A 2-minute and 12-second read.
Home cooking is what I have to give to my mom. Two weeks of good meals and a freezer full to carry her another month. I've made lots of vegetables and salads. She ate all the fish, including the crispy skin, which she declared "delicious." I made a stew and put rutabaga in it — a vegetable she didn't like until I cooked it. I still have a bunch of dishes to make, including a Tortilla Española, chicken-barley soup, and a rösti potato for New Year's Day.
We talk a lot, too.
Some of what follows is behind a paywall. Putting words together with this skill costs.
Here are a few stories I loved this year (all by women):
"Plenty of folks tell me confidently that I could write anything I wanted about them. I have come to understand that what they actually mean is that I have their permission to write anything about them that they can imagine I might."
A Big Shitty Party by Melissa Febos is essential reading if you're a memoirist. It's full of wisdom and the writing is on fire.
"It's also unsentimental. This is what Moshfegh does. Her universe, both in fiction and nonfiction, is a brutal one, and highlights the ugliness that many other writers leave out. This includes the ugliness within ourselves that most people are unwilling to examine. In reality, ours is not a moral universe. People do not get what they deserve, and evil is rewarded constantly."
I'm a big fan of Summer Brennan's writing.
"I worked hard to get out of it, quitting the restaurant I had put so much of myself into with little reward, knowing I had to get out. I needed to care about myself. I found new places to work, slowly found friends to be trusted and counted on."
The harsh realities of the restaurant business are recounted in Almost No One Makes It Out by Millicent Souris.
"It is harder to be a man today, and in many ways, that is a good thing: Finally, the freer sex is being held to a higher standard."
Christine Emba's Men are lost. Here's a way out of the wilderness.
"My husband has great taste in women, I thought."
Stunning writing from Jean Garnett, Scenes from an Open Marriage. What a talent.
Just for pleasure, here's a petit four image of Dolly Parton.
Nigel Slater wins food photo of the year. (Imagine the day when an editor/paper uses it as the header photo.)
I try hard to give good Stories on Instagram. Some of you send me nice notes about it. My "following" feed reflects my interests and leans heavily toward the arts. These are a few of the accounts I shared in 2023:
The playlist I draw the music from is 457 songs long this year. There's no organization — it's like the cupboard you don't want to open.
Politically and environmentally, we are facing another challenging year in 2024. May our concern for each other grow.
My mom would dance with me to this song when it came on the radio. In 1964, I was one year old. I don't remember, but she told me I would put my arms up like I wanted to be picked up when it came on. We listened to it tonight together.
Happy new year.
We hit the jackpot. My mom loved Christmas.
Our house was a bonanza of homemade decorations. Angels made from foil wrapped Galliano bottles. Remember when people drank it with orange juice? I knew how to make a Harvey Wallbanger by age eight. Blech!
Gail made candles in milk cartons. They looked like a block of Swiss cheese spray painted gold in a cold garage. At some point, holiday tunes from Liberace or Ferrante & Teicher would be spinning on the stereo. The presents under the tree had heavy ‘70s holiday vibes — wrapped in coordinating colours and patterns. My mom dropped serious cash at the Hallmark store.
She went the distance for all of us. I asked her recently how she and my dad worked it out between them about what to get us. She said, “I shopped, and he didn’t put limits on it.” My dad was a good union guy. Chuck made my Chrissy doll dreams come true.
In my family, the real party began after the midnight endurance fest. An hours-long showboat event with men in flash robes swinging a thurible of incense, smoking like a bong. We paid good money all year for this pageant. Eight-year-old me sucking back a lungful of frankincense. The wretched cloud you had to pass through to get food and presents — the catholic way.
I’ve got a photo of us kids, including my cousins and an uncle, doing crazy things. It’s a brilliant snapshot with a Christmas tree in the background. It oozes fun. That’s why I keep it for myself. Private.
I’m in Alberta with my mom for the holidays. We’re doing road trips to visit historic grain elevators.
The Sly & The Family Stone song was on the charts in December 1971, the Christmas when I was eight, almost nine.
There are infinite iterations of what family means. I hope you’re with your best people. And if you’re alone, I’ve been there too. Be good to yourself. You are worth it.
There’s nothing like being with people who’ve made something of their own from scratch. Looking at the world through the eyes of a cheese, bread, wine, cabinet maker, potter, or painter. Understanding their unique expression of care and attention. Sometimes there’s generational history — a maturing of craft over time. The passion is personal and what they make is nourishing and soulful.
I’m grateful to have had that experience more than once including on a private group tour of Bernachon in Lyon. I’d pressed gently for its inclusion in a program. We were greeted in the shop by Mme Bocuse-Bernachon who was a vision of French elegance. For me her welcome was a surprise and an honour.
Then we went into the production space behind the shop and with no sense of hurry they showed us their métier. There was a fearless transparency. They were confident that beyond the process was the finger print of the maker. The myriad decisions that gave the chocolate its enduring character. It felt like an atelier. A place of mastery and grand tradition.
Seductions were everywhere — the scent of cocoa beans roasting, the natural light from the back windows facing on to a quiet street, the women in pastel work dresses with kerchiefs over their hair, jars of fruit steeping in liqueur, stainless-steel two-pronged forks deftly dipping into basins of tempered chocolate, the velvet coating dripping off batons of orange peel.
Being in their care was sublime. It was haute hospitality.
My mind trips into the pleasures of that afternoon when I think of their Mendiant — the Cleopatra of fruit and nut bars. An embossed ribbon from a box of their chocolates is secreted in a cookbook on my shelf.
Hands up if you are feeling vulnerable. I thought getting through the pandemic was hard. Then along came Fall 2023. I’m tired in new ways.
I have a few weeks in big sky country on the western edge of the prairies — buttery sunshine and apricot jam sunsets. There will be parental love and care. And a reprieve from the early morning alarm.
The extraordinary performance by Jacques Brel found me after midnight on Friday. I’d been searching for the music for most of the week. The writing had stalled. The song revived me — woke my heart up. It sent me down a Jacques Brel rabbit hole for a lovely few hours.
Maysa Matarazzo’s version is another beautiful expression. Finding all the covers of this song is another rabbit hole.
The story behind the song is heartbreaking. We all know this kind of loss.
Can you spot my bias? I put the pile together without realizing it. All of them are by women. These are a few of the books that were on my bedside table in 2023. My cultural studies.
Some I finished in one or two sittings, like No Meat Required, Fieldwork and Orwell's Roses. Others I took slow, like Doppelganger. I began it after October 7th, and it's brilliant, but there were days I could not face more about the madness in our world.
There's an aura around a book — a space where external and internal conditions embrace. What I bring to the experience of reading. There are themes, times, and seasons. Think of the experience of reading at the cottage.
Coffee and an hour of reading first thing in the morning is heaven. After waking my brain is clear and more absorbent. How often do I do that? Not enough by a lot. Reading is a refuge. It's also a measure of my attention.
Here are a few of the books on my 'to read' list in 2024. Some are not new. Two I want to read back-to-back and search for connections. There's a book I loved from another time in my life.
Buying even one book from a local store makes a difference.
Nothing boosts my spirits like reading about orchards or flipping through a coffee table book on art, photography, or landscape. In a world of significant distractions, I hope you get time to read over the next few weeks. Not just for pleasure but to grow in understanding of the planet and appreciation for the experiences of people near and far.
I've been working seasonally and am laid off in the third week of December. If you have a project that would suit me, I'd love to hear about it.
This is a stunning 2021 remix of a song that in 1984 was playing everywhere. The crowds are fabulous. So many beautiful young people.
"The song takes the pain of rejection and makes it danceable." TimeOut
Dear Toronto Public Library:
I'm that woman who puts all kinds of books on hold and forgets to pick some of them up. Sorry. Also, I like paying your fines. Charge me double. And as hard as I try, I sometimes can't read a brand-new book in three weeks. Apologies to whoever had to wait for Ann Patchett's Tom Lake. I know what you're thinking, 'that was not a big book.' September was busy in my world. Again, this is an opportunity to extract more cash from me. I'm down for it.
I heard your system's been hacked. And it won’t be back up and running until sometime in the early new year. I'm sending you all the good vibes. When you recover, I'll be in the great race to greet you.
This week, my mom's computer and phone were hacked for the second time. Last year was scary. We learned some hard lessons together and at a distance. Thankfully, this time it was minor.
I get mad when people and institutions I love are attacked by brutal cyber criminals. I hope soon we'll get serious about dealing with the sinister individuals behind it. Doing hard time should be the cost for targeting seniors, the vulnerable, and institutions that serve the public good.
One thing I can't get down with is an attack on knowledge. We are up to our necks in that these days. Stupid is not cool.
My mom lives outside of Calgary, and every week, a volunteer from the library brings a stack of new books to her senior's residence. They call her on Thursday and come around on Friday. It makes my heart light up.
We talk about what she's reading often — what a pleasure. She's only discovered reading in the last couple of years and is in hot pursuit of lost time.
We did a daytrip to Calgary in 2018 with a few of her friends to see the new library. Is there a more gorgeous building in all of Canada right now? The spirit of the city is in it. Snøhetta was an imaginative and bold choice for architects. If there was a Michelin Guide for libraries, it would be three stars. It's a destination. I hope to return for a visit at the end of this month.
If I sound jealous, remember I live near the Toronto Reference Library. An exquisite public space. A cathedral of democracy. Working in it is a dream. Raymond Moriyama was the local architect. He passed this year and left a beautiful legacy in this city, country, and far beyond. Watching this TVO documentary of his life is an hour well spent.
"I must instill the idea of using architecture to express a potential hope for all of us," Moriyama said.
Some would like to see libraries torn down. At heart, that's what a hack is. The same goes for municipal budget cuts. Politicians and their sycophants throw up barriers to prevent the spread of knowledge. Hire hackers. Stupid is cool to a few.
There's great need everywhere (including at home) during this holiday season. But if you can give a local library is an excellent choice. More dollars can go some way to increase online security. Our collective intelligence, a repository for culture, needs protecting.
December is the month when I light candles on my desk at dusk. I keep the blinds up after dark to watch the car lights snake along Bloor St. during rush hour.
I've visited Lyon, France, several times and have a dream that one day, I will be there for the Fêtes des lumières in December. Also, to taste Reynon’s magnificent pâté en croûte, l’Oreiller de la belle Aurore.
When we turn toward the sun again on December 21st, it's a day for celebration.
The honey voice of Roy Orbison. I've been dancing in my kitchen to this song. Music, like reading, is a refuge. It engages my imagination. Makes me feel things. Mostly alive.
© Deborah Reid, 2021 - 2024. All Rights Reserved.