Horn tootin’

I am so thrilled to have DNA Detective included in the Ontario Library Association’s Best Bets list for 2015. The committee reviews all the books written or illustrated by Canadians or people living in Canada and chooses 10 from each category: Picture Books, Junior Fiction, Junior Non-Fiction, Young Adult Fiction, and Young Adult Non-Fiction.

I’m in some wonderful company on the Junior Non-Fiction list. The other books include Child Soldier by Michel Chikwanine and Jessica Dee Humphreys, and Power Up! by Shaker N. Paleja.

In other news, I am doing a Twitter chat with Publishers Weekly tomorrow at noon Vancouver time. In preparation for the event, PW is sponsoring a DNA Detective giveaway. You can enter here.

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A parent’s journey through public education

Kindergarten:
Isn’t this historic building lovely? And the teacher is so sweet. Of course I’ll drive for those field trips. Reading volunteer needed? Sign me up. And I’ll bake for the Halloween Howl and the Christmas Market and the Spring Fling and the Teacher Appreciation Lunch and the Centennial Tea and the International Lunch and the Pancake Breakfast and the Earth Savers Bake Sale. I would LOVE to volunteer for art on Fridays. Oh, here is my hand-knit afghan for the silent auction fundraiser, and do you need a lunch room supervisor on Monday? Because those darlings are so darned-tooting cute when they’re throwing orange slices at me.

Grade Three:
Why did no one tell me about the asbestos? These crazy volunteer hours and all this fundraising… it’s unsustainable. We need to change the system. Please sign me up for the Seismic Committee and the PAC executive. School board meeting on Tuesday? Let’s meet for a drink beforehand, and we’ll call it a date. Oooh… and how about a rally? Because that could be fun AND effective! After that, we’ll launch our petition, our letter-writing campaign, and our crowdfunding. Don’t you just love that Margaret Mead quote?

Grade Seven:
Here’s a buck for tomorrow’s bake sale, kiddo. Now pass your mom her beer.

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Readings and lights

I visited Graham Bruce Elementary School in East Van yesterday, as part of a Books for Me! literacy program. The students had been studying DNA, so I told stories from DNA Detective, but I’m pretty sure a few of those kids knew more than me. When I paused for questions, someone asked about the effects of gamma radiation. And I said something super-smart, like, “uh…”

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They were a great group. Many thanks to Books for Me! and librarian Dee Mochrie for setting up the event. (You can always tell when a school has a great teacher-librarian at the helm!)

Just before the presentation, I scooted down the street to see a certain plaque at Sunrise Park. This week, the Vancouver Public Library and CWILL BC launched a program called Reading Lights. They’ve posted images from B.C. children’s books on street lights all over the city.

Just as I drove up to see the image from Deborah Hodge‘s Watch Me Grow!, the sun came out.

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Here’s her lovely plaque:

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It’s so fun to see these little bits of literature become part of the city landscape. You can check for plaques in your own neighbourhood here.

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Fry, fry again

Item One

I survived Brownies. It was exactly as overwhelming as the last time I was there, at age seven. But, they gave me a badge.

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Item Two

I’ve been reading this zero-waste blog lately and feeling even more guilty than usual about our consumption levels. So when my sister sent me a Facebook post about freezing vegetable scraps for a few weeks, then dumping the mix into a slow cooker and creating vegetable stock, I thought I’d give it a try. My mom said, “Oh, that reminds me of being a kid. There was always a pot of soup on the back of the stove and you could throw almost anything in.”

All very idyllic. In theory.

This is what my vegetable broth tasted like:

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It tasted like compost soup. Because… wait… it was compost soup.

Item Three

One of my proposals was rejected yesterday. When I told my daughter, she said, “If at first you don’t like your food, fry, fry again.”

Which was strangely helpful.

May your days be Brownie, compost-soup, and rejection free. I’m off to do more frying…

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Twit-twit toowoo

I’m speaking to a Brownie troop this week. I’m not sure how this happened. One minute, I was volunteering at my kids’ pancake breakfast and chatting to another mom. The next minute, I was agreeing to be a guest speaker at a January meeting.

Here’s the problem: I am a failed Brownie. I had desperately wanted to be a Brownie so I could wear that brown dress and sash to school every Tuesday, with my jeans rolled up underneath. But when I actually joined, my leaders (owls? why are they owls?) kept yammering on about getting these badges, without specifically explaining what I had to do to get these badges, or why I would want to.

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After three weeks, I couldn’t take it any longer. I quit. In the car after that final meeting, I got a big lecture from my mom about not quitting activities. But I must have won, because I never went back.

I’m considering telling this week’s Brownie troop that they should focus on careers other than writing. Any kid willing to follow that many directions and jump through that many hoops to earn useless badges is too comfortable with authority to become a writer.

Min tells me this would be an inappropriate presentation. But he quit his Scout troop after three meetings, too, so who is he to talk?

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Saving the bees/schools/world

I’ve just finished reading The Summer We Saved the Bees, Robin Stevenson’s fun and quirky novel about an eco-extreme mom who sews costumes for her children and sets off across the country to do performance art, save the bees, and save the world. The book is narrated by the tween son, Wolf, who — though dedicated to the continued pollination of plants — would rather not appear in public dressed as an insect.

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I loved the book, mostly because with just a small increase in my anxiety level, and a tiny decrease in my inhibitions, I could totally be that mom. I am one mild brain injury away from buying a camper van and setting off for the legislature to do performance art about seismically upgrading our schools. (None of which have had upgrades funded in the last six months, incidentally, because the province and the VSB are fighting again.)

Wouldn’t it be effective if we took all the kids at risk of being crushed by their schools and lined them up like dead bodies on the legislature lawn?

But… um… yes. I do realize the issues with that, and don’t really want to petrify and/or mortify my children, and therefore will not be enlisting them as performance artists anytime soon.

But here’s to all the moms who desperately want to save the bees/schools/world in any way possible.

The book’s a fantastic read, even if you’re not as neurotic as I am.

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Neighbourhood watch

I’m baking cookies for the neighbours.

Earlier this week, Min was bravely coaching soccer in the pouring rain. Two parents failed to show up to collect their sons, so he stood in the rain a little longer than usual. Meanwhile, our house alarm had gone off. We have a security company that’s supposed to show up within five minutes, but it seems they were a little slow on this particular evening and our neighbours from both sides turned up to check the doors and windows and scout the backyard.

And where was I during all this chaos?

In a coffee shop, enjoying my book.

See, I was in charge of driving my daughter and her friend to soccer that night, but I don’t actually know how to play soccer, and it was raining, and the coffee shop down the street seemed so quiet and inviting…

I am not very helpful in a crisis. But I do make good cookies, and hopefully they will make up for everything.

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The reading tally

I was SO CLOSE to my 75-book goal for last year. I tried a final sprint to the finish line, but then the kids were off school and snowshoeing called and… 73.

It’s really all Naomi Klein‘s fault. (Though she was worth it.)

I read 12 non-fiction books. The ones with the biggest impact were This Changes Everything and Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic. I read the two at the same time, and it was a nice balance. That is to say, Big Magic kept me from jumping off a cliff while I struggled through This Changes Everything.

Other non-fiction books I loved: Glenn Greenwald’s No Place to Hide, about Edward Snowden; Caroline Moorehead’s Village of Secrets, about a tiny region in France that sheltered Jewish refugees during World War II; and Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers, about a community in the slums of Mumbai. All amazing books, well worth any reading-goal delays.

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In the world of adult fiction (20 books), I loved Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See. If you haven’t read it, you should get a copy immediately.

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The rest of my books were middle-grade and young adult fiction (41). And I have so many favourites in that category, it’s hard to choose. Andrew Smith’s Grasshopper Jungle, definitely, because of its wonderful mash-up of realistic romance and inventive sci-fi. Also Jonathan Auxier’s The Night Gardener (deliciously creepy) and Rebecca Stead’s Goodbye Stranger (contemporary perfection). For the younger set, I choose Jordan Stratford’s The Case of the Missing Moonstone, which made me wish I lived in London in the early 1800s. In a house with a maid, a butler, and a hot-air balloon.

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I’ve been reading up a storm these last few weeks. My tracking website predicts I’ll hit 123 books this year. But let’s keep our expectations realisttic and say 74, shall we? If you have recommendations for me, leave me a comment.

My reading friends, may every rainy day in 2016 find you curled on a window seat with a cup of tea and the perfect book.

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I ate bugs

I love popcorn. Like, really, really love popcorn. Alex, one of my roommates in university, has disliked the smell ever since she lived with me, because she breathed in too many popcorn fumes.

When left to my own devices, I eat it for dinner.

So, when the kids were tucked into bed last week and Min was out seeing a movie with friends, I made a big bowl of popcorn and settled down to watch trash TV. When I got to the bottom of the bowl, I started looking for those crunchy, half-popped kernels. And that’s when I noticed a small black spec.

When I turned on the light, I could see another black spec. With legs.

I ran into the kitchen and emptied the air popper. No specs. Then I emptied the bag. SPECS! And let’s be honest, they were not specs, they were BUGS.

Weevils. (Because of course I googled them immediately to make sure I wasn’t going to die.) Weevils apparently love popcorn just as much as I do. And they can have it. Because I don’t think I’m ever, ever eating it again.

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Peer pressure

We went downtown over the holidays for a two-day staycation at a nice hotel. I used an obscene number of towels, which I then tossed indiscriminately on the floor for other people to pick up. I was feeling guilty by day two, and this made me think:

a. if towel overuse is all I have to feel guilty about, I’m leading a very dull life; and,

b. friends flew to Mexico over the holidays. I could cause the laundering of a LOT of towels before equalling the climate/social cost of that trip.

Then I felt petty about these justifications. Until I heard a CBC interview about the Paris climate-change agreement. You know what methods the international community has chosen to ensure that countries meet their emissions goals?

Comparison and shaming.

In a nutshell: “My towel use is less damaging than your flight, so there.”

We are staking the entire future of humanity on peer pressure.

Also, I am back at home, maid-less and tan-less, working diligently. In case you want to compare.

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