Fate: The Practical Joker

Fate seems to think I need a surprise every now and then to keep me on my toes.  Last month’s dough snake certainly succeeded in that, and now Fate’s twisted sense of humour has struck again.  The setup for its latest practical joke was elaborate, going back more than two years.

My vehicle was only a couple of years old at the time and still had its ‘new-car’ scent, but one day I hopped in and got a whiff of… something else.

A really gross ‘something else’.  As if meat juice had been wiped up with sweaty gym socks, then sealed in a plastic bag and left to ferment for a month.  Fortunately it wasn’t terribly strong, but it was definitely pungent.  So I took it to the dealer for a warranty repair. 

When I picked up the vehicle, the service manager gave me a patronizing smile and assured me the smell had just been a bit of stale moisture in the cabin filter:  “It’s all fixed now, so don’t you worry your pretty head about it, little lady.”  (Okay, he didn’t actually say that — if he had, he’d still be nursing the scars; but that was the gist of his attitude.)

They’d ‘fixed’ it, all right. Or rather, fixed me:  They’d poured some vile air freshener into the cabin air intake.  For the next several weeks I had to drive with my windows down, surrounded by a stench like a half-rotted zombie drenched in cheap perfume.  At last the foul miasma faded, and I heaved a sigh of relief. 

Fast-forward to a couple of weeks ago.  (Fate is nothing if not patient.)

I was doing some routine vehicle maintenance, changing the oil and replacing the air filter.  Hubby wandered over and peeked under the hood. 

“What’s this?” he inquired, tugging at a small stick protruding from the air intake.  A moment later he recoiled.  “Ugh!  You can take that out of there — you’re wearing gloves!” 

As he stomped off to wash his hands, I investigated.

Sure enough, the ‘stick’ was the stiffened tail of a mouse that had crawled into the intake and died two years ago.  (Clearly the service department had investigated the problem thoroughly… NOT.)  Anyway, by now the mouse was desiccated and odorless, and when I extracted the little corpse it was feather-light and perfectly preserved.  I’m sure Fate was doubled over, laughing so hard it peed its pants. 

I’m afraid to contemplate what its next prank will be, but I’m bracing myself…

*

P.S. Thanks to everyone who expressed concern for our safety during the recent catastrophic flooding and mudslides.  (Last week’s news report here:  https://www.accuweather.com/en/severe-weather/death-toll-climbs-following-catastrophic-flooding-in-british-columbia/1049096)   

We’re fine – we missed the worst of the rain, and our creek didn’t overflow.  But our hearts go out to all the people who lost their lives, livestock, and/or homes.  On top of COVID and the summer forest fires, it’s another devastating blow.

Book 17 update: Plotting is going well, and I’ll likely start putting words on the page this week. It’s good to be off and running! 🙂

Alien Volleyballs And Other Garden Lessons

Well, another gardening season has come and (almost) gone.  I’ve been gardening for decades, but every year I learn something new.  For example:

  • Never let Hubby start the tomato plants unsupervised.  Each spring we talk it over, decide which varieties we want to grow, and figure about twenty plants should do us. Then Hubby plants the seeds in their little cells (allowing a few extra in case of germination failure).  This year we had forty-three tomato plants, up from thirty-seven last year.  ’Nuff said.
  • Chickweed is a cover crop.  I’ve finally accepted that chickweed springs up to form an impenetrable carpet in the winter here no matter how I try to stop it.  So now I’m embracing it.  Chickweed conserves nitrogen and protects the soil structure, it’s cheery bright green all winter long, its fragile leaves and stems till easily into the soil in spring; and it’s even edible.  Win!
  • We rarely eat as many beets and carrots as I think we will.  If Hubby’s weak spot is tomato plants, mine is beets and carrots.  We still have carrots in the freezer and beets in jars from last year, and four long rows of each await me in the garden.  Anybody want twenty or thirty pounds of nice fresh beets and carrots?
  • Pumpkins have a twisted sense of humour.  Last year I planted four hills of pumpkin seeds and got four pumpkins.  This year I planted two hills and got thirty pumpkins.  WTF?!?
  • “Naturalizing” tulips don’t.  They’re gorgeous the first year, smaller the second year, and they vanish without a trace in year three.  But they’re so beautiful, I just keep planting them.  Some folks never learn.  (Other folks buy botanical tulips, which do naturalize. So I planted some of those, too.  You can’t keep a good addict down.)
  • Wet cabbage leaves are SLIPPERY.  One moment I was strolling over a layer of discarded cabbage leaves; next thing I knew I was on my knees in cold soggy mud, laughing like a lunatic.  Fortunately no cabbages were harmed; and I’ve never been particularly attached to my dignity anyway.
  • No amount of spring bulbs is “enough”.  I planted another couple of hundred crocuses, tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths this fall.  That makes over 2,000 bulbs we’ve planted on our property in the four years we’ve lived here.  (I need more bulbs…)
  • I have zero ability to manage outdoor projects.  They always take three times as long as I think they will, and something “more important” always comes up. This summer I completed projects I didn’t even intend to start; and didn’t finish projects I’d sworn were top priority.  But they all need to be done, so I’m hoping it’ll even out in the end.
  • Superschmelz kohlrabi is da bomb.  I love kohlrabi even though it looks like it was conceived by a green alien with an irresistible attraction to volleyballs.  This year I grew Superschmelz for the first time:
No, this isn’t Photoshopped – that kohlrabi really *is* almost as big as my head.

Any alien veggies in your garden?

Book 17 update: I’ve started plotting, woohoo! Stay tuned for regular progress reports starting in two weeks…

Beware the Dough-Snake!

Sunday evening I was making myself a cup of herbal tea, with my brain completely fried after a grueling weekend spent putting on the conference I mentioned in my last post.  I steeped my tea in the pleasantly dim kitchen, then groped for the compost bucket to dump my tea leaves.

But instead of the expected plastic lid, my hand contacted the soft bulge of something.  A cool, moist, yielding something that moved under my hand like a sleepy snake.

I yelped and recoiled, only to burst out laughing when I discovered that the ‘snake’ was… pizza dough.

We’d made pizza for supper, but as I was pressing the dough into the pan I discovered tiny metal flakes in it.  (Yes, that flour went back to the store ASAP!)  So I remade our pizza crusts from a fresh bag of flour and chucked the contaminated dough into the compost bucket.

But it’s a small bucket.  And yeast rises.  So by the time I zombie-shuffled over there in the late evening, the dough had pushed up the lid of the bucket and escaped, clearly bent on world (or at least garbage-bin) domination.

After patting my thumping heart back into my chest and wiping away my tears of laughter, I dumped the compost bucket out into the recycling green-bin we keep in the garage.  It’s a big bin; but nevertheless, the next morning I opened the door to the garage with caution… just in case the dough-snake had devoured the tasty contents of the bin and grown into a giant man-eating serpent overnight.

Fortunately, it hadn’t; and on Monday the dough-snake went into the collection truck with the rest of the recycling.  So I think we’re safe from compost serpents for now… but I’m still chuckling over my momentary adrenaline burst.

Any surprises in your world this week?

Writing update: I’m (finally!) putting the last of the conference stuff to bed today, and then I’ll start plotting Book 17, woohoo! Soon, soon…

Fall Colour

Hi everyone!

The last couple of weeks have been a bit crazy — we had a death in our family, and the rhododendron society where I volunteer is presenting an international online conference in ten days. As the resident techno-geeks, Hubby and I have been pouring intensive hours into organizing the IT end of the conference, so there’s nothing left in my brain for a blog post this week… unless you really want to learn the sordid details of video compression, PowerPoint shows, and organizing Zoom webinars for time zones all over the world…

(What’s that you say? Sorry, I was temporarily deafened by the chorus of “No, for the love of all that’s holy, please NO!!!”)

Anyhow, if you’re interested in gardening and/or rhododendrons, we’re hosting some amazing international speakers and it’s free (pre-registration required). Click here for the American Rhododendron Society Fall Conference 2021 schedule.

Meanwhile, here are some photos from our garden — its last show of colour before winter closes in. Happy fall!

(Note: If scrolling makes it hard to see the photos, you can click on each photo to get a full-screen view.)

The asters are putting on a show.
The last bloom on the ‘Beverly’ tea rose.
The tiny-but-tough miniature roses are still going strong.
The hydrangeas are fading to pink, but the burning bush is ablaze!
I was lucky to snap photos of the dahlias on Monday, just before the first frost damaged them.
So many fascinating flower forms…
It’s hard to believe these are all dahlias – they’re so different!
And then there are the colours: Bright red…
Hot pink…
Striped…
And streaked…
Bicolours so intense they barely look real…
And understated singles that are beautiful in their simplicity.
The last of the zinnias glossy with rain.
A tiny rudbeckia sheltered by a giant geranium.
The crazy spirals of Cyclamen hederifolium albiflorum.
A dew-spangled moth rests on the flower of a carrot that went to seed.
Even the veggies are putting on a show – bright red peppers with pumpkins in the background. (Oops, I guess I should have weeded before I took this photo!) 🙂

Writing update: As you may have guessed, no fiction writing has taken place in the past couple of weeks. But the screenplay for Book 1, Never Say Spy is being shopped around in hopes of finding a producer; the audiobook for Book 5, How Spy I Am has just been completed and will soon be released; and Book 17 is taking shape in my head. (In all my spare time, ha ha!) Assuming nothing else blows up in my life, I’ll start posting writing progress for Book 17 in early November. Stay tuned…

This Post Doesn’t Suck

Well, I thought I was over it, but apparently my attention-deficit dyslexia is back. When I first started misreading words almost ten years ago, I figured I’d be doomed to unintentionally discover psychological vomit, lap-dancing, kiss-ass guitars, fanfarts, and killer raisins for the rest of my life.

Maybe I got used to my reading glasses, or maybe my brain finally got its shit together; but my “Wait, WHAT?” moments gradually diminished, and it’s been quite a while since I misread anything. Until last week.

I was skimming an ad for e-books when my gaze snagged on a description that began, “In this absorbing sex bot

Wait, WHAT?!?

Some of the sci-fi books I read are a little risqué, and this wasn’t the first time I’d encountered the concept of sex bots. So I eagerly re-read *ahem*… that is to say, I ‘disapprovingly revisited’… the titillating offending text. Much to my disappointment relief, I had mentally transposed the first two letters of the words. In fact, it was a ‘box set’, not a ‘sex bot’. Damn.

(I meant ‘whew’. Honest.)

But since my mind was already in the gutter, it decided to wallow around a bit. I began to wonder: Why don’t we have sex bots?

New technology frequently copies science fiction. After all, flip phones were basically Star Trek communicators; and it wasn’t too long ago that the X-Prize was awarded for a Star Trek medical tricorder. So why not sex bots?

But communicators and tricorders were pretty clearly conceptualized on the show, so maybe the scope of the sex-bot project is too vague. Or maybe the potential consumers of that technology are justifiably skittish after reading about encounters with repurposed appliances like vacuum cleaners, which necessitated awkward explanations in the emergency room.

I don’t know the true reason; but I’ll leave you with a joke that landed in my email this week and made me laugh uproariously. (Thanks, Ethel!)

Hope you all have a week that doesn’t suck… or does; whichever you prefer. I won’t judge…

So, This Happened:

Yes, this really happened. I have no idea why my brain thought it needed to throw out those two particular words this week. I don’t know anyone named Culpepper, and I can’t even remember when I last heard or read the name. I’ve never cooked brisket, or considered cooking brisket; in fact I don’t think I’ve ever eaten brisket.

But I guess if there’s a character named Culpepper in my next book who likes brisket, you’ll know why.

Please tell me I’m not the only one with a brain that wakes me by spewing random words…

Crimes Against Art

This week I’m rejoining my weekly painting group after hiding out from COVID for over a year and half.  It feels weird (and a bit scary) to be in a group again; although we’re all fully vaccinated and we’ll wear masks and stay distanced in the studio.

But, scarier still… do I even remember how to hold a paintbrush?  More to the point, should I be allowed anywhere near an innocent canvas?  I’ve committed a few crimes against art in the past, so art has good reason to be wary of me.  But then again, I’ve never really understood what constitutes Good Art, either.

I’m embarrassed to admit I took Art History (among other things) for four long years in university.  Apparently those courses were worthless, because I can’t see any artistic value in a canvas that looks as though a house-painter cleaned a used roller on it.  But the National Gallery of Canada snaps those puppies up for a cool 1.8 million apiece, and their most convincing argument that it’s Good Art is a snooty, “Well, obviously you can’t grasp the concept.”  Very true.  I can’t. But there must be something to it, because those two $1.8 million investments are now valued at over $100 million combined.

So how do I know whether I’m creating Good Art or birthing an art-monster that shouldn’t be allowed to live?  After in-depth study (and perhaps a teeny bit of hyperbole) based on the National Gallery’s purchases, I’ve come up with a foolproof formula for determining the Value of Art:  

Value Of Art = (Bullshit + Snootiness2) × Wealth of Investor × Ego of Investor

It’s important to note that bullshit comes first in the formula, and it has to be linked very early with the all-important snootiness or the whole endeavor fails.  That’s why there are millions of brilliant artists, but only a few who make seven-figure sales to the National Gallery.

If they want to hit that million-dollar price point, artists should throw around words like ‘luminous’, ‘weighty’, and ‘atmospheric’, add arcane phrases like ‘perceptualizing the human condition’, and then lay on the all-important snootiness:  “Of course, most people won’t grasp the nuanced complexity of this work.”  And they need to keep repeating that stuff, loud and proud.  Then all it takes is some rich investor eager to prove they’re more cultured than ‘most people’, and an art sensation is born.

Or maybe I’m just boorish and cynical.  (Okay, that’s not a ‘maybe’.)

But I am one hell of a bullshitter.  So… do you know any rich art investors with fragile egos?  If so, send them my way; ’cause every Friday afternoon I’ll be creating paintings that have a whole shitload of nuanced complexity.  Positively weighty, in fact.  I dunno about ‘luminous’, but with all my bullshit flying around, it’s sure to be ‘atmospheric’. Just don’t inhale too deeply…

Writing update:  You may have noticed that I haven’t posted any progress on Book 17 yet.  Here’s why:  I’m concentrating on the screenplay for Book 1: Never Say Spy.  And it’s almost finished, woohoo! So if you know anybody in, or even loosely connected to, a movie production company, I hope you’ll put in a good word for me! (Or better yet, introduce me with an enthusiastic pitch for the screenplay. Hey, I can dream, right?)

Cracking Up

People have occasionally questioned my sanity; although (being slightly delusional) I’m usually convinced that I’m okay and everybody else has the problem.  But where others have failed, a common household food actually succeeded in making me question my own sanity:  Soda crackers (also known as Saltines or water crackers, depending on where you live).  And yes, I realize it’s ironic that crackers would make me think I’m cracking up.

For years, I’ve bought the same brand of soda crackers.  Even though I experimented occasionally with other brands, I always came back to my favourite.  So, fine.

Until it wasn’t.

One day I bought a box of my usual crackers, but they tasted… blah.  I checked the box, but there was no “New And Improved” label.  (“New and Improved” is the kiss of death for me:  If I liked it before, I usually hate it after they’ve “improved” it.) But there was nothing noted on the box, so I chalked it up to a temporary aberration in my taste buds and/or a batch that had slipped through their quality control.

Until I bought the next box.  By then, I had none of the original tasty crackers to compare; only the growing conviction that they’d sneakily changed the recipe.  That’s when I started to wonder:  Maybe it was all in my head.  Maybe I was just getting old and my taste buds were packing it in.  As one of my friends used to demand when she was questioning my sanity:  “Are you on crack?!?”  I was beginning to think I might be.

But then Hubby mentioned it too.  Those damn crackers did taste different!  And not in a good way.  So I was stuck with a giant box of crackers that tasted like flour-and-water paste.  Blech.

But I solved the problem:  I got hooked on crack instead. It’s just as addictive as everybody says — I can’t leave it alone.  I promise myself I’ll avoid it, just for a day, but the need gets too strong and I succumb.  The world is a wonderful place while I’m ingesting it; and because I want to share the euphoria, I’m going to let you in on how to cook crack.  You can thank me later.  (Or hunt me down and smack me.  It could go either way.)

Crack

About 40 soda crackers
1 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup chocolate chips

Line a large shallow pan with parchment paper (be sure to go up the sides a bit – this stuff flows) and lay out the soda crackers edge to edge in a single layer on the paper.

Melt the butter, add the brown sugar, and bring the mixture to a boil. Boil for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Then pour the hot mixture evenly over the soda crackers, covering every cracker. Bake at 350F for 10 minutes.

Remove from the oven and sprinkle chocolate chips over the hot caramel crackers. Let them stand a minute or two until the chocolate chips soften, then spread the melted chocolate over the crackers. Let the crack cool, then break it into pieces to eat.

Options: Use milk, semi-sweet, white, or dark chocolate chips, and/or peanut butter chips; and/or sprinkle nuts and/or candy over the chocolate layer while it’s still soft.

And now I’ve used up those crappy crackers!  I like to keep my crack in the freezer – it stays lovely and crunchy, plus there are no calories in frozen food.  (Or so I prefer to believe. See ‘delusional’ above.)

Let me know how you like it… and whether I should duck the next time I see you!

Bean There…

The garden is in full swing again, and we’re at the ‘buried in beans’ stage.  I’m blanching and freezing and pickling, and still the beans keep coming.  I’m starting to dream about beans.  So you can imagine my freaked-out chagrin last week when I found a bean in my bed.

I’d like to say I have no idea how it got there, but the truth is I’m pretty sure I know.  Freshly-picked string beans are like VelcroTM:  They’re covered with microscopic hairs that cling to everything, particularly synthetic fabrics like fleece and yoga pants.  Also, to human hair.

Yes, there is a reason why I know that. 

I originally discovered the VelcroTM-like properties of beans back in the dark days when I still had to wear business suits and attend meetings to make a living.  I had been to an important business luncheon and had schmoozed appropriately.  Afterward, I retreated to my car with a measure of pride:  I had gotten through the entire luncheon without committing any social gaffes or spilling anything on my nice clothes.

I let my head fall back on the headrest as I blew out a relieved sigh, and my upturned gaze snagged on my reflection in the rearview mirror. 

Oh. 

Shit, no.

Yep, I had a green bean lodged in the ends of my long hair.  At some point I must have leaned too close to my plate, and its perfidious little hairs had latched on.

I mentally replayed the conversations I’d had at the luncheon and concluded (with my usual semi-delusional optimism) that nobody had noticed.  Or maybe they were all just people with superhuman self-control.  In any case, nobody raised an eyebrow and/or pointed out that I had a renegade legume attached to my person.

So, it was with a sense of rueful déjà vu that I picked the offending bean out of my bedsheets last week.  It brought back a cringeworthy memory; but at least the bean didn’t get lodged in any truly embarrassing personal places.

That would have been a little tricky to explain to Hubby.

Anybody else ever unwittingly hosted a sneaky vegetable?

Hubby’s no midget; the zucchini and corn are giants!
And then there are the wee sunflowers…

“You Seem Like Such A Nice Person…”

The other day I was talking to an acquaintance who mentioned that he was almost finished my latest book (Spy In The Sky).  He said he was enjoying it just like he had the previous ones; but then he added, “You always seem like such a nice person, and then I’m reading your books with all that sex and violence…”  He trailed off.

I wasn’t quite sure how to respond.

I guess it’s good to be seen as a nice person; although ‘you seem like a nice person’ is a very different statement than ‘you are a nice person’.  But that unfinished sentence sounded a lot like it might be completed by, “…and then I realized you’re actually just a scary pervert, gotta-go-goodbye-don’t-call-me!” 

Come to think of it, he didn’t stick around long after saying that, either.  Hmmm.

I generally keep a tight rein on my dirty mind and potty mouth when I’m in public because I don’t like to upset people unnecessarily.  But then new acquaintances think that’s what I’m really like; and nothing could be further from the truth. 

I mean, I like to think I am basically a nice person:  I try to be kind and patient, I offer a helping hand and a listening ear wherever needed, I donate and volunteer, and I’ve never once eaten a kitten or puppy for breakfast.  Or any other meal (or snack).

But when the wrench slips off the bolt and my knuckles hit solid steel at high velocity, nobody would ever call me ‘nice’.  ‘Shockingly vulgar and potentially violent’, maybe.

So that’s my dilemma:  Is it better to horrify and repel new acquaintances by letting it all hang out right off the bat?  (That’s ‘letting it hang out’ in the linguistic sense, not the physical – I do have some boundaries.)  Or should I lull people into a false sense of security, only to shock the shit out of them later?

I’ll let the philosophers decide…

Update: I’ve known this acquaintance for a while, and he has an offbeat sense of humour. He was teasing, and I thought the whole thing was funny. I meant this post to be funny, too; but realized afterward that it might be misconstrued. I hope nobody was upset; and if so, I’m very sorry. I should have mentioned that I was chuckling while I wrote this! 🙂