When The Novelty Wears Off

A few weeks ago, we had a neighbour come over to visit. We had just redecorated our bedroom, adding some architectural columns and whatnot and she was interested in seeing the end result. I proudly escorted her into the room where she looked around and complimented me on the new design, but I thought she seemed a little lukewarm and anxious to leave. Then, on our way out, I glanced over at the bed and gasped internally. Ken had wrapped one of Atlas’s tug toys around one of his big rubber bones, and from a distance, it looked very much like something you would find in an “adult” store. I wanted to run after her as she hurried downstairs, holding it aloft and exclaiming, “It’s for the dog!!” but I don’t think that would have helped matters any, and may, in fact, have made them worse. But then I got looking around my house and realized that a LOT of Atlas’s toys look like they may have come from The Stag Shop, which is the most common sex toy franchise around here. So with that in mind, I have a quiz for you: Sex Toy or Dog Toy?

Number One:

Number Two:

Number Three:

Number Four:

Number Five:

Here’s the answer key: All of them are dog toys. I will never have anyone over to my house again.

(Except for today, because we’re having a party for Kate’s birthday last Tuesday and Ken’s birthday tomorrow, so I’ve hidden all Atlas’s dog toys. And his vibrator.)

Creative Wednesday: Where I Write

I had the great pleasure of being featured on author Gabi Coatsworth’s official website as part of her series on authors and where they write. My writing space is really precious to me, and I appreciate having the chance to share it with you. If you want to see it and find out more about the place where I wrote Smile, The Dome, Feasting Upon The Bones, and The Seventh Devil, you can read about it here: Where I Write

It’s Puzzling

I, like many people, have adopted new hobbies during the long cold never-ending winter that was the lockdown. I had always been disinterested in jigsaw puzzles, didn’t understand the thrill of putting a piece in its rightful spot, and certainly couldn’t see myself spending hours on something whose only end goal was to finish it then take it apart again. What a fool I was. Having now spent those many hours doing exactly those things, I, Ken, and Kate have completed numerous jigsaw puzzles, and the quest for new puzzles online when all the stores were closed has kept me plenty busy. We’ve done some beautiful puzzles, some easy, some hard, and some near impossible. And they’ve all been very normal in their own way—until now.

Not too long ago, I wrote a short story about a creepy jigsaw puzzle (it’s called “A Surprise In Every Box” and you can find it in my recently released short story collection Feasting Upon The Bones*, and I apologize for that shameless plug) but I never imagined I would find an insidiously creepy puzzle of my own until Thursday. My parents quite often prowl around thrift shops looking for cheap puzzles too, and they brought us one last week, a seemingly typical Dowdle puzzle of Peggy’s Cove in (she googles ‘where is Peggy’s Cove’ because even though she’s Canadian, she has a terrible knowledge of any country’s geography) Nova Scotia. I started to piece the edge together as one does and immediately discovered that one of the pieces was all chewed up and distorted, like a dog had eaten it and spat (or sh*t) it back out. Oh well, I thought, at least it’s not missing, because I HATE when a puzzle has a missing piece, and I think I’ve written about suspecting Atlas of stealing puzzle pieces before. But it got worse. See, there are a lot of tiny human (?) figures in the puzzle, and as I started to pull them out, it became clear that the artist who designed it was, perhaps, really more into horror stories than pastoral scenes of a harbour town.

Like, OK, it’s bad enough that there are 4 dudes standing on a rock looking like they all want to talk to me about Jesus, and numerous people are hoisting lobsters in the air and swinging them around like that’s a completely normal activity (and maybe it is in Peggy’s Cove) but then there’s this guy:

What the absolute f*ck is this guy doing, crawling out over a rock towards you like that girl from The Ring?! You don’t notice him at first, because there’s so much else going on, what with all the proselytizing and lobster waving, but once you do, HE’S ALL YOU SEE. And then suddenly it seems like maybe instead of an idyllic fishing village, this is a zombie town, and all the figures are now ominous and the lobsters are screaming for help. So far, I’ve only found his face. In the poster that comes with the puzzle, he appears to be wearing large, weird mittens on his hands, and I really don’t think I want to find the rest of him in case he comes to life and starts crawling over the back of my couch.

And why do you have so much time to do jigsaw puzzles? Don’t you have a quilt to finish?” I hear you ask. In fact, I don’t. Partway through row 11, when my second sewing machine once again lost its mind and refused to work, I threw down my denim patch in dismay and announced that I was going to find someone to finish it for me. This is not “giving up”. This is simply a recognition that there are things I’m good at, and things I’m not. So I went in search of someone who was better at sewing than me. I posted an ad on the local Facebook page, and that was a bit of a bust, giving me only advice on how to fix my machine. I did get one offer to come over and “consult” because the quilter in question was “very particular” about her projects and didn’t want it to look like two different people had done the quilt and I didn’t realize that was even a thing, because I am not particular AT ALL. But then Ken mentioned that the lady across the street had said she taught sewing once, so on Monday, I walked over and interrupted her mowing her lawn to inquire about her willingness to help me out. A long shot, some might say, but she immediately said “Sure”, that she could try a few rows to see.

I bundled some up and gave them to her in a bag. Less than half an hour later, I saw her coming up my sidewalk carrying the bag, and my heart sunk. She’d changed her mind, obviously. But no. As it turned out, she’s a VERY GOOD sewer, unlike me, and had done the three rows in the time it took me to sew one patch and swear at my machine like a sailor. The next day she called me over to look at all the now-completed rows, laid out on her living room floor, and I was a little overwhelmed and very grateful. Also, my carefully/haphazardly chosen pattern looked awesome. She’s going to finish the whole thing for me, and if she gets it done by Christmas, that’s still faster than I would have been able to do it.

*Speaking of kind things that people do, and speaking of Feasting Upon The Bones, if you bought it and liked it, could you leave a review? In exchange, I’ll name a character after you in the next collection, which I’m already working on now that I’ve contracted out the quilt and have all this free time.

Nailed It

So I’m feeling a little anxious right now for a couple of reasons. First, I DID manage to find two chairs that were not cocaine-related, so I quickly set about painting and reupholstering them and fixing up the table, and made a very cute set complete with a piece of wall art that I advertised for sale. Almost immediately, a woman contacted me and asked me to call her. I did:

Me: Hi, you were asking about the table and chairs set?
Woman (thick Russian accent): Yes. I will take. Sandra will call to arrange pick up.
Me: Um…okay…

And then I had several questions, the first and foremost of which was “Who the f*ck is Sandra, and how am I once again back in this weird chair/cocaine loop?” I so badly wanted to say “This really is a table and chairs, not anything else, IF YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN”, but what if she didn’t know what I meant and then I lost the sale? Or what if she DID, and then I lost the sale? So I figured I’d play things by ear. On Thursday night, somebody named Ray messaged me: “It’s Sandra. I’m on the way.” But then the phone rang, and it was Sandra, telling me she couldn’t come because it was raining. This made little sense until she explained that she had an open pick-up truck and didn’t want the set, which she was picking up for the Russian woman, to get wet. Ultimately, Ken and I delivered the whole thing to her because, as it turned out, she lived just one town over and she was a very nice woman and had no interest in cocaine, or at least she was polite enough not to mention it.

Not cocaine

The second reason I’ve been feeling anxious is because Ken has embarked upon yet another home improvement project involving the dismantling and rebuilding of our side porch. He had previously done the same with the front porch and it’s amazing, but it took him TWO YEARS. And remember the gazebo that started out as a simple deck with a roof for the inflatable hot tub but ended up being something akin to the Taj Mahal? The issue is that we use the side porch as our main entrance, so I’m more than a little concerned about the pace and scope of this project.

In addition, I have certain irrational fears about elements of the construction industry, like being afraid of stepping on a nail sticking out of a wooden board, falling onto a table saw, and other highly improbable things involving dangerous power tool-like objects. I can usually quell these fears, except that I’m married to a man who takes extreme delight in making them worse. Case in point: I have a morbid fear of nail guns. Ken was using one last weekend, and I had to keep going into the other room because I was afraid of getting shot with it. When Ken pointed out that it was absolutely impossible that he could shoot me with a nail gun because of its safety guard, I reminded HIM that that was exactly what he said about the electric staple gun, right before he shot a staple past my head and that I didn’t trust ANY so-called “safety technology” regarding sharp, missile-like objects when it was in his hands. Sure enough, not much later, he dropped the nail gun on the floor, tip-down, and came close to shooting a nail into his foot. He will claim that I am exaggerating in a “lying” kind of way, but I’m just telling it like I saw it.

In other news, because I’m retiring at the end of September, the job ad to replace me was posted on Friday, and when I read it, my first thought was “Holy sh*t, is that what I actually do?!” And then it occurred to me that if I applied for it, I wasn’t even sure that I would get it, because it made me sound very fancy and experienced, and not at all afraid of Russian cocaine dealers or power tools.

And in other, other news, Feasting Upon The Bones, my debut short story collection from Potters Grove Press (which is currently sitting at #1 on Amazon’s Hot New Releases for Horror Anthologies), is now being delivered and my parents were the first people as far as I know to get their copy. And don’t think I’m a terrible daughter—I offered to give them a copy for free but they insisted on buying one, which I signed for them yesterday, because they really are the best and most supportive parents a girl with irrational fears could ask for.

Chair of the Bored

It all started a couple of weeks ago, when I made the mistake of taking a table out of our family room to use in my new outdoor office. This led to a cascading domino effect involving several pieces of furniture which needed to be reconfigured. Ken undertook the rearranging of the room with his usual good humour, rolling his eyes only slightly as I issued instructions:

Me: Can you put that cupboard in the corner by the sectional?
Ken: Okay.
Me: Ooh, I don’t like it there. Can you move it over by the patio doors?
Ken: OKAY.
Me: Maybe it would be better by the window…?
Ken:
Me: Never mind, it’s fine where it is.

After all the adjustments were made, Kate complained that there was no longer a table behind the couch for her to set a drink on. But I had another table that I’d just bought for resale, and it would do in a pinch. Then I saw a really cool idea for a sofa table involving using a cast iron sewing machine base with a wooden top, and decided that was exactly what the room needed. I found an old machine for 50 bucks, took it apart and repainted the base, then we used some cherry wood that Ken’s dad had given us for the top.

It looks awesome, and the best part is I sold the machine for $30 and the drawers for $40. But that left us with the placeholder table that I had to do something with. Then I had a brainstorm—I would buy two cheap chairs, paint them and upholster the seats in a toile fabric, and sell the whole damn thing as a set. But where to find chairs? Obviously, Facebook Marketplace. And wouldn’t you know it? I found the two exact chairs I needed for sale for $25 for the pair so I immediately messaged Cindy, the woman who had posted the ad with the standard “Is this still available?” message. She replied right away that yes, they were, so I asked if I could pick them up the next day around 4:30. This was her response:

Open 8am to 4pm Monday to Thursday. Friday 9am to 4PM.
address___________ (I’ve blanked this out for reasons which will become clear)
drive in the parking lot to the back
white Bay 1 door.
ring bell.
ask for Deana

And now, of course, I had more questions than answers, the first and foremost of which was “Who the f*ck is Deana?” Is Cindy RELATED to Diana, or is she her boss or what? Does Deana know she is going to be asked for? And why am I picking up two apparently antique chairs from some strange warehouse/speakeasy? Is there a secret password that I need to know? I was also slightly miffed that Cindy hadn’t even bothered to read my message wherein I had clearly stated that I couldn’t be there until 4:30, so I responded with “Sorry, I can’t make it by 4”. And then the plot thickened…

Peter will be in the front office waiting for you.
drive in the front.
park where the invalid sign is go to the door in front of the sign.
ring bell.
let me know if that works for you

NO, CINDY, your convoluted instructions and “Choose your own adventure” directions don’t work for me! And on top of that, now we’ve thrown Peter into the mix?! Also, by “invalid”, did she mean “not valid” or is that some bizarre archaic way of identifying a parking spot for those with disabilities? Ultimately, I chose to pass on the chairs, because I couldn’t make heads nor tails of this virtual game of Twister. But then, bored because I had no project to work on, I began to wonder what if I HAD gone to get the chairs?…

Me (rings bell nervously): Ooh, this place looks deserted. (rifles through purse) Where’s my bear spray?
(Door Opens)
Man, presumably Peter (whispers, and for some reason he has a Russian accent): Vat is password?
Me: Ummm… “Let me know if that works for you”?
Peter (nods): You’re here for package?
Me: Well, if you mean the chairs, then yes.
Peter: Deana is waiting in back. You have instructions?
Me: White Bay Door 1, ring bell?
Peter (looks around suspiciously): Quiet pliz! Now go.

Me (rings second bell nervously: Dang, it’s even more sketchy back here. (rifles through purse) Where’s my zombie spray?
(Door opens)
Woman, presumably Deana (whispers, and for some reason she has a posh English accent): Good afternoon. May I be of assistance?
Me: Peter sent me back.
Deana: Ah, of course. You’re here for the cocaine?
Me: What?! No, I’m here for a pair of antique chairs!
Deana (blanches and shakes her fist at the sky): Bloody hell, Cindy, will you ever get it right?!
Me: I’ll just be on my way then. (runs quickly to car and drives home very fast).

So no, I still don’t have any antique chairs to paint and re-upholster, and I haven’t slept for days.

The Streak Is Over

You may or may not remember that I’ve written in the past about my lucky underwear. They’re a paisley pattern in a very soft fabric—there’s nothing otherwise notable about them, but for some reason, when I wear them, good things tend to happen. I’ve begun saving them for special occasions or times when I feel like I want to ‘encourage’ good fortune, and if you think this is weird then obviously you haven’t been following me for long because it’s par for the course around here. At any rate, last Wednesday we were supposed to get our air conditioner fixed. It had broken the week before, during the first heatwave of the year, obviously, and when the guy came, he was like “OK, the spinny thing isn’t spinning and the cool-y thing isn’t cooling so you need a new one of these box-y things.” Of course, he used more technical terminology, but I couldn’t hear him very well over the noise of all the fans I had going to try and keep cool. Being very hot makes me sad and grumpy, so I grunted at him and agreed that he needed to replace the outside cold box.

On Wednesday morning, after a week of excruciating heat, I put on my lucky underwear specifically to entreat the air conditioning gods to ensure that the repair people arrived on time with the right unit.

They put it in place, then they needed to go into the attic and hook it up, at which point, the older of the two men came downstairs and stared at me woefully because “the box in the attic that distributes the hot and cold air is older than your marriage and it doesn’t appear to be compatible with the new cool-y thing.”

Me: What does this mean? Also, how do you know how long I’ve been married?
Service Guy: It means you need a new attic distribution of air box. Also, you made the part up about your marriage for dramatic flair.  
Me: How much will that cost?!
Service Guy: If we’re talking about a new air box, a lot. If we’re talking about your blatant disregard for relating conversations verbatim, maybe a few readers.

I looked down at my underwear (well, I imagined I was looking at them through my yoga pants) and silently mouthed “What’s wrong with you?!” They did not respond, nor did they have the good grace to even look ashamed. But then I consoled myself with the thought that nobody’s perfect and they were still very comfortable on a hot day, being made of a breathable fabric and all, so I decided not to throw them away. Maybe they just needed to recharge or something. But then this past Friday, not only did I NOT have a terrible reaction to my second covid shot, unlike Ken, who had a fever and spent the day in bed, but out of the blue, my Canadian publisher messaged me to tell me that my novel, The Dome, had been picked up by a major publishing house in the United Arab Emirates for translation and publication. And guess what underwear I was sporting? No, NOT the lucky underwear, which is somewhere in the laundry hamper, but a completely ordinary old pair that I found at the back of my drawer since Ken has been too sick to put the laundry away. So what does this all mean? Does it mean that things just happen randomly regardless of your undergarments? Of course not. It means that I now have a new pair of lucky underwear. Obviously.

High Five, Ma!

Creative Wednesday: Feasting Upon The Bones

I’m really excited to share the news that my first short story collection Feasting Upon The Bones is now available for pre-order! You can find it on the following websites:

Potters Grove Press (Paperback, Kindle, ePUB, PDF)

Amazon.com

Amazon.ca (also available on Amazon UK and others)

The Stories In Between (website of Potters Grove Press editor, River Dixon)

And if you buy it, read it, and like it, I’d love if you could give it a review! And for those of you who’ve voted for me for various things over the last couple of years, you might just find your name in one of the stories as promised!

LinkedIn: I Am Good At All The Jobs

I’ve been on LinkedIn for about five years now. If you don’t know what LinkedIn is, it’s like Facebook for people who don’t want to read about your vacation, see pictures of your kids, or look at memes about how hot it is. Yes. It’s hot. We are all aware. Anyway, the purpose of LinkedIn is to let you network with other “professionals”, post interesting “professional” articles, and read about “professional”-type things. Frankly, it’s boring AF for someone like me, who only dabbles in “professionalism” and would actually prefer to read about your vacation or see pictures of your kids than read about how I can “benefit from a global logistical hub connecting people, goods and markets through sky and sea”. But please stop telling me how hot it is, especially since my air conditioning is currently broken. Every time I hear someone on Facebook say, “Oh my god, it’s so hot!”, I am reminded of the fact that in approximately 16 weeks, you will all be saying, “Oh my god, it’s so cold!” It’s weather. That’s what it does.

A few weeks ago, though, I was looking through my account and found a button I could activate that would tell people I was ‘on the market’, i.e. looking for a job. I’m not actually looking for a job, since I already have a couple, but still, I thought, “I’m retiring soon. What’s the harm in seeing what’s on offer?” It’s the same logic as being in a happy marriage, but looking over your friend’s shoulder while she’s swiping left and right on Tinder—it’s fun to see what’s out there, even if you’re not really interested at the moment. So I signed up (for Job Alerts, NOT Tinder). But now, at least three times a day, I get a LinkedIn Job Alert that shows me over 100 jobs for which I might, apparently, be a ‘top applicant’. And also, apparently, LinkedIn has no idea what I do, or what my current skill sets are because I don’t even know what some of these jobs entail. But what if I applied for one and actually got it?…

1) Supervisor, Tool Room

Me: Good morning, staff. I am your new Supervisor, Tool Room.
Staff (muttering—they’re a cynical bunch apparently): Yeah, good morning, whatevs.
Me: So, first things first. Please put your tools on the table so that I can supervise them. I’ve devised this clever sign-out system, so if you need a tool, I’ve also created a Word doc explaining how you fill in the requisition form. There will be a quiz tomorrow. Have a good day.
Staff: What the f*ck? Give us back our hammers!

2) Warehouse Support

Me: You are an excellent warehouse. Don’t feel bad because you aren’t always as creative as the other warehouses. Creativity comes in many forms. We just have to find the right…idiom for you.
Warehouse: I just really want to get better at abstraction. I mean, my realistic canvasses are quite well-received, but I want to branch out—you know, show the other warehouses that there’s more to me than just landscapes.
Me: You will. Trust me.

3) Team Leader, Change Implementation

Me: Good morning, staff. I’m your new Team Leader. My job is to implement change.
Staff (enthusiastically—these guys are much more receptive): OK, cool, whatevs.
Me: As of today, you are no longer “Waterloo-Wellington Agricorp Limited, Finance and Procurement Division”. You are now “Frosty Queen”. Let’s hear it for frozen milk products!
Staff: But we make farm equipment.
Me: Change is hard.

4) Security Shift Supervisor

Me: Good morning team. I understand that you are the Security Shift. I like it. That’s an awesome nickname. So which one of you is Deadpool, because I just LOVE how you combine humour with kick-ass action.
Staff (confused—not the sharpest tools in the shed): Deadpool? What are you talking about?
Me: Oh. Is this more of a Suicide Squad type deal? OK. Which one of you is Harley Quinn?
Girl (slowly raises hand).
Me: Cool. I didn’t recognize you out of costume.
Girl: Uh, no. There’s no ‘Harley Quinn’ here.
Me: Then which universe IS this?! I get them so confused, especially since Marvel AND DC are both putting teasers after the credits. OK, “Security Shift”—show me your superpowers. And do it quick—I hear there’s trouble down at the Frosty Queen.

5) Bilingual French Financial Services Funding Specialist

Me (terrible French accent): Doo yoo wahnt sum mun-ayyy?
French Person: Je ne comprend pas!
Me: Mun-ayyy! Le cash! Do you actually SPEAK French or are you just messing with me?
French Person: Vous etes une idiote.
Me: Aww. That’s sweet. But you forgot the accent circonflexe on ‘etes’. (My written French is MUCH better than my spoken French).

6) Advanced Case Manager, Insurance Products

Me: So a shark attacked your boat and it sunk?
Customer: Aye. We’re gonna need a bigger boat.
Me: Unfortunately, you’re only insured for the replacement cost. Also, shark attacks are an act of God.
Customer (scratches nails down the blackboard that I somehow have in my fancy insurance office): Argh. You suck.
Me: I’m sorry, Mr. Quinn. I CAN, however, provide some funds for the purchase of extra scuba tanks and a rifle.
Customer: I can’t see how that would be helpful, but whatevs.

7) Broadband Specialist

Me: I hear the internet is slow. Where do we keep the extra wire-y type things?
Staff: In the warehouse. Be careful when you go in—it has self-esteem issues.

As you can see, I would be amazing at so many of the jobs that LinkedIn is offering me. Luckily for me, and the rest of the working world, I already have a job. At least for the next three months—if you need me after that, you know where I am.

It’s All Uphill From Here

On Thursday, I was in the middle of a meeting. While I was listening intently as one does, I shook my shoulders slightly to loosen them up. I realized in that moment that my shoulders weren’t the only thing that was loose because I had forgotten, after almost 40 years of getting dressed in a specific order, to put on a bra. I was shocked but also strangely comfortable. Luckily, I was wearing a flowy top and we’re currently in the middle of a heat wave so it wasn’t apparent to anyone else but me. At least I hope it wasn’t. But still, it was a little confounding that for the first time in living memory, I had unintentionally forgotten to don a foundation garment:

Me (shimmying): I just realized that I forgot to put a bra on this morning.
Ken: Nice. But seriously? It’s not even the weekend.
Me: I know. So weird. I’ve never been so footloose and fancy-free at work.
Ken: See? You announce your retirement and the standards immediately begin to slip.

And yes, it occurred to me that my wardrobe mishap may be a subconscious result of my intention to retire from the secret agency at the end of September, an intention that I made public last week. I love my job, don’t get me wrong, but Ken’s retiring at the end of June, and we have a lot of plans. I have writing to do, he has photographs of trees and clouds to take, and we both have the antique business to maintain. (Just kidding about Ken’s photos—he’s an amazing photographer but he DOES take a lot of tree pictures–see the one below titled Sunrise). If you want to see more examples of his awesome photos, search for him on iStock—his last name isn’t hyphenated and it starts with the W part). Then there’s travelling—eventually. Our anniversary cruise, the one we couldn’t take last year, also got cancelled this year, so here’s hoping for the fall, or at least January.

Sunrise

And then to double down on my subconscious reaction to retirement, on Thursday night I dreamed that I went to a retirement workshop, but it was about FUNERAL PLANNING. I was seated between a really young boy and a very grumpy older woman, and we were given categories to make decisions about like “Materials” and “Location”. I distinctly remember examining a brochure and thinking ‘I’ve never been a fan of dark wood but this Mahogany looks pretty sweet.’ Then the woman next to me said, “For Location, make sure you specify high ground, and watch out for salt levels. High salt content causes you to decompose faster.” When I woke up, I researched this and it’s patently untrue. According to Google, bodies decompose faster in fresh water than salt water, although I get the high ground thing. I don’t want my beautiful mahogany casket to turn into a boat. Plus, since Ken will be building me a mausoleum, I want a room with a view. But all of this is beside the point, which is ‘Why the hell am I equating retirement with death?!’ I mean obviously, the bra thing is a metaphor for freedom but choosing a coffin? Then again, I’ve heard that the Death card in a tarot deck isn’t really an indicator that you’re going to shuffle off the mortal coil, but more about moving from one state of being to the other. So I guess if that’s true, I’m fully invested in the transition from work life to a life of leisure. And on Monday morning, I will stare into my bra drawer, pick out the prettiest one and sigh.

Here also is a picture of the cemetery at the top of a hill that I mentioned in the video I posted last Wednesday. I got a couple of requests so here you go. I bet there’s room up there for a mausoleum…

Creative Wednesday – Titles, Talk and Tipples Part 2

Here’s the second part of my incredibly fun interview with Jude Matulich-Hall. Don’t know why it took me so long to post this, but you can watch me get slightly tipsy as we talk about my upcoming short story collection Feasting Upon The Bones (Potters Grove Press), cassette tapes, and meeting my idol Gary Numan. You can watch it here.