House of strippers

swatchWhat I learned at the hardware store this week – besides the realization that a career as a paint-colour namer is my roller not taken – is that late August is not the time for home renovations that I thought it was. Things don’t start heating up home-wise until September, my local hardware guy told me. That’s when folks wake up in a post-Labour Day haze and say, “Oh, crap! Summer’s over and I still haven’t glazed my gazebo!”

Here at the Murray house, where we always buck the trend, we’ve been working all summer on the semi-regular task of painting our downstairs, if by “semi-regular” you mean “every 20 years or so.”

When we first moved into our home, we looked at the living room wallpaper and said, “That’s got to go.” We just didn’t specify when. Eventually, we stopped noticing the frou-frou rose vines and the navy blue runner. It became like, well, it became like wallpaper.

But this past weekend, with great delight and the occasional maniacal laugh, we peeled off that old wallpaper and only some of the plaster with it. As with every other aspect of this painting project, we anticipated there might be surprises, but we were undaunted – in for a penny, in for a pound of Polyfilla.

It started when our 23-year-old returned home for a brief sojourn. Emily has energy, so when she asked, “What can I do?” I semi-jokingly replied, “Well, you can paint the TV room.” I should have stopped there, but then I added, “You could start by stripping the paint off the arch between the TV room and the dining room.”

We knew there was nice wood under that arch. We could see it where kids/animals/toys/drunks had nicked the paint off over the years. There was also the fact that the archway was decorated in early period Pokemon stickers. The prospect of removing those stickers was yet another motivation not to paint. (As if I needed one…)

So Emily headed to the hardware and loaded up on strong chemicals, goggles and rubber gloves, which sounds like a fun night out, but in this case saw her get to work stripping years of paint.

We learned as we went. We learned that Emily is keen but messy and that paint stripper also works on hardwood floors. We’ll get around to repairing the burn marks, probably in about 20 years.

We also learned that it takes many cans to strip an archway, but once you got the hang of it, it can be enjoyable. Or maybe that’s just the fumes talking.

We decided to also strip the door frame into the TV room because we sure loved that bare wood. And when we had finished that, we decided to do the kitchen door, and this is when it stopped being enjoyable.

I don’t know if years ago they used special NASA-grade paint for kitchen woodwork, but this door frame required much straining, grunting and sweating, which also sounds like a fun night out but I can assure you was not. Was lead-based paint actually a coat of lead, because it sure felt like it.

I would have preferred to have stopped after this door but there was one final one, equally tough. Like I said: in for a penny, in for a porpoise. (Sorry, that might be the lead-based paint talking.)

In the meantime, with the stripping under way, we started painting as well. It was time; the children have grown up, there’s no toys smashing into the walls, there are far fewer drunks than there used to be. Plus, we had the momentum and a line of credit at the hardware.

We chose our paint colours within five minutes, despite the countless options. And it was then that I realized I had missed my calling as a colour namer. Put a random adjective and a food/nature noun together and you have a colour: “Pugnacious Mango,” “Reticulated Bog,” “Alaskan Praline,” “O’Reilly Bile.”

We finished the TV room and dining room and, after a pause, have moved on to the living room. I’ve already forgotten what the wallpaper looks like thanks to the Honey Cream and Polynesian Blue, although as I write this it’s still mostly Half-Assed Spackle.

We have plans to do our kitchen and, because the paintwork has hit the staircase, the upstairs as well. Deb and I are on our own, though; Emily left us two rooms ago and the other kids have dedicated their summer to watching what feels like 97 seasons of “One Tree Hill.” I fear the fumes and lead are affecting their decision making.

But we’re doing it, all because our twenty-something daughter was bored. And they say millennials don’t get things done!

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So I wrote a book…

IMG_2798Regular visitors will appreciate how much I hate to talk about myself (“HaHAHA! Good one, Murray! Such a cut-up!”), but I feel compelled to mention that I’ve written a novel.

Statistically, this is no big deal. If you’re sitting in a row of people, take a look at the person on the left of you and then on the right. Chances are that one of these people has written or is in the process of writing a novel or at very least has a great idea for a novel or may in fact be sitting on a novel at that very moment, which leads to the question: what kind of row are you sitting in, anyway?

From a technical point of view, it has never been so easy to write a novel. When I first started writing, it was either by hand or on a typewriter, which meant you really had to be motivated if you wanted to tackle a long work. Revising and editing meant re-typing the whole thing all over again. Who had time for that, what with Rubik’s cubes to solve and parachute pants to purchase?

The arrival of word processing and, more recently, ebooks and online publishing means that it is almost ridiculously easy to bang out a book and send it out into the world for tens if not dozens of people to read.

But as someone wiser than me once said, just because you can write a novel doesn’t mean you should. They say the same thing about signing up for belly dancing classes, by the way, but let’s move on.

It’s not the easiest thing for writers to hear, let alone accept, but most novels aren’t especially good. Few are great. Many are downright terrible. But even the good ones have only the slimmest chance of being moderately successful. The slimmest ones, on the other hand, are easier to sit on.

So why bother? Why have I spent the past year sacrificing valuable television time to work on a manuscript that may end up being read by a few friends and family members?

Because writing a novel, it turns out, is wicked awesome.

(And for the record, no one in my novel says “wicked awesome.” Someone does say “wicked cool,” though, which I think we can all agree is not the same thing at all.)

I have no idea where my novel falls on the “downright terrible/great” scale, but the process has been an entirely satisfying creative endeavour. I’ve written something with comedy! Action! Romance! Turtles! I’ve created an entire town out of nothing – the Town of Beaverly, home of Canada’s largest sinkhole and The Beaverly Modicum, which, if publishing a review of my novel, would headline it “Sunshine Kvetches of a Cranky Town” – it’s that kind of newspaper. I’ve invented characters – a biologist, a mayor, a young reporter (don’t worry; it’s not semi-autobiographical) and one character who surprised me by just walking through the door in the middle of the story and making himself at home. I’ve come up with a plot that centres around a natural disaster, which is just the opportunity the mayor is looking for to put Beaverly on the map. I’ve discovered that I use the word “just” far too often.

In other words, I will have no regrets if nothing comes of this manuscript. I won’t have failed. I hate reading someone described as a “failed writer.” You never hear someone who comes last in a footrace described as a “failed runner.” The satisfaction lies in the finish, not the placement. I’m used to short writing sprints of 700 to 800 words, so this novel has been my marathon. I’ve crossed the English Channel! I’m swimming with the endorphins!

I’ve had a couple of discussions lately about who exactly writers write for: themselves or other people. Every story wants to be read, of course, just as every painting wants to be seen. But I think the better analogy is music. There’s joy to be had in simply singing out loud, and if others enjoy it as well, so much the better. And thankfully most people are too polite to mention that you sing like a diesel engine.

So my advice to you is to write that novel or memoir or short story if you have it in you. Like singing, what harm can it do? Write it for yourself but with care and attention as though someone might actually read it. And, who knows, someone might. Find the time, because life is too short for regrets.

As for my book, I hope to get the sucker published. In the meantime, an excerpt will be published this fall in the upcoming Taproot anthology, which in itself is wicked cool.

And here’s an excerpt for my WordPress friends (“Fiction? We didn’t come here for no stinkin’ fiction!”) from one of the early chapters of A Hole in the Ground. And don’t worry: no turtles were harmed in the writing of this book.

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Quiet hours

IMG_2797I want to be buried in one of those deep-sea diving suits, the metal kind, like Sylvester the Cat might wear in some over-complicated and ill-fated attempt to eat Tweety.

One hundred million years after my demise, give or take a million, earth and ocean will have piled on top of me and subsequently receded. Meanwhile, in a mere blink of a century or five, there will be nothing left of even my bones inside that diving suit, and eventually the suit itself will disintegrate. But by then, that suit will have created a mould in whatever clay has settled on me. Millennia-long story short: I want to come back as a fossil.

I was thinking this during my recent vacation. I know: some vacation. But it wasn’t so morbid as it sounds. Deb and I and two of the kids were camping on Grand Isle on Lake Champlain, and we took a drive up to Isle la Motte, where there are remnants of the reef that once lay beneath the ancient Champlain Sea. During our drive, we made a detour to look at old fossils at the abandoned Fisk limestone quarry. I know: some vacation. Continue reading

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Old man, cook at your life

Cookbook row, post-puppy.

Cookbook row, post-puppy.

They say the cookbook industry is booming, despite sluggish sales elsewhere in publishing and the fact that the Internet is positively bubbling over with recipes. Why do people buy a single book when they can find infinite recipes for free online? The same reason you read newspapers rather than get your news from Twitter, except instead of rumours of celebrity deaths you have someone who thinks guava gravy is a good idea.

In our house, we haven’t purchased a new cookbook in years. The most recent books that didn’t just somehow appear (because, believe it or not, that happens sometimes) are Vegetarian Times Complete Cookbook and Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites, copyright 1995 and 1996 respectively. This was around the time we were flirting with the notion of being partial vegetarians, until we remembered that we had children. Continue reading

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Yoga A-Go-Go

Photo/Hilaria Baldwin - Instagram

Photo/Hilaria Baldwin – Instagram

I clicked on the above photo this week of actor Alec Baldwin’s wife striking a yoga pose in order to roast a marshmallow on the beach while bent over backwards. I regret nothing.

For starters, I learned that Baldwin’s wife is named Hilaria, a name you just can’t take seriously, which may be the point. I also learned that Hilaria is 30, while Alec Baldwin is 56 years old but 94 in dog years.

The best part, though, was that I had just been inwardly scoffing (which stings a little, I’m not going to lie) about how trendy yoga is, only to come across this photo listed in the search results under “news” for yoga. Thanks to this photo, I now know that yoga provides a practical solution if I ever find myself with my feet stuck in cement and it’s critical I roast a marshmallow in an ostentatious manner on a fire located behind me. Really, though, the greater challenge in such a dire situation would be coming up with the marshmallow.

After catching up on this latest global yoga news, I decided to look into yoga more deeply, or as they say in yoga circles, “mo-o-o-o-o-re de-e-e-e-e-ply.”

Yoga is an ancient physical and spiritual practice, dating all the way back to 2001. It grows out of a combination of Hindu mysticism and vintage Jane Fonda Workout tapes. The popularity of yoga began to increase when yoga pants were first introduced in stores in 2004. Inappropriate photos of women in yoga pants were first introduced online about 10 minutes later.

Yoga stretches muscles, massages the organs, calms the mind, improves circulation, reduces stress, clears blackheads, eliminates odours, removes unwanted body hair, cleanses the palate and cuts through even the toughest grease.

The beauty of yoga (besides the pants) is that anyone can do it. All you need is good balance – a good bank balance because at $10 a session, yoga’s not cheap.

But beyond the physical workout, the spiritual aspect of yoga makes the cost worthwhile. Yoga practitioners enjoy the spiritual enlightenment that comes with knowing they are spiritually enlightened about spiritual enlightenment. Done properly, yoga touches something deep within the practitioner. Done improperly, yoga touches something deep within the neighbouring practitioner, so maybe you should oonch your yoga mat over just a smidge.

Many people shy away from yoga not only due to errant toes but because of the confusing array of moves and sequences in a typical workout. Luckily, many of these moves are imaginatively named to help you remember them. Here are just a few examples:

The Downward Dog: On your hands and knees, you slowly lift your bum in the air while keeping your feet and hands on the floor. It is so called because, with your face so near the floor like that and those tantalizing bits of kale and quinoa at the corners of your mouth, you may end up getting your face licked by your dog or by Alec Baldwin.

The Cobra: Lie face down, then raise your upper body, rest on your arms and shout “I’M A SNAKE, SEE? LOOK AT ME, EVERYBODY, I’M A DANGEROUS EXOTIC SNAKE.” The spiritual component comes when your yoga mates tap deep into their emotions to suppress the urge to tell you shut the hell up.

The Hello Sailor: Standing with hands on waist, thrust your hips to the left, breathe in, thrust hips to the right, breathe out, raise face skyward and smile broadly at the sun like a good-looking stranger has just asked you, “Hey, do you work out?”

The Grandmother Canoe: Lying on your back, point your toes away from you and raise your hands over your head. Now bring your hands to your eyes and cover them. Let all your shame float away from you for wearing dowdy beige sweatpants to yoga class.

The Hot Cyclist: Over several sessions, gently move your yoga mat eastward until you are positioned next to the really cute blonde.

The What’s New, Pussycat: Sitting in the lotus position, hands clasped in front of you, breathe in, gently twist your upper body to the left, then to the right, breathe out like a long, exasperated sigh. Be filled with the revelation that you are one with your chakra and that everyone else in the room is also one, and that all the ones added together make many, and this yoga class has become far too crowded and trendy, and that, in your spiritual quest, you should go next door and sign up for the new hot workout, Buddha Camp. I hear they do amazing things with wieners.

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Tournament weekends are rough in the end

The devil.

The devil.

For years I bought into the myth. I even preached it myself. “I’m so glad my kids are into basketball instead of hockey. It’s so much cheaper. All they need is a ball and a pair of sneakers and they’re good to go.”

Well, that’s a lie. For starters, once your child passes the age of 8 – when they begin developing opinions and annoying free will – not any pair of running shoes will do. They need to be basketball shoes, preferably endorsed, imbued with Swïsh-Dunnkk® technology and featuring more gels and pumps than a hair salon.

The marketers have convinced kids that wearing the right shoes will help them get to the next level – provided the next level means jumping 4.5 inches off the floor instead of 4.4 inches. Continue reading

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We be shillin’

coverfinal02So, when the revolution comes, which by my reckoning should be sometime next week, probably Thursday, depending on your time zone, you’re not going to want to read all those drab dystopian novels because you’ll be living them. Instead, what you’ll want will be pleasant, humorous snapshots of simpler times, the perfect length to read during one of the three designated five-minute work breaks allowed daily by our robot overlords at the hydrogen slave farms.

Don’t Everyone Jump at Once is just that book.

I’m not going to bore you with details about what’s in this whimsical collection of columns about life, family and the defence of cannibalism during the End Times. Instead, let me tell you what you won’t get:

  • Boolean algebra
  • The “autobiography” of any pop star under the age of 25
  • A recipe for Balena Ano Arrosto di Radicchio (Roasted Whale Anus on Radicchio)
  • A venereal disease
  • Your money back

What’s important to know is that the cover price of my most recent collection has plummeted from $18.00 plus shipping down to (up to?) $20.00 shipping included for U.S. orders and $15.00 (definitely down) shipping included for Canadian orders directly from the publisher, Blue Ice Books.  Does that even make sense? Doesn’t matter; in a week, the monetary system will collapse anyway so spend, spend, spend!

Order now, and you’ll get this free photo of me pretending to row a canoe:


The post sticking out of his head kind of explains a lot.

Operators aren’t standing by. Because they’ve all been eaten.

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