Sarah Raymond is a writer and artist from Toronto, Ontario. Her young adult novel, Signs of Martha, comes out in spring 2011 with Great Plains Publications. Scroll on down for musings on writing, art and other perils of domestic life. Homemade drawings included.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Trouble in VeggieGarden Paradise

It's amazing dandelions could grow in this space. Not only is the soil dense and hard, it's riddled with gravel. (Blogger pauses to wipe sweat off forehead with back of dirty hand.)

If you read an earlier post, you'll know I've joined forces with the Young Urban Farmers , an organization of energetic garden go-getters that promises "backyard vegetables without the work". Trouble is, you can't have vegetables without good soil and lots of it.

Current stresses in paradise:

1) Did we bite off more lawn than we can chew?

2) How much triple mix does our lifeless gray stratum need? How about costs in time? Cash? Blisters? (All are under review.)

3) A local gardener suggested using part of our space to grow green cover for rejuvenating the soil. He suggested hairy vetch.

Does hairy vetch look as nasty as it sounds?

Stay tuned.

Monday, April 19, 2010

What 9-Year-Old Birthday Partiers are Talking About

Hosting a t-shirt painting party for nine year olds is a definite domestic hazard, but at least I learned what the girls are talking, yelling and singing about. In summary:

1) Justin Bieber (A Canadian pop star, for those of you over fourteen.)

2) Anti-pink protests Pink is dead. Offensive. Insulting, even. My apologies to the poor kid who got stuck with the pink t-shirt.

3) Did I mention Justin Bieber? One girl insisted he was ugly. I suggested the judgement was in fact a veiled admission of her interest in his cuteness. She wasn't listening.

4)Advanced skipping techniques

5) We Are The World Because schoolkids in our area will soon be singing the Haiti tribute in unison, the girls suddenly broke out in swaying song. Michael Jackson would be proud. Maybe.

At least no t-shirts were damaged during the impromptu chorus.

6) Earth Rangers, the website.

7) Selena Gomez My pre-pubescent gang revered boy pop stars. A shift to equality is better, right?

and of course
8)a screaming rendition of Happy Birthday.

Will the girls be yelling and singing at next year's party, or will their tones hush? Will pink return, or are little-girly, childish hues gone forever? Don't even answer that one.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Dwarf Knitting Needles

I'm no knitting queen, but to prepare kids for Life, they need to know the basics: how to make change, hand signal on a bike and how to knit. So when my friend Kyra (9 years old) told me about kid-sized knitting needles, I ran out and bought a pair. You can't get them everywhere. The woman at my local yarn shop insisted they weren't available in Canada, but Romni Wools on Queen street in Toronto has the ones made by Susan Bates. My daughter loves her new needles. I like to think the shorter, chopstick length makes them less appealing for poking her brother.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Hazards of Selling on Etsy

In my twenties, I could smoke the odd cigarette and not need another one. Etsy, the online marketplace for handmade craft, is different. Etsy is addictive and it doesn't even have warning labels. What you need to know:

If you visit Etsy, you'll give up great gobs of your life. Once I searched for quilts on Etsy and ended up viewing all 459 of them. After, I was stoner-head happy, but dopey. I hadn't even started a shop or discovered the chatty land of forums.

If you start an Etsy shop, you'll develop an annoying need for approval. Approval comes in the form of "love" (hearts) or money (cold, hard Paypal cash). I have much more love than money. Am I happier for my hearts? Isn't my question a clue to the neediness I've sheepishly developed?

If you start an Etsy shop, your language will change. I attended the auspicious Humber School for Writers. It was expensive, anyway. My mentor, Kim Moritsugu, drummed out all the exclamation marks out of my writing. But in the fast-paced traffic jam of Etsy, you have to exclaim with marks. Lots of them! If you don't, no one will hear you!!

If your things sell, your living conditions will change. You'll need to make more. More things means more supplies, more boxes for them and more packing equipment. More space to photograph. More dropped pins on the floor.

Would I have started a shop if I'd had the warnings? Etsy is a great community, after all, although I can't think about the question too hard. I have to see if anyone just hearted me.

Friday, April 9, 2010

A New Look

My hair is medium-brown, medium-length and medium-wavy. When you work from home, it's easy to let your appearance go medium.

Which new look do you like?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

How to Operate a Writers Group

My son: (not looking up from his ds game) Where ya going? Book group?
Me: (slinging on shoulder bag) No, no. Writers group. Writers group is different. We work.
Son: Are there cookies?
Me: Of course.

The tea and cookies at my writers group are deceivingly genteel. The women are grisly mean. Monster-attackers of words. I love them. People often ask me how a writers group works. Here are operating instructions for mine.

1) Assemble a group of like-minded writer-types, the meaner the better. We have a group of 5.

2) A week or so ahead of your meeting, write the chapter of a book.

3) Suspend your finger over the computer's send-to-all key and then pause.

4) Realize you didn't proofread enough. Do so. Discover a plot hole bigger than the North West Territories and feverishly rewrite, all the while noting the diminishing afternoon. Your children will soon be waiting at school for pick-up and depending on the day, will either feel dejected or angry.

5) Give up, send to all, and make a run for the schoolyard.

6) Over the next few days, print the chapters your group members sent you.

7) Carve out delicious, sneaky moments to edit their work with a sharp pencil. My favourite is during prep time while supply teaching for high school English. I look just like a real teacher marking papers except I'm having more fun.

8) Meet at the designated home and enter via your group's secret handshake. Not really, but enjoy idle chatter and laughter. Soon it will end.

9) Crit your group members' works aloud and in earnest. Note similarities in reactions. Interrupt. Get annoyed about interruptions. Listen to the others debate your chapter. Get out of the way. If there's blood, so be it.

10) Watch the fog lift off your chapter. The work you were so close to has suddenly taken shape as an entity in the world. See its annoying faults. Celebrate its quirkiness. There may be a faint chorus of angels. That's not your writing group--they're eating cookies. It's the crystal-clear choir of perspective ringing in your ears.

11) Return home with your stack of edited chapter versions and sprint to your laptop for revisions.

12) Repeat as necessary.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Breaking the Land

This is how our North Toronto backyard looked a few weeks ago and how it looks now.

Yesterday, I worked the land as a clodbanger.

What is a clodbanger, you ask? A clodbanger

1) picks up gobs of just-tilled sod
2) bangs it ruthlessly on the ground to shake out precious topsoil and wormy-things
3) whips the ragged clump into the wheelbarrow

If the idea of clodbanging gets you excited, too, hurry and call the YoungUrbanFarmers and maybe they can till you come clods. The group is taking over our back yard and converting it into a veggie garden. The harvest from their pool of gardens will be split among shareholders in the CSA -- the community-shared agriculture project. I volunteer as much I want to. I get a share. I get a pretty, luscious garden rich in vitamins and minerals!

Wait. A confession: I've been nervous about giving the YoungUrbanFarmers run of our backyard. My husband swallowed and kept his mouth shut, except for an off-handed justification about less lawn mowing this summer. But are the YoungUrbanFarmers more naive and greener than a spring onion? Veggie gardening is grueling. My parents grew a bountiful plot where I grew up in Perth County and I know what's involved. Will our backyard soon become a scrawl of abandoned, half-tilled earth when the YoungUrbanFarmers realize what in God's name they've taken on and make a run for Starbucks?

At least I like clodbanging, especially with the volunteer I worked with yesterday, a woman from Australia who's also a writer. Between wheelbarrow trips to the compost pile, she told me about joining the Three Day Novel Contest, a challenge more daunting than a vegetable garden. You don't really get to know a person until you bang clods together.

After the rototiller quieted and the last shovel was tossed into the shed late yesterday afternoon, I surveyed the luscious rectangle of clawed earth. I don't think it was just because of the freak warmth of the day, or the thanks my muscles were sending for not clodbanging anymore. My fears were forgotten and I felt like Maria, twirling on the Swiss Alps. My garden is alive.