Laundry day

We writers tend to see stories everywhere, but I’m guessing anyone could build a tale with the items I just pulled from my son’s pockets.

* Three candy wrappers
* One slingshot
* One rock
* One wad of bloody tissues

Why do I even bother asking my kids what they’ve done with their days? I should check their pockets first.

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The crazy ride

Min dropped our recently-turned-12 daughter at the gates of the PNE on Friday and drove away. That seems crazy to me. How is she old enough to go on a roller coaster by herself? It was a youth group event, from 7 until midnight, but we picked her up at 9:30. She was so thrilled we’d let her go, she didn’t complain about the early pick-up.

Though we did have this conversation:

Me: What time are your friends staying ’til?

Her: Eleven.

Me: Eleven!!

Her: Their mom’s at a play until 10:30, so she couldn’t pick them up until 11 anyway.

Me: Next year you can stay until 9:35.

All this independence is a scary thing (for me), but I love this age. The kids are exploring so much on their own, Min and I have shifted away from being activity supervisors and towards something more like emergency crash-pad operators, or safe-house supervisors.

And so far, they still seem to like us. So far…

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Quiet space

I spent last weekend on Mayne Island, as part of a CWILL BC writers retreat hosted by Pam Withers.

I had a lovely bed and breakfast room overlooking the bay, and who could not write, surrounded by scenes like this?


I finished a big revision while I was there, but as the wise Ellen Schwartz said, “it’s a writers retreat, not a writing retreat.” That meant long walks, reading, and wildlife-watching were all allowable activities. We even had a chance to hear excerpts of others’ works in progress. (And I now have 11 new books I’m looking forward to reading.)

Maggie de Vries led a great session about point of view, and how specificity contributes to the immersion of the reader. You know when you read passages, in your own books or those of others, and there are things that just seem wrong? Now I know why.


This is Jenny Watson, Ellen Schwartz, Stacey Matson, and me, walking in the rain with the talented Karen Hibbard (whose photo I’ve blatantly stolen.)

It was a wonderful getaway, and timed perfectly. School ends next week, so there won’t be much writing time in my immediate future!

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In which I learn that I’ll be useless in the apocalypse

The whole family went to the Vancouver Mini Maker Faire on Sunday. It was incredible. There were robot-builders and drone-flyers, quilters and wool-spinners, rocket-ship launchers and jewelry crafters. There were people who made things in forges, and people who made things from moulted parrot feathers.

If zombies take over the Earth, these are the people you’ll want to know. (Okay, maybe not the parrot people.)

This is me with James McCann, who was manning the Richmond Public Library booth and creating the Eiffel Tower on a 3D printer (as one does).


Coincidentally, James has his own zombie apocalypse novel coming out in a couple weeks. Which I’m going to read for survival tips, as I’ve now confirmed that I have no useful skills once the power grid goes.

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Packing trauma

My daughter and 80 other grade 6/7s just pulled away on a school bus, headed for three days at outdoors camp. She was so excited this morning, she didn’t even complain when I woke her up at 7 a.m.

She DID complain as we packed her bags last night, and I vetoed the pink jean shorts and the flowered tank top and added a toque and soccer pants (which are actually long johns but can only be called soccer pants in my daughter’s presence).

I showed her the weather forecast (thunderstorms) and gave her the “no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear” line, but they had little impact.

Eventually, I left the room to count to ten and hiss at Min: “She doesn’t care about being warm! She only cares about looking cute!”

Very calmly, he said: “You should call your dad right now and apologize for when you were 12.”

Dad (since today’s your birthday and all), I hereby apologize.

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Graphic design flashbacks

My kids’ elementary school traditionally has a yearbook, and, in a moment of insanity, I volunteered to do this year’s layout.

I used to work as a professional graphic designer. TWELVE years ago.

Since then, the software has changed along with everything else. I watched quite a few YouTube tutorials along the way, creating this book, and I sent a couple confused emails to graphic designer friends. But somehow, the project has reached its final stages.

[Cue theme music from Jaws.]

Printing. This morning, I take the files to the printer and then hope, hope, hope that (a) they don’t say, “sorry, you’ll have to reformat the entire project,” (b) the colours don’t turn even more psychedelic than I planned and (c) I don’t have a stroke while waiting to see the proofs.

I swear, this is much more stressful than my actual work.

Cross your fingers for me!

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Mailbox goodies

These arrived yesterday:


They’re Korean editions of The Lowdown on Denim and I can’t stop flipping through the pages. It’s so fun/strange to see a book which I wrote (apparently), but can’t read.


I love these sorts of mailbox surprises. I often envy those highly organized writers who track their hours worked, or their royalty due dates, or their rate per word. I know I should probably try to become more like them.

On the other hand, there’s great joy in opening the mailbox and finding an unexpected cheque, or a forgotten proof, or, say, a Korean book about blue jeans.

And why ruin a good surprise for the sake of a little organization?

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Hometown weekend

The kids and I headed to Creston on the long weekend for the 75th annual Blossom Festival. Along with getting thoroughly spoiled by my parents, we went to the parade, tried some carnival games, and explored the farmer’s market. We also went for a tour of Spectrum Farms and the stables of the Therapeutic Riding Association. That stop was my personal favourite, because who was doing tours but… Luanne Armstrong.

Fortunately for me, I was with my librarian aunt and my book-obsessed daughter. My aunt introduced us all and my daughter immediately said, “You’re Luanne Armstrong? I read I’ll Be Home Soon and I voted for you in the Chocolate Lily awards!”


It turns out I’ll be Home Soon won the Chocolate Lily (which my daughter now thinks was entirely due to her vote), and the four of us received the grand tour of the riding stables and met all eight horses.

When not hobnobbing with literary stars, we walked trails, played in parks, barbecued hamburgers (well, actually, we ate the hamburgers that grandpa barbecued), met old friends and a new baby, read books, attempted fishing in three-foot waves (don’t tell Min), spotted bears along the highway, picked lettuce from the garden, searched for snakes, and met a donkey.

What more could you ask from a Blossom Festival?

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Cooking is dangerous

I was making wontons a couple nights ago. They tend to spit when I flip them, so I was holding up a splatter screen between me and the frying pan. But somehow, hot oil popped out of the pan, over the screen, and onto my eyelid.

The science writer in me thought, “Wow, it’s amazing that my eye can see airborne oil and signal my brain quickly enough that I fry my eyelid instead of my eye.”

The science writer in me is not the vain type. The vain side of me was looking in the mirror the next morning at my blistered left eyelid and thinking about the UBC presentation I’m giving tonight.

I may scrap my intended script. I may speak about cyclops myths instead. And maybe about pirates.

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Art + school = why do we even have to talk about this?

I am about to rant, so if you’re curled up somewhere with a cup of tea and you’d like to preserve your serenity, you may want to skip this post and have a look at these book recommendations.

Still here? Well, then…

I received this letter from the cash-strapped Vancouver School Board a couple weeks ago, and I’ve been stewing about it ever since.

Dear Parent or Guardian of Students in Grade 4, 5, and 6:

The Vancouver School Board is exploring the possibility of offering a district-wide User-Pay Elementary Band or Strings Program beginning in September 2016. This program would be for interested students in the upper intermediate grades (Strings: Grades 5-7, Band: Grades 6-7) whose families are willing to pay for this complementary experience.

The intent would be to provide these programs in schools where we have a minimum number of students (20) who have indicated an interest in participating. If the minimum cannot be achieved at a particular site, then unfortunately, the program cannot be offered at that school. The fee to participate in the program for next year will likely be between $400 and $500 per year per student.

It goes on. But let’s stop for a moment and consider the $400 to $500 per student. It seems like a ridiculous amount of money. And yet, it’s less (much less) than what Min and I pay each year to fund Julia’s voice and piano lessons and Matthew’s guitar lessons. Outside of school. Because, unlike my elementary school which had a dedicated music teacher and a band program and a guitar program and school musicals, our kids’ elementary school has none of these things.

So, should we cough up the cash for some strings lessons?

NO! No, no, no, no, no.

Because art in school is not just for kids whose parents can afford it. Is this really something that needs to be said? At the moment, the PACs in B.C. — the parents — pay for the library books, the instruments, and tons of the art supplies used in elementary schools. The school boards don’t fund these things, because the province doesn’t give them the money to fund these things. WHICH IS RIDICULOUS!

How are we going to raise creative, resourceful kids without books and instruments and art supplies? Even LNG engineers are one day going to have to creatively solve problems, and they’re not going to learn to do this by completing math workbooks. (Though incidentally, the parents pay for the math workbooks at my kids’ elementary school.)

Honestly, I think I’m going to settle myself on the sidewalk in front of the VSB office and protest by pulling all the hairs from my head one by one. I think that would be less painful then trying to explain WHY WE NEED BOOKS AND INSTRUMENTS FOR ALL KIDS IN ALL SCHOOLS!

Done. Whew. You can check out those reading recommendations now.

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