting is always set to Hug. High up there, alongside his laundry pile of neatly folded clothes, is a deep sense of reward in the work we’ve put into this life now threatened by an invisible enemy. This is the payoff. We get to stick this out together, and he is learning (finally) what I do all day, just as I am listening to his frequent work calls now on our walks together. Somedays, we are short with one another and long on many others. We are sad, and then we laugh. We know how to do this. There is never a wrong time to keep learning.

A year ago, it was how to bake a croissant. Will we ever leave the house again? Check back when Spring shows up—the real Spring. Canadians know the difference.

We are ready.

Our kids are away from us, one in another city, and the other, in another continent. Our plans to be together are no longer possible in the near future, in the imminent future, in the…what is the future?

I miss my dad even though I know he would have suffered in this terrible chaos. I miss my lucid mom, who would have laughed along with me at the two red cardinals dancing around my yard. I miss my father-in-law, who never ran out of soap. Our days fold into one another, and some days are this: Husband and Wife sitting on the couch and saying: we miss our people—every day. Sadness is a new houseguest… and now this? Dreams now are wild and fanciful, and I have lost sense of weekdays and weekends…they have just slipped into a March puddle. Stars on my calendar to mark spectacular achievements have been removed. My watch broke. The little latch fell off, although it is still running. I looked at the thing and screamed: you motherfucker, that is a poor joke.

I’m not ready. We are not prepared.

The playgrounds and dog parks have yellow tape around them: every day, small deaths.

I’m not ready.

It’s easy to reject some mindsets: my stress is the only stress. I have it worse than you.

Instead, it’s an easy yes to any initiatives to form communities of compassion (my film nerd heart bleeds for artists); to applaud the heroic essential workers who are keeping us alive, fed, and in our cocoons of civility. I marvel at the daily communication briefs delivered by government officials with a calm I can barely muster in my relative safety. In a previous chapter in a television newsroom, I learned how fast news cycles work. This Big Germ now is supersonic speed, yet they are, doing their jobs with persistent professionalism. Don’t listen to the news, say well-meaning friends. Who needs it? I’ve given up on it. It’s all bad news. I don’t listen to it; I can find it all on Twitter, SNL, and Colbert alone. Really? Journalism, like healthcare, has never been more crucial. Learn which ones to trust and never stop following their reasoned threads, even if it’s in smaller, tolerable doses.

While working as a producer in that newsroom, I was a longtime member of the company’s pay equity committee, where we examined each sector of our operation and how responsibility and stress were measured. That experience has never left me and afforded me precious insight into systems I never see from the quiet of my writing perch. There, primarily invisible from all the clamour, I try to make sense of it all, occasionally pacing, always pondering.

Like you, Anxiety sits at our breakfast table. Will our daughters be okay? Will they get sick? Parenting adult children is another setting on the dial.

Can we pay our bills? The echo rings around the world.

All of us are floating in the unknown. Some of us will fall off the edge, and others will get a hand up. There are millions of stories, most of which are worse than yours. We are all someone.

I know this means I’m ready.

That I love makes me unready.

You, dear readers, are more critical than ever. I feel you somewhere out there. Drop me a line.

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Small Solutions

By March 23, 2020 Life

What to do when the world is closed?

I’m with Rocketman.
Keep busy.

In the kitchen:

First up, a helpful list of substitutions:


Make batches of salad dressings that will make salad prep simple. These are all simple. Keep them in your fridge and give them a shake.

Simple vinegar-based dressing:

  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallot-If you have none, use a dash of onion powder.
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Combine the vinegar, shallot, salt, and pepper with a whisk, then drizzle the oil into the mixture.

Simple non-vinegar dressing:

  • 1 lemon (about ¼ cup of the juice)
  • 2 TBS honey
  • 4 TBS olive oil
  • ¼ cup grated parmesan

Combine lemon juice, honey, and grated parm in a small bowl. Stir in olive oil and serve.

Simple ranch dressing:

  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk. Use regular milk if you prefer.
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried chives
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • freshly squeezed lemon juice to taste approximately 1-3 teaspoons; adjust to taste

Whisk milk and mayo together until smooth. Add the spices and whisk until combined. Add the lemon and whisk again before serving.

Make batches of your Garp trail mix from your pantry. These can replace whole meals or help hungry little ones whining in your household. Note: all of us are children when hungry. Use whatever you have in your hold. My favourites are dried fruit, sunflower seeds, toasted nuts, and chocolate chips. Use your dried cereal here too. Anything works. Be creative. Make up little packets and store them away.

Make soups and double the batch. These can be very simple. If you have boxes or cans of broth and veggies, you’re good to go. Here is the basic recipe:

  • 1 lb vegetables, cut up into equal-sized bites
  • 1 onion or a few cloves garlic, chopped
  • a few TB of olive oil or unsalted butter
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 to 6 cups broth or stock

Heat oil. Saute onion or garlic until soft. Add veggies and brown for a few minutes, then season. Season with S & P. Add broth, cover the pot, and lower the heat to a simmer for about 30 minutes until veggies are soft. Puree if you want a smooth soup, or leave it chunky. It’s up to you. Add in whatever herbs and spices you like.

Make easy cookies and freeze them. In my food memoir are several easy recipes. For those of you who have my book, please email me with any questions. Here’s one for today that amps up every family’s favourite with one easy trick.

Brown Butter Rice Crispies

from with love and sugar: recipes and rituals for the sweet life

  • Grease an 8-inch square pan.
  • Melt 1 stick unsalted butter in a large pot over medium-low heat.
  • Leave the butter on the heat until it foams and turns brown. The divine smell is your first clue. No, you can’t lap it up right there. Keep your eye on this butter and stir until it turns a nutty colour. 
  • Turn off the heat and count out 40 marshmallows, and don’t eat them while counting, either.
  • Throw them into the butter and return the pan to heat, keeping it on low until it is one lovely, gooey mess.
  • Remove from heat and stir in ¼ tsp coarse sea salt and 6 cups Rice Crispies.
  • With a rubber spatula, spread the crispies into the prepared baking pan and pat down, evening out the top. Cut into squares.

Outside the kitchen:

Stay fit by turning on some old-school disco and dancing for 20 minutes. Few of us feel like dancing, which is precisely when to do it.

Read a story about JLo’s body and marvel at how trivial some of our thoughts can be at any given moment in history.

Read a story about how long marriages survive. Read a story about the difference between grief and mourning.

Look up some favourite photos on your computer and print out ten. Tape them on entryways to rooms. And while you’re at it, delete all the mediocre images on your computer. Who needs them?

Write down a description of a memorable holiday and what made it special for you. Here’s betting that brainwork will linger in your dreams tonight.

For cooped-up kids:

If you can get outside, go for a walk and play our family’s favourite game of Dalmations. Decide on one object you are likely to see en route. Maybe count houses with red doors. Think of how many of that object you will find. See if you’re right and who is closest to their estimate. The winner gets a break that day from one family chore. The losers have to do twenty jumping jacks right there.

When screen time no longer sustains, build something. Have a whole day of building with family members. Decide you are new on Planet Earth and have to create. Use your Lego or any building things you have. Conjure up food that uses no electricity. Hint: sandwiches. Share some of your results and send me a photo!

Do a family funny census. Find out who snores, who can French braid hair, who can rub their tummy and scratch their head simultaneously, who likes ginger, and who likes milk chocolate or dark chocolate. The list of your census possibilities is endless, but the key here is humour, not competition. Please send me some of your fun results!

Research something new. Learn five new songs about spring. Make a list of all the things you can improve in spring because spring is the season of hope and new things blooming and growing.  

Hope is the thing with feathers

by Emily Dickinson

Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul,

And sings the tune without the words,

And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;

And sore must be the storm

That could abash the little bird

That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,

And on the strangest sea;

Yet, never, in extremity,

It asked a crumb of me.

#sticktogether even while staying apart

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I won’t miss you, 2019

By December 31, 2019 Art, Film, Life, Performance, Travel

2019, you were a dagger. My heart bleeds from your cuts. Though I saw your approach, I was not yet ready.

Are we ever?

My dad lived a long, happy life and left us on July 23rd.

My father-in-law was a few years younger, but his journey was long, which ended five days before Christmas.

It will be days, months, and years before I can fully adjust to life without them. We never get over loss; we add it to the tapestry.

Tilted; however, I am not. These men made my life rich. I am whom I loved and who loved me. If I stand tall tomorrow, it is their postures I inhabit.

Standing may be possible, but my gaze shifted in 2019. Apologies if you were ignored this year, given short shrift, the side-eye, or a sharp tongue. Some of my grace notes slipped. My gym routines faltered; with them, most of my projects. Abandoned, too, was a team I was proud to belong with whom I served meals to the hungry on frigid winter days. The only service I could muster was in my kitchen, where using my hands remained soothing. My sticky date pudding has never been better.

As always, solace, for me, is found in storytelling. I find answers in art, answers that are missing in people. The older I get, the less I can solve. Life remains ever mysterious. Arrogance is becoming less tolerable. I’m with Iris Dement. For fans of TV’s The Leftovers, maybe this resonates.

If you were somebody who made me laugh this year, you are dearer than ever. Suddenly, I was binging sitcoms formerly dismissed. What got me through? Schitt’s Creek. Younger. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. My mother, now a long-term care resident, loves the Hallmark channel. The bright palettes and simplistic storylines suit her, but I, too, found myself amused by the sheer audacity of all that cheesiness. Hell, I’d rather be amused right now than gutted. Baking shows, both the British original and all the iterations that followed, make me silly happy. Bakers want to give love. Period.

On the big screen, I found new things that moved me. Here is my list of films that impressed me somehow this year. This is a highly subjective list, as all lists are. I like all kinds of movies, and what moves, surprises, makes me laugh, cry, or ponder the mystery of life…well, it may not be yours. Have at it.

Little Women: Gorgeous, inventive, and worth your time, and I mean you, men of the earth. This is not just a women’s picture. Banish the ghetto of chick flicks forever.

Parasite: See my TIFF review.

A Hidden Life: See my TIFF review.

Apollo 11: A total kick for space nerds and everybody else too. In a fantastic documentary, spectacular footage and audio (never before captured onscreen). Best doc of the year.

Booksmart: Kudos to Olivia Wilde. Her directorial debut is a home run. I was right back in high school. Some things are indeed timeless, no matter how fresh or how current. Movies that make me laugh get high marks. Good comedies are rare.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood: Nice never gets old. I liked the 2018 documentary on Mister Rogers better (Won’t You Be My Neighbour?), but this one is also worthy.

The Farewell: Give the Oscar now to Awkwafina. This movie will elicit tears but don’t miss it. Lulu Wang, the real-life partner of director Barry Jenkins, directed them. This is a film with legs. If it wins awards, look for a slight shift to myopia in film financing. There is a world of storytellers outside the frame. Find them. Give them money. Let them fly.

L to R: “Jiang Yongbo, Aoi Mizuhara, Chen Han, Tzi Ma, Awkwafina, Li Xiang, Lu Hong, Zhao Shuzhen.” Courtesy of Big Beach.

Knives Out: see my TIFF review

Uncut Gems: see my TIFF review

Western Stars: see my TIFF review

Raise Hell: The Life & Times of Molly Ivins: If ever a film makes you want to stand and cheer, it’s this one from another hugely talented female director, Janice Engel—an utterly fascinating portrait of the famous brilliant Texan journalist.

Honey Boy: see my TIFF review

Rocketman: see my earlier review

The Two Popes: Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles won international acclaim for City of Gods. Here he is again with another beautiful film based on a play about two Popes attempting to find common ground. Sir Antony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce, two of the industry’s finest, are spectacular here. As a television journalist, I interviewed Hopkins for a beautiful little film called Remains of the Day many years ago. He was gracious and thoughtful—a little Pope-like, miles away from his Hannibal Lector sneer. I have loved watching all his films ever since.

The Grizzlies: This gorgeous Canadian film deserves lots of eyeballs. While the script delivers a few clunkers, I fell hard for the cast, one of the strongest onscreen this year. The story surrounds a newly minted teacher who moves to a small Artic community and attempts to introduce lacrosse to his students. Both immensely watchable and heartwrenching, this is a film sneaking by most (if not all) of the sports film tropes right to the finish line.

Several films screened at TIFF last year were released in 2019. Of the titles I loved, these gems are now available in general release or on one of the streaming networks. Girl, Wild Rose, Maiden, Everybody Knows, What You Gonna Do When The World’s On Fire, The Wild Pear Tree. See my TIFF 2018 wrap for reviews of these titles. Try to see them all!

Two TIFF films I loved this year and should be on the list have yet to be released: The Sound of Metal (look for it soon on Amazon) and Rocks (2020). Look for more on both here. Both were also on my Best of TIFF list this year.

NEW ADD: The Lighthouse. Two men go mad inside a lighthouse. That’s the pitch, but if you’re looking for a masterpiece of cinematography, sound, production design, and performance, this is your film. Robert Eggers and his brother Max dived deep into their research to write this film, shot in Nova Scotia, and then director Robert pushed two movie stars (Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattison) to the brink to pull off the stunner. What I loved most? This is not an arty show-offy kind of filmmaking. Nothing is there that doesn’t drive the narrative vision. There are hints of poetry and folklore. Film nerds will go nuts with the influences spotted here and there, not to mention the camera work. As for the mermaids in this film? Let’s say they are not made in Disney.

Best live theatre: The Brothers Size (Soulpepper)

My own favourite lived moments of 2019:
My London Top Ten,

Paris is all mise en scène,

No one gets to steal our joy

I am still searching for a film to see to end the dispute on the family couch. Here are some of my past Best of The Year lists.

Highs of 2018, Highs of 2017, Highs of 2016, Highs of 2015, Highs of 2014, Highs of 2013,Highs of 2012

For all my patient readers, I wish you joy and peace in 2020. Thanks for sticking with me.

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By October 8, 2019 Life

Coldstream Avenue has a new pit
be careful you could fall in
before the dream home goes up
before they haul away the 
rubble of red brick 

New owner said yes
we could have some bricks
one each
one for five
five former brick dwellers
five from seven
We didn’t ask for seven bricks
We’re not greedy

A brick from your house
my old house 
my grow-up-and-become house 
sure house safe house
sing-at-the-table house

A red brick now in my window
of my wit’s end house 
four blondes (one four-legged) and a Greek
 number 258 on my street

Coldstream was number 129

129 plus 129 equals 258
Double the luck

Except luck is for leprechauns

I’m only Irish for the poetry
and the potatoes-any kind will do

I put my brick in the window 
shooed away the sprites
lurking in the green below

Now when I look to the skies
there  first  is you
solid on the sill

Start here

©Anne Langford 2019

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No one gets to steal our joy. Not now. Not ever.

By June 18, 2019 Headlines, Life

Elusive as ever, joy was ours to be had in Toronto yesterday. It took a sporting match to make that happen, and one other key ingredient in that mass celebration on parade through the downtown core: accessibility. Over and over again, fans were to be heard gushing over “our team.” It was the story of our neighbourhood streets. Everyone owned a piece of the Raptor’s championship. We felt close to it, thought it was ours. Millions of fans enjoyed access to refracted glory.

I was a point guard in Scarborough growing up. All the children of immigrants- Vietnamese, Asians, Black, Brown, we all played religiously so it is really special to now be with my fellow Canadians and be celebrating together. Everyone in Canada knows each other. We are one big family.

Omer Aziz, author

I played basketball (poorly) for a brief inglorious spell in high school and didn’t pretend to grasp the sport’s mechanics perfectly. Nor did I watch it much until these championships lit up, and I began to peer closely at this group of talented athletes. Such power! Such poise! And for this hockey fan, such spectacular restraint under the most intense stress. I was won over by how this team played the sport rather than the sport itself. So yes, I, too, sped downtown last Thursday night and high-fived in the wee hours with my daughter (who, unlike her mother, played basketball brilliantly for years) and my other half, a fan since the origin of the Raptors. That’s him in the grainy photo, playing in the streets of Kensington Market. They were both here in Toronto yesterday, going through those happy throngs.

We were all there in spirit. Communal moments are as rare as perfect sleep in this digital era.

Our collective glory held the day until some thieves tried to steal it with a gunshot scattering through a sea of peaceful fans. For those injured, a horrific moment. For those in the stampede, panic is sure to cause future sleepless nights. These criminals were apprehended by quick-thinking cops. Most of the crowd was unaffected; thousands of fans still turned their faces to the sun.

Fleeting as it is, joy cannot be stolen. It was ours. We would do well to mark it. Bring our pleasure globes out to marvel and remember. There will be shadows again, but that moment is now embedded in our collective history. Age affords us this wisdom, or why else are all the old folks grinning their wrinkled smiles to themselves? Someday that will be me, remembering the boys with their cigars and champagne splashing out in a spray over all of us and turning us all into bubbles for the briefest moment.

For more reading:

Refracted glory belongs to parents, too, at this time of year.

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