15 December 2012

implicating parents go back all the way through history

"So, I think that we have a long history of thinking that things are caused by parents. We thought that autism was caused by parents, "refrigerator mothers" were the ones who caused it. Schizophrenia was apparently something that you developed because your parents had an unconscious wish that you not exist.

If you go back 100 years further, there was the idea of imaginationism, which said that the reason your child was a dwarf or had deformities was because the mother had lascivious longings which were expressed in the deformities of her child. These theories of implying - implicating parents go back all the way through history, and a lot of them have been dismissed. But crime is the one area in which people seem not to be able to let go of that idea."

from an NPR interview transcript with Andrew Solomon, author of Far From the Tree.

27 November 2012


There are some songs that reverberate. For me, this is one of them. Like many, I knew the Tears for Fears version first, I was a child of the 80s after all, but hearing the Gary Jules version while watching Donny Darko that the song really resonated with me. It's when I really heard its lyrics, when I understood its weight and soul. Years passed, and then I found myself in the home of friends. It was a house of congregation, loss was fresh and grief was insurmountable. We ate, we drank, we cried, we were silent, we talked, we mourned, and in the background, the eldest cousin played this song on the piano over and over again. I simply cannot hear this song anymore and not be brought back to those hot days three summers ago. And today, I found this via here:

You may have already seen it. You may or may not have cried. Of course I did. It was the second time today I cried after seeing something on the internet reminding me of that time. I was browsing Buy Olympia, and came acrossThe Littlest Birds Sing the Prettiest Songs, an illustrated songbook. I read the title and burst into tears. It's a pretty little song that was sung in honour of one of our friends, and another song that I can't divorce from that time, that person. Don't get me wrong, I don't want to. I relish these reminders, these connections. I haven't ordered the book yet, but I know it will live on our shelf, its pages bent, the cover scuffed with the wear of many hands and many years.

I can't help but wonder what other songs that will follow me through life, become makers or mark me.

What She Said: Doris Lessing

"I often think how my life would have been different if I’d done other things; because the thing that shaped my life is that I had a child. So that means that you’re not very mobile. And it had good or bad sides to it. The bad side was that I didn’t live in Paris or New York, which I would have liked to have done for a bit. The good thing was that because a child was such a discipline I did not get part of this very attractive life in the clubs in Soho. Which I wouldn’t have survived, believe me. Because it was enormously exciting. You musn’t judge it by the Groucho or something like that. It was full of flamboyant characters, all of them alcoholics, all of them very witty."

from a 2005 interview with The Reader Online

5 November 2012

my heart is a banjo

I have a confession: I don't know much about music, especially contemporary music. For example, I know that there are bands out there called Arcade Fire and Mumford & Sons, but if you played me a track from either of them, I wouldn't be able to tell who played what. This is why when I go to karaoke, I almost exclusively sing songs from before the mid-90s. There are some contemporary artists I love, but I don't search them out and once I fall in love, I'll listen to them over and over again. I turn CBC Radio One on when I get up and it stays on until at least lunch, sometimes all day. Despite the best efforts of Jian Ghomeshi and the good folks at Q, my musical education has been stalled.

These days, I've been listening almost exclusively to Old Time Mountain Music. I borrowed it from a friend years ago, ripped it, returned it, and mostly forgot about it until recently. I can't get enough of this mountain music bluegrass, especially Ola Belle Reed. The song below is on the collection. (Don't bother watching the video, but just listen to her. Amazing, no?)

I did a little sleuthing, and it looks like there are a couple of Ola Belle Reed collections and I'm going to add this one to my Christmas wish list.

I don't know what it is about this kind of music, but it speaks to me. It is raw and honest, it comes from a place of beauty and hardship. I have no connection to where this music was made, but I wish I did. Perhaps my heart is a banjo. I don't know.

3 November 2012


Like all good things, my high over Initiation Trilogy has finally ended. I had expected that I'd blog all about it as it was happening, but I wanted to savour it, enjoy the moment. I didn't want to inundate you with previews and reviews, though I will post about them soon.

I was Cinderella at the ball, and now I'm surrounded by pumpkins. So what to do with pumpkins? Carve them up!

Yesterday, I did what I started doing when we lived in Edmonton. Chopped up, steamed, then pureed our jack o'lanterns to freeze for winter baking. It's a big job, even though we only have two pumpkins (I'm sure this will change when my youngest becomes aware and wants to participate in the ritual carving, too), but it is so worth it.

There is seasonal food I make that relies on these pumpkins and I could barely wait. I know I'm not alone in eating a lot of pumpkin and squash this time of year, so I thought I'd share a couple of recipes in case you're looking for some inspiration.

I was told the other day that the jack o'lantern pumpkins have no nutritional value. That may or may not be true, but they are so sweet pureed that it doesn't really matter to me if they're good for me or not. They taste delicious, especially in baking, and for me, that's what counts.

First up, is the chocolate pumpkin loaf. I make this many times over the Autumn and Winter. So good:

Chocolate Chunk Pumpkin Loaf

1/3 cup softened butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/4 cup warm water
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1 pinch ground cloves
170 grams (six squares) chopped bakers chocolate

1. beat butter and sugar until fluffy
2. add & beat eggs one at a time
3. stir in pumpkin
4. in separate bowl, mix dry ingredients
5. stir in pumpkin mixture alternating with water, fold in chocolate

Bake at 350F for 60-75 minutes

Next up is a soup that can be made with any squash, though the batch I made on Thursday was made with sacrificial jack o'lantern pumpkin. I love this soup not just because of the tangy, rich flavour, but also because the colour is a perfect Autumn gold.

Golden Soup

1 large onion chopped
1 large yam chopped
1 small squash or 3-4 cups of chopped pumpkin/squash
5-6 cups of water (or stock if you're feeling fancy)
1 cup red lentils
2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
juice of 1/2 lemon

1. soften onion, add yam and squash, sauté for a few minutes
2. add water, bring to boil
3. add lentils and herbs and salt
4. boil/simmer until veggies are soft
5. cool a bit, puree, return to pot, stir in lemon juice, and serve

Pumpkin Bread Pudding

6 cups of frozen bread chunks*
1 cup pumpkin puree
2 eggs
1/2 cup melted unsalted butter
2 cups of milk/cream**
1/2 cup sugar (brown or white)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground allspice
Pinch of ground cloves

1. Mix up everything in a deep casserole dish, add bread and stir so it's all covered.
2. Let it sit covered in fridge for a few (6-8?) hours. I mix mine up in the morning for that night's dessert.
3. Stir and bake uncovered at 375F for 30-40 minutes.

*I keep a large ziplock bag full of stale and heels of bread in the freezer, so my bread pudding is a mix of homemade bread, store-bought multigrains, and stale hotdog/hamburger buns and french bread. If you use unfrozen bread, then don't have it sit for as long before baking.

**I try to use 1 cup coffee cream and 1 cup 2% milk, but it all depends on what I have in the fridge. Whipping cream? Oh yes. The fattier the better. Only 2%, well then, that'll have to do.


So, those are some of my favourite pumpkin recipes. I still haven't perfected my pumpkin scone recipe. If I do this year, I share it. Tell me, what are your favourites?

9 October 2012

Initiation Trilogy: Gay Vancouver

Last week I did an email interview with Mark from Gay Vancouver. Here's a snippet:

How did you land on the three pieces that are part of the show?

As soon as I realized that I wanted to adapt three works of poetry, I knew immediately it would be Glossolalia, What it Feels Like for a Girl, and God of Missed Connections.

As a book, What it Feels Like for a Girl is very dramatic—there is dialogue, there is narrative, there is a climax. It’s a piece that lends itself very well to the stage.

God of Missed Connections is very dramatic in a completely different way. Although it has unifying themes, it’s definitely more of a collection of poetry rather than a narrative. That said, I knew this book quite well and like Glossolalia, many of the poems felt like monologues. I knew I could craft something exciting from it as the book itself is so compelling.

You can read the whole piece here.

Also, I'd like apologize in advance--these next two weeks are going to be very Initiation Trilogy heavy. What can I say, I'm excited!

8 October 2012

a lot of boys don't bother growing into men

"And the problem with being a boy in a man's body is that, basically, in this world, it isn't a problem. It's commonplace. There are lots of boys in men's bodies walking around--I work with a few of them. Some of them are my age, trembling on the precipice of the big four-oh, and some are even older. What I'm saying is, a lot of boys don't bother growing into men, because they don't have to--their bodies have already done it and it turns out that's all anybody requires."

from Lynn Coady's The Antagonist

7 October 2012

weekend of wonders

Last weekend was an amazing, dream-fulfilling type of weekend.

On Saturday, I was lucky to be one of sixteen chosen to attend an all-day master class with Lynda Barry, hosted by the Vancouver International Writers Festival. We were given strict instructions to not socialize until after the workshop was over, but I did have lunch with my husband and John Vigna who was my desk mate. We mostly followed the rules by not talking about the content of the workshop, but did talk about it briefly to agree that it was fantastic.

I have never taken a class like Lynda Barry's, though any of you familiar with her work is probably not at all surprised by this statement. I was completely impressed by her and how she conducted and organized the class. I feel so lucky to have been given the opportunity to learn from her. I was given tools that I hadn't considered before, and even better, that I know I will use. If you ever have a chance to take a workshop with her, move mountains to make it happen. I'm so thankful that I had.

And to top it off, she gave me a hug at the end. I'm a lucky, lucky lady.


On Sunday, my dearest friend, Jennica treated (TREATED!) me to the Madonna concert. We went with Nancy Lee and her husband John Vigna. I rarely go to concerts and I have never been to something like that. It was a visual assault and simply amazing. Sure, I don't really know her new stuff, but man alive, Madonna can put on a show. And she made sure that some of her oldies-but-goodies were represented. My two favourite Madonna songs were done (Express Yourself and Like a Prayer, in case you were wondering) and they were phenomenal. It was spectacle and theatre and left me giddy for a long time.


On Monday, it was my birthday. It was strange to be away from my husband and my boys, but I got the best gift. The universe gave me the first day of rehearsals of my first professional theatre production. Yes, dear reader, Initiation Trilogy is in rehearsals and I was fortunate to be in the room for the first three days of rehearsals. I would have liked to have been there longer, but I had to get back to my family as Kevin had to leave town.

There is so much I want to write about the process of bringing Initiation Trilogy to life and I know I won't have the time or space to do it in, but will try to in subsequent posts. Right now I will simply say that the first day was magic and that I am so incredibly lucky to have the creative team on this piece.

6 October 2012

Vancouver polygamy

I've had a few people ask me if I thought that there were polygamists living in any of the cities I've lived in recently: Edmonton, Vancouver, and Victoria. I don't know Victoria enough to say one way or another, but I can definitely say that there are polygamists in Edmonton--though I'll leave that to another post.

Polyamory is alive and well in Vancouver--they even have their own website, but polygamy I'm less certain about, though my hunch is that yes, it is being practiced there. Why not? A prominent member of the Chinese community was an open polygamist a century ago:

The original [Wing Sang] building, a two-storey Victorian Italianate structure went up in 1889, back when the population of Vancouver was around 15,000 and extremely hostile towards the Chinese. Yip Sang operated an import/export business, a bank and a travel agency and sold everything from Chinese silks and curios to opium—which was legal until 1908. He added a third storey in 1901, and in 1912, a six-storey building went up across the alley connected by an elevated passageway to include a warehouse, a meeting place, and a floor for each of his three wives and their 23 children.

You can read more about the Wing Sang Building here.

5 October 2012


I have so much to be thankful for right now and so much news to share, about Glossolalia, about Initiation Trilogy, about the good fortune of friends, about the generosity of good friends, about the creative spirit and creative leaders. I have many posts I should write, and I hope to, but right now I am skirting those and have an appeal for advice.

We're not really celebrating Thanksgiving this year. My husband is leaving tomorrow morning for Toronto for the opening of Tear the Curtain and I don't have it in me to make a turkey dinner for just me and the kids. I want to do something special, however. If you have any suggestions on how to mark the holiday without a turkey feast, I'd love to hear them. (Also, I don't make pies, that's Kevin's territory. No pumpkin pie or turkey? I can't believe it!)

15 September 2012

tattooed wives

When I came across the image of this amazing tattoo of a zombified Brigham Young and two of his zombie wives earlier today, I had five simultaneous thoughts:
1. Who does this belong to?
2. Why did they get it?
3. I really want to meet this person.
4. I am a little frightened to meet this person.
5. Those are not Brigham Young's first two wives. The one on the left is Eliza Roxcy Snow and the one on the right is Martha McBride Knight. (I had to look up Martha--I knew she was one of Joseph's wives, but I couldn't place her. (My apologies to Martha.) And now that I've connected her face to her name, she never was a wife of Brigham, which makes me even more curious about the tattoo and its owner.)
6. That I know #5 means I know more than the average person should about mid-19th century Mormon polygamy and it's probably time to find a new obsession.

14 September 2012

When you are a young woman and your body becomes a reminder of tragedy, how can you ever come to love it?

"'When you are a young woman and your body becomes a reminder of tragedy, how can you ever come to love it?' I wrote in that secluded cabin in Banff. 'You yourself become a crime scene — a place of mourning you carry with you every day. Something tolerated, hated or, most commonly, ignored. I am happy for those people who see the body as a tool of empowerment, a vessel for pleasure and strength, but I’ve had to unlearn mine as a site of violence out of necessity.'"

from Stacey May Fowles's fantastic What Can't Be Published in the National Post. (There was so much in this essay that I wanted to quote, it was hard to choose a section that didn't end up quoting multiple paragraphs. This is an important essay. Please read it.)

11 September 2012

garden of your mind

I loved Mr. Rogers when I was a kid. Deeply loved him, like he was a family member. I had a recurring dream that lasted from when I was very young well into adulthood (though I think I may have left it behind in my twenties, which is a shame) that involved me crawling through the trolley tunnel into the Neighbourhood of Make Believe. That was the frame of the dream and while the frame was always the same, the dream itself would change--sometimes it would be scary (a few times I was trapped in Lady Elaine's Museum--terrifying!), sometimes it would be fun. For over two decades I had this dream. I miss it.

When Fred Rogers died, I cried. I don't cry when celebrities die and I usually don't get sad, but when Mr. Rogers died I bawled. Even writing this is bringing tears to my eyes. He was more than a famous person, someone who I thought I knew but didn't because of his celebrity. I loved him and I believed he loved me.

So the other night, when I was nursing my youngest before bed, I stumbled upon the video below on Lynda Barry's tumblr site. I watched it three times in a row and couldn't wait to show it to my boys. Should I admit that I still miss Mr. Rogers? I guess I just did.

10 September 2012

old news can still be good news

A few months ago, I was asked to read at the first ever Griffin Vancouver: A Celebration of Poetry. It was an honour to be asked to share the stage with such great poets such as Matt Rader, Jen Currin, and Gillian Jerome. The Griffin Poetry Prize is such an important and amazing prize, and reading the nominees every year is an education.

Sean Cranbury, in wearing one of his many hats, lead the organization of this event and recorded it for posterity. I've never seen myself read and I hope to keep it that way. That said, here's the link to the reading if you're curious.

8 September 2012

boasting is a formal condition of the epic form

"But asking why rappers always talk about their stuff is like asking why Milton is forever listing the attributes of heavenly armies. Because boasting is a formal condition of the epic form. And those taught that they deserve nothing rightly enjoy it when they succeed in terms the culture understands."

from The House that Hova Built, Zadie Smith interviewing Jay Z in the New York Times

2 September 2012

women’s choices about pregnancy are not a question of will, or luck, or magic vagina barricades

"But choice is power. It forces you to live in the active present tense, not the editorially lazy passive construction of this-happened-to-me. Make a choice and you can’t abdicate responsibility to the real or perceived will of others or the now of perpetual distraction. Make a choice and you confront the closed mystery of the choice not chosen. If ambivalence is a hallmark of denial, choice is an acceptance of time, mortality, limits.

There’s a lot of magical thinking about pregnancy going around these days. In the personal sphere it’s a waste of time; in the public sphere it is terrifying and destructive.

Contrary to the beliefs of conservative politicians, women’s choices about pregnancy are not a question of will, or luck, or magic vagina barricades. Getting pregnant is neither punishment nor reward. It is not a magical blessing or a curse — and it most definitely is not a silver bullet you can use to shoot yourself out of a rut. It is a plain biological fact that may or may not result in a healthy baby, that could immeasurably enhance or irreversibly damage your life prospects.

Women are raped and get pregnant. Women in loving monogamous relationships who want to get pregnant can’t. Women with five children are forced by circumstance or religion to have more. Lesbian women who long to be parents have their hopes squashed by red tape and bigotry. Single women who get pregnant by accident and suddenly have to re-evaluate their attitudes toward the whole question of whether they will ever raise children end up miscarrying.

In the world of women’s reproductive health, choice isn’t only a euphemism for safe, legal abortion. Choice — true choice — entails sex education and work-life balance and accessible, affordable prenatal medical care for all pregnant women, regardless of income or employment status."

from Knocked Over: On Biology, Magical Thinking and Choice by Martha Bayne.

1 September 2012

a whole lot of great things

It's been a very busy summer, full of movement and acceleration and there is just too much to catch you up on everything, so I'll do the dreaded list.

* I ran my first 10K! 1:03:03...and I haven't run since. Shameful, I know, but I hope to get back at it in September.

* We moved! We now live in Victoria as my husband has got a skookum new job at the university. We live a block from the beach and I can see America from my house! Crazy.

* I've written a play and it's being produced! This October as part of the Vancouver International Writers Fest! I'll write more about it soon, as it's very exciting, but you can read about Initiation Trilogy here.

* Glossolalia is being published this October! My wives have found a home at Anvil Press. There will be even more about this in the coming months, but to say I'm thrilled is an understatement.

I have a couple of interviews that I started in the spring that I'll be putting up once I've unpacked our books and I hope to be around ye olde blogge a lot more now that we're somewhat settled.

30 August 2012

back to school

Yes, it's that time of year, but right now I'm not thinking about the kids, but myself.

A FB friend posted a link to this free course on Modern poetry through University of Pennsylvania. I'm strongly considering it. The first half of my autumn is very busy, but I think it might be nice to have a different focus for the next few months, something outside of myself, my normal routine. I think it could help with my craft, too, which is always a good thing. The question is, will I have the time and energy to make the most out of it.

Should I do it? Care to join me?

27 August 2012

bullshit stereotypes – harmful stereotypes – still exist

"Follow it down the rabbit-hole, and the concern about bad book covers traces back to the central issue that, for all recent strides, bullshit stereotypes – harmful stereotypes – still exist. And crap begets crap. What great works can arise if books by women are only sold to an imagined female reader, only interested in "women's things"? If great novels, ambitious and daring, are neutered and forced to compromise or pray for readership on a tiny press? Again: these books do exist. They're just hidden behind ugly covers and cowardly marketing."

from Transgressive Women: How Bad Covers And Sexism Threaten All Of Literature

8 August 2012

What She Said: Lynda Barry

"The same thing with writing or anything that we call the arts: there's this idea that they're just an elective, they're just decoration and they have nothing to do with our survival...or why we're here....That's the reason why I made it to 53 is because of finding these things that poetry or paintings or plays contain, that's the stuff of mental health. And we ignore it at our peril."

Lynda Barry in an interview at The Poetry Foundation that's been making the rounds on social media sites this past week. I can't stop watching it.

2 May 2012

Poetry in April

As you probably know, April is Poetry Month both here in Canada and in the U.S. For the last three years, I was heavily involved with the Edmonton Poetry Festival and because we are now in a different province, I had a much less poetry-frenzied month. While it looked like a fun time, I think I needed to miss it this year.

Instead, my BFF and I pledged to write a poem-a-day. The caveat was that the poems didn't have to be good, it was just about generating raw material. And, dear reader, we did it. A lot of my poems were mediocre at best (I wrote a love letter to my favourite brand of beer, to give you an idea), but it was exciting to be in a creative space where I didn't have an agenda. I have been working on Glossolalia in one form or another for six years now. That's a long time in the world of 1840s Mormon polygamy, let me tell you. Writing just to write, just to see what words and images arise, just for *gasp* the fun of it was incredibly liberating. I'm definitely going to do this exercise again.

So, Poetry Month 2012 for me was not the manic month it has been in the recent past, but it was very productive and fun in its own quiet way. Tell me, did you do anything poetry-wise this April?

29 April 2012

priests specialize in arrogance, the nuns in humility

"The Vatican has issued a harsh statement claiming that American nuns do not follow their bishops’ thinking. That statement is profoundly true. Thank God, they don’t. Nuns have always had a different set of priorities from that of bishops. The bishops are interested in power. The nuns are interested in the powerless. Nuns have preserved Gospel values while bishops have been perverting them. The priests drive their own new cars, while nuns ride the bus (always in pairs). The priests specialize in arrogance, the nuns in humility."

From Bullying the Nuns by Gary Wills.

26 April 2012

What She Said: Toni Morrison

"I was young. I started writing when I was 39. That's the height of life. The real liberation was the kids, because their needs were simple. One, they needed me to be competent. Two, they wanted me to have a sense of humour. And three, they wanted me to be an adult. No one else asked that of me. Not in the workplace – where sometimes they'd want you to be feminine, or dominant, or cute." She smiles. "The kids didn't care if I did my hair, didn't care what I looked like."

Toni Morrison, from an interview at The Guardian.

24 April 2012

two things this tuesday

First up, the lovely Sara O'Leary is hosting a giveaway over at her blog. The lucky winner will get Caroline Adderson's Middle of Nowhere.

Secondly, you may recall that I was asked to be part of a discussion regarding a new artist's retreat/residency earlier this month. I have been asked to ask you what your thoughts are on childcare at the residency. How much would you pay and for what? What would be reasonable for a few hours a day, or all day, for one child or a few? Think about your own situation and comment below. I know that I'm just thrilled that there will be a residency that will be child-friendly.

22 April 2012

What She Said: Stephaine Pearl-McPhee

"Writer is not a synonym for stay-at-home parent."


"Every writer/parent I know does a huge chunk of their writing after the kids have gone to bed, working into the wee quiet hours, and then staggers through their day with the kids. The ability to use what flexibility the job granted me was amazing – but the difficulty of having that work respected, and protecting the time to do it was almost impossible. I know I’m not the only writer fantasizing about a world where every day they went to a small room that their kids weren’t allowed in, and worked without interruption. Being a working writer who has a child or three, and who can’t afford or doesn’t choose childcare means that parent/writer is actually doing two jobs at once, with both being disrupted by the effort. Like someone working outside the home who has to leave their kids to get it done, the writing gets interrupted by the parenting, and the parenting gets interrupted by the writing and the writer struggles to find some kind of balance."

From the Yarn Harlot's guest post at Dispatches from Utopia. Lots of great stuff there--go check it out.

19 April 2012

more movement

The body is amazing, isn't it? What it can withstand, what it can do?

I didn't realize the power of my body or of myself until I had my first child. Pregnancy and birth was a revelation to me. Now, I don't believe that a person has to carry a child/give birth to have that revelation, nor do I think everyone who does has one, but that's what it took for me to see my body and its potential in a new way.

At the end of January, I started my first run clinic. It was for beginners and we would work up from running/walking 1 minute/1 minute to 10 minutes/1 minute and hopefully be running between three to five kilometres by the end. It was something I wanted to do, but it scared me. I hadn't run since gym in high school, and hadn't had a regular run practice since elementary school. (Every student grade four and up had to run two kilometres a day, every day. We were a fit school.) It doesn't take a genius to figure out that it has been decades since then.

The beginner run clinic finished last week, and I was able to do it. Running 10/1 by the end felt good--something I was not expecting. I like to run. I really like to run.

With much trepidation, I signed up for the next clinic. In twelve weeks, I should be running 10K. We had our first class yesterday and up until then, the longest I had ever run without walking was ten minutes. Our first run as a group was 3K. I was worried, but it went really well. I didn't miss the walking break at all and I felt great. I know the next few weeks are going to be hard, but I also know that I will be running 10K by then. Just to think, three months ago the idea that I could even run five minutes straight without having a heart attack was inconceivable to me.

If you live in Vancouver and are at all interested in running, I strongly recommend checking out Kintec. The instructors are great. My first instructor was an ultra-marathoner who just completed his 150th ultra-marathon (races 50-100K) and he's younger than I am. We had guest speakers like Gold Medalist Robert Esmie talking about goals (and letting us try on his Olympic medal!) and Canadian National Triathlete Jon Shepherd teach us proper warm-up methods.

Anyway, this is a diversion from regularly scheduled programming--I'm just so excited about where I'm headed, taking on these new physical challenges. It's also inspiring me to push myself in my writing life, too. Isn't that what life is about? Challenging oneself?

Is there anything you're doing lately that is surprising you? Challenging you?

13 April 2012

In Conversation with Carrie Snyder

For the past few weeks, I've been having an email conversation with Carrie Snyder, author of The Juliet Stories. Carrie Snyder was born in Hamilton and grew up in Ohio, Nicaragua, and Ayr, Ontario. Her first book, Hair Hat, was nominated for the Danuta Gleed Award for Short Fiction. She lives in Waterloo with her husband and four children.

If you haven't read The Juliet Stories yet, please search it out. I loved this book and I think you will, too. Now, grab yourself a hot tea and perhaps a little snack.

Marita: Thanks for agreeing to chat with me about The Juliet Stories. I really enjoyed the book and I want to talk about it without giving too much away as it goes some interesting and unexpected places. In your acknowledgements, you wrote that you went to Nicaragua to research a different book, but came away with a vision for this one. Can you talk about how that trip and where you were in your writing life at that time?

Carrie: Before we took that research trip, I was unprepared and unwilling to consider writing about material that had an obvious autobiographical connection -- and yet it was an obvious autobiographical connection that had me interested in the country in the first place. But it wasn't until we were in Nicaragua again, and until I had a long conversation with a woman who had worked with my parents back in the 1980s, and had stayed and made Nicaragua her home, that I realized the story I wanted to tell was much closer to my own. The idea came to me on the flight home, and I turned to my husband and said, I think I have to write a completely different book. I needed permission, I think. I needed someone to remind me that our family had taken part in that moment in time, that we were a piece of another country's history. Just a fragment, just a thread, but yes. We were there. It was okay to want to go back and tell that story. It wasn't disrespectful to the people of Nicaragua. I wasn't stealing someone else's story. I think I had/have a horror of colonizing someone else's story.

In my writing life at that time, I was weary. I'd published Hair Hat, I'd given birth to my third child, I was attempting a volume of poetry, and I'd abandoned a long and rewritten-many-times-over black romantic comedy. The Nicaragua book was pitched as a Heart of Darkness-type journey into the jungle, and it earned a Canada Council grant, and so we got to travel to Nicaragua. And thank God. Because along came Juliet (eventually...even after the aha moment it was slow going).

Marita: Oh, I know slow going! Having a brood of my own now, I am amazed that you have been able to write fiction with young ones, slow going or not. I just can't get in the right head space to work on the novel I've been trying to work on for the last five years. Poetry I can fit into the small clips of time I get. How were you able to maintain the head space needed to write fiction while in the baby trenches? And I'm curious about the choice of the structure of a 'novel-in-stories' and when that came up during the creative process.

Carrie: What a question. I want the answer myself, right now, as I feel so distracted by the publicity demands in the immediate aftermath of releasing the book. But I did have a few strategies that worked. Time is the obvious obstacle when you're home with young children. But you don't just need time to physically sit at a desk and work, you need mental time to work out ideas too. And when you're getting just a few hours a day, or a few hours a week, you're trying to cram that mental time in with the physical time, and it can feel just ... overwhelming. The task is so enormous. Writing a book requires keeping all these balls in the air, the overarching machinery, the individual storylines and relationships. And you've two hours to hack out a scene that works. It takes the first hour to get up to speed, to go over the work done the previous time, especially when there are long breaks in between writing time; and then you're rolling; and then time's up again. The frustration of this cycle is almost unbearable.

So I realized I needed writing weeks. (In fact, I need to schedule a few for this year, come to think of it.) With a full week (and I like to include the weekends on either end, if possible), there is time to do the thinking and the writing, to take those reflective pauses without panicking. All the consecutive hours build on each other. It's also a really fabulous way to flirt with insanity. The first writing span we tried, we managed two weeks. I almost lost my mind. But I got a full MS out of the exercise. Unfortunately, it was the black romantic comedy that never got off the ground. Still, I'd discovered how to get the work done.

In practical terms, my husband takes over the meal planning and organizing, the to-and-froing, we hire extra babysitting, friends pick up a lot of the slack, and that's how a writing week works. It's a lot of pressure, but the pressure doesn't seem to bother me. It's motivating.

That said, I do think the novel-in-stories form made the book more manageable to write. I did write the material as a novel in its earliest drafts. Basically all of that material was ultimately scrapped, very little remains. I remember when I finally wrote a story rather than a chapter -- and it was from Juliet's perspective. Actually, it was "Rat," the first story in the book. I really resisted doing it. I didn't want to write a second book of linked stories. What if this is where I get stuck? But when I let myself do it, it just made sense. I didn't write the stories chronologically, not at all. I filled in gaps and made discoveries as I went. Characters shifted, and then I would go back and alter earlier stories in order for everything to make sense. I wonder whether the same strategy could work for novel-writing. Hm. You've got me thinking, Marita. It definitely made the prospect of creating a whole book feel less overwhelming, writing it almost on an as-needed basis.

Marita: Hang on, you got a whole manuscript out of two weeks of writing?! That's amazing. Do you think you'll go back to the black romantic comedy, or is that one shelved indefinitely?

Carrie: Yes, I got a whole manuscript out of two weeks of intensive non-stop writing -- but the ms was already half-written before I began, and I had the storyline largely plotted out. And it was a very rough draft indeed. It's shelved forever. It's of its time, and it's already out of date, and best left behind. I kept a copy, of course. And I've read it since, and found it entertaining, if slight; not to mention it's got problematic plot issues that wouldn't be easy to resolve; and so, goodbye little book. I've had to say goodbye to several over the years. Not everything works out.

Marita: I have to admit that for the first half of the book, I didn't get the novel-in-stories label. I thought it was simply a novel, but then I started the second half and it was clear.

Carrie: I'm starting to wonder whether we should have labelled the book anything at all. (Though I suppose that's required, isn't it!) Readers have been telling me that it reads like a novel. I did write each chapter as an individual story, and I think that architecture shows itself more clearly in the second half, but perhaps by then readers are deeply into the book and have already accepted it as a novel. What is a novel anyway? A story that follows specific characters through a unifying plot? Juliet fits. And maybe it doesn't matter how the book was written, maybe it matters much more how it's read and received. If people prefer to read it as a novel, maybe we should change the label on the back of the book ...

Marita: Don't change the label! I think it fits. It doesn't have the same neat and tidy ending that many novels need and it's not a collection of stories. They are linked and novel-esque. I think it's apt.

It's interesting to know that 'Rat' was the first story you wrote for the book. I really loved that one, it was such a great introduction to the world and characters. One thing that struck me was your portrayal of Gloria. I don't know how to succinctly describe my initial reaction to her other than she seemed so real, such an accurate portrayal of a mother. Do I admit that I saw myself in her? I guess I just did. I don't see that enough in literature.

I'm sure many readers will assume that much of you is in Juliet which I am sure is the case, but I'd love to hear about your relationship with Gloria. How she evolved as a character. Your feelings towards her. Her representation of the maternal in The Juliet Stories and what that might mean.

Carrie: Gloria may just be my favourite character in the book. She's complex, she changes, she's got depth and talent, and she's big -- a big difficult personality. I said in another interview that I wouldn't want Gloria to be my own mother. But that said, she's got a lot of me and my mothering in her. I find it interesting that you saw yourself in her too. In what ways particularly, could you tell me? Over the years that I was writing the book, Gloria, the mother-figure, changed more than any other character from my initial conception -- once I decided she would be a musician and performer, she moved into new territory, and frankly it was territory that struck close to home. The artist/mother. I wanted to treat her fairly and honestly, and I have sympathy for the difficulty of that balancing act. I sense a ruthlessness in myself sometimes that wouldn't be seen as motherly. My kids standing at my elbow begging for attention -- and what do I do? I tell them to go away. Is it cruel to send them away -- even knowing they're in the care of another? Will my children remember this about me, and suffer from it? I don't know. It troubles me sometimes, but then I could never have written this book without being that intensely focused -- to the exclusion of everything else, including my children. That's difficult to admit.

Marita: There is so much about Gloria that I can see in myself. We're both somewhat sloppy--ready to pull out the breast at any time which is as much for comforting ourselves as it is for the child; we're messy--we'd both rather be doing something much more interesting than housekeeping; we're quick to drop the role of mother when opportunity calls--there are a few scenes in which Gloria is at a party or with other adults and happily loses track of her children, assuming others will keep an eye on them, so she can soak up the adult attention she's been craving (this may be me projecting a little, but there you have it!). She also believes that she and her family are not as important to her husband as his job and I can recognize all the frustration in what carries. (I should stress here that I only feel that way at times, when I joke that I'm a theatre-widow. Short spurts for me versus a relative lifetime for Gloria.) I feel like she feels like she doesn't have enough control over her own life, and I can definitely relate to that. So yes, I understand Gloria.

I don't think it's cruel to send them away. I think it's important for children to know that parents have lives outside of them and for them to see parents at work. It will give them great perspective for when they are older.

Carrie: I love the connections you've made to Gloria, some of which I also can claim for myself. (And it's so true, isn't it--that sometimes breastfeeding is as comforting for the mother as for the baby; there can be a real give-and-take relationship between mother and baby, and it's not really talked about much at all. Breastfeeding tends to be presented as something the mother does for her baby, kind of sacrificial, rather than being a mutually beneficial act. Sigh. I miss breastfeeding. And now we've officially strayed into serious mommy territory ...)

You mentioned being a theatre-widow, and I think in my own marriage it's the opposite--my husband has to be a writing-widower from time to time. And that's a difficult thing to ask of someone else. Though I'm not sure Bram, in the book, has any real awareness that he's asking anything special of his wife and family. Which may also be of the era. I hope the times they are a changin'.

Marita: I wanted to ask you about the photo of Gloria that is mentioned in "Photograph Never Taken". Is there a specific photo you had in mind? Reading the description, I thought that I knew that photo, but then I thought, no, that photograph is a figment of your imagination and you just did a great job in describing it.

Carrie: Ah, the photograph. You are the second interviewer to ask that exact question, which makes me rather pleased, I must admit. Because it means the photograph must seem very real. No, it's not. It's the invention of my imagination. I had some difficulty finessing the description. I wanted it to be general enough that the reader could fill in the blanks, but specific enough to be highly evocative. I'm glad it worked. To talk a little further about the photograph, I wanted to comment on what it's like to be the subject of someone else's artistic expression, and how little the end result may relate to reality. Someone pointed out that there are a number of photographs in the book; that wasn't deliberate, but I love the medium, and I love what it can do. Its dual nature seems almost magical. Transformative. And yet capable of capturing a moment, pinning down time.

Marita: That's interesting that the photograph has come up before! Congratulations on conjuring an iconic photo through prose! I was Juliet's age in 1984, so I really wasn't sure. There are images I come across as an adult that are from my youth that I don't remember seeing for the first time, but know I must have at some point. Memory can be a funny thing.

Last year, you did the 365 project. Did that impact the writing of The Juliet Stories or did the interest in writing about photography inspire you to take on the project?

Carrie: The 365 project was undertaken largely on a whim -- a friend told me about it. (I should add that the project's aim was to take an original self-portrait for 365 consecutive days.) My husband had just given me a new camera with a beautiful lens for my birthday, and I was trying to learn how to use it on a purely technical level; but I also wanted to figure out how to construct better photographs. The 365 project was immensely helpful in both regards. If you compare the early photos to the later photos there is such a difference in quality -- and even in imaginative narrative (because, as I discovered to my great pleasure, photos tell stories too). I also learned how to be a subject. The project underscored my belief in daily discipline as an educational method (it's exactly how I learned to write). I began looking at photographs differently. It opened my eyes to the art form. And I stuck with it and took 365 photos. The appeal is simple: I have a visual mind with no physical talent for artistic expression. ie. I can't draw to save my life. So I've always had to filter these vivid visuals in my brain through words instead. But I love the immediacy of a picture. My camera has freed that part of my brain.

There were several specific photographs that underpinned the writing of the book (none of which are actually described in the book, come to think of it). One is of a young contra soldier. Another is an iconic photo of a young revolutionary soldier breastfeeding her baby with an AK-47 slung over her shoulder. And another is of a revolutionary leader celebrating after the fall of the dictatorship. All Nicaraguans. I kept these photos on my desk while I worked, and they pre-date the 365 project. But the scene where Gloria is photographed arrived during the 365. I have no doubt it was a result of the 365. Portraiture was on my mind.

Marita: I'm reading Hair Hat right now and like in The Juliet Stories, your portrayal of the parent/child relationship is incredibly accurate. I don't see this done well often enough. Am I reading the wrong books or do you agree? Which writers and books would you hold up as being great explorations of this relationship? I read the brilliant We Need to Talk About Kevin last year and it was so much about relationships between parents and children and between spouses, but I'm thinking of books that are less extreme.

Carrie: About parent/child relationships in books, I'm at a loss to think of examples of inspiring explorations of the relationship in literature. There must be, and maybe I'm just reading the wrong books too! I read We Need to Talk About Kevin a number of years ago, and it did feel like an accurate portrayal of maternal love, but you're right -- that's within an extreme context. King Lear just flashed into my mind. A lot of my favourite characters are orphans, or estranged from their parents. Alice Munro has some early stories about young motherhood with moments that struck home for me. But even in these, the children are at some distance, somehow, from the mother's story; or vice versa. Not that I mind. I'm just struggling to pull up an example.

I view the relationship like any other. There is drama in the give and take. There are opportunities for both mother and child to be loving or neglectful. I approach my characters with compassion and empathy; that's my method. I open myself to them and try to understand. People are complicated and messy and contradictory and there is always more sleeping under the surface than can be guessed. The intersection between characters is an opportunity to both bring more to the surface AND to bury more too; these revelations/suppressions can occur simultaneously. And the mother/child relationship is absolutely loaded with history. It's incredibly rich material to work with, and all the richer when both parties are given voice. I strongly disliked The Descendents (the movie) because it gave the mother no opportunity to define herself; and that's such a cliche in literature. The absent mother being examined and blamed; or unexamined and exalted. Mothers are much more interesting than that.

Marita: "The absent mother being examined and blamed; or unexamined and exalted. Mothers are much more interesting than that." YES! I agree, and not just because I'm a mother, I'd like to add, but because I have a mother and the older I get, the more I realize how complex she is. Which I feel like is a stupid thing to say, of course my mother is complex--all people are complex, but I think it's just a continuation of the separation of baby and mother. How at first babies don't know that their mother is not actually part of them and I guess we spend years and years pushing away (oh, my heart broke a little writing that!) until we're fully our own person out in the world.

I disagree that the parent/child relationship is like any other. I feel like it is deeper and much more complex. There's the saying, "of course your mother knows how to push your buttons, she installed them!" It's a tricky relationship to write about because of all that history. Perhaps that's why there are so many orphans in literature.

Carrie: First I have to get into the idea of whether the parent/child relationship is like any other -- I have to because I'm finding myself very resistant to what you're saying. And usually if something bothers me, or I have a particularly visceral reaction against it, it's a clue that I need to explore further. It means I'm closing my mind to something important, something I'd rather not face -- usually. And I've thought about this overnight and my conclusion is that I dearly wish the parent/child relationship were like any other because I can't bear the thought of being that important to my children. Do you know what I mean? I think there's more, too. I've observed parent/child relationships of fairly extreme dysfunction, and I want for both the child and the parent to be able to live free from that burden, that sense of failure if their primary formative relationship is deeply estranged. Also, I do genuinely believe all relationships have the potential to be exquisitely complex; it's just that the parent/child relationship is cast that way from the very moment we're born, and there's no escaping its complexity and its history.

Marita: When The Juliet Stories ends, Juliet is a young mother herself. We only get a glimpse of her in this role. What kind of mother do you think she is? (I know this is speculative and a lot of people just rolled their eyes at me, but I can't help but feel like this is something you already know.) And why did you end at that point in her life?

Carrie: I think Juliet is an excellent mother in many ways, and a terrified mother in others. She's protective of her babies, but she's afraid to let them go, too. She cannot imagine living the life her own parents chose. And I think that grieves her; she admires their courage and regrets her own caution. She's been adrift and children have rooted her to something. I've actually refrained from imagining Juliet past this stage in her life. Her life could go so many different directions. Her children will grow, that's a given. How will she cope? Will she feel herself becoming unrooted, again, as they mature and push her away? Or will she walk across the street and open herself to the many lives and calls around her, as in the story Disruption?

My own children are now 10, 9, 6, and 4, and I've seen my mothering friends, those who are a few steps ahead of me, pass through this time and come out the other side with amazing new conviction and determination. If I were imagining anything for Juliet, it would be that. My friends don't necessarily choose to continue with the careers they'd started before having children -- many have switched direction, even quite drastically. They've gone back to school, retrained, or simply re-imagined themselves. Having children has given me a sense of urgency, of time passing -- not in a bad way or a scary way, but in a seize-the-day way. Juliet's passion is waiting for her. I hope. I feel in the last story that she's stepping away from the things in her past that have been burdens, that she's seeing them for what they are -- the beautiful remains of her life. Hers.

For a long while the book ended on a different last line, one that came after the one that stands there now. It went like this: "Tell me, for I need to know, what remains?" And I think that question will propel Juliet forward rather than back. It's a question we're all asking. The first section of the newspaper that I turn to is the obituaries -- not necessarily the big reporter-written obits, but the small ones published by family members. If we could choose, what of our being do we want left behind? What memories? What remains?

Marita: Are you done with Juliet, or do you think we'll get stories of her middle aged and elderly in the future?

Carrie: I can't imagine writing more Juliet stories. I felt like the last story in the book was my goodbye to Juliet. What do you think? Do you imagine more Juliet? Do you wish she would return? Literary fiction doesn't tend toward sequels, but even so, the thought really never crossed my mind. That said, I would never say never.

Marita: I don't think I'd want a sequel, but when I finished The Juliet Stories, I was sad that I had to say good-bye. I'm that kind of reader, the type who will cry at the end of a book, not because it's sad, but because it is over and even if I reread the book, I won't have that same experience again.

I've been thinking about Juliet a lot since reading your book and I realized that she might be the only protagonist that I've read that is exactly my age (except for another character in Hat Hair). No wonder I'm so attached to her! Even if she had a very different childhood than mine, in some ways, she is me. I want to know how it all works out for her. What's she like when she's deep into middle age? Or has adult children herself? How she faces retirement? Being elderly? I don't necessarily want to read all those stories, but that won't stop me from imagining her getting older as I do.

All that said, I do hope that perhaps she'll show up as a secondary character somewhere later in your writing career, maybe in a book you write twenty years from now. Someone's mother-in-law, or a neighbour, or a patient in palliative care. A reward for the devoted reader.

I want to ask you probably at least a dozen more questions, but this feels like a good place to end. Before we wrap it up completely, can you talk about your next project and how that relates to The Juliet Stories?

Carrie: Ah, my next project. I've been so overwhelmed with launching Juliet that I'm just beginning to think in practical terms about the next project. In the interim, to tide myself over between blog posts and Juliet-related writing gigs, I've been working on a book for children, a silly fun-to-write bit of text. And I've been sketching new ideas, plots, characters, but none are fleshed out very thoroughly; that will take time. It's daunting to imagine committing to a new character and plot, and I don't mind confessing that.

When I think about my next book, I reflect on how it will build on my previous work. Will I be forever a writer of linked stories? That is not my current plan. What is a "Carrie Snyder" book? What overall mood do I wish to evoke? What kind of story do I want to tell? Right now, I'm thinking about Ann Patchett's work as I shape this next book out in my mind -- specifically the fluidity with which she compresses and stretches time in her telling. I'm also thinking about generosity and love and compassion. It sounds hokey, but I want to write books that make readers more open to the possibilities around them -- in their own lives, and in the lives of others.

I want what I write to bring some small good into the world. I want it to express a strong, loving, forgiving moral core.

I'm too superstitious to talk specifically about the character and plot I've chosen to focus on, but I will say that I'm starting with research because the book will be set in the past (before Juliet was born, so she can't make a cameo appearance this time, though I like the idea of her turning up again many years on). My husband and I have booked one writing week per month for the next three months, which will give me a chance to play more deeply with my ideas. I hope I'm brave enough, honestly. I know how much gets thrown out in the process of writing a book, and it can be tough to begin knowing that. I have to remind myself that no effort goes to waste, that it is all toward the larger cause, and that discovery happens because one is willing to explore. I'm inspired by stories of scientists and inventors who set off on utterly hopeless causes and whose work may have been for naught, or who failed to receive credit for their discoveries, but who persevered nevertheless. (Bill Bryson writes wonderfully on the subject, if you're interested: A Short History of Nearly Everything, and At Home.)

Here is the other thing I've been thinking about lately, as I approach the next project. I've been thinking about how so much of Juliet felt like a gift. When people say, "I don't know how you do it!" (meaning write and publish a book while mothering four children, etc., etc.) I've been thinking that the answer really is that the credit isn't mine -- I did none of it alone. (And I'm not just talking about the huge amount of practical help I received from friends and family and especially my husband; I'm talking about something more mysterious.) Writing The Juliet Stories was an act of faith. I opened myself up to the possibility of Juliet, and I was there to receive the words when they were given. Now I'm sounding beyond hokey. I'm not belittling my own effort and work, but I believe there is something other in the writing process. Something beyond me. Something I can't decide to grab. I have to recognize it when it comes, and accept it, and place it, and polish it, and cherish it. And give it away again.

So, how do I prepare myself for that level of effort and focus all over again? I'm wrestling with that. Is my spirit open enough right now? Can I approach the work with real hope and belief that something beautiful is waiting to be discovered -- and by me? Can I approach it with lightness too? This is what I hope, Marita.

10 April 2012

Two Things This Tuesday

First up, be careful how you respond to a friend's FB post. You may end up being quoted calling yourself boring in the National Post.

Second, if you used Google yesterday, I'm sure you saw the thingy they did in celebration of Eadweard Muybridge's birthday. A few years ago, my husband wrote Studies in Motion, a play about Muybridge. It remains one of my favourite plays of all-time. It was produced by his company, Electric Company Theatre, directed by Kim Collier, choreographed by Crystal Pite, and starred some of my favourite Vancouver actors. I don't think it will go on tour again, but if you have a chance, I suggest checking out the book. It's a great story and Muybridge was such a complex, fascinating man. If reading plays isn't your thing, then pick up Rob Winger's Muybridge's Horse, a fantastic collection.

5 April 2012


Friends of mine bought a beautiful home on a few acres on the Sunshine Coast a couple of years ago. They are now hoping to turn a small cabin on their property into an artist's residence. If that wasn't exciting enough, next week they are hosting a round table/think-tank with artists from various disciplines to talk about what artists across the disciplines need and want in a residency.

Because my friends run The Only Animal theatre company, the invited group is a little more heavy on theatre/performance artists. I believe I'm the only one representing the literary arts.

Now, I've done two residencies which were wildly different--three weeks in East End, Saskatchewan at the Wallace Stegner House and five weeks as part of the Writing Studio at The Banff Centre. I know what I need out of a residency, but as I'm the voice for the poets/novelists/etc out there, I'd love to be able to come more prepared than simply saying what I would like. If you'd like to put your two cents in (while they're still available), please comment below. I'd love to hear what you think.

3 April 2012

Two Things This Tuesday

First up, have you read The Juliet Stories by Carrie Snyder yet? You really should. And I'm not saying that just because she's an Internet friend, or because the book is getting a lot of great buzz, but because it is really, really good. I loved this book. I don't really do reviews on this blog, but I do interviews. Carrie generously gave me an email interview over the last few weeks and it should be up sometime this month. If you haven't read it yet, I hope this will be the push to get you started.

Second, remember the interview I did with Sarah Yi-Mei Tsiang? Well, she's been very busy since then, with more than one picture book published (more information here) since then and her first full-length collection of poetry Sweet Devilry. It's been shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Award which is very exciting. I have her chapbook that Rubicon Press published and loved it. I'm really looking forward to reading this collection.

15 March 2012

Week in Suppers: Week 10

Menu:: Baked chicken thighs and veggies. 
Details::Baked thighs in a dijon/grapefruit juice/garlic sauce. Roasted carrots, beets, and potatoes. Nothing fancy, but it was all eaten. 

Details::I got to go to the hockey game (YAY!), so Kevin made the boys BLTs and I ate an overpriced hot dog and drank overpriced beer. It was perfect. 

Menu::Black bean quesadillas
Details::My run clinic night and I managed to make them and scarf one down before having to be at the clinic. A2 protested, of course. And I shouldn't have eaten so much before the clinic. Ended up with a stitch during the run. Lesson learned. 

Menu::Black bean loaf, veggies
Details::Used leftover black beans to make bean loaf. I've realized that I like the lentil version of this much better. I'm not sure why. (Veggies: roasted beets, carrots, potatoes. We sure eat those a lot!)

Menu::Steak, mashed potatoes, asparagus
Details::The beef that we bought was not grain finished, so it's tougher. We knew this, but I didn't expect it to be as tough as it is. A1 has decided that he doesn't like steak or mashed potatoes, so he ate only a few asparagus and a couple bites of the steak. I have to say, I'm disappointed in the beef. It has great flavour, but it's just too tough, unless I'm cooking it wrong, which I don't think I am because I never had a problem with our beef in Alberta. Oh well. 

Menu::Kevin's pesto prawn pasta
Details:: I was done. Couldn't bare to cook, so I asked Kevin to make this dish. We didn't have any bell peppers in the house, but neither of us had the energy to schlump down the block to the grocery store. It was still delicious, though now A2 has declared that he doesn't like prawns. sigh

Menu:: Roast chicken, veggies, salad, crumble
Details:: Had two good friends over for dinner, so roasted a chicken with roasted potatoes, parsnips and beets. Maple carrots. Green salad. Rhubarb (from freezer) and strawberry crumble for dessert. Delish. 

6 March 2012

my wives have been shortlisted

Last week the shortlist for the Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry was announced and my manuscript Glossolalia is on the list. The winner should be announced shortly. I don't think my manuscript is innovative enough to win, but I'm thrilled my wives were included. It really is a huge honour.

5 March 2012

Week in Suppers: Week 9*

Menu::Chilli and bread
Details::Tonnes of beans and veggies with the freezer ground beef. Was really satisfying. 

Baked chicken in a grapefruit/mustard sauce (sounds gross, tastes great), roasted beets and potatoes. Steamed broccoli with cheese sauce. Everyone ate it and complaints were minimal.

Details::You saw this one coming? Chilli one night means burritos later in the week. They were great. It was my running clinic night, so I don't know how they were eaten, but if history tells me anything, A1 had seconds and A2 complained. I was thankful Kevin saved some guac for me for when I returned home.

Menu::Turkey sausages, yam, carrot and potato fries. Garden salad made with spinach.
Details::We used to eat sausages a lot in Edmonton because we discovered Irvings sausages at our Farmers' Market. Hands-down the best sausages out there. Can't get them in Vancouver, so I was complaining on FB about this and a friend of mine goes to the Island every so often and brought back what she considers the best sausages and gave me some. Now, she has turned into my dealer. They are the best sausages I've had here and definitely the best turkey sausages I've ever had. I can't remember the brand, but they are local on the Island. SO GOOD. Anyway, that was the last of them in our freezer. The boys love sausages and the medley of fries went over well, too. 

Menu:: homemade pizza
Details:: Best crust yet. I think I finally have the multigrain crust down. Boys dressed the pizza with honey garlic pepperoni, tomatoes, kalamata olives, mozzarella and yellow peppers (A2 omitted these as he doesn't like peppers). No greens, but it was tasty and everyone ate it. 

Menu:: homemade burgers
Details::By the end of the week, I'm done with cooking, so I was sneaky and took out some hamburger from the freezer and suggested Kevin make his fantastic burgers. And he did! We didn't do any side dishes, which would have been a good idea, but ah, it's the weekend and they were devoured. 

Menu::dinner with friends
Details::A dinner party at the home of friends. Doesn't get better that this. 

(You may be asking yourself where did weeks 5-8 go? Good question. I'd like to know, too. February was a busy month, with family visiting, a birthday, a trip out of town. Lots of good food, junk food, and cake was consumed during those weeks. It was too hectic to take notes, and too much of blur to remember. You'll just have to take my word that we ate many suppers.)

1 February 2012

Prism is a Dead Event, etc.

Warning: Shameless self-promotion below.

I haven't read in Vancouver for a few years, but this weekend I'm doing two readings.

On Friday, I'll be reading at Prism is a Dead Event, a triple launch for three great, local lit mags. It's from 8-11 pm at Project Space, 222 East Georgia Street. I'll be reading with Gary Thomas Morse and there will be a DJ and cake. (And as a freaky-to-me-bonus, it was mentioned on the Globe site this week!)

On Saturday, I'll be reading as part of the Vancouver launch for Best Canadian Poetry in English 2011, in which one of my wife poems was published. The event will be from 7-9 at W2, at 111 West Hastings Street. I don't think there will be cake, but there will be about six poets all reading from the anthology. Great poetry, let me tell you.

The poem of mine that was chosen was originally published in Event, one of the journals that will be launched on Friday night. (Do you read Event? You should.) Maria & Sarah Lawerence is one of my wife poems and the only one of the collection for two voices. (I'm not sure exactly how I'll read it, as it's one of the few poems from the collection that is definitely a page-poem, not a voice poem. I'm thinking of dragging my friend Jennica on stage with me to do it.) It was highlighted as a standout in the collection in The Winnipeg Free Press this weekend. I do appreciate how the reviewer pointed out that these poems actually are not the best published last year, because those are all in collections. Helps keep this humble poet humble.

And finally, I was featured in Branch Magazine recently. I will admit that my office is even more messy now, though you won't be seeing pictures of that, I promise you.

31 January 2012

Week in Suppers: Week 4

Menu::Hamburgers, veggies and hummus
Details::We're trying something at home here to give me more writing time. Kevin leaves early on Mondays, comes home to pick up A1 from school and then take the kids to soccer, and then returns to make dinner. Ideally this will give me about three full hours to write. This was the first Monday we tried it so there were a few hiccups including me needing to leave by 6:30 to make a play downtown. Kevin is a good cook, but he's a slow one. Unfortunately, this meant I didn't get in on the hamburgers, but half of one was saved for me when I returned home. (A1 ate the other half of mine.) It was so good. I hope he makes it again soon.

Menu::Snapper, rice, greens
Details::Kevin had a late meeting, but my sister was able to join us. Fish was great. The boys don't like rice for some reason, but they each ate a few bites of it. I couldn't find the cranberries to round out the red chard dish I usually make, so it was a little disappointing, but the chard was devoured. (Mostly by me, but I need the iron!) Lots of rice left over.

Menu::Tuna Melts
Details:: This was my first run clinic night, so Kevin came home early and made dinner for all of us. Tuna melts! So yummy. I wolfed mine down, so I can't report on how the boys ate them, but there were no leftovers. (I did hear A2 complain about the green peppers in the tuna, but that was not a surprise.)

Menu::Beef and bean chilli
Details:: I've been dizzy lately, so I thought I should try to increase my iron intake. Added beef to my usual vegetarian chilli. I had to run off to go a play, so I'm not sure how much was actually eaten, but there weren't any complaints while I was still there.

Details::Wasn't up for making anything when we came home from skating, so burritos with leftover chilli inside it was! A2 doesn't like burritos so was happy with a bowl of chilli. No guac as it was a last-minute plan and the avocados weren't ripe.

Menu::Steak, mashed potatoes, asparagus
Details::3/4 of us were happy. A1 doesn't like steak or mashed potatoes, though he ate more asparagus than I did and managed to eat enough of his steak to make me happy.

Menu::salmon, rice, broccoli
Details::Kevin did this and it was really good. Boys don't like rice, but they ate the rest which is a lot more important, in my opinion!

26 January 2012

A little bit of movement

One thing I've been wanting to do for the last few years was take up running. I've had a lot of excuses to not start, some better than others (being pregnant, Edmonton winters, embarrassed to exercise in public, not knowing what I was doing), but this year was going to be the year (which partly went into my choice for acceleration). I wanted it and, more importantly, I knew I could do it. So when my sister told me she signed up for an introductory run clinic that also included a voucher for a new pair of shoes, I knew I had to follow her lead.

Last night was our first class and it was great. Only fifteen of us and, as a group, there is a wide spectrum of running experience. We did our first run last night. Very basic--one minute run, one minute walk, eight times--but it was so good. We were in the rain along the seawall and I was so happy. Really, really happy. I hope this joy stays with me as the runs get more challenging. (And I hope my ankles don't always hurt the day after. Any advice on that front?)


Have you put your name in the virtual hat for the give-away over at Canlit Mama? Deadline is tomorrow.

23 January 2012

Week in Suppers: Week 3

Menu::Chicken pesto penne with kalamata olives
Details::Not enough vegetables (ahem, any? I'm guessing pesto and olives don't count) and I forgot to cut up carrots and put out the hummus until after we had sat down to eat. We had some applesauce my mom canned in the fall for dessert to sort of make up for the starch heavy meal. Everyone ate it, and three out of four of us had seconds.

Menu:: Black bean loaf and roasted veggies
Details::Basically the same recipe as lentil loaf, but I used black beans. Love the recipe as it's so adaptable and everyone gobbles it up. No leftovers at all this time. Roasted potatoes, carrots, beets and yams. Boys demanded dessert, so we had a jar of cherries I put up in the summer. So good.

Menu::Black bean quesadillas
Details::Had extra beans leftover from making them for Tuesday's meal, but not enough to freeze (I usually make big batches and freeze most of them), so quesadillas it was, with tomatoes, peppers, and cheese inside and salsa, guac and sour cream for toppings. A2 complained again, but he managed to eat about half of one.
Bonus::Made two loaves of chocolate chunk pumpkin bread that day, so we ate a slice each for dessert. Pureed pumpkin frozen from our Halloween jack o'lanterns.

Menu::Beef stew with mashed potatoes and fresh bread.
Details::So good! First meat stew of the season and with the snow on the ground, it was a perfect meal. Stew had loads of carrots and parsnips for veggies.

Menu::home made pizza
Details::Hawaiian this time on a multigrain crust. Crust still not perfect but getting better.

Menu::nothing planned
Details::Kevin took over dinner that night as I was attending a round table discussion on intimate theatre as part of the PuSh Festival. He makes a fantastic Thai seafood curry and I was very happy to return home to that for dinner.

Menu::Chicken breasts
Details::My standby chicken breasts (mustard, honey, garlic, a bit of juice and olive oil) with roasted blue potatoes (discovered at the back of the fridge), carrots and parsnips. No leftovers. We all thought dessert would be a good idea, but I didn't want to open up another jar of preserves, so I found a fast chocolate pudding recipe. To say it was a hit would be a huge understatement. Will be making again.


By request, my lentil loaf recipe (please note that all measurements are approximate):

2 cups cooked lentils (I usually use french lentils or black beans. Can substitute any bean.)
2 cups sliced mushrooms
1 large onion chopped finely
2-4 chopped garlic
2 eggs beaten
1 cup oats (other cooked grains could be substituted, though I haven't done any yet)
1 tbsp Worchestire sauce
1 large squirt/plop of ketchup (or bbq sauce)
1 cup of grated cheddar
salt and pepper
herbs (I usually do about 1tsp each of sage, savoury/thyme, 1 tbsp oregano, but you can figure out what you like best)

1. cook lentils (or beans)**
2. fry up onions and garlic until onions are translucent, then add mushrooms; cook until tender**
3. add all ingredients in a large bowl, mix well
4. dump into a loaf pan, squirt a bit more ketchup on top to look fancy (or don't)
5. bake at 375F for about 45-60 minutes or until it looks done

**these steps can be done ahead of time

This is a bastardized version the lentil loaf recipe that was in We Eat Together a great cookbook that features almost all of my favourite vendors from the Edmonton Downtown Farmers' Market (which I miss incredibly).

22 January 2012

we do not come from solitude

"My mother once told me that when a child is born, threads are tied around the infant's wrists to bind her soul to her body. The soul is a slippery thing. A door slammed too loudly can send it running. A beautiful, shiny object can catch its attention and lure it away. But in darkness, unpursued, the soul, the pralung, can climb back in through an open window, it can be returned to you. We do not come from solitude, my mother told me. Inside us, from the beginning, we were entrusted with many lives. From the first morning to the last, we try to carry them until the end." from Madeleine Thien's Dogs at the Perimeter

19 January 2012

all we'll have left is us

Jay: How far we all come, Mary. How far we all come away from ourselves. So far, so much between, you can't even remember where you started or what you had in mind or where you thought you were goin'. All you know is you were headin' some place. One way you do remember. You have a boy or a girl of your own, and now and then you sing to them or hold them, and you know how they feel, and it's almost the same as if you were your old self again. Just think, Mary, my paw used to sing to me. And before my time, even before I was dreamed of in this world, his daddy or his mother used to sing to him, and away back on through the mountains, back past Great-Grandmaw, away on back through the years, right on back to Adam, only nobody ever sang to Adam.

Mary: God did.

Jay: Maybe God did.

Mary: We're supposed to come away from ourselves, Jay. That's the whole point. We're supposed to come away to--

Jay: I know. To God.

Mary: I don't see how you can feel the way you do and not believe in Him.

Jay: We come from people, Mary, and in time they fall away from us, like Great-Granmaw. We give birth to others, and in time they grow away from us, like Ivan will. When we’re about eighty years old, you’n me, all we’ll have left is us. And that’s what I believe in. Maybe that’s it. Maybe that’s where we’re heading – to each other. And the sad thing all our lives is the distance between us. But maybe if we keep goin' in the direction we think is right, maybe we can't ever get all the way there, but at least we can make the distance less'n it was.

from Electric Company Theatre's production of Tad Mosel's All the Way Home

18 January 2012

Weeks of Suppers: Weeks 1 & 2

I'm assuming most of you who read this blog also reads Carrie Snyder's Obscure Canlit Mama. It's one of my few daily reads as she writes about so much that really speaks to me--motherhood, writing, spirit, food. If you already read it, you probably know what I'm talking about. If not, start now!

One of her regular posts is This Week in Suppers and Carrie has graciously allowed me to steal this idea. I have been wanting to be better at planning our dinners and to keep a better track of what we eat. I know that I have a few fall-back recipes that we probably eat to often, so it will be good to see it all laid out in front of me.

So, here's what we ate for the first two weeks of January.

Menu::home made pizza
Details::I made a multigrain dough (still trying to perfect it) and the boys went with Kevin to pick out toppings and dressed the pizzas themselves (with a little bit of help). They were delicious.

Menu:: Chicken strips and veggie fries.
Details:: When Kevin isn't home for dinner, this is an easy standby for me. Cut up chicken breasts or thighs, marinate in lemon juice and olive oil, and bake. Baked potato, carrot, and yam fries and garlic mayo for dipping. Every last bite consumed.

Menu::Lentil loaf and roast veggies
Details::Devoured. I think it might be because the lentil loaf is receptacle for ketchup and mustard, but they do eat so much of it, I can't complain. Veggies: potatoes, beets and squash. A1 won't eat squash or roasted potatoes (but has no problem with the fries made the exact same way, but cut differently!) but ate his beets.

Details:: I usually do leftovers on Fridays, but we had a plan to go over to dinner at a friend's house, so I put it in the middle of the week. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough lentil loaf leftover, so I defrosted a jar of turkey stock I made after Thanksgiving and supplemented the meal with noodle soup and hummus with raw veggies. It was a mish-mash of a meal, but it was all eaten.

Menu::Shepherd's Pie
Details::Kevin makes this and he prepped it all the night before. It was delicious, as always. We had a side of steamed broccoli for extra veggies. So good.

Menu::Dinner with friends
Details::This was cancelled as there was an accidental double-booking and for the life of me I can't remember what we ate instead. I think Kevin made his mac and cheese, but can't be certain. Hmm...must keep better notes.

Menu::Roast Leg of Lamb
Details::Kevin was going to make this, but with the show he was working on, the schedule didn't allow it, so I made an easy standby for our family: bean and tomato quesadillas, with salsa, guacamole and sour cream toppers. A2 doesn't like quesadillas, but loves sour cream, so I managed to get enough bites into him to appease me.

Menu::Roast beef
Details::Had three friends over for dinner and a very delicious roast, with roasted veggies (potatoes, carrots, beets), salad, and apple/rhubarb crumble for dessert. Yes, it was gobbled up. (When we were in Edmonton, we bought a small deep freezer and every autumn we bought an organic quarter cow from Rose Ridge Ranch, seriously the best beef I've ever had. Now, in Vancouver, we had to find a new supplier. That night was our first real taste of it. I found it a little tough, but tasty. We'll see how it goes over the winter.

Menu:: Three Sisters Stew
Details::I couldn't find my recipe for this so I did it from memory and knew I forgot something, probably a spice. We call it chilli so the kids will eat it and grate some cheese on top. Bought a crazy delicious organic loaf of bread to go with it. (I used to make my own bread, but when I got pregnant with H, I gave it up and have only made it once in the last year. Hope to get back to it...one day.) Carrot sticks and hummus for extra veggies. Used some squash I had cut up in the freezer specifically for this dish. Everyone ate a lot of it.

Menu:: Chicken
Details:: Kevin was at the theatre so we had chicken fingers again. Didn't make enough for some reason, or we were all extra hungry. Had strawberries on hand for dessert.

Details::Used the Three Sisters Stew as the base. A2 didn't want burritos, so just ate the stew instead. Kevin was at opening night, so no dinner with us.

Details::I hadn't made plans for Thursday as I wasn't sure if Kevin would be at the show or not and his parents were coming to town. Decided to do a roast chicken with roasted potatoes, beets, carrots, and a green salad. Boys love to eat the drumsticks and managed to eat both beets and carrots. Success!

Details::Had to do something fast as the boys are back at skating, so not a long turn around time for dinner. Made spinach tortellini (*not homemade!) in an alfredo sauce with a pre-smoked salmon cut up and mixed with sauce. Green salad. Quick and easy, and thankfully everyone ate it.

Menu:: unplanned
Details:: SUSHI! Kevin's parents treated the family to takeout sushi. Yum! A huge treat and everyone gobbled it up.

Details::The dinner party that didn't happen last week happened this week. SO good.

What I learned was I really need to make a set menu each week and perhaps mix up the veggies a bit. Yes, roasted beets, carrots, and potatoes almost always get eaten, but a little variety might be nice. Also, I know we had asparagus one night that first week, but can't remember with which meal. Perhaps the roast beef?