My Week 218: MacGyvering

Like a lot of people, I’m pretty good at MacGyvering—that is to say that I can solve complicated household problems with very common household items. I come by this skill honestly—my father was a machine shop teacher and toolmaker by trade. He can make a tool to fix just about anything out of an Allen key, and there were always several things in our house held together with contact cement. Me, I prefer Gorilla Glue, but same concept. Last month, the gingerbreading on our Victorian screen door broke, and there was no way to screw or nail it back together, so I just glued it. Worked like a sticky charm. I have a utility drawer in both my condo and at home which contain the only 4 actual tools I’ve ever needed. 1) One of the many hammers I own 2) needle nose pliers 3) a multi-screwdriver 4) a staple gun.

It’s a thing of beauty.

Everything else is assorted flotsam that I can use to MacGyver, including:

a) Cardboard: This is handy for folding up and putting under a table leg or whatnot to stabilize it. Also, our house is very old and tilty, so sometimes cupboard doors will just swing open. There’s nothing like a cardboard wedge to keep them in place. Neatly hidden of course—who wants to see cardboard?

You can barely see it.

b) Plastic food containers: I recently put the empty tub from a very delicious garlic spread upside down in a plant pot in order to raise my Thanksgiving chrysanthemum up high enough that it could be seen. I could have used a smaller plant pot, but hey—I had a tub.

c) Paper clips: These are a multi-use invention that I have rarely used on paper. Zipper pull on your boot broken? Paper clip. Screen on your hair dryer clogged? Paper clip. Feel like poking a hole in something? Paper clip. Bored at work? Paper clip. Enough said.

d) Toothpicks: These handy little gadgets are terrific for repairing reading glasses. One leg is ALWAYS going to fall off and the screw is going to disappear into a space/time void. What better item to use to fix it than a toothpick? Just shove one through the screw holes and snap it off. No one will ever know. Also, if you have 17 jar candles that are burned down really far, and trying to light them with a match burns your fingers, make a longer match with a bunch of toothpicks taped together.

e) You can hang a picture on a pushpin if it’s not too heavy. You can move any piece of furniture across a smooth surface by putting a towel under it and dragging it. You can wrap duct tape around your hand, sticky side out, and use it as a clothes lint remover. SOS pads are the only thing I use to clean old, dirty wood before I refinish it.

And so on. But this week, I had my most MacGyver-y challenge yet. My most recent roommate, who is a vegan, messaged me to tell me that she had broken her toilet. “I went to see the concierge,” she wrote, “but he said you would have to hire a private contractor.”

“What part of the toilet is broken?” I asked. She sent a picture of the chain.

Private contractor? Hah! I thought to myself, putting three paper clips into my purse to take back to the condo. “Don’t worry,” I told her. “I’ll take care of it.”

Now, the only thing the girl eats is fruit, so I don’t know WHY she was flushing the toilet hard enough to break the chain, but I don’t eat a lot of roughage either and I recently broke a toilet in the train station. I didn’t tell the station attendant, who is always extremely rude to me–I just got on the train and fled, leaving behind a complete f*cking disaster that I refer to as “her karma”. So who am I to judge? At any rate, I got back to the condo, went straight to my roommate’s bathroom and examined the toilet. I knew enough to drain it first, then I pulled out the chain. Turns out that it wasn’t the chain itself that had broken—the thing on the flapper that the chain was attached to had been ripped off. Well, the flapper was rubber and I had a paper clip, which is always handy for poking holes into stuff. All I needed to do was pierce the flapper with the paper clip and then attach the paper clip to the chain.

Toilet Repair Kit

Unfortunately, the rubber was too thick and all I managed to do was pierce my own thumb. Once I was finished swearing, I thought for a minute, and went to my utility drawer. Eureka! I had a push pin. A yellow push pin to be exact. I pushed it into the rubber flapper without sympathy (revenge for my thumb) and hooked a paper clip around it, which I then twisted around the chain. I filled the tank back up and gave it a flush. Perfect. “Flush away!” I told her. “It’s all fixed.”

The next morning, I was at work when I got another text message. “I’m so sorry,” it read. “I must have flushed too hard—the chain came off again.” Then I remembered that she had had a large meal of pumpkin and pineapple the night before—perhaps that was the culprit. Then came the second message: “And the pushpin went down the pipe.” I felt more than a little defeated at the thought that all my MacGyvering had amounted to nothing. It was time to watch Youtube videos and buy actual parts. Which I did after work. I bought three different flappers, not knowing which one would work the best. Luckily, the first one seemed to do the trick, so after draining the toilet, installing it, and practicing a few good flushes, it seemed good as new. “Just be gentle with it,” I made her promise. “And you owe me a new pushpin.”


My Week 137: Moving Stress, Teenager Reviews Movies

Well, it’s been one hell of a week, what with moving and all. Moving is superstressful at the best of times, and even more so when you had no intention of moving in the first place, so thank you, greedy landlord, for cashing in on the housing bubble in the big city, and forcing me to find new digs. The new place WILL be nice though, after I finish cleaning and replacing the bathroom cabinets that are covered in black mold. You might remember me telling you that every time I went to see the place, it was really awkward because the previous tenant, a university student, was half-naked. I should have realized at that point that people who are too lazy to dress themselves completely also can’t be bothered with things like making sure the microwave isn’t covered in layers of grease, that the floors don’t have mud all over them, and that the bathroom doesn’t require a hazmat suit to simply be IN it. Oh well—it seems to be my lot in life to take over places and have to clean the sh*t out of them. When Ken and I bought our cottage, it was the same deal, what with layers of dirt underneath the carpet and a stove so unsalvageable that we just tossed it out and bought a new one.

Of course, I left my condo in pristine condition, because I’m a grown-up. Also, because I was threatened with the cost of a cleaning crew if I didn’t, which I realize now was an empty threat, based on the fact that, according to my property manager, it’s a standard clause that all Tenant Termination agreements contain. If my current landlord had any balls, he would have charged half-naked girl, or at least paid ME for the cleaning, but that didn’t, and won’t happen, based on his reaction to the mold in the bathroom (by the way, he doesn’t speak English very well):

Me: What’s wrong with the cabinets?
Him: Oh, I don’ know—maybe jus’ dirty. I clean.
Me: I don’t think Windex will work. That’s mold between the veneer and the particle board.
Him: So sorry for the inconvenience.

I emailed him later and told him that Ken and I were taking the drawer fronts off and replacing them, and that I would let him know the cost, to which he again replied, “So sorry for the inconvenience.” I think he’s confusing ‘inconvenience’ with ‘fungal lung infection’, but hey, that’s the crazy English language for you.

I suppose it’s a testament to the power of my will (among other things) that we got the whole ordeal over and done with on Friday. Here are the things that the universe kept throwing in my way to overcome:

1) Late Thursday night, part of the ceiling in the elevator lobby suddenly collapsed. On Friday morning, my concierge told me that he couldn’t put the elevator on service for the two hours I’d booked, because they were already one elevator down, and that we would just have to load everything into the hall, then do the entire move in 20 minutes.

2) I was moving into the building next door, but it was pouring rain, and we had to traverse 75 feet of flooding pavement to get from one garage bay to another.

3) The garbage company hadn’t done their usual Thursday pick-up, and the garage bay of my building was full of giant dumpsters, so we had to take everything through a narrow hallway instead of the bay, and then try NOT to get hit by garbage trucks while carrying couches in the pouring rain.

4) My property manager showed up at 10 am to pick up the keys and said he couldn’t leave until the place was completely emptied. I suggested that perhaps he should pitch in and help if he wanted to be out of there before noon, given the circumstances. He said it was OK, because he had nowhere else to be and then he literally stood in the living room for the next two hours, fiddling with his phone. He DID carry the last box out of the apartment though, so that TOTALLY made up for the fact that I was charged 5 days rent for doing what the management company suggested and not moving out on the first, which pretty much cancelled out the incentive I was given for moving out a month early (it really didn’t make up for it, and I have the email to prove that I was told to move out on the fifth, so we’ll see).

5) I had no Allen key. No one had an Allen key. How do I have furniture that was put together with an Allen key, yet I have no f*cking Allen key? Luckily, I had a multi-purpose screwdriver that I bought at Loblaws. When I initially purchased it, I thought to myself, “When am I ever going to need anything other than a Robertson head, or maybe, worst case scenario, a Philips? What are all these other weird heads for? This one’s a f*cking hexagon—when would I ever need THAT?” Well, mystery solved.

I was fortunate though, to have the help of my family throughout this whole debacle, particularly K and my brother, who has a PhD and who is also extremely cheerful and strong. Between the two of them, they got all the heavy stuff moved in record time, and found a way to get around every obstacle the universe threw at us with dignity, grace, and a minimum of swearing. I was also lucky that the concierge of my former building kept “forgetting” to take the elevator off service, which gave us pretty much the entire two hours to get my stuff out. Also, K and I took the train back together, and, without asking, not only did she carry my suitcase for me, she held my hand on the packed, standing room only subway so that I wouldn’t fall over. I don’t mind telling you this, because she NEVER READS MY BLOG. So she’ll never know how much I appreciate the little things she does for me. I guess what I’m trying to say is that, no matter how sh*tty and stressful things are, I’m extremely lucky to have people in my life who care about me and who will go out of their way for me when I need it. From Ken, who made several trips to the city to help with the preliminaries but who couldn’t be there on moving day because of work, to my parents who were willing to help with anything I needed, to all the other family and friends who offered support and encouragement, all I can say is “Don’t be sad about losing this one, universe—you didn’t know what you were up against.”

Saturday: Teenage movie reviews

On the weekend, we like to pick a movie to watch together as a family in our back room. We have a sectional couch back there, and the first person to yell, “Long spot!” gets dibs on the part of the couch where you can stretch your legs out. Sometimes they’re new movies, but when there’s nothing good available, we delve into our own collection, much to K’s dismay. On Saturday night, we had “The Hobbit,” but then I got this intense desire to watch “Lady in the Water” directed by M. Night Shyamalan.

K: What’s it about?
Me: It’s about this apartment complex in Florida where the Super of the building discovers a mermaid in the pool. I don’t want to say much else and give it away, but it’s a great film.
K: Really? Is this going to be like when you made me watch “Bladerunner?”
Me: “Bladerunner” is an amazing movie! What are you talking about?
K: Amazing? Robots from the 80s with mullets?
Me: They didn’t have mullets! What are you talking about?
K: And Indiana Jones yelling, “Kill the robots! Kill the robots!” Yeah. Amazing.
Me: You’re a philistine.

So we watched “The Hobbit.” I kind of owed her.

My Week 111: The US Election True Colours

The US Election Colours

On Tuesday, I watched the US election, as so many people did. I had already predicted that Trump would win about two weeks before the big night. How did I know, you ask? Well, I have a terrible habit of reading the comments section of articles, and the hatred and stupidity out there is palpable. You couldn’t even post a picture of a kitten riding on a baby giraffe without a Trump supporter yelling “That giraffe is taking away jobs from Americans”, or “That kitten is too cozy with big government and should be shot!” The blind refusal on the part of Trump supporters to accept the reality of his incompetence, their disdain of logic and truth, and their ability to excuse ANYTHING he did in their quest for change is what brought this about. The bread and circuses of Trump’s act was just the right blend of the exploitation of fear (I’m gonna build a wall to keep the rapists out) and abstract concepts that his followers parrot, but don’t understand (“She is a career politician and part of the political class, which means that she is likely to perpetuate the croniest, clientist, State-capitalist status quo.” That’s an actual quote from some guy on an article about Hillary Clinton. You can just hear all the Trumpers yelling “Yes!! Lock her up!!” even though I doubt that most of them know what it means or whether it’s relevant to her ability to govern).

Anyway, early in September, after my True Colours training, I actually analyzed both candidates based on what I perceived as their colours. I didn’t post it then, and It’s probably moot now, but here it is, just for fun. By the way, it was before all the p*ssy-grabbing::

“Friday: I use True Colours to analyze the US election

On Friday night, I was watching the news and the breaking story was that Hillary Clinton had said that half of Donald Trump’s supporters were a “basket full of deplorables” due to their violence, racism, homophobia, sexism, and xenophobia. She didn’t say ALL of them, just half. And Trump’s campaign organizers got up in arms and claimed that she had insulted millions of Americans whose ONLY fault was that they hated blacks, Muslims, gays, uppity women, and most people in general. But now that I’m an expert in True Colours, I did an extensive analysis of the situation, which is to say that I looked in my binder. Here’s what I see from up here in Canada:

Hillary Clinton is a Green. She’s not super-warm and fuzzy on the exterior, and she’s driven by logic, facts, and a disdain for irrational behaviour and incompetence. When she says “Half of Trump supporters”, she’s accurate. You can disagree all you want, but all you have to do is look at the comments section of ANY article about the election or anything else Trump-related for that matter, to realize that many of the millions of people who support Trump have a tenuous understanding of reality. Not ALL of them—just half. Maybe a little more than half. Or, to quote Trump, “a lot”. I think what she really wanted to say though was “a basket full of crazy”, but being a Green, she was conscious that “crazy” is insensitive. See, people think that Greens often appear unemotional, but that doesn’t mean they don’t care. Greens see the big picture, and they care about THAT as much as anything else. As a fellow Green, I can tell you that I hate racism in any form, not because I’m all sad about it and sh*t, but because it doesn’t make ANY logical sense to look down on an entire race of people because their skin has more melanin in it, or because they believe in one God or five gods or no god at all. If we all treated each other equally, the world would have more peace than war. That’s the big picture, and Greens can see it.

Donald Trump, as far as I can tell, is an Orange (in more ways than one), and apologies to all the great Oranges out there. But Trump is impulsive, dramatic, pays too much attention to performance versus product, hates structure and responsibility and is super-sensitive to criticism (little hands, anyone?). Unfortunately, he, and many of his followers, don’t possess any of the really positive Orange qualities, like courage, generosity, optimism, and good humour. When Clinton pointed out what we all already know about MANY of Trump’s supporters, their reaction was typical and predictable and simply proved her right: “What is that b*tch talking about?! How dare she criticize us? I’m going to post mean comments about her on the internet. And I’m going to call her Crooked Hillary because Trump told me to.” Trump’s supporters are just like him in the way they approach everything, including their general hatred of the world that is not theirs and the fear that giving to others will take something away from THEM. Actually, I think there has to be a new colour for people like them, people who mock others when they’re suffering, people who want to put up a wall instead of build a bridge. George Orwell, one of the greatest minds of the twentieth century, said this about a wall: “The first thing that we demand of a wall is that it shall stand up. If it stands up, it is a good wall, and the question of what purpose is serves is separable from that. And yet even the best wall in the world deserves to be pulled down if it surrounds a concentration camp.”

At any rate, whatever Clinton’s flaws are, and let’s dispense with the false equivalencies here, because nothing she’s done is ANYWHERE NEAR the crap Trump has pulled over the last 60 years (I’m giving him credit for the first ten), I’d much rather have a Green at the helm—they’re less likely to start wars or meantweet about overweight people—but I’m sure worried that people will buy into Trump and his bullshit. Maybe that should be the new colour for Trump and his ilk—Brown.”

There you have it. It’s over now, and if change was what people wanted, they certainly got it. But I doubt that it’s going to be in the way they thought. Only time will tell.


My Week 102: True Colours, Disappointed by the Dump

Tuesday: I get my colours done

When I got back to work after my sojourn abroad in August, I received an email notifying me that I needed to attend a mandatory True Colours workshop, seeing as I’d missed the last two and needed to “catch up” before our All-Staff meeting on Wednesday. I went to my manager and asked if I really needed to go. “I already know my colours,” I said. “I’m a Winter.” But no—this wasn’t about my wardrobe. She explained that True Colours is a personality identification system. “Well, I’m a Scorpio,” I said. “And an ISFJ—I know that because I took a 5 minute internet quiz. Also, if I was a Game of Thrones character, I would be Arya, and if I was a geological thing-y, I would be ammolite. How much more analysis do I need?!” A lot, apparently, and there was no wheedling out of the workshop. I could have scheduled another surgery, and the trainer would have come to my bedside, that’s how seriously the agency is taking it. So on Tuesday afternoon, I walked over to the hotel with all the new employees to find out exactly who the hell I am.

The first thing we had to do, according to the trainer, who was the most cheerful and perky woman I’ve ever met, was to look at 4 cards and order them according to how much I liked them. The yellow card looked like a nasty mustard-coloured quilt. I would never put it on a bed in my house, so I set it aside for the time being. The blue card looked like water going down the toilet, and the orange card reminded me of what I see when the eye doctor flashes that strong light at you and you can see what’s inside your own eye. The green card was OK—it reminded me of that really cool computer screen image in The Matrix with all the dripping numbers and lines and stuff. I love The Matrix—the costumes and special effects are amazing, the characters all have awesome names like Trinity and Cipher, and Hugo Weaving is a total super-villain. So I picked the Green card, then the Gold quilt-y one next because even though it was yellow, you could probably display it with the right décor. I picked the Blue one third, because it was kind of tropical once you got past the 2000 Flushes vibe, and the Orange one last because, well, something had to be last. Then we had to rank a bunch of adjectives and assign them numbers from 1 to 4 based on how much we agreed with the words. And then we had to ADD UP THE NUMBERS. At which point, I got confused, because my numbers refused to add up to 60, mostly because I did it wrong and gave some things all 4s instead of ranking everything. So I just eyeballed the whole thing and decided that I was Green. Which meant I had to go and sit at a table with people I didn’t know and talk about myself and my feelings, because why WOULDN’T I want to do that? I’ll tell you why—because I’d rather gouge out my own laser-perfect eyes than do that. Especially since we had to, as a group, fill in columns in a chart about our Joys and Strengths and Weaknesses as the Greens in the room. But the other people at my table seemed nice, and after some very hesitant offerings, we were able to put two or three things on our chart paper. Of course, the Blues had two full pages, the Golds had everything in organized subheadings, and the Oranges, who had finished before everyone, looked restless.

Before we started sharing our answers with the whole group, the trainer told us that True Colours was totally legit, that it came from the work of Carl Jung and was based on his theories about temperament. And I was like, “Great. I just had my personality mansplained to me. Thanks, Carl Jung.” According to Jung, or whoever is making money off his theories, Greens “seek knowledge and understanding, live by their own standards, need explanations and answers, value intelligence, insight, fairness, and justice, and are non-conformists, visionaries, and problem-solvers.” I was like, “Just because I picked the Matrix card?!” But it WAS a fairly good description, especially since I’m not adventurous, overly emotional (unless my only child has just abandoned me to go off to university), or nitpicky (well, maybe a LITTLE nitpicky, but Gold is my second colour).

Then we started sharing our chart paper answers, and the trainer filled in or re-spun things if we got them wrong ie: “What the Green group means when they say they value family is that they LIKE them, but they don’t NEED them every day.” This made us Greens a little annoyed, since it was completely inaccurate, but we tolerated it because we didn’t want to come off looking all emotional and what-not like the Blues. My own feelings were more than a little ruffled though, when she told everyone that Greens are often perceived as robotic and impersonal, kind of like Dr. Spock. Plus, I SO badly wanted to yell out “MR. Spock. MISTER!” I was glad I didn’t though when, later, we read the list of Green traits and “quick to point out other people’s mistakes” was one of them. Coincidentally, I had recently done an online quiz “Which Star Trek character are you?” and I HAD gotten Mr. Spock. But only because 1) I had chosen the blue uniform because there were no black leather ones like in The Matrix and 2) I chose “Transporter” as the best invention because what is there NOT to love about being able to get from place to place in under 30 seconds? Have you ever tried to go ANYWHERE on the 401? I’ve wasted more hours sitting on that damn highway than I’ve spent taking personality quizzes.


Overall, things weren’t going too badly for me, but then the worst part of the afternoon happened when we had to also do a checklist to decide whether we were introverts or extroverts. I already know the answer to that, thanks to years of hating crowds and feeling socially awkward around everyone but my family. The trainer was circulating, and stood looking at my finished checklist, which had me at 39 Introvert points and 6 Extrovert points. Now, you’d think as a professional trainer in this sh*t, she would know better than to single out a Green Introvert, but she called out to the whole group and asked who knew me well enough to say whether they agreed with my calculations. But as I’d mentioned, the rest of the people there were either new employees or worked in different departments, and had just met me. Finally another manager said, “I thought she was probably Gold,” and I was like “Fair enough!” because I do LOVE details and lists and things, but mostly because I really needed the attention to not be focused on me. Finally, the afternoon was over, and I was awarded a binder and told to bring it to the All-Staff meeting the next day.

The following morning, our entire staff gathered together for a variety of important announcements, then we were instructed to sit at tables with other members of our “Colour” group. I found myself flanked by two psychometricians, an editor, a Math team member, and someone from Layout. I was all Sesame Street, like ‘One of these things is not like the other,” and started getting more and more uncomfortable as the morning progressed. The first activity was called “The Bear”. We had to decide what we would do if we were confronted by a bear. Now, if you visit this site regularly, you’ll know that I’m the f*cking QUEEN of Worst Case Scenarios, and I have a plan for everything, including bear encounters and bouncy castles that somehow become untethered. So I said, “Make yourself as large as possible and make as much noise as you can to intimidate the bear. Playing dead doesn’t work worth sh*t, as Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in The Revenant can attest to. Believe me—I’ve researched this.” The rest of the group accepted my logic and wrote it down. But when we had to share with the staff, we came very close to being accused of not really being Green, because our answer was wrong and Gold-ish, apparently. Thank god the editor had added, “Resign yourself to the idea that you’re probably going to die,” or we would have been called out as frauds. Especially since the OTHER Green table was obviously trying too hard and wrote down, “Why is there a bear? Where did it come from? What kind of bear is it?” This is how Greens are supposed to react, according to the science of it all. And sure, if I ever DID encounter a bear, the phrase “Why the f*ck is there a bear here?!!” would be running through my mind as I was simultaneously screaming and trying to look bigger than I am.

After the excitement of the bear attack, which had the Blues huddling together for comfort, and the Oranges sacrificing a member of the team so the rest of them could run away, we had to write down the things that stressed out our colour and what other people could do to help us. The Blues right away were like, “It stresses us when people take a tone, or aren’t nice to us.” The trainer asked what would help them, and the Greens all muttered under their breath, “Stop being so damned over-sensitive. That’ll help.” But that was another wrong answer because the whole point of the workshop was to help us understand each other so that we could work more effectively together. That made total sense to me, and then I was like, “OK, Bob—I will try to be more understanding of your Orange-ness when you don’t have a plan and won’t stop distracting us with your jokes, mountain climbing analogies, and popcorn machine.” Sigh. It’s so hard being Green when your main stressor is “people who aren’t logical” because there’s so much illogic in the world. Take, for example, racism. I hate racism in any form, not because I’m all sad about it and sh*t, but because it doesn’t make any logical sense to look down on an entire race of people because their skin has more melanin in it, or because they believe in one God or five gods or no god at all. If we all treated each other equally, the world would have more peace than war. Quite frankly, it’s a lack of logic that makes the world such a difficult place. And bears.

Saturday: I am disappointed by the dump

Ken has spent the last few weeks building a new lawnmower shed to replace the sh*tty little metal one with the broken door that stood at the back of the patio for ages. But he had to do it in fine Ken style, which is to say that the new shed is a gorgeous rustic barnboard structure, over twice as big as the previous shed, and decorated with trim and interesting salvage materials. As you can see from the picture, It’s beautiful, and you could easily use it as a small cottage, and I’m a little jealous of my lawnmower now.


In the process of cleaning the previous shed out, he put aside a couple of boxes of old paint and things which couldn’t go out in the regular garbage, with the intention of disposing of them once the new shed was finished, which happened last week. So on Saturday morning, he woke me up.

Ken: I’m going to the dump to get rid of that old paint and the old stereo. Do you want to come?
Me: The Dump?! Hell yeah! I love the dump!
Ken: Slow down there. It’s just the transfer station in Salford. You’re not allowed to take stuff.
Me: Then WHAT is the point of going? What if I see something I want? I can’t touch it?!
Ken: They’re pretty strict about that kind of thing.
Me: But that’s not logical. Why should something stay in the garbage if someone else can use it?
Ken: You don’t have to come if you don’t want to.
Me: FINE, KEN. I’m coming to the dump.

I remember when I was a kid, going to a junkyard with my dad when he needed a part for something. Dad was a toolmaker by trade, and could make you just about anything with an Allen key and scrap metal. I don’t know what he was looking for, but I remember staring in awe at all the cool junk, and wishing I was bigger and had a shopping cart. Plus, at the time, I was obsessed with a series of novels called “The Three Investigators”, whose office was a trailer in a junkyard owned by the main character’s uncle. I wanted to be just like Jupiter Jones, live in a junkyard, and solve mysteries. Unfortunately, that never happened—I can’t even solve The Mystery of the Salt in My Hair, or The Case of the Missing Earring Back. But still, a girl can dream. Then a couple of years ago, Ken and I went to a local dump, where we found a grandfather clock in a bin. We drove the car up close, and I opened the door to shield Ken from the sightline of the woman in the office while he went down into the bin and retrieved the clock. So I know that rules can be broken if you’re sneaky and careful, and I was secretly excited about the trip to the transfer station. Who knew what treasures awaited us?

None, as it turned out. The place was super-regulated, with workers EVERYWHERE. We got told to pull up to the building with the pink computer monitor (technically it was neon orange, but I’m trying to curb my Greenness and not be so quick to point out people’s mistakes), and unload our boxes. The guy said, “You don’t have to wait—you can leave.” It was heartbreaking—as we drove away, I was sure I saw an old wooden door sticking out of a bin, and I was like, “Noooo…..” as we went through the gates. I was really feeling glum and disappointed when Ken decided to take one of his notorious “short cuts” down a side road. We passed a little house set back from the road, but on the front lawn, there were two tents with tables set up. “It’s a yard sale!” I said. “Go back!”

“I don’t see a sign,” said Ken.

“Trust me. There are random things on tables, and an old guy sitting in a chair. Go back.”

And I was right. It WAS a yard sale. Most of the stuff was pretty crappy, but among the detritus, I managed to find a 19th century lavender dip-molded bottle and a turned wooden bowl. Together, they would have been $6, but the guy let me have them both for 5 bucks. And the moral of the story is “It’s all about the journey, not the destination.” Also, “one person’s junk is another person’s treasure.” And finally, “Whoever said that money can’t buy happiness has never been to a yard sale.”

My Week 91: Aquacide, Ken Needs Help

Friday: I make an unwitting confession

I love fish. Not so much to eat—if given a choice, I’d much rather have steak—but as far as living organisms go, I’ve got a tremendous fondness for the wee, finned ones. We have 2 ponds on our property, both stocked with goldfish, and until recently, we had a pond at our cottage, also inhabited by over a dozen swimmers of all colour variations. And then, of course, there’s Mishima, who lives in a tank on the kitchen island. He’s a narcissistic diva, but over the last 4 years, we’ve come to an understanding. He doesn’t trash me on his Twitter feed (@tweetsoffish), and I feed him. It’s a deal that benefits him more than me, to be honest, because while he can be rather cutting, he is still just a fish, and his opinion of me is just about as compelling as Donald Trump congratulating Scotland on Brexit. Scotland responded exactly the way I do with Mishima, which is to roll my eyes and call him a “mangled apricot hellbeast” But Mishima doesn’t realize just how lucky he is, considering my actual track record of keeping fish alive. Over the years, Ken and I (although it was almost always Ken’s fault except for my last example) have had several unfortunate “incidents” with our fish.

5 years ago, we had 6 beautiful goldfish in the pond nearest our house. We’d had them for over three years, and they were all healthy and about 4 good inches long. In order to help them survive the winter, we always put a trough heater in the water to keep it above freezing—none of our ponds have EVER (do you hear that, Ken), EVER been deep enough for the fish to actually dig in and hibernate, or whatever it is that fish do. So that October, in went the trough heater. Unfortunately, we had both forgotten that earlier in the year, one of our spruce trees had been struck by lightning. The charge had traveled through the ground, into the house, and out the other side, wreaking electrical havoc to a lot of our wiring. Ken had repaired it all—EXCEPT for the outside outlet that the trough heater was plugged into. Bear in mind that the subsequent events were NOT his fault. This time. Two day later, he looked out an upstairs window, and then ran downstairs in a panic. Apparently, the trough heater had shorted out, overheated, and evaporated ALL the water in the pond. There was nothing left. Just some sludge, and 6 tiny carcasses. I actually cried at the thought of their suffering, even though they would have forgotten about it at 3 second intervals. We had a solemn memorial for Goldie 1, Goldie 2, Spot, Blackie, Whitey, and Goldie 3 (yes, I know those are pathetically unoriginal names, but they were f*cking ACCURATE).

The next year, I drained and scrubbed the ponds out until they sparkled. Then we got new fish, and divided them between the back pond and the smaller one in front of it. Things were going well, the little fellas swimming around merrily, until I bought a pond plant for the front pond. Ken took it upon himself to “plant” it by plunging it into the water. The soil dispersed and the water became super-murky and dirty. 4 days later, when the sediment finally settled, the fish had all suffocated. It was too sad—I hadn’t even had time to name them yet, and one of them had stripes so I was looking forward to adding “Stripey” to my repertoire. The same thing happened the next year, when we put a new pond in the back by Ken’s workshop. Some people just never learn, I guess, and this time 2 out of the 6 fish we had just bought perished in the dirt storm. We ultimately ended up with only three fish in that pond, the circumstances of which you can read about in My Week 34: Ken is Sometimes Right, in which he was not.

As for the cottage, we went through 2 rounds of fish. The first year we put in a pond, Ken was convinced that it was deep enough that they would all survive the winter. They did not. The next year we bought new fish, over a dozen, and they did really well until this past winter. It was supermild for the first couple of months, and Ken was convinced that the fish would be fine. Finally, in November, he deemed it cold enough to put the heater in. This spring, we went up and took out the heater. There were no fish. At which point, Ken suddenly remembered that while he had put the heater in the pond, he had forgotten to actually plug it in.

Now before you think that this post is simply a vehicle to bash Ken and his fish-hating ways, or subtly imply that he is a fish murderer, the truth is that his actions were all unpremeditated and without malice. When it comes to aquacide, unfortunately, it’s me who should be vilified. I did what I did with the best of intentions, but no secret can stay hidden forever. Especially when you can’t remember who knows about it. On Friday, K and I were out together; she’d offered to take me out to buy her some clothes. It was a short-lived trip, since I’m still having post-surgery issues with standing and walking, but on the way back, we had this conversation:

Me: I like this song, but I don’t get the lyrics. Why does he say, “I can’t feel my face when I’m with you”? That’s not very romantic. Like “You make me numb to sensation.” Weird.
K: It’s not actually about a girl. It’s about taking drugs. It’s metaphorical.
Me: Really? That’s even weirder.
K: You can take it either way, I guess. It could be about a woman, it could be about drugs.
Me: Oh, like that 9 Inch Nails song “The Perfect Drug”. It sounds like it’s about a woman but Trent Reznor said it’s about drinking a lot of absinthe.
K: What’s absinthe?
Me: It’s a really potent alcohol with wormwood in it. Wormwood is a kind of drug, so if you drink a lot of absinthe, you have crazy hallucinations. It’s what I killed your fish with.
K: I—Whuh?! YOU KILLED MY FISH???!!!!

Apparently, I had forgotten that I’d never told K that I killed her beta fish when she was 5 years old. But before you think I’m a heartless killer, let me explain. “Jarry” (K named him that because he came in a jar. You can tell she’s inherited my ability to choose imaginative names for things) was a red beta that had lived in K’s room for 2 years. Then he suddenly developed something called “Beta Bloat Disease” which is really gross. The fish gets all bloated and it can’t swim—it just bobs on the surface of the water gasping for air. So one day, when K was out with Ken, I researched the best way to euthanize a fish. Turns out that pouring really strong alcohol into the tank is the quickest and most painless, so that’s what I did. With absinthe. And why did I have absinthe? No, I’m not some kind of Victorian deviant; my brother brought it back from Hungary just so we could see what it was like. I don’t recommend it, because there’s hardly any wormwood in most brands anymore and while it made us a little tipsy, it also tasted pretty yucky, so it wasn’t worth it. Anyway, K was pretty appalled by my unwitting admission:

K: I can’t believe you killed my fish! Why didn’t you discuss it with me first?!
Me: You were five. What was I supposed to say? “Hey, your fish is dying so I’m just going to help him on his way by poisoning him with this blue sh*t”?
K: You could have said it in a way that a child could understand, like “Your fish is sick, so I’m going to give him medicine to make him go to sleep”.
Me: I didn’t want to upset you.
K: And then Dad killed my Sea Monkeys by not feeding them when I was away. You’re quite the pair.
Me: You know they weren’t actually monkeys, right?  They were worms or larvae or something.
K: Still.

She eventually forgave me for my aquacide, which I swear I did with the best of intentions. But somehow, Mishima must have gotten wind of the entire thing, because last night when I opened a bottle of wine, he started screaming, “Put the bottle down and back away from the tank! BACK AWAY FROM THE TANK!!” And I’m pretty sure I just guaranteed that he will never subtweet me again.


Saturday: Ken needs my help

Ken is a pretty self-sufficient guy. He’s really good at taking care of me, but he hardly ever needs my help. I can only remember two actual times before yesterday that he asked me to help him, aside from steadying things he’s trying to cut or hammer, holding one end of a measuring tape, or proofreading something for him. I mean the serious kind of help, like emergency help. Once, he was really sick, and asked me to make him pudding. The other time he set himself on fire and needed my help to put him out. I knew he was really in trouble because he started screaming “Help me!” and rolling around on the floor. Turns out that he was leaning against the stove while he was boiling potatoes, his shirt touched the element, and up he went. Thank god he has this weird habit of always wearing two shirts—it was the only thing that saved him from being badly burned. When I got him put out, he just lay there panting, then said, “Thanks.” When he got up, I saw the scorch marks on the wooden floor where he was rolling and realized that it could have been so much worse.

Then on Saturday, I thought we had another emergency situation. He decided to finally trim the door of the shed by the driveway. For years, I’d been asking him to do it, because the door would only open partway then get stuck. He kept saying , “Yeah, yeah” until yesterday when he wanted to put our lifejackets away.

Me: What are you going to do now?
Ken: I need to put the lifejackets away, which means I have to open the shed door, which means I have to take the door off the shed and trim it so it will open.
Me: Great thought process. I’ll watch from the balcony.

So I watched him do it, since I’m still post-surgery and couldn’t actually help him. I was sitting on the balcony half-watching and drinking a glass of wine, when suddenly I heard a slam, and Ken yelling, “Help!! I’m locked in the shed!!” Apparently, the shed was on a bit of a lean, and now that the door wasn’t stuck on the decking anymore, the weight of it caused it to swing shut. On Ken. I yelled back, “Don’t worry! I’m coming!” but the problem was, he couldn’t hear me, being locked in the shed and all, and I was upstairs on the balcony, probably the furthest point in the house from the shed. I started to slowly make my way down—I couldn’t go any faster thanks to my “hundreds of internal sutures”, and the whole way, I could hear him pounding on the walls. I started getting all panicky and teary at the thought of my beloved husband there in the dark, not knowing if he was going to be rescued any time soon, possibly starting to suffocate. I kept yelling, “I’m coming!!” but the hammering continued. When I finally got to the shed and opened the door, there he was. He turned and smiled at me.

“I was so worried,” I said. “I could hear you pounding the walls—I’m sorry I couldn’t get here faster.”

“Pounding the walls?” he said. “No, I figured you’d come eventually. I was just putting up some hooks for the lifejackets. That’s why I was hammering. I’m just about finished—just prop open the door for me for a second so I don’t get locked in again.”

It’s nice to be needed.


My Week 63: I Have Holiday Inadequacy, A Stream of Consciousness Religious Moment

Thursday: This holiday season is making me feel incompetent

I’ve always considered myself a fairly creative person. My house is decorated nicely, I write middling well, I can paint a little, and make craft-y type things when the mood strikes. But lately, I’ve come to realize that there are people out there who are WAY more creative than me. Case in point—in the last couple of weeks, people at work have been decorating their cubicles for Christmas. It started off with just a few co-workers hanging snowflake ornaments and tinsel on their fabric walls. I was feeling pretty satisfied with my design—a miniature stocking that I grabbed out of the closet at home, and a paper snowflake that a colleague made for me one afternoon—he was practicing making them from instructions from the internet so he could impress his wife on the weekend. So I ended up with something like this:

Bare cubicle

Not bad right? Understated and elegant, with a homemade touch. Added bonus—I found a red pushpin on the floor, and I used it to secure the snowflake in keeping with my colour scheme. Brilliant planning, I’d have to say. Sure, I could have gone a little more crazy, but I didn’t want people to think I had too much time on my hands.

But then, I came in on Thursday morning to discover that the people in the department up the aisle from mine had decorated THEIR cubicles. Here are a few examples:

Cubicle 2



Cubicle 1

Cubicle 3 version 2

A Reindeer stable?! An entire Christmas house, held up with yardsticks?! An “homage” to the ugly Christmas sweater?! One woman had gone with the theme “Christmas in the Tropics”, having made palm trees out of construction paper and coconuts out of brown balloons. Suddenly, I was feeling angsty, but I comforted myself that at least my display was cost efficient. Then I happened to remark to one of the women, “Oh, you guys have really gone all out!” and she cheerfully replied, “Oh, this is all from the dollar store— it just took a few bucks and some imagination!” So while I have a ‘few bucks’, apparently I’m lacking in the imagination component of the holiday season.

And to make matters worse, there’s Secret Santa. You may remember that I’ve had issues in the past with this torturous aspect of the workplace, but this year it seems that I may be the ‘Bad Santa’. I’ve been doing all right myself, having received some decent little tokens from my ‘giver’, but I’m starting to feel that I’m not doing enough for my ‘receiver’. I organized several treats for my SS, based on her list of likes and dislikes, and thought that it would be enough to wait until she was away from her desk, then run by her cubicle and toss something on her keyboard without getting caught. Holy sh*t, was I wrong, based on the mayhem around me. One woman came back from lunch and discovered a half-dozen red roses carefully arranged in a vase on her desk. Another colleague was sent on a scavenger hunt (which started with a poem, 6 stanzas long, written in iambic pentameter and mounted on a piece of yellow shirtboard) and ended with her finding an assortment of clues and goodies scattered throughout the office and all tastefully wrapped in yellow tissue paper. The icing on the Christmas cake was the cubicle that was decorated some time in the night as a representation of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The entire space was domed with red tinsel garlands hanging from the ceiling. There was a sign on the outside of the cubicle which read “1. Shelter  2. Fire  3. Food  4. Drink” and so on, with ‘Shelter’ crossed out. We were simultaneously amazed and jealous, and more than a little worried about how Fire would be represented the next day. But fear not—her Secret Santa created a campfire out of construction paper, and a bundle of handmade twig pencils, complete with a giant marshmallow on a stick. Seriously, WTF? I mean, how are the rest of us supposed to compete with THAT? The best I had done so far was scribble “I hope you like this chocolate” on a post-it note and stick it to a pack of Lindor. It’s not that I don’t WANT to be more clever—I have great ideas but I just don’t have the energy to put them into action. For example, I had this brainstorm that I would take the box of fruit-flavoured mini-candy canes I got her and strew all 60 of them around her cubicle, then put the empty box on her desk with an Elf on the Shelf in it, like HE’D done it. But I couldn’t find an Elf, and it was late, so I just tossed them around, stuck a couple in her shoes, and went home. I don’t think she was impressed because by the time I got to work the next morning, there wasn’t a single candy cane in sight. Then I worried that maybe she was a real neat-freak, and that instead of being charmed, she was pissed that she had to clean up the mess. Then she spent the rest of the day eating oranges and apples. I know this, because I kept sneaking by her desk to see if she was enjoying the candy canes, but I never saw them again. I know it’s all supposed to be in fun, and everyone keeps saying, “Oh, it’s the thought that counts,” but why can’t people just be as mediocre as ME? When the bar is set too high, we ALL suffer. Except the people who have time to write sonnets. My only hope is that when we have our big ‘reveal’ next week, she’s able to see that my intentions were good, and that if I’d had the time, energy, and wherewithal, it would have been…well, something amazing, I’m sure. Plus, there’s a bag of potato chips waiting for her on Monday morning—maybe I’ll get wild and put a bow on it.

Friday: I have a stream of consciousness religious moment

On Friday, we were talking at work, and someone mentioned that Kanye West and one of the Kardashians (I can never remember which one is which—they all look alike thanks to the wonders of cosmetic surgery, and they all seem to be pregnant all the f*cking time) had another baby. You might remember how I ripped Kanye West for naming his first baby “North”—that’s right, North West. North West of where I am is Manitoba, which seems to me to be a much better name for a baby than a compass direction, but if you think I have no imagination, I’m feeling pretty good next to old Kanye. Especially right now. Because my first reaction was, “Did he name this baby ‘South’? It’s a great theme—two more kids and he could easily find his way to his own ass.” But alas, no. This baby, he named “Saint”. Yes, Saint West, the patron saint of stupid parents everywhere. And then I was confused, because it seemed a little sacreligious, but a friend pointed out that ‘Santo’ was a very popular boy’s name in Italian, and it means ‘Saint’. Which got me to thinking about how other cultures have no trouble naming their children after religious figures. For example, there are a LOT of Hispanic men named Jesus, which I believe is pronounced ‘Hey Zeus’, and which I also think is an awesome name—it kind of channels ‘Son of God’ and ‘Lightning Bolt Guy’ all at the same time. And this seems to work for them, but how weird would it be if I had named my son ‘Jesus’, like the actual ‘Gee Zus’ pronunciation? I come from a Scottish/English background, and I know people would have thought I was being a little presumptuous, like I thought my kid was the next Messiah or something. Which got me to thinking about Jesus, and the fact that the church across the road recently had their doors redesigned. On one door is an angel, painted in gold, hovering in mid-air. The other door is where things get weird. It’s supposed to be Jesus on the cross, but whoever painted it did Jesus in REALLY dark gold paint, and the cross in light gold, so from across the street, it looks like Jesus is standing on the edge of a diving platform, getting ready to do a double pike, three and a half turn twist. It’s very disconcerting. In fact, I can see him right now, and all I can think about is Jesus getting the gold medal at the Olympics, which would have been a much nicer thing to happen to him. And then churches would be full of swimming pools instead of pews and ALL the water would be holy. Oh yeah. See, maybe I am more creative than I thought.

My Week 58: Hammering Serial Killers and Secret Santa Flashbacks

Tuesday: Hammer Time

When I first moved into my condo last February, I almost immediately had an issue with the noise level. No, I don’t mean that I could hear someone’s TV, or their children running around, or fun party music. I mean, I had an issue with the upstairs neighbour hammering. Not “hammering”, like a metaphor for something else—actual f*cking hammering. Which wouldn’t have been a problem if the construction efforts were happening while I was at work, or making dinner. No, this hammering was taking place at 2 o’clock in the morning. The night I moved in was peaceful enough; in fact, it exceeded my expectations regarding what living in tiny, stacked houses would be like. Then came the second night. Around 11 pm, it sounded like someone was bouncing a very heavy basketball on the floor above my living room. Bouncing it once, then letting it continue on its own, as in BOUNCE, Bounce, bouncbouncebounce, if you can understand what I mean. This went on for about an hour. After an hour, I started banging on the vents—I couldn’t bang on the ceiling because it’s sprayed with that popcorn stucco, which is very sharp and will fall into your eyes if disturbed. However, because the building is SUPPOSED to be soundproof, it had little effect. Then, shortly after midnight, the hammering began. Hammering all over the place at first, then becoming localized above my bedroom. What the hell was this guy doing? Installing a floor in the middle of the night? It was insane. It would stop for brief intervals, but every time I started to doze off, the noise would begin again with renewed vigour. It was like the way the CIA tortures terrorists by playing Death Metal music non-stop. Then it occurred to me—what if it WAS a government agency, trying to determine my stamina? After all, I had just taken a government job and had sworn an oath of secrecy, as well as an oath to the Queen. Could CSIS be upstairs? By this time though, I would have given something really important, like my favourite shoes or my last bottle of wine for the Death Metal to begin. Anything but the damned hammering. Finally, at around 5 am, the noise stopped. Of course, I had to get up at 6:30, so I went in for my first official day of work feeling like a sleep-deprived prisoner.

When I went to bed that night, I wasn’t too worried, figuring that it had to be a one-off—I mean, who in their right mind spends all night, every night renovating their condo? Each unit is only around 600 square feet, so there couldn’t possibly be a single thing left to hammer. And that’s when the sawing started. Sawing. With an actual saw. Right above my bedroom. I stood in the walk-in closet, and it sounded like the person was trying to cut a hole through the floor. Then I suddenly had a terrible thought—what if my upstairs neighbour was a serial killer who was building a false wall in his condo in order to conceal the presence of his latest kidnapped victim? This may sound farfetched in retrospect, but I had just seen an episode of a crime show where a very-innocent looking record producer had done JUST THAT in his recording studio—the investigators had cleverly discovered the hidden room by looking at blueprints. The sawing finally stopped around 3 am, while I cowered in bed, praying that someone wouldn’t rappel into my closet with murderous intentions and wondering how I could get my hands on a floorplan. I was now completely fed up, so after work, I decided to talk to the night concierge. I explained what was happening but her English wasn’t very good:

Me: The person in the unit above mine is hammering in the middle of the night. It’s keeping me awake. What should I do?
Concierge: Ammering? What is this to mean?
Me: (hammers on counter with fist) HAMMERING. Like this.
Concierge: Someone is ammering in your unit?
Me: No, in the unit upstairs! At 2 o’clock in the morning. I can’t sleep.
Concierge: Why would someone be ammering at the middle of the morning? It’s not sense.
Me: Yes, this is all pretty nonsensical. What should I do if it keeps happening?
Concierge: You call me and I go to upstairs and see what is the problem.

This sounded very promising, despite it also sounding fairly incomprehensible. Sure enough, not long after midnight, the hammering resumed. I immediately called down to the front desk, reminded the concierge about our earlier conversation, and gave her the unit number where the noise was originating from. She promised to go up and see what was going on. Unbelievably, about ten minutes later, the noise stopped completely. Blessed silence. It was like that all night, and I had my first good sleep since coming to Toronto. Over the next several weeks, there were still a lot of bizarre sounds coming from Jeffrey Dahmer upstairs, but they always stopped before 11 pm—the concierge must have reminded him about the noise bylaws. By late spring/early summer, the upstairs unit was completely silent. Then last Monday, I happened to be talking to my aunt. She asked, “Have you had any more issues with the person upstairs?”

“No,” I said. “That all seems to be in the past now.” Could I have been any more cavalier to tempt fate in such a brazen way? I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right—finally, at 1:45 am, I’d had enough. I called down to the night concierge (a different one this time, but with equally poor English skills) and explained that someone had been hammering on the floor of the unit above mine for the last two hours. “OK, no problem—I go talk to them,” he said. I had my doubts, but the noise stopped shortly after. Here’s to hoping that the renovations—or ‘victim cage’—are finally complete, knock on wood. But I have to admit, I’m burning with curiosity—what the hell is really going on up there? I’ll probably never know—and maybe it’s better that I don’t.

Friday: Secret Santa Flashbacks

Friday, at lunch, a group of us were sitting around talking about upcoming social type company events, because I work for a great company with supernice, professional people. Suddenly, someone said, “We should do something like a Secret Santa, you know, where we choose names and give each other cute little gifts.” My back immediately went up, because I’ve had more than my fair share of the short end of the Secret Santa stick. Luckily, the conversation moved on to simply making charitable donations or adopting a needy family, because we all acknowledged that we already had enough ‘stuff’. Still, I was left with a bad taste in my mouth from my last Secret Santa. Mostly because I got things that tasted bad.

It happened in a previous workplace. We pulled names—I got someone I knew quite well, but I didn’t know who had MY name, which apparently is all part of the ‘fun’. I’d never done a Secret Santa before, and I was really excited about finding things for MY person that matched what she had put on her list of likes and dislikes. On my list, I had put the following: under “likes”, I listed the colours black and purple, hot chocolate, white wine, any kind of book (but preferably funny), and a couple of other things which I can’t remember now. I wasn’t being demanding—this was all in accordance with the instructions, as in “colours you like to wear, food you like to eat, alcohol you like to drink”, etc. On my dislikes, I simply put dark chocolate and coffee. I also mentioned that I was unable to eat gluten.

That weekend, I went shopping for my person, and was thrilled to find a handknit scarf, a book of short stories, a little box of specialty teas, and a couple of other things she said she liked, all staying fairly well within the $10 budget. I had a bottle of wine for her Friday gift which put me slightly over, but hey, it was Christmas, and it was apparently a tradition for the last day’s gift to be alcohol. On Monday, I got there early and put her first gift in her mailbox with a cute note. There was nothing in MY mailbox. (I should probably clarify at this point that MY Secret Santa was NOT the same person that I was giving gifts too.) By lunch, there was still nothing in my mailbox. Partway, through the afternoon though, I was downstairs, and I saw something sticking out of the slot. I reached in and was a little dumbfounded—it was a single, crumpled package of hot chocolate with a broken candy cane scotchtaped to it. It looked like it had been shoved into the mailbox rather hastily. Well, it was the thought that counted, and it was hot chocolate that I liked. In fact, I had an ENTIRE BOX of the same hot chocolate on my office desk. There was no note—but it was only the first day. Maybe the rest of the week would prove to be more Santa-y and cute. Despite my optimism, I was a little let down:

Tuesday: A small package of two pieces of VERY dark chocolate. The box said, “Compliments of Jackson Triggs”. That isn’t a person’s name—it’s a winery. I couldn’t eat the chocolate, but it occurred to me that if I was getting old chocolate from a winery, perhaps there was a bottle of well-aged wine not far behind. I gave the chocolate to a colleague who reported that it was ‘rather stale’. So maybe REALLY well-aged wine. Still no note.

Wednesday: Partway through the afternoon, I discovered what seemed to be a Christmas placemat, rolled up and secured with an elastic band in my mailbox. It looked as if it had been used previously, judging from its wrinkled aspect and what appeared to be a gravy stain on the corner. Oh well, I could toss it in the laundry and then use it…somewhere. Still no note.

Thursday: A small bag of coffee, such as you might find in a hotel room. It occurred to me that maybe my Secret Santa had recently gone on a wine tour and had stayed at a cheap hotel. Well, my parents drink coffee—I could always give it to them.

At this point, I started wondering who exactly my Secret Santa was. At first, I had a very stereotypical thought that it had to be a man, given the lack of cutesy notes, and the apparent indifference to my list of like and dislikes. But then I remembered the last time that Ken had been a Secret Santa, and the way he went above and beyond to make his recipient feel special. I knew it had to be someone from a different department—if you’ve read this blog before, you’ll know that the people I worked directly with in my previous workplace were very unpleasant, and if it was one of them, it would have gone something like this:

Colleague: This is for you.
Me: A lump of cold poison. Thanks?
Colleague: Are you being sarcastic? Oh my god, could you TRY to be a little nicer? You’re so passive-aggressive!
Me: But you gave me cold poison.
Colleague: I don’t believe you. Just wait until I tell EVERYONE how you just acted.

Two days later:

Mediator: I’ve asked you here today because you hurt Bob’s feelings over your “I don’t like cold poison” attitude. You should try to be less authoritative and kinder.
Me: But he gave me cold poison and then told the rest of our colleagues that he was hoping it would make me very sick.
Bob: You don’t want to be Facebook friends with me. You’re so mean. If Steve had given you cold poison, you would have been nice to him.
Me: What?! That doesn’t even make any—
Mediator: I think you need to respect Bob’s social boundaries and not provoke him. Now let’s hug it out.
Me: Oh my God, I can’t even.

So, no, definitely not an immediate colleague. Which only left around 60 people. Guess I was going to have to wait for Friday. Then Friday came and went, with nothing in my mailbox. Other people were ooh-ing and aw-ing over their gifts—alcohol mostly, by the looks of the smiles on their faces. I felt sad and a little neglected. But on Monday morning, I went to my mail box, and lo and behold, there was a little bottle with a note attached to it! My Secret Santa hadn’t forgotten me after all. I put my reading glasses on. The note said, “Enjoy!” Then I looked at the bottle carefully. It said “Margarita Mix”. I asked the person next to me, “What is this?” and he replied, “Oh, you add it to tequila to make a Margarita. They attach them to the necks of the tequila bottles at the liquor store as an added bonus. It tastes really good.”

“Do you want it?” I asked.
“Sure! Thanks!” he replied. “Merry Christmas!”

I never did find out who my Secret Santa was, but I learned a valuable lesson, based on my colleague’s reaction to the Margarita mix–it’s better to give than to receive.


My Week 55: Sucky Real Estate, I Get A Butler

Thursday: Real Estate deals are stressful and sucky

A few weeks ago, Ken and I decided to sell our cottage. We bought it 6 years ago, after seeing it on the internet. It wasn’t my dream home, but it was super cheap, it was in a great little town close to some of our other family members, and we figured it wouldn’t take much to make it a cozy haven. I remember saying to Ken, “All this place really needs is some redecorating and laminate flooring.” Apparently, I had been watching too many “flipping” shows on HGTV, because holy sh*t, was I ever wrong. We had a home inspection, and found out that the electrical system had been put together by a 5 year-old. There was an electrical box on the wall right above where the bed would go, which looked on the outside like it had been disconnected, but was full of cut, LIVE wires. None of the outlets were grounded, and there were exposed wires everywhere, some held together with scotch tape. Our contractor said it was a miracle that the place hadn’t already burned down. We wanted to back out of the deal then, but the owners dropped the price enough that we could afford the rewiring. Once they moved out though, the real fun started, as we realized their abundance of junky old furniture, knickknacks, and Jesus paintings were covering up a lot of problems. Apparently, the previous owners were into home repairs like alcoholics are into sparkling water, and everything was done in the cheapest, sloppiest, absurdist way possible. My favourite was taking off wallpaper and discovering holes in walls that had been patched with Band aids. Or pulling up carpeting to discover 2 inches of sand underneath. And the place wasn’t THAT close to any beach—they were just slovenly housekeepers. Or maybe they couldn’t use a vacuum because the wiring kept shorting out. I had to clean the oven with Easy-Off—no, it f*cking wasn’t. There was so much build-up in there, and I got so much slime and grease on my hands that I literally almost threw up. There was the soaking wet subfloor under the sink in the kitchen which we pulled up and replaced, the toilet leaning against the bathroom wall (the bathroom was joisted with two by fours, so we had the whole thing pulled up and done to code), the doorways that had been wallpapered over, the painted masking tape disguising gaps between molding and walls, Kleenex stuffed into cracks to stop drafts—the list goes on. It took us almost a year to turn the place from a disgusting stinkbox into something habitable. Ironically, when we bought the place, the wife created a garden plan on graph paper, letting us know about all the unique and rare plants she had—we needed the plan because everything was hidden in crabgrass and weeds. Over the years, we kept on improving the place with the help of our intrepid contractor, Dale, who despite his construction prowess and our 6-year relationship, continues to call me by things other than my actual name, and just calls me names that sound similar, or start with the same consonant. But after 6 years, and a hell of a lot of hard work, the place really is a dream home.

We love our cottage, but the fact is, with me working in Toronto all week and only coming home for weekends, we’re hardly ever getting up there anymore. It’s not too far from our house, but K hates it because it has no wifi, which means she can’t play Counterhalo or League of Duty, or whatever crazy games she and her friends run around with daggers and machine guns in. So generally, she refuses to go, which means I have to choose between seeing my only child (between rounds of her killing animated characters) and having a peaceful getaway. That sounds like a no-brainer, am I right? At any rate, after a long discussion, we decided to put the cottage on the market. This is where the craziness began. After just over a month, or two weeks ago, we got word from our agent that an offer was coming in. “That’s so great!” I said to Ken, “So long as it’s not something ridiculous, like 20 grand below our asking price or something.” Well guess what? It WAS 20 grand below our asking price. And not only that, the woman wanted couches, beds, other miscellaneous furniture, all the outdoor furniture, everything in the sheds, and more, right down to personal items like a picnic basket, our Keurig, and the LINENS ON THE BEDS! Who the hell wants someone else’s old sheets as part of a house deal? I was like “forget that sh*t”, but our agent suggested we take out anything we wanted to keep, and send it back with a higher price. So we took practically everything out, and counter-offered with something a little more reasonable. Eventually, we all settled at a price we could live with, throwing in a couch and a couple of bed frames. AND the linens. She was adamant. Apparently, flannel sheets are a deal-breaker to some people. So Ken and I, with the help of my aunt, started the annoying process of packing stuff into boxes. We’d just nicely gotten the ENTIRE kitchen packed up and brought home when our agent called me to say the deal was off. According to the buyer’s agent, the house was falling down. The foundation was crumbling and the wooden frame under the floor was rotting. F*cking news to me. I was like, “Says who? Did she crawl under the place herself, or is there some more legitimate source for this information? What am I supposed to tell people? ‘Yeah, the place is about to collapse—an eighty-year-old real estate agent told me so.” (Well, she looks eighty on her business card). Our agent was also shocked but said we would have to sign the termination of the agreement, and I was like, “Hell no. Not until I see some actual proof that I’m about to fall through the floor.” This was where things started to get fun and sketchy as they refused to tell us who did the inspection, or provide any kind of report. We’re still embroiled in this sh*t right now. They’ve finally copped to having an inspection, but are demanding that we pay half the cost before they’ll show it to us. So I did what any reasonable person would do—I called Dale. Mainly because he’s the only person I know who will crawl around in a 3 foot high space underneath a cottage that may or may not be on the verge of collapse. And after this, he can call me ANYTHING he wants.

Saturday: I get ready to cruise

So right now, despite all the real estate stress, I’m SUPER excited because I’m going on my first cruise. I’ve been so excited, in fact, that I didn’t even really pay attention to where I’m going. After having several people say, “Where does the cruise go?” and me saying, “Wow, I’m not really sure,” I made my dad write it down for me so I wouldn’t look like a complete idiot. This is my parents’ gift to me for reaching a “milestone” birthday—as some people might say, I am now a woman of “a certain age”, and it’s not the awesomely fun age where you get to finally drink, buy lottery tickets, play bingo, or watch porn. So yeah, an “older” milestone than all of that. Still, I’m young enough to appreciate how cool this cruise is going to be, even if Ken and K can’t come. It’s just me, my parents, my brother, his wife, their son, and her dad. I think Ken feels a little left out, but it’s not my fault that he “can’t get time off work” or whatever. K said she couldn’t miss 5 days of school because missing math would kill her, and I’m hoping it’s because she doesn’t want to fall behind, not because she loves math so much. Because let’s be honest—if you love math so much that you would miss a cruise to a tropical island…enough said. Anyway, there are two main things that I’m the most excited about, aside from the “all you can drink” alcohol package:

1) I just found out today that our suite comes with its own butler. This is the best thing EVER. Ken wasn’t particularly impressed but K totally got it.

K: His name will be Johnson.
Me: Yes! And he’ll wear a tuxedo. Even at 3 o’clock in the morning.
K: And he’ll have an English accent.
Me: Absolutely. The only thing better than my English butler Johnson would be if he was a monkey butler.

I’m probably overthinking it, and my expectations will most likely be dashed when it turns out that my English butler Johnson is a guy in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt named “Jimmy”, who will recommend Budweiser and pretzels instead of champagne cocktails and caviar. Still, a girl can dream.

2) I get to swim with dolphins. This has been a lifelong dream of mine, ever since I almost failed grade 9 science and realized that I was NOT destined to be a marine biologist. Instead, I learned how to analyze poetry, which is almost the same thing. But without the dolphins. (As a side note, it’s still really easy to get into an English program. They ask two questions—1) Do you have the money for tuition? 2) Are you breathing? The second question is just a formality. If you have the tuition, breathing isn’t really a requirement.) I never thought that I would be able to come face to bottlenose with a dolphin, but it looks like that’s going to happen. I even had to buy “biodegradable” sunscreen, so it wouldn’t harm the dolphins. It was expensive, but it’s money well-spent. And if my butler isn’t up to snuff, I can always call my dolphin “Johnson”.

My Week 3 – Thanksgiving And Small Talk

Monday, when Ken and I ponder the meaning of Thanksgiving:

So we just celebrated Thanksgiving, and Ken and I were driving down to the cottage. It occurred to me that it was weird that we celebrate Thanksgiving in October and the Americans celebrate it in November, and what’s it all about anyway? And this is the conversation that ensued. Just for the record, Ken and I aren’t fussy about the accuracy of our facts:

Me: So why do we celebrate Thanksgiving in October and the Americans do it in November? What’s with that?
Ken: I don’t know—maybe their harvest is later than ours since they’re further south. They’re both just about giving thanks for a good harvest anyway.
Me: That’s not why the Americans celebrate Thanksgiving—they didn’t HAVE a harvest, that was the whole point. The Puritans came over here completely ill-equipped to survive. They were literally starving to death, and the Indians shared THEIR harvest with them, and basically saved their lives.
Ken: Oh yeah—“Thanks so much for your generosity—in return, here’s some small pox.”
Me: I know, right? “And some alcohol.” That’s gratitude for you. Do you think the native Americans “celebrate” Thanksgiving, or do they secretly call it something different, like “The Day We Wish You’d Never Shown Up”?
Ken: All I know is that Sherman Alexie just tweeted out that in celebration of Columbus Day, he was launching a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to build a time machine, so that he could go back in time and stop Columbus from finding the New World.
Me: Seems about right.

Wednesday: I realize that I’m even worse at small talk than I am at actual conversations.

I know I’ve already demonstrated my shortcomings when it comes to contributing to conversations with people I know, but that pales in comparison to my struggles with small talk. Here’s an example. I had to get my car’s thermostat replaced last week, so I took it to the car dealership, and they gave me a rental car, since I’m now a “VIP” by way of the fact that I’ve bought 3 cars from the same car guy (mostly because now I know him and we NEVER HAVE TO MAKE SMALL TALK). He’s great, and he doesn’t mind if I text him at dinner to see if I can test drive stuff (As a side note, I thought he was still at work, and when I realized that he was at home, I was horrified because I absolutely avoid imposing myself on anyone except my family, but he was really nice about it, and set up the test drive anyway).

Anyway, they called for a shuttle driver, who wanted to talk about the weather, and traffic, and that was OK because all I had to do was say, Mm hmm, and Right, and Really? and things like that. But then I got to the car rental place, and the rental guy was one of those SUPER-FRIENDLY people who wants to chat, and that‘s when things got uncomfortable. I’m kind of an introvert, and I was tired, and it was the end of a long day, so I can’t really be held responsible for the verbal fiasco to come. He proudly announced that he was going to give me the “brother” to my car, so I was kind of hyped up, thinking I was getting an awesome ride, then he took me outside and presented me with a Chevy Cruze. It was navy blue, and kind of scruffy. He looked at me expectantly, and I didn’t know what to say, so I said, “A Cruze. My dad says it has a good engine.” Then the conversation took a bizarre turn. (Mom, I need a favour. I know that you’ll be reading this before Dad, so I need you to promise to read this story OUT LOUD to him, and when you get to this part, skip over it. Make something up, like the guy asked me out and I initially accepted because I was so flustered, then I had to break it to him that I was happily married. Seriously. I swear to God I will do anything for you, including taking you to the casino if you do this for me.) OK. The rental guy looked at me and asked, “Oh, does your Dad work for GM?”  and then I became confused, (because how is that in any sense of the word, a LOGICAL connection?) and I said, without thinking, “Nuh, he’s just some old guy.” I knew as soon as I said it that it wasn’t even close to being an appropriate response, and to make things worse, the rental guy gave me a funny look, and said, “OK then,” in that kind of dismissive way people have, and I tried to make things better by explaining that my father was a retired teacher, etc. and not even that old, but VERY SMART when it came to cars. This, unfortunately encouraged him, and he started talking about his wife the teacher, and how she had to teach some students whose family got blown up on a boat (?) but I wasn’t really listening and just fell back on Mm hmm, and Right, and Really? which seems in retrospect to always be the safe, non-offensive choice for someone who isn’t good at small talk.