It’s the last day of January, a month named after Janus, the god of two faces—one looking to the past, one to the future. I was born in this month and that duality can pose a blessing and a curse. Writers, do you hear me? We mine the past for gems to light our future, and sometimes, stay longer than we should. Nostalgia is an indulgent pool. A plunge from time to time is necessary. So is getting out, shaking it off, and moving on.
So Janus, ye of doorways in and out, I see you off with these worthy words from author Courtney Martin.
“This is your assignment. Feel all the things. Feel the hard things. The inexplicable things, the things that make you disavow humanity’s capacity for redemption. Feel all the maddening paradoxes. Feel overwhelmed, crazy. Feel uncertain. Feel angry. Feel afraid. Feel powerless. Feel frozen. And then FOCUS. Pick up your pen. Pick up your paintbrush. Pick up your damn chin. Put your two calloused hands on the turntables, in the clay, on the strings. Get behind the camera. Look for that pinprick of light. Look for the truth (yes, it is a thing—it still exists.)
Focus on that light. Enlarge it. Reveal the fierce urgency of now. Reveal how shattered we are, how capable of being repaired. But don’t lament the break. Nothing new would be built if things were never broken. A wise man once said: there’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in. Get after that light. This is your assignment.“
February, I see you and your focus coming, and chocolate too. January Detox with a wise food wizard friend has not left me pining— all the lovely green welcoming me as I open the fridge! —but chocolate and I go way back. Readers enjoying lean New Year menus, I’m with you in pursuit of the Holy Grail of health. Turns out it can include chocolate, thedarker the better. Check back soon, chocolate peeps.
I’m staying in tonight. Spending the last day of the year with my main squeeze, my only squeeze, who has mopped the floor three times this holiday season and knows how to make a bed better than any hotel maid. He has many tricks but these are two you appreciate after a long marriage. That he makes me laugh daily is why this party girl is content with our plans to cook up Nigella’s champagne risotto and tick off happy moments in our cosy abode. I promised him chocolate mocha creme brûlée. I too have other tricks but that’s one of them.
Last day of a very rich year. Rich in lessons. Rich in moments. Rich in howling at the moon or the tv screen. A year I almost threw my phone in the toilet for surely nothing good was worth reading on it, or in my still-delivered-daily newspapers.
On the first day of this year, I made a toast with my family present, a toast to buoyancy in heavy times. I’m thrilled to say I think we made it. The world is not broken. Aim for the light.
Here is my Best of 2017: or what I can remember after the holiday coma.
Favourite moments on the page:
In a year rocked by revelations of terrible deeds, one author’s words screamed at me from the page. Of course it was Alice Munro (Lives of Girls and Women). “There is no protection, unless it is in the knowing.”
from Felicity by poet Mary Oliver, this line from her poem Moments: “There is nothing more pathetic than caution, when headlong might save a life, even, possibly, your own.”
from The Girls by Emma Cline: “That was our mistake, I think. One of many mistakes. To believe that boys were acting with a logic that we could someday understand. To believe that their actions had any meaning beyond thoughtless impulse. We were like conspiracy theorists, seeing portent and intention in every detail, wishing desperately that we mattered enough to be the object of planning and speculation. But they were just boys. Silly and young and straightforward; they weren’t hiding anything.”
from Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips: “She doesn’t picture them as Arabic—she has been wondering, of course. But they do not sound like that kind of terrorist. They sound like young, obnoxious white men—aren’t they always young white men?—and she is not sure whether this makes them more or less dangerous than fanatics on a jihad.”
Canadian poet/novelist Steven Price wrote the kind of big fat novel you want to hide out by the fire with and speak to no one but the characters on the page. I loved it, and read it in the moody month of March and I wish to return to exactly that sensation every time I read. By Gaslight was my favourite read of 2017.
Favourite moments on the stage:
Come from Away was the first show I saw early January 2017. What a start to my year of theatrical highs, thanks to an early birthday present from my sister. My 2017 personal theme of buoyancy was shared by those actors on that stage delivering the most heartfelt piece of Canadian theatre I have seen in years. Come from Away later opened on Broadway and scored seven Tony nominations, and won for best direction of a musical.
The Shaw Festival’s Michael Therriault as Bill Snibson in a note perfect production of Me and My Girl
The brilliant new musical Life After featuring a sensitive and intelligent performance by lead actor Ellen Denny who brought me to tears. “If you grow, then you know it was worth a little bruising. And it’s alright, as long as your height gains in inches what you’re losing.” I’ll be watching everything playwright Britta Johnson does now.
Kristen Thomson made me howl in The Crow’s Theatre production of A Wedding Party
In the lobby of the small but mighty Coal Mine theatre, following a fantastic production of Superior Donuts, I was introduced to Sarah Polley (there, along with many other actors, to wish the cast well following the show). Polley has zero airs. That she penned a brilliant piece in the New York Times later this year made me even prouder of this true Canadian gem.
The entire cast of Soulpepper/Bad Hats Theatre coproduction of Peter Pan lifted me high into the rafters of imagination. I felt blessed to have seen it, alongside my nine-year old nephew who told me after the play he wished he could learn swordplay to take on Captain Hook. I’m with you, Henry.
Is it cheating to say I loved a performance on ice? A stage of sorts, no? My six-year old niece Charlotte sparkled and held her own in a year end skating show that also featured dazzling performances by Canadian Olympians. Made me itch to get my old skates out. See you on the ice this Saturday.
Favourites on screen: A near impossible task for this film nerd as you regular readers will know by now. Best place to start is my Scrumptious Films list from TIFF 2017 for my favourites, many now released in theatres.
In addition, these films all impressed and moved me in some way:
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
The Big Sick
I, Daniel Blake
Land of Mine
The Man who Invented Christmas
Favourite moments lived (in no particular order because memory doesn’t work like that!)
Moving was an unwelcome theme this year. Moving kids from residence to home, and back to university and out of apartments; then to another country… and my own belongings to pack up while my house was under repair from a flood(!) and then unpack when it was done…Through all of it, the kindness of family and friends who didn’t know they saved me from myself with their extra arms (my godson Ben who responded so swiftly when we asked for help moving heavy stuff — surely, he deserves a medal; my sister Mary who arrived, flood-ready with rubber boots and towels in the middle of the night; friends who offered houses and food and come sit in my garden).
My entire wedding party gathered at the start of the year, here in our home, and recreated our wedding photo from 25 years ago. One of my bridesmaids brought a surprise. She unzipped her winter coat and there underneath was the dark red velvet dress made, along with all the others by my mom; back when women did these kinds of heroic domestic duties. We all shared laughing fits when she told me it didn’t zip up quite as readily in the back. Still, she wore it with panache. Later that night, my other bridesmaids brought out letters I had written about this crazy man-child I adored, way back when taking a pen to paper and gushing about love was still in fashion. Both my girls were there to listen to it all. When I showed a movie I made about our wedding to my mom, who sometimes forgets, she said, weren’t we lucky to have that talented man to make your sparkly dress? That man was a talented couture designer and having a dress made by him was her gift to me all those years ago. I won the lottery that night. Yes indeed.
My eldest graduated from University of Toronto this year (Victoria College) and was able to celebrate this with her grandparents, who graduated themselves from this very institution six decades ago, and other cherished family members who attended the university. After a glorious day on the lovely campus, as we drove away, came this from our newly minted graduate: I learned a lot here. This was a good place for me. Later, my daughter told me her beloved Pappou, who hasn’t been well and was unable to attend her ceremony, gave a long diatribe about having no mother or sisters (he grew up an orphan, and was raised by his four older brothers) and then told her, our family needed more women. You were born and you are a smart woman. We need more like this.
I will be in a bad mood if you don’t come. Blessed are you if you get that kind of text from your sister.
Barenaked laps in a lake that time forgot in Algonquin late summer. I was there for a solo retreat courtesy of my brother John who joined me on the first night for a beer. Did he himself deliver that perfect sunset? Or the autumn Ontario heat wave that made warm water that felt like a hug? Who knew I needed it that badly that moment?
Dancing in the aisles to Earth,Wind& Fire with Peter and the girls. Best moment of the summer, second only to a spectacular weekend of wine, theatre, friends and gorgeous weather in Niagara over the Canada Day weekend.
Attending McGill Homecoming and I get to sit in a dazzling new Montreal resto (Jatoba) and hear my own McGill kid tell me, over the course of a fantastic meal, about the hardest paper she’s ever written, and did I say yet it is likely the best I’ve written too?
A three-way tie between the absolute glee when we sat down together in my dining room for our annual Christmas book club table with all our wee trinkets for one another- you’d think we were opening diamonds; when my pal Jo went to dig her dish gloves out of her purse to do all the dishes and everyone pitched in to dry; the recitation of A Night Before Christmas by another member Jill, complete with perfect eyebrow punctuation.
Sitting beside my folks at Christmas dinner. My dad clinks a spoon to his wine glass; we all stop talking. “Let’s remember this is a good country. And I’m lucky to have my wife.”
Picking up my kids in the airport following their six week Summer of 17 Sisters backpack trip. There is no better moment than seeing my kids in that airport. Not by a mile.
There are things that, as a parent, you cannot do for your children, as much as you might wish to. You cannot make them happy (if you try too hard they become whiners); you cannot give them self-esteem and confidence (those come from their own accomplishments); you cannot pick friends for them and micro-manage their social lives, and finally you cannot give them independence. The only way children can grow into independence is to have their parents open the door and let them walk out.
-Michael Thompson, Homesick and Happy
I wish all my readers a magical year ahead. What adventures will it hold? I know one thing. It will be more fun with you along. #WeRallinthistogether
It’s therapeutic. You can’t really blow it. If you drop icing, you put on a snowflake.
-Judy Taylor, gingerbread queen
Meet Judy Taylor. Architect* by day, gingerbread queen by, well, all hours left when it comes to the holiday season!
Judy’s gingerbread houses are works of intricate design, down to the chocolate masonry. Yup. The bricks are edible.
As one of my with love and sugar baking team, Judy’s offerings would put all of the candidates on The Great Canadian Baking Show on their toes. Ask her to whip up a batch of something you need for your book launch and this talented baker delivers a plate of beauties. Tonight the remaining bakers competing for the title of best amateur baker in the country will tackle gingerbread in a special holiday baking episode. I’ll be watching their attempts with the Queen herself.
The Great Canadian Baking show debuted Wednesday night here in Canada and this baker was keen to check this out with my own baking lens. With me: an enthusiastic group of baking fans —we had us some big fun dishing on this Canadian version of this hit British show—and among my guests, a dear friend of many decades, a friend yet to ditch me through all the wonkier stages of my life, including the development of my food memoir. Anyone left standing after that? Friend for life.
Robyn Stafl drives a car as big as her heart— her love of surprising others with thoughtful gifts and gestures would be enough to keep her around (and she has a chauffeur hat to boot), but every posse needs a funny bone and ours is a shared skewer to all things pompous. Whatever our adult successes, we will always be giggling from the school locker room, waiting for the weekend where mayhem is sure to erupt… with our names attached. My lips are sealed.
Robyn is also queen of her own kitchen (when she has the time: this baker is also manager, lease reporting at Allied Properties, a commercial real estate company). Like me, Robyn loves to mess about with sugar and create sweet moments for her family. Emails from my old friend have subject lines, just checking in, how can I help, what do you need? but my favourite has to be: everything tastes better with ice cream. What’s not to love?
Did we like the show? Here’s a sample of our evening. Bubbles and such to start, and then…we’re off.
To watch, you’ll need a password. Subscribers to my monthly buzz sheet will receive that today. What are you waiting for? Sign up here now.
Happy Baking, all!
It’s Friday and here’s what caught my eye this week:
Is sexual exploitation institutionalized in the entertainment industry? Is that arena so steeped in archaic ways? Do people who are aware of exploitation have no moral compass?There are many ways to interpret the flood of accusations that the Weinstein exposé unleashed. Its possible to suggest that a disgruntlement with Donald Trump has led to the exposure of figures who are symbolic surrogates for the U.S. President, and some sort of instinctive cultural cleansing is unfolding. It’s possible to joke bitterly that, since Spacey plays a scheming, ruthless president in House of Cards, the public has higher standards for fictional presidents than real ones.
What I know for sure: look to our own circles for the good men. Search for answers in art.
Two stunning ballets are playing this month on stage at the Four Seasons Centre in Toronto, and they are both personal favourites; The Winter’s Tale and Nijinsky. If your take on ballet is The Nutcracker, these two dazzling ballets will rightly adjust your frame. The National Ballet of Canada continues to draw in new audiences around the world and just came back from repeat standing ovations in Paris on their recent tour. Critics were particularly impressed with Guillaume Côté, now a father of two. Here he is with his baby. Go ahead, be charmed with this tweet. I know I was.
I love this artist who corralled her siblings and friends to star in her own music video and caused an online stir. Halifax sensation Ria Mae is my new jam. 🎶I believe everyone’s with me.
HAPPY WEEKEND. RESIST HOLIDAY CREEP. Daylight savings means dark mornings and dinner hours but there’s a blaze of red on the trees now and it ain’t tinsel. NOPE.
Thirty years ago I left Montreal with the kind of longing you pack away but never leave behind. It was here film became a passion, and broadcasting a career path to pursue. Here I learned life begins after midnight, or it did for those college years, where hours stretched into the horizon. Away from home, away from a city where everyone seemed to know someone in my large family— few from my high school came here out of province then— in this exotic place, I was free to dance, dally, and doze if I wanted. Check. Check. Check. We were never going to grow old, fat, or faded. I don’t remember all of it. That’s why journals were invented.
Alas, once I settled on a career in media, I knew my French, merely functional, wouldn’t get me far enough in this bilingual town. Back to Toronto I went, degree and radio demo tape in hand, and the rest you know ...
It’s helpful to forget a little. Now I have a daughter having her own love affair with this magical city. Life on campus is as charmed as ever. McGill Homecoming twinkled for a weekend of memories. Can you go back?
I am here in this ancient city to oversee yet another move. It’s been a year of heaving stuff. None of said stuff is my own. I’m still trying to figure that out. When I do, I’ll let you know.
My eldest will begin an internship here in Athens on Monday. While she’s at it, she may just unlock the secret room to her father’s character. We all have them. His may just be in the country of his birth. There could be profound truths. Or maybe she’ll just learn how to make the most delicious snack this side of the Atlantic.