Seven years ago, my husband and I took the pledge not to buy bottled water anymore. Except for a rare emergency, we’ve stuck to it, packing along our water bottles and keeping a gallon or two in the truck for refills when we’re out and about. I think I can honestly say I’ve bought fewer than 5 bottles of water in the last 7 years.

Today’s Independence Day in the US. Grab your independence from bottled water and oil, and take the pledge. And if you need some incentive. How about this?

Oil for Water

30th Jun, 2014

Oh, Canada!

canada-flag.jpgTomorrow, 1st July (see how I wrote it the Canadian way-the number first-instead of July 1st?), is Canada Day. While we haven’t received our official letter, it seems very likely due to the fact that they’ve scheduled Canadian Citizenship Swearing In Ceremonies in our closest city for August, that we’re soon to be official Canadians.

In the spirit of Canadian friendliness, I now redirect you to my good pal, and recent Canadian citizen, Eileen Cook who has posted some fun facts about Canadians in honour (fancy spelling!) of the day.

So, Happy Canada Day to my Canadian friends! And for those of you who are Americans, Happy July 4th!

The wonderful Wanda Collins Johnson, friend, writer, and critique group member, has asked me if I’d participate in a Blog Hop on the writing process. I can never turn down her smiling face. So here are my answers. I’m not actually going to tag anyone (yes, I’m responsible for killing that million dollar chain letter you were counting on making you rich, too), but feel free to play along. Leave your link in the comments.

What am I working on now? I’ve just finished something…like literally sent it off to my agent a few days ago, so while I’m not technically writing anything, I’m pondering both new and past ideas. I think I’ve narrowed it down to a story that I want to tell. You could call it a love story, in the vein of one of my favourite authors, Nevil Shute. It’s for adults, and it’s centered around a bookstore. I can’t say much more except that it’s set in 1962 Portland, Oregon, and it was inspired by this fabulous picture taken by Fred Herzog (Vancouver, 1962).

 Shopper

How does my work differ from others in its genre? Well, I don’t really know! I have never written historical fiction before and so I would mostly call this an experiment. It may not work out. I might feel too bogged down and move on to something else, or I might find it really exciting. I do know the story couldn’t be told the way I want to tell it in a contemporary setting, so it’s historical fiction or nothing.

Why do I write what I do? My first two books are for young adults, as well as a third one which we haven’t sold yet, but are very hopeful will find a home. (Are you an editor? Please call my agent right away for a stunning new YA novel!). And the book I just finished writing is for adults, as is this new one I have in mind. So I guess the answer to why do I write what I do is that it’s just about story…a story comes into my head and nine times out of ten, I discard it (sometimes after writing as much as fifty or sixty pages). But then one sticks and I can’t stop thinking about it and so that’s why I write it.

How does my writing process work? It’s eighty percent discipline, ten percent the fact my brain is always making up stories, and ten percent inspiration brought on mostly by walking and showers. Seriously, the only reason I have written any books at all is because I show up to write. And if I don’t feel like writing, I write anyway. I am lucky in that I don’t have a regular job, so I block out Monday through Friday all day for writing. People are amazed that I spend “all day” writing. Ha! On a very good day, I might write for 2-3 hours. Mostly I’m thinking, snacking, reading, thinking, snacking, procrastinating, and reading with a tiny bit of writing thrown in. When I’m revising, it’s different…then I might get in 3-5 hours of work and very little reading. It’s hard for me to read while my story is so present in my mind, so I generally cook. My husband prefers the revision days to the writing new material which usually end with me saying: I’m too tired to make dinner, honey…my brain power is all used up! Can you find anything in the fridge?

So that’s about it. Read a lot. Show up. Shower and walk often. And let your imagination run wild!

P.S. I would be very remiss in neglecting to mention the crucial role my early readers play in my writing process. I seriously wouldn’t be able to write a publishable book without them (or my agent’s valuable input). So thanks. You know who you are!

 

 

19th May, 2014

Mary Stewart 1916-2014

At the risk of you all stopping by my blog and mistaking it for a literary obituary page, I do feel I must post something about the author Mary Stewart who just passed away at the age of 97. For years, I’ve been a big fan of hers, my favourite is by far The Ivy Tree (don’t let the goofy cover fool you). Years and years ago, I wrote to Mrs. Stewart asking her about the film rights – you see, I was studying screenwriting and was hoping I could adapt it on speculation. I even had the perfect cast in mind…Emma Thompson as the heroine, Gwyneth Paltrow as her young cousin. Alas, it was not to be as she referred me to her agent who said there was already interest in the rights (I highly doubt it as the book had been out for thirty years or more!), but I did receive a very nice handwritten letter from Mrs. Stewart. And after that, we corresponded a bit, so I have a few letters in my possession. She was lovely and friendly and if you haven’t read any of her books, I highly recommend them. She’s popularly known for her Merlin trilogy (starting with The Crystal Cave), but she’s thought of more as a romance writer overall…Gothic romances, sometimes with murders and intrigue, sometimes with magic realism, sometimes straight-up.

Rest in Peace, Mary Stewart. Your writing has been enjoyed by millions and inspiring to those of us who write. Thank you!

The Three JsThose of you who have read this blog over the years already know how much I adore the author John Rowe Townsend. It’s with sadness that I type these words: John passed away last weekend, at the age of 91. It has been eight years since I visited with him and his wife Jill Paton Walsh, but I think of them often, and those of you who’ve read Restoring Harmony know that the book is dedicated to him.

His obituary from The Guardian is here and it’s really a wonderful piece.

Rather than write something new today, I’m going to include links to all the things I’ve written about him over the years. I hope you enjoy them.

Featured Author – JRT

My visit to Cambridge

Launch week dedication for Restoring Harmony

Places I want to visit, inspired by books I’ve read.

Cranford and Cranford Revisited

The husband is reading JRT (P.S. I should add that after I wrote this, he read The Islanders and The Invaders and years later he’s still talking about them regularly)

A lifelong love affair

 

2nd Mar, 2014

Read this…

An important piece about the internet, writing, reading, and words by my friend Joelle Charbonneau over at Do Some Damage. Take a couple of minutes and read it. She knows what she’s talking about.

Year of Mistaken Discoveries Cover

This contest is over. Congratulations to Katherine Melnyk (and the original winner who couldn’t wait and bought herself a copy, Jade Winters)! Everyone else, just buy the book. You know you want to!

You all know what a fan I am of Eileen Cook, both as a writer and as a fabulous friend! To celebrate the release of her latest book, I’m giving away a copy to one lucky person who leaves a comment between now and its release day, 25 February. If you tweet about it or post it on Facebook, let me know in your comment and I’ll give you an extra entry for each. This is open to anyone living where the Book Depository ships.

Oh, and yes, I did read an early draft…you definitely want to read this one!

14th Feb, 2014

Love

I got a framed print of this for my cabin for Christmas, but it seems an appropriate to post today, too. The written word…you can’t beat it.*

Victor Loves me 2012 *See how I tied this post into writing?

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

11th Feb, 2014

Water and books

water glassRemember how at New Year’s I picked three words and “water” was one of them? Well, to help me get my eight glasses a day, I put these eight coloured bands near the bottom of my glass every morning. Each time I drink a glass of water, I move a band up to the top. So far it’s worked great! Brilliant, eh? I got the idea from Meghan Telpner, author of one of my new favourite books, The Undiet.

Speaking of favourite books, make sure you come back soon because I’m going to be giving away my dear friend Eileen Cook‘s new young adult novel to help celebrate its release later this month. If you can’t wait until I post about it, check it out here.

Last night’s forecast was for clear skies with lots of stars. I’m thinking that’s the last time they leave that particular intern in charge over the weekend.

stuff 020 I have to say I was pleased by the mistake. Lovely thing to wake up to if you live here because this is all we’ll get. This isn’t Alberta. No “feets and feets of snow” here, unless you’re one of The Borrowers.

Didn’t stop the snowplow from coming out, though. Hey, if you’ve got it, you’ve got to use it once or twice each winter.

6th Jan, 2014

Imagination

I’ve just come home from the hardware store where I witnessed a wonderful little scene. A very young mom was shopping for nightlights with her son, who appeared to be about three…maybe four. While she was looking, he came up to her holding a small package of rope and said, “Mom, can we get this?”

She looked at him and then the rope and she said, “What do you want it for?”

There was a really long pause while he thought about it and she waited patiently.

“To build hideaways,” he finally said. “Outside. Tie it to some branches and then hang blankets over it.” There was another pause, and then he added, “And cut out a half-circle for the door.”

At this point, I was fake browsing so I could hear what happened next. I mean, honestly, I had expected her to say, “No, put it back.” when he first asked for it, but she’d let him go this far and now I wanted to see what she said. There was another long pause and then she said, “Let’s see how much it is.”

I have to say two things struck me at that moment. The first is this is why I write for kids. If I can help them keep that great sense of imagination going, then my job is done. And the other was that even if they didn’t buy the rope…I mean, it’s winter, it’s going to rain for the next five days, and they probably had rope at home…she’d already earned Stellar Mom Points just for listening to him.

I left before the verdict came because I wanted to happily imagine them outside tying that rope to some branches and hanging an old blanket from it…with a cut out half-circle for the door.

I’m thinking of building a blanket fort of my own, actually. And for those of you grown-ups who think you’re too old, here’s a funny comic strip I found while searching for the above image.

In 2013, I chose three words to focus on rather than make resolutions. They were Canada, Friendship, and Conversation. Throughout the year, I tried to explore what these words meant to me, and experience new things related to them. They led me in interesting directions and enriched my life much more than I expected. I won’t go into details as it’s a new year, but I thought I’d share my words for 2014, and ask if you have any words or resolutions you want to share.

My 2014 Words

Income – while I’m hoping for the financial kind, I also am intrigued to find out how else it might manifest itself. Perhaps it will be incoming friendships, or visitors, or prizes, or book sales, or surprises. We shall see.

Polar Bear Plunge - 1 Jan 2014Water – this might seem like a strange choice, but like so many people, I really need to drink more water! As you can see from this picture, I decided to kick off both the new year and my word by joining in with the other totally nutty islanders and doing the Polar Bear Plunge on New Year’s Day. While I’m not overly fond of being in water, even in the summer, I do want to spend more time at the beach looking at it, and also get my butt into a kayak this year.

Home – my last word is a good one and exciting for me. I’m lucky to own my home with my husband, and I intend to make it more home-like with de-cluttering, painting, and care. Also, our relatively new home country is Canada, and this year, we’ll be sworn in as citizens, which is super cool. Home encompasses family, friends, health, food, and general well-being for me, so I think having it as a focus word is an excellent choice.

Happy 2014 to you! May it bring you blessings, peace, and love. Feel free to share your words or resolutions in the comments, too. I’m always happy to hear from you.

31st Dec, 2013

Fave for 2013

That momentI usually do a Fave Fifteen of YA and MG at the end of each year, but this year I read wider so here are some books from many genres, in no particular order, that really floated my boat.

Harriet the Spy (Harriet the Spy #1)Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh – hadn’t read it since I was a kid and it was a LOT different than I expected. If it’s been a while, give it a try.

Faking It (Dempseys #2)Faking It by Jennifer Crusie – Re-read, third time – it’s adult romance/farce at its best

Clementine (Clementine, #1)The Clementine Series by Sara Pennypacker- chapter books full of charm and wit

An AutobiographyAn Autobiography by Agatha Christie – really, really interesting

Sacred Games (The Athenian Mysteries, #3)Sacred Games by Gary Corby – third in the series, not as gruesome as #2 and a really fun read

Ready Player OneReady Player One by Ernest Cline – adult fiction about a video game – so not anything I should’ve liked, but possibly the best, most exciting book I read all year

Smells Like TreasureSmells Like Dog series by Suzanne Selfors – anything Suzanne writes ends up on my list. She’s always a winner.

The Last Word (The Spellmans, #6)The Last Word by Lisa Lutz – the last of the Spellman books, one of my all time favourite series

Where'd You Go, BernadetteWhere’d You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple – one of those books that I wasn’t sure if she’d be able to pull it off, but then she totally does

Two Parties, One Tux, and a Very Short Film about The Grapes of WrathTwo Parties, One Tux, And a Very Short Film About the Grapes of Wrath by Steven Goldman – hilarious, touching, wonderful YA

DramaramaDramarama by E. Lockhart – another re-read of a YA book I really like

Not That Kind of GirlNot That Kind of Girl by Siobhan Vivian – An interesting YA in that the main character is not that likeable, but the book is anyway.

Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called HospitalityHeads in Beds by Jacob Tomsky – a book that will change future hotel stays for you forever, possibly in a good way. Certainly in an hilarious way!

Sh*t My Dad SaysSh*t My Dad Says by Justin Halpern – yes, I laughed. Out loud. Many times. So sue me.

Breathing RoomBreathing Room by Susan Elizabeth Phillips – a good old fashioned romance set in Tuscany.

The One and Only IvanThe One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate – it won the Newbery, need I say more?

CosmicCosmic by Frank Cottrell Bryce – MG that didn’t seem like my kind of thing, but I enjoyed a lot.

A Road For Canada – an interesting book with lots of photos about the building of the TransCanada Highway (but no cover photo on Goodreads). Sounds kind of dull, but was actually very fascinating.

What’d you all read this year that you liked?

 

 

Just like the ones I never knew….

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According to the forecast, this is supposed to be rain. Lovely, isn’t it?

Silly?

Happy Holidays!

 

2013-Winner-Facebook-Profile I just hit 50,048 and stopped mid-scene. I wrote 4820 words TODAY! I’m a writing fool. Obviously 50k words does not a book make (unless it’s MG, which this isn’t), but I’m a good 2/3 of the way there! And just because I feel like bragging, I will say that I started this book on November 9th (I threw out everything before that). Not too shabby for 19 days (I had one day off).

And now, because I’m such a crazy girl, I’m going to celebrate with onion rings. That’s right. FRIED FOOD! Because a girl cannot live on lentils alone.

 

 

2013-Winner-Certificate

 

 

I’ve been in a bit of a writing rut lately, so I decided to really mix it up for November. I signed up for NaNoWriMo for the first time ever. Writing first drafts quickly has not really been my thing, so it never really seemed like anything I was interested in. But I wanted to shake things up, so here I am, halfway through, and loving every minute of it. Okay, maybe not every minute. But I am enjoying it.

I started on November 1st, with a very thin idea, based more on an interesting setting than anything. I planned to attempt a genre I’ve never written in before (secret), and I jumped right in and wrote like a maniac. A week later, I had 13k words and it was a steaming pile of hot spaghetti. I was in big trouble!

One of the rules of NaNoWriMo is no revising, no going back. There’s probably one about tossing out the entire draft and starting over after the first week, too, but like I said, I wanted November to be all about breaking rules, so that’s what I did. I threw it away! And I spent some time thrashing out a plot that worked a lot better. I am proud to say that in seven days…SEVEN DAYS…I have written 20,103 words! That’s 81 pages. And while I’m sure a lot of it will be cut or rewritten in edits, I’m going strong. I know what happens next, I’ve got the middle worked out, the climax is firmly planted in my brain and growing.

For NaNoWriMo the goal is to write an entire book and they’re defining that as 50k words. I feel confident I can hit the fifty thou mark, but that will still be 20k short of the novel I intend to write. Still, it’s quite an amazing thing, and I understand why people are doing it.

Some of the ways I’m writing differently include:

  • A wordcount goal of 2500 per day (my average is usually 1500-1800)
  • Writing at any time of day or night
  • Writing on the treadmill, in the blue chair, and even in the house in front of the fire when my husband’s home
  • I even wrote in a cafe (that didn’t go well) for an hour
  • Saying no to things I might usually say yes to in lieu of writing – road trips, concerts, social engagements – and feeling okay about it
  • Exercising six days a week before I start
  • Taking only Sundays off (I usually take weekends)
  • Writing on Sundays too if I feel like it

I know I couldn’t keep up this pace regularly, and I wouldn’t even want to. The only way I can stop thinking about this book is to listen to podcasts or sleep. Conversation? Yeah, not happening. I’m out of words by the end of the day. But it has taught me that I can push myself beyond what I previously thought were my limits. And maybe it’s a good way of writing first drafts for me, as I’ve always found them hard and this time things are going pretty well.

One last thing…can anyone tell me what day it is?

29th Jul, 2013

Amen, brother!

P3300562e1024Why you won’t see me here blogging as much as I have in the past: Charlie Brooker’s article in the Guardian

Shhhhhhh…let’s all take a quiet walk in the woods.

22nd Jul, 2013

Summer Read

Where'd You Go, BernadetteWhile I’ve been busy being on holiday, I haven’t posted any comic essays, so I thought maybe I’d give you a book recommendation to make up for it. If you haven’t read WHERE’D YOU GO BERNADETTE yet, I highly recommend it!

grinder big I’m on holiday this week, so here’s a repeat that I thought fit nicely with last week’s post.

Ten things I have learned from Grinder

1.Sleep in the sunshine whenever possible.

2.Drink lots of fresh water.

3.Go on at least one adventure every day – three or more is better.

4.Have lots of friends, but be your own self too.

5.Accept love, and give love, but don’t let anyone hold on to you too tightly.

6.Do a few things you know are “against the rules” every day.

7.Pay attention to wildlife.

8.Eat when you’re hungry, sleep when you’re tired.

9.If you want something, be patient and stay after it. If you feel frustrated or it gets away, move on to something else. You can always come back to it.

10. Every once in a while it’s natural to forget what you were doing. Who cares? That just means it’s time for another nap.

3rd Jul, 2013

Home Sweet Home

This piece is really long, so you might want to get a snack. I wrote it for a benefit concert last week and read it aloud. The evening’s theme was Homecoming. I thought maybe I’d edit it down for the blog, but it turns out that summer has finally arrived and I have better things to do, like hanging out at the beach.

0010_28bw

In 2007, Victor and I packed our two cats, Grinder, and Miss Sophie, and pretty much everything we could squeeze in, into our little truck. Unlike Mitt Romney who put his dog on the roof, we did let the cats ride inside the cab. Not that they were particularly grateful. The fact we caged them and dragged them halfway across the world to a rock surrounded by water, a cat’s true nemesis, was not forgiven lightly. Even the woodstove didn’t make up for that atrocity.

In fact, it was the woodstove that caused us real problems. We’d never had one before, and since our internet wasn’t hooked up and we couldn’t go on Youtube to find a nine-year-old to explain how to light a fire in a stove, instead of creating nice cozy flames, the living room was soon engulfed in thick, black smoke. To keep from asphyxiating ourselves, we threw open all the doors. Grinder took one look at freedom (and fresh air) and was out of the house like a shot, heading for Dixie.

26th Jun, 2013

Small Town Grapevine

Living on a small island has a lot of advantages, but privacy isn’t one of them. As Victor says in his song, Small Town Grapevine, “Everybody’s business, everybody knows.” Not that I have anything to hide, exactly. Well, not much, anyway.

We drive a nondescript white truck, which is useful here on the island. Unlike our friend who drives a chartreuse minivan, you can’t always be sure it was us you saw driving hell bent for leather to get to the ferry on time. It could be one of about five white trucks. She can’t go anywhere without the entire population knowing what she’s up to though.

“Oh, saw you at the liquor store.”

“Oh, saw you at the grocery.”

“Saw you were at the beach.”

“Didn’t leave the party until midnight, huh?”

Unless you’ve made note of the dent over the left wheel of our truck, which in reality, you probably have, we’re pretty safe. Not so much in the grocery store, though.

In the city, if you get a chips and salsa craving, it’s entirely possible to run to the store before the hockey game starts. In spite of longer lines and those automatic check-out machines that require you to do all the work, but give you no discount for doing it yourself, you can still get home in time for the puck-off (or whatever it is, I’m a baseball fan). But here, going to the island’s only grocery store requires thought, planning, and vast amounts of time. And I’m not even talking about your shopping list.

You can always tell the tourists at the grocery store because they’re not hugging anyone. Or standing in the middle of the aisle planning a fundraiser. Or explaining how to barbecue tofu to a recent vegetarian convert. They might be wandering around slightly lost, but their carts are full, and they’re in and out, and off to the beach before the locals have made it past the entrance. When planning a grocery shop, I always give myself at least fifteen minutes to pick up five items or less, and forty-five to sixty minutes for a full shop. To give you perspective, that time is spent approximately twenty percent on getting groceries, the rest for chatting.

If we’re really in a hurry, Victor and I tag team it.

“Okay,” I say as we go in. “You run interference by socializing while I race over to the chocolate bars, and then grab two avocadoes, pay, and we’re out the door.”

“What if we see someone who wants to talk to you?”

“I’ll wave and keep going. Say I left a pot of soup on the stove.”

“Got it.”

Most of the time, I love the social aspect of the grocery shop. There’s one thing that’s a little weird, though.

Judgment.

Sure, we’re all friends and we love each other, but in a big city store, no one cares, or even notices, what you buy. Love frozen pizzas and they’re on sale? Stock up! Want a box of Captn’ Crunch. Who’s stopping you? But here….

The other day, I saw two friends chatting in the deli and I went up to get my hugs and say hello (even though I’d actually already hugged, chatted, and traded gossip with one of them in the produce section ten minutes before that). As we were saying hello, one of them held up a bag of white sugar.

“This isn’t for me,” she said. “I don’t use white sugar. It’s for the humming birds. I just wanted you to know.”

We nodded, and I shifted a head of lettuce in my basket so it covered my vegan marshmallows while Karen (not her real name) deftly stepped in front of her cart so I couldn’t see her Sunday pot roast.

This happens at the library too. Lots of hugging, and carefully stacked books so fellow islanders don’t discover the latest Dan Brown novel in your pile. The real problem with the library is that there are only four or five people working there. That means, if you use the library as much as we all do, you know them well. Some of them have even been to your house for dinner. And yet, reading choices can be very private. Or sometimes, you wish they were.

Last year, I requested, What To Expect When You’re Expecting. While I consider myself way too old to even consider having a baby, popping out a sprog at forty-five is perfectly normal here on the island. As the librarian checked out my book for me and gave me a wide smile, surreptitiously sizing up my belly to see how far along I was. I said, “I just want you to know this is for research for a book I’m writing.” She laughed, pretending not to be interested in my reading choices, but you can’t help but feel that as she’s checking in the requested books, she’s thinking:

Hmmm….Janice Albright requested Menopause and You! This explains why she was such a bitch to me in the grocery store the other day. Running by with a wave and saying something lame about leaving a pot on the stove.

Or

Ooohhh…who knew Richard Chase has sexual problems? He seems so virile. Well, I hope this helps, for Karleen’s sake. Especially since she checked out To Take A Lover and all those romance novels last week.

If I’m a hundred percent honest, I have considered, but have not succumbed, to the idea of actually ordering my chick lit novels and cozy mysteries and having them delivered to the downtown branch on Vancouver Island, which would require me to pay large amounts of money to take a ferry there and back, not to mention eat up half my day, and once there, I’d still have to hope I didn’t run into any other islanders over there for the same reason. On the plus side, I could stock up on marshmallows.

19th Jun, 2013

How Dry I Am

This is only the eighth week of the Comic Essay Challenge, and I’m pretty much done. I’ve lost my funny. I looked around for it. The corners in my cabin are fairly dusty, so I thought it might be hiding there, but all I found was a penny and a spider. Did you know that Canada has gotten rid of pennies? It’s true. They’re no longer in circulation. At the grocery store, the “leave a penny” Dixie cup now has a sign that says a “leave a nickel.” I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m not leaving a nickel. When I was a kid, you could buy a lot with a nickel and I really can’t get past that idea, even if nickel candy is now twenty-five cents. That’s actually just five nickels, so in theory, you can still get a Jolly Rancher or a jawbreaker and call it nickel candy. I may not be funny, but I’m still creative in my rationalizations.

I considered shying away from the truth and not admitting that I’ve got an arthritic funny bone, and maybe saying, like many other bloggers out there who have run out of things to say, “I’m taking the summer off, see you in the fall!” But the truth is, I might not be funny in the fall either, so I really shouldn’t make those kinds of promises.

I like to think that the reason I’ve got nothing this week is because I’ve started writing a new young adult novel and it’s just pouring out of me and using up all my creativity. It is true I’m writing again, and perhaps that is why, but if you’re going to write a weekly column, you can’t just not show up for the gig because you’re idea well is dry.

What if Dave Barry had quit after seven weeks? He’d just be another lawnmower racing guy no one has ever heard of, right? And I doubt it’s easy for Dave to come up with a humourous column every week, day in, day out, year after year after year. It’s probably a little bit easier because people send him ideas (you can reach me on the contact page of this site with your ideas). Also, and I really think this is probably his motivation, he gets paid.

I’m pretty sure if you’d all been sending me five dollars each week for the last two months, I’d feel more inclined to entertain you. In fact, let’s try that. It will be a sort of crowd-funding project, okay? You send me five dollars, and next week’s column will leave you rolling on the floor laughing. Or at least, your friends will be laughing about how I suckered you out of five bucks and then put up a post that says, “I’m taking the summer off, see you in the fall!”

Every spring for the last five years I have proclaimed that I planned to buy a barbecue. And every summer, I waffled. Why? Because I could never decide what kind of barbecue to get. Charcoal or gas? Table-top or freestanding? Red or black? So each summer has flown by in a cloud of indecision and all our veggie dogs have been cooked in a frying pan on the stove.

Part of my problem is I’m a barbecue snob. I used to sell them – the big, expensive gas ones with tons of accessories and three burners, plus a side table, all on a rolling cart. The brand shall remain nameless on this blog because I don’t believe in product placement. Unless they want to send me a free grill, then it was Weber. I know from my vast amounts of training (a rep once cooked a turkey on one in front of the store and we were allowed to watch), that if you’re going to buy a grill, it really needs to be a quality one. The cheap-ass ones are as unsteady as the patrons of a bar at closing time, and if you’re trying to pry your pizza off the grill because grilling pizza is the new black (seriously black, at this point), you need to make sure the whole contraption’s not going to collapse under you. So that was another deterrent to buying one. Did I really have a grand to blow on something I’d have to figure out how to shelter from the rain ten months of the year?

The other day, we were at the credit union getting some money out of the ATM, which is right next to a tiny mom & pop home décor/cooking supplies/bed linens/shoe store (when you do business on an island, you sell whatever allows you to keep the lights on) and out in front on the sidewalk, they had a lone barbecue. Marked down. Small, compact, gas, steady on its feet, red and black. It was like it was waiting for me.

Once we got it home, we had to put it together. Now there are two ways of doing this. The boy way – open the box and just randomly start screwing things together, or the girl-way – pull out the instructions, check off that every item is included in the box that’s supposed to be there, go register the barbecue online for its warranty, and come back and show the boy how he needs to unscrew those bolts because he’s got the handle on the inside instead of the outside. We did some of each.

If you buy from a big box store, there is also a third option. For fifty bucks extra you can buy an already assembled barbecue. Considering those barbecues come in about six-hundred pieces, this is pretty much the best fifty bucks you’ll ever spend. Unless, of course, the same guy who got paid by the piece to put my bike together assembles your barbecue. Let’s just say that he’s definitely going to be doing it the boy way (see above) and if he ends up with a little baggie of leftover screws at the end, you’ll never know. At least, not until the guts fall out of your barbecue, or the pedal falls off your bike because the crank is put on upside down and so you’re actually unscrewing it as you ride.

Once we got the barbecue together, it was time to do some serious cooking. We didn’t have one of those “required” lighters, so my husband just used a regular wooden match and stuck his hand deep inside. He didn’t really need all those fine hairs on his fingers anyway. While we stood there admiring our new barbecue, I decided to peel off the warning sticker. As I did, I saw the words, “Do not set your new barbecue directly on a flammable surface.”

“Do you think they mean this wooden deck?” I asked my husband.

“Probably,” he said.

He wanted to just pick it up and move it, but I read from the directions, “On pain of death, never move your lit barbecue!” The wife is always right, so we turned it off before moving it. Then we got to go through the whole lighting it again thing. Fun times. It got better once we got the veggie dogs and marinated potatoes on the grill, too, because then it started to rain.

I have to say that my mother is an excellent cook on her barbecue. Her food turns out delicious and she hardly swears at all while she’s making it. Too bad I can’t say the same thing about her daughter. By the time we ate our smoke-blackened potatoes and grey veggie dogs, I was kind of over the barbecue. So if you’ve been meaning to get yourself a grill, I know where you can get one cheap.

4th Jun, 2013

The Wonder Years Indeed

My husband and I were talking the other day about the differences between middle school girls and boys the same age. I explained to him that girls were totally obsessed with boys in seventh and eighth grade, to the exclusion of almost everything else, but the boys just weren’t that interested yet.

“I was extremely interested in girls at that age,” he said.

“Yeah, but not exclusively.”

He looked at me funny. “I didn’t like guys, if that’s what you mean.”

“No, I meant you still thought about other things. Like you thought about girls if they were around or whatever, but if you were playing baseball, you thought about baseball.”

“Well, of course,” he said.

But there was no “of course” about it for girls.

“Let’s say,” I said, “there was a party coming up on Saturday night, you would probably think about it when? When it was almost time to go?”

“I guess,” he said. “I’d maybe try to find a clean shirt or something around the time it started. And then ask my dad for a ride.”

“Okay, well here’s what my, and my girlfriends’ schedule looked like from the moment the party was announced,” I said.

Monday: Patrick invites kids to a party the following Saturday. Girls group together during all school breaks to discuss why it’s such short notice. Then they move on to what to wear. They pass notes during class trying to find out which boys are going to attend. That night, they phone each other over and over again discussing clothing, meeting times, possible haircuts, and make-up until their mother rips the phone out of the wall,.

Tuesday: Repeat

Wednesday: Repeat

Thursday: Repeat

Friday: Repeat except instead of phone calls, the girls get together for a sleepover and do each other’s nails. Also, boys are phoned repeatedly to make sure they’re still going.

Saturday: 10:00am: Emergency trip to the mall for new jeans en masse (even if only one girl needs jeans).

12:00pm: Lunch at Orange Julius to discuss the distinct lack of jeans that fit and that a certain boy would like.

4:00pm: Regroup after checking in at home to grab your old jeans because the mall didn’t have anything with wide enough bell bottoms to hide your Nikes from view (yes, the Nikes you had to have even though they cost twice as much as the no-names that look exactly the same minus the swoosh, and no one is allowed to actually see them).

5:00pm: Discuss make-up and clothes strategies one last time before diving in.

5:30pm: Start getting ready (this includes facials, plucking, shaving, make-up, and in 1980, curling irons, hot rollers, and a dozen cans of Aqua Net hairspray).

7:00pm: Major meltdowns as hair refuses to feather and gold belt won’t stay fastened (okay, maybe that was just me).

7:30pm: Arrive at party.

At which point, the girls clustered in the corner, giggling and checking out the boys, while the boys ignored them and scarfed all the dip and chips and had belching contests. Sometimes, one boy would be brave and cross the room and ask a girl to dance, or offer her a potato chip. Apparently this was the boy my husband proffers to be, but this boy never talked to me, only to my friend Debbie.

The thing is, looking back, it wasn’t the boys’ faults. They were just at a different age socially than we were. Plus, they were…you know…boys. While they were busy playing Atari and exploding things in their backyards, we were at the mall having two-dollar ID bracelets engraved with their names on them. We weren’t stupid enough to actually wear them to school, but we put the bracelets around our stuffed animals’ necks and took them to sleepovers with us, declaring our love publicly. Or publicly within the confines of our bedrooms.

While these boys earned extra Pacman lives at the roller rink arcade, we were grouped around a spotted mirror in a gold shag rug covered bathroom, feathering our hair to perfection so they could ignore us during Couples Skate. While our male classmates tried to outdo each other by writing four letter words on their textbooks, we practiced writing, Mrs. Joëlle [Insert Current Crush’s Last Name Here] on our Trapper Keepers and PeeChees in our best handwriting.

The strangest part about these crushes was how random they could sometimes be. For example, I once crushed on a boy for an entire school year who I’d never spoken to even once, all because my friends said we’d “make a cute couple because you’re both tall.” When Debbie started “going with” John, the rest of us were immediately paired off with John’s friends. Not that John’s friends returned our giggling phone calls or messages left with a mother exhausted from taking them all day long. I still know David King’s number by heart, and his mother would probably recognize my voice.

According to Wikipedia, Martin Cooper is the father of the wireless phone, but I’d put good money on it that his wife invented it after the twenty-seventh call in a single day for their thirteen-year-old son. All from the same girl.

“For God’s sake,” she probably cried, thrusting the two pound contraption at her son, “take this wireless phone I invented in between phone calls, and stop giving out our landline to all those wretched girls.” Unfortunately for her, her son was much happier letting his mom screen his calls. That way he could keep thinking about baseball.

 

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