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.
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!
Remember 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.
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.
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.
Water – 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.
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 by Jennifer Crusie – Re-read, third time – it’s adult romance/farce at its best
The Clementine Series by Sara Pennypacker- chapter books full of charm and wit
An Autobiography by Agatha Christie – really, really interesting
Sacred Games by Gary Corby – third in the series, not as gruesome as #2 and a really fun read
Ready 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 Dog series by Suzanne Selfors – anything Suzanne writes ends up on my list. She’s always a winner.
The Last Word by Lisa Lutz – the last of the Spellman books, one of my all time favourite series
Where’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 Wrath by Steven Goldman – hilarious, touching, wonderful YA
Dramarama by E. Lockhart – another re-read of a YA book I really like
Not 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 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 Says by Justin Halpern – yes, I laughed. Out loud. Many times. So sue me.
Breathing Room by Susan Elizabeth Phillips – a good old fashioned romance set in Tuscany.
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate – it won the Newbery, need I say more?
Cosmic 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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Most of the time, I love the social aspect of the grocery shop. There’s one thing that’s a little weird, though.
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.
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.
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.
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,.
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.
My parents first sent me to camp the summer before third grade. From the second I got onto the bus with the other campers and heard them all singing that song Do Your Ears Hang Low? but substituting the word boobs for ears, I was sold. While traditions ran strong at camp, each summer was a varied and exciting experience. Some years it rained and our jeans were perpetually damp, some years the sun blazed so hot we couldn’t have camp fires. Some summers I was one of the popular kids, others I ate toothpaste and had all the wrong clothes. To be fair, we were all eating toothpaste because it was the closest thing we could get to candy and we were shaking from lack of sugar like a Portland hipster standing in front of a closed Starbucks.
It wasn’t until the summer before eighth grade when three of the cool girls took me under their wings that I realized I’d been doing this whole camp thing all wrong. I’d just been showing up, following all the rules, not waving burning marshmallows around, resting during Rest Hour…apparently there was much more to camp than that, and they set out to educate me.
Maybe they let me into their inner circle because they felt sorry for someone who brings her mother’s giant hot-pink Samsonite suitcase to camp instead of a twelve dollar duffle bag from GI Joe’s Army Surplus. Or maybe it was just because I was wandering around, my arm getting longer from the weight of the thing, looking for that one free bunk that the counselors assured me was somewhere in one of the treehouses. Either way, I ended up sharing with the three most popular girls. And not just popular in our unit, but throughout the entire camp. We’d only been there for an hour, and they already knew half the counselors. Plus, they glowed with health, and owned excellent outdoor gear, two things very important to surviving camp.
These girls were a year or two older than me, and they saw an immediate need to bring me up to speed. First of all, only going to camp for one week was completely wrong. I should be going for two or I’d miss all the good stuff. And if my parents wouldn’t fork out the dough for the second week, then I needed to wash dishes for two weeks earlier in the summer and earn a free week. The next thing they taught me was that just because it says you can’t bring your own food, doesn’t mean you can’t bring your own food. Their duffels were filled with Skittles, red licorice and beef jerky, while my pink suitcase had exactly what was on the official list of stuff to bring to camp (plus an extra tube of toothpaste).
They showed me their Playgirl magazines (for the articles), they taught me that if there’s only one teen boy working at a girls’ camp, it’s not the prettiest or the smartest one who gets to kiss him, but the bravest (definitely not me). They were outdoorsy types and had smarts beyond the average city slicker. When we camped out on a slope, they slept at the top instead of the flat bit at the bottom. As twenty campers slowly slid down in the night crushing the girls below, they just kept sleeping, knowing they would be on the top of the pile. Much like in their lives.
They weren’t afraid of hard work, like scrubbing the grill or chopping the firewood, they loved long hikes, running jokes, and hated whiners and girls who wore white sweatshirts to camp. In fact, one year, we spent an entire week plotting to dirty a girl’s pristine white sweatshirt, which apparently had some sort of Tide Force Field around it because we never managed to even smudge it. Our reasoning for this sabotage was nothing more than: Who wears white to camp?
The truth is, this essay is probably not that funny. At least, if you consider the fact that I’ve challenged myself to write a comic essay each week. But I can’t help it because even after all these years, I think of camp and those girls and I well up with nostalgia. You see, the biggest, greatest thing they taught me is that once you forge those bonds of friendship, you can go a whole year without even speaking, and then, when you meet up in the mall parking lot to take that big orange bus to camp, without missing a beat, you can throw your arms around each other and start singing, “Do your boobs hang low, do they wobble to and fro, can you tie them in a knot, can you tie them in a bow?” And the three hundred-fifty-five days since you last saw each other melt away into nothing.
I’m very excited to discover via my lovely editor that The Right & the Real is on the Bank Street’s Best Books of the Year – 2013 list. I’ve read some of the other books on this list and the company is truly amazing! Congratulations to everyone and happy reading!
Want to see the 86 titles that were selected as Bank Street’s 2013 Best Books of the Year? Click here to see the whole list.
70. The Right and the Real by Joelle Anthony (Putnam)
The Children’s Book Committee at the Bank Street College of Education strives to guide librarians, educators, parents, grandparents, and other interested adults to the best books for children published each year. In choosing books for the annual list, reviewers consider literary quality and excellence of presentation as well as the potential emotional impact of the books on young readers. Other criteria include credibility of characterization and plot, authenticity of time and place, age suitability, positive treatment of ethnic and religious differences, and the absence of stereotypes. Nonfiction titles are further evaluated for accuracy and clarity. Each book accepted for the list is read and reviewed by at least two committee members and then discussed by the committee as a whole. To learn more about the process, review their guidelines.
For further details about Bank Street, please visit: http://bankstreet.edu/center-childrens-literature/childrens-book-committee/best-books-year/best-books-year-2013/
This morning we did a fast and furious tidy-up. Not because we’re expecting guests. And not because my mum might pay us a surprise visit and give the mantle the white-glove test. And definitely not because of the draping cobwebs. We consider those natural décor. Nope. We did the whirlwind clean because the housekeeper’s coming to…well…clean.
“This is crazy,” my husband said.
“You know,” I told him, “I bet everyone cleans before the housekeeper comes. I mean, if you’ve already got a clean house, why would you hire someone in the first place?”
He wasn’t too impressed by my logic, but I think it’s excellent. If you’re one of those anal people who put things away after you use them, who take the clean laundry directly from the dryer to the bureau, and wipe up the crumbs instead of leaving them on the counter assuming birds will eventually come through the open French doors and gobble them up, then what’s the point in having a stranger poking around your house with cleaning supplies anyway?
Our wonderful housekeeper first came into our lives as a birthday gift to me. Victor hired her to do six hours of spring cleaning last year, which honestly, is the best present ever and earned him a gazillion good husband points, even though it was my idea. Seriously, guys? If you’re reading this, you cannot go wrong hiring someone to clean. Unless she shows up in five inch heels and a little French maid outfit, in which case, you probably called the wrong agency and…well, good luck.
It turns out our housekeeper is something of a miracle worker. Because we are on an island, we have well water and it’s very hard and stains everything like the inside of a gas station toilet, and yet, after she scrubbed our tub, we discovered it was white! White! Previous to seeing what she could do, Victor’s solution was to tear out the tub, along with the stained toilet, and simply replace them with new ones. Frankly, I think he’s spent too much time wandering dreamily around the aisles of Home Depot inhaling caulking fumes.
I can see us tearing everything out, but getting it back in? Well, let’s just say that we once took our bathroom mirror down to paint and didn’t hang it up again for almost eight months because, you know, we needed a level, and the hammer was under the house, and it was raining, and besides, it’s probably more Buddhist not to have a mirror anyway, right? The way I see it, the housekeeper saved us a thousand bucks easy, probably two, so that pays for her for years.
You’re probably thinking that you missed my books hitting the New York Times Bestseller List or seeing Victor on the Grammy’s picking up his award for Record of the Year (do they still call them records?) because how in the world could a writer and a musician afford a housekeeper unless they’d hit it big? I’ll forgive you for being a slacker and not noticing our careers ratcheting to the top as long as you go buy all my books and his CDs right now.
Truth be told, it’s not hefty royalty cheques paying the housekeeper. Instead, I use my savings. Every time I earn something, I get to put ten percent of it in my Mad Money fund, which I then use to go out for a cup of tea, or to buy books, or to pay the housekeeper. I know, I’m quite the wild and crazy lady, aren’t I? Perhaps I should start calling it my Old and Boring Expense Account or As Exciting As Watching Paint Dry Fund. But it gets the job done.
And while I do find myself apologetically explaining to the housekeeper why there’s a pile of clean laundry on the couch (I had a phone meeting with my agent is one of my favourite excuses) or dirty dishes in the sink (a late night gig sounds ever so cool) it’s totally worth it because while I have to scurry around every other week, pretending to be more organized than I actually am, I also haven’t cleaned a toilet in over a year.
About a month ago, we noticed our dishwasher wasn’t really getting the dishes that sparkly-Martha-Stewart-clean that one hopes for. Because we are responsible grown-ups who take care of our things, we did what we always do in times of crisis. We ignored it, just putting the odd soiled plate or sticky glass back in for another run. If an item didn’t sparkle after three tries through, one of us (okay, me) would break down and hand-wash it.
When everything on the top rack started coming out with an oily finish decorated with random food chunks, we looked around for a way to reboot the dishwasher. Unfortunately, holding the power button down for ten seconds just made the dishwasher start going again on its polluted cycle. Then I tried adjusting it back to its original factory settings, but couldn’t find that hole you poke a paperclip into. Finally I decided to check the manual for the magic solution. Yes, I actually have the manual, know where it is, along with the receipt for the dishwasher still attached to it (out of warranty, of course). Who said I can’t be an adult when I need to?
According to page 13 – Troubleshooting, it was probably the soap. Did you know that if dishwashing powder accumulates moisture, it will clump, causing it not to release properly and leave a filmy residue? Well, now you do.
“We need new dishwashing soap,” I told my husband. “That will fix it.”
“What’s wrong with the old stuff?” he asked.
“It’s all clumpy.”
He sifted through it with his fingers. “It doesn’t look clumpy,” he said.
“Well, it is. Just get a new box.”
“Yes, dear.” As he rode off on his bike to the store, I heard him muttering, “It’s in a plastic container with a lid. How could it absorb moisture?” Luckily, he dropped that line of thought before he got back with the new soap.
You might wonder why we didn’t call a repairman in the beginning. The thing is, a dishwasher just seems like the sort of thing you should be able to fix yourself. Especially with all those youtube videos called, “Don’t Be a Moron – Fix Your Dishwasher Yourself!” I mean, if some rube (or twelve year old kid) on youtube can fix their own dishwasher, why couldn’t we? The reason we didn’t call had nothing to do with the fact that we live on an island and just to get a repairman here means he has to take a ferry and costs $69.99 for the first ten minutes. Are you calling us cheap or something? Yeah, well….
Anyway, confident that this fresh box of soap powder would be the equivalent of an expensive repairman call-out, I got the dishwasher going. Before the dry cycle was up, I opened the door, anticipating fine results, and was met with a cloud of steam. Once that’d passed, and my pores were fully opened (bonus!), I pulled out the blistering hot rack to find…really gross, food-coated dishes and all the soap wet and clumped in the dispenser.
“See?” Victor said. “It’s not the soap.” He wasn’t that happy about being right after having to wash the dishes for the next three weeks by hand.
Finally, when the washing machine stopped draining, we decided it was time to give in and call a repairman – two for one and all that. First he started with the washing machine. It turns out if you ignore that clink-clunk-de-clank for six months because “the clothes are still getting clean” you will destroy the drain pump and he will have to order a part, and come back again. This “ignoring” thing was really paying off – for the repairman. After that, he opened up the inside of the dishwasher and found five years’ worth of food scraps that we hadn’t pre-rinsed off because it says in the manual that you don’t have to. Granted, the manual also said it was probably our clumpy soap, so I used the damn thing to start the fire in the woodstove this morning. After giving the dishwasher a good vacuum, which I videoed for my youtube channel, he put it all back together and we now have a lovely, efficient dishwasher again. And my video, “Call a Repairman You Cheapskate!” has gone viral.
The summer before I started eighth grade, someone, most likely one of my aunts or uncles, thought it would be an excellent bonding experience for my grandparents to take all six grandchildren out for a weekend of backpacking and camping. Grandma and Grandpa were most likely caught off guard and didn’t have any excuses ready, so they agreed.
They stuffed us into their Audi station wagon, which had never seen kids nor sticky substances, and drove us way out of town. I remember it taking most of the day. I know now that it was probably a forty minute journey, but drive-times are multiplied by ten when you have three boys and three girls all under the age of fourteen packed in the back of the car.
Once we’d arrived at the Salmon River, near the base of Mt. Hood, they pried us out of the car, the smashed gummy bears making a sucking sound as they stretched, my grandfather’s blood pressure rising in spite of all the “nature” around us. There was a ginormous backpack for each of us, and mine weighed about the same as I did.
The way that campground worked was you hiked through the woods on a trail that ran parallel to the river. Every quarter mile or so, there was a camping spot which consisted of some flat areas to pitch tents, and a fire pit. My grandparents had a plan – hike in about three miles so we were good and far from the road or other campers who might not “enjoy” pre-teen company, set up camp, and then…get this…go for another hike!
Instead, every quarter mile, as a new camping spot would come into view, six kids started pleading, “Is this it? Can’t we stop here? My backpack’s too heavy. I’m hungry. Are we there yet?”
I am pleased to say that we wore them down after only a mile and a half. We dropped our packs, collapsed on the ground, and wouldn’t get up until we’d been bribed with homemade fruit leather. My grandparents made their own, which we thought was something of a miraculous feat. I mean, who made fruit leather? Out of real fruit? From their own orchard? Well, they did, but no matter how much we begged when we visited their house, they rarely shared it with anyone because it was for “hiking.” Well, we were hiking now, and so we made them cough it up.
“Fruit leather, or pitch the tent yourself,” was our motto. We stuck together until it started getting dark and Grandpa told us we’d have to sleep outside with the bears if we didn’t get off our butts and help put up the tents.
Later, after a nutritious meal of hotdogs and burnt marshmallows, we were all tucked into our sleeping bags – the boys in one tent, the girls in the other. That’s when Grandpa decided to take the bear thing to the next level. Knowing the firelight would cast his shadow on the wall of our tent, he began to crawl around on all fours, bear-like. Then there was some low growling, and he nudged the tent with his “paw.”
Now, I was thirteen, and Lora was twelve, and we both knew it was Grandpa, but the thing is, grandpas are not supposed to scare you. They’re friendly, humourous men who give you gifts your parents never would – like drum sets and pocket knives. So after first taking us on a forced march carrying the kitchen sink on our backs, and now trying to frighten us with the bears, we felt like perhaps we owed him one. My cousin Shelby was only eight, so we handed her the flashlight with a few instructions. I should point out, this was back in the dark ages when they were made of real metal, not crappy plastic like today’s flashlights.
The bear moved closer, growling, pawing at the wall of the tent.
Lora and I fake-screamed.
“It’s a bear, Shelby!” I said.
“Help!” Lora pretended to cry.
THWACK! Shelby brained the bear with the flashlight just like we’d told her to do.
“OWWWW!” shouted a very human-like bear who sounded quite a lot like dear old Grandpa. Lora and I practically peed ourselves laughing. From the boys’ tent we could hear them yelling, “What happened?”
“Go to sleep,” Grandpa growled sounding more like a bear than ever.
We peeked out and saw him sitting next to the fire with Grandma checking his head for blood. “I told you not to play around, Charles,” she said.
I’m not sure if the reason they only took us that once was because of the bear attack, or the fact we made them carry all the gear back to the car for us while we moaned along behind them, comparing blisters and eating what was left of the fruit leather. Either way, the good news was we’d apparently bonded well enough that we never had to go hiking again.