I teach reading and writing to kids from elementary to high school. I mark a lot of written work, but this week, something in my stack of sentences, book reports, and essays surprised me. A young girl wrote a bundle of reports of her “A+ Days”. Like diary entries, she wrote about all the good things that happened in a day, each short page ending with the sentence “That was my A+ Day”. I instantly charmed, and I knew I had found the topic for this week’s zine. Here is a week of A+ Days, happymaking paragraphs pulled from my daily writing practice. I spend a lot of time complaining because this writing is just for me. But sometimes, good things shine through, and I want to remember them.

November 22, 2015
Would be nice to go out hiking again, but I haven’t been brave enough to face the cold. Gotta get back to it. Though I am happy with my kilometres for this month. Would be nice to get to 100, but I’m not sure it’s going to happen. I haven’t looked recently at what I need to make the 1000 for the year. Good incentive to do this zine early, then go for a walk. Even just down the hill and along the beach. 816km for the year so far. I might not be able to make 1000 before the end of December. That would mean 180 in the last month and a bit. I could get very close, but I don’t think I can do that. But at least I know I can do that next year. Now I know what I can do in a year. Or, now I will know what I can do in a year.

November 23, 2015
I’ve pretty much decided not to write fiction next year. I’m going to declare it a fallow year. Take the whole year off–like One Direction–just figure out what else I want to write. There is so much, and also, inspired by rereading the Natalie Goldberg books, I really feel like non-fiction writing is so much more my medium. I feel like that’s the natural form that my writing takes, and that when I try to write stories, I try too hard. Not that things worth it shouldn’t be hard, but do they have to be this hard? I haven’t even started on finishing November’s story. I’m pushing the publishing date into December, and I don’t feel bad about that at all because it’ll only be the 2nd.

November 24, 2015
My brothers and I are all in our 30s now. That’s crazymaking. I suppose the number doesn’t matter so much anymore. It really doesn’t. If the last ten years has taught me anything, it’s that. You can do whatever you want at whatever time you want, and there are no rules to tell you that you’re wrong.

Year long projects are great because it’s a challenge, it’s long enough to figure out if you like something, and it’s possible. That’s the important one. Something you know you can do and do throughout the whole year. So, a daily thing isn’t a great idea. It’s better to do something with flexibility. That’s why I chose a zine a week. It’s not crazy (though it’s a little bit crazy). But here I am, more than a year through, and I haven’t missed a week yet. I’ve done it every Sunday (since I picked Sunday). Yay.

November 25, 2015
It’s not even noon, and I’ve washed my face, made tea and eaten breakfast, finished my book cover and posted an excerpt. I just want to stay in bed this morning. It’s so damn cold. I really want to read through these Miss Fisher books before the end of the year, and I think that’s possible. I finish one about every three days. I’m nearly halfway through the latest. And there aren’t many left now. Six including the one I’m reading. So I could do it. Trying to decide if I can afford to go hiking this weekend. I would really love to. I’ve missed it so much. Stanley Park or Fort Langley. Leaning towards Langley because I’m thinking that Stanley Park is going to be windy.

Here’s a list of things I’m doing right now: working, writing 750 words every day, making a zine a week, reading all the Miss Fisher books, making a book a month, trying to be a better friend, working towards treatment for depression and anxiety, thinking about writing four books next year.

November 26, 2015
I literally can’t seem to put this book down. I’ll probably finish it tonight. I recognize that part of that compulsion is me avoiding writing this story that I need to finish and publish next Wednesday. Like, if I could just finish this story, I would be that much closer to being finished with the year, and with fiction for a while. The December story is done, but for some editing. I’m not going to change anything big. I’m just going to publish it. The closer I get to being done with fiction, the happier I get, and I’m realizing now that means I made the right decision. You know those moments, when you know the right decision to make, but you just can’t bring yourself to do it.

You find yourself fantasizing about having made the decision. You start thinking about your life after you’ve made the decision. That’s where I am right now with this book. It’s why I’m having such a hard time writing it. I just want to be done with it. I’m living the writing equivalent of senior year right now. I’m done, I’m checked out, I’m already graduated and sleeping until noon. Literally, actually, today. I fell back to sleep and didn’t wake up until after noon.

November 27, 2015
I had a can of chickpeas, and I made a curry earlier this week, and I saved the liquid for something I wasn’t sure I would make. I didn’t know what I was going to do with it, only that I was going to do something. Last night, in a fit of insomnia, I figured it out: try out the Yorkshire pudding theory. So I put a bread loaf pan in the oven at 425, with two tablespoons of oil, just enough to cover the bottom. Then I beat the liquid in the stand mixer, just a moment or two until it was frothy. I added milk and 00 flour. I figured the white would be better than the whole wheat. A pinch of salt, too.

I had to wait for the oil to heat up, so I just let the batter stand for a couple of minutes after the first mix. Then, when I was ready, I cranked it up high to get it bubbly, then straight into the oil. It’s still in the oven now, not quite golden brown. I’m not sure how much height I’m going to get out of it, but it’s worth a few tries. Also, it’s still going to taste amazing with jam and honey on top. I can’t wait to try it with some fake sausages.

I just went and looked, through the window of course, and it does look like it’s getting a bit of height. Also, it’s 450 the oven is set at. That might be something to adjust as well. Higher or lower? I’m starting to hear the oil bubble, but I’m not sure if that just started happening or if I can hear it now because the kettle isn’t heating up. That kettle is so damn loud. There’s an argument for electric if I ever heard one.

November 28, 2015
Starting this day off right by getting up and out of bed at 9, taking my pills, then brushing my teeth. Yes, I’m back in bed, but I have breakfast, and I’m writing. It’s just warmer in here. It’s nice because my bedroom is small, so I can fill it with heat, and it’s like a little cave. So warm. So nice. First thing, I think, I’m going to do the zine. I know exactly what I want to do, and an accomplishment at the beginning of the day would be a great motivator for the rest. I’m going to make my zine and get it ready to post tomorrow. I’m going to write a bunch of words for my book. I don’t have to write them all. But I have to write at least two thousand today. That puts me in a good place to get this thing done by Tuesday. But this is a good start.

These were my A+ Days.

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This is the November story! Despite the December 2nd release date. That’s just the way the Wednesdays fall, and I have a continuity to maintain.

This story started life as a very short one called SAFETY WEEK, but that title didn’t work so well on this cover. I embraced my cheesy romance writer self and slapped a pun over some orange leaves, and boy, does it feel so good.

Here is a little taste of Mr. Rose and Officer Cowan, all set to FALL IN LOVE next Wednesday.

Safety week had been a success so far. On Monday, they made belts and bracelets with reflective tape. On Tuesday, Isaak led them on a walk around the school to practice crossing the street. On Wednesday, Chester’s mom brought her doctor’s bag for show-and-tell. On Thursday, they looked at all different kinds of warning signs and labels and drew their own.

On Friday, Officer Cowan would come to talk to Isaak’s kindergarten class about being a police officer. He knew the kids were so excited. They rushed through morning music class, and no one wanted a story when Isaak offered.

“When do we get to meet the policeman?” Olive asked.

“I’m going to be a police girl,” Rashmi told the kids at her table.

Before he had to deal with an all-out riot, Isaak heard a knock at the door. He looked and saw a handsome man waving through the tiny window. His grin was bigger than the kids’. Isaak hurried over to let him in.

“Hi,” the officer said. “Finley Cowan.” They shook hands. “I hope I’m not late. Traffic was terrible, but I didn’t think the siren was appropriate.”

He was taller than Isaak, but most men were. He was bigger, too, arms bursting out of his short-sleeved uniform shirt like it was made for a dancer, not a real cop. The last school liaison officer they had retired last year, and this was the first Isaak was seeing of the man chosen to replace Officer O’Neal.

“Isaak.” He tore his gaze away to look up at Officer Cowan. “Mr. Rose,” he said. They were standing in front of 25 six-year-olds. He had to be professional.

“Nice to meet you, Mr. Rose.” Officer Cowan was very nice and very professional. He was still holding Isaak’s hand.

Toad-in-the-hole

Toad is one of my favourite childhood meals, an English classic that’s even better than Yorkshire pudding, because it’s one big Yorkshire stuffed with sausages. I haven’t yet made it since I started eating vegan, but I have some ideas for how to make it work. The liquid from a can of chickpeas whips up into a white meringue, exactly like egg whites, and I suspect it can be used here to substitute the eggs. The milk can be any non-dairy milk, though I wouldn’t suggest coconut. My mom always makes the batter in the blender, but a whisk works, too.

1 package (fake) sausages
2 to 3 tbsp vegetable oil

Heat oven to 425. Bake the sausages and oil in a large baking dish until sausages are cooked.

Batter

1 cup flour
1 tsp salt
3 eggs (or ½ cup chickpea liquid)
1 cup milk

Blend batter until smooth. It will be thinner than pancake batter and should not be lumpy. Open the oven and pull out the rack. Pour the batter over the sausages and oil, then close the oven as quickly as possible. Bake 30 minutes, until the batter has puffed and looks golden. Resist the urge to open the oven door until it is done. Cut into squares and serve with ketchup and sautéed peas.

Calzone

Instead of paying extra for the “stuffed” pizza from your delivery place, just fold your homemade pizza in half to make a calzone. Pizza dough is one of the easiest breads to make because it really doesn’t matter if it rises long enough.

1 cup warm tap water (not hot)
1 tbsp honey
1 tsp yeast
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
about 3 cups flour

I like 00 flour, aka pizza flour, but any white flour is fine. Substitute half a cup of whole wheat or semolina to add flavour and texture.

Mix water, honey, yeast in a bowl. A stand mixer with a dough hook is perfect, but not necessary. Let the yeast bloom for a few minutes, until the water is cloudy and bubbles form around the edge. Add the rest of the ingredients, then mix until the dough forms into a ball and pulls away from the bowl. Add more flour if it looks too sticky. Knead the dough for about ten minutes. Cover with a clean towel and let stand until you’re ready to make pizza.

Portion into fist-sized balls, then roll out into circles. Fill with whatever you like: tomato sauce, pesto, mushrooms, pineapple, and anything else that will fit. Brush the edge of the dough with a wet finger, fold, then crimp the edge by rolling it back on itself. Brush the top with oil, sprinkle with coarse salt and pepper, and cut a slit to let the air escape. Bake as hot as your oven will go until the crust is golden and the filling is bubbling.

Stuffed Squash

Acorn squash can be annoying to peel, so this is the perfect way to cook them. It’s like an edible bowl for whatever filling you love.

1 squash
1 cup cooked grain of your choice
chopped vegetables
oil, salt, pepper
nuts and herbs, for garnish

Split the squash in half and clean out the insides. Score with a knife. Season with oil, salt, pepper. In a separate bowl, mix cooked grains with finely chopped vegetables. Quinoa would taste great with sautéed red onion, mushrooms, and kale. Couscous goes well with peppers, zucchini, and mint. Mix brown rice with tomatoes, corn, and chili. Squash is a plain vehicle for your favourite flavours. Fill the cavity. Place in a baking dish with an inch of water. Cover with foil and bake at 350. Once the squash is tender–about 30 minutes, test with the tip of a knife–remove foil and continue baking until browned. Eat straight from the skin.

Jam Muffins

Take a basic muffin recipe (this one is adapted from Martha Stewart) and add whatever open jar of jam you have in the fridge to make these stuffed muffins. Though I don’t often bother with paper liners, you might want to with these muffins. The jam can make a sticky mess to clean up, but it tastes so good!

1 ½ cups flour
1 cup oats
2 ¼ tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 eggs (or 6 tbsp chickpea liquid)
¼ cup oil
½ cup milk
about a cup of jam

Mix the wet and dry ingredients separately, then combine. Don’t overmix! Stir just until it comes together. Put a generous spoonful of batter in the bottom of each cup. Then add a generous spoonful of jam. Top with the rest of the batter, filling each cup just below the rim. Bake at 350 for about 25 minutes, checking the tops for firmness. (A toothpick will NOT come out clean here.) Let cool before you eat with a glass of milk or a cup of tea.

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First morning in LA. I’m looking down on a tree filled with lemons. The painters are working. I’ll probably be at the house until afternoon. Which isn’t a problem. It’s nice to have some time to decompress and ease into vacation. We did Mexican food at Costa Alegre last night on the way home from the airport. They have a full veg/vegan menu, which is nice. I had spinach, onion, mushroom enchiladas with salsa verde, rice, and beans. Exactly the right first meal. It’s such comforting food, and so good, even vegan.

It’s not hot. At least, not yet. It’s nice and almost too cool. I thought about grabbing my sweatshirt to sit out on the deck. I don’t want to go back. I don’t want to bother them too much. Just let them do the work and get it done. Then I’ll walk down the hill. See how far it is to walk, and see how hot it gets. The whole point is to be disconnected a little. I think I’ll delete Tumblr for now; just download it on Sunday to upload my zine, then delete it again. I woke up at 630, and that’s what I checked. I don’t need to be doing that. Here’s a tweet I need to remember for later: Burr is the Snape of American History.

In all my years of coming to this house, I don’t remember seeing other people in the other houses. Maybe they’re just at work? There’s someone pruning a tree across the street on the other hill. They’re building a house at the top of one of the peaks to the right. It is chilly. I am chastened. This isn’t cold, but it’s definitely sweater weather. No shame, LA. Wear your boots and flannel tights. Kinda wishing I had brought mine after all. I just thought the neon pink would be cooler. Saving that for this weekend.

I don’t even know what time it is right now because my phone is charging. I use it for everything, and that’s not a bad thing, but it also is. I need to let myself put it away for longer periods of time. There’s not much that’s a necessary notification. Whoa, cold breeze. I want to go get my sweater, but now she’s painting right at the door. I need to be a brave Canadian and ride it out. It’ll warm up soon. I hope. With my luck, it’ll warm up too much, and I won’t be able to walk into the city.

I know where a lot of stuff is, but I don’t know how things connect. Once I’m in a familiar neighbourhood, I’m usually good. But getting from one place to another is hard, especially on foot or on transit. This is really such a car city. Last night, going to Home Depot, the best route included two freeways. I know that if I lived here, I could do it. I know I would learn and figure it out, and I don’t doubt that going car free is possible. But as a tourist, it feels insurmountable. Even when I go on good in a mostly familiar place, I get off-track. There is just so much. Flying in at night helps this illusion. There’s no depth to break up the sprawl. LA looks like an endless blanket of yellow and red lights. One of the freeways–at 730pm!–was two unbroken lines of headlights in white and rear lights in red. I was only as we flew closer that you could tell they were distinct to each individual car. LA feels like that–one big mass. But once you’re in the city, the neighbourhoods reveal themselves. There are differences. I feel that especially when I think back on past trips. Megan lived in Echo Park the first time I came to stay, then Palms, then here in Silver Lake. I’ve had a chance to explore all of them on food. All of them are different, but still LA.

I definitely have an LA book in me. I might call it Chasing Effie. This is the street which has long eluded me. Today, I discovered my route to Amoeba Records (and Megan’s office) started by following Effie all the way to Sunset. But Effie is a twisty turny thing, crossing boulevards, disappearing and reappearing. I lost her on Rosedale, but I stuck with it and found her again, around the corner. I kept walking and found Micheltorena and the very same intersection where I gave up last trip, sat down after hiking up the hill that is Micheltorena Street, and used mobile data to look at a map to find my way home. On the walk down, headed to Fountain, I discovered my best yet view of the Hollywood sign and Griffith Observatory. Later, on Sunset, I passed my previous best view, the intersection at Gower (“the Gower Gultch”), where I had once wandered in search of the sign while waiting for Megan at an appointment.

I’m having an iced latte at Groundwork (No. 25), across from Amoeba Records right now. The map was exactly correct. It took me one hour and forty minutes to walk here. Not bad, a little windy, but I walked most of it without my cardigan. (So glad I brought it.) The biggest problem was facing into the sun. I really could live here. Except that no one takes care of the sidewalks. That would have to be my pet cause. I would have to become a sidewalk advocate. It’s hard to believe people walk any kind of distance in the city here.

A weird thing: I walked on Sunset over the freeway. It had a railing and chainlink, but still, pretty high up, and over many many lanes of busy traffic. And I felt fine. I didn’t even get my usual tingly feet and legs. I didn’t get my usual negative thoughts. I can’t tell conclusively if this means something has changed, or if it’s just a different situation, but it felt new. It felt like progress, and I will take it. It’s the first real positive since I started the antidepressants two weeks ago. I also drank coffee for the first time since that first morning. I’m starting to feel a little buzzy right now, so I’ve slowed down. I have about a quarter of my 16oz. left. (By the way, I love how Groundwork puts actual numbers on their sizes rather than silly names. I may not have a ton of sense of ounces, but I know that 8 is a cup, and therefore 16 is two.)

Skateboarding is big here again–longboards, like at home, and the new tiny plastic ones. I say new, but they’re actually old. Just not the skateboards that were popular when I was in high school.

I’m putting myself in Megan’s hands this trip. Let’s do some new stuff. But still eat lots of Mexican food. Hilariously, we’re going to see an exhibit of Lawren Harris paintings tonight. It’s his first ever exhibit in the US. I say his show, but he’s dead. Steve Martin is championing for more Americans to know who he is. “What would it be like to go into a room without any backstory?” the curator says. Except I know the back story. I love Lawren Harris. He’s probably my favourite of the Group. Loving the idea of seeing his stark blocks of northern colour here in LA with the sun.

Up on the 19th floor of Megan’s building at Sunset and Vine. Beautiful view, especially at night with all the lights. I can see where I walked from. LA is all about the freeways. You can see that from a plane and down here, closer to earth. They are the bloodlines of the city. But the secret is that you can walk them and drive them just the same. It only takes longer to do the former. I love city lights. I love seeing them at night. I love neon–in whatever chemical colour it comes in.

It turns out I walked from Groundwork in exactly the wrong direction. I knew I had seen Vine, but I didn’t trust myself. I just kept walking. This rule has served me well in the past, whether going in a physical or emotional direction. Just keep walking forward, and you’ll find your way back to the path, whether it’s the path you were looking for or the path you need. Whether it’s the one you came from or the one that’s brand new. It worked for me today. I found Effie Street again. And years ago, after climbing Micheltorena and feeling lost, I now know that if I had followed Effie, I would have found my way home. But I didn’t know that then. I know that now.

All the books on the coffee table are by a YouTube personality. Everyone on the internet gets a book deal eventually. Kind of funny that everything comes back to books. No matter what industry you start in, you’ll probably write a book. But what about the people who start in books? I do think it’s easier to build an audience on the internet visually. No one loves reading online, as much as they claim to. I could finish this notebook, and it’s only the first day of vacation. It’s easy to write if your life is more interesting.

I’m not feeling any fear of heights up here on the 19th floor either. I don’t always–sometimes it’s just a feeling, but I’m getting any of it right now. If this is a sign of what’s to come, I’m excited. I started these antidepressants a week and a half before my trip, and my first thought was, “I could be a brand new person by the time I’m in LA.” I don’t know yet if that’s true.

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I had only ever driven through LA before, the way most kids visit LA when they’re kids: on the way to Anaheim and Disneyland. I had also never been on a plane before I took my first trip to LA.

I told the customs officer, “We met on the internet,” when he asked the purpose of my trip. “Is that weird?” It still felt weird in 2008, though I had been making friends online since the early 2000s. 

It doesn’t feel weird anymore.

There’s a thing about going back to a place, again and again. The way you change over time, the way the place changes, and the way it changes you. You can’t see the changes while you’re there. Only when you’ve come back home again.

I’m on my way to LA again in a few days. This will be my fourth trip, and this one feels different. I’ve seen the tourist stuff. I’ve seen the side streets. I’m ready for something new.

These are a few memories of the old.

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