Ciao, bella!

Photo by Violence.

I’m just back from three weeks in Italy with the family. We started in Rome, where Violence, on the taxi ride from the airport, shouted, “Wait… Rome has RUINS!?” as if we’d been hiding this from him. (Thank you, Rick Riordan, for making ruins interesting to twelve-year-olds.)

From Rome, we went to Siena, then Venice, and finally to Lake Garda.

Travelling reminds me that even when the surroundings are different — shopkeepers are speaking another language and I can’t figure out the street signs and I may have just eaten a mushroom or it could have been pork and it’s rather disconcerting not to know which — people are in many ways the same.

When two little boys are poking at one another in the restaurant, and their mother raises her eyebrows, I know exactly what she’s thinking. When they keep going, and she scolds them in Italian, I know exactly what she’s saying. Because people are people are people.

This particular people is a little jet lagged at the moment, but slowly easing back into the writing routine!

I hope your own summers have been fabulous so far!

School days

My son goes to an elementary school that’s more than a hundred years old. There was an open house this week, and I was helping at a table of memorabilia. We had Parent-Teacher Association notes from 1916, class photos from the 1940s, and — most popular with our visitors — a principal’s record of punishments, displayed alongside the strap.

Visitors found names in the punishment book of someone who’d gone to prison, someone who’d become head of maintenance at the Vancouver School Board (in the book for “repeated misbehaviour”), and a lot of little boys who couldn’t sit still. Some seniors remembered very clearly what it felt like to get the strap!

Here are a few other scenes my fellow volunteers and I witnessed…

“Johnny”

One man, dressed in a suit and tie, came along and looked at the punishment book. “I’m on this page four times, and I was only nine,” he said.

A few minutes later, a group of three men looked at the same page. “There’s Johnny,” one of them said. “Most likely to become a criminal.”

The suit-and-tie man wandered back over. The group of three looked up.

“JOHNNY!” they said.

Eleanor and Daphne

Eleanor was signing in at the guest book when she noticed the name above hers.

“I know Daphne,” she said. “We were in school at the same time. Is she still here?”

The volunteer looked around the room and spotted Daphne.

“Daphne!” the first woman called. “It’s Eleanor!”

And they had their own mini-reunion in front of the guest book.

The Strap

A older woman wandered by and glanced at the principal’s punishment records.

“Are you in there?” we asked.

“No, not me,” she said.

A few minutes later, she was back. This time, she was with a middle-aged woman who was scanning the pages carefully.

“This is my daughter,” the older woman said. “She refuses to believe me.”

Off to Ontario

I’m heading to Ontario in May, as part of the annual TD Canadian Children’s Book Week tour. Each year, the Canadian Children’s Book Centre chooses thirty authors, illustrators, and storytellers and sends them to a province outside their own for a tour of schools and libraries.

This year, I’m one of the thirty!

I fly into Ottawa on May 5th, then spend a week winding my way toward Toronto, via Nepean, Sharbot Lake, Tweed, Marmora, Dunsford, and Buckhorn.

I have to admit, my grasp of Ontario geography is a little fuzzy. Last time I was there, I had to use Google Maps to figure out which Great Lake I was standing beside. But my world view’s going to be bigger and better by May 11th.

A big thank you to TD Canadian Children’s Book Week for the opportunity. And Ontario readers, I can’t wait to meet you!

Plot twist… or not

I went with my son to see Bumblebee over the holidays. As we waited for the movie to start, he said: “Here’s what’s going to happen. It’s going to be a lot like Pete’s Dragon. First, a kid will meet a scary monster. The kid and the monster will become friends. Then other people will find them, and the new people will be scared of the monster. The kid and the monster will have to fight to survive.”

“If you know what’s going to happen, why are we here watching the movie?”

“Because it’s going to be awesome.”

For the record, I did not think it was particularly awesome. But my son did. Even though it played out EXACTLY as he predicted.

Maybe I should adopt this plot for all future books?

The happy mistake

In my defence, I had a cold, I’d just gone skiing for the first time in 25 years (and survived), and I was tired.

I was baking a pineapple upside-down cake for our New Year’s Eve dinner. I’d already melted the butter in the pan and sprinkled on the brown sugar, the coconut, and the pineapple. I’d mixed the dry ingredients in one bowl and the wet in another. I poured the batter over the pineapple toppings, put the pan in the over, turned around…

… and found the bowl of dry ingredients sitting on the counter.

It’s true that I’m famous for forgetting ingredients. I often serve a curry, then look in the fridge later to find the cilantro garnish sitting on a shelf. Or I open the oven in the morning to find the dinner rolls that were supposed to be served the night before.

But forgetting to mix the dry ingredients into a cake batter… this was a new low.

I removed the pan from the oven and tried to scape the wet batter off the pineapple, which of course worked NOT AT ALL. So I ended up pouring everything — toppings, pineapple pieces, wet, dry — into a bowl and mixing the whole darned thing together.

And it was delicious. No one had any idea I’d planned an upside-down cake. My daughter asked if the cake had been difficult to make, and if we could eat it again soon. (It’s possible this question prompted snorts from my husband, who had joined me in the kitchen to witness the batter-scraping fiasco.)

Let’s hope 2019 continues as it’s begun… with mistakes that turn into delicious new creations.

Happy new year, everyone!

It’s always good to have goals…

In grade nine or ten, in a class called Consumer Education, we all took a computerized aptitude test. About half of us, including me, were told we should pursue careers in air traffic control.

I’m terrible in crisis situations, so you should all be happy I didn’t take that computer’s advice.

And surely those programs must have improved by now.

Right?

Well, my 14-year-old daughter, known on this site as Silence, took her own computer aptitude test in health class yesterday. My tiny, book-loving daughter who most recently dreams of becoming a paediatrician. And what did the computer recommend?

A career in professional hunting and trapping.

Happy hunting, Silence.

Whirlwinds

I spent last weekend with approximately a billion lovely Edmonton relatives, including my 94-year-old grandma. I’ve been home for just long enough to do laundry and see Rachelle Delaney at the Vancouver Writers Festival, and now I’m off to the Surrey International Writers Conference.

It’s going to be a whirlwind. I teach a workshop on conflict and one on voice in children’s books, I speak on a children’s book panel, I meet individually with writers, and I try to remain socially appropriate for an entire weekend. (Possible? Probably not.)

I spoke at this same conference about five years ago, and it was fabulous. They do an amazing job of creating a welcoming, inclusive, exciting atmosphere, even when hundreds of us are introverts.

Plus: hotel room by myself for three days! (Not to imply that I didn’t love sharing those adjoining rooms with my sister and our four children over the Edmonton weekend, of course. But “room of one’s own” and all…)

This weekend’s writing conference is sold out, but if you feel inspired, there’s a cruise. Just saying.

After the conference, I’m home in time to create a haunted house at my son’s school, because somehow I’ve been put in charge of that. (Occupational hazard.)

Hope your own October weeks are fun, productive, and pumpkin-ish.

The whole existential thing

  1. A few weeks ago, my 14-year-old daughter said, “my generation is the most depressed one, because all the other generations until now have at least had hope.” Of course I reassured her that there was still hope for the world. “When humanity gets its act in order, things can change quickly,” I told her.
  2. I read yesterday’s UN warning that we have twelve years to reverse climate change or face catastrophe, and that’s really quick. It doesn’t seem as if government leaders can change their socks that quickly, let alone change humanity.
  3. Last night, we watched an episode of The Good Place. I won’t spoil the show here in case you haven’t watched it (you really should), but let’s just say an immortal being was asked to confront the reality of death, after which he had an existential crisis and curled up in a catatonic state. He had to find a way to live without ignoring reality, but without focussing on it exclusively. It’s hard not to curl up in a catatonic state when reading about climate change.
  4. In a couple weeks I’m speaking on a children’s literature panel at the Surrey International Writer’s Conference, and one of the questions on my preparation list is: “What’s the difference between middle-grade and young-adult fiction?” In middle-grade fiction, we’re still sheltering readers from some of the atrocities of the world. When you reach high school, though, you’re confronted with the whole stinking mess — in fiction and in reality.

THE GOOD PLACE — “What We Owe To Each Other” Episode 105 — Pictured: (l-r) Kristen Bell as Eleanor, Ted Danson as Michael — (Photo by: Justin Lubin/NBC)

We’d better get our act in order within the next decade, so I won’t have lied to my daughter about hope. And I find a spot of brightness in this quote from former NASA scientist James Hansen: “1.5C gives young people and the next generation a fighting chance of getting back to the Holocene or close to it.”

I find a bright spot, too, in the sight of my daughter curled up this morning with an emotionally difficult book (Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree, by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani and Viviana Mazza), still brushing her teeth and eager to face the day. James Hansen said 1.5°C gives young people a “fighting change” and that’s all they’ll need, really. They’re pretty amazing.

(Meanwhile, my son is practicing the accent of the Swedish chef, because at 11 he hasn’t had to face any existential crises yet.)

As I re-read what I’ve written here, I realize the key words are both “hope” and “fighting.” They’re sort of mutually dependant, aren’t they?

Breakfast-table Beckett

I went with a friend on Saturday to see a collection of Samuel Beckett plays. I hadn’t read any Beckett since university, and I remembered only that he was unintelligible.

He remains unintelligible.

The first play featured a woman walking nine steps up a board, then nine steps down a board, stopping occasionally to say a few words, or hear a few words from offstage. My friend and I decided she was trapped in her own mind? Maybe?

In the second play, there was a boat and a moon. The women in the boat did some snoring, awoke for a nonsensical conversation, played some cards, then fell back asleep.

As I was describing these plays at the breakfast table on Sunday morning, Violence said, “I could easily write plays like that. I could make millions!”

Which led to this:

Husband: Let’s go swimming.

Violence: I can take the stairs back and forth.

Husband: It’s sunny outside.

Violence: And the Earth is round.

They are now awaiting their Nobel prize.

Lake daze

We had a lovely week-long vacation in Penticton, with daily lake swims, several rounds of mini-golf, and much ice cream.

There was also a visit to the Wibit, a floating obstacle course with a rock wall, a slide, and a trampoline. When the kids did it the first time, it looked fun. Easy, even. So Min and I allowed ourselves to be tempted out.

Oh my goodness. First of all, a floating plastic obstacle course is slippery! (Who could have guessed?) And when the floating, plastic, slippery obstacle course wobbles, and one frantically flails one’s arms, one is likely to take out a small child or two.


It looks harmless, doesn’t it?

We made it up the rope and down the giant slide. We made it up the rock wall and I replaced my bathing suit over the parts it was supposed to cover. We made it over the slanted balance obstacle. I tried and failed to find my goggles on the lake bottom. We did all of this while the kids ran back and forth in front of us like some new species of water-mountain-goat.

And then, in the distance… a floating bench.

Min and I wobbled and flailed our way toward it and collapsed, clinging to one another.

“We’ve done all the major obstacles,” I said.

“I think my knee ligaments are intact,” Min said.

“We should get off this thing.”

Which is when we abandoned our children and swam with the remaining shreds of our dignity back to shore.

For ice cream.