Baby wipes: not as tasty as you might think

Min and Silence had the plague over the holidays. She went down on the 21st and mostly recovered by Christmas; he went down on Christmas Day.

On the 26th, Violence and I had cabin fever. I offered to take him for a tramp in the snow, but he said, “you’re not as fun as Daddy.”

I had to prove him wrong, of course. So we went for our walk, heading for Kidsbooks. The store turned out to be closed but that didn’t entirely matter because along the way I agreed to (a) scratch-and-win tickets; (b) Dairy Queen french fries; and (c) every-flavour jelly beans.

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That last one… that’s where I went wrong. I had assumed Violence would try them out with his friends or with his sister. But I’d forgotten about Silence’s braces and I was still working to prove I was capable of fun and somehow I ended up seated at the dining room table playing Russian roulette with jelly beans.

My first one was blueberry. Whew.

My second was baby wipes.

You wouldn’t think baby wipes would taste THAT bad. I am here to clarify that yes, they do. Not only are they horrible, bitter, disgusting, mothball-ish things, but jelly beans STICK TO YOUR TEETH in a way that I’m sure real baby wipes wouldn’t. It took me many gargles and a shortbread cookie to cure myself.

J.K. Rowling, inventor of every-flavour beans, has a sick imagination. But I am officially fun.

Happy New Year, and may your days be filled with all the best flavours.

Bonus pay

I spent the last few days working in Victoria, staying at the lovely Chateau Victoria near the Empress and the Parliament Buildings.

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I woke up each morning and ate breakfast in the top-floor restaurant while watching the sun rise over Mount Tolmie and the ocean. I wandered down Government Street and stopped in at Murchie’s and Munro’s Books before heading to my 9:30 meetings.

It was lovely.

I think organizations could cut costs if they only hired moms. Because really, they wouldn’t have to offer payment. They could just say: “King-sized bed. By yourself. Breakfast made. Dishes done.”

Sign me up, anytime!

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Reading. And reading.

I agreed to serve on a prize jury and have spent the past month reading. And reading. And reading. I read until my shoulders seize up, then I break for stretches, then read again, then break for this weird tiger-balm-like substance that makes my shoulders burn in a good way (sort of) instead of a bad, then read some more. I am slowly going blind. I am slowly losing the ability to think or ponder or judge.

And yet, at the same time, I’m itching with ideas. There’s something about constantly immersing myself in the creativity of others that makes me want to create something — anything — of my own. And there’s something about the restriction of my time which suddenly makes me treasure the moments I have free to write.

Shortbread

I always tell myself I’ll get some Christmas preparations done in November so December’s not such a whirlwind. Then the final week of November arrives, and I panic, realizing I’ve done nothing.

It doesn’t actually take as long as I think it will, once I set myself to work.

I’ve placed my orders with the photo site. I’ve bought my cards and (mostly) written our Christmas letter. And last night… I baked the first batches of shortbread.

My family arrived like crows in the kitchen as soon as they saw the butter softening in the bowl. By the time the first circle was cut, they were sneaking batter off the counter. And there were protests like the pipeline protests when I limited them to one cookie each after dinner.

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My shortbread is well-appreciated.

It’s actually my mother’s shortbread. I make it each year from a recipe emailed in 2000. “How are things in wedding land?” it reads. “Are preparations going well? Our basement renovations are done and Dad has hung his stupid singing fish.”

Which makes me smile every year because the singing fish was a gift from my husband and it was a particularly inspired fish.

A few years ago, a friend wrote a cookbook and included recipes from our whole crowd of families. On my family’s page, she listed the ingredients for shortbread: butter, sugar, flour, cornstarch. Under method, it says: “Just call Tanya. Trust me, it’s easier that way.”

They don’t know that my shortbread isn’t as good as my mother’s. Maybe I don’t knead it quite right. She’s demonstrated again and again how to mix the flour until the dough is just the right consistency and the cracks appear. Mine is still never the same as hers.

What that email from 2000 should say is: “Call your mother. It’s better that way.”

But the crows don’t seem to mind.

Emily

There is really nothing more annoying than when your child, the child who seems to read a dozen books a week (and so could obviously fit one more into her schedule), REFUSES to read a book that you’ve recommended.

After Silence loved the Borrowers series and the Oz books and Narnia and Anne of Green Gables, I suggested she try Emily of New Moon. Which she made no effort to do.

So, I bought her all three Emily books for Christmas.

She put them in her closet.

Now, I should maybe stop to explain that I LOVED the Emily books as a child, I still love them, and every writer I know loves Emily more than Anne. I considered duct-taping the books to Silence’s forehead until she agreed to read them.

I couldn’t find that chapter in the parenting guides.

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Finally, FINALLY, she was a little under the weather one day this fall and she downloaded the Emily of New Moon audio book from the Vancouver Public Library.

She loved it.

I was torn between peeing my pants with joy and tearing out my eyelashes one by one.

She’s now on book three.

I may steal the print versions and read them myself.

Midnight reading

I finished Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing over the weekend, just in time for her to win a Giller to go with her Governor General’s Award.

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I have some issues with complicated grown-up books: (a) I read too many middle-grade novels and I’ve come to expect constant action, and (b) I read in little chunks of time between life interruptions.

So I was getting through the book last week, but I wasn’t getting into it.

Then one night I fell asleep at 8 pm while putting my son to bed. I woke up at midnight feeling like it was morning. I opened my book.

Suddenly, the dreamlike wanderings of lost and confused characters were entirely appropriate. The generations of musicians seemed clear and real and yet so tiny against the background of revolution and exile. I devoured a huge chunk of the book that night. Long before morning, I was in love.

When I finished the final chapter on Saturday, I lay unable to move until I’d made Min sit through a long, rambling summary of how bits of stories and music both tie us together and move on without us. And then I decided I might never be able to read another book.

I’m so thrilled she won the Giller.

Also, I may become nocturnal.

The real me

It was family getaway weekend. We picked up Min’s sister and headed to Bellis Fair Mall in Bellingham, where my shopaholic daughter could bond with her auntie over the sales racks.

We do these trips once or twice a year, so I mentally prepare. Embrace it, I tell myself. Embrace the mall experience. And why not? I could use some clothes. Every time I have to leave the house for anything more formal than a pajama party, I have a wardrobe crisis.

But inevitably, this is what happens. I look at the first rack, then the second, then the third, and I think:

Who wears these clothes?
They don’t look like me.
What does look like me?
I have no idea.
Nothing looks like me.
I have no idea who I am!

Fortunately, JUST before I had to be checked into an asylum, I found myself.

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Yes, this is the tiger that saved me from existential crisis. He was electric, and we motored around the mall together. Min came along, too, on a giant bear.

Also, I bought a hoodie. It is perfectly appropriate for a pajama party.

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Creature control

I had a phone interview with a high school student in a life planning class. She had all sorts of questions about the publishing process, including “how much control do you have over the illustrations and the cover?”

Um… none!

Most writers get “input” rather than control. I often see initial sketches from the illustrator under consideration for a project. Then I see rough artwork so I can comment about accuracy. And I see the final versions so I can squeal over them. But as for veto power: zero.

Fortunately, the editors and art directors at publishing houses usually have much, much better visual taste than I have, and I trust them to make great decisions.

As I learned last week, I should be grateful that I at least have input. I sat down with two actor friends as they watched their newly released movie for the first time. Before it began, one of them turned to me and said, “You have to imagine you wrote your text, sent it away, and you have no idea what’s been done with it. That’s how we feel right now.”

ACK! I don’t have that much trust.

As we watched the (wonderful) movie, they said things like, “Oh, they cut a lot of that scene,” or “that part looked so different when they shot it.”

What a strange thing, to create something and then leave it entirely in the power of someone else. It would be like handing someone your egg and hoping that after it’s hatched and grown, you admire the finished creature.

I’m so glad I get to watch my creatures grow.

In the trees!

I’m absolutely thrilled to have DNA Detective nominated for a Red Maple Award this year. Part of the Ontario Library Association’s Forest of Reading, the Red Maple is a reader’s choice award for kids in grades seven and eight.

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I’m personally glad I’m not one of those kids, because it’s going to be impossible to choose. Other books on the list include Pride by Robin Stevenson, Child Soldier by Michel Chikwanine and Jessica Dee Humphreys, and Vanished by Elizabeth McLeod (which is currently topping my list of books I wish I’d written).

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Congrats to all the other nominees, and a huge thanks to the Ontario Library Association!