Wednesday, May 25, 2011

OK - here's my excuse...

I haven't been writing here for a little while and there are some good reasons. I could cite the lovely gardening weather, sales conference madness, crushing deadlines, home-cooking, working with the underprivileged, video games, Rapturemania, etc. but not all of them would be true. Most, but not all.
The thing is, besides focussing most of my creative energy on editing other people's books (which I LOVE LOVE LOVE to do!) I've actually started to (wait for it...)

...start mapping out the outline for a book of my own. Yep.

So now that I've put that out there, I guess I'm committed to writing it.

I've never really been particularly interested in writing a book of my own - well, not since I was 10 years old and completely engrossed with Emily of New Moon. I've been quite happy to let other people do all of the creative work and then just swoop in afterward and "fix" everything.  I've never had a story of my own that I've felt like telling.

But now I do. So, no more feeding off the words of others. At least, not exclusively.
And that's all I'm going to say about that.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

In which I discover a leprechaun but very little gold

Yesterday, I went to a workshop led by the Ministry of Education that was intended to help publishers incorporate assessment tools into educational resource materials for teachers. The point, I think, was to integrate assessment with actual instruction, as opposed to saving it all for the big unit test at the end.
"But you just edit kids' books, don't you, Christie?" I hear you ask.
Au contraire, mes amies. We/I also create teachers' guides for our books which are available as free PDFs on the Fitzhenry & Whiteside website. So, Cathy Sandusky (our publisher) and I went to find out the latest in pedagogy down at the Marriott Hotel in Toronto.
For those of you who don't know me that well, I should tell you now that I'm a wee bit leery of the whole educational institution thing. I used to teach high school and was a substitute teacher for years. I was also an in-house tutor at a private school in Toronto for 10 years or so. And I homeschooled my own kids for the greater part of their elementary school years. So I'm not totally unfamiliar with various ways of educating kids. And I'm not a big fan of "the man" in education.
Especially the man who was running the workshop yesterday. He was an older Irish gentleman who seemed to have missed his calling as an evangelical tentshow preacher. Within 2 minutes, he was hopping up and down between tables, gesticualting wildly, and pontificating at the top of his lungs in a manner that would have scared little children.
"We are not here to give you a sermon; rather, you are here to listen to one!"
Before we left for the workshop, Cathy was worried that we had misunderstood the purpose of the event. That's because she read the "details" of the event in an email. So I read it over with her, and after about half an hour, we managed to parse their convoluted prose enough to take a good guess at what we were heading into. It seemed to be something that might be useful. So we went. Besides, there'd be food.
Convoluted prose seemed to be the modus operandi of the day. So, thank goodness, our first exercise that morning was to write out the stated purpose of the workshop in our own words -- just to make sure that everyone understood why we were all there. To give us a sporting chance, the organizers had written out the purpose on a "placemat" for us. This was excellent since it gave me an opportunity to rewrite the purpose with, you know, punctuation and appropriate prepositions, thereby (in fact) altering the purpose of the workshop as it was written on the placemat to the actual purpose of the workshop.
Glad we got that cleared up.
(One of the ladies running the workshop looked at me funny when she saw my placemat and said, "You're an editor, aren't you?" Damn straight.)
I wish I could tell you more about the rest of the day but seriously, that would take more space on this blog than I probably have room for. Let's just say that by first break, I was in need of both valium and alcohol. I think Cathy was afraid my head was going to explode. I still have kids in the school system, after all.
But lunch was good. And in an effort to keep from making snarky asides, I kept stuffing my mouth with croissants and danishes. Yum.
Then I discovered the healing power of doodling and made some very pretty floral patterns.
At about the 4-hour mark, we'd even managed to pick out a few useful nuggets of gold from the leprechaun's Orwellian pot of double-spoken crap. So at least I have some good ideas about how to improve our teachers' guides.
I also have a new-found sense of pity and appreciation for the publishers of actual textbooks. I can ignore most of the mumbo-jumbo that I had to listen to yesterday, but they actually have to buy into it and be able to spout that stuff when they put together their materials and grant proposals etc. Judging from the expressions on their faces and some of their questions and comments, they were almost as twitchy as I was. Good luck with that, folks.

Monday, May 2, 2011

BIG HONKING NEWS CYCLE! (No, not my news - news in general...)

With all that is going on in the world these days, writing up tip sheets for sales kits for books that aren't even going to be printed for months yet seems a bit superfluous.
I mean, jeez. There was a royal wedding to get all distracted about, fascinaters to make, scones and tea to consume and general huzzahing to do.
At my mom's: note her homemade scones. Mmm!
My low-key fascinater: fashioned from some Easter decorations lying around.

On the same day, a bunch of our books landed in the warehouse. Generally, this is a big day no matter what. I LOVE seeing the books all minty fresh out of the box but this lot was special for me and mine because the covers and general design were done by Comm Tech Unlimited - my son's company - and they look pretty darned awesome, I think!!

Sadly, the two Eric Walters books are available with these covers in the US only. But The BEDMAS Conspiracy is available in Canada! Here is a link. It's lots of fun for the 8-12 year-old crowd.

And since today marks the start of Canadian Children's Book Week, why not check out another -  Saving Armpit - also being released this month? Baseball, mail, summer, cake - what's not to love?

Saving ArmpitSaving Armpit - click here!

Then, of course, there are the elections today. I'm ready to take out the camera to get a picture of James voting in his first election. This is just a big as the first day of school, in my books.

Poor Patrick Chan - he wins the World Figure Skating Championships in spades but can hardly buy an inch of air-time what with the Stanley Cup playoffs, the aforementioned Royal Wedding, election coverage and now...Bin Laden's been offed, you say?
Plus, I can't get enough of those clips from the Correspondents' Dinner. ZING!

Yep. Plenty out there to distract me from those tip sheets these days.
Back to Editoriania, though. These deadlines are fast approaching and the rest of the real world will have to wait.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

In which I park a car

I'm tearing myself away from the hockey playoffs to add a few thoughts. A wise (and cool and severely talented and wacky) illustrator told me today that the important thing was to just keep writing even if I don't have pictures to add to the blog. So here goes.
The reason I don't have any pictures is that I don't really have a camera. We have some kicking HD videography equipment, but it doesn't exactly fit in my purse. The camera I used in Italy was on loan from my parents, and my cell phone is an antique. So, no pix for you.
But I HAVE to tell you about Saturday. Kate and I went on an excursion day - shopped for hockey equipment, dropped off the first cheque (of many) for her hockey team registration, and then went to the MULTI-AUTHOR BOOK SIGNING (YES, IT NEEDS TO BE IN CAPS) at Yorkdale Mall.
On Easter Sunday, my aunt said that she and my uncle were driving along the 401 past Yorkdale, looking at the many, many cars crammed into the parking lot, and wondering what kinds of idiots would be trying to go to the mall the day before Easter.
Well, book-loving idiots, I guess.
We drove around and around and around every section of that parking lot, hoping to luck into an empty spot. Then we tried the lurking technique - you know, the one where you just camp out in an aisle and just wait for someone to leave. But we couldn't even find an empty aisle where some other lurker wasn't already camped out.
Then we resorted to stalking. This is not entirely unlike going fishing. You cast your line and wait for a tug. Sometimes, the fish gets away or gets eaten by another, bigger fish. Sometimes the little bugger just eats your worm. In this case, we followed one lady from the doors to the far end of the lot only to discover that a lurker (aka "the other fish") was already waiting right by her car. Another guy was just dropping off Round One of his purchases (worm-eater!). And the last lady decided, at the last minute to take a left turn at Albuquerque. But we were damned if we were letting her get away. With Kate cheering me on, I whipped around an aisle, honked, and waved frantically at her. Mercifully, she waved back, pointed at her car, and grinned at me. It was right on an end corner, and I had to position myself in such as way that made it clear to any and all comers that THIS was MY SPOT so BACK OFF. But that position also meant that once the lady left, I then had to back into the spot.
Victory is mine!
Anyone who knows me at all knows that I SUCK at backing up. Truly. Kate, beside me, was laughing at me in advance (thanks, Kate-O). It took a couple of goes, but I did it. In spite of her Highness chanting repeatedly, "Parking fail! Parking fail!"
All in all, it was about a 20 minute adventure.
And yes, folks, I remembered to take note of where I parked. :)

The MULTI-AUTHOR BOOK SIGNING, featuring Helene Boudreau, Cheryl Rainfield, Mahtab Narsimhan, and Neesha Meminger, was great fun. I'd met Mahtab before at OLA (lovely, of course!) but  it was the first time I'd had a chance to meet my Facebook friends Cheryl Rainfield and Helene Boudreau in person. I was very excited!! I'd promised Helene that her book Real Mermaids Don't Wear Toe Rings would be (and was) my first Kobo purchase so I didn't buy that one, but I did pick up Cheryl's Scars which she autographed for Kate, and Mahtab's second book, The Silver Anklet. Some good reading ahead of me! And Kate, of course.
Mahtab, Cheryl, Me, Helene, and Neesha
Cheryl and Kate with our freshly autographed copy of Scars.
And in case you haven't noticed, yes, fine, I have a couple of pictures. We have a fairly crappy and unreliable point-and-shoot that sucks disposible batteries dry in a matter of moments. I don't usually bother carrying it because of its aforementioned unreliability. But just this once...
Don't get used to it.

RIP Little Red Kettle.
As my husband, Troy, pointed out, when you have a kitchen the size of a kleenex box, expect things to get knocked off of counters. Alas, my little red whistling kettle plunged to its death on Easter morning.
Its cheery whistle will be missed.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Just when I thought life couldn't get any better - it's Waffle Wednesday!!

I have to say, the past 36 hours have been pretty darn good. Kate has finally signed with a new hockey team for next year - the Willowdale Red Wings Bantam AA - so now I can go back to being a hockey mom, not an agent. James accepted an offer of admission to the Creative Advertising program at Seneca College, so now I can relax about what he'll be doing next year. For both Kate and James, both of these offers were from their first choices and I'm thrilled that they are going to be doing exactly what they wanted. It's going to be a great year!
Troy also thinks that, since he is an employee of Seneca, we might be eligible to have James's tuition covered - BONUS!!!
And, to cap it all off, there are waffles at work. With real maple syrup, fresh berries, chocolate chips, chocolate sauce, ice cream, whipped cream, and butterscotch. 
Mine! All mine!
Pooja - the Queen of the Waffle-maker
Just some of the fixin's...

Is everybody happy? You bet!

Here's hoping we get to do this again soon!!

And, as if all this wonderfulness wasn't enough, there was a new Hyperbole and a Half blog-post in my RSS feed today to make me laugh.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Burn, baby, burn!

Remember when you were a kid and you were sitting in your chair kinda zoning out of class, and then suddenly CLANCLANGCLANG!!! Fire alarm! There was always a sort of rush, an excitement that comes from something out-of-the-ordinary.
Well, we got to experience that for a moment yesterday at the office. But it was way cooler because there were fire trucks! Up close! Two of them! Yee ha!
Look! He's got an AXE!
Suddenly, we were all four years old again. But the big advantage was that, unlike most four-year-olds, some of us had iPhones and were able to take pictures :) The firefighters were looking at us with pity, I think, since we were all acting a bit giddy. They must think we have the most boring jobs in the world to get so excited about FIRE TRUCKS!
I wanna ride in the fire truck!
Obviously, there was no fire. I'm still not too sure what set off the alarm, but there was never any threat of death and destruction, so we all felt perfectly fine enjoying the ruckus.
Another cool thing about not being a kid in school? No-one will stop you from grabbing your coat on the way out!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Oh, it's GOOD to be home!

Cristina drove me to the airport yesterday morning in plenty of time for my 11:30 flight. I had my swanky new purse and  shoes (which caused me to wipe out a couple of times  - so elegant!) and a couple of hours to kill. Since I hadn't eaten breakfast, I figured that this was my last best chance to have a gelato (raspberry=fruit=breakfast, right?). I also did a bit of last-minute shopping.

The plane was over an hour late taking off. Part of the delay was caused when they realized that the plane had been idling so long that it needed to be refueled. Duh.

The flight was nine hours, direct, freezing cold, and bumpy. Talk about needing an iron bladder - the seatbelt light hardly ever went off the whole way over!

It was so wonderful to see the James and Troy waiting for me at the airport, and then Eliot and Kate at home. Troy had spent so much time over the past week overhauling various parts of the house that we'd been ignoring for so long. It was really exciting to see all my kids books on SHELVES rather than in boxes!!

And today, it's back to all the other stuff that I love doing. Along with MUCH follow-up from Bologna.

Thanks, everyone, for joining me on the ride to Italy! Your responses have been fun to read. Just so you all know, I will be continuing to write about various adventures in Editoriania as they arise, sharing thoughts and questions, and telling stories. I hope that you'll continue to follow along. Feel free to ask questions or post suggestions about things to talk about.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Bonus Post: Dinner with the family!

Tonight, Cristina had to go to a birthday party for two of her best friends, so I was on my own with the rest of her/our non-English speaking family. Boy, I've never spoken so much Italian in my life. As little Italian as I have, they had even less English.
Ezio is my dad's cousin. He picked me up with his wife, Rosanna, and his daughter Milena. Milena had her 16 month old son, Lorenzo, on her lap (oh, yes!) in the back seat of the car. Her husband, Gianfranco, was in the front. We drove to a very nice restaurant around the corner from the Castel di Sant'Angelo.
Lorenzo - a very happy little guy!
Gianfranco, Ezio, Bianca

Milena and Rosanna
We enjoyed a multi-course meal that featured seafood in practically every dish.  Now, I'm a gamer when it comes to trying new food and I ate almost everything that was put in front of me. I really like mussels, and most of the seafood I didn't recognize was just fine. But one fettucini dish I really had to work my way around. There was a congregation of sea creatures on top that I simply couldn't manage. You know those Sea Monkeys that you see in the back of the comic books? I swear, they looked for all the world like big versions those critters. I could almost imagine one of them with long curly eyelashes. But the rest of dinner was great.
We were joined at dinner by two of Rosanna's best friends. One of them was intent on giving me as much historical context as she could for many of the buildings in the area. At least, I'm pretty sure that's what she was saying. The other had many stories to tell, most of them hilarious, apparently, and at least one of which involved cats. Also, she seemed to know a lot about Quebec. And she assured me that Toronto doesn't get very cold. What a relief to hear. I was worried about the upcoming winter. Guess I won't need those woolies after all.
Ezio told a couple of funny stories about driving in Toronto with my dad and their cousin Rino and something to do with getting pulled over by the police. I definitely will need to get the English version of that one when I get back since it had everyone in stitches.
After dinner, Ezio insisted on giving me a tour of the neighbourhood. Now, I have been walking around Rome for two days straight. Both times, I wore very comfortable shoes, sacrificing fashion for practicality. Tonight, I dressed up for dinner and wore the new shoes that I bought the other day. They are reasonably low-heeled but DEFINITELY not worked in. In short, I was not at all prepared for midnight walking tour. But off we went.
Castel Sant'Angelo
View from the Ponte Sant'Angelo

Honestly, it was worth it. Ezio showed me the Castel Sant'Angelo (the history of which Bianca had detailed over dinner) along with the Ponte Sant'Angelo.
We arrived at the car on the other side of the bridge and piled in. From there, a whirlwind, Mario-cart style tour of the rest of the city began. Fortunately, one of the sights we stopped at was St. Peter's, which Cristina and I hadn't had a chance to visit. So I got a picture there, at Ezio's insistence.
It was insane how much traffic there is in Rome at 1:30 in the morning!! It took forever to get back to Cristina's apartment, though Ezio did his darnedest to floor it whenever possible. It was a bit of a surreal experience with the lights and the speed and the Lady Gaga on the radio.
My totally awesome birthday presents from my parents.
So now, it's almost 3 am and I have to get packed and be ready to leave for the airport by 9:30 am. But as I have been saying to everyone here - I can sleep when I get back to Canada. For now, I'll just take in every moment I can.

Winding down the trip and winding up with no money :(

The subway trains are absolutely covered with some rather fine grafitti art.
Hanging out by the Colliseum
This morning, Cristina and I headed back into the city for a bit more sightseeing and some real shopping. I bought myself a super cute purse and a few things for the kids. Cristina also had to pick up a birthday present for a friend whose party she'll be attending tonight. I'll be spending the evening with her parents, her sister, and her sister's family.

Cristina in Piazza del Popolo - Isn't she gorgeous?
We went to Piazza del Popolo today and saw the Spanish Steps. I contemplated climbing them for about two seconds before deciding that I really didn't need to do that. Really. My feet had just about had it. Got the picture - good enough!
The Spanish Steps. Yeah. Not climbing those...

We also went to a Carravaggio exhibit in the National Archives. You had to go in on a guided tour which was fine but it was all in Italian, so I just took lots of pictures and Cristina gave me the post-tour version once we'd left.

Now THAT's a library!
David and Goliath

But the bulk of our time was spent trying to get money out of various bank machines. I've been having a considerable amount of difficulty accessing my money here. One bank card says I've exceeded my daily limit - which is ridiculous since I haven't been able to take money out! - and the other one says that it's been frozen and to contact my bank. The banks, meanwhile, are telling me that the cards are fine and I should have no trouble using them and it must be the machine. Yep. Every machine in Rome is messed up today. But not my card - oh, no. Meanwhile, my Visa has also been persnicketty - some sort of pin/chip error. At least I've been able to sort that out (I think), but nothing I've needed to buy since I fixed it has been a Visa type of purchase. Argh!

Well, I'm all pretty much packed up and ready to hop on the plane home tomorrow. Eleven hours direct to Toronto. On one hand, I hope Troy and Kate will be there to pick me up. On the other hand, I'd rather have my parents there to pick me up since (a) of course it would be nice to see them but also (b) if Troy and Kate can't make it, it's because her team made it to the finals of the hockey tournament she's in. Go Dolphins!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Doing Rome in a Day - with style!

Parking, Roman style.
After a full six hours of sleep (whoo hoo!!!) I was ready to hit the big city. Cristina had to work until the middle of the afternoon, so I went out shopping on my own for the first little while. She lives right off the Via Appia, down the way from a great big ruined Roman wall. I went into a sort of department store called Coin and just as I entered, someone handed me a coupon for 50% off haircuts and styling. Well, heck, I needed a cut and colour something fierce, so I thought, how convenient!

The wall at Via Appia - how I oriented myself.
And then I had a gelato for lunch.

In my wanderings, I happened on a whole alleyway of street vendors selling some really nice stuff, similar to the wares found in the department store but for a fraction of the price. Fantastico!
I went into a bank to change some money and succeeded in looking like an idiot - yes, again. I walked into the foyer and was confronted by a glass wall with these two cylindrical pods (like something out of Star Trek) that seemed to be the entrances. A semi-circular door slid open and I entered. But the door on the other side of the pod, leading INTO the bank wouldn't open. Some recorded voices started yammering away in Italian (of course) but I had no idea what the deal was. So I got out and tried again. Meanwhile the security guard is watching me going in and out and in and out. Finally, some other little guy (not the security guard) explains the whole proceedure to me. It seems that going to the bank is not unlike going through airport security. You have to put your bags, your belt, and your cell phone into a little locker in the foyer. Then you enter the little pod thingy and it scans you to make sure that you aren't packing anything dangerous. Then the second door will finally slide open, allowing you to enter the bank. Good gravy.
So after my little bank adventure, I made my way back to Cristina's (only got slightly lost) and we went downtown.
Wowzer. When my brother said that the whole city was like a museum, he wasn't kidding. Here is some of the stuff we saw:

Some Italians say this looks like a big, white, wedding cake. Pfft.

Cristina in front of the Fountain of the Four Rivers
Inside a big round church, the name of which I've forgotten.
And, of course, the Parthenon
And then, naturally, we had more gelato :)

It was absolutely awesome having Cristina to show me around. We just walked and walked for hours. The highlight was buying a bottle of beer and a cone of chestnuts and having them in front of the Trevi Fountain.

Chestnut vendor by the Trevi Fountain
Cheers, Dad! Having a Guiness and a cone of chestnuts for you!
Tossing a coin (yes, I'm a tourist) and wishing to come back with Troy someday.

After a lovely dinner, we headed home - another small adventure in a city that is still affected somewhat by the bus strikes. The buses are running on a "we'll show up when we feel like it" schedule and the taxi lines are really long. But we managed to share a cab with a couple heading in our general direction. Amazingly, it turned out that Cristina had once worked with the same company as the man in our cab. So suddenly, I found myself in a cab-full of geologists happily chattering away in high-speed Italian about rocks and stuff while listening to Rod Stewart on the radio. (Cristina is defending her PhD thesis in two weeks on hydrogeology) Good times.

Tomorrow, St. Peter's Basilica (I think) and dinner with the family. Just one day left!
A domani...

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Arrivaderci, Bologna - a day early...and Rome Part II

Dessert from last night. Because I know how much you all want to know what I had for dessert!
Today was the last day of the Bologna Book Fair, and last night I went out for dinner with some of the ladies from our Canadian publishing contingent. Apparently, this sort of ladies dinner is a bit of a tradition, and I was very happy to be included. We had SO much fun exchanging travel stories (not that I had many). Most of these women have been to the Bologna and Frankfurt book fairs many, many times over the years and I got to hear some hilarious stories. Scandalous, even. But sorry, folks. What happens in Bologna, stays in Bolonga. ;)

This is what a taxi line-up looks like outside of the Fair when the buses are on strike. Actually, the line is twice as long but I don't have a wide-angle lens.
But throughout the day, there was an underlying level of anxiety due to the fact that all the train services in Italy were going on strike this evening until tomorrow night. Of course, I was scheduled to travel back into Rome tomorrow afternoon to stay with my cousin for the weekend before flying home. And by the time I learned of the impending strike, it was too late for me to cancel my hotel room in Bologna for that night. After much deliberation, I decided that it would still be best to get on a train this afternoon and get into Rome before the strike began. I certainly didn't want to get stuck in the train station in Bologna in whatever sort of confusion might ensue tomorrow while schlepping around two suitcases. Fortunately, I was able to contact Cristina (my cousin) and arrange to meet her at the train station in Rome. Otherwise, I'd just be hanging around Bologna (as lovely as it is) for another day and missing Rome entirely.
The Hotel Breakfast Bar. Yum!

So, arrivaderci, Bologna and Albergo Centrale Hotel!  I hope I will be back again soon.

On to Rome...

The ride in was peaceful and uneventful, thank goodness. And it was wonderful to see Cristina on the platform at the end of my journey, waiting for me. I hadn't seen her in over 10 years! Unfortunately, since I was a day early, she hadn't been able to make arrangements to pick up her car in time to help me get to her apartment, so we had to lug all my ridiculous luggage on the subway. Holy moley. What a LOT of stairs!!! I'm sure that poor Cristina is wondering what sort of lunatic cousin she has, with all these bags. The two of us were pretty worn out when we finally got to her place.

After settling all my stuff in, we went out to a super restaurant (Yes, Dad, - I paid! Thanks!) and walked around a little before calling it a night.

Now that the Fair itself is over, I hope that I'll be able to get some sleep. But I'll still be thinking of Kate and James at home, playing in hockey tournaments tomorrow: Kate in Hamilton, and James in Milton, in what is probably his last rep tournament ever. Sigh. Of course, I'll also be thinking of Eliot at school (ha, ha - sorry, Eliot), and Troy getting up plenty early to drive Kate. I hear there's been snow in Toronto. Gee, that's too bad ;)

For Kate: Look! There really is a Marblehead, Massachusettes! (Inside West Wing joke...)