Damn Delicious’ One-Pot Beef Stroganoff

OK. Highly recommended. Not “fine dining”, but Pure Comfort Food. Makes a ton. And even better as leftovers on Day 2. (I recall the days when I used to be snobby about leftovers. Can you imagine? What’s better than making a ton of comfort food and having a ready-made lunch and dinner the next day.)

It’s easy peasy to make, and don’t scrimp on the mushrooms.

I think it goes without saying, but nevertheless: I probably at least doubled the amount of sour cream. Because it’s stroganoff, and you want it creamy.

Here’s the recipe link:

Recovery update: my craft-y distractions

Latest rug project, called Harvest Moon (by Deanne Fitzpatrick @hookingrugs):

Slightly earlier version:

Slow but steady progress after a couple weeks of hospital time.

Harvest Moon is the exact same pattern, with a twist, that I did last summer in Mahone Bay. Last summer’s was called Summer Blooms (different colours, and you don’t hook the moon!):

Summer Blooms was my favourite at the time. I really liked how it turned out. When Harvest Moon is done, I will do a side-by-side compare and contrast.

Also working on a scarf (after my wool stash got infested with moths a couple months ago, my fault entirely – this wool was frozen for 48 hours to make sure that all the greeblies were killed off):

We Are Knitters Cucho Scarf in cinnamon.

Here’s what is SHOULD look like when done:

Honestly, super boring to knit, which is one excuse for the slow progress. But easy peasy, which is all I am capable of when it comes to knitting.

Of course, I’d love to aspire to:


But my next knitting project is much much simpler:

The Clyd blanket – mine in pearl grey.

And this will be the next I suspect:

Le Marais Shawl – maybe in Marshmallow?

Perhaps this blog will document my progress to becoming an actual accomplished knitter? I’m doubtful, but who knows.

On warm blankets, healing, and the joy of measuring your life with coffee spoons

I’m now out of hospital for 1 week and 1 day. 16 days (15 nights) in hospital after emergency surgery. I lost several inches of my small intestine, and unfortunately gained a very long needle in my right butt cheek that is draining an abscess I developed after Week #1. I left with a pathology report that said malignant cancer, but a highly positive prognosis and pronouncement of being “cancer-free”.

I mentioned to hubby just now that my drain is 2 weeks and 1 day old and let’s just have it out ALREADY.

(I never thought it would remain in this long. When I pushed my doctors while in hospital about taking it out (it’s uncomfortable to sit/sleep on, to say the least), the senior fellow on my surgical team told me Your convenience is not our main priority. Said in a charming Australian accent that made it sound less offensive than it obviously was. And also, said the team, we are going to leave it in “too long” – meaning long enough that they won’t have to go back in and re-insert it. Flash forward – drain still in 1 week plus 1 day after discharge.)

Hubby, thoughtfully: “You must have some lingering trauma after so many days in hospital”.

Which caused me to reflect. Was I traumatized?

Up until July 11, I’d never had surgery. Not even my tonsils out. I’d never spent a night in hospital. My biggest trauma was enduring the claustrophobia of an MRI, which lingers to this day: https://kittyscornerblog.com/2018/12/20/next-time-take-the-pill/

Looking back, I don’t think 15 nights in hospital left much a scar on me, if any. To be honest, it was a lovely warm blanket of a bubble. (Warm blankets being possibly the best things about hospitals.) After 6 months of suffering from 24×7 pain, losing tens of pounds, and being dismissed with test results that showed “no concerns”, I had a diagnosis – bowel obstruction. I had a solution – surgery. I had doctors acknowledging I’d probably been in quite a bit of pain for months – thank you! I had a plan for recovery and instructions to take my time and heal. I had doctors and nurses at my bedside every day. I had morphine and Tylenol, anti-nauseants, and antibiotics. I was being taken care of. I was getting better.

I heard lovely comforting and constructive words almost as soon as I arrived in the ER: You’re in a lot of pain. You are dehydrated. Let’s put you on fluids. Let’s put you on paid meds. We need to call in surgery for a consult. You need a CT scan. You are going to need surgery tonight. You are our top priority right now. For the first time in 4 months, since my tests had shown “no concerns”, doctors were trying to – and going to – make me feel better.

Even as they wheeled me into the OR at 11 pm on Saturday night, after about 10 hours in Emerg, I felt seen and heard and cared for. I met my surgeon, Dr. Rebecca Gladdy, who clasped my right hand with her gloved one, and squeezed, and held on, as they explained what would happen. It was such a humane gesture. With the prospect of getting better, having pain alleviated, I didn’t have much of an opportunity to be scared.

It was all such a huge relief.

Post-surgery, I didn’t have to worry about how to eat or what to eat, whether I would vomit horribly and incessantly. I had a PICC line and IVs feeding and watering me. I had a nurse bringing me pain pills every 4 hours. I had hours to sleep and read and just heal. My pain level even immediately post-surgery was a fraction of what it was when I presented at Emerg on that Saturday.

Unlike other patients who rotated through the 4-bed ward where I lived for most of my stay – patients with double mastectomies who were sent home the day after surgery, despite sobbing they had no home supports awaiting them – I was told to Take. My. Time. My surgical team’s mantra was consistently We. Are. In. No. Hurry. Healing would be slow and steady. It took 10 days before the D-word (“discharge”) was even uttered, and I had to prompt the conversation (Are you guys even thinking about letting me go home anytime soon? I asked tentatively. I was wondering if they were going to present me with a long-term lease for bed 1409B.)

I was also in hospital in the middle of a pandemic, but somehow the surgical floor seemed another bubble of protection against Covid. This particular hospital had very minimal incidence of Covid – they were lucky. Patients were all tested – and until a negative result came in, isolated. All staff wore masks. (They had no shortages of PPE; I asked.) If you walked in the halls, you wore your mask. Visitors were being allowed, finally (but only 2/patient for a specific window every other day), after 4 months of a strict no-visitor policy. Visitors were screened, wore masks. I wasn’t riding the TTC, doing grocery shopping, glaring at the assholes who chose not to wear masks or who wore them below their noses. It seemed pretty much the safest place to be in a pandemic.

OK OK, I had a few complaints. None of these amounted to scars or traumas from the hospital experience – just whiny complaints. But when you’re in hospital, you have a lot of time to think about whiny complaints because … It’s. The. Most. Boring. Place. To. Be. Ever.

  • At the top of the list, the NG tube that was inserted in Emerg. Which wasn’t pleasant, let’s leave it at that. I have a funny-in-retrospect anecdote about that, for another time. It stayed in for an ENTIRE WEEK. It wasn’t fun to sport it as an appendage nose-trunk for that week, first actively pumping and then later draining by gravity my stomach contents into a plastic bag. Try having allergies when you’ve got a tube stuck up your left nostril. It’s annoying. But it relieved some of the stress on my damaged GI system, and again, the plan was to leave it in for so long that it never had to be re-inserted. I was keen on the no re-insertion plan since the original insertion was not trauma-free. Anecdote to follow.
  • The “hat rack” (as hubby called my IV pump) I had to drag around with me, everywhere, to the bathroom, doing my laps on the floor to get my post-surgery exercise. But it was hydrating me and feeding me when my digestive system was in trauma, so not such a hardship.
  • The utter lack of privacy in a ward setting. The woman in the bed next to me was given very bad news – her stomach cancer was inoperable and had spread to lymph nodes. She had been NPO for months and months, and they wanted to do stomach surgery so that she could eat and gain strength for chemo. But all of this was to extend her possible life. No cure. Average life projection: 1 year. She wept all night, right next to me, with the curtains drawn.
  • Everyone in my ward knew the intimate details of my bowel movements – and me, theirs. There was no avoiding it. It’s demeaning, until it’s pedestrian.
  • I had a pretty serious complication on Saturday #2, that led to the drain in my ass. I felt really off, crappy even after the NG tube got pulled out (easy-peasy). I was freezing, teeth chattering, huddled under two warmed blankets. High high fever. Doctors did blood work, urinalysis, and then a CT scan. Got the antibiotics going in my IV. Suspecting and confirming an abscess at the surgical site. They took me back to Diagnostic Imaging on Sunday night, to IR (Interventional Radiology), where they gave me conscious sedation, scanned me, and inserted a very long thin needle through my ass into my intestine to drain the abscess. I had (have) a plastic bag on my right calf, capturing the oozing, turbid (I learned a new word from the senior resident) liquid. First it filled up the bag, then just a few “cc”s at a time. It’s still draining bit by bit.

That was when I was the most scared. I truly felt crappy (vs. feeling so much better generally post-surgery.) I felt there was something wrong with my body. Being wheeled into IR Sunday night, I felt small and alone and sick. Still feverish and cold, facing another procedure that seemed a bit daunting. I had time to get scared as they wheeled me down to IR. But once I got there, the doctor, the technician, the nurse – they all were so kind, so calm, so competent, so reassuring. Covering me with more warm blankets, explaining everything step-by-step. Giving me good drugs so I really didn’t feel anything – other than cared for by solution-oriented health care workers looking out for my best interests.

So, not so many scars from hospital. The scars that I have are from the 6 months of being dismissed by my doctors, trying to figure out what I was doing wrong to cause this pain and illness (dairy? gluten?). Having no hope on the horizon other than the unhelpful supplements that my well-meaning naturopath prescribed. She was the only health care professional interested in problem-solving, even if it was futile in the end. My family doctor literally said: I’m sorry you are in pain. There’s nothing more I can do for you. Correction: My soon-to-be-former family doctor.

That left a scar.

The most impactful memory of my hospital stay, other than the warm blanket comfort of finally being cared for and taken seriously, was the tedium. Especially the first week when I was entirely NPO – nothing by mouth except ice chips. And water, only when necessary, to swallow my pills.

Being NPO means that you don’t get a breakfast tray, a lunch tray, a dinner tray. Virtually all your fluids, meds, and nutrients are delivered through your IV PICC line.

So when you wake up in the morning, there’s no morning coffee or morning orange juice to mark the beginning of the day. No mid-day meal. No “I wonder what’s on the menu for dinner”. No after-dinner dessert. No picking your menu choices for tomorrow, which one of my roomies (Joy) declared the highlight of her day. (How sad is that? she said. And I was bitterly jealous of it too.)

There are no rituals that mark the time of the day and the progression of the day from morning to night. Which makes me think of Prufrock’s famous line, about measuring out his life with coffee spoons. I didn’t even have that pedestrian luxury on NPO. No coffee. No coffee spoons.

I realized so much of my non-hospital life revolves around food – waking up thinking what’s for breakfast. What to make for dinner. What’s in the pantry. Do I have to go shopping for supplies? Does this involve a walk to my local No Frills or a bigger outing – a drive to the big time grocery store? I realized how much I like prepping the food (sometimes with hubby, sometimes alone and listening to my audiobook). Smelling the food cooking throughout a Sunday afternoon – beef and broccoli, slow cooker cashew chicken, yellow curry chicken stew. Fragrant and promising, something to look forward to at dinner time. Drinking wine while awaiting the meal. None of those things was in any way applicable to my NPO world. And it made for a very long and very tedious day.

The best thing about being home? Being back on solid foods? Making a big pot of coffee and sitting outside in my backyard, under the trees, watching the squirrels (and listening to the dulcet tones of jackhammering taking down balconies on the apt building across the street). But nevertheless a morning ritual to mark the start of the day. As it should be. Measuring my days in coffee cups and coffee spoons.

Let’s play: Which year sucked more?

Subtitled: Turns out, I DO hold a grudge.

Obviously 2020 is a major major contender. We all know that. We’ve got a global pandemic, a potential economic disaster, an authoritarian thug qua idiot in the White House, and police still killing black people for no reason, left and right. The racial protests are the only glimmer of hope I’m seeing – all ages, all races.

My law partner and I have this running joke. Or not so much a joke, but a routine. Because it’s not really funny. It’s kind of tragic and pathetic.

Every Fall, almost daily until Christmas break, we pop into each other’s office and say one of the following:

  • Thank God this year is almost over!
  • Dear Jesus, next year has to be better, right?
  • Fuck me, this year can’t be over soon enough!

Reliably, we have said this, as I recall, approximately 100 times each in 2015, 2016, 2017, & 2018 (OMG – THAT WAS A BAD YEAR).

Third and fourth quarter 2018 were all kinds of financial horror shows, and I nearly had a heart attack a number of times envisioning my house being foreclosed on by my creditors. BUT … it led us to make some serious decisions that made 2019 and 2020 less painful. We moved into much smaller hoteling space, moved our tech into the Cloud, and set everyone up to work seamlessly from home. Short-term pain for long-term gain. All of which set us up well for the pandemic shit show of 2020. Who knew this working from home thing was going to become the “new normal”?

So we still have to see how 2020 plays out, and Wave 2 is coming, I can feel it. Nevertheless, 2020 has not been that painful for me personally (health issues aside – another blog entirely). As I just said, working from home has been seamless. Spending time at home with hubby is not a trial – we are very good at giving each other space, so when we do choose to spend time together (on the couch, binging Bosch), it’s entirely enjoyable. We are not sick of each other (or at least I’m not sick of him!). I’m an introvert anyways, so social distancing hasn’t been that much of an inconvenience. On occasion, I would kill my mother for a nice steak frites at a French bistro with friends, or an outing to the ballet, or browsing through Chapters and Nordstrom Rack – but by and large these are luxuries I can live without. And The Bay delivers. So does Amazon, damn them.

We did have to cancel a $6K trip to Antigua just as COVID was descending but before there were any travel prohibitions to merit a refund, so that sucked. And we most very likely will not get to Mahone Bay this summer or even this fall. I will miss that view every day.

But for my money, right now, I’m going to put my chips on 2016 as THE YEAR THAT SUCKED THE MOST. Somewhat similar to 2020, from a global perspective, it sucked eggs (but for very different reasons). Might I remind you of a sampling of the horrific headlines from 2016:

  • Brussels bombing killing 32, wounding over 300
  • Brexit vote in UK stuns everyone, after which they google to figure out what leaving the EU actually means
  • Hate-crime Pulse nightclub mass shooting in Orlando, killing 49 people (wounding 53)
  • Bastille Day terrorist attack in France, killing 86 and injuring 458 others
  • James Comey announcing investigations into Hillary’s emails, TWICE, including TWO weeks before the fucking election, which was the final nail in her campaign coffin
  • The revolution in Syria was decidedly put down by brutal government forces in Aleppo
  • North Korea started nuclear testing again
  • Russian interference in US election, leading to …
  • A Trump-like asshole/buffoon elected in the Philippines (Duterte)
  • And let’s not forget in Canada, Fort McMurray fire displaces thousands of people for weeks/months

Then there’s the almost endless list of amazing celebrities who died unexpectedly & far too soon:

  • David Bowie
  • Alan Rickman
  • Garry Shandling
  • Prince
  • Garry Marshall
  • Gene Wilder
  • Leonard Cohen
  • George Michael
  • Debbie Reynolds

I recall dreading opening up the CBC or Toronto Star app that year. What next? What else? Holy shit! He’s dead too?

At the end of 2016, a very good guy and former colleague named Geoff Taber perished in a house fire/explosion, on Christmas Eve, along with his wife and two young sons. I remember hearing right before Christmas dinner, via email from my law partner, that a classmate of her son had perished in a fire. We all need to be thankful, etc. Then I got home and googled the tragedy and found it was Geoff’s son, Geoff’s family. It was unimaginable that this force of nature, this perpetual motion machine, was gone. And his whole family with him. I can’t think of a death that blindsided the legal community as much as his. My former law firm of Osler was devastated. A colleague said, in the immediate aftermath, it was like walking around a disaster zone, everyone hushed and glassy-eyed.

What a horrible end to 2016, quite frankly, for everyone who knew him.

But the cherry on the top of the turd sundae that was 2016 was my professional life. We were 7 years into a 3-partner start-up boutique law firm. Revenues were steady. 2014 was a banner year for $$; we were all killing ourselves with too much work, which perversely makes most lawyers happy.

Moving along hunky dory, my two partners and I decided we needed to have an offsite retreat in late spring 2016, just focus on The Firm, where we wanted it to go. Fair enough. Even though we worked side by side every day in the office, we almost never had any time to talk about anything, other than to triage or in passing. I welcomed a day to focus and be together as partners.

Partner #2 decreed we needed a professional facilitator to keep us on track for the day – we’d set an agenda, work through it, make decisions. Productive day, no tangents, no chatting about family, no joking around. (We were all very friendly, so tangents were 100% probable.) So off I went (not Partner #2, who came up with the idea) to find a facilitator, inquiring of friends and clients, until I procured a nice woman with impeccable references. With a $2500 per diem.

What with sacrificing a day’s billings (x3 partners), and offsite rental, and the facilitator, this was a not inexpensive investment in The Firm. But well worth it, right? To move The Firm forward, spend a day together, brainstorming and bonding and ensuring a shared direction.

I thought the day went well. A gorgeous June Friday, we created a new mission/vision for The Firm, made some decisions about direction, had a nice lunch outside next to a golf course. I drove as we left, dropping Partner #1 off at the subway and driving Partner #2 to her neighbourhood. Smiles, happiness, contentment.

We presented the new mission/vision to The Firm the next week, printed up copies for everyone’s offices. I updated the website. Momentum! Enthusiasm!

Onto Chicago, as hubby would say.

And then ONE WEEK LATER, one week to the day since our approx. $10K daylong retreat, Partner #2 announced that She. Is. Leaving. The. Firm.

AND We. Cannot. Ask. Her. Any. Questions. About. It.

Her. Mind. Is. Made. UP.

Then she hugged us and said, ominously, she hoped this wouldn’t ruin our friendship. That was when I should have known.

Totally blindsided. What the heck was the offsite retreat about, which she instigated? Did I just spend $10K for the unexpected purpose of confirming her niggling idea to leave? That wasn’t really the investment I had planned.

I at first thought, what with her having two very young ones at home (maternity leaves subsidized by The Firm, of course), she was going to take a hiatus. Or maybe do some work, from the side of her desk, from home. But NO, she was Going. To. Open. Her. Own. Practice. Meaning take business away from The Firm. Competing with The Firm. One week after a day long strategic planning session. That. She. Instigated.

Excuse me while I pull the knife from my between my shoulder blades. Ouch.

But … okey-dokey. Deep breath. It’s a partnership. Not indentured servitude. There’s a contract we all signed, and an exit clause we all agreed to. Everyone’s entitled to use it. I suspected her husband, who inherited her relationship with The Firm when he married her, had never been that keen on it. I’m not sure why, given that The Firm had pretty much kept Partner #2 afloat for the first few years – she took home more than she contributed in revenue to The Firm, thanks to Partner #1 and me. But now she was starting to generate some profit, and perhaps the idea was she (and hubby) now didn’t want to share that profit with us.

Whatever. It really doesn’t matter why she wanted to leave. We had to deal with it.

Not being able to discuss the rationale with her was a bit weird. We’d all pretty much discussed everything. Partner #1 frequently said that we were closer to each other, in many ways, than to our spouses. Partnership and running a business, it’s a different kind of marriage. I never called Partners #1 and #2 “friends”. They were never friends. It was something different. I thought, something more. Something that would last longer than 7 years and one off-site retreat.

Reeling, Partner #1 and I confabbed all that weekend, mostly by email, and made some decisions – stay the course, soldier on, let’s figure this out. And let’s get it done – quickly. Don’t drag it out. This could consume our energies and distract us for months if we let it. We told Partner #2 on Monday we wanted her to wrap it up by end of July – we were waiving her 3 months’ notice period under the partnership agreement. If she wanted to move on, let’s all move the fuck on already.

Partner #2 had promised she would prepare an exit plan. That never materialized. Just a draft announcement that expressed OUR huge regret that she had decided to leave The Firm.

And so it started.

I asked her about preparing a financial exit plan – the partnership agreement set out some of it, but we had created a couple of companies on the side. What were her expectations?

Long story short, she just never came up with a financial exit plan. Her plan appeared to be, in short, I’m entitled to my entitlements. You figure it out.

While I was trying to be zen about the fact of her leaving, I was not zen with how she left. Entitled, snivelling, crying, silently aggrieved without communicating her grievances. It turned into such an unnecessary shit show that I dubbed it “Kexit”, named after Britain’s exit from the EU – a shit show playing out at the same time, with pretty much the same results.

Her approach to Kexit was such a marked departure from how we had treated each other every day since the partnership began – transparently, decently, compassionately. It was inexplicable. Remains so.

It didn’t go well, let’s put it that way. It did take up months and months of our emotional health and untold hours of exit negotiations. She even lawyered up, as they used to say on NYPD Blue – escalating what should have been face-to-face amicable negotiations about what was fair to all of us. We never had an interest in screwing her. Just being fair and compliant with protocols that clients and the Law Society would expect.

Partner #1 and I both have The List. The List of The Ways She Screwed Us. We each kept our own. I don’t think we’ve ever compared them. As we negotiated Kexit, we uncovered multiple things she had committed The Firm to financially, that we were then stuck with paying. We had just invested $100K in filming videos we were going to monetize on a pay-per-view subscription platform – many of which she had inserted herself into. Those videos were now useless to us, with her in there.

I added to The List routinely, probably for a year or more after Kexit was over. I don’t rule out the possibility of adding to it in the future.

I never thought I’d go through a divorce. Hubby and I are in it for life. But in 2016 I went through a work divorce that was exceedingly fraught and painful. Unnecessarily so. Fighting over entitlements, passive aggressively, through the asshole lawyer she hired “to help US ALL!”. I can’t imagine going through an actual divorce where kids are involved. I have new empathy for anyone who has been through that.

I feel like I have PTSD. I have a gut reaction (revulsion) to the sight of her name or picture. I blocked her in Fall 2016 on all social media to avoid that happening. I’ve had to encounter her only in minimal ways. A couple years ago I was at a social gathering with her, and I was physically nauseous. I left prematurely to avoid vomiting.

She was a partner. She was never a friend. She is now nothing to me except my own personal brand of ipecac. Her name is in my freezer – my sister-in-law swears this means she will be frozen out of my life. It’s worked pretty well so far. I highly recommend it. I know for a fact her name in in Partner #1’s freezer also.

My mother used to say she marvelled at my temperament. I never got angry, never held a grudge. She suspected that pissed people off more than if I got angry. That’s no longer true. I’m not angry, but I do hold a grudge. I don’t actively wish Partner #2 harm, but if it befalls her, maybe that’s Karma. I’ve seen too little of Karma in my life. I’m overdue.

So for 2020 to top 2016, it will have to take a knife and stab me in the back with it. That could well happen. If it does, I’m sure I’ll be blindsided then too.

Back to the Sarah J. Maas frontlines

It’s all my next-door neighbour Sanaz’s fault. She introduced me to – nay, impelled me to – read Sarah J. Maas’s young adult fantasy trilogy A Court of Thrones and Roses (ACOTAR). This was Spring 2018. I can remember the exact day – we were both on our front sidewalks chipping off ice during an unseasonal ice storm: April 15.

Sanaz cautioned me that the first book takes a bit to get into. Right as usual. But once you are halfway through, it flies, and so do the other two. Happily, by the time I’d inhaled all three, a fourth novella was out, and I sped through that too. So that was about 2,064 pages of YA fantasy digested in about 8-9 weeks.

The novella contains the first chapter of the next in the ACOTAR series, focussed on sister Nesta and Illyrian warrior Cassian. Don’t tease me like this Sarah J! It’s still not fucking out. I’m pretty sure I saw some sort of announcement on her Instagram that it’s scheduled for January 2021, but now that I look back for it, it’s mysteriously missing.

Sanaz then said I had to read Maas’s first YA series – Throne of Glass (TOG). Seven books this time, plus a prequel. She started writing it when she was 16, what? Just as good, even better? Everyone has their own opinion. But I started in, and loved it, but the pace slowed a bit.

I read through the first 4 books through the latter part of 2018, a solid 2,080 pages, and then proceeded to start #5 Empire of Storms, and give up. I was YA’d out, fantasy’d out. No Maas (mas), to quote Roberto Duran. Time out.

In the meantime, I’d started Candy on her own Maas-capade, by giving her TOG Novel #1 for her April 2019 birthday. Being a generally more disciplined and committed individual than me, she finished TOG by end of the year, and impelled me, a la Sanaz, to finish the series. She even gave me (correct that, lent me) her hard cover #6 and #7 that I was missing. At Christmas.

So once again, into the breach. I’m going to do it. I started re-reading the very end of #4 Queen of Shadows last night, because after about a year, I can’t remember what was happening, who’s who, and all that. Starting into Empire of Storms anew today, and I’m determined and slightly daunted to finish the remaining 2,368 pages of the TOG series.

Then onto House of Earth and Blood, which is getting rave reviews and apparently is no longer pure YA (I think that means she uses the word “fuck”, because otherwise ACOTAR in particular was pretty damn adult-y in some places).

Wish me well.

And in Candy’s words, what else do you have to do during a pandemic Sarah? Write that Nesta shit and get it out here.

Nordstrom check-in – not so damn bad, she says with a disappointed sigh

2019’s Spring trend of “chewed-hem” jeans wasn’t the runaway success they might have predicted. Or so I assume, since they are conspicuously absent from the 2020 Spring website.

Remarkably few crazy fugly high-priced jeans on offer:

Brunello Cucinelli Track Pant Jeans, C$1475.

These must be catering to the “soft pants” movement of the 2020 pandemic – how prescient! I really don’t get why you’d pay $1500 for track pant jeans, but I’ve seen far worse on this website.

Ripped acid-dipped jeans by Givenchy, C$1315.00
Marine Serre Moon Print Jeans, C$1350.00 – quel dommage, available in size small only 🙁
U-Gusset jeans (what?), by Yohji Yamamoto, C$726 on sale!

These three are all pretty ugly, and very expensive, IMHO. And they each look remarkably UNflattering, even on a model. But, again, seen much worse.

Marc Jacobs high-waisted jeans, C$790.

Apparently the pandemic has time-travelled us back to the 70s, because super high-waisted jeans are BACK. If you are 19 and skinny and all’s right with the world, these probably look alright on you. (And you could audition to be Daisy Jones in Daisy Jones & The Six, except the TV series is already cast. Listening to this audiobook right now, by the way, and it’s fun – told as an oral history, so lots of characters and conflicting perspectives. Glad I was a young kid in the 70s because it was a sucky sucky decade.)

Nevertheless, for someone who is many decades away from the age of 19, these are a monstrosity. But only $790, so, again, seen waaaay worse Nordstrom. Although there are lots of more affordable high-waisted jeans for the aspiring Daisys of the world.

Crossover skinny jeans, C$555

The asymettrical (aka “crossover”) look continues, which allegedly gives the jeans a “punky” edge, but strikes me as a factory fuck-up.

And I’m kinda psyched, cuz Nordstrom models have tattoos on their ankles! That aren’t photoshopped out! Whoo-hoo. I do love a nicely placed and low-key ankle (or wrist) tattoo – honest, I’ll share my Pinterest board with you. They make these jeans far cooler than they would otherwise be.

All in all, I was hoping to find a lot more to snark about. Nordstrom has failed to disappoint, and that in itself is a letdown. Sigh.

To borrow from Star Wars – there is another! Our own Hudson’s Bay Company may be stepping in to fill the fugly vacuum – slowly, measuredly, but decidedly. The Bay won’t let me copy the image. I guess it’s just too damn precious. So here’s the link:


Scroll down for the view from the back to see the absurdly huge ass and the upside down pockets on the back calves (don’t put your keys in there, girls!). A steal at C$350.00.

When a marriage is a whole world

I started Nina Riggs’ The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying sometime around November 2017. I finished it this past December, over TWO years later. It’s not Nina’s fault it took me so long. I have ADHD or something. And her book was almost too beautiful to read, and too terrifying to finish.

The Bright Hour is a lovely book despite the potentially (but not necessarily) depressing subject matter. Nina Riggs is (spoiler alert, was) a beautiful writer. The chapters are bite-sized snippets of her life post-cancer diagnosis, often just detailing the beauty of simple pleasures in life. Sometimes the unexpected humanity found in the medical system. Sometimes the devastation of losing control of your body and your life.

Nina Riggs

Nina writes wearing many hats – she’s a poet, hence the gorgeous prose; she’s a daughter, taking care of her own mother diagnosed as terminal; she’s a mother struggling with a limited shelf life with two young boys; she’s a wife to her soulmate John; and she’s a family historian, her family being descended from the American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson.

And she’s funny; the book is surprisingly light-hearted in many spots. It’s not oppressively bleak at all. The book starts off with this perfect sentence:

Dying isn’t the end of the world, my mother liked to joke after she was diagnosed as terminal.

The prose is so gorgeous that the entire book is littered with my underlining, attempting to capture so many perfect sentences and passages.

“At Least I’m Here With You”

One particular chapter, snippet, later in the book, hit me in the gut. Nina and John decide to take their kids to Universal Studios in Orlando to see Harry Potter’s World – with her oncologist’s blessing. And, heck, I’d go – butter beer in Hogsmeade, buying a wand from Ollivanders in Diagon Alley – sign me UP.

It’s a vacation that’s more bitter than sweet. First, it’s pretty clear that Nina’s limited shelf-life is kicking in. Second, Nina makes Universal Studios sound pretty fucking horrible – shuffling through endless lineups, battling the crowds, suffering through expensive horrible fast food places, plus managing John’s anxiety. There’s a 110 minute line-up for the Minions ride, even with their super expensive Express Passes! On second thought, I can live without the fake wand from fake Hogsmeade.

And they are staying at the Portofino Bay Hotel. Of their fake Italian resort hotel – she says:

It’s hard to keep track of the different levels of artifice here, and in some ways it reminds me of my own body. It looks intact – lovely, even, on the outside – but you can sense that on the inside something is not right.

The fake hotel, however, has a couple plusses: a pool & alcoholic beverages for the adults. So they spend a crowd-free afternoon at the pool of the fake hotel in horrible Universal Studios, making the best out of a bittersweet shit sandwich. As they do, Nina reaches out and says to John, sitting beside her:

At least I’m here with you.

This is an inside joke of theirs, from a children’s book they’ve read to the kids a million times. The line comes from the mother in the book, said to her child who hates shopping at a Costco-esque shopping hell. “I think shopping’s boring too”, says Little Llama’s mama when the baby llama was having a meltdown …. “But at least I’m here with you.”

She and John have said this little one-liner to each other hundreds of times – “words of solidarity … on the battlefields of parenting.” They are together in this hellhole; at least they have each other.

And so she goes on to ask herself:

What happens to little scraps like this, when there is only one person left to get the allusion? …

What is the use of an inside joke with the dead?

Hubby and I have so many inside jokes like that, innumerable, after 28 (next weekend) years of marriage. Such a rich mythology of stuffed bunnies and bears and hippos and turtles, all with their own backstory and motivations, so elaborate we’re starting to forget them ourselves. There’s the movie lines we throw out at the same time – Midnight Run, Clueless, Grosse Pointe Blank, Local Hero. Sometimes it’s non-verbal, like a particularly poignant hand gesture we adore from Searching for Bobby Fisher. Graeme swears we’ve done the Vulcan mind meld.

Sometimes we lapse into this marital shorthand around other people, and it’s a bit embarrassing and rude – exclusionary, not on purpose. We have our own language, our own dialect. We are in our own world, our cocoon, our hutch – and that’s what Graeme promised me when we first talked about getting married. Marriage is a sanctuary against the outside world; a hutch that shelters the two. That’s what Graeme spoke so movingly and eloquently about at his brother’s 25th anniversary vow renewal. (His speech made the women in the audience cry, including me.)

The Cocoon Shatters

And that was the punch to the gut to me. When one of you dies, that whole cocoon is shattered. That insular world of two, full of coded deep understanding, is rendered meaningless. What’s the use of a language that only one person speaks?

When your marriage creates a whole world, that whole world dies with either one of you. And I dread that day. Is that why I’m obsessed with reading books about death, dying, and especially dead spouses? To prepare for the incomprehensible?

Greta Gerwig’s Little Women

We watched the new version of Little Women on the weekend. I can’t imagine how daunting it must be to take on remaking that movie, with so many beloved versions. My beloved version was made by Gillian Armstrong in 1994, with Winona Ryder as Jo and Christian Bale as Laurie. Basically, perfection, and a mandatory Christmas watch every year.

Disconcerting on Many Levels

I found it somewhat disconcerting to watch Saoirse Ronan as Jo and Timothee Chalamet as Laurie. I love Saorise, especially from Brooklyn and On Chesil Beach, both quiet slices of magic. She’s brilliant, and I have no issue with her as Jo, except that she clearly isn’t Winona Ryder and she’s not in Gillian Armstrong’s movie. Timothee Chalamet is new to me, and quite frankly he didn’t work for me, at all. Too scrawny, too delicate – nowhere near a sufficient match for Jo in the early scenes. Nowhere near as dreamy as Christian Bale in the later scenes when he comes courting for Amy. A bit too lightweight.

Also distracting me was the fact that I realized Laura Dern, as Marmee, looks identical to my friend Brenda. I’ve seen Laura Dern in a million things, including Big Little Lies seasons 1 and 2 recently, and never noticed that she and B. were separated at birth. Clearly were. (Update: B. doesn’t see it. But I’m totally right.)

And a further distraction was the actress who played Beth. (Where have we seen that actress before? Oh, I know, Dan in Real Life, I told myself – a really underrated movie!) I was convinced it was Alison Pill (also from The Newsroom), and it wasn’t!! Turns out she’s an Australian actress I’ve never heard of.

Alison Pill
Eliza Scanlen

Are these not the same woman?

Even after I IMDB’d who was playing Beth during the movie, I was still convinced Alison Pill was playing Beth – that’s who I saw on the screen. If Pill showed up at the Golden Globes to accept an award for playing Beth, I wouldn’t have batted an eyelash.

Despite being very distracted by these casting issues, I tried to focus on the positive qualities of this updated version. Which I like more in theory than in reality, but let’s take an inventory.

What’s Good about It?

Feminism. The 2019 version is very feminist, and I ideologically have no problem with that, being, well, a feminist myself.

Of course Ryder’s Jo is a feminist too – she wants to make her way as an author. But this version presents women’s options as much bleaker – Aunt March nearly scares Amy to death when she tells her the fate of her entire family rests at her feet. She must marry well. She has no other choice. You kinda get why Amy is so fixated on marrying moneybags Freddie Vaughan for much of her early adult life.

Nuance. The characters of Amy and Meg, in particular, are much more nuanced than in the 1994 version. Amy is not just a spoiled, money-grubbing, vain brat – she’s talented and independent and thoughtful. Worthy of Laurie’s love in a way she’s not in the 1994 version. I am convinced Laurie married the 1994 Amy because he wanted to be part of the March family. I’m convinced he married Greta’s Amy because he was in love, as he tells Jo he is.

Meg is virtually a saint in Gillian Armstrong’s movie, misstepping only once at Sally Moffat’s debutante ball, having a tipple and showing some decolletage. Otherwise, perfection to a nauseating degree. Emma Watson’s Meg is much less saintly, splurging on silk fabric even after she’s married to John Brooks and poor as dirt, just to show Sally she can (when she can’t). She is much more fallible and human. (Having said that, Emma Watson was a complete milquetoast and groupie in that role. Didn’t like Meg at all.)

Even Marmee is far more nuanced – much more vulnerable and much less saintly. She cries (but doesn’t let her daughters see), she seems a bit cross with her injured husband, and then she gets snippy at her husband jokingly suggesting he would go to California with Prof. Baer. Theoretically, I should like her character a lot more in this film. But there’s something very comforting about Susan Sarandon’s unflinching and unwavering Marmee. No tears for her. Sainthood all around.

I haven’t read Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women since I was about 11, so I can’t say which version of the characters is closest to the book.

Onto my Gripes.

What’s with the timeline? I found the non-linear timeline pretty darn annoying. Wait … Meg’s married with kids now? What time period is it? I’m confused.

It was also confusing that Amy is played by the same (brilliant) actress throughout (across a span of, what, at least 10 years?), and I found it hard to tell whether she was a girl or a woman in some scenes. Which was a bit creepy. The Kirsten Dunst/Samantha Mathis girl/woman split in 1994 fixed that problem.

I suppose the narrative served the main purpose of putting Jo’s writing and her book Little Women front and centre, a character in its own right. The movie culminates in the publication of her book, rather than her pairing with Prof. Baer. That’s her accomplishment, that’s her true worth.

Still, it was distracting and precious and not entirely necessary.

Greta is NOT a hopeless romantic. It was a neat little feminist trope to have Jo’s editor, Mr. Dashwood, convince the author to pair up “Jo” the character with Prof. Baer at the end of her book, when Jo the author was determined that she would not marry. The romantic declaration of love between Frederich and Jo at the Concord train station is but a bit of literary fiction to appeal to Mr. Dashwood’s romantic and silly daughters.

Again, ideologically, I get it.

But the hopeless romantic in me wasn’t keen on that denouement. I also wasn’t sure why this Frederich was French and not German. And why he wasn’t Gabriel Byrne, the perfect Prof. Baer. (When he takes Winona Ryder to watch the opera from behind the stage, sigh.)

See, isn’t this hopelessly romantic and so much better?

As an aside, I am a Hopeless Romantic. I publicly declared myself as such at my second attendance at the off-Broadway show In and Of Itself. (Every theatre-goer has to select a card with a word or two that best describes them, from a display of about 500 cards? Play #1 was Problem Solver – with my law partner MJ. Play #2 was Hopeless Romantic with hubby. Clearly my choices were influenced by my companion at the play.)

Greta can’t change Jo’s arc just like that. Why can’t Jo be a successful author AND fall in love? What does Greta have against Jo having it ALL? Why is it better and more purely feminist that she end up alone? Why are love and marriage so easily dismissed ?

This is such a marked deviation from the author’s story – and Jo’s well-known history – that I do take exception to it.

All in all, I’d give it a B-.

We’ll always have Paris …

Hubby and I were watching The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel, and I got all nostalgic when Rose leaves for Paris. All the cafes and bistros, and visiting the Rodin Museum. Esp. the Rodin Museum, my favourite part of Paris save for the food.

Except the tragic last night when we had Italian food in Paris. Not advised.

Rodin Museum w/ Paula, early May 2006