Personal Achievements

I’ve accomplished quite a bit this week despite being locked down. No, I didn’t win a damned Oscar, but I’m pretty sure if there WAS one for Best Use Of Hosiery By A Middle-Aged Woman, I would definitely be a contender.

1) Learning New Skills

Last week, I had to finish my Performance Plan which, if you’ve never done one, is where you have to tell someone at the start of the year what you’re planning to do, and then at the end of the year, you tell them what you did, and you hope the two things match well enough that your boss says, “Shantay, you stay.” And while my real boss is very cool, wouldn’t it be amazing if my boss was actually a big, fabulous drag queen who also said, “No tea, no shade! You’re serving up Performance Plan realness—now sissy that walk!”

Anyway, I was putting the finishing touches on my Performance Plan, looking at the ‘courses taken’ section to make sure I’d completed the mandatory accessibility and hazardous materials training (and here’s a long detour: The only hazardous material in my workplace might potentially be the photocopier ink cartridge, and we are under strict instructions to NEVER touch the photocopiers in our office even if they jam, because we are NOT QUALIFIED to unjam a photocopier, even though I spent most of my tenure as an International Languages Principal doing EXACTLY THAT and every Saturday, I was invariably called at least three times to the photocopy room by a distressed staff member who was an excellent teacher of Vietnamese or whatnot, but who couldn’t read English well enough to understand what the digital display on the photocopier was telling them to do, and had managed to completely f*ck up a very expensive machine that it was now MY JOB to repair. So I AM QUALIFIED, FRANK. But I digress. Back to the topic at hand.) and I discovered that there was a section I hadn’t notice before called “Personal Achievements”. Ooh, I thought to myself, now this is exciting. Because the day before, I had made a face mask, and it wasn’t half bad, even if Ken refused to wear it:

Me: Look! I made you a face mask!
Ken: Is that one of your socks?
Me: It may or may not be. See—it goes on like this.
Ken: Is it clean?
Me: Of course I’m pretty sure it’s clean! You can wear it when you go grocery shopping.
Ken: That’s OK. I’ll just stay away from people.

And I was sad, because saving Ken’s life would have been a really good Personal Achievement. But then I went to the tab and opened it, and it was a series of courses that you could take, and some of them were AMAZING. The first thing that caught my eye was ‘Chainsaw Operators Certification” and that would be so handy since we have this chestnut tree on our property that is essentially dead but Ken refuses to cut down because it “still gets a few leaves every year” as more and more of the branches fall off. I could just picture myself wearing a cute flannel shirt tied at the waist, booty shorts, and workboots, firing up that bad boy and yelling whatever it is that lumberjacks yell LIKE A BOSS, as the tree explodes in an orgy of fireworks, and reading this back, I think it’s very apparent that I have no idea what being a lumberjack is really like. But I’m OK.

Then something strange caught my eye. CHEMICAL IMMOBILIZATION OF WILDLIFE. What the hell is this?! So I clicked on it to read the description, which said, “Learn how to chemically immobilize nuisance wildlife” which shone no further light on how, and more importantly WHY one would want to do this, and all I could picture was forests full of animals standing completely still like weird fluffy statues, and I DIDN’T LIKE IT AT ALL.

So I comforted myself by considering taking the Harvard Manage Mentor courses, specifically “Difficult Interactions”, “Persuading Others”, and “Time Management” because Ken is so damn stubborn, but I think I might already have those skills:

Me: Put the sock mask on.
Ken: No.
Me: You’re being difficult. Put the damn mask on or I won’t make homemade pizza for dinner. You have 5 seconds.
Ken (sighs): OK.

See? I dealt with a difficult interaction using persuasion and time management.

There was also the Joint Health and Safety Committee, which I’m assuming has something to do with the legalization of marijuana, Pleasure Craft Operators Card (which I might need now that Ken and I have kayaks), Snow Mobile Operator, and Search Warrant Training. Almost every course you could take sounded completely badass, and all I need is my boss’s approval. Hopefully, she says, “Okurrrr!”

2) A while ago, I was complaining that I couldn’t change my wifi name to something more fun, but I DID figure out how to do this on my computer screensaver:

I’m pretty pleased with myself for being able to capture this moment, since it swirls around really fast, kind of like my brain.

3) Last week, our neighbour across the street moved out, and new neighbours moved in. They seemed like regular people with regular furniture, but later in the afternoon, Ken came downstairs:

Ken: I think the new neighbours have a really big dog, but it’s just standing in the middle of their lawn not moving.
Me: Maybe it’s been chemically immobilized.
Ken: Seriously, come and see.

So we looked out the window and realized that in the middle of our new neighbours’ lawn, they had placed a giant, plastic wolf statue. It wasn’t by their front door, or in the middle of a flower bed where you’d EXPECT to see a lawn ornament. It was just standing there staring at our house. And it had these really weird, bright blue eyes. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and later on, I went out for a few groceries and took a surreptitious picture of it from my driveway. I was intending to sneak back at some point and get a close-up of its eyes, but when we got up the next morning, IT WAS GONE. I’m already having trouble sleeping because I hurt my shoulder, and the only way to be comfortable is to let my arm dangle straight down off the mattress, but I CAN’T DO THAT BECAUSE OF THE DEMONS THAT MAY OR MAY NOT LIVE UNDER THE BED. And now, I have to worry about waking up in the middle of the night to find a giant, plastic wolf scratching at my door. So I did what any normal person would do—I made Ken put on the sock and go to the store to get the new neighbours a gift basket. At least one of my personal achievements came in handy this week.

(I just got nominated for Publication of the Month at Spillwords Press for a flash piece I posted a few weeks ago called “Resurrection”. If you’d like to vote for me, you might have to register but it’s free, there’s no obligation for anything further, and if you do, I’ll write a story with your name in it. Also, they’re a terrific and very responsive publication to submit to in case you’re looking for somewhere—anyway, here’s the link: Vote

My Week 264: Sew What?

I’m pretty good at a bunch of stuff. For example, I’m crafty, and I can take a piece of junk that I found at the side of the road and turn it into something pretty. In fact, this week, I was in our garden shed and saw the bottom of an antique piano stool that I had picked up in the summer time, and I made a toilet paper holder out of it, a piece of doweling, and a small finial that Ken found in his workshop. It’s the most fancy f*cking toilet paper holder that you could imagine.

I can also paint, I write a bit, and I’m a decent cook. At the present moment, I’m cooking Thanksgiving dinner for 10 people, and the turkey is in the oven as we speak (just as it was about to go in, the power went off. Then it came back on. Then it went off again, and I looked to the sky and said, “Don’t make me f*cking come up there!” The power is now back on). But the one thing I can’t do, the one thing I’d really like to do, is sew. Oh, I can thread a needle and attach a button to a shirt in a passable way if you don’t look too closely, but I can’t actually sew. When I was in Grade 8, while all the boys were having a fantastic time in the Industrial Arts shop, all the girls had to take cooking and sewing in the Family Studies classroom, and isn’t that the most goddamn sexist thing you’ve ever heard of? As part of our final project, the girls each had to sew something using a sewing machine. I made a vest. It was blue corduroy on the outside and blue sateen on the inside. It was horrifyingly lopsided. The worst part was that I had no idea how to use the buttonholer on the machine so it was a buttonless vest. Needless to say, I failed  Family Studies, mostly because I was incredibly pissed off about not being able to make a cool wood-and-welded metal candle holder like the boys and, having been a smartass from a very early age, may or may not have answered the questions on the final exam with joke answers:

Question: What is a dart?
My Answer: Something you throw at a dartboard.

My parents were called in to meet with the teacher. They were naturally furious at my deliberate self-sabotage, and my punishment was that I wasn’t allowed to go to the Grade 8 graduation dance. This just made me hate sewing even more; however, I forgave my parents long ago when I realized it was much better to have a story about standing up against sexism and paying the price vs. a story about a lame dance.

Over the years, I’ve never needed to sew—it’s amazing what you can do with a staple gun. But recently, I had a dilemma. I’d seen a picture in a decorating magazine that I really liked, and decided to redo our upper foyer. The problem was that the picture featured these beautiful curtain panels, and I must have gone to over 10 different stores but I couldn’t find anything REMOTELY close. So I went to the local fabric store, found the perfect fabric and bought a sh*t ton of it in the hope that I could just hang it and no one would notice that the edges weren’t hemmed. As I was paying for it though, the woman behind the counter said, “Before you sew it, make sure you—”, and I interrupted her with “Oh, I’m not sewing it. I don’t know how to sew and I don’t have a machine.” But instead of looking at me like I was an idiot, she said, “No problem—let me get you some HEM TAPE”.

HEM TAPE?! Did any of you know that this miraculous invention actually existed? That all you need to do is put it on a piece of fabric, fold the fabric over it, and iron it, and then the edges are FUSED TOGETHER?! I couldn’t believe my luck! So I brought the fabric and the hem tape home, and looked for the iron, because I haven’t used an iron in over ten years. But I found it in a cupboard, blew the dust off it, located the ironing board behind a door, and got to work. In under an hour, I had two big curtain panels, which I hung with these clip things that go over the curtain rod. Here’s what they look like:

My Family Studies teacher would be so proud.

Two quick things:

First, I completely forgot that My Week 260 was the 5th anniversary of this blog. Yep, I’ve been giving you a glimpse of my weird-ass life every week for over 5 years. Some of you have been here from the beginning, some of you are newer to the game, and one of you is no longer here (I miss you, Harry) but I want to thank each and every one of you for your support and for reading this nonsense.

Second, a box containing the author copies of my new novel The Dome arrived on my porch this week. I couldn’t be more thrilled. Apparently it’s been shipped to all the major outlets now too, so if you pre-ordered it, you should be getting it soon, and it will be on store shelves in the next couple of weeks. Here’s the synopsis if you’re interested:

“It’s the year 2135, almost four decades since the Water Wars ended. Much of the continent is a desert wasteland, and the powerful Consortium rules Adanac, one of the few habitable areas remaining, with an iron fist.

Cee and Dee, 16-year-old twins who share a special, almost psychic bond, are runaways from a Consortium workhouse. Now living as Freeworlders in the largest tent city in Trillium province, they’re determined to survive—Dee spends her days thieving with her best friend Rogan, and Cee makes a living selling his handmade woodcarvings to the Fancies, the wealthy elite. Like all Freeworlders, life is a struggle, made worse by the constant threat of The Dome, where punishments for the slightest offense are meted out by the Dome Master.

When devastating circumstances force the twins to become separated, all seems lost until the sudden appearance of a mysterious stranger who reveals some shocking truths. Rumours become reality, enemies become friends, and old foes resurface. Dee and Cee are tested to their limits as they confront the demons of their past and try to save the future, for themselves and all of Adanac.”

If you’re anywhere near the Drumbo Pub on the 9th, drop in for a drink. Happy Thanksgiving!

My Week 77: Soap and Sexism, A Dead What?!

Sunday: Soapmaking and sexism

Last December, Ken and I went with some friends to a soap-making workshop. It was a lot of fun; we all experimented with different colours and scents, and ended up with about 36 bars, which in soap years will take us to retirement. But then, not long ago, the soap instructor messaged me to say that I’d won the draw for a free soap-making session. I wasn’t surprised because I hardly ever win anything, but when I do, it’s always soap-related. For example, a few months ago, my Lancôme lady Lisa called to say I won a gift basket in a draw, and I was super-excited until I got said gift basket, which was made up of dish soap and hand soap from Cuchina (an upscale kitchen store), and was NOT make-up, perfume, or fancy cream. Honestly, if Lotto Max prize was soap instead of millions of dollars, I’m pretty certain I would win the lottery every week. And instead of a giant cheque, I’d be presented with a humungous bar of soap to go with all the other soap I won. But making your own soap is actually fun, and I wanted to do it, but it was with other people I didn’t know. That was a problem because I’m really awful at making small talk with strangers. Actually, that’s not exactly true—I can MAKE the small talk, but I FEEL awful about it. Then Ken said he would go with me, or more accurately, I told him that WE had won a free-soapmaking session and that we just had to pay for him.

On Sunday, we discussed in the car what kind of soap we each wanted to make. I was going to make something with lavender flowers, and maybe something I could put away until Christmas, because everyone loves soap as a Christmas gift, am I right? Ken tossed around a few ideas, but wanted to wait until we got there to decide. Ken is very creative, and his previous batch of black and lime green “Peppermint Licorice Swirl” was a big hit with the family. We were the first to arrive, and were told we were waiting for three other women. Now before I start the rest of this story, let me say upfront that I’ve never give any real thought to “reverse sexism”. The whole notion of “what men should do/wear/like” versus what women should do/wear/like is pretty foreign to me. I grew up with a dad who was a toolmaker by trade, then a machine shop teacher, a pretty “manly”, Scotch-loving guy, but he also took me to my first symphony when I was six (I fell asleep–sorry about that, Dad, but Brahms?), and taught me the difference between Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo’s opera voices, and never once in my living memory told me that I couldn’t do something because I was a girl. My father-in-law was a dairy farmer his whole life, but he’s also an avid photographer, and spends his spare time experimenting with glass-fusing—he even has his own kiln. My brother, a lawyer with a PhD, can be pretty fierce in court, but he loves his garden, sings to his son, and came with me once for a pedicure. And Ken? Ken is the most creative person I’ve ever met. He has amazing spatial perception and can build me anything I asked him to, he writes poetry, and he’s been known to spend hours taking photographs of the way the light reflects off the Christmas tree ornaments. So, long story short, it would never even occur to me that a soapmaking class is somewhere a guy SHOULDN’T be. Then the other women came in, and the first thing one of them (I’m going to call her ‘Babs’) said was, “Oh my god! How did you get your husband to come with you? MY husband would never come to something like this!”

How do you even respond to that? Of course, I didn’t get it right away. My first thought was that maybe he was allergic to soap, or had some kind of physical disability which would prevent him from participating. I was about to ask, in all sincerity, “Is there something wrong with him?”, when I realized that she was actually implying that there was something wrong with MY husband for being there. She didn’t say it in a wistful kind of way, like “I wish MY husband enjoyed hanging out with me and liked doing fun stuff like this.” No, it was more like she was being very judge-y. It pissed me off, but I didn’t know her at all, so I just looked at Ken, who was happily choosing his colours and scents for “Lemon Poppyseed Loaf” (see photograph below, the yellow-y one), smiled tightly and said, “He’s very good at soap.” Yes, I know it was a sh*tty comeback, but what was I going to say? “Your husband sounds like a dick” would have been appropriate, but then again a) maybe Babs never even asked him to come and he might have said “Yes” if she had and b) I didn’t want to get kicked out of soap class for being a sweary trouble-maker.

Then we started doing the mixing, and everyone was having fun, so I let the whole thing go. Two of the great things about our instructor are that she always mixes up the lye for you so that you don’t accidentally scorch your lungs, and that she loves to experiment and has all kinds of weird stuff that you can put in or on your bars, like coffee grounds for exfoliating, or flower petals for texture, or sparkles just to make it look interesting. Which is where Bab’s reverse sexism reared its ugly head once again. She was making a blue and green conglomeration for her sons with a scent called “Monkey Farts” (I know right? But it smells like candy, and if that’s what monkey flatulence actually smells like, then I want a monkey even more than I did before). The instructor offered her some blue sparkles, and she responded,

“They would never use soap with GLITTER on it!”

One of the other women said, “But glitter is fun. It would look great with the blue and green.”

Babs was relentless. “You don’t understand,” she insisted. “They’re REAL boys. There’s no way they’d touch it if I put glitter on it.”

I wanted to say, “They can’t be that real if they actually pay attention to the soap they’re using. If you can actually get them in the shower in the first place without a fight, who gives a sh*t about the soap?” (This might sound like a little reverse sexism of my own, but it’s based on my experiences with K when she was around the same age. And from what the mothers of other 13 year-olds have told me, apparently the girls can be just as willing as the boys to go three days without a shower, so it’s simply a phase which has nothing to do with gender. In fact, I still remember K telling me, “I don’t need a shower. My clothes are clean.”) But I was genuinely appalled by Babs’s attitude. Sure, women have had a lot to put up with through the ages, but I honestly believe that there will never be equality between the sexes until men stop being told that wearing pink makes them “girly” or that doing something creative is helping them get in touch with their “feminine side”. To me, this is just as bad as calling a girl a “tomboy” for NOT wanting to wear frilly dresses. Would you ever tell a woman that being a mechanic is helping her get in touch with her masculine side? And as for men, I mean, where would the world be today if David Bowie hadn’t liked glitter? My best advice is to let your kids wear what they want, play with whatever toys appeal to them, and give them all, boy or girl, the opportunity to get in touch with their creative side. And most of all, don’t judge them based on gender. In the end though, I kept my opinion to myself—it’s never a good idea to speak your mind when you’re working with caustic acids.

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Monday: This Broken Jaw of Our Lost Kingdoms. OR What the F*ck is That?!

On Monday, right before dinner, I was in the kitchen chopping mushrooms. Ken and I have a deal—I do all the cooking, and he does all the cleaning up. This works for us, because I love cooking and hate doing dishes, and he can’t cook. OK, he can cook certain things, but I don’t want tacos or pasta every night. And he’s currently going through a phase where he’s trying different brownie recipes to see which one is the best, but he refuses to use gluten-free flour, so he’s on his own with that experiment. Anyway, I was getting dinner ready, when Ken came into the kitchen holding something very gingerly between his index finger and thumb.

Ken: Look what I just took away from Titus. He was chewing it in the yard.
Me: WHAT THE F*CK IS THAT?!
Ken: I’m not sure.
Me: Is it human?! Oh my god, call the cops!
Ken: Don’t worry. I don’t think it’s human. It’s not quite big enough.
Me: If it’s not human, then what the hell kind of animal is it? How did it get in our yard? Did you say Titus was chewing on it?! That is SO gross!
Ken: I’m going back out to see if there are any more “parts” in the yard.
Me: Don’t put it on the counter! Or at least wrap it in paper towel or something! Titus, stop jumping! You’re not getting it back.
Titus: But it’s so yummy…
Me: Oh my god, I can’t even.

What Ken had brought in the house was part of a very large jawbone, complete with teeth. On second glance, the teeth didn’t look human so I stopped googling “Canadian CSI” and started a new search. Did you know that if you google “dead animal jaw”, there are literally thousands of images of dead animal jaws available for you to look at? Who exactly is posting this stuff? Anyway, I started narrowing it down until I decided it looked the most like a deer jaw. But then the mystery deepened. Namely, how the hell did a deer jaw get into our fenced yard? I’m pretty sure I would have noticed if a deer had died out back—the vultures would have been a good tip-off, for starters. And I’m pretty sure none of our neighbours are hunters, but even if they were, we get along pretty well with them, and I can’t see any of them lobbing a deer jaw onto our property just for fun. I mean, there was an incident a few years back when the people on the corner kept letting their dog take its daily dump on our front lawn. The final straw came when we saw the man taking it for a walk, and deliberately putting it onto our grass to do its business. So Ken scooped up all the poo in a shovel, rang their doorbell, and when the woman answered, he said, “I believe this belongs to you,” and he dropped it all onto their porch. Their dog never came near our yard again. But in terms of retaliation, it’s not like we were slaughtering deer on THEIR lawn and giving them a reason to fling the bits back. So I’m still at a loss as to how it ended up in Titus’s mouth. Ken and I speculated for a while:

Ken: Maybe another animal carried it into our yard.
Me: What? Like people carry around rabbits’ feet? “What’s that you’ve got there?” “Oh, it’s my lucky dead animal jaw.” Besides, any animal big enough to carry that thing around is TOO big to get through the fence.
Ken: A bird could have dropped it…
Me: How big a bird are we talking about? I don’t think most birds outweigh that thing. And why? It’s not like you could make a nest with it.
Ken: A squirrel?
Me: Squirrels ARE assholes. Wait–maybe one of neighbours is a Satanist, and it was part of some weird ritual. Keep an eye on them.

A week later, we still haven’t discovered the origin of “this broken jaw of our lost kingdoms”. That’s from T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Hollow Men”, and every time I look at the gross thing, I think of that line, especially since now I’m afraid to go out into my “kingdom” in case there are more pieces of dead deer lying around. By the way, if you’re wondering why I said “every time” I look at it, it’s because we still have it. We figured we might need it as evidence for when the Satanic cult in our neighbourhood is exposed. Plus, it IS kind of cool in its own disgusting way. See what you think. The screwdriver is there for scale.

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